30th Birthday Celebrations in Copenhagen

Part 3 of “the best summer of my life” blog posts … featuring my 30th birthday trip to Copenhagen!

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I chose to celebrate my 30th with one of my closest friends, H. We’ve travelled together before: we visited her hometown together in Germany to visit the Christmas markets in December 2016 and we knew we were/are the perfect travel companions. We have exactly the same travel style and the same tastes and similar personalities. Befriending her and getting to know her is, to date, one of my greatest accomplishments in Dublin, so I knew I wanted to celebrate with her. She’s also an extraordinarily loyal friend, so she didn’t hesitate to say yes when I asked. I chose Copenhagen for a few reasons: 1) I’ve wanted to visit for many years 2) I’m the world’s greatest fan of “The Little Mermaid” and Hans Christian Andersen, so… enough said. I had to visit the little mermaid statue and my 30th seemed like the perfect occasion to do so. 3) My birthday is at the end of August, meaning it is quite hot across most of Europe… and, well, I hate the heat. Copenhagen’s weather turned out to be absolutely perfect when we were there (apart from the fact that it lashed rain pretty much non-stop on my actual birthday, but I am grateful that we had the most perfect weather imaginable the day before and we really made the most of it!).

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We stayed in this amazing Airbnb in central Copenhagen. It was perfect for us: it was spacious, modern, decorated beautifully, comfortable, in the perfect location (we were able to walk everywhere easily) and we were able to enjoy coffee and drinks on the adorable balcony in the mornings and evenings.

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Days 1 & 2

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Day 1 didn’t consist of much apart from a late lunch/early dinner at RizRaz (their salad bar is AMAZING!!!! and will forever be remembered as one of the happiest experiences H & I shared together); the weather wasn’t great and we were fairly tired from travelling. We took the time to get our bearings and plan the rest of our time in Copenhagen. On Day 2, we decided to stop for breakfast on our way to Nyhavn – Cafe Norden caught our eye and it really did not disappoint! Breakfast was as delicious as it was aesthetically pleasing. Their homemade rye bread was some of the tastiest bread I’ve ever had!

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Nyhavn did not disappoint – yes, it is touristy, but for a reason. It is incredibly charming and is a wonderful place to wander around.

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I’ve read a ton of reviews by people saying that they were disappointed in the little mermaid statue. I was NOT one of these people. Yes, it was overly crowded around the statue, but I still managed to feel like I had my “moment” with her… and it was worth it!

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Next, we walked through Freetown Christiania.

Christiania is a former military base that sat abandoned for many years before becoming the neighborhood we know today. In 1971, a group of hippies broke down the barricades and began squatting there. Nowadays, approximately 900 people live in the area, comprising a community that has its own rules and regulations completely independent of the Danish government. Source

I simply cannot describe the feeling of walking through bohemian Christiania other than… it is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. We saw some very interesting sights, people and houses. If you visit Copenhagen, I would absolutely recommend visiting Christiania. It’s an experience unlike any other.

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We then visited Tivoli Gardens, but we only paid for entrance, not the rides. It was absolutely worth it – it’s an incredibly beautiful park with so much to see and do. We watched a ballet, played a couple arcade games, had lunch and watched a dog show. Tivoli is what inspired Walt Disney to create Disney World and, being from Florida, this was a pretty cool experience for me. If I lived in Copenhagen, I think it would be worth it to get an annual pass as they host so many different events year round. We noticed lots of locals hanging out, spending their Sunday with friends and family at Tivoli.

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Ice cream in Copenhagen is an absolute MUST!!! Iceland is also known for their ice cream, which I thought was good, but this is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. Again, I don’t know how to describe it – it was unique in every way!

Day 3

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We began my birthday by eating one of the most incredible breakfasts I’ve ever had in my life – in one of the most beautiful cafes I’ve ever been to. Paludan Bogcafe… a stunning bookstore and cafe, all in one. The staff was very friendly, the space was so cozy and inspiring and their menu offered high quality food and drink for great value. I’m pretty sure breakfast took us over three hours to consume – it was the perfect way to begin my 30th year… a leisurely breakfast in a beautiful space with a dear friend. What more could I ask for?

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This is the “vegetarian brunch”: scrambled eggs with chives, hummus, yogurt with fresh berries and muesli, pancake with maple syrup, cheese and fresh fruit, served with either fresh orange juice or a small smoothie… all for only 109 kr (approximately $16 USD)!! INCREDIBLE value for money. Copenhagen is notoriously expensive, but I would consider this cafe to be so well priced. This meal literally kept me FULL until we had dinner at 8:30pm (and I am usually the type of person who requires more than three meals per day).

