Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Top Five Spring & Summer Festivals in South Korea

I can't believe it's been over six months since I finished working in Korea! Time flies, doesn't it? I am happily settled here in Austin, Texas now. Since January I've been working at a study abroad office as an Advising and Communications Intern. I've had an absolute blast thus far. I've learned a TON about an industry I am passionate about, and I think I've contributed a lot in my time there. 

Among many responsibilities, I was tasked with creating some blog content for the company. They have programs in sites around the world, one of them being Seoul, South Korea! Immediately I made friends with the Site Specialist for Seoul: Kimi! When my supervisor asked what I would be interested in writing about, I partnered up with Kimi to brainstorm some ideas to generate interest in Korea. After sorting through all the ideas we came up with, I decided to write about festivals in Korea. With first-hand knowledge, plus some research, I wrote a blog called "Top Five Spring & Summer Festivals in South Korea"!

After many edits and revisions (and my supervisor begging me to trim it down, me persuading him that there's nothing that can be left out), it was finally published last week to the company's main blog. I am so excited to share some of my writing with you guys, especially since it is about my beloved Korea. You're probably familiar with my writing style, since you read this blog, but now I finally have something professional that has been published.

Without further ado, here it is, my first professional writing sample! Enjoy!

Top Five Spring & Summer Festivals in South Korea 
The blissful spring-time and summer weather in South Korea provides the perfect climate for the lavish parades of colors, and intriguing festivals that splash across the Korean Peninsula around this time every year. While it’s always fun to visit temples and explore museums, festivals are a unique way to learn about Korean culture. South Korea has many exciting festivals that offer a glimpse into a world that many would consider a journey down the “road less traveled.” Check out these five must-do festivals in South Korea this spring and summer. 
Photo CC Chelsea Snyder 
5. Lotus Lantern FestivalWhen: Around Buddha’s Birthday (May) – The festival is one weekend, but the lantern exhibit is displayed for around two weeks.
Where: Seoul, various locations (Lantern Exhibit is along the Cheonggycheon Stream)
How to get there: Seoul Subway Jonggak Station (Line 1), Exit 2 to Joggyesa Temple. Or for the Lantern Exhibit, Gwanghwamun station (Line 5).
About: This festival is held in honor of Buddha’s birthday. There are many events throughout the festival, including a lantern display along the Cheonggycheon Stream as well as a lantern parade, cultural events (read: make your own lantern and Buddhist art!), and cultural performances. This is a Buddhist celebration, but everyone is welcome to come and enjoy the feel-good, family-friendly atmosphere.
Don’t Miss: The lantern parade is an awe-inspiring display of Buddhist artistry and elegance. Spectators line the streets, many holding their own lanterns, and watch as the elaborately-decorated floats pass by. You will probably see a traditional dragon float, the Lotus Flower Princess waving atop a lotus flower, and colorful paper-mache elephants heading down the avenues. Set your camera to night mode to capture the gorgeous lighting and colors. 
Photo CC Jirka Matousek 
4. Boryeong Mud FestivalWhen: July 18-27, 2014
Where: Boryeong, (or sometimes called Daecheon), South Chungcheong Province (200km from Seoul)
How to get there: This is a huge festival, so many people attend each year. Public buses might be full. You can buy bus tickets in advance by going to a bus terminal. Travel time varies from 2 hr 20 min to 3 hr. Prices are 8,000KRW – 10,000KRW each way. Alternatively, trains travel from Yongsan station approximately every hour. Prices are usually more expensive than the bus and take around the same amount of time. Websites like take groups and can do the planning for you.
About: In an effort to market the unique mud that originates in Boryeong, which is mineral-rich and has many beneficial properties, the city created this festival in 1998. Participants can experience mud in many activities: wrestling, slides and rides, massages, and endless photo opportunities. Literally millions of visitors flock to this festival each year and help turn the otherwise sleepy seaside town into a huge party. Everyone is welcome, from toddlers to ajummas*, but students and expats make up the majority of the crowd.
Don’t Miss: The beauty of a festival like this is that there is literally something for everyone. If you’re looking for a more low-key experience, opt for a mud-massage or mud-facial. If you’ve been itching for a active and wild weekend, get mud-painted and head over to a mud slide or mud trampoline!

Photo CC Harry Yoon 
3. Jindo Seaparting FestivalWhen: April 24-27, 2014 (subject to change because nature is unpredictable!)
Where: Jindo Island and Modo Island, South Jeolla Province (350km from Seoul)
How to get there: There are several direct buses leaving from Express Bus Terminal every day (Central City wing, 25,000KRW each way). Once you’ve arrived, take a local bus to Hoedong Port. Because the bus can take between 6-7 hours, it is best to leave early in the morning. If you can’t do that, you can take the more expensive KTX (high speed train) from Yongsan Station, travel to Mokpo (3hr 15 min, 43,000KRW each way), then catch a bus to Jindo, and take the local bus from there to Hoedong Port. Whether you choose to take a bus or a train, it is best to book your tickets in advance due to the number of people who attend the festival.
About: There are a few varieties of Korean folktales about this phenomena, but whatever the origins, this festivals is not to be missed! The sea-parting festival celebrates nature’s mysteries when the tide goes out for around 60-90 minutes and allows visitors to walk to Modo island 2.8 km away. The festival celebrates the abundance of natural and healthy things in the southern coast of the country.
Don’t Miss: If you are able to catch a fish, crab, clams or even an octopus during your walk between islands, local restaurants will cook it up for you to enjoy that evening. 
Photo CC Chelsea Snyder 
2. Muju Firefly FestivalWhen: June 1-9, 2014 (tentative)
Where: Muju, North Jeolla Province (180km from Seoul)
How to get there: Buses leave from several terminals in Seoul. Nambu Bus Terminal has several departures per day. It takes about 2 hr 30 minutes.
About: This environmental festival celebrates central South Korea’s beautiful fireflies that turn up each summer. In fact, the fireflies are so special, they are officially a Korean national treasure (#322 to be exact). While fireflies in nature are only visible at dusk and night, the festival is in full swing throughout the day. Visitors can watch many cultural performances, play in the stream that passes through the town, and even catch trout with their bare hands. The festival is a fun-filled day of exploring true Korean culture. Be warned though: the town is small, so affordable places to stay may be limited; try to make arrangements before arriving in town. (Sorry, no 24hr jjimjilbangs** here!) Have a Korean friend call to book you a room or you may be stuck sleeping under the (beautiful) starry sky.
Don’t Miss: In the evening of each day, buses transport festival-guests out into the countryside to witness the fireflies firsthand. You can buy a ticket the day-of (but do so early!), and spend 40-60 minutes away from the lights of the town getting to see the glow of nature. 
Photo CC Chelsea Snyder 
1. Jinhae Gunhangje Cherry Blossom FestivalWhen: TBD (usually held in April)
Where: Jinhae district, Changwon City, South Gyeongsan Province (367km from Seoul)
How to get there: You can reach Jinhae by bus from Gangnam Bus Terminal in Seoul, and it will take you around 4 hours. Or, you could take a train to Jinhae station.
About: When spring comes to Korea, you know the cherry blossoms are sure to follow. You can find an abundance of cherry blossom festivals around the country, but the Jinhae Gunghangje festival is the biggest and best. Over 2 million people visit each year! At the festival you can literallysee spring. The pink and white flowers that cover the tress line streets and rivers.
Don’t Miss: The “romance bridge” that crosses the Yeojwa stream. The bridge was made famous by a Korean drama, but it’s pretty magical in-and-of itself. Take as many photos with these beautiful trees as you can because they won’t last long! Most cherry blossoms only stick around for about one week.
No matter which festivals you choose to experience during your time in Korea, it will be well-worth your time. Let yourself focus on the culture and absorbing as much as you can. The memories will last a lifetime and its unlikely you’ll find anything to compare to your festival experience! 
*ajumma is a common Korean word that means “old woman” (in a respectful way).
**jjimjilbang is a Korean word that refers to the all-hours bathhouses that allow you to sleep/bath/hang out the entire day or night (a cheap and easy place to stay in most towns).

