Saturday, March 28, 2015

Week 1 In Dublin: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Americans

My knight in shining armor! Dublin
Greetings! It's been such a long time since I posted anything, but I've been moving all around Dublin bouncing from hostel to hostel while I find somewhere permanent to live. 
As I muddle through my second week of being an expat, I thought I would update you on some of my experiences and let you know what I've been up share some pictures!

Week 1
So, I arrived on St. Patrick's Day, which may or may not have been the wisest choice since the buses were delayed/rerouted and the streets clogged with people. I honestly didn't have that great a day, lugging my suitcase to my first hostel (Abigail's Hostel on Aston, it's a great place by the way!) I passed out on the couch in the lounge while I was waiting to check in to my room...and slept through the parade! As in, the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin. Out cold, I was. 

Anyway, after I came to, it's been all go-go-go. I'm getting used to some Irish/European things, like the euro, and I'm getting a better sense of direction (aided at times by Google Maps).  Also, I've been moving around hostels quite a bit (thanks to the apartment search not going as well as I'd like) so I'm getting to know the city, the landmarks, the good parts, the bad parts, etc. 

I've stayed at 3 hostels so far: Abigail's on Aston Quay (pronounce "Key"), Abraham's Hostel on Gardinier Street, and Barnacles in Temple Bar. All have been highly satisfactory, each one offering up your basic hostel amenities (free breakfast, OK beds, wi-fi). 

Abigail's is great because it had a wonderful lounge/common room/kitchen. The rooms were spacious and the location is great. There's a Super-Valu right next door, which is where I discovered my newest obsession: Bourbon Biscuits. Seriously. Google them. These little chocolate biscuits are addictive. 

My second hostel was Abraham's Hostel, which, situated in a less-classy neighborhood, is still a great place. I felt like this place was the real "hostel experience." Tucked into all floors of a renovated building, you wind your way throughout to get to your room and to the breakfast room, which can wind up being a fun adventure when you lose your way! It was in Abraham's where I met Jessica, a really fun girl from Oregon solo-backpacking through Europe and stopping in Ireland for a few days. She and I instantly hit it off and within a few hours we were off to Temple Bar to re-visit one of my favorite pubs!

Stephen James, live at The Old Storehouse
This brings me to Stephen James. If you go to Dublin, you need to go to the Old Storehouse on Crown Alley in Temple Bar and hear him play. He's great, and I don't say that about just anyone. I first heard him play at the Old Storehouse my first time in Dublin in 2012, my friends and I bought his CD and I've had it playing on my computer ever since. He's a unique artist, playing both Irish folk tunes ("Wild Rover", being my favorite) with his own unique cover of contemporary favorites (like "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran) and older classics ("Brown Eyed Girl" among others. 

Over the next few days, Jessica and I wandered around Dublin. We found ourselves at Dublin Castle, which is where I found my knight in shining armor (I named him Henry) and took some really great photos. 

To take a really intensive tour of Dublin Castle, you have to pay for admission, but even without admission you can wander around the courtyard and the gift shop, and don't forget to take your selfie with Henry!

Jessica and I also went on (part of) a walking tour of the city, which was really educational, giving us a good background into the history of the city and some bits of culture that might be missed otherwise. Our guide even gave a glimpse into what real Irish, or Gaelic, sounds like...and let me tell you, it is not phonetic!

Next, I took Jessica St. Stephen's Green. As you know per a previous post, this is my favorite place in all of Dublin. The first few days in Dublin were spent here, sitting on a bench, reading Maeve Binchy's "Scarlet Feather," which takes place in Dublin and mentions St. Stephens.  I'm not going to lie, my first few days in Dublin were rough, just getting settled in, but after I went to St. Stephen's Green, I started to believe that everything was truly going to be okay, and that everything would work out. And I think it had a similar effect on Jessica, who hadn't been a fan of Dublin when she arrived. A little stroll through St. Stephen's and everything is okay, that's the power of the place, and that's why I go so often. So, if you're in Dublin, you might see me sitting on a bench, I'll be reading a Maeve Binchy book. 

Sadly (for me, not for her) Jessica departed for Scotland and I moved to Barnacle's Hostel in Temple Bar, which, if you want a great location, you can't get better than right there. It is literally a 30 second walk to THE Temple Bar, and a minute walk to The Old Storehouse. In Barnacles I met the three nicest Canadian girls, all backpacking around Europe for a few months. They were great fun, making me feel really comfortable and not making a huge ruckus when they came in at night (it's hard enough to sleep in hostels without your roommates coming in like the Huns attacking). I really loved getting to know them, and I was just a little bit jealous of them having friends to travel with (having just said goodbye to Jessica a few days before).  We're all friends on Facebook now, and I can't wait to follow them on their travels!

