Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Apologies to my Readers!

So sorry for being MIA these past few weeks, the holidays and working have taken up pretty much all my time. Plus, I am studying to take the bar exam again in February (and that is beyond time consuming). So I just wanted to apologize for not being very active on the blog. I hope to change all that VERY soon. I hope to make some BIG announcements in the coming months of 2015 and cannot wait to share my plans with all of you! 

Thank you all once again for reading my stories and always being kind and supportive, you all really make my day. 

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 15, 2014

I Stole The Sign: An American Political Scientist in Ireland

If you visited Ireland in the first half of 2012 you no doubt noticed the giant "Vote Yes" and "Vote No" political signs tacked to anything and everything that stood upright. At the time of my visit, Ireland was embroiled in a heated referendum to "Vote Yes" or "Vote No" on joining the European Stability Treaty--which essentially acts as a "bailout" for EU states in dire financial straits. *

One of the very first things that I saw upon landing in Ireland were those signs. Having graduated from university with a degree in political science the year before and in Ireland to study the laws of the European Union, I was incredibly excited to learn about the referendum. In addition, I'm a huge Downton Abbey fan, and this seemed right up the alley of my favorite character, the outspoken-socialist-chauffeur-turned-husband of manor-born Lady Sybil Tom Branson.  From the very first day in Ireland I had one goal, to get one of those signs for my very own.  I didn't know how I would get one (because climbing up on a light pole seemed dangerous if not slightly illegal--and arrest would get me kicked out of my program) but I was determined to get one.  I would bide my time until the vote, and then see if I could possibly find one to stuff into my suitcase.

On 31 May, 2012, Ireland voted "Yes" on the Treaty, to the chagrin of Sinn Finn. And to my delight, the signs began to be taken down. I had spent the day with a friend shopping on Grafton Street in Dublin and was in the cab back to my university when I noticed that some of the signs had been taken off the light poles and shoved behind them or against rubbish bins, likely to be picked up at a later time. 

Memorizing the route, I doubled back once the cabbie let me out at my university’s gate and headed back in that direction. There was only one problem: it was much farther (like a lot!) on foot than I’d anticipated.

As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, I was beginning to feel a little foolhardy. But I kept walking, no one else was going to come home with an Irish political sign in her suitcase (partially because no one else was crazy enough to walk a few miles alone on the outskirts of Dublin after dark). Just as the sun had finally sunk, I saw it—a bright green “Vote Yes!” sign stuffed between a pole and a rubbish bin. Running madly across four lanes of traffic, I finally laid my hands on it.

As I walked back, I tried to pretend this, walking with a giant sign under your arm, was totally natural. Doesn’t everyone do this? Then a darker thought came to me: What if I was stopped by the Garda? Do I run? I couldn’t possibly run with the sign, the wind resistance alone would do me in, I would have to drop the sign if I chose to run—and I wasn’t dropping the sign, that wasn't an option. 

Staying in the shadows, I finally made it back onto campus and back to my dormitory building. It was nearly two hours since I’d set off in the first place. However, I now had the sign in my possession. 

Back in my dorm with my sign
Safely back in my dorm, I was triumphant, "I got it! I got it!" I yelled over and over again, even going next door to show it off to some of my other friends. 

“How are you going to get that home?” a suite-mate (ever the practical party-pooper) asked me.

I didn't know, all I knew is that when I had to go home, I’d have a little piece of the Irish political process tucked away in my suitcase. 

"You stole a sign?!" asked another friend (the moral compass of our tiny, rowdy group), incredulous.

"I didn't steal it," I protested, "It was probably just going to get thrown away!" He just shook his head. 

The sign now hangs in my bedroom, a huge reminder of such a good adventure and an amazing time in my life. I had to fold it a few times (which wasn't easy considering it's industrial strength makeup) but I managed to fit it in my suitcase and get it back to America. But fortunately it is still in great condition. 

So what's something crazy that you've done abroad? Tell me in the comments or tweet me @calleysofalley, I want to hear from you!!!

Thanks for reading!!! I hope you enjoyed! Until next time!


*For more information on the Referendum, click here

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Leaving My Mark: Names In the Sand

Is there something that you do no matter where you travel? Do you strike the same pose at every famous landmark you visit? Or do you collect something from each location--a shell, a leaf, a matchbook cover?

Well, for me, when my destination happens to be a beach, there is one thing I must do: write my name in the sand (and of course take a photo of it!) and then watch as the ocean washes it away, carrying my name into the sea. 

