Thursday Travels: Pag Island

CROATIA-4So, Pag Island, Croatia wouldn’t exactly have been top of our must-visit destinations (in fact, we hadn’t even remotely heard of it). But as it was one of the stops on our tour, we didn’t exactly have a whole lot of say in the matter. An island that’s actually connected to Croatia by bridge, it has 2 towns (Pag and Croatia), a population of just under 10, 000, and a weirdly barren, rocky landscape. It apparently is quite a lively place in the height of summer, but we hit it in May–just before the season got into full swing — so for us, it was pretty…dead. Not very many places were open for the season yet, and the whole island had this super sleepy, stagnant vibe to it. But you know what?! Some of our fondest memories from our time in Europe were the random escapades we got up to during our 2 days there. When you don’t have a wealth of museums to diligently check out, you make your own kind of fun…

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{…like finding depressing little souvenir shops…}

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{…and spending way too much time trying on kitschy sunglasses…}

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{…and wandering around the back streets, only to discover that ’80s-style hair salons are still alive and well…}

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{…and pondering on what a “Becki” burger consists of…}

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{…and getting lost and not being able to read maps, much less ones in Croatian…}

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{…and indulging in copious amounts of ice cream and Orangina…}

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{…like, seriously…}

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{…and enjoying romantic sunsets by the beach…}

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{…and going for late-night hot chocolates (what can we say, we know how to party!)…}

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{…before bidding a bleary-eyed farewell to Pag Island}

Thanks for the memories, Croatia! We’ll never forget you.

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Thursday Travels: Salzburg

SALZBURG2SALZBURG3Today’s post takes us back to the pretty city of Salzburg, Austria (aka the home of The Sound of Music). Despite having watched the movie like a million times, the city itself didn’t look at all familiar — so weird! We’d come across places that were apparently featured in the movie, but were pretty much unrecognizable to us. I think this was in large part due to the fact that it was a grey, gloomy, overcast day when we visited, and not the sunny Salzburg of the film. Weather aside though, it’s definitely a really nice place, with its clean, compact, city centre, bustling side streets, peaceful gardens, and lovely architecture.

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{FYI, that yellow building is Mozart’s birthplace}

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{Salzburg Cathedral}

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{The Cathedral again, with Hohensalzburg Castle in the distance}

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{St Peter’s Cemetery}

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{Probably the most elegant McDonald’s sign in the world}

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{Salzburg cityscape}

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{And now for something completely different: this electronic, breathing toy dog we spotted in a shop window — so creepy and lifelike.}

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{Goodbye, Salzburg! So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu!}

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Thursday Travels: Pisa & Verona

This week’s Travels takes us back to Italy — a sunkissed country crammed with culture and charm. Definitely one of our favourites 😉 In between visiting Rome, Florence and Venice (each of which will have their own post in the weeks to come), we made brief stops in Pisa and Verona…too brief to have their own post, so we’ve combined them. Unfortunately, we didn’t take a ton of pictures at either of these stops (we got distracted by gelato in Pisa and clothes-shopping in Verona) but you don’t really need hundreds of pics of the Leaning Tower or Juliet’s Balcony, do you?!

Now for a little history lesson: Construction on the Leaning Tower first began in 1173, and continued intermittently for hundreds of years after that. The tilting is caused by the unstable foundation on which it’s built (the ground was/is too soft), and gradually increased each year until the tower was stabilised about a decade ago. You can actually go in (and up) it, but we didn’t…it was the hottest day we’d yet experienced on our trip and we were dying for gelato…so we reserved our flagging energy for the pursuit of acquiring some. (The main difference between gelato and ice cream? Gelato uses milk where ice cream uses cream! And is somehow all the more yummier for that, in our opinion).