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chelsea in Dublin (Shopping Edition)

Our last day in Ireland. I can't believe it is coming to an end! We have been here long enough that our circadian rhythm has adjusted and driving on the left wasn't too much of an issue, but not long enough to feel like we've seen everything or gotten sick of all the green. 

On our last day, the main thing we needed to do was finish shopping. We both had a few gifts to get for friends. I personally don't much care for traditional souvenirs such as keychains and beer glasses. I like things that you couldn't get in America, things that the Irish use regularly that are unique to the Irish culture. I am not going to post this blog until I've given out the gifts, because I want to detail what I got people!

Before we headed out on our shopping mission, we decided to get a few nearby geocaches. Are you surprised? There was a huge string of them along the coast where we were staying, and we looked for five. One was a nontraditional cache and it was a bit too confusing for us so we skipped it. But, not before we had walked down the side of a cliff to the beach and subsequently back up a near vertical climb. We got back to the top exhausted but having been rewarded with some great views along the way.

We found two of the next four we looked for along the beach-side road. In the process, I met a Hungarian woman walking her dog. She was super friendly and we chatted a bit. When she heard that I was interested in living abroad, and had enjoyed Budapest a lot while I was there, she suggested a Hungarian company that hires Americans reguarly. I won't go into too much detail but the company was called Prezi and I do think I'll look into it when I get back, even if just to check it out. But, for now, back to geocaching! There were some really awesome views from the area we were driving along and I took a bunch of photos. After those five caches, we were tired and ready to get to shopping! So, off we went.

We decided to go to some stores that would be frequented by Irish people. We made for Marks and Spencer's in Dublin. We got lunch at the cafe in the MS, then poked around the home section. I bought myself some CUTE measuring cups (why am I so domestic?!) as well as some cute Mother's Day cards. I guess Mother's Day in the UK and Ireland is a lot sooner than ours, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared! I didn't find anything by way of souvenirs there, so we headed to another staple store: Tesco. 

Tesco has been one of my favorite stores in the UK since I went there with my host-family in Gloucestershire, England, back in 2007. It's not really anything special; just a grocery store. I guess its more of the unique English and Irish products you can buy there that I love so much! Anyway, there I found the bulk of my gifts. I got bags of just-add-water Irish Brown Bread for a few of my coworkers, Irish chocolate made with actual liquid milk (most chocolates are made with milk solids, whatever that is!), and a few jars of whiskey marmalade. These are things that are totally Irish yet affordable! 

We left Tesco loaded down, but I insisted on stopping at Penney's (aka Primark) as it is the UK/Ireland's answer to Forever 21, but better. I got quite a lot of loot there! I got some PJ bottoms, a canvas print for the apartment, a throw pillow that is beyond adorable, some hair accessories, a makeup bag, and two water bottles made to be gripped in your hand as you run (one for me, one for Romeo). I feel like there may have been a few other small things in there, but basically I got a bunch of stuff for like 30 Euros. Total score! Now... to fit it all in our suitcases!

We finally headed back to the hotel with a bunch of shopping bags and a big task ahead of us trying to get our suitcases to close AND be less than 50lbs. Back in our room, we set about doing this, but soon realized we needed sustenance. So far, we had avoided eating at the generally-overpriced hotel restaurants, but we were just too tired to try to find somewhere in the town to eat, go there, order, wait, eat, then come back again. So, we headed down to the bar and ordered some food as well as the cocktail on special. I finally got one of the food items I'd wanted to have on the trip: Atlantic salmon! It was incredibly delicious, and as a kids portion, not terribly priced. The size was decent, just perfect for me actually.

Full and a bit tipsy, we headed back upstairs and completed our packing while sipping some whiskey we had bought. It was a really good finish to the trip, and I felt very successful in all my purchases, both gifts and things for myself. We needed to get up fairly early the next morning, so we made it an early night. By now, I'm quite ready to get home and start planning my next adventure, wherever that may be!

Until then... cheers!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chelsea in Waterford

Again, I am running behind on blog posts. Hopefully I can still remember details from two days ago! We woke up at Dromoland Castle Hotel near Ennis. We were due to check into our next hotel that night outside of Dublin, but there was much to do between the two places!

Since there was no breakfast included at the hotel, we packed up and headed out early. We were heading southeast to Limerick. We stopped for a couple of geocaches along the way out, but decided to limit ourselves to only looking for one every thirty minutes. Geocaching, I've found, can take a lot of time! We didn't want to spend all day caching.

Outside Limerick we found our first cache in a very old cemetery. It was insane to see all the old dates. The oldest year we could actually make out was 1811. Absolutely insane that it was over 200 years old. There were some that may have been older, but weather had rubbed the stone flat again.

We continued onwards from Limerick down towards Waterford. Along the way we needed to find lunch so I consulted Yelp and TripAdvisor; Yelp yielded nothing but TripAdvisor found a highly rated cafe in a small city called Tipperary. When we plugged in the coordinates listed on TripAdvisor, the GPS took us about 10 minutes off the main road to the middle of no where. We suspected that it was the wrong direction, but we didn't know for sure so we followed. Of course, the destination was a sheep field. -__-

We made our way back to the main road and I Googled the correct address. We made our way into Tipperary and found the cafe. Although we had to pay to park, the cafe was delicious. I had a bowl of vegetable soup and homemade brown bread. The bread was amazing; thick and hearty! I also got a smoothie for take away (to go). We took off for Waterford in hopes of arriving in time to make it on a tour of the House of Waterford Crystal before they closed.

Luckily, we got into Waterford at 3:30 and made it on a tour. I didn't have much previous knowledge of the crystal-making process, so I wasn't sure how interesting I would find the tour. We started the tour with our guide, Sean, and about half a dozen other tourists. Sean was informative but spoke incredibly slowly. It was painful to stand there and listen to without wanting to fall asleep. After we had the introduction and AV presentation, we went into the factory. Unlike the Jameson tour when we first arrived to Ireland, this tour went through a working factory. 

I certainly have much better appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into crystal-making now. We got to see and learn about the entire process. Each piece of Waterford Crystal is handmade, with exquisite attention to detail. We got to see the workers blowing and shaping glass, as well as doing the intricate designs in painstaking detail. I took a million photos and videos! As we learned about quality control, we were able to actually smash "bad" crystal that wasn't up to Waterford's standards. It was a weird thrill to throw a wine glass into a huge bin that held shards of glass. One neat thing I learned is that they use the old glass, melted down and reblown, in the new pieces created. Good on ya, Waterford, for recycling! ;)

After the tour, which lasted about an hour, we were able to take photos with replicas of some incredible pieces that Waterford has created such as the People's Choice Award, the TCU Football Championship trophy, and other pieces. Then came the ubiquitous gift shop. While I was lusting over some gorgeous champagne flutes, there was no way I could have afforded them. I did, however, buy myself a reasonably priced ring stand. I have wanted one for a little while, and the price was right so I treated myself.