I'm not sure why I do it, call it an urge that for a moment to claim a small part of the beach before the ocean exercises its ultimate dominance and washes it away.  The first time I did this was on the western coast of Ireland on a study abroad trip. "This is the closest you'll be gettin' to America for awhile!" our good-natured tour guide teased us. This was the first beach I had ever visited and I was desperately wishing for some way to capture this moment. And so, I found a rock and wrote my name in the amber-colored sand. I had just managed to snap a picture of it before the sea washed it away, soaking my shoes. 

The next time I was on a beach was in Galveston, Texas, visiting my then-boyfriend. There was something so invigorating about being back by the sea again, and being with someone I loved only made it better. To mark the occasion, I grabbed a stick and wrote our names and the year (2013) in the thickly packed muddy-brown sand. It was my (far more nature-friendly way) of carving our initials into a tree. It wasn't long before the waters of the Gulf came in and carried our, but we were still there, watching the sun sink over the horizon.

Later that year I was in Monterey, California and found myself on the same beaches that John Steinbeck made famous in his book "Cannery Row." So of course, one more time I carefully etched my initials and the year into that powdery yellow sand.  

It wouldn't take long for the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean to make their way across my name and gently erase it, carrying my name and all those hopes I had into the water, where I hoped they'd live forever. 

Later, I would write about that time on the beach, describing it this way: "I felt so free at that moment, as if the real adult world was not around the corner. It was as if all the world’s happiness was mine to spend, and I could spend it right here." And that is truly how I felt--happy. 

I can't wait to visit more beaches, write my name in them all, and share them all with you. So, is there anything you do every time you travel? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @calleysofalley !

Thanks for reading everyone! Cheers!!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Remembering Princess Diana in London

The late Diana, Princess of Wales has been on my mind a lot lately. I just recently finished Tina Brown's 2007 bestseller "The Diana Chronicles" after having read Anne Edwards' "Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led" earlier this year (it was an amazing book, you should check it out!). 

Diana's life never ceases to amaze me. Her continual grace in light of so many of her public and private struggles and her strength to overcome those is an inspiration. "Diana: Her True Story--In Her Own Words", Andrew Morton's 1997 book supplemented with transcripts of Diana's secret taped sessions, continues to be one of my go-to reads. 

So it's no surprise that when I was in London, there were a few Diana-specific places and landmarks I had to see. During my day in the city, I was able to trace Diana's life from her care-free bachelor girl days as a "Sloane Ranger" to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. I wanted to stand in the same spaces that she had stood in, I wanted to see what she had seen. By doing so, maybe I could get closer to the woman so many people felt they knew, but few really did. And also by standing in those spots and seeing what she saw, I hoped that I could draw on her strength and perseverance and take that forward into my own life. 

So here's the places on my London tour of Diana, Princess of Wales' life, you should definitely check them out:
#1 Sloane Street

When Diana was still Lady Diana Spencer and simply known as the girlfriend of Prince Charles, she was (and continues to be) described as a "Sloane Ranger." Sloane Rangers were a well-to-do bunch of young people, preppy in style and jolly in their manner. The name was derived from their home base of Sloane Square in Chelsea, located not far off of Sloane Street. 

Diana described the days she spent as a bachelor girl in London as some of the best days of her life, and she longed for those times during her darkest first years as Princess of Wales. I would have liked to have explored the neighborhood more, and find Colehorne Court (where Diana's flat was located) but sadly, there wasn't enough time. However, what I saw of the neighborhood is still beautiful, well-tended, and has the kind of happy and content atmosphere that I expect rubbed off on the Sloane Rangers.

#2 St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's is, by far, my favorite place in London. For my entire life I've watched that fairy-tale moment from Diana's 1981 wedding to Prince Charles: Diana emerging from the glass coach, her voluminous taffeta wedding dress pouring out around her on the steps of St. Paul's. And then suddenly, there I was, standing on those same steps, looking up into the massive masterpiece of architecture that is St. Paul's.  I tried to imagine the scene from these steps on 29 July, 1981. 

I also turned around and saw what the view looks like--what Diana and Prince Charles must have seen (minus the swelling crowds of screaming people)--emerging from St. Paul's. I tried to imagine walking in those doors as Lady Diana Spencer and coming back out as Princess of Wales. Knowing, thanks to her taped sessions for Andrew Morton's book, Diana's very conflicted feelings on that day, I felt a little closer to Diana once again. There's just something about standing in the same place, the same spot and seeing the same view, that makes her seem all the more real and tangible and loveable. 

#3 Kensington Palace

From the beginning of her life as a princess, Kensington Palace was Diana's home while in London. And who can forget the literal flood of flowers and bouquets from mourners around the gates of the Palace in the days after Diana's shocking death? Just standing at those iconic gates and knowing just how far that flood of grief flowed left me awestruck. 