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{First glimpse!}

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{We tried to take a pic of us leaning against/pushing the Tower but after several failed attempts opted for a more basic pose}

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{On the prowl for gelato}

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{The Upright Tower of Pisa}

Now for Verona… It’s a mid-sized city in Northern Italy with an amphitheatre, warm-coloured buildings and sun-dappled streets, and the Casa di Giulietta — Juliet’s House. As in Juliet Capulet, heroine of Shakespeare’s great tragedy (and Taylor Swift’s alter ego).

While there actually was a Capulet family living in Verona, the similarities to the family of the play are a bit hazy, so the claim that this is the Capulet family home (and that the balcony was indeed Juliet’s) is a bit sketch…but nonetheless it’s become a love shrine of sorts, complete with letters to Juliet from people around the world posted on the walls.

It was a bit nauseating, what with the overwhelming amount of PDAs going on ever way you looked, so we made a hasty dash for the shops… We found a really good one called ProMod — a cheap and cheerful clothing store indigenous to Europe; definitely recommended!

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{Verona! Juliet’s Balcony}

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{Casa di Giulietta}

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{Piazza delle Erbe}

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{The city is full of beautiful, balconied buildings like these}

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Thursday Travels: Paris

Welcome to the second instalment of Thursday Travels! We hope you enjoyed last week’s feature on Ljubljana. This week, we thought we’d go for somewhere a liiittle more well-known, and decided that Paris would fit the bill nicely. Hope you like this brief account of our adventures in the beautiful City of Light.

Even though we’d been there already a few times, there is no such thing as running out of stuff to do in Paris; you cannot possibly get sick of the place. Seriously, just sitting all day long in a little outdoor cafe watching the world go by is the ultimate in entertainment. But, in all fairness, you can’t go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Montmartre and the Louvre. So that’s what we did. (With quite a few cafe-stops along the way, might I add.)

We arrived on a balmy day late in the afternoon and headed for Montmartre, Amelie Poulain’s vicinage; a hill-top district dominated by the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur. We had to climb 300 steps to get there, thus entitling us to copious amounts of croissants, pains au chocolat and raspberry meringues in payment for all that calorie expenditure (or so I reasoned).

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{Outside the Sacre Coeur}

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{Charming until you have to climb up and down them, in wedge heels nonetheless}

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{We stopped by the ET for some romantic Eiffel-tower-at-dusk shots}

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{Sisterly love}

The next day we were up bright and early to see the Eiffel Tower by day, and go to its topmost level (which none of us had ever done). We were there at 9, there were very few people, and we had no bother at all getting tickets to get the lift up (no more stairs for us, thanks very much!) As was to be expected, the views were stunning; a real-life panoramic postcard of hazy early morning Paris. We were all full of the joys of spring until it was time to head back down again… Oh. My. Lord. The queues were absolutely insane. We had to wait over an hour to get back down again, and never were we happier to set foot on solid ground again.

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{All smiles not realising the horrendous wait ahead of us}

At this point we were fairly famished, so we went in search of a cafe that was simultaneously non-depressing and reasonably-priced (which proved to be a tough find) but this little place hit the spot. I had a croque-monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a French-style chocolate-chip cookie (oddly crispy, with the chips sprinkled on top rather than embedded).

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{Bon appetit!}

Next up on our itinerary was to take a Bateau Mouche trip down the Seine. It was about an hour, and not thoroughly riveting, but you can’t really go wrong with sitting back and relaxing while sailing past Paris’s landmarks. There was a group of around 50 French schoolchildren aboard and their antics never ceased to entertain us. Every time we passed under a bridge they would get super excited and chant out “Une, deux, trois, OUIIIIII!!!!!!” (Roughly translated as “One, two, three, YEAHHH!!!!! So darn cute. Even after the twenty-ninth bridge.)

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{Becky aboard the Bateau Mouche}

By this time, it was getting on in the day, so we had to hightail it to our two other destinations: the Louvre and the Notre Dame cathedral. You could easily spend a full day at the Louvre and not see all it has to offer, so we followed the herds to its main attraction, the Mona Lisa (cos you know, you kinda have to see that) before making a hasty exit.

