Ireland and England: My Donation to the Massachusetts Resiliency Center




As most of you know by now, in March 2013 I took a three month trip to Ireland that changed my life.  You can scroll down more in the blog to read all about it, but today I want to focus on what happened on April 15, 2013, while I was in Killarney.  I had a college friend over visiting me for a couple of days.  We were just leaving a restaurant after having dinner, and she was scrolling through Facebook on her phone.  She said to me "I think something happened at the Boston Marathon."  The events of that horrific day were just starting to unfold, and for the next few hours we watched in shock from our B&B in Killarney.  We felt sad, and scared, and helpless... and I have never been so glad to not be alone.


It wasn't too long after that happened that I decided to do something with the images that came out of this trip.  I brought my professional camera and lenses with me to Ireland, and when all was said and done I had taken 22,000 photos with it.  22,000!!!  I knew when I got home it would take me quite awhile to get through them all.  I never dreamed it would take me over a year.  It has been 502 days since I returned from this amazing adventure, but I finally have my Ireland and England galleries up for you to view.  There is a full gallery of chosen and edited images, which contains about 450 pictures and is separated by county, and there is the final gallery, that I managed to get down to the 35 images that you see below.  I had unbiased and objective friends view all 450 and choose their favorites, the ones they would put on their wall that they felt represented Ireland, and these 35 are what they came up with.  Above each picture is a description of where it was taken.  All proceeds from these sales, and the sale of my coffee table book which is linked at the bottom of this post, will go to the Massachusetts Resiliency Center. This center was established by a grant from the justice department and provides counseling and financial support for victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings.  You can read more about the center here.


I hope you enjoy them!  To purchase any of these images, please click on the following link:



The colorful bar front of Temple Bar in Dublin.



Brightly colored doors in Dublin.   This will be sold as a panel, or you can buy each door print individually.



Kegs on the side of Kytelers Inn, in Kilkenny.



Sheeps showing me their better side at Kells Priory, Kilkenny, Ireland.



Baby lambs block the road to Tintern Abbey in co. Wexford.



A boat in Bantry harbor.



Colorful window and window box in Kinsale, co. Cork.



A bright and unique display welcomed me to a flower shop in Cork City.



Just after sunset on a drive in West Cork.



The bright and fun "Smartie" houses of Eyeries, Ireland.



Cows and dramatic hills in Eyeries, Ireland.



Boats along the water at Ross Castle in Killarney.



Chickens move around the old fashioned thatched roof cottages of Muckross Traditional Farms in Killarney.



Donkeys trying to catch my attention at Muckross Traditional Farms.



A traditional thatched roof cottage at Bunratty Castle Folk Park.



The stunning and unmistakable Cliffs of Moher.



The seaside town of Lahinch, Ireland.



A goat is curious about me on Inishmore, one of the three Aran Islands located off the coast of Galway.



Dramatic skies above Clifden, Ireland.



A walk in the woods will lead you to Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland.



Getting up close and personal with a horse outside of Galway.



The wonderful town of Westport, Ireland.



A sheep stands guard in Sligo.



A scenic drive with some other furry tourists outside of Sligo.



The Slieve League Cliffs in co. Donegal.



Sunset on the Slieve League Cliffs.



A sheep grazes after sunset in co. Donegal.



The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland will be one of the most amazing natural landscapes you have ever seen.



Sunset from Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland.



Big Ben was one of the things I wanted to see most in London, and the beauty of it did not disappoint.



Stormy skies from the pier in Brighton, UK.



Again, to purchase any of the images on this blog post, please click on the following link:


Was there a picture you remember seeing in earlier posts that you don't see now?  Was there an area I visited that is meaningful to you or your family that you don't see represented?  If you would like to see the full gallery of the images I have for sale from Ireland and England, please click here:


Lastly, if you love Ireland as much as I do and one picture is not going to be enough, please feel free to browse my coffee table book and see if it's something you would like to add to your collection at home.  Again, all proceeds from the book will go to the Massachusetts Resiliency Center, which is mentioned inside the book jacket.  I encourage you to consider giving this as a gift for someone this holiday or purchasing one for your own home.  Your money will be going to a good cause and you will be able to enjoy 115 pages of photos of beautiful Ireland for years to come.


To see the book, please click here.


Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support.