We left there and found a nearby geocache. While walking back to the car, we stopped in a gift shop on a small side street. They had the obvious souvenir-y type stuff, but they also had adorable housewares and even clothes and scarves. Now, you will probably think I'm insane, but I got myself two things: a pair of crystal earrings and a butter dish. Yes, a butter dish. Before you judge me, you should take into consideration that I have actually been wanting one ever since I moved out of my parents' house. Butter is way better room temperature when its actually spreadable, and butter dishes are a perfect solution. Couple this long-standing desire with the fact that it had mismatched BUTTONS on it (painted, not real), I really couldn't resist. The price was right, too, at 13 Euros. (I later found a plain white one at Marks and Spencer for 25 Euros!)

We left the shop and dropped our bags at the car, then indulged in a bit more geocaching at the park we were next to. We found 2 more caches then decided it was time to drive to our final hotel near Dublin, a good 2 hour drive away. We got back in the car and headed there.

Throughout the trip, I had been having a feeling that I was missing out on something in Ireland. I couldn't put my finger on it, as I was enjoying quality time with my mom, staying at very nice hotels, and relaxing a lot. On the drive to Dublin, I realized what it was. We had been staying in wonderful hotels... that were located outside of cities, and even outside of towns for the most part. We had a car, but it was still a process to get into the cities and towns and thus, I think we missed out on that authentic-Ireland feel. We didn't get to meet many locals, and only ate at places that we could find on Yelp. I think we would have had a bit different experience had we stayed in locations where we could have walked around villages or taken public transportation easily, meeting more locals and finding those hole in the wall gems that feel like your own little secret place. However, despite this, I had had a wonderful time with my mom. Most of my trips have been either solo or with a friend, so spending time with her was just a different kind of trip that I wasn't exactly used to, but was enjoying very much.

Finally we arrived at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel south of Dublin. It was in a town, but not really near much of anything. Out of all the hotels we'd stayed at, it was probably my least favorite. Parking was a mess and the entrance wasn't clearly marked so we weren't sure where to go for a while. After we finally got checked in, no one helped us with our bags and it appeared that the only way to get to the elevators was to walk our bags through the sitting room and bar, which would have been very awkward. Additionally, there was a small set of stairs to go down before you could even access the "lifts." It was definitely not wheelchair accessible. Anyway, before bringing up our bags, we went to the room and had a rest as well as planned where to get dinner. We were tired from the long day of driving but also starving. I found a highly rated Thai restaurant on Yelp that had a deal, so we planned to go there.

We headed back down to the car and made our way there. The roads were extremely narrow and windy, and my mom missed the turn so we had to make a loop around. By the time we got there, I was ravenous. I got a yellow curry for take away and we went back to the room. We were lucky and found a parking spot near the handicapped accessible door (which was like sequestered off to the side of the building, but thankfully nearer to the elevators. We used that door to take our bags up and thereby avoided making a scene through the lobby and sitting room, etc. 

Finally in for the night, we relaxed watching the Oscars, the only thing on TV. We tried to get to bed at a decent time so we could enjoy our last real day in Ireland the next day. However, of course, I wanted to check out my new earrings I bought from the gift shop in Waterford! I got the bag from the other shop but the earrings weren’t there. I checked all the bags I brought in, then went down to the car to check to see if they had fallen out in the trunk. Nothing was there. I started to freak out, but I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere they could be. I hadn’t moved the bags much, and I didn’t have any distinct memory of taking the earrings from the store clerk. I told myself I must have forgotten them in the store. I dried up the oncoming tears, telling myself that I would call the store in the morning and figure things out. For now, I needed some sleep…


Monday, March 3, 2014

Chelsea in Co Clare

Who wants to work out on vacation? Maybe some of those weird people that I constantly see on Facebook and Insta who are at the gym 23 hours of the day, but I am definitely not one of those people. Therefore, I don't really want to work out when on vacation. However, I am really trying to stick to my running program as much as possible, and today was a scheduled 8-mile run. I skipped one of my short runs earlier this week due to rain and the lack of running paths, but the hotel we are at now has a "leisure center" and the treadmills taunted me as we drove past the windows on our way into the hotel. So, this morning, I dutifully woke up to my 7:30am alarm and got a ride from the staff over to the club house/gym nearby.

This is a side note, but I don't understand how people can enjoy running on a treadmill. Yes, it was nice to be out of the constant Ireland rain, and have a nice fan blowing directly on me, but it was utterly boring. To pass the nearly two hours I spent running on it, I counted by multiples to 100 by 2,3,4,... all the way up to 9... That passed all of 3 minutes. I need to have my music playing in order to keep my pace up, so watching a show or movie is out of the question. I bounce too much to read a book. Basically, I was bored to tears for the entire 12.87km. But, when I was done, I was so proud! The stupid treadmill turned off 2 times so I had to mentally add my distances together, but I am sure I did at least 8 miles, if not a bit more.

After getting a ride from my new friend Aiden (the porter who valeted our car, drove me to the gym and back, and has done various other errands for us) back to the main hotel so I didn't have to walk in the rain, I got ready and we headed out to explore County Clare.

First of all, we needed food. This hotel, while impressively nice as well as featuring a lot of amenities, did not include breakfast in the fees, so we went into town to get a baguette or something instead. We found a Tesco and got a few small baguettes. We limited ourselves to sharing just one because only 30 minutes away was a cafe I had found on Yelp called Joe's Cafe. Only 15 minutes from the Cliffs of Moher, it was beach-side and highly rated. We saved our appetites for a real meal there.

We found the cafe without difficulty and both ordered a pie. I got the Shamrock: beef steak with Irish Stout, and my mom ordered the Heidi: goat's cheese, sweet potatoes, spinach and red onions. When they came, they were so cute! Each had some mashed potatoes and gravy. My pie was very savory, but it had onions in it. If you know me well, you know I do NOT like onions. But, I did what needed to be done; I ate the onions. (Romeo, don't get too excited. I do not consent to more onions in the future!) My mom's pie was delicious as well and we were both very satisfied. However, I didn't run 8 miles this morning for nothing! We ordered the brownie and ice cream for dessert, which the menu claimed to be "the most amazing brownie in the world!" For once, I actually agreed with such a grand claim! It was divine!!!! Definitely worth 2 hours on the treadmill.

After polishing off all our food, we headed north to the famous Cliffs. Rain had been off and on regularly, but a storm looked to be coming in as we parked the car. We headed up to the visitor's center and out to the viewing area quick as we could. The Cliffs of Moher are a very popular tourist attraction, and while the weather was absolute crap while we were there - very high winds and constant light rain - we probably came at the right time of year. During high season, when all the tourist pour into Ireland, I doubt I could have gotten a clear photo of the cliffs, let alone one with me in it! As it was, we got some amazing views and hopefully a few good photos. A Chinese man, who was taking a billion photos anyway, kindly agreed to take a photo of my mom and I together, and while it showed the cliffs well enough, my hair was absolutely wild. But, that was the reality of the experience,I suppose!

We decided not to walk along the cliffs opposite us due to impending rain (we could literally see it pouring out over the ocean not far away) as well as due to some foot pain I was experiencing. I think wearing boots that lacked arch support for two days, then running 8 miles the following day, probably caused the pain in my right arch and ankle. I hobbled back to the car and we headed back in the direction of our hotel.

