We Got the Dub(lin)

I entered Ireland with a bit of a mishap as the immigration officer informed me the language I couldn't read was Irish - I had no idea. Riding into the city center by a bus that closely resembled the double deckers of London, but without the screen that read the stops. So getting off at the right stop was a bit of luck as I happened to notice the hostel's name on the building as the bus was about to pull away. Dublin is an easy weekend venture from London. It's a quirky city full of traditional Irish pubs, an old feel and a taste of nature even in the heart of the city. The river Liffey flows through the center and at night it is lit by an array of colorful lights from the different bridges that cross over it. The city is easily walkable with plenty to explore within a short distance.

The night life of Dublin is wild. Temple Bar is a popular tourist area, but by no means overrated. It is bustling with people and music, but definitely too expensive to stay for longer than a drink. One Irish Coffee alone was 9 euros. At a local pub nearby across the river a Guinness was only 4 euros as opposed to 7 in the Temple Bar area. The Cobblestone was an authentic peek into the pub life of locals with a band that included a fiddle and an accordion.

A simple train ride away can bring you into Howth, the greatest glimpse of what small town countryside of Ireland looks like from inside Dublin. Filled with small fish shops, fields and quiet. The hike overlooking the sea passes an old castle that allows you to see from the Island that vikings once stopped at years ago.

The famous Guinness brown bread and fish chowder from King Sitric hit the spot. They even gave you a cute meringue with your coffee and gave you blankets to warm up while you ate by the fire place. A short five minute walk down the road brings you to a trail along the gorgeous cliffs (nothing like the Cliff's of Moher, but a great view nonetheless).

The history and notoriety of the figures who've graced Dublin's streets are truly incredible. I was able to see where Oscar Wilde house was or the halls that Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker walked. Trinity College's campus is free to visit and most notably the Old Library and the book of Kells (the gospel's in Latin).

Walking through Dublin without any agenda, I happened upon gorgeous old churches and plenty of buildings with this rustic vine covered feel that felt timeless. The museums in Dublin were also free. The National Galley of Dublin had a little bit of everything and it was held in a lovely space. Modern art, sculptures, classics, Irish art and European all filled it's bright rooms.

Near St. Patrick's Cathedral, the park called St. Stephen's Green held gorgeous swan's and was frozen over so the ducks and seagulls would walk around. It was a great size for a stroll with the National Gallery being a five minutes walk away.

The Kilkenny Cafe is also close distance. It's on the second floor with a lovely antique flair and string lights. I enjoyed a quiche, but there was a dessert, salad and hot bar to chose from. It would be a great spot to enjoy cream tea in the afternoon, but we had already stopped to have coffee at Caffe Noto after walking in the beautiful chapel of John's Lane on Thomas St. The churches are brilliant and many of them are free to walk into and appreciate.

Overall, I think Dublin is a great place for a weekend retreat before heading into the rest of Ireland or to escape the bustle of the megacity across the channel. The character of the cobbled streets and colorful lights fill the entire city with a warm presence even in the chilly temperatures. I definitely want to make it back to Ireland again.

The Heart of Italy

Naples isn't exactly the first place on the list when people decide to travel to Italy. It's often foretold to be filled with pickpockets and unsafe to visit. But my first impression of Naples was the Italy I had always fantasized about in my head. Pink and yellow buildings with cobblestone streets. Flower vendors, aqua blue scooters, espresso bars, the smells of fresh pizza dough, balconies covered in flowers with old ladies gazing upon the streets, deep blue waters striking the shore, intricately designed churches.

What I didn't expect was all the history that Naples taught me. It used to be the capital of the southern region of Italy and apparently has always had a lifestyle different that many of the northern cities. There is a whole city underneath the one that currently exists and you can travel under the ground and see things like a theater. Many of the buildings now used for private living are hundreds of years old.

There are squares and palaces that mark city centers and I was able to follow a map to see many of the major sites, but just strolling through I noticed that ever corner held a tiny surprise. Sometimes vine covered walls, or a view of the mountain across the water or a giant castle.