Kensington Palace is simply magnificent.  Not only are the exterior and grounds exquisite, the interior of the Palace does not disappoint. KP (as the Royals call it) is always teeming with various exhibits, showcasing the grandeur and style of the monarchy. It's here where you can see Queen Victoria's chambers, or hear whispers of court gossip in the hall. There's even a place where you can dress up in period fashions from Queen Victoria's day.  

I was fortunate enough to be visiting KP during a special exhibit dedicated to the life of Diana, called "Diana, Glimpses of a Modern Princess," complete with five of her iconic gowns, as well as other memorabilia from her life.  I had spent so many years reading the books about Diana and looking at pictures of her and her life so getting to actually see these gowns and sketches was like the completion of a journey.

One of the dresses on display was the first dress Diana ever wore as an "almost" member of the Royal Family--the daring black taffeta evening gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel (who would later make her spectacular wedding gown)--as well as a sketch and fabric swatch of that very dress. I was most taken aback by how tiny that dress was. Diana's bulimia hadn't reached it's disastrous height at this point in her royal career yet and to imagine how anyone could be smaller than THAT took my breath away. It made me realize how small she must have gotten in those subsequent years and how sick she really was. It brought tears to my eyes to think of this teenage girl who was tiny enough to fit into that amazing dress being told by anyone that she was "chubby." It broke my heart looking at that dress. 

Even the walls of this exhibit were not devoid of Diana tributes. On the wallpaper were illustrations of Diana's life by the fashion illustrator Julie Verhoeven. Verhoeven took the most lasting images of Diana's life--her marriage, the birth of William, her dark blue eyes, the Spencer family tiara--and turned them into the most heartfelt watercolor images. You could see all aspects of Diana's life and personality displayed on this wall paper--from "Shy Di" to loving mother, to the glamorous beauty to the global humanitarian. * These illustrations were such a fitting tribute to such an extraordinary woman. 

#4 Westminster Abbey

And lastly, there's Westminster Abbey, where Diana's funeral took place on 6 September, 1997.  Much like her life, Diana's funeral was filled with iconic and unforgettable images: the coffin draped in the royal standard, the faces of Princes William and Harry, the tragic note bearing the single word, "Mummy" from Harry, Earl Spencer's scathing eulogy, Elton John's tribute...

Unlike St. Paul's, which rises gradually from the ground like a giant slowly emerging from the water, Westminster Abbey rises sharply, towering over you suddenly and all at once. It's hard not to be struck by the medieval majesty of such a place, and it only seemed fitting that this was where the world got to tell Diana good bye. 


Additionally, there is a Princess of Diana Memorial Walk in London. I'm not entirely sure how long it is or what is showcased on the walk, but I think it is worth checking out if you're in London. If you've been on this walk, please let me know all about it!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy! As always you can leave comments below or tweet me at @calleysofalley. And don't forget to like my Facebook page at facebook.com/withoutanchor !

*For more information on the watercolor wall paper displayed at Kensington Palace, here is a great article by the Daily Mail: Princess Diana's Life in Watercolors

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Kate Middleton Shopping Tour (Apologies to my male readers, this one may not interest you!)

Kate in her Reiss dress
Taken at Kensington Palace
The Duchess of Cambridge is, and has been for quite some time, one of my style icons. So when I set off for my first trip "across the pond" I decided to also embark on what I dubbed"The Kate Middleton Shopping Tour." My plan was simple:  I would find Kate's favorite high street brands, and  purchase something affordable at each one.

Because really,what better kind of  souvenir hunt than supplementing one's wardrobe with pieces bought abroad? And who better to copy than Kate? Who can forget her iconic black and white dress from Topshop, worn on her 25th birthday? That dress sold out almost as quickly as the pictures hit the front of the papers. Or what about her white Reiss dress, worn for her and William's official engagement photo (and again on their tour of Canada in 2011)?. Since the beginning of her time in the public eye, Kate has endeared herself to royal watchers as being the sort of graceful, beautiful and kind friend we all want to have. Additionally, she's relatable, wearing clothes you can go into any high street store and buy yourself. You don't need a personal stylist to dress like Kate, you can simply stop into a store like Zara and purchase the blazer Kate wore the day before. 

So, throughout various cities in the UK and Ireland, I managed to find some of Kate's favorite high street brands: Zara, Topshop, Reiss, and Jigsaw. Additionally, I found quite a few "Repli-Kates" at various other stores like Dunne's and Marks and Spencer. 

#1 Zara

Kate's worn tons of pieces by Zara, mainly her trademark navy blazers that she often pairs with skinny jeans and her Stuart Weitzman corkswoon wedges. While a few Zara pieces were a bit out of my price range at the time, Zara has a great line called "Zara Basic" which offers up staple pieces at very affordable prices. 