Just wanted to mention in here, while we were wary of the rain, frustrated over crazy hair, and frozen half to death, the Cliffs were absolutely stunning. Pictures can't do it justice. The water was insane below us, and the view was astounding. I only wish the weather had cooperated a bit more so I could have enjoyed it more peacefully (rather than with wind and causing a huge racket on my hood!)

Of course, we wanted to geocache in such a cool area. However, either the impending storm or our proximity to the coast caused my cell phone service to fail entirely. Despite showing at least partial bars most of the time, I couldn't get anything to connect. It was frustrating because I could neither locate any geocaches nor could I pull up directions back to the hotel. I was glad that I remembered our path to follow in reverse heading back so we weren't entirely lost without the phone!

Along the way back, the sun started to peak back out and we saw a rainbow. I could see both ends, and at one point, it seemed so close that I felt that I could just drive over to the end and find a pot of gold awaiting me! I tried to snap a photo, but the roads were insanely narrow with few places to pull over, and even fewer of those having a good view of the rainbow. Alas...

We headed back to the hotel directly at that point, having no geocaches to entertain us. I needed a break from walking anyway, and we had a nice rest before venturing out to find dinner. When we did leave again, we headed into Ennis, the nearest city, in search of food. Almost everything was closed, though, and we settled on pizza, which was a good price but definitely lackluster in quality. Since my phone was finally working again, we were able to stop for a geocache on the way back to the hotel for the night. We searched for one near a park in the middle of town, but we think that it was displaced by recent storms that knocked down hundreds (or thousands) of trees in the area, as well as flooded most of the rivers and lakes. We gave up on that one shortly, but were able to find another near some old military barracks on the way out of town.

Now, I am icing my foot and blogging before heading back to the room so mom and I can plan our day tomorrow. Our trip is wrapping up and while I am sad to leave, I must admit I am looking forward to being back home again. Cheers for now!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chelsea in Sligo

Today was a really fun day consisting of a LOT of driving! Thankfully, my mom is pretty much a pro by now with the whole driving on the left and roundabouts thing. We woke up to an alarm (finally; first time since the first day we arrived!) and got ready before breakfast. Delicious food is much more enjoyable when you look good! We were checked out and on the road by 10am, the earliest yet! Our GPS said it would be about 3hr 45min to get from our hotel at Lough Eske to our next one at Dromoland near Ennis. Just wait til you hear how long it actually takes us...

Well, first we had to get another geocache nearby. In our defense, it was literally right off the road at a rest stop. Unfortunately for us, though, it was a waste of time as we couldn't find it. :( Bummer! We continued onwards, but detoured in an attempt to get a series of five caches in an area along the Atlantic coast. We had hoped that they would be beach-y, as the map showed the ocean very nearby; boy, were we wrong!

We turned off the main road, drove along farm roads for a couple of kilometers, then pulled off near a heavily wooded area. Thinking it would be a quick grab, at only 500ft away, I stayed in the car and let mom go for it. She headed off straight in the direction of the cache. However, as Game of Thrones can teach us (if we have read the most recent book), sometimes you must go back in order to move forward (anyone, anyone?!?). Point being: I got out of the car and helped her out of the brambles and onto a beaten path, which initially took us in the wrong direction, but eventually put us on the right path.We ventured together through the forest, still and quiet and soggy wet. When we came to a small lake (okay, a large puddle), I went around it since I was not wearing my waterproof boots. I still got the soles of the boots soaked -__-

We didn't have to hunt too long to find the cache, but I was distractedly taking a million photos: of us, of the forest, of our travel bug "Duck of Doom"...

When we found the cache, mom suggested that we continue venturing on to find the next cache in the series, as it was only 0.3 miles away. Back we went, through the sodden woods and past the car into even thicker forest. There didn't seem to be too much wildlife, and the path was well beaten, so I wasn't too nervous, but I kept an eye on mom, just in case. We found the location of the next cache, but after 15-20 minutes of searching everywhere possible, we gave up. The third of the series was even further from the car, so when we saw the road up ahead, I volunteered to go get the car while mom waited nearby. It was about half a mile walk back to the car, but with much better scenery. I veered off the path and after walking over a ridge was rewarded by a view of the Atlantic ocean! ...It looked absolutely freezing.

I got to the car, went to pick up mom, then agreed to wait as she went on for another cache further down the beach. When she returned, we agreed to take a break from caching for a few hours, as it was already after 12 noon, and we had gone the distance of only a 30 minute drive. Cripes, this would be a long day!

We drove further until we came to the town of Sligo, and decided to get lunch and another geocache. We fought for parking in the lot outside of Tesco, and walked around the pedestrian mall for a little bit, heading in the direction of the cache. We found the area where it was supposed to be, but were confused as the GPS had us slightly off. Finally, I found it on the footbridge that went over the river nearby. After this successful find, we decided to try a nearby pub/restaurant for lunch. I ordered the chicken, pesto, and goat cheese wrap with a bowl of vegetable soup, and my mom got seafood chowder. I didn't have too high of hopes, but when it arrived and I tasted the soup, I was so pleased! It was a creamy soup, like a puree of vegetables, but it tasted so amazing! I am seriously going to search for the recipe when I get home and attempt to recreate this in my magic bullet! The wrap was cheesy and rich. My mom's chowder had almost every kind of seafood in it, barring shark or whale (thankfully). I had a few bites and it was very hearty and creamy! I was fat and happy when we left the restaurant. I determined that Sligo might be my favorite of the towns we have visited in Ireland so far, thanks to the charming shops and quaint pedestrian areas to walk about (not to mention the awesome food!)

It was now 3:30pm, well past the time we should have arrived at our destination. However, we still had 2hr 30min to go. Are you serious!? We decided to skip the side trip into Galway and head straight for our hotel. But, the question remained, could we resist the lure of more geocaches...?

Answer: no. We did another detour for a cache that was nestled up near a big mountain (which looked more like a mesa to me, but it's name claimed a mountain, so who am I to argue with the Irish?). It was the start of a series that were located along a 4km walking path that leads up to the mountain through a beautiful looking forest/park. Mom had almost given up on finding the cache when I located it. The log was too wet to sign, so I got some photographic evidence instead. We agreed that the path looked tempting, but with the daylight hours ticking away, we really needed to keep going. Once again we headed back to on the road towards our final destination.

After one more attempt for a find (unsuccessful), we made it to our hotel at around 7pm. That's right, from 10am-7pm, we drove what should have taken only 3.5hrs, had we been direct. But, as they say, it's all about the journey, not the destination! Today, that was proven true... until we drove onto the grounds of our next hotel. The sight before us was enough to make my jaw drop. This is not my photo, but I had to find one and include it so you could witness the grandeur of where we are staying currently. Each place we stay keeps getting better and better, and Dromoland Castle Hotel has topped all its predecessors. We got complementary valet service, luggage transportation, and they even upgraded us to a deluxe room! Wow! The only downside so far: no breakfast included. But, they gave us a voucher for a discount at breakfast. We'll see if we bite... this place is expensive (and rightly so, I think!) Tomorrow I am going to make use of the leisure center and get some miles logged for my half-marathon training so I don't fall too far behind! Then, more exploring in this part of the country (which, of course, will include geocaches!) :D


Chelsea in Donegal

This blog is a day late because last night I was feeling like "rubbish". Not sure what was causing it, but I was in bed from 6:30pm and barely got up the entire evening. However, before my bout of illness came over me, the day was really fun!