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{Louvre shot}

Our final cultural stop of the day was the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, one of my favourite places in Paris. There’s just something so atmospheric and haunting about it, especially on a gloomy day.

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{A lot of grass and people in this pic, but what can ya do!}

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{Having a moment}

Image 2 via Wikipedia

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Thursday Travels: Bath, Stonehenge & Stratford-upon-Avon

We started our adventures in England, where I met up with Vicky and Becky in London (they had spent a few days there already, seeing the sights and buying out Primark). The day before we left for France, we took an England-in-a-day trip, taking in Stonehenge, Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon.

We started off at Stonehenge, that famous pile of prehistoric stones in Wiltshire, about an hour or so from London. No one really knows exactly why it was constructed (theories include some sort of religious/sacrificial site, a monument to past ancestors, an astronomical observatory…or maybe it was simply a Neolithic theme park?! <— our personal view). Unlike in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, you can’t actually climb around on the stones; in fact, as you can see from the below picture, the whole area is cordoned off at quite a distance.

There ain’t a whole lot to do at Stonehenge, really. You get off the bus, look at the stones, take the pictures and then go off on your merry way.

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{Greetings from Stonehenge!}

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{The grey sky really enhanced the bleak ambience!}

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{Stonehenge gave Vicky the creeps!}

And then it was on to Bath. A city that we found ourselves absolutely loving, for some reason. I’d been there before on a beautifully sunny spring day, but even in the rain it was lovely. It’s just such a classy, elegant kinda city, you know?! The buildings are all Georgian, light-coloured stone, which gives it a majestic but airy sort of feel. A lot of European cities can feel a tad dark and oppressive, but this is definitely not the case with Bath.

We sadly didn’t have too much time to spend in Bath; we really just had time to grab a quick bite to eat and head straight for the city’s most famous landmark, the Roman Baths. Constructed in the 60s AD by the Romans, the waters were believed to have healing properties and became a destination for centuries to come. You can’t actually bathe in them any more, but you can explore the underground Roman ruins in the complex and then just spend a few minutes gazing into the murky green depths of the waters.

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{Street scene}

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{Bath Abbey}

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{Bicky in Bath!}

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{Pret a Manger pizza wrap — my fave!}

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{Murky Baths}

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{It was actually really relaxing to just sit by the water for a bit}

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{Little tucked-away nook}

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{Beautiful countryside}

And then it was on to Stratford-upon-Avon, which was, truth be told, a little bit disappointing. The part we saw of it (around Shakespeare’s Birthplace) was kind of drab and featureless; definitely not as quaint as imagined. The streets just seemed too…wide?

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{Stratford street scene}

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{Ooohh exciting!}

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{All the furniture seemed so small!}

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{And the ceilings were so low!}

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{The man himself}

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{Beautiful garden, ugly Shakespeare Centre}

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{A rose by any other name…}

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{Goodbye, Stratford!}

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Thursday Travels: Rome

This week’s post is on Rome, which we unanimously loved. (Vicky loves it more than Paris, but Ali’s on the fence — they both have such charm.) What Rome has going for it is a better climate; although the sky looks a bit overcast in our pictures, the two days we were there were beautifully warm. This was really appreciated in the evenings, which were balmy enough to make strolling around and eating outside after sunset so enjoyable. And the sunset on our first night was gorgeous! Again, our pictures don’t do it justice, but the city was bathed in this rich golden light that illuminated the ruins as the day came to a close. Così bella!

