Exploring North America’s most easterly point

This past October I took advantage of a new direct route offered by Canadian airline, Westjet, from Dublin to St. John’s in Newfoundland to visit one of my sisters. In under six hours, I was walking around the colourful streets TripAdvisor likens to a mini San Francisco!

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Unfortunately I’ve only been to San Fran’s airport so the comparisons end there. But here are the noticeable differences:
– the airplane did a full on u-turn upon landing before taxiing to its gate, my first ever airplane ‘u-ey’!
– at arrivals the airport security asked if I was transiting through or home. To which I replied a confused, “neither?” Who knew visiting St. John’s isn’t an official answer…
– there is only one bar and it closes at 10.15pm, or whenever the last flight goes. This is for all you pre boarding pint happy travellers, get in early or be disappointed. Or, since the airport is a short drive from city centre, get a good drink in at your new local and then hail a cab for the trip home!

These small differences all gave me a chuckle and I hope they help prepare you for your next Newfoundland experience. Now for the good stuff – all the places I visited!

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Post-emotional embrace with the sister, she wheeled me off to her local java place, Coffee Matters, before we headed to Cape Spear for a short stroll and pics at North America’s most easterly point. I can now say I’ve been at the most easterly point of two continents, Australia/Oceania and North America! I was then treated to a yummy homecooked meal, drinks and an Irish live music tribute at Kellys Pub on George Street.

The next day we went to Lester’s Farm to find the best pumpkins, walk through the corn maze and see the animals. Some little kid stole one of our pumpkins when we weren’t looking and rocked out of there with it in his wagon. Be prepared when you pick your perfect pumpkin, someone else may have their eye on it too!

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This was all followed by lunch at YellowBelly Brewery (I’d go for the Irish Red Ale if I were you) and an evening at the The Duke of Duckworth (aka, the Rovers Return of NL!)

The next morning we had a leisurely brunch at Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi, followed by a visit to the Quidi Vidi Brewery and Village Plantation where a host of local artists work on site in their studios. I chatted to printmaker Graham Blair for a while before buying one of his Minke Whale prints.

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We then hiked up Signal Hill for a view of the coast and the city below.

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My last two days were spent eating and drinking in the downtown core, where the sister and I popped in and out of local shops, cafes and eateries. Here are a list of places we went to in addition to the above, all of which I’d recommend to visitors!

To eat and drink:
– Hungry Heart Cafe (a social enterprise offering tasty seasonal dishes)
– Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food (always bustling and popular with the lunchtime trade)
– The Adelaide Oyster House (newly opened, great for a good glass of wine and sampling their share plates)
– Fixed Coffee & Baking (good outdoor patio-weather pending!)
– Jumping Bean (solid coffee and a view of St. John’s main street if you’re into people watching)

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To shop:
– Afterwords Book Store (for the next airplane read or addition to your personal library)
– Craft Council of Newfoundland & Labrador (for local wares, I picked up a couple of pairs of handmade wool socks)
– Fred’s Records (music and more)
– Tval Skincare (handmade natural goods inspired by Sweden and made in St. John’s)
– HOME (any gift you could ever need to buy for your humble abode or someone else’s can be found in this gorgeous shop)
– Junk (quirky pieces, I picked up a printed poster and unisex t-shirt)

To work:
– Common Ground Coworking (I had to pop in for a few hours and they were more than accommodating, with a chilled out and adorable office dog to boot!)

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While it was a short trip, it was perfect for five days spent catching up with my sister, meeting some friendly locals and exploring a small, coastal Canadian city I hadn’t had the chance to while living in Ontario.

If you’re in Newfoundland or Ireland and considering taking advantage of Westjet’s seasonal and direct cross-Atlantic service, make sure you get in early. More great news for 2015: they’re also doing trips to London (and advertising in island slang!)

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Weekend in London town

It seems we never tire of a trip across the pond to visit friends!

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Last month we spent a long weekend in London, catching up with our Aussie mates who were over visiting from Brisbane en route to Italy. We also caught up with our other Brisbane friends and an Irish relative who are all living in London.

We rented an Airbnb in Clapham, walking distance to the tube and main shops in Clapham Common.

