Siena and Florence

We ventured to Siena in our rental car on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend (the crowds! the traffic!) and it took us a solid hour and a half to find parking. We were still based in our middle-of-nowhere home in the Chianti region not too far from Siena.

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The incredible Duomo di Siena – the striped marble is a sight to behold!

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I was so disappointed to not have the opportunity to climb the Torre del Mangia tower in Piazza del Campo, because it was sold out when we got there, even though we were there in very early afternoon. This was #1 on my to-do list in Siena, but we still enjoyed wandering around the sun-drenched piazza.

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Very relaxing lunch in Siena

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Even though Siena got increasingly (and absurdly) crowded as the day went on, we really enjoyed leisurely wandering the beautiful lanes of this unique city and enjoying some down time and gorgeous food. We ended the day by buying a box of Bar Pasticceria Nannini’s gorgeous ricciarelli… unbeatable!!

The following morning, we returned our rental car (which took forever, plus they charged us out the wazoo for not having a completely full tank (even though it was nearly full) – we used up what cash we had to purchase petrol, we couldn’t find a station that was open to accept a credit card!) and took a taxi to the bus stop and waited for the return bus to Florence. We stupidly purchased our tickets in advance. I say stupidly because, as it was a bank holiday Monday (1st May), the bus was only running a couple times that day (this information was nowhere to be found online, I did check in advance!) and we had just missed a bus by two minutes. The next one was not for another four or five hours. So, we had to buy a local bus ticket to take us to the train station and had to buy train tickets. Such a waste of money and time, but we finally arrived in Florence… of course it was lashing rain! We dropped off our luggage at our Airbnb apartment and went for some lunch.

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Il Duomo di Firenze

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The lane our apartment was on

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Part of my lunch: Pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup)

For dinner, we went to my life wife/bestie’s favourite restaurant in Florence, Il Brincello. It was exquisite and we had the most enjoyable dining experience.

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Bruschetta never gets old!

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My love for pici knows no bounds

On our last morning in Florence, I went for a nice long walk while my parents relaxed and packed up their bags.

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Early morning – no crowds!

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View from Piazzale Michelangelo

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Pear and pecorino ravioli with balsamic vinegar

We enjoyed one last Tuscan lunch together before we made our way to the train station. I took the train to Bologna to fly back to Dublin and my parents made their way to Venice. It is never enough time, but I am so thankful for this beautiful long weekend with my parents in Tuscany.

What have I been up to lately? I went to London with my life wife to see Adele in June (blog post coming soon!). We spent our summer ditching work to do numerous cliff walks while simultaneously belting out Queen and treating ourselves to lunch, treats and drinks in the sun afterwards. I celebrated my birthday at the end of August – my last year in my twenties! I went through a major life change in early September when my life wife moved 5,200 miles away to Los Angeles (though she is visiting for a few days in two weeks!). I moved in to my dream apartment, a bright, cosy studio in a beautiful, quiet but central area of Dublin. I’ve thrown myself into my career and am really enjoying my work. I returned to Napoli, Italy over my October mid-term break, so more on that later! I am counting down the days until I head home to Florida for Christmas.

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Under the Tuscan Sun

In April of this year, my parents and my sister flew to Dublin for my Master’s graduation.  From previous blog posts, you already know my sister and I travelled to Prague, Ljubljana and Bled before I graduated. My parents arrived the morning after we returned to Dublin, I graduated the following day, and then my parents went off to Italy, on a trip that I planned for them. I was lucky enough to be able to join them for 4.5 days (3 nights in Quercegrossa [in the Chianti region], Tuscany and 1 night in Florence). We spent most of our time relaxing in the countryside surrounding our beautiful Tuscan home and then one day in Siena and one day in Florence.

I had to wake up at 3:15am on the Friday in order to make my flight to Rome at 6:20am. I then jumped on a train at Fiumicino airport to Florence, where I met my parents at the train station. We took the bus to Siena and then took a taxi to the car rental place (I’m exhausted just typing this), where we hired our Audi for the long weekend. I then attempted to drive us to our Tuscan home (an Airbnb), but Google Maps did not recognise the address, since it is in the middle of nowhere, not close to any major towns.

At this stage, I hadn’t eaten in hours and was purely exhausted from being awake since 3:15. I developed a bad migraine and we were stressed about finding our place before dark, which was fast approaching. We stopped and asked numerous people for directions, but they either had no idea how to help us or did not want to help us. We finally knocked on a random person’s door and they were so kind and knew exactly where to direct us. We arrived hours after we were supposed to, and were so relieved to finally be home.