Ireland in Summary: What I Really Think About The Emerald Isle, How To Talk Irish, and The Most Ridiculous (Amount Of) Selfies Ever

Everyone said I would fall in love when I went to Ireland.  Everyone was positive that it would happen, and I know everyone wanted that for me, even though I was doubting it all the way through.  I haven't had the best luck in love in my life, and it didn't seem like that would change just because I had a change in geography.  I really never thought it was going to happen.  And then it did.  I have said it before and I'll say it again:  I fell in love with one of the best people I've ever met and I loved every day I got to spend with him.  I still feel that way.  But that was just my first love story in Ireland.  The second was falling in love with Ireland itself.  And here's the truth, and here's why I am opening up this blog post telling you about my Irish love life:  because without one love story, I don't know if I would have had the other.  

It's funny how words escape us when we want them the most.  Have you ever noticed that?  Whether it's a comeback you came up with too late, or words you're too afraid to say out loud, or that moment when you see the person you like and instead of sounding cool and suave you start stuttering and talking in gibberish?  One year later, I sit here staring at my keyboard.  I'm trying to find the words to best summarize three whole months of my life.  Normally, this would be so easy to do.  I can summarize the last three months in Vermont in one sentence:  it's gotten warmer since March and I have been trying new things and getting out on the lake more to enjoy the nice weather with friends.  There.  Three months summarized.  But how do you summarize a life-changing trip?  How do you summarize falling in love?  How do you summarize sunrises and sunsets and all the perfect little moments in between them?  How do you summarize finding yourself and then losing yourself completely to another person?  You try, I guess.  You put pen to paper... or fingers to keyboard, I should say, and you try to get it out so that you never forget.  So here's my effort at that.  Here's the truth, as honestly as I can say it, as clearly as I can remember it.  Here's the whole shebang; the good, the bad and the ugly.


For years, I built Ireland up in my mind.  I had wanted to go there since forever. I had seen a million beautiful photos, watched every Irish movie I could get my hands on, poured over the tour books and obsessed and planned and dreamed about Ireland being exactly how it was in the those movies, those books, those pictures.  And when you build something up in your head like that, to unattainably high standards, you are bound to be disappointed.  It's unavoidable.  And so when I arrived in Ireland, and it was COLD, snowy and rainy, and didn't look like the pictures, and I didn't meet an actual Irish person for what seemed like days, I was disappointed.  That's right, I just said I was disappointed in Ireland.  Now, granted, I had chosen to arrive in Ireland right before St. Patrick's Day, and hadn't realized what a complete sh*t show that would be... and while it did turn out great once friends joined me for a few days, it wasn't the REAL Ireland to me.  The one I felt I had come to see.   It was masses of vomiting tourists wearing seas of orange and green, and it was drunken mayhem and screaming outside the hotel windows and a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty for me, a question of whether I had made the right choice.  But this was just Dublin, I told myself.  This was Dublin on St. Patrick's Day.  What else could I expect?  As soon as I left Dublin, it would be how it was in the movies and the postcards.  I thought my disappointment would fade away as quickly as the Dublin skyline in my rearview mirror.  And here's the first unfortunate truth:  it didn't.  I continued, for a few weeks, to be disappointed by Ireland.  Because here was the reality I found:


-the weather is terrible

-the people were friendly but not overly friendly

-it's more modern than you expect it to be


Those are the three truths I was having a hard time accepting those first few weeks in Ireland.  Let me go one by one...


The weather:  Yes, everyone knows that it rains a lot in Ireland.  EVERYONE knows this.  My dad was only too happy to point it out about 500 times before I left.  And my answer was always:  "It's what makes it so green!"  So yes, maybe I was a little naive about the amount of rain I would experience while in Ireland.  But you expect the rain.  You don't think about what comes with it, which is WIND.  My god, the wind.  I cannot even describe it.  Some days I literally felt like I could get to England if I just grabbed an umbrella and pointed it in the right direction.  You could literally be leaning into the wind and be standing upright... it was like doing trust falls with Mother Nature.  The wind was terrible!  As for the rain... it's one major thing that makes the rain sort of unbearable: it falls without fail every day.  It's not like being in the states when you can go to the beach and plan to be there all day when the weather is nice.  Irish weather doesn't hold out for the whole day, so at some point in your day, it is going to mess up your plans.  AND your hair.  Be warned.  I bought a rainjacket with a hood and I still ended up looking like Tina Turner most days.