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{Sunset ruins}

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{More ruins!}

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{The Pantheon — ancient Roman temple to the gods}

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{Alternate view, featuring Becky!}

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{Spanish Steps}

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{Sun-dappled Colosseum}

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{Roman post office – so confusing & time-wasting! All we wanted to do was send a postcard, but to do so we had to take a ticket and wait…and wait….}

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{There was nothing for it but to take pictures and pretend we were having a grand old time}

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{All that waiting earned us a much-needed lunch break}

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{And then it was time to officially leave Italy for a bit and hit up Vatican City!}

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{Ciao, Roma!}

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Thursday Travels: Ljubljana

Last May, Vicky and I, along with our friend Becky, went on a 3-week trip around Europe. We took in the sights, ate all around us, people-watched to our hearts’ content, and generally had a fantastic time. None of us kept a journal during the trip itself (although I did make a few scattered notes here and there), so we’ve decided to recount our adventures here on the blog every Thursday, focusing on one city (in random order) per week. The minutiae of it may be a little bit boring (we’re fond of noting what we had to eat in each place!) so apologies in advance…it’s more a way for us to keep our memories alive than a super-informative guide, but we hope you enjoy it nonetheless!

While we had been to some of our ports-of-call before (ie. Paris, Rome, and Florence), there were others that were uncharted territory for all of us, and one such city was Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. None of us had ever been to Eastern Europe before, and my own experience of this little Slavic city was limited to its once having been on a spelling test of the capitals of Europe I had in 6th class when I lived in Ireland. The teacher, bless her, pronounced it “el-jub-el-jana” but I have since learned that it’s actually more like “loob-yana” to the locals, and the country in which it lies is “slo-ven-ia” and not “slo-vay-nia” (as I’d been calling it) or “slo-vee-nia” (which had been Vicky’s guess).

We arrived in the city on a stormy afternoon, with ominous grey clouds looming over the red-roofed buildings, which lent the place a distinctive air of Gothic horror gloom. (Although the below picture just so happens to capture the small patch of blue sky that was getting darker and darker by the minute).

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{Vicky and Becky chilling in Ljubljana city centre}

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{Posing in what is probably the most shabbily-chic little street I’ve ever seen}

In keeping with our custom of feeding ourselves first before taking in anything remotely cultural in a new city (in a bid to prevent any hangriness* which may arise) we roamed the cobbled streets in search of a suitable cafe. We finally settled on a clean little bakery with lilac walls and light wooden tables, where we feasted upon croissants fresh from the oven and the most lovingly-served cappuccino ever (for a mere euro something, it came served on a neat little tray accompanied by a glass of water and square of chocolate. So thoughtful). Sadly we don’t have any pictures to document this pit-stop but here’s one of Vicky and Becky later on in the day at a particularly nice McCafe, at which we indulged in mochas with elaborately drizzled chocolate syrup and beautiful pastries you could have sworn came from an exclusive patisserie.

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{Enjoying a sumptuous late-afternoon pick-me-up for pennies}

But don’t worry, we also did other (less gluttonous) things in Ljubljana. We visited the city’s main attraction, its hilltop castle – a rather foreboding 9th century meets the ’70s fortress, which was a tad soulless and bizarrely devoid of any sort of furnishing.

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{Funicular railway up to the castle}

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{The castle courtyard – a rather grim place}

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{The castle was full of intriguing little doors like this one}

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{There was an art gallery of sorts in the castle full of this nightmarish stuff – eeeeek!!}

Ljubljana is a fairly small, compact city (at just over 250, 000 people, it’s one of the smallest capitals in Europe); just the right size to explore in a day. Apart from the castle, there were other buildings and monuments of note dotted throughout the town centre which we had a look at.

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{The Ljubljana Dragon, the city’s sweet little mascot}

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{The 17th-century Frančiškanska cerkev, aka Franciscan Church, and Prešeren Monument}

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{Vicky and Becky inside the (super-ornate) church

Once we’d covered a respectable amount of historical things, we felt that a different form of cultural exploration was necessary – checking out the shops! Whenever possible, we love having a look at the high street shops (H&M, Zara, etc.) in a new city/country; not necessarily to buy anything, but just to get a better feel for what everyday life is like for people our age, away from the touristy spots. (We apply this logic to our predilection for McDonalds in every city, too…but seriously, it’s really interesting how each country has a slight variation of the menu, and plus, it’s always a safe bet for when you just don’t fancy a horse steak or liver sausage for dinner).