Since I'm always in need of suit separates (for my other chosen profession), I chose a smart, tailored, and conservative black skirt that I've worn many times. It hits at just the right length and still looks brand new even after almost three years. 

#2 Topshop

Kate's black and white dress was made instantly famous when the paparazzi snapped pictures of her wearing it on her 25th birthday. Right from the start I knew I had to have my own Topshop dress.  Topshop is incredibly affordable and fashion forward. Nearly all the clothes I saw while shopping there have made their way into the mainstream American style. It's like a Maurices here in the 'States, but with a funkier--more London/urban edge. 

I picked up a smart little grey jersey dress at the shop in Dublin. I could dress it up or down depending on the occasion and it looks great with a statement necklace. Most important to me is that it says "Topshop" in the back!

#3 Reiss

I really wanted a Reiss dress, particularly this white one I tried on in the dressing room at their store in Dublin (see photo). It reminded me of the famous white one Kate wore in the picture at the top of this post. 

Unfortunately, a dress like this costs upwards of  300 euros (a bit much for a student on a study abroad trip!). I couldn't resist still trying it on and snapping a photo of me in it in the dressing room. I wanted evidence that I had actually tried on a real, authentic Reiss dress.

However, it all worked out perfectly because I ended up with my  beautiful pale orange scarf that I love and adore. Because I was groggy from travel and a little foggy on the exchange rates at the time, I might have paid a bit more for the scarf than I normally would have (it might be the most expensive thing I own, save my computer). I wear that scarf everywhere now, not just because I want to get my money's worth, but because it's beautiful and I love it--and every time I wear it I'm reminded of my trip, and you can't put a price on those memories. 

#4 Jigsaw

Kate actually worked at the London Jigsaw as an accessories buyer after her graduation from St. Andrews University. Jigsaw is upscale but affordable, with lots of beautiful quality pieces. You definitely feel like a VIP while shopping there. 

I found an adorable royal blue tank top at their store in Chester, England for about 12 pounds. It has beautiful lace accents that looks amazing under any top. 

Thanks for reading! Do you do any shopping when you're abroad? What are some of your favorite stores?

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @CalleySoFalley 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

"A Healthy Obsession With Mailboxes" Postboxes of the UK

Have you ever been to the United Kingdom and seen these striking red pillar mailboxes? Do you know the story behind each one? When I was staying in Bangor, Wales, I went on a mission to find each different mailbox in that city. Why you ask? Because each mailbox is unique, and each one represents a different time in the history of the UK. 

My friends were rather puzzled when they caught me taking pictures of every mailbox I found in Bangor. "Why are you taking pictures of mailboxes?" they'd ask, faintly annoyed/fairly assured I was crazy (after 5 weeks of traveling with me, I'm sure they thought I really was crazy!).

I would then proceed to point out exactly why I found each one so fascinating. I'd draw their attention to the elaborate and curvy letters and Roman numerals on their front. "You can tell how old each one is," I'd explain, "by seeing which monarch's name is on it." 

And indeed that's true, each of these upright bright red pillar mailboxes bear the initials, or  royal cypher, of the monarch during whose reign it was cast and installed. During my  week-long visit to Bangor, on the northwest coast of Wales, I found a total of four monarchs represented: Elizabeth II, George (presumably V, due to some internet research), Edward VII, and (most exciting to me) Victoria.

So, depending on which royal cypher is on each mailbox, you could be standing next to an almost 150 year old letter repository. Or you could be standing next to a mailbox that held letters to the boys fighting in WWI or WWII. 

I like to think about all the words and thoughts and hopes and dreams that have landed in these mailboxes and all the history these have witnessed. I could imagine walking past this mailbox (see left) bearing George VI's cipher, eager to hear how the Allies were faring in WWII.  That one is located right outside the post office in Bangor where I bought my stamps to mail my postcards back home. 

However, I was most thrilled to find, on my way to my classes at Bangor University, a visibly old and worn (but still jaunty!) red mailbox bearing the letters "VR" in a regal curly script. Instantly I knew that the "VR" stood for Victoria Regina, and therefore had been cast and put in place during Queen Victoria's reign. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that the "VR" mailboxes are the oldest around, being the first to bear the sovereign's royal cypher. 

After I showed my friends and traveling companions that particular "VR" mailbox and explained to them what it meant, they fully understood my fascination. "Are you serious?" they asked. "So, this mailbox was here when QUEEN VICTORIA was queen?! That is so cool!" (See, once you hear my reasons, I don't sound crazy at all!)

Even more phenomenal is the fact that many of these centuries old mailboxes are still in use today! Each one bears a sign denoting various  pickup times. So you can drop your letters and postcards to family and friends back home in the same mailbox that Queen Victoria's subjects deposited their mail. For some reason that really thrills me...maybe I am crazy after all!