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The husband hasn’t had much of a chance to be a tourist in the city so we headed to Camden Village to the markets before an evening trip to Westminister for a delicious gluten free dinner and drinks at The Truscott Arms. I had forgotten how nice it was to have a long, lazy meal with friends. We ate outdoors as London hadn’t been hit by autumn weather yet, in the private courtyard which was covered in fairy lights and so quiet you could mistake it for a friend’s back garden anywhere in the world. Surrounded by a table full of Aussies, some of them old coworkers, we felt as though we could have been dining al fresco in Brisbane!

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The next day I took him to the chaos and shopping mecca that is Oxford Circus where we marveled at the DJ spinning tracks for shoppers at H&M, such a far cry from our tiny one main shop street village in Kildare. After a few craft pints at the famous Victorian style Princess Louise Pub in Holborn with friends, we made our way to Covent Garden to catch Once, the musical at the Phoenix Theatre. Highly recommend to any fans of the movie, Glen Hansard and/or The Frames!

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We were so inspired that we decided to book our next big trip to Prague in early December to take in the Christmas markets, a bit of snow and see some of the Czech Republic (if you have no clue where this is coming from, one of the main characters in Once is Czech).

For now we are settling back into Irish life, watching the autumn hours set in as it gets darker earlier and earlier in the day. I only realised this week as we were driving down a tree lined street with orange and yellow tinged leaves, this is our first fall (North American speak for autumn) in five years! Around this time in Queensland, we’d be embracing spring and lounging by the pool as temperatures began to soar.

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Now it’s time to stock up on woolly socks and layers, as the brisk weather starts to bring the temperature down. Today it was only 11 degrees and I see it has already snowed in the mountains in Banff, Canada…time to face our new reality of four distinct seasons!

Later this month I will be off to the second Ireland to visit my sister in Newfoundland, Canada. I’ll finally get to see a slice of her life over there on the rocky east coast where the locals talk a bit like the Irish and have their own tricolour flag to boot! We’ll celebrate a belated Canadian Thanksgiving complete with a pumpkin festival and I’ll get to experience the crazy island life few Canucks get to see for themselves. Happy October, enjoy the change in seasons wherever you are šŸ™‚

Local characters

Remember when I mentioned I often find out information from complete strangers?Ā  Maybe it’s because I am inquisitive, perhaps it’s my friendly Canadian nature. Or maybe I have an inviting presence that spurns people to confide in me.

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Either way, we decided to go for a lovely 10km walk through Dublin’s southeast suburbs last Saturday, where I had an in depth conversation with two 60+ male locals who filled me in on everything from council politics to the history of Grace O’Malley. Before this encounter, we had stopped along the way to watch some Gaelic Football and get a bite to eat in Ranelagh. Then we popped into a Rugby pub in Booterstown for some tea before moseying to Dun Laoghaire for a bit of post-Belgium Leffe at Dunphy’s.

This cosy spot has been open since the early 1900s and upon entering the supposedly low key pub, we were met with the sight of locals enjoying ‘a few quiet pints’, including an older gentleman sipping his Guinness while reading a novel and writing notes to himself at the bar. Cue music from Tourism Ireland. It was like discovering every tourist’s dream – a real authentic Irish pub with real authentic locals going about their Saturday night.

We sidled up to the bar, drank our Leffe and were asked for travel advice by a couple of American tourists. That’s right, I blended in and my Galway-influenced Canadian accent can now be mistaken for a local lilt.

The highlight of the night though, was meeting my two older friends, an artist and a politician, who after helping me look up DART times, started talking about the history of Irish emigration to Newfoundland in Canada. Where I just happen to be going this October to visit my youngest sister! We traded travel tips and pirate stories about Ms O’Malley, discussed the expense of the new local library during the recession (ā‚¬36m lads, can you believe it?) and I was even given some advice on integrating in the Emerald Isle.

I told them I’d be back after my trip to ‘The Rock’ (Newfoundland) for a few quiet pints. Who knows who I’ll run into then?

Beers and mussels in Brussels!

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We took a weekend jaunt in August to beautiful Belgium where we soaked up glorious rays of sunshine on cobblestone patios, sipping on fresh local beers and picking at our moules et frites (mussels and French fries for the less cultured readers). It doesn’t matter if I was one of you in July, since my trip to Bruges and Brussels, after countless kms spent exploring tiny alleyways built five centuries ago and brushing up my rusty French on menu translations, I am now cultured, ok?