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Unfortunately, it rained all day on my actual birthday. However, the rain did not deter us. H surprised me by treating us to a “couple’s” (friends!) full body massage followed by champagne and relaxation in the spa, which was so appreciated. We didn’t book a couple’s massage, so that was a bit of a surprise; however, it ended up being that much more fun and enjoyable, because it was an experience we were able to share together. We also visited the Rosenborg Castle between rain showers.

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I chose Llama for my birthday dinner: a Latin American restaurant inspired by Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Mexico – AKA my dream come true. It was pricey, but worth it for a special experience. Not an obvious choice of food while in Denmark, but I have no regrets. We shared a variety of unique (seemingly my favourite word to describe our trip to Copenhagen!) dishes and enjoyed a smokey margarita to toast to our friendship.

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Llama’s bathroom floor

Day 4

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I had to visit Brødflov, mostly because of the name (bread love), but also because their cafes are beautiful and I read about their delicious pastries. We had so much to fit in on our last (half) day, so this was breakfast #1 for us.

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Breakfast #2 was enjoyed at Cafe Dyrehaven – a super cool spot with extra friendly staff. We went for the open-faced sandwiches, but unfortunately, due to our flight time, we were too early and chose a breakfast item instead. Avocado toast with beetroot cured salmon – absolutely amazing!

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HOT DOGS, glorious hot dogs – OMG. Shortly after breakfast #2, we had to fit in one last hot dog. Just like ice cream, Iceland is also known for their hot dogs… and they were truly amazing; however, I’ll go out on a limb and say the two hot dogs I had in Copenhagen were even better. For our last meal before heading to the airport, we opted for a spicy hot dog from a street vendor and it was, quite possibly, my favourite thing I ate all summer. Yep, I said it.

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Our trip to Copenhagen was perfect in every way and was everything I could have asked for my birthday. I wanted to be able to look back on my 30th birthday with a fond memory, despite going through a difficult time, and thanks to H, I will forever be able to do just that. Thank you to Copenhagen for being everything I needed at that time. H and I both agreed we could happily live there – it’s everything we love in a city: so friendly, clean and beautiful.

Summer Road Trips

Part 2 of my “photo diary of the best summer of my life” … featuring four different road trips!

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Went on a road trip with my friend I to Wexford to meet his beautiful horse Rueben!

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Basically a horse whisperer

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Went to Wicklow with my friend G to attempt to find Lough Ouler – no such luck! We were convinced the lake dried up in the drought. Beautiful hike anyway

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Road trip with I and Mommy Z to Mayo and Achill Island

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Keem Beach, Achill

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Watermelon ice lollies and singing the Greatest Showman soundtrack as loud as possible

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Clew Bay, Mayo

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View of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain

I hired a car and drove for the first time ever in Ireland (properly – I tried when I first arrived in 2010). I can’t believe it took me five years. I drove from Dublin to Dingle and then around the Dingle Peninsula, which was exhilarating… especially driving Conor Pass!!!

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Solo road trip to Dingle – Conor Pass

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Conor Pass

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Dingle town

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Boat trip to Great Blasket Island – view of Dingle

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Beach on Great Blasket Island

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Incredibly clear water

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Hanging out with about a hundred seals on the beach!

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Inquisitive sheep on the Great Blasket Island

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My hired car

My trip to the Great Blasket Island was truly incredible, but was not without its consequences. As you can see, I had the best weather imaginable, which I am still so grateful for. Unfortunately, after 7 hours on and off a small boat, I got reverse sea sickness and ‘wanted’ to go to a hospital in the middle of the night due to dehydration and how sick I was. I resisted, simply because the nearest hospital was a fair distance away. Regardless, I can’t recommend this magnificent island enough. I would have loved to stay overnight – I can’t think of a better, more remote place to escape the madness of this world! This is the company I booked for the boat trip and they truly were one of the best small companies I have ever dealt with.

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Dingle town

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Dún Chaoin

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The stunning Dún Chaoin

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Dingle town

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Views along the Slea Head drive

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Foxy John’s pub in Dingle – doubles as a hardware shop

A Day in Sintra, Portugal

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Living my best mermaid life at Pena Palace

On my last full day in Lisbon, I agonised over whether or not to take a day trip to Sintra. I initially intended to go, but my friend went the previous day and said it was insanely crowded. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of crowds. After breakfast, I made the spontaneous decision to go to Sintra and I am so happy I did! I happened to be on the same train (40 minutes to Sintra) as Luis, a guy I met on my walking tour two days before. We decided to spend the day together and I can’t imagine it any other way. We had a blast!