The one at the beginning of this post, the Edward VII-era mailbox, is sadly no longer in commission, having it's pickup times scribbled out. I nearly dropped some postcards to my family in that one before I realized that there would be no more pickups at that location. Imagine my postcards sitting in that mailbox for all time, only being found once the mailbox was dismantled!

Additionally, there are still  new mailboxes going up everyday, bearing the current monarch's royal cypher, "EIIR" for Elizabeth II.  The one in the picture below was inside Morrison's, my favorite place to shop while in Wales. This "EIIR" mailbox is certainly more shiny than the older ones along the streets!

Further, since we were in Wales, the mailbox bore both the official English "Royal Mail" designation as well as the Welsh translation of  "Post Brehnhinol." This added an extra special element to my mailbox scavenger hunt, knowing that this was a feature unique to the Welsh mailboxes. 

So the next time you're in the UK, stop and take a minute to look at the mailboxes. How old are they? Is there an "EIIR" or a "GR" or a "VR"? What kind of history do you think these mailboxes have witnessed?

Have any pictures of these mailboxes yourself from your journeys? Tweet them to me @CalleySoFalley!!! I'd love to see them!

Up Next: I'll figure it out soon!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five Of My Favorite Travel Photos

I, by no means, claim to some great photographer. But I do have a few photos that I'm extremely proud of. Ones that I've taken that I've looked at later and thought “Wow, that’s a good photo,” or “That is exactly what it looked like at that moment!” To me, an element of any great photo is the memories contained within it. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and these pictures hold, for me, a thousand memories. So I thought I would share five of my favorite travel photos from around the world, and share a few of the memories that go along with them.

#1 Ashford Castle from the Ferry

This is without a doubt one of my favorite travel photos. I took this photo while on a ferry from an island heading back to Cong, in County Mayo, Ireland.  Sometimes I can see a great photo and when, from the railing of the ferry, I glimpsed Ashford Castle (once owed by the Guinness family!) in the distance and the Irish flag blowing in the wind, I knew this could be a great shot. It took me several tries to get a fully unfurled Irish flag in the shot, but the result was so worth it. 

# 2 Galveston at Dusk

Galveston will always hold a very special place in my heart. When I was there in 2013 I was visiting someone very special to me who is no longer a part of my life. But whenever I look at this photo I'm reminded of that time when everything was perfect, everything was sweet and everything was exciting. I can still feel the rush of wind from the shore and hear the waves weaving in and out. I can still feel the excitement of finding a hermit crab in the sand. 

There was something magical about that beach, with moments devoid of space and time and circumstance.  I loved the way the sandy-brown fades to the frothy white of the ocean waves to the grey of the water to the purple/pink/gold/blue layers of the sky. That moment that I managed to capture only lasted a few minutes, but the memories...those memories will last forever. 

# 3 Up Ahead, Giant's Causeway

This photo captures that moment before you round the bend and officially hit Giant's Causeway. These rocks are not the famous hexagonal stones you think of when you think of Giant's Causeway, but they are no less beautiful. You come across this spot as you're walking to the official Giant's Causeway. The view, for me, from this spot was spectacular.
My friends and I easily spent an hour just exploring these rocks before we moved on to the hexagonal ones. You can easily hop from rock to rock and explore this place further and further until you reach the sea. 

# 4 Under Big Ben

At some point, I intend to do a whole post (or maybe 5 posts!) on London, but I thought I would share this photo with you all now. This has to be one of  my favorite photos that I took while in London because it so accurately shows what I saw, and it gives a view of Big Ben that not very many people get to see. Plus, it was a beautiful day in London, so I'm really glad I got to capture such an amazing blue sky.
When I got to London, I was going to be happy if I got to see Big Ben from a distance. To actually stand under it, and experience it like THIS,  like a local, was way more than I could have asked for. 

#5 Sleahead

As you can probably tell, I loved this photo so much I made it the background of my blog! This picture was taken at Sleahead along the Dingle Peninsula. I'm always amazed at the almost "unrealness" of this photo in terms of all the colors. But this photo captures EXACTLY what I saw that day. This is a completely raw photo, I haven't altered or retouched anything!
If there is a more beautiful place than Sleahead, I haven't found it yet. This was without a doubt the most beautiful place I've ever been.  Snapping this photo was way worth getting left behind by my tour bus and having to run after it! 
Fun Fact: The Nicole Kidman/Tom Cruise movie Far and Away was partly filmed here. The movie looks like it was filmed in early spring or fall so the colors aren't quite as vibrant as these, but yes, it is indeed Sleahead!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed and I hope this will inspire you to take more of your own travel photos! You can always Tweet me yours at @CalleySoFalley!!! Can't wait to see them!!!