Once again, we woke up later than we intended. Thankfully it wasn't too late to make it to breakfast. We came down at around 10:30am, and breakfast ended at 11:00 so we decided to get ready afterwards. The dining room was very crowded so they had to seat us in the alternate room, which was smaller and much quieter. However, I kind of liked the peace. We ate a delicious breakfast then headed back to our room to get ready for the day.

Our main mission for the day was to geocache. If you've ever read my blogs before you'll know what this is more or less, and if you don't yet, Google it because you should! Anyway, there was a cache near where we were staying on the edge of the lake. We drove around the narrow roads until we found a place near the cache to park. The cache ended up being a bit difficult to find, and required us to nearly climb down a shallow embankment to search under the roots of a tree. Mom, with her wellies, graciously volunteered for this (aka: I wasn't climbing down there in my Toms so she was our only hope!)

After we found that cache, we soaked in a bit of the surreal scenery surrounding us. The lake was gorgeous and lots of hills, and even mountains in the distance, entrenched it from all sides. Absolutely stunning. What I think I liked the most was the sound. It really sounded like nature. Just the soft sound of waves lapping at the shore, a few birds chirping, and that was IT! No cars, no voices yelling, no interference. Just nature.

When we had had enough of nature (a hard call to make), we hopped back in the car and ventured into the nearby town of Donegal. The town was quite small but boasted a castle and a city center. While my mom's driving on the left has improved a lot (as has her confidence), we still managed to get "stuck" in a roundabout, but as she will insist that I include, only ONCE! When we managed to find the correct exit the second time around, we hunted for some parking. The "pay and display" spaces were all full, so mom parked behind another car along the side of one of the back roads. There weren't any signs that it was illegal, but I had a bad feeling, so when I spied a primo space near the front on our walk to the shops, I went and moved the car. Yes, that's right, I actually drove on a real road, on the left, in a manual transmission car, in Ireland! It was all of 200ft, but who's counting!?

We walked about the shops for a bit, but found nothing of much interest. So, out came the geocaching app! I found a cache a half mile away, so we headed back to the car and drove along the main road. And, to add to my accumulated distance driving, mom let me drive there! However, since she was quite unused to being a passenger on the left, she had a few mishaps. First of all, navigator she is not. She had me pull right into a driveway of a dental surgeon, then as I was turning around in the back parking lot, a man who I assume was the surgeon, was staring at me out of the window, thoroughly bewildered. Then I had to turn right again (right being the more difficult direction) onto the road behind a blind curve. I was so freaked out that I couldn't see and she had to help me. I screeched us out of the parking lot as best I could when the coast looked relatively clear. A few hundred feet later she had me pull into the proper driveway, but pointed to a spot to park in too late. As I was backing up, on a hill, in a manual, she literally screams "CAR!" I slam on the breaks, heart beating wildly, check my mirrors (again) and see... No car. Being on the left had put the mirrors in a position she wasn't used to and they played a trick on her eyes. No one was behind me, but she had thought there was because of the angle of the mirrors. I managed to pull into the spot, finally, and gave over the keys immediately. My left foot was cramped from riding the clutch most of the drive, due to slow traffic, hills, and screaming mothers. I think I'm done driving in this country, thank you very much!

After that incident, we found the geocache that was hidden in a pauper's graveyard. It was sad and a bit creepy. The stone talked about how many Irish died in the potato famine, as well as thanked the Choctaw Nation for their support. Thoroughly confused, I asked my mom if it meant the Choctaw, as in, the Native American tribe. Neither of us had heard of this, so I did a little research. It is really an amazing story and it's a shame that it's not so well known. If you're interested, here is a link published by Irish Central in December of 2013. The Choctaw gave $170, the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, to the Irish Famine Relief fund, only a few years after the Trail of Tears, in 1847. An amazing story...

So, we found that cache, then decided to hit up the other caches in town. In total we found 6 in Donegal, plus the one by the lake. They were located in/near sites such as: a former workhouse turned modern town hospital, a textile mill (my favorite - a sneaky cache!), outside a rail-road museum, on a bridge near the Donegal Castle overlooking the river running through the town, and outside beautiful St. Patrick's church. While looking for the one outside the church, a genial old Irishman spotted us searching and asked if we were taking some photos (I had my camera around my neck). We said "Yes, of course!" and began snapping away. He chuckled and went on. :) Near the end of our hunting, the rain began again (it had been off-and-on all day), and this time it was accompanied by HAIL! Again! What the hail, Ireland!?

Cold and a bit wet, we decided to take our picnic we had packed back to our cozy room in the hotel and eat there. So, we headed back and ate our salads, bread, cheese, chocolates, and wine on the bed in the hotel while watching British game shows, which were actually pretty darn interesting. One was called the Tipping Point, and the other was the Chaser. Both involved trivia and it was fun to watch and guess the answers as well as see some awesome players, as well as some pretty crappy ones.

I was tired after eating so I had a nap, but when I woke up, I felt absolutely awful. My stomach was churning and I didn't want to move from the bed. I stayed in bed the rest of the evening, nursing a big glass of water. After Skyping with Romeo I was able to eat a few dry crackers, but I needed to sleep it off, so we tried to make an early night of it. (I won't leave you with a cliff-hanger; I was well again in the morning!)

We're half-way through our amazing Irish journey, now! Cheers!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Chelsea in Northern Ireland

This blog title doesn't include a city name because the majority of our day was spent traipsing through the countryside. We were set to check out of our first hotel and make our way northwest to Donegal. We had grand plans for getting up early and making the most of our day.

Apparently we were both more exhausted than we realized, since our 7am alarm didn't wake us up, and when my mom nudged me away, it was 10:20! Speaking to my priorities, my first question was "Did we miss breakfast?!" My mom skeptically stated that yes we did, unless I could get up, get dressed, and get down to breakfast in about 2 minutes. Challenge accepted, mother! We were down in the dining room by 10:24, and were allowed to be seated. I literally pilled my plate high with everything I might want to eat before the staff could clear the buffet tables.

I was so happy to have made it to the "free" breakfast, I didn't even mind that we were getting a very late start. By the time we were ready and checked out, it was a little past noon. We decided to stick to our original schedule despite the late departure. Our route was Dublin --> Belfast --> Giant's Causeway --> Donegal for the night. I had actually wanted to stop by the ISA office at Queens Univeristy in Belfast, to take a photo and say hello, but I found out that the staff weren't in the office that day.

We headed north, following signs for "THE NORTH". I wondered when we were going to come to The Wall and Castle Black (Game of Thrones, anyone? hehe) The weather was intermittentedly sunny and beautiful then suddenly black and raining. At one point we even had some hail! I mean, talk about bipolar weather.

As we left the city, the scenery grew more and more beautiful. I was trying to snap photos out of the car window, but when we saw a sign for a view point right off the highway, my mom indulged my need for photos and took me on a little detour. We wound our way up and around the side of a hill and eventually came to a tiny parking lot and lookout point with a picnic table. We took some photos but it was so cold that we didn't stay too long. The time we were there, though, served us well as the view was absolutely gorgeous!! Green as far as the eye could see. Thankfully the sun was out when we hit this area.

After the detour, we headed back on the highway heading north towards Belfast. The road noise lulled me into a cat nap, during which we crossed into Northern Ireland. I was a bit sad to have missed this "landmark" and potential photo op, but my mom said it was out of no where and the sign wasn't very big or impressive. I resolved to get a photo on our way back into the Republic of Ireland at the end of the day.