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We decided to hire a private driver for the day because we were both feeling lazy and a bit overwhelmed. We randomly chose Tania (Off Course Tours / reviews here) and had no idea how lucky we were to choose her! She kept us laughing all day – if you are planning to go to Sintra and you have a good sense of humour, please hire Tania! She is fabulous. We got to skip all of the queues and saved an incredible amount of time. Every time we did this, Tania asked us to wave like royalty so the three of us would do so, and this became the theme of the day (see below). Another reason to hire Tania: the palaces and monuments of Sintra are very spread out – if you are only in Sintra for a day, it will be quite stressful to try to see more than one monument on your own.

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Pena Palace

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This guy matches the palace perfectly!!

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View of the Moorish Castle

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Being at Pena Palace felt like being in Disney World for adults! Quite spectacular and so much to explore. I was very pleased with the amount of people in Sintra – not too crowded at all. I cannot imagine being there in summer!

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The grounds below the Pena Palace

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Being a princess

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Royal wave… everywhere we went!

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Having a blast!

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Sintra has a microclimate and we experienced almost every season in one day! The weather is rarely the same as it is in Lisbon. It was extremely windy, quite chilly, very hot and humid, raining (luckily this didn’t last long at all!), super sunny, very cloudy. It changed every couple minutes, literally.

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Chalet of the Countess of Edla… looks like the Hansel and Gretel house!

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After lunch with a view (at a lovely local cafe called Garagem – we had gorgeous soup, a codfish croquette, a steak sandwich and a coffee… all for €6.50!!!), we went to Quinta de Regaleira. Every time I spoke to someone who had already been to Sintra, this was the place that they most recommended seeing and I can see why! So, so beautiful. We definitely had a major “wow” moment when Tania drove us up to the entrance and we had our first view of this beauty!

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The Masonic Initiation Well

The pair of wells, known as the ‘Initiation Wells’ or ‘Inverted Towers’, consist of ‘winding stair’ architecture, which carries symbolic meaning including the death/rebirth allegory common to many hermetic traditions. One of the wells contains nine platforms, which are said to be “reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise.”” source

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Walking on water!

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Cork tree in Sintra

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We were unfortunately too tired to hike down to the Monserrate Palace. This is at the top of my list the next time I am in Portugal!

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This truly was the highlight of my day in Sintra. After we left Quinta da Regaleira, Tania drove us to a viewpoint of Monserrate and then, on our way to the town centre of Sintra, she said “would you like to try the best shrimp cake you’ll ever have?” It didn’t sound particularly appetising to me at the time, but I never say no to trying new food! We pulled up to this very unassuming old shop on the side of the road. Cafe Pereira or Cafe Salvador, as it is owned and operated by a sweet man named Salvador (pictured above, with Tania, our guide).

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These photos were taken from Google Maps

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To clarify, this “shrimp cake” is a savoury food, not a sweet cake. I don’t know how to describe it as it was unlike anything I’ve ever had before, but it was absolutely delicious!! Salvador also makes incredible espresso (and I’m a coffee connoisseur!). He was so pleased we decided to visit him, but really, he has no idea how happy he made me. Tania said he doesn’t get as much business as he used to, partially due to the location outside of town. This made me so sad because really, businesses like Salvador’s are who we should be supporting. Please, if you have a car in Sintra or if you hire Tania, visit Salvador’s shop and try his shrimp cake, or at least his coffee!!!

 

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The laneways of the town of Sintra were reminiscent of being in Greece!

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Sintra

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National Palace of Sintra

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Enjoying a travesseiro

Another must do when in Sintra: go to a place called Periquita and try the travesseiro pastry! Travesseiro means pillow, but that doesn’t give much away in regards to its taste. It is made of puff pastry with a filling of almond cream, but the taste really cannot be described! Please note: Piriquita currently has two units, one right of the main entrance of the alley of Sintra and the other on the same street but higher up – just keep going (it’s very close).

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Luis and I went out to dinner together in Lisbon after our day in Sintra at Alfaia and we noticed this piece of artwork hanging in the restaurant. He said he was the bald guy and I was the lady with the crazy hair – perfectly accurate. I could not stop laughing.

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Pure happiness at the end of our day in Sintra – I love meeting new people when travelling

If you’re visiting during off season or shoulder season, I would strongly recommend visiting Sintra. Please make sure you bring layers and be prepared for all types of weather – don’t let the weather in Lisbon fool you! I would also highly recommend more than one day in Sintra to really do it justice as it is quite mountainous and the monuments are spread out. Don’t skip the town of Sintra itself as it really exceeded my expectations. It is beautiful and quaint and really enjoyable to wander around.