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View from our Tuscan home

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The only restaurant nearby, where we had three meals (Il Mulino di Quercegrossa)

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The local grocery shop

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Quercegrossa town

After checking in, we immediately drove to the only restaurant in town, Il Mulino di Quercegrossa, and finally sat down to eat at 10pm. I hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, and I am the type of person who needs to eat every couple of hours, so you can imagine how I was feeling. My parents were just as bad. We couldn’t even talk, we were desperate for food and water. Luckily, the meal was divine.

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Our first (and in my opinion, best) meal – pici with black pepper and pecorino cheese

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We ate our breakfast and drank our coffee on our lovely terrace under the Tuscan sun and it was our favourite activity of the trip.

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San Quirico d’Orcia

We drove around the Val d’Orcia region on our first full day in Tuscany. We unfortunately got lost trying to find a certain restaurant, and ended up arriving just after they closed between lunch and dinner. Needless to say, we spent a silly amount of time being hungry on our trip, which is something I never thought could or would happen in Italy!

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San Quirico d’Orcia

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Val d’Orcia

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My favourite trees

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Views from our Tuscan home

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Views from our Tuscan home

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The beautiful Il Mulino di Quercegrossa restaurant

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I love the gorgeous light in these photos – the Tuscan sun beginning to set

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On one of our evenings in Quercegrossa, we heard a distant sound of bells. I ran outside to see what was happening and saw that a heard of sheep was coming up towards our home. I screamed for my Mum to come out and see what was occurring. We realised the sheep had bells around their necks and it was the most magical thing to witness. The sound was absolutely beautiful, not to mention the scenery of the sunset in the background of the rolling Tuscan hills.

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I am so grateful for the beautiful time spent with my parents in Italy. Tuscany is magical, and I cannot wait to go back and explore more. In my next post, I’ll talk about our time in Siena and Florence.

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Reflecting on 2016

As I write this, I have been awake for 33 hours straight and my head feels like it is swaying from exhaustion and jetlag, half of my heart is broken into a million pieces, while the other half is whole and my hands are so cold I can’t feel them. But I am still feeling so very blessed. 2016 was a year full of blessings for me, so I would like to take some time to reflect on my year.

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Flying over Florida

I feel like a lot of people feel that 2016 was a rough year, but I am not one of those people. 2016 was overwhelmingly positive and quite literally life-changing for me.

It didn’t start in a great way. I was in and out of agony from gallstones for 13 months and was scheduled to finally have my gallbladder removed on the 11th of January. I stupidly did not have private health insurance in Ireland (I do now – I learned my lesson!) and the public system is awful here. They cancelled my operation. Thankfully, a new team took me on and my surgeon fought for me and I finally had my gallbladder removed on the 24th of January. I never thought I’d be so excited to be taken in for an operation. Life without a gallbladder is glorious and I am so lucky I have not suffered any repercussions.

In April, I was very busy interviewing twelve guidance counsellors around Dublin for my Master’s dissertation. I thoroughly enjoyed this process and feel I learned an incredible amount from them.

In May, I surprised by sister by flying home for her college graduation. It was a very quick trip home, but so worth it. I will forever be grateful that I was there for this special day.

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I started Sean Nós dancing in July and in less than two weeks, I am moving up to the advanced class! After a 6-year hiatus from dancing, my soul needed it again. I missed tapping the most, so I figured I would try something similar (but also very different) and a style that would allow me to dance to beautiful traditional Irish music. Now I never want to stop!

I went to the Fleadh in Ennis. Enough said. (Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is a traditional Irish music competition)

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I celebrated my 28th birthday in Oxford with my life wife – an unforgettable, perfect weekend!

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I visited my dear friend H in Galway for 24 hours and we went swimming in the sea – my first time swimming in the sea in Ireland!! The water was 14C/57F.

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For Thanksgiving, my favourite day of the year, my life wife and I celebrated with 21 friends in our apartment. This was our 3rd annual Friendsgiving that we’ve hosted together in Dublin and our hearts were warmed more than ever with the turnout and enjoyment that was had that evening. In 2016, Thanksgiving helped me realise that, more than ever, the support system I have here is truly incredible. (I still can’t believe we squashed 23 people in our sitting/dining room!)

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Two hours after I submitted my dissertation, I got a call for my very first “career” interview – at the best school in Ireland. I didn’t get the job, but the interview went well and was great practice for me. I got the second job I interviewed for and it’s the perfect job for me. I am so happy. I am so incredibly proud of myself for beginning my career in another country.