Since we were in Northern Ireland (a separate country entirely), not only was the currency in GBP, but my SIM card data stopped working. UGH! At least our route north was already plotted, so we didn't get lost but it was a bit frustrating. We decided to stop in at a petrol station to use the WiFi and get another bottle of water. I had to ask the woman at the counter for the password for the WiFi. She told me "oh, ess, ay, two, three.." so I typed in "OSA23" but when she saw that, she say "No no! Not Ahh, Ayy!" Um, what? I typed in A again. She laughed and shook her head again, emphasizing AYYY. Thoroughly bewildered, she used a pen and wrote "e". I laughed and said "Oh, eeee!" She goes, "Yes, ay." Holy crap accents can make communication within the same language very difficult! But, it was a pretty humorous exchange.

Just down the road, I spied a Marks and Spencer's shop (department store with a grocery store) where we had a pit stop to get salads. The majority of the best salads I've ever had have come from here, so I was pumped to get another one, or three... We got 5 different varieties - small sizes of course - then grabbed a bottle of wine, some fresh and warm baguettes, butter and cheese, and of course a bar of chocolate. I think our little shopping stop was one of my favorite moments of the trip thus far. It sounds silly, but to bond over our love of simple but delicious food and drinks was really awesome. I totally love my mom. :)

After we left the shop, we passed through Belfast, which didn't seem too large or impressive to be honest. After another quick catnap on my part, we got close to our destination: Giant's Causeway. We arrived a little after 5pm, and the visitor's center was closed. I didn't mind though becuase the lighting was absolutely gorgeous as it was nearing sunset.

Since it was technically closed, we couldn't get the bus out to the proper part of the causeway, but were able to walk partway around the coast. Even though we didn't get to see the actual basalt columns up close and personal, the views were breathtaking. I took so many photos trying to capture just how magnificent the cliffs, rolling waves, and winding paths were. Due to temperatures in the 30s, plus high winds coming off the ocean, we weren't able to walk too far down the path, only about a quarter mile, before our faces and fingers numbed beyond what we could handle. But, it was worth it regardless. We headed back to the car when I spied another path that looked to promise great views as well.

We drove around to another angle on the top of the outlook, and I walked along the narrow path I'd seen from afar and through a gate (was I actually allowed in this area? I have no idea) all the way to the edge of the cliffs. My mom, attempting to thaw out, stayed behind in the car. I felt like I was chasing the sunset, trying to drink in as much nature and scenery as possible before she set beyond the horizon, shadowing the outlandish beauty. I attempted to get myself in photos, but I just couldn't get the focus right for a timed selfie. It's probably good though, becuase I feel a bit like that was "my spot" and it's kind of nice that I can't actually share that with anyone else.

After about 15 minutes, I realized that I was probably going to worry my mom that I'd fallen off the cliff if I didn't get back soon. I headed back to the car and we set off. Since the "sat nav" (satellite navigation aka Google Maps) wasn't working without data, we guessed in the direction we needed to head. At a petrol station I went inside and looked at an atlas and asked the young cashier where we needed to go to get to Donegal. Once again proving how kind and helpful the Irish can be, he and another customer conferred about the best way for us to go. It seemed pretty easy, so I snapped a picture of the map and memorized the directions he gave.

Following my directions, we headed toward the town of Londonderry, on the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland. By then the sun was completely gone and even if it'd been out, there was literally no demarkation about entering or leaving either country. Bummer we missed out on that photo, but we were both so ready to get to our next hotel that we didn't mind too much.

Once we entered into Ireland, my service resumed, although on extended network, and we were able to get actual directions to continue to our destination. While we couldn't actually see the countryside we were passing through, I think it was pretty beautiful and the towns we passed through were charming and quaint. I wish we'd been able to see more of them.

Finally, after a pitstop for more chocolate, we found our hotel for the night: Loughe Eske. The previous hotel we'd stayed at was a "castle" but THIS PLACE is a freaking castle!! Even the first sight, shrouded in night, was gorgeous. The room is immaculate and seriously fancy. After we got our stuff in the room, I headed down to the bar to get some dinner. I ordered a kids meal of bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes). It was cheap, by five-star hotel standards, and I wasn't overly hungry. But when it came out, holy crap it was MASSIVE! Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement, but it was definitely larger than a normal kids portion. I guess for the price it wasn't a bad deal! And it was so delicious.

Now I'm back up in the room, ready for a nice sleep after a lot of traveling (6 hr total in the car!) and sightseeing. We're going to do some more geocaching tomorrow as well as explore the wild area surrounding Donegal.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chelsea in Dublin Part II

Today was a great first real day of vacation. I woke up to an alarm (unfortunately) and had a really nice 3.5 mile run around the grounds of the castle hotel as well as the village we are in. It was pretty brisk but thankfully it wasn't raining. I bundled up as best I could and headed out. The first half of the run was fairly boring, as I was running along a main road with little to see except some fields and cars. But after doing the bigger loop around the town, I ran through the village center and through a neighborhood. I hadn't realized it but apparently around 9am is when the kiddos go to school here, because I was like frogger dodging all the children and mums walking to school or theh bus.

When I got back I took a quick shower so we could get down for breakfast. We sat at a small table by the window and enjoyed a very good buffet breakfast. The eggs looked really weird but ended up being my favorite thing. We didn't eat too much because it was a bit late and we needed to finish getting ready and head into Dublin itself.

Since my mom is still a bit wary of driving, and since Dublin is a big city with traffic, and since parking can be expensive and desiel sure is expensive, we decided to take the bus into town. We had checked and thought that it left at 11:05, so we rushed out the door and literally ran to the convenience store to buy a bus pass. After standing in an annoyingly long line, I was told that the store was out of passes. So I went to find mom who was supposed to be finding out about where to get the bus, but she didn't have much luck with a surly bus driver.

We walked to the stop and waited about 10 minutes for the bus, realizing that we must have read the timetable wrong and that it would come at 11:15 instead. When the bus pulled around, we were told we needed exact change. Frustrated and flustered, my mom pulled out a handful of change and we sorted through the coins. A gentleman who had boarded the bus before us came up and offered to help with some change, and he spotted us the last 0.05 we needed to board the bus. He was very friendly and began to chat with us about where we were going, tips on Dublin transportation, and various other topics such as his summer home in Italy and his prior career as a French teacher (which conversation was prompted when mom noticed he was reading a book in Italian.) We found out his name was Dermont and he agreed to be photographed for your viewing pleasure (although he assured me that he would probably break the camera just by being a subject of a photo). He entertained us the whole way into the city and ensured we alighted at the correct stop.

As the bus pulled away, we waved goodbye to Dermont at the window and headed down Bow Street to the Old Jameson Distillery. Our trip package had included these tickets at a discount rate and we wanted to take advantage of that. Since my Nana was supposed to be here, we were given 3 tickets. The tour itself wasn't too impressive. Jameson is now distilled in Co Cork rather than in the original location we were at, so everything was simulation and replication. However, at the end of the tour, I got to be a whiskey taster!

My job was to taste three kinds of whiskey and judge the qualilty. Using my newly obtained knowledge about the process of making and distilling whiskey, I was quite the professional. There were 10 of us total to do the testing, only about a quarter of the tour group. We were sat in front of three mini shot glasses. In the middle was Jameson 5 year, to the left was Johnny Walker black label Scotch, and to the right was Jack Daniels. We were given a description of the whiskeys, which may have contributed to the overall judgement, but I found it helpful. The Jameson, triple distilled, was the smoothest and had the best taste, in my opinion. The Johnny Walker was alright, but had a very smokey flavor that I didn't care for, and the Jack Daniels was just a disgrace to America. Literally it was the only one I didn't finish the shot. My mom brilliantly captured my reactions as you will see when I update with photos.