Naples is famous for their delicate pizza and boy oh boy did Gino Sorbillo give us a treat. The wait was about an hour at least, but the dough was so soft and thin in the center and fluffy on the outside - so good that I took my leftovers home in a pizza box in my carry on the next day and ate it on the train.

They also are known for sharp espresso, the locals would chat at the bar down their espresso then head their separate ways. It was bitter, but strongly nuanced with traces of nuts.

The food was a crazy good price with one three course meal being 12 euros for wine, sparkling water, pasta, meat, bread, fruit and and appetizer of some kind of cheese. We even were serenaded by classic Italian tune.

One day we took the ferry over to Capri and I thought I discovered a secluded dream island that reminded me of the white walls and blue roofs of Santorini.

The classic colorful houses scattered on the mountainside with a port of sailboats and little shops painted by the dark pebble beach and aqua sea defined my first look. We took a tram to the top where we could walk 30 minutes through the roads designed for people and occasional miniature cars.

The houses were gated and filled with a garden of vibrant flowers that added to the luxury escape of the island. Fresh waffle cones with homemade gelato floated through the air along the twist and turns to the Arch.

The Arch was so massive that the trees that green on top of it looked doll sized. Through the center a deep royal blue ocean met the sea foam green. The cliffs fell straight down in the water that added to the drama of the scenery.

Our next stop on the island we got lost and ended up at a private beach where we could see the faraglioni with white tour boats dwelling in the center.

Naples provided a place that I not only met locals that were eager to teach me about the city they loved, but also a place to tour without being overwhelmed by tourists. If the vibrant colors and delicious Italian food don't capture your heart, the Italian culture surely will.

When in Wales

To be honest, I didn't even know Wales was its own country until moving to London. It doesn't get the publicity like Scotland and Ireland. I'd say it's a good blend between the two filled with history of super mighty Welsh people that I would never want to cross. A bus to Welshpool was about 30 pounds and 6 hours, the journey to our cottage from the awesome cottage.com took another 40 minute journey into the middle of no where. The one lane road cuts through bush covered stones that used to divide people's territories. I've never seen so bright green rolling hills filled with sheep.

Sheep over here and sheep over there, sheep on the cliffs, sheep everywhere!

Our cottage was gated with its own little garden out back and a little pasture. The windows were frosted on the edges. The kitchen was from decades ago with a fire lit oven, a radio the played symphonies for us at breakfast, a small fire in the den and a piano in the next room. Beyond cozy would describe it well.

It's close to a lake that's beautiful to walk around and a waterfall about 30 minutes away. The waterfall is truly enchanting surrounded by stones covered in moss and a little arch that divides it in half. The leaves had all fallen so the ground was blanketed with reds and oranges. When the wind would blow yellow leaves would dance in the sky all around us. There's a trail up the side with slippery rock stairs that overlooks the brushed red hills and evergreens. The hills were alive as ever with music between the light showers and gusting winds. It was great to warm milk up on the stove top fire and mix in powdered chocolate.

A couple hours away the coast sings as well, but of simplicity and pastels. The houses lined up in different colors with a pebble beach out front. The best local fish and chips place around the corner - except that ketchup cost 40 pence for one baby packet. Conwy Castle is in the town right over. It's original walls from 1258 still line the city and can be walked all the way around as cars come in the original gates to meet the center. The castle itself is in beautiful condition with vibrant grass growing in the floors. The top gives a view of the gothic style houses trimmed with dark wood and red roofs as well as the bridge and the harbor filled with sailboats. For 4 pounds you can get a tea with a scone, a mini jar of jam and clotted creme at the Tea Cafe across the street that sits booth by the window in an inward for as they reused part of the old city.

Another cute town not too far is called Betws y. Coed. Conservation is important to Alpine Coffee Shop. They don't even give take away cups, but they do have wonderful chai. The honey taste so fresh. The gorilla portraits and sculptures design the cafes interior. There are two bridges in the city that both lead to fun things. More sheep and a rushing river colored by fallen leaves. There's even a baby railroad behind the cafe where you can eat in an old train cart!