Up Next: #TBT
ETA: Thursday

Friday, November 14, 2014

#FBF: St. Stephen's Green

There are days—like today—when it’s cold and things just aren't going my way and I want to be back in Dublin, sitting on a bench in St. Stephen’s Green…

Likened to Central Park, St. Stephen’s Green is a countryside getaway in the middle of the city. Located right off Grafton Street (Dublin’s shopping hub), it’s a beautiful expanse of greens, trees, ponds and flower gardens, with fitting memorials to Ireland and Irish independence interspersed throughout. Even though I had limited time on my own in Dublin, I spent a lot of time exploring (and photographing) St. Stephen’s Green. You can get completely lost along its many walkways, and sometimes that is exactly what you need.
I was really excited to see the ducks and the swans in the many ponds in the Green. I remember I didn’t have any bread in my dorm where I was staying, but I did take along a tortilla (yes, I had tortillas in Ireland!) and that worked just fine. The swans didn't really appreciate it, but the pigeons and the other birds did! And there are lots of pigeons…hundreds! All beautiful and shiny and grey. You could be lulled to sleep by their gentle cooing—in fact, I saw several people doing just that, taking an afternoon nap under a tree next to water.

St. Stephen’s Green is a great place to come, pick a spot, throw down a blanket and just relax. There’s such a perfect balance between busy and peaceful in the Green that you can people-watch and still feel fairly anonymous. You can throw a Frisbee around, feed the ducks (and pigeons) or, as I mentioned before, take a nap. Or you can lose yourself walking and discovering all the beautiful things St. Stephen’s Green has to offer.

For those interested in Ireland’s history, St. Stephen’s Green is like an Easter egg hunt. Scattered throughout the Green are various statues, fountains, memorials, and other artwork that lets you in on various aspects of this country’s amazing history. One of my personal favorites was a fountain depicting the Three Fates given to Ireland after World War II by West Germany. Surrounded by a pool of water, the Three Fates sit, holding someone’s fate in their hands. Is it your fate? Or Ireland’s? I was at a major transitioning point in my life at the time of my visit and I remember being struck by these three women, holding fate in their hands. It was an almost holy spot, a place that you could feel connected to the Fates somehow, and ask them to be kind to you.

Another one of my favorites was a memorial to Thomas M. Kettle, the famous Irish poet and home-rule advocate that was killed during World War I while serving in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.* Also a political journalist, Mitchell called attention to the horrible conditions in which Ireland’s poor were living—a cause that he also advocated.* Those causes can be witnessed on the bottom of his memorial, as it reads, “Died Not For Flag, Nor King, Nor Emperor. But For A Dream Born In A Herdsman’s Shed, And For The Secret Scripture Of The Poor.”

If you’re a plant enthusiast, there are plenty of species of plant life to discover while walking around. There are numerous beautifully tended flower beds hosting a variety of striking and different plants and flowers. The flowers provide a striking pop of color against the grasses and shrubbery, making for excellent photo opportunities.

The first day I went to the Green, it was slightly overcast (surprise, surprise), but, on my second visit, the sun was out in full blast and allowed me to take some pretty amazing photos. I was so lucky to be there that second day, as I saw quite a few things I missed and even got to see this giant fish (see picture below) that was so close to me I could have reached in and grabbed it! 

For me, St. Stephen’s Green is must for anyone visiting Dublin. After a hard day shopping on Grafton Street (and you will shop—trust me!) stroll through the archway at the entrance to the Green and reward yourself with a little relaxation. And of course, don’t forget to bring some bread along for the birds!

 Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed, and I hope this made you want to visit St. Stephen's Green!

I'll try to get back to posting on Mondays and Thursdays, now that I'm not ill!


Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: “The Best American Travel Writing: 2013” Ed. Elizabeth Gilbert

Hello everyone! So sorry for the delay, but I’ve been pretty ill—I came down with walking pneumonia—so please forgive me! I hope you enjoy my latest (belated) post!

I’ve been waiting to do this book review for quite some time…like from the second I bought the book! I picked up 2013’s edition of “The Best American Travel Writing” at a library sale for 50 cents. I was overjoyed when I found it, especially since it was edited by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame.

This book is like a whirlwind RTW tour, introducing you to no end of fascinating people with equally fascinating stories. There’s a trip to visit in-laws in Cuba, there’s a delightfully refreshing and determined run with the bulls in Pamplona, there’s a nonchalant dentist appointment in France. Then there’s a fun foodie adventure in Vietnam, on the hunt for a mystery recipe to the perfect cao lau noodle.