Wandering the streets of Ljubljana, we made a few interesting (to us, anyway) observations – that the Slovenes tend to be super tall (I’m 5’9″ and for the first time ever I felt average height — I loved it!), and that the city has lots of bookshops, many with a surprisingly large selection of English books, compared to other European cities. The people, for the most part, were somewhat reserved but very polite and sweet, and, as previously noted, the service in cafes was impeccable.
It would have been nice to see the city on a sunnier day, as the stormy weather sort of enhanced the sliiiightly oppressive vibe going on. Hopefully one day we’ll be back!

*hunger-induced anger

Images 4, 8 & 9 via Wikipedia

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Thursday Travels: County Clare, Ireland (and Thoughts on Cork & Waterford)

DSC_0499Last March, my mum and I paid a trip to Ireland. We visited family in Dublin, then managed to squeeze in a road trip around the rest of the country, taking in the beautiful scenery of the countryside as well as visits to three of Ireland’s major cities: Galway, Cork and Waterford. I’m kicking myself I didn’t take any photos in these last three destinations, but let’s just say that I loved Cork and hated Waterford! (Galway I’d lived in for a year when I was 12 and have visited a few times since…and I’d definitely recommend it: it’s a very lively, bustling city, but compact and easy to get around). 

I’d never been to either Cork or Waterford though, and that part of the country (the south) felt so different from where I’m more familiar with (the west). The countryside was more lush, the accents different…even the buildings had a different look to them, I thought. I didn’t really know what to expect of the city of Cork, but I found myself loving it far more than I thought I would (don’t you love when somewhere exceeds your expectations for once?!). While the area around the quays and docks is pretty dark and grimy, the city centre itself is bright, airy, and spacious; totally not what I had in mind. Corkonians will probably hate me for saying this, but something about the city had an English feel to it to me…I can’t explain why, exactly, it just reminded me of various places I’d been to in England. So, yes, Cork was a definite love, must-go-back-to, etc. etc. for me. My grandmother’s family on my mum’s side are actually from County Cork, so what can I say, it’s in my genes!

Now Waterford on the other hand… Ugh. Shiver. I think I was just in a bad mood that day, but I really really didn’t like the place. My mum (who worked in the city for a while in her 20s and wanted to see it again) thinks I must have been beheaded by Vikings there in a past life or something, which could explain it! But in fairness to Waterford, it isn’t really a destination city, and doesn’t advertise itself as such, so it’s not exactly like I had high hopes that were sadly dashed on visiting it or anything. And it’s actually not that bad, I think I just like playing up my dislike of it. We were only there for a few hours, on our way back to Dublin, so didn’t have a huge amount of time to do stuff, but there are a few museums and things of interest to see (it’s the oldest city in Ireland, after all — founded by Vikings in 853), so you know, maybe I’m being unjust here. But let’s just say I wouldn’t be in a mad rush to go back.

Ok, now how about I talk about the place where I actually took photos?! That would be County Clare, the county where both of my parents grew up, where my grandparents used to live, and where some of my happiest memories are from. My mum and I spent a few nights in her hometown of Kilkee, and one sunny afternoon, we decided to go on a mini road trip around the surrounding countryside. 

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{And we’re off!}

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{Thanks a lot for obstructing the view, random blue bucket}

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{It’s barbaric! But hey, it’s home}

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{Carrigaholt Castle. We really wanted to get up closer to it, but then we saw this sign…}

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{Eeeeeeek!!!!!!!!}

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{But the bull didn’t appear to be in that day, so we took our chances…}

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{…and it was worth it for this magical view}

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{We paid a trip to the Church of the Little Ark…}

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{…so named because it’s home to this wooden structure –“the little ark”– in which a priest would say mass for local Catholics in the 1850s (their landlords wouldn’t let them build a proper church). You can read the full story here if you’re interested}

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{Church grounds}

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{The village of Kilbaha, whose local pub claims to be the closest one in Ireland to New York}

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{Yeah, I don’t know why either}

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{Slán!}

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