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Lovable Lisbon

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I just returned from the most wonderful four days in Lisbon. When I was booking my flights, I was thinking to myself “yes, I’d like to go, but I’d rather go to Italy!” (a constant thought of mine). But, just like my trip to Barcelona, I was absolutely blessed with the weather (I had the luck of the Irish for once, usually the bad weather follows me!) and completely fell in love with the city. It exceeded my expectations.

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View of my B&B – MiCasaEnLisboa

I stayed in the most gorgeous B&B imaginable – MiCasaEnLisboa which is located in the neighbourhood of Graça. It is a quiet neighbourhood surrounded by many beautiful miradouros (viewpoints) and the lovely, green park Jardim da Cerca da Graça. It is also well located to explore all of Lisbon. If you are looking for a peaceful, beautiful place to stay, I couldn’t possibly recommend this B&B enough. The staff is so kind and the breakfast is really something special.

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View from MiCasaEnLisboa

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Near to MiCasaEnLisboa

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View from my room in MiCasaEnLisboa

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Part of my breakfast on day one (it is always slightly different each day). Bowl of fresh fruit, juice, coffee, homemade cake, homemade breads and jams, etc.

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These photos were taken from MiCasaEnLisboa’s TripAdvisor, as my photos do not do it justice! It is absolutely stunning. This is the common room and where breakfast is served. It really is this bright and beautiful.

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Breakfast table

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My room (the single room)

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The walk from MiCasaEnLisboa to São Jorge Castle

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Portas do Sol – beautiful miradouro

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Portas do Sol

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Lunch at Le Petit Cafe: Queijo de Azeitão (the most delicious cheese!) served with bread and a beautiful tomato soup with feta

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Miradouro de Santa Luzia – my second favourite miradouro in Lisbon

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Miradouro de Santa Luzia

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Dinner at A Cevicheria

I would highly recommend A Cevicheria for fabulous ceviche; however, expect to wait a long time. It is a small place and they do not take reservations. I waited a solid 1h15m+. It was worth it, though!

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Ceviche Puro – seasonal white fish, mashed sweet potato (a special kind only found in Portugal, it isn’t orange!! I was amazed), onions, seaweed and tiger milk

The Ceviche Puro was the surprise of the night. I thought I was going to love the Tuna Ceviche the most but the Puro was recommended by one of the waiters and it blew me away!!

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Tuna Ceviche – tuna, foie gras, lychees, hazelnuts and tiger milk with beetroot

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Rua Nova do Carvalho – the pink street

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I am missing pastel de nata from Manteigaria! Portuguese custard tarts, mmm. I got two on Sunday, one on Monday and two on Tuesday!

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Praça do Comércio – beautiful square near the Tagus River

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I spent a couple hours perched here in a lounge chair on both Sunday and again on Tuesday.

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Rosé sangria – it was 24 degrees C on this day!!

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I was really impressed with the Time Out Market! So many amazing looking stalls. 

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I chose the Miguel Castro e Silva stall based on a recommendation and I ordered the Arroz de Polvo Provençal – rice with octopus! Absolutely fabulous.

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Ice cream from Santini – I chose their flavours of the day: mango, green apple and coconut

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Miradouro da Senhora do Monte – personally my favourite miradouro! Bonus: it’s right around the corner from MiCasaEnLisboa

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View from São Jorge Castle

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São Jorge Castle

Personally, I do not think it is worth visiting the castle. It’s a new castle (not much to look at) and I think you can get equally beautiful views from the various free miradouros vs. paying 8.50 for entrance to the castle!

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Carmo Convent – the roof was destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1755

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Elevador de Santa Justa

“The Elevador de Santa Justa stands 147 Ft (45m) tall and the structure is built in the same style as the renowned French architect, Eiffel. The similarity between his designs and this Elevator is not accidental, as it was built by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, who was an admirer of Gustave Eiffel and applied the same techniques used in some of the funiculars in France of the time.” source

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The beautiful tiles of Lisbon

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Ginja is a liqueur infused with sour cherries. It had to be tried, but honestly I thought it tasted like cherry cough medicine! xP

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Açorda de camarão @ Alfaia – Açorda is a typical Portuguese dish composed of thinly sliced bread with garlic, finely chopped coriander, olive oil, vinegar, water, salt and poached eggs. Served with shrimp. Absolutely delicious! I recommend having green wine with this dish – it’s a lovely antidote to the slight saltiness of the dish. 