After the taste test, I got a certificate proving that I am a Certified Whiskey Taster! Then we were all given a choice of a glass of Jameson neat, or a Jameson and ginger ale with lime. Since we actually had three entry tickets, we got three glasses, so I got one of each and my mom got the Jameson and ginger ale. By the end of the Jameson straight up, I was feeling a bit buzzed, and I very much enjoyed the Jameson and ginger ale, as well.

 As we were finishing our drinks, two British girls started to chat with us and asked us how we liked the tour. I told them honestly that it wasn't very interactive but I liked the tasting part. It turns out that they are working for Jameson to try to improve their tour quality and marketing. We chat an interesting chat, then they were on their way to Guiness (to compare the tours, I assume. What a hard job!)

We left the distillery and went to search out some nearby Geocaches (google it if you don't know what it is!). We were hunting for one and had just found it when a really odd looking woman approached us and said something indiscernable. We frowned and said "No thank you!" She again mumbled something then turned to point at a man flat on his face behind her on the side walk (we'd seen him fall over; high or drunk or both), and said "Me and him". Still unsure of what she even wanted, and less inclined than ever to interact with her further, we again said "No thank you" and walked away quickly. There seemed to be quite a few drunks and drug addicts around, now that I was paying attention.

We went a few blocks over for another cache, which I found quickly. We decided to get some lunch at that point and after consulting trusty Yelp, we headed for a restaurant very close by. We had the best meal ever; cheesy chicken with mash and salad. For the portion size, it was so cheap at 7 euro 50. We shared the meal sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. As we were both checking our phones, a shadow fell across the table. ANOTHER weird guy had approached us and started mumbling incoherently. I literally had no idea what language he was speaking. I glanced up at my mom from under my bent head, trying not to give the man any attention so heh would leave. My mom returned my freaked out look and we tactfully ignored him; he stumbled away 10 seconds later. What a weird neighborhood! It looked so unassuming, but there must have been an asylum with a security lapse nearby.

Finally we left the area and walked several blocks over to a shopping district near the Spire of Dublin. My mom wanted to look in a store called Penney's (like Primark in the UK), and she found a few things. A few shops and a lot of walking later, we ducted into a cheap but highly rated bar on Yelp, called O'Reilly's. We had a beer then a cider (much cheaper than the bar at the hotel!) before deciding to make our way back home. We stopped for some fish and chips, then got the bus heading to the hotel. On the way, I fell asleep for about 20 minutes and it felt amazing. Between my run in the morning, all the walking we did, as well as just being out and about for 8 hours, I was exhausted.

Once we got into our room, my shoes came off and I realized how bad my feet hurt. My boots aren't the best quality and I think I really messed up my feet. I'm now resting them after a relaxing bath and we plan on an early night, since we have a very long day with a lot of driving (aka stress) tomorrow. We will go north into Northern Ireland then west to Donegal for the night. It should be an adventure!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chelsea in Dublin Part I

It's been quite a while, hasn't it, blog followers?! I'm back for the next few days to document my travels with my mom to Ireland! We planned this trip a while back to spend some time with the women in my mom's side of the family, but my Nana ended up not being able to come. So, it's just me and mommy on the trip! So, here we go into another adventure...

I spent all weekend preparing for our departure. Most of this was admittedly beauty-related: highlights, brow wax, manicure, etc. I planned to take approximately 3,000 photos, so I figured I would do my best to look good! I spent a busy Saturday running errands (much to Romeo's annoyance), then on Sunday I finished up everything and started my drive to Dallas,

Since we were flying out of DFW on Monday afternoon, my mom and I decided to meet on Sunday in Dallas so that we could wake up refreshed for our transatlantic journey, I intended to be at the hotel by around 4:30pm, but things happened and I ended up pulling in around 8pm, After dinner we hit the sack early to be well rested for a long day ahead.

Monday morning we headed to the airport early. My dad had driven my mom to Dallas and needed to get back, so he dropped us off earlier than we needed to be there. Our flight to Chicago was scheduled to depart at 2:40pm... we were at the gate by 11am. Thank goodness for iPads and the food court. Finally we boarded the plane and were given Economy Premium seats (an upgrade) for free. Woohoo!

That flight was pretty unremarkable. We chatted and iPad'ed the whole way. We got into Chicago and navigated the maze of terminals thanks to GateGuru (only the best airport travel app imaginable). After finding our terminal, riding the inter-terminal train, and going thru security, we hit our first "roadblock".

While DFW security had not noticed or worried about my hand lotion in my purse, apparently when we went thru security in Chicago, they did their jobs a bit more thoroughly, Some of my fancy pants hand lotion was "noticed" and they told me I had to toss it. Loathe to get rid of it, I chose to go back out of security and check another bag we had originally intended to carry on, so that I could pack the hand lotion. In my defense, my mom was the one who really wanted to be sure we had the lotion since she had forgotten hers. And, it was her bag that we checked.

After going  to the airline agent and checking the extra bag (thankfully not being charged for a second bag), I headed back through security. I was so grateful that the lines were pretty short and we got thru fairly quickly. After that hoopla, we wove our way through the barrage of unavoidable duty free shopping areas and to our designated gate. I attempted to flutter my eyes and convince the crew to bump us up to Business class, but with no such luck.

Side note - how do people get these upgrades?! I have literally never been able to sweet talk my way into that coveted front section of seats and free alcohol. What am I doing wrong?!

Anyway, we boarded the plane and found our seats. The flight wasn't full and we were able to spread out. My mom went and got a seat that had a charger port so that we could keep our iPads and iPhones juiced up. The flight was scheduled to be about 8 hours, or a bit less. However, a strong tailwind estimated us to land over an hour early!

We waited for beverage service and our meals, then I attempted to get some sleep. Thanks to my neck pillow and the open seat next to me allowing me to put my feet up, I think I got around an hour and a half of rest before the lights came up and the flight attendents were serving a small breakfast.

Not too long after that, at around 1:45am my body time, we made our decent into Dublin airport. At a full hour and a half early, I was just keeping my fingers crossed for an early check in at the hotel! But, before that, we had border control, baggage claim, car hire, and travel to do.

In line for immigration, we noticed that everyone had landing cards...except us. I was sure that they hadn't handed them out on the flight or I would have gotten one. I looked around the big hall and saw literally nothing that could have served as a desk or stand for the cards. I shrugged my shoulders and resolved to keep our place in the ever-growing line. We were shuffled into another line, which subsequently stopped moving. Some guy in a wheel chair was taking forever and we couldn't get anyone through in the mean time. That, plus a loud know-it-all behind us in line made for a very irritating wait in the queue. Finally the line began filtering through another agent and we were able to move quicker.

When we got to the gentleman in the booth, we handed over our passports and apologized for not having our landing cards. He said it wasn't a big deal and waved us on after a quick stamp in the passport.

With that over with, we collected our bags (none missing thankfully!) and headed to car hire. On the way, a guy called over to us. Warry of being sold something or played for fools, we attempted to keep walking. But the guy was persistent and we were nice. So we ended up chatting with this young guy who worked for the Red Cross. He literally just wanted to talk to Americans. He was hilarious and extremely charismatic. After a great introduction to how awesome Irish people can be, we finally hit the car hire line.