On the Working Holiday business side of things, it took nearly 7 hours sitting at the Guarda Office but I officially have my work authorization! And I've started the process to get a PPS number (for taxes) and should get one within a few days. Slowly but surely I'm making it!

On the downside, I still have not found a place to live permanently, though I am looking like crazy. I have lost one umbrella (I replaced it for 5 euro at Penney's), one wheel has fallen off my suitcase, which means I'm basically dragging my belongings behind me (I may be looking for a cheap replacement here soon if I have to move to many more places). On the bright side, my legs are becoming super ripped with all this walking and dragging suitcases around. 

I did have one encounter with the "Ugly Americans," as I call them, at my firs hostel. A group of American girls on St. Patrick's Day. They came equipped dressed in green, complete with faces painted with shamrocks and their own individual bottles of Smirnoff. They showed little remorse when one of them sat on my cereal bowl at breakfast and smashed it onto the floor.

This brings me to an issue I've noticed that I want to point out, and this applies to my American readers, don't be THAT American traveler, please. Yes, Ireland has a history of drinking and having a good time, but, that being said, there is more to Ireland than beer and the pubs. Ireland is full of wonderful people, full of amazing architecture and stunning sights. It's alright to go out and have a good time, but I notice the more I'm here that it's the Americans, in all their loud and neon-colored-clothing glory, that are the loud ones, the ones breaking things. So don't be like that. Appreciate Ireland, all 100% of it, and respect it. 

That's all for now, thanks for being so patient! Hopefully by my next post I will have a place to live and some more exciting news!

Don't forget to follow me on Facebook at and on Twitter @calleysofalley. 

At the Disney Store on Grafton Street

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chicago: The Lows and the (REALLY REALLY) Highs!

So, I won't lie, Chicago and I have not been friends in the past. My visits to Chicago have involved a bitterly cold and rushed one-day visit when I was 11, a trip to watch my then-boyfriend graduate from basic training in the Navy and meeting his parents for the first time (YIKES), and taking my first bar exam (double YIKES). This time, upon taking bar exam #2, I was determined to make some new (good) memories with Chicago. 

While I was studying for the exam, my aunt (and travel companion) was looking up the best of Chicago. She was the one who suggested we get the CityPass*, which I HIGHLY recommend. You definitely save quite a bit, plus you get faster admission to the featured destinations, which is a definite plus, as standing in lines gets old quickly. 

While I would have preferred it be a LITTLE bit warmer while I was there, I realize it could have been way worse, and while it wasn't 100% smooth sailing (see "Lows") I actually had a good time. So here's a list of my "Lows" and "Highs" while in Chicago.


1. My poor cab hailing abilities in a semi-blizzard
Cold, tired, hungry and ready to go home with no cabs to be had. Stranded in the middle of Greektown. A rush-hour snap blizzard. All those describe what was happening minutes after finishing the bar exam. It took nearly an hour and 45 minutes standing in the cold and wet trying to hail and trying to call a cab. I finally got one, but not without a meltdown on a poor University of Illinois Chicago employee whom I (in a torrent of tears) asked "How do you people live in Chicago?!" 

2. Losing My Aunt in the Elevator of the Crowne Plaza Metro
Yes, I lost my aunt on the elevator. We were checking out of the Crowne Plaza (moving to Comfort Suites to be closer to all the sights), and I was helping my aunt unload our luggage from the elevator. I had just gotten my luggage and our groceries out of the elevator and had turned back to help my aunt move her luggage out when the doors shut in my face. All I could do was watch in horror as the little screen above the doors indicated that she was on floor 3...4...5...6...7...8...9...all the way up to the top. And this particular elevator could only be operated with a room key...which I had in my pocket--so basically my aunt was stuck until the car was called back to the lobby. Luckily, it wasn't long before the car started descending and the doors opened and HOORAY, there was my aunt. It only took us about a minute before we started laughing about it and it quickly became one of the best stories about our trip.

3. Getting on the Wrong Bus and Ending Up Who Knows Where
On the way to Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) my aunt and I boarded bus 151--however this particular 151 was heading AWAY from the Willis Tower instead of towards it. Unfortunately, by the time I realized and was 100% of my mistake, we were in a portion of the city I did not feel comfortable standing in and waiting for another bus. So, after riding the bus all the way to the end of the line and being directed to another bus by the driver, we were finally heading in the right direction.

When I told my mom what had happened, she had the perfect response: "Well, you might as well see it all while you're there." Well said Mom, well said. 

4. The New "Vikings" Exhibit at the Field Museum
Nearly every bus stop boasted a sign advertising the new "Vikings" exhibit at the Field Museum--the posters were mainly closeups of grizzly looking men staring menacingly into the camera, trying to instill you with fear.