The people:  Everyone told me Irish people would be the friendliest people I would ever meet, that they would hear my accent and immediately want to know all about me and where I was from.  Now, while I did meet my fair share of incredible Irish people, and I did find so many of them welcoming and friendly, I'm going to be completely candid here:  it wasn't at all to the level that I expected.  I'M SORRY!!!  I feel like saying that gets me kicked out of the club or something.  I feel bad saying it, I really do.  But first off, these are people who are used to tourists swarming their big cities and small villages ALL THE TIME, so hearing an accent is a daily occurrence.  I really didn't find one person who was impressed with mine... in fact, if anything, I'd say having an American accent was a point in the negative column for me!  No one heard it and wanted to know where I was from in America.  Really, I can't think of one instance of that happening.  I, of course, reached out and told my story and did meet several great people along the way, but most of the time I felt that I was sort of forcing my story ON THEM, trying to engage and hear about them and make friends when they didn't seem all that interested.  I really didn't feel that anyone was going out of their way to be overly friendly to me, in pubs and things like that.  Secondly, do you want to know who WAS doing that and who, time and time again, I felt I was really connecting with?  AMERICANS.  I am not kidding.  Several times in my trip, I met amazing people who wanted to take the time to chat with me, who wanted to drink with me and hang out and hear about my trip and tell me about theirs and just to have a good time together, since that's what traveling is all about.  It really reaffirmed my faith in people opening up their hearts to you... I really felt like Irish people were much tougher around the edges and harder to break through than I expected.


The modern-ness of it all:  This one was foolish on my part, but quite honestly, I pictured Ireland to look EXACTLY how it does in movies like Circle of Friends or Leap Year.  And it does, for the most part.  The scenery is spectacular:  the rolling green hills, the dramatic cliffs, the castle ruins, the miles and miles of stone walls and the miles and miles of coastal cliffs.  But unless you're on the Aran Islands (one of my favorite stops, clearly), the houses are completely modern and don't have any of that "old Ireland" feel to them.  You have to go out of your way, or to an attraction like the Bunratty Castle Folk Park or Muckross House Traditional Farms, to find a thatched roof house.  I thought they would be a dime a dozen.  Also, not every guy at the bar is a farmer looking for a wife and a dowry.  Not every bar plays traditional music, and you don't just meet gorgeous guys walking down the road like they do in P.S. I Love You.  Okay, I guess none of that has anything to do with the modern style of the buildings, but still, you get what I mean.  I guess a more appropriate title for this bullet point would be "It's not like it is in the movies."  Because it's not.


There were some other things that bothered me too.  One major issue I had was seeing kids in bars all the time.  Not restaurant style bars... I'm talking BAR bars, with no windows and virtually no stimulation for children.  So many times, I would look over and see little feet swinging from a very high stool, a little girl or boy sipping Coke from a straw, eyes glued on the corner TV while their mom or dad or aunt or uncle drank pints with friends.  At first I thought it was just me that it bothered because I am an American and such a thing wouldn't be allowed here, but one night driving back to Cork an Irish radio deejay brought it up and was saying that it shocked and disappointed him and had several callers who agreed that there is no reason for kids to be in bars so late at night.  I was glad that I wasn't just overreacting.  I'm not sure what the exact law in Ireland is regarding kids in bars, but it either needs to be updated or more strongly enforced.


So there it is.  The bad.  Or the ugly.  Whatever you choose to call it.  There were other things of course... everyone has bad days and I'm sure I had more than a few, missing my family and friends and feeling lonely in a foreign place.  But I was determined to stick it out, determined to prove to myself how much I could accomplish on my own, and determined to fall in love with Ireland the way I had always planned to.  It was about to happen... I just couldn't see it yet.


I have been single for about ten years.  That is not to say I haven't been out on dates or had crushes or come close to falling in love.  I have not been sitting in my bedroom for the past ten years, pining away while staring longingly at my Prince William poster (AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE IS A DAMN LIAR!!! ;).  I have dated.  But I have never felt that click, that spark, that moment that you just know.  I'm not talking about an initial meeting, or love at first sight.  People like me don't really believe in that sort of thing.  What I am talking about is that moment of pure trust, of looking at someone and knowing that they love you completely, that you can put your heart in their hands because you're already holding theirs, that from that moment on you can rest easier because you are completely safe and protected.  I never reached that level with anyone else, ever.  And saying hello to Kevin that first night, I never predicted that I would soon know exactly what that felt like.  It was just a hello at a bar, while I tried to kill time between my dinner and the music starting.  But what's that saying?  "A simple hello could lead to a million things"?  It's so true.  So freakin true.


From the moment we met, Kevin and I were inseparable.  We made each other laugh, we told each other our sad stories and our happy ones, we adventured together and explored together and saw new things together.  I put up with his terrible dancing skills and he put up with my equally terrible singing voice.  We both slept with our heads under separate pillows to drown out the other person snoring, but it was a small price to pay to be able to fall asleep next to each other every night.  And my favorite spot in Ireland?  It quickly became the spot on his shoulder that I would nestle in to while we drove to our next adventure.  It was one of my favorite routines with him, actually... he wouldn't start the engine to the car until I had slid across the seat and rested my head there.