To be frank, we spent most of our time walking. When we weren’t walking, we were stopping to admire and snapping fleeting photos. When we weren’t being tourists, we were eating and drinking. We even found time to ride in a tiny boat along the canal in Bruges, have lunch at the oldest pub (people have been frequenting it since 1515) and finally found the elusive underground haunt serving over 120 Belgian beers.

But since pictures are worth more than words, here are a few to keep you going until our next trip to London in a few weeks time to have an Aussie reunion!

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In summary, here is a handy list of brews we sampled. All were delicious and small, so don’t judge us.

– Leffe (it’s a must)
– Duvel (the catch up beer)
– Primus 
– Hooegarden (when in Rome, eh?)
– La Chouffe (a cute dwarf logo, what’s not to love?)
– Fort Lapin
– Saison 1858 (award winning, best enjoyed in summer)
– Malheur (dark, delicious and 12% people!)
– Mystique
– Bruge Zot
– Gauloise Ambree
– Stella Artois (but of course)
– Jupiler
– Delirium Tremens (very tasty)
– Campus Premium
– Floris Wit BlancheĀ 
– WestmalleĀ 

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Summer love

I have had a whirlwind of a summer!

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I’ve walked the cavernous rooms of the Tate Modern while discussing life in small town Ireland with our friends in London. Stumbled across a makeshift throwback to my hometown in Borough Markets, while sipping on freshly pressed watermelon juice.

Wandered the streets of Dublin City South suburbs in search of potential homes, apartments and neighbourhood haunts with the fantasy of moving back to a city. To the buzz, the hum and the noise of other people, events and life in motion.

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I’ve been on dress duty in Toronto, looking on as one of my childhood friends married her travel partner and New Zealander soulmate on Toronto Island in a dreamy and warm beach wedding along Lake Ontario.

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I’ve explored Irish and Canadian seaside, countryside and cityscapes by foot, train, DART, streetcar, VW Golf, ferry, water taxi and plane. I’ve yet to ride a bicycle in over four years!

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I’ve watched baseball, FIFA World Cup, hurling and Gaelic football games. Families playing in the park during the long Irish summer evenings and moonlit cinema movies on picnic blankets in the Christie Pits park.

I’ve found a great BBQ restaurant on South George Street, dined on seafood and sauv blanc in the quaint suburb of Howth and drank some of the best coffee in Toronto at Jimmy’s on Portland.

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Of course I’ve also been enjoying both Irish domestic and Canadian craft brews, as long as the summer patio season will allow.

Now as the days are getting shorter and I’ve touched back down in Dublin to go back to work I’m left with a funny feeling. That life is not split 50/50 for us between two countries. Some of me still feels like it’s in Brisbane, while other parts long to discover new European destinations and relax with friends and family in the Canadian comfort of home.

How can I be from one place and love others so much?

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Having a laugh

I’ve been off the radar for a month now! My how time flies.

Just a little snippet of what I’ve been up to:

A quick spring trip home to Canada to eat great true north strong and free food (and to see my family and friends of course).

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Joining the Irish workforce in Kildare, going to meetings in Dublin, cafe hopping at lunch and navigating the public transit system.

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Bridesmaid wedding prep duties for the official occasion in Canada this August and hitting up Ireland’s east coast beaches in hopes of acquiring some colour.

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Roadtripping in our VW (Lady in Red) across Kildare, to Kilkenny and Galway.

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Spending the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cat Laughs festival in Kilkenny where we saw five gigs and 21 comedians over three days. Solid giggles all weekend long! The husband also celebrated his birthday in the city of the ‘Medieval Mile’.

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Stay-cationing in Dublin. The weather has been great so far this month with calls for sunshine over the next week. So, we’ll be exploring our own backyard in between catching World Cup matches!

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Highlights from the Highlands

I’m on a bus to Dublin airport en route to Canada for the bank holiday weekend so I might as well share some highlights from our trip to Edinburgh.

First I will start with Customs – for all you international couples out there, be sure you check your boarding pass before going through security. Turns out I forgot I’m not really Irish or an EU passport holder so we had a bit of a hiccup at the gate. Luckily I made it through with a sheepish grin!