A wonderful haven away from the busyness of the city I could have stayed there wrapped next to the fire forever.

Have it Your (nor)Way

All I heard about Norway before I visited was that it's expensive, cold and somewhat hostile to foreigners. While the cold and expensive bit are definitely true, I discovered that in the middle of a wind so crisp it cracks your lips is a country full of warm hearts. Our first stop in Oslo - a surprisingly tiny major city. Right away I was blown away that to get into the city by public transport cost more than my plane ticket there (of course I did get a bargain on my plane ticket - $30 round trip). It's a true mixture of modern architecture and beautiful landscape. The central area can feel like a future world that transitions in a few blocks back in time to 90's style advertisements and golden trees lining the streets. I watched roller-skiiers skate up the big hills in their training gear. There's a museum where people can see the actual slopes from the Olympics.

It was 6 o'clock on a Saturday night, but it felt like a ghost town. There was barely a person to be found. The restaurants were empty, cafes closed. We wandered down to the opera house where a collection of people gathers to climb onto the roof and watch the sunset over the harbor. Back at our hostel we had heated floors and large white duvets to cuddle underneath.

We then flew to Bergen the next morning. Bergen feels like a small town, but it's definitely not small. The people we met have been living their with their families for centuries. They were eager to share the history of the town and it's people. The atmosphere of the area is full of smiles regardless of the daily sprinkles and harsh winds.

Bergen used to be the capital of Norway and a major trading port. The houses maintain their perfect white rectangular style under a red tin roof. The houses scale the mountains and the citizens will trek up to their homes without a second thought. There is a park every prescribed set of meters, but it's hard to miss the nature sitting in the middle of mountains. At the top of Fløyen we could gaze upon the whole city in its fullness and the billion dollar light rail that cut up the center to the airport.

In Bergen we were transported back in time again, but now to the 18th century with houses preserved by the government to maintain their original form. Some are still insulated with newspapers from the 1920's! The city is known for the Byrggen colorful trading houses, but a little deeper in we found an entire old town that was taken and rebuilt board by board in order to keep the buildings from fire or damage. We even found a replica of Edward Grieg's little house that he would bundle up in seven layers and compose. The streets are mainly cobblestone to prevent the city from flooding because the stones separate the direction of the water.

The character of the colorful roofs, fish markets, traditional dress that is still worn today as women push their strollers by the small lakes lined with maples, and splendid gaping mountains builds the city to be something special. That's without even getting into the fjord boat tour we experienced with the water that seemed to slice the mountain in half and reflect the rest perfectly in the stillness. We passed towns with only 500 residents and houses without any access to the outside world without boating - even to the school house. We drank from the waterfall and it tasted like pure crystal perfection.

We ended our night with five courses between us at Anne Madams. A starter of homemade fish soup that's cream warmed my throat. Reindeer meatballs that tasted lively, and rich with game flavor. Whale steak that apparently must be cooked very specifically in a short period of time. It was brown to my surprise considering it's a mammal I suppose it makes sense. It was a mixture of liver, beef and an aftertaste that was a little raw. Next, a 100-year-old fish cake recipe in the shape of a heart. We wrapped up with the classic fish and chips, minus the fresh cod that's known in England. For dessert - waffles with creme, jam and brown cheese. The brown cheese had sweet tones, but a dairy after math.

I'd recommend Norway and all its glory to anyone looking for a full breath of fresh (and chilly) air and to rest somewhere quaint, but unique. I'd love to go again and see the Northern Lights from Tromsø or hike to the top of Trolltunga, but I feel energized and giddy from all the things I was able to see. I mean who can top the three story Christmas shop in a little red house or hot coco and Friea chocolate (aka a Norwegian Kit-Kat) overlooking the white tree houses (as they call them - three generations would live together in a connected house not so long ago). The only thing I would say was there isn't a night life, most the people are in their houses by 7, but then again I was in bed by 10 myself and perfectly content.