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I took this photo right before I went in for my interview – St. Stephen’s Green

I went to northern Germany for a long weekend with my dear friend H in mid-December. She is from the small town of Schönberg, where we stayed with her loving parents. They welcomed me and treated me like one of their own for the whole weekend and I had a wonderful, relaxing time. We explored 3 different Christmas markets together and this was my very first time in Germany.

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Weihnachtsmarkt Stockseehof

I recently found out that I passed my dissertation with no corrections… meaning I am officially finished with my Master’s degree! I was also invited to present my results at the annual conference for guidance counsellors in March.

I was able to spend Christmas at home with my family. After spending two Christmases away, it’s not something I ever want to do again. I am so grateful that I was able to fly home this year, especially since I just started my new job in mid-November (perks of working at a school!). I had the most beautiful time at home, though it went way too quickly. This was a family focused visit; I unfortunately did not have enough time to see any friends on this trip.

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Christmas in Florida – Shephards at Clearwater Beach

To elaborate on my opening paragraph: I returned to Dublin yesterday from Florida and it was a longer journey than it should have been. As always, I had to take a red-eye flight, which I despise because I cannot sleep on planes, EVER. Half of my heart is broken into a million pieces because I had to leave my family. All expats can relate to this – it never gets easier. Ever. In fact, I think it only gets harder every time. I rarely feel lonely when I’m alone, but currently do, big time. I miss my family desperately and especially miss the little moments with them. The other half of my heart is whole because I am back in my favourite place in the world. I never thought I’d say this, but I am really missing the Florida sunshine and beautiful weather because my hands are so cold I cannot feel them. How quickly I forgot how perpetually cold my bones are here thanks to the dampness!

2016 was a year full of blessings for me and I am really excited to see what 2017 brings. Definitely on the list: enjoying my last guaranteed year in Ireland, hopefully travelling somewhere with my sister, graduation in April (and my parents are coming!), long weekend in Italy with my parents and enjoying my last months living with my life wife/best friend. The rest is still unwritten.

Beautiful June

June was the best month of my life – I had the most beautiful time with my family. They came to visit me in Ireland and it was our first time together outside of the U.S. My sister was here for 1 month and my parents were here for 2 of those weeks.

As a family, we did a bit of sight-seeing in Dublin, ate lots of nice meals, spent time with a few of my friends, hired a car to spend a day in Wicklow and travelled to Galway and the Aran Islands and stayed in a B&B on Inis Mór one night. My sister and I went to lots of places together – among the highlights: Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Cork, Blarney Castle, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, Belfast and we even spent 3 days in Amsterdam. It was an extremely busy but extraordinarily beautiful month. Seeing how much they also love my “home country” literally meant everything to me and completed my love for Ireland.

Dún Aonghasa - Inis Mór, Ireland

Dún Aonghasa – Inis Mór, Ireland

I now genuinely feel like I am going through the worst breakup/heartbreak of my life. My sister was the last to leave yesterday, and ever since then, my heart literally feels like it was shattered into a million pieces. I am so thankful for the time spent with my family, but it is so sad to be alone after I spent every second with my sister (/best friend) for a whole month.

I will go into details in my next blog post, but I felt I was very overdue to publish at least a small update! I pretty much unplugged for this past month and it was lovely.

I am tired and am very deserving of downtime and “me” time. It’s only June and this has easily been the busiest year of my life thus far. From the 2nd of January until the 5th of June, I was literally slaving away on assignments for my Master’s degree. It felt like it was never going to end! 3 major essays, a group presentation, a massive portfolio and my dissertation proposal and I finished it all just in time – the day before my parents arrived in Ireland. I have one more portfolio to complete before the end of August but other than that, I finally have a break until year 2 begins in September. Before then, I am really in need of a sun getaway where I can spend a few days in the sun doing absolutely nothing! Though we are currently experiencing a heat wave in Dublin and I am roasting!! It’s rough without air conditioning!!

In other news, I simply cannot believe I returned from my round the world trip exactly 1 year ago today. Funny timing since my sister ended her travel journey exactly one year after I did (I left Lima on the 27th and she left Dublin on the 27th).

This past year has flown by – much faster than any other year. I am now preparing for my trip to Iceland! I leave in less than 2 weeks. Though I must say, planning this trip is more stressful than planning my RTW trip was, which I did not think was possible! I am hoping the exquisite landscape will all be worth it, and I am sure it will.