 However, once inside the exhibit, the Vikings are made out to be dull, quiet and peaceful people, hunter-gatherers, as it were. While the jewelry on display is beautiful, the exhibit itself is, well, boring. I felt like that high-school student being made to read a book that had you yawning from the first page.  There's a lot of reading involved-it was more like reading pages of a book stuck on the walls. I felt like so much more could have been done with this exhibit--more interactive displays, live action short films...anything. It was definitely a disappointment. The moral of this story is to not believe everything you read on a bus stop advertisement.


1. The Hotel!
I cannot say enough for my hotel, Comfort Suites at 320 Michigan Ave. Previously, the nicest hotel I'd stayed at was the Radisson Blu in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This hotel, however, knocked that one right out of first place. First of all, it's in a great location, just a short bus ride from anything, and really accessible. Add friendly and helpful staff to that mix and you made me a fan already. 

Then there's the ROOM (or should I say suite?) itself. Complete with a full kitchen (including a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, microwave and toaster) plus a washer and dryer, I felt like I was in heaven. Additionally, you've got a great view--my room looked directly out onto the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, as well as the Chicago River.

Further, when you stay at Comfort Suites, you've got everything you could want: A giant breakfast that will keep you satisfied all day, complimentary coffee and tea in the lobby, as well as fast and friendly service. 

If you're going to staying in Chicago, please stay here, it's a wonderful place. It made me believe that Chicago and I could be friends after all. 

2. Shedd Aquarium
I'm a huge fan of aquariums (see my post on Monterey's fabulous one!) and Shedd does not disappoint. There's a different variety of aquatic wildlife on display here than in Monterey, including dolphins, beluga whales and monkeys. 

I especially liked this alligator I snapped a photo of as he was waiting out the crowds. He was definitely one of my favorites. 

In addition to the alligator, of course I loved the turtles...of which there were many--from the very moderate sized to the GIANT. The dolphin and beluga exhibit is a really neat sight to see, but you should make sure you get there around a feeding time, as that's optimal viewing time. Otherwise they don't come up to the surface very often and you'll have to view them in the downstairs viewing part, which is not as cool as seeing them above water. I love the layout of the dolphin/beluga exhibit: looking directly out onto Lake Michigan, making it seem as if their habitat extends into the Great Lakes.

Further, this is a spot included on the CityPass, so you really have no choice not to get one and go!

3. The Ancient Egypt Exhibit at the Field Museum
After the Vikings Exhibit proved a disappointment, I was somewhat apprehensive about the Ancient Egypt Exhibit, but I didn't need to be, because it was awesome.  Even if you're not into mummies and hieroglyphics and the like, it's still a worthwhile experience. 

First of all, you're given the real almost Indiana Jones like treatment by literally descending into a tomb via a spiral staircase and end up in a cool and dim crypt. Then you get to behold mummies of all shapes, sizes, castes, and (how shall I say it?) un-mummification.  Wander in awe through all the various displays, showcasing different examples of the evolution of mummification and decoration. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully preserved these people are, hundreds--thousands of years after their deaths and yet they are still HERE.  It's just such an interesting concept.

Also, there's a small shrine dedicated to the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, whom I posed with on my visit. This exhibit was definitely NOT a disappointment. My aunt and I both agreed this was the best part of the museum. So, skip the Vikings and head over to the Egyptians!

4. SkyDeck Chicago

Last, but definitely NOT least, was SkyDeck Chicago. Located on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), SkyDeck is one of those experiences you can't get anywhere else. I mean, where else can you walk out 103 floors above the streets of a city and see for miles?

In several cantilevered glass boxes high above the Chicago streets you can see the city laid out in all its glory. I have to admit, I had some trepidation initially stepping out onto these little glass rooms, but soon the awe overtakes the fear. I recommend taking tons of selfies. The one shown above I took while lying down at the edge. I think I even saw one girl doing a handstand inside (or at least attempting to do one). 

Of all the attractions I've visited and experiences I've had in Chicago, the one above the city tops them all. There's something about seeing the vastness of the city laid out beneath you that is really humbling, as well as exhilarating. And while I don't relish another trip to Chicago, I've taken some really good memories away from that week...I'd say maybe Chicago and I have moved from being enemies to maybe the beginnings of a friendship. We'll see...

Thanks for reading everyone! And thanks for all the support for my MIA status these past couple of months while I've been studying for the bar. I can't wait to add "attorney" next to my Blogspot description. 

Until next time! Cheers!

*For more information on CityPass, click here

P.S. If you are visiting Chicago, look out for the latest graduates of Great Lakes Naval Academy, you'll be able to spot them because they'll be in their dress uniforms (either their white or navy ones, depending on the season). Be sure and congratulate them, they worked hard getting through basic training to start defending the USA!!!