 

Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon and is one of the only areas that was not destroyed by the earthquake/tsunami of 1755. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful area of Lisbon and one of my favourite activities was wandering the lanes.

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Pictures of locals are featured on the walls of Alfama – this was one of my favourite things to look at. 

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Fado (traditional Portuguese music said to be born in Alfama) at Mesa de Frades

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Sunset from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

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Lisbon is full of friendly people, beautiful food and gorgeous sights. It is a walkable city, but is extremely hilly. I walked the entire time, but my legs were definitely sore at the end of my trip. I spent 4 full days and 4 nights in Lisbon and I would recommend not spending any less time than that. Not pictured: definitely try bacalhau (dried, salted cod) when you’re in Lisbon!

Next up: a post on my day trip to Sintra, Portugal!

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Reflecting on 2017

Overall, 2017 was a very good year. It consisted of some turbulent times for me, but overall very positive. A few life changes, too! This year definitely flew by faster than any other year for me. I visited 3 new countries (Spain, Czech Republic and Slovenia) and visited an area of Italy I’ve never been to before (Tuscany). I also returned to my favourite destination outside of Ireland (Napoli).

January – I rang in the New Year with my family in Florida, something I hadn’t done in a couple years. — I finally saw Tommy Tiernan live in Dublin.

February – I submitted the hard-bound copy of my dissertation. — I visited Barcelona over my mid-term break.

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March – I presented my research at the IGC’s annual conference. — Celebrated my life wife’s birthday in style (and in the sun!). — Our St. Paddy’s Day celebrations exceeded expectations! We celebrated at the Guinness Storehouse and expected to be annoyed by touristy events, but it was a blast!!

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April – My sister visited me – we had a few days in Dublin, then we went to Prague, Ljubljana and Bled. When we returned to Dublin, my parents joined us for my Master’s graduation.

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May – (and end of April) I joined my parents in Tuscany, Italy for a long weekend.

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June – I treated myself to a night in a luxury hotel since I couldn’t take a holiday this summer. I had 5 days off between the last day of school and the start of my summer job. — I had a 16 week blow dry done for the first time and my life was changed forever! — My Christmas gift from my life wife was a trip to London to see Adele, which turned out to be extra special since it was unexpectedly her last planned live show!

July – Saw Passenger in Iveagh Gardens thanks to A, who got me a ticket for my birthday. — Began living my best life on Mondays with my life wife – where we ditched work to do cliff walks while singing Queen followed by afternoon cocktails in the sun!

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August – August was a month full of change and mixed emotions. Celebrated my anniversary of moving in with my life wife on our actual move-in date. I moved into my very own studio apartment, which is a bit of a dream come true. I have no commute to work and live in one of the most beautiful areas of Dublin. However, moving out of my two bedroom apartment in my favourite area of Dublin (Smithfield) and no longer living with my life wife was the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make in my life thus far (I sobbed on moving day). — I found out I was able to return to the school I worked in last year – the most wonderful surprise! — Celebrated my 29th birthday with a beautiful brunch – a place we had never been before, but quickly became one of our top two favourite brunches in Dublin!

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September – Said “see you soon” to my life wife and saw her off to Los Angeles. I threw myself into work once she left to distract myself.

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October – Normally my favourite month of the year, but unfortunately was a very bad month for me for reasons I won’t go into right now. It was all good at the end of the month though – I went to Napoli on my mid-term break and all was right with the world again. I ate 4 pizzas in 3 days… more details to come!

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November – Finally visited the National Botanic Gardens for the first time. Saw the Grafton Street Christmas lights lit up on the first night with my friend N, while eating Terry’s Chocolate Orange McFlurries.

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December – Welcomed my life wife back to Dublin for a few days for her viva… what a beautiful reunion it was! We had the absolute best 5.5 days and did ate everything we set out to do eat. — I am getting ready to fly home to Florida for Christmas and feel very blessed that I get to do so. It hasn’t hit me yet though… I’ve been so busy and it’s also currently very mild in Dublin (today was 13C/55F), so it no longer feels very Christmassy (it did until this week!). I am so excited to be home and watch Christmas movies with my family. I haven’t been home since last Christmas.

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I am NOT ready for January and February in Ireland, but am pretty excited for 2018! For one, it’s an even number, which makes me feel a bit more calm for some reason. What’s on the horizon? So far the only plan I have is to join my life wife in France over my February mid-term break and to continue Sean Nós dancing. Who knows what’s next for me? I’ll begin a new decade next year, so I’ll try to plan something big! Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas… see you in the New Year!

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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