And it was LONG. We waited for about 15 minutes, the queue growing steadily behind us. Finally we got to speak to a person and they helped us out. Up to this point, literally everyone we had met from the flight attendants to Mr. Red Cross to the car hire worker were all so NICE. We decided not to fork over an extra 50 euros per day in order to allow me to drive (10 for the extra driver, 40 for insurance on an under-24-yr-old) and headed to get the car. The shuttle driver gave us a recommendation on where to look for a SIM for my iPhone and gave some vague directions.

Once we had the car, we attempted to follow his directions, but mapless in a new country, driving a manual on the LEFT side of the road, did not a good combination make! My stomach was in knots as my mom navigated roundabouts and got (to my eyes) dangerously close to the left shoulder (or wall in some cases). We were driving aimlessly for 15 minutes until I spied a convenience store and directed her to pull off.

I popped inside to ask if they could give me some advice on where to get a SIM and directions to get there. Three workers collaborated to decided where to send me and the best directions. A fourth contributed by phoning the other store to make sure they had the nano SIM for my iPhone. After about 15 minutes I left with handwritten directions to a Tesco Mobile store. Finally we had some direction (literally and figuratively) and made our way there.

When we arrived, once again the man working was incredibly nice and helpful. For 15 euros, I got 5GB of data and unlimited calls within Ireland and credit towards texts and international calling. It made me so happy on so many levels: finally we had access to MAPS; it was a great deal; I had the ability to communicate with the outside world! At the same time, I reflected on how terrible the American wireless services are. We have so few options, especially for those of us who own our phones (rather than have them subsidized by our carriers). 15 euros, about $24, for a month of unlimited calling and 5GB of data. That would easily be $80 in America!

Anyway, after happily being able to check Facebook and confirm our route to the hotel, we stocked up on snacks and cider and headed off to our first real destination: Dunboyne Castle Hotel!

Before we could head to our hotel, though, we had to back out of our parking spot. Somehow, the car hire man forgot to tell us how to put the car in reverse. The gear stick had a "map" of where R was, but it was proving impossible to find in practice. So, my mom kept the car in Neutral and I jumped out to physically push the car backwards. I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea, or that I would be capable of doing such a thing. As it turns out, I can't push a car by myself against the wind when it's parked still. Thankfully, however, from my vantage point I could tell that the car would fit through the pillars dividing the parking spots and we were able to pull forward to leave instead.

Finally, we were on our way! The insane tension in my stomach subsided with the ability to give my mom clear and correct directions via Google Maps, and even though she was still struggling a bit with the lefthand side driving, I felt myself finally relaxing a bit.

We arrived to the hotel about 11:45am and were pleasantly surprised that they allowed us to check in. We got to the room and just about collapsed on the bed. With only an hour or so of sleep, our bodies feeling every minute of 6am, we lapsed into a much-needed NAP!

Four and a half hours later, we awoke much refreshed but starving. We showered (another much needed activity) then headed out to find some food. Via Yelp, I found a chipper (fish and chips place) nearby and we headed off. (I called the car hire place and finally figured out how to go into reverse!) We found some places to park near the pubs, but there was one problem: parallel parking. My mom is actually great at this, but when doing so on the left when you can barely drive on the left, it was pretty amusing. After one failed attempt and a trip around the block to get back into position, I jumped out and helped her by directing her into the spot. I won't say how many "points" it was, but I can say my mom successfully parallel parked on the left in Ireland!

We got out and headed in search of food. The chipper didn't have any seating, and smelled weird, so we ventured on. We hunted a bit, then we found a place with a take away special - 12" pizza and soda for 6 euros. Compared to all the other places, that was dirt cheap. We ordered and then took our pizza back to the hotel. While watching The Voice: Ireland, we finished every single crumb of that pizza. (For the record, Ireland doesn't seem to have a huge pool of talent when it comes to singing...)

By then we decided that, while relaxing, we weren't in Ireland to sit in our hotel room! So we ventured down to the bar. We each had one drink, and walked away 20 euros poorer. I don't think we will be doing that again! I'll stick to the cans of cider from Tesco, thank you very much!

After a quick chat with Romeo via Skype, my mom and I planned out the next day. Then she  convinced me to take the time to write a blog. So, here we are. :) Photos will come when we get back to America!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chelsea in Houston

Nov. 18-21

The flight from JFK-->HOU was uneventful. The weather was pretty crummy; when we landed it was totally gray. I was getting nervous to finally be back in Texas and real life. I got off the plane quickly and headed out. I wasn't sure where my friend Nici was going to meet me, and I didn't have a cell phone. I got to baggage claim and still I didn't see her, so I just waited and collected my two suitcases. I was missing the FREE luggage carts at Incheon airport; Americans and Europeans are greedy and charge way too much to use those things!

Finally I made my way haphazardly out to the car pick-up area. A man waiting for his ride saw me struggling and asked to help. I told him no thanks, since I didn't even know where my ride was. He offered his phone for me to call her, and I gratefully accepted. I've definitely depended on the generosity of others throughout this trip, and people generally don't mind helping you out, I've found.

When I got ahold of Nici, she was making her way through the car pick-up area. I spotted her and gave the phone back to the man. She pulled up and welcomed me home. It was great to be back with friends in America! I loaded my suitcases in her Passat and we headed to pick up my car.

During my parents' move, my Acura had broken down and needed to stay in Houston for repairs. By the time it was done, my parents had moved and it was stuck in town. The repair guys had kept it for a few months and I was heading to pick it up. Just riding with Nici in Houston traffic reminded me how grateful I'd been to NOT drive the last year. It wasn't too bad, but the sheer intensity of navigating multi-lane highways was harrowing.

When we got to my car, I noticed it was in a bit worse shape (physically) with some scratches on the hood and other areas. But, the place it had stayed the past 3 months hadn't charged us to hold it, so I guess the scratches are the price I paid... We transferred my luggage to my car, then headed to Nici's apartment on the other side of Houston. I followed her, but even so, I think I managed very well in my first experience driving in the states once again. After a quick stop at her apartment to freshen up, we headed to Los Cucos Mexican restaurant for my first meal. I needed chips and queso with a big margarita!! So, that's what we had. It was delicious, but I have to admit my taste buds were a bit in shock so I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. My body was probably still adjusting to the time zone (NYC weekend hadn't given me much time to get over jet lag).

After our dinner, we headed back to her apartment and hung out and chatted until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and fell asleep.

The next day few days I had a lot on my plate: getting my hair cut and highlighted, buying a new iPhone5S, getting a facial with my ZTA Little Katie, going shopping, having lunch with a few different friends, and more.

On Wednesday, however, I planned a happy hour for anyone who wanted to come by to see me. I simply didn't have time to see everyone individually, so this was the best option. It ended up being awesome with a pretty big turn out. A lot of my friends showed up, and I think everyone had a good time. Stephanie A. and I played Bar Olympics and won second place which was a $25 gift certificate to the bar we were at. I stayed with Jessica A. that night and she drove us home. It was a blast and I had a wonderful time seeing all my friends.

The following day, Jessica and I did some shopping then met up with Stephanie A. and her boyfriend Mike for dinner and to see the premiere of Catching Fire. It was soooo good!!!

All in all, Houston was a great time and I was happy to spend time with my friends. It was a whirlwind, though, and before I knew it I was heading to Austin to visit Romeo and meet his family. My trip was winding down with only two cities and a week and a half before I would rest my weary head in my own bed.  Almost there!!

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