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Once we touched down it was under 20 pounds for a black taxi from the airport to our hotel on Bread St at the Double Tree Hilton. We were a short stroll to the theatre district and Grassmarket area, which is a lot more touristy now but back in the day, was used as a public gallows and an area for selling livestock (like the ‘mart’ as they say in Ireland). It was here that we sampled some local brews and whisky at The Last Drop. You may guess by the name, it was supposedly where those visiting the gallows enjoyed their last drink in this life. Similar to England, they ring a bell for last call and sometimes dim the lights. In Ireland they usually flash the lights before ‘lock in’ where the bar is closed from outside but you can still finish your pint.

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We spent the next day walking the Royal Mile which leads to the Queen’s home when she visits the city at Holyrood Palace. On our way, we stopped by the Scottish Parliament and sat in the sunshine at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat.

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We walked up to Calton Hill instead of the more serious climb up the former, for a lookout over the city and the Firth waterway that surrounds the northern part of Edinburgh. It was beautiful.

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Oh look, here’s a pic I snapped of some local lawn bowl players. Almost felt like we were back in Oz!

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We walked back up Princes Street amongst the throngs of shoppers and ate at a pub down one of the pedestrian streets.

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Later that night we had drinks at Brodies Tavern, another local tourist spot and rested up for a big day at Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop volcanic rock overlooking the city from all angles. Tip: buy your admission tickets online to skip the queue.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying more sunshine and stopped in at the Elephant House Cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter.

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That night we went to Frankenstein’s, one of the popular local bars, where we sang along to karaoke (badly of course)!

It was surprisingly quiet for a long weekend but being Easter, everyone was probably enjoying time with the family. It was nice as the city wasn’t too overcrowded with tourists, which we heard happens during festival season. The city seems to have events happening on a regular basis and there’s definitely enough to see during a weekend trip.

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Edinburgh is a beautiful city and I will hopefully go back again!

The conversation of coincidences

Hope you had a lovely Easter long weekend! Before I delve into what we got up to in Edinburgh by way of too many photos, I must share a conversation I had today. Because really, this isn’t just a picture blog, it’s also for sharing snippets of everyday moments that happen to me. Rare or not, I meet a lot of interesting strangers.

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Today, while waiting for another late bus to Dublin city (25 minutes behind schedule guys, c’mon, you can do better), I met a lovely older gentleman.

While asking him about train fares, we discovered his family and my husband’s family are from the same area of County Galway, they may have even taught my relations in Corofin. He also has Canadian connections now, as his grandson just married a Canuck from Calgary AND he almost accepted a teaching job in Montreal back in the day.

We spoke about West of Ireland roadtrips on the newly opened Wild Atlantic Way and reminisced about how beautiful Scotland is (no offence to you, Eire). He met his wife over there and they lived in Scotland for some time, he missed it when they left.

We exchanged names, pleasantries, stories about Irish Canadian weddings and we even discussed photojournalism. He owns a Canon (I used to) and goes into Dublin to get his film rolls developed (I used to know how to develop my own).

So what of this conversation of coincidences? Perhaps I am overly friendly or just too curious but I did see today is ‘Pay It Forward’ day. Next time you’re waiting to get to your next destination, why not strike up a conversation with a stranger – you never know what you may have in common!

In other news

While we’ve been busy settling in to Kildare, a few exciting things have happened since my last post.

We bought a car! It’s a VW so here’s hoping it lasts for the time we need it. Solid, red and manual. While I’m not a fan of being a passenger in life, I will give in until Canada can sort out its’ license swap with Ireland.

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I now have a lovely home office! It’s light, bright and cheerful. While you glance up at your drop ceiling tiles in the open plan office where your cubicle lies, know that somewhere, there is an expat sorting through her paperwork one pink drawer at a time.

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(Real) spring arrived! Although it has supposedly been hanging around since February, it decided to officially make its’ appearance known through blooming daffodils and budding trees. Much better. We even had a 15+ degree day this week with sunshine and the ice cream truck had a cameo.

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I was in the Irish Queenslander magazine for my sports club’s December annual social, as a friend informed me. AND I was published in Global Living Magazine! Ok it was one Tweet but it’s still in print and I am a recognised ‘expat’. Thanks GLM.

Lastly, I booked a short trip home to Canada over the May long weekend. So not only will I have a post about Edinburgh after Easter, I can also write about spring on the farm in Ontario.

Looking forward to a month of short getaways and I hope you get to do a bit of exploring of your own this season too!