What I loved most about this book was the fact that it introduced me to places and cultures I had never thought of visiting before. Before I read The Bull Passes Through, I’d never wanted to run with the bulls, but author Kevin Chroust gave me that little itch. I’d never had cao lau, but after reading Vietnam’s Bowl of Secrets, I wanted to.

My favorite piece of all had to be Blot Out, a highly moving piece by Colleen Kinder. I found this piece extremely thought provoking. Kinder’s story centers around her experience as a woman in the Islamic, male-dominated city of Cairo, and her desire to, as she puts it “pass invisibly” without being harassed as a Western woman in an Eastern world. Thus begins her quest to venture out into the market of Cairo—dressed in the traditional (and highly controversial) niqab. The niqab, which was most recently banned in France, is that all-covering black sheath that Americans were so violently introduced to after 9/11. With only a small screen for seeing, the woman inside the niqab is completely covered, and completely hidden. Together with a friend, Kinder ventures outside to one of Cairo’s more famous everything-including-the-kitchen-sink markets, disguised in niqab. Instead of being stared at and cat-called for being a Westerner exposed, Kinder and her friend move through the crowds with relative invisibility, blending into the everyday scene of Cairo. Without walking around completely exposed, the two are able to move through the market, observing and shopping like local women.

The scheme goes well enough for a time. However, even with the cover of niqab, Kinder proves that even local women are not free of harassment. Towards the end of her experiment in the market, Kinder is “ass-grabbed” proving that women in any dress can be harassed on the streets of the city.

What I liked most about Kinder’s story was the ability to blend into another culture, totally unseen, without that invisible billboard that shouts “Westerner,” or, even worse, “American!” to the rest of the world. What would it be like to walk down the streets of any city, not just Cairo’s, and be able to totally blend into the scene? It reminded me of the time I tried to make my way through the crowds in a pub in Ireland using my best Irish accent. Unbeknownst to me, the crowd was a group of American tourists. “Oh isn’t she cute?!” crowed an American lady, thinking a very polite Irish girl had just tried to not knock her pint out of her hand. I felt a similar thrill when reading Kinder’s piece. The thrill of blending in, or, in Kinder’s words, “blotting out.”

There’s so many different experiences and places chronicled in this book. Like I said before, it was like a mini-RTW trip, exposing the reader to a potpourri of sights, sounds, smells and tastes from the comfort of the couch (or a booth at Panera, where I read Bombing Sarajevo and The Mad Dogs of Istanbul). Unlike a lengthy travel memoir (which, don’t get me wrong, I love!) this collection offers up enough of a tease that makes me want to go off and do my own exploration and fill in the next chapter of the adventure.

I’m now on the hunt for all the “Best of American Travel Writing” installments, because this volume made me want more and more stories to devour, because that is what you’ll be doing when you read this book, devouring each and every adventure that comes along, and become even more eager to make your own.

Post Script: Interesting note, my copy of this book appears to have been spirited from the library of a Viking River Cruise ship. I must not have been the only reader who could not part with their copy after they read it!

Thanks for reading everyone! And I'll do my best to have a new #TBT on Thursday!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#TBT: Winning Big in Dublin, Ireland

“Blackjack!” called the dealer as she pushed a few more chips into the ever-growing pile in front of me.

The scruffy, middle-aged Irishmen sitting at the blackjack table next to me shifted in their seats, shooting annoyed glances my way. I could practically hear their thoughts, partially because they were my own. “Who was this girl, this American girl, no less? This is unbelievable!”

No less than an hour ago I had walked into the Sporting Emporium Casino with just €10 (all that I had left), and now…well now I had way more than €10 worth of chips in front of me. I didn’t even want to count it—I just wanted to stare at it.

The night had started off casually enough. It was my friend Josh’s* birthday, and our last night in Ireland before our school trip took us to Wales for the final leg of our journey. The next morning we would be on a ferry to Wales and exchanging our euros for pounds. Since this was 2012, when Greece’s financial crisis was plaguing the EU economy, the euro to pound ratio wasn't the best, and we knew we’d be losing money on our transaction.

That’s when someone had the idea to go to a casino for Josh’s birthday. We were going to lose money anyway in the morning…why not lose it ALL tonight? In a few minutes, Josh, Marty, Jason, Mae (our awesome trip coordinator), and I were standing at the bus stop, waiting for the 49 to take us into the city.

The first casino we found a few blocks (or maybe a lot of blocks) from our stop was manned by giant, intimidating, bald Russian man, who was very suspicious of our presence.
“What you want here?” he demanded of us, a group of slightly skittish looking American law students, “You know how to play?”

Josh managed to talk us through the door to look around and check out what the casino was like and decide if we wanted to stay. As we walked through the small casino with its slightly shabby interior, I got an eerie feeling. The casino was mostly devoid of anyone who didn’t look like a minion in a Godfather movie and there was a rather large forbidding door that I assumed led to some backroom/high-stakes game.

The Russian stared at us imperiously as we made our way around. Josh, I, and the others exchanged looks that seemed to say “Some sh*t is about to go down here tonight…Is this where we want to die?”

Josh very kindly thanked the Russian man, and simply stated we had decided to go somewhere else, preferably before we wound up at the bottom of a river with concrete tied to our feet. Now, I could be totally wrong and that first casino was a completely safe and reputable place. However, when traveling anywhere, it’s always best to trust your gut, and our collective gut (guts?) told us to get the hell out of there.

So, after we were safely out on the street and away from the giant Russian, Marty, or MapQuest Marty, as we called him, set about finding a new casino. Within a few minutes, he’d found a very upscale one in a nondescript building a few streets off of Grafton Street called the Sporting Emporium.

Marty, Josh and Jason went to go finagle our entry, because it looked like a pretty “members only” place. Don’t ask me how, but somehow we all ended up with (what I believe to be) lifetime memberships to the casino and free drinks for the night—it never hurts to travel with highly persuasive people!

Inside, the casino was cozy and fun. Unlike the casinos in the States with vaulted ceilings and bright fluorescent lights and machines shouting “Wheel! Of! FORTUNE!” this casino felt like some secret, up-scale, “invites only” club. With a bar and flat-screens along one wall and tables ringing the others, I was pleasantly surprised. With the most recent casino fresh in my mind, I’d been apprehensive to visit another one, but this one gave off a safe and welcoming vibe.

Now, I’m more of a slots girl, and I wasn't very knowledgeable of the finer points of table games at the time (my first time at roulette was more of a guessing game).  So, upon not finding any slots, I went to go find Josh at the blackjack table.

As I approached him, I could tell he was doing well, he already had a little pile of chips in front of him. “You wanna play?” he asked me as I approached, motioning to the empty seat beside him.

 I shrugged, “I don’t know how,” I admitted.

“It’s easy,” said Josh. He then proceeded to explain to me how to play, and gave me a few tips. Before I knew it, I was sitting at the table and had plunked down my last €10. After a few rounds, Josh cashed out and went to get a drink and watch the NBA playoffs that were taking place at that time.

“Come find me when you've lost all your money,” he told me as he got up to leave.
Using Josh’s words of wisdom (which I won’t repeat here, I want to keep some things secret!), I was collecting a nice little pile of chips. I kept my bet at €10 at a time, not wanting to push my luck too far.

Pretty soon the table started to fill up with older, 40-something Irishmen, in dark business suits and sweaters, accessorizing with their glasses of Jameson. This was in stark contrast to me, in a bright green top, skinny jeans and my newly purchased six-inch blue suede platform heels, drinking one gin and tonic after the other (did I mention we got free drinks for the whole night?).

It was then that my luck really started to pick up.




Every time the dealer dealt my cards, my pile of chips grew. Before I knew what had happened, I was staring at stacks and stacks of chips.

“I won’t count it, I won’t count it” I said over and over again. I was afraid that if I did, and I knew how much I was risking, I’d get freaked out and lose my focus.

After about an hour, I saw Josh making his way back to the table—he must have gotten tired waiting for me to lose all my money. As he approached the table and saw my ever-expanding pile of chips, a look of total amazement, disbelief, and incredulity spread across his face.

“What did you do?!” he asked me as if I’d come to him with a mask, a gun, and two burlap bags marked with dollar signs.

I shrugged, “I just did what you told me to do!”

“Blackjack!” Another chip was added to my pile.

Before long, the others in the group made their way over to my side. They too, were in disbelief.

My streak actually ran for a good long time. But, finally, my luck started to recede. The very first time in forever that I lost a round, Jason put his hands on my chips, “Okay, you’re done,” he said. “You’re not losing all this!” And then he and Josh practically dragged me away from the table.

Gathering up my chips (I gave the house a chip worth a euro for gratitude) and proceeded to cash out. At the end of the night I walked out of the Sporting Emporium with €70—seven times the amount I laid down on the table.

“That’s a statistical anomaly!” exclaimed Jason. “Who does that?”

I did, apparently. I never exchanged that money to pounds, or to the dollar once I got back, for that matter. It was my own promise to myself. There was no need to exchange it, because I’d be back one day. I knew it. I didn't know when, or how, or what the road would be like that would lead me back to the Emerald Isle, but I had that simple promise. Even if I only had that promise and that €70, I knew I’d be back someday.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed!!! Cheers!

Up Next: Review "America's Best Travel Writing: 2013"
TBA: Monday!

*names have been changed