I wasn't expecting to fall in love with Kevin so quickly, and I hate admitting how fast it happened because it almost somehow cheapens it.  It was like a relationship on speed, because we knew we only had a certain amount of time.  We would joke that in dog years we had already been together forever, so it was okay to be in love already.  And because it was okay with him, I gave in to it and let it sweep me up and let it become another stop on this journey.  Like seeing the Cliffs of Moher or kissing the Blarney Stone, loving him became a picture on Instagram, a check off of my bucket list.  It became as real and as tangible as the claddagh ring on my finger, that for once was pointed in the right direction.  I finally knew what everyone had been talking about for so long.  This feeling, this person... this was EVERYTHING.


Falling in love opens up your heart in ways that defy description.  And in those first few days and weeks with Kevin, I started to see things differently.  Not just when he was with me, pointing things out and showing me Ireland through his eyes.  It was when I was alone, too... I felt more confident in myself, I felt myself open up more, I started showing a side of myself that I'm not sure I knew was there.  I felt like I started showing Kevin and everyone I met along the way who I really was... this dream that had finally come into realization because someone else had seen it and held up my mirror.  When we couldn't be together, we talked on the phone a few times a day and I would always tell him about the amazing thing I had seen or the great meal I had just had.  I started noticing how happy I was all the time... it sounds cheesy, but one day it was pouring in Sligo and I got caught in it without my wellies on.  And by the time I got to the B&B I was completely soaked, but the first thing I told Kevin on the phone was about the rainbow I had just seen.  The rain, and getting caught in it, wasn't the story that day.  I really slowed down, stopped overthinking, and let Ireland reveal itself to me.  I looked around, opened my eyes a little wider, and there it was.  The Ireland I had dreamed about.  Would I have noticed it without Kevin?  Maybe.  But then again, maybe that's who he was meant to be in my story.  This person who was put on my path to hold up a magnifying glass and show me what I was overlooking, not just in myself but all around me.  How can you not be grateful for that, even if you know you can't keep it?  That's like a blind person being able to see the ocean, just for a minute.  Would they complain about not having longer to stare at it's beauty?  Or would they spend the rest of their days finding new words to describe its wonder?


I met Kevin exactly halfway through my time in Ireland.  Really... I was in Ireland for 12 weeks, and I met him 6 weeks in, almost to the day.  He would always say he wished we had met sooner.  Right now, missing him... I would agree and give anything to have those extra few weeks together.  But I have believed from the beginning that it happened exactly how it was supposed to.  I was supposed to spend those first few weeks the way I did, the bad days and the good.  I needed that time to show myself how much I was capable of and what I could handle on my own.  And I needed him to come along exactly when he did, to show me how much happiness can be multiplied when you're sharing it with someone.  I never knew that before.  I know it now.


So that's the best way I can tell you about this person I fell in love with, and what happened with him, which was everything and then nothing.  We tried to keep it together when I got home, and spent several weeks WhatsApping and arranging calls with a 5 hour time difference between us and planning trips to visit each other that would never come to fruition.  The truth is not every long distance romance is meant to last.  I'm sure for every successful one you hear about, there's about ten that fail.    And that's the best way to explain the heartbreak, the tears, the months of frustration and devastation and the months I spent specifically NOT looking at Ireland photos.  I know so many people probably just thought I was being downright lazy by not blogging my trip photos right away, but the truth is it's taken me this long to be okay with LOOKING at them.  The sadness came in waves, and I let it.  Sometimes the mood would hit me and I would be okay enough to cull through photos and pick out the ones I wanted to share.  More often, I wouldn't even want to hear the word Ireland because it would make my heart ache.  Daily reminders were everywhere, too, and each time I felt a thousand little knives stabbing me all over.  Ask me how excited I was when I discovered there is a huge concrete company called S.D. Ireland based very close to me in Burlington, and their trucks are EVERYWHERE, with a giant clover as their logo.  There's a street I pass a lot called Irish Rover Lane.  Do you know what it's like to be in the grocery store clutching a package of Kerrygold butter and crying?  Because I do.  And the song... THE song... the song that I can't seem to get away from, the one Kevin and I listened to over and over while we drove all over the country with my head on his shoulder... that song still sends me into a tailspin and I have to shut it off, or get away from it, every time it comes on, or I will end up on the side of the road fighting for air.  It's happened more times than I care to recount.


Those are the painful moments,  the side effects of great memories that are now packed in a Rubbermaid container and shoved in a closet in my dad's house.  I packed everything away... my claddagh ring, the shell I found on our first day together and kept, the wool pom pom hat I got at the Aran Island sweater market that he laughed at as I snapped a selfie in the front seat of his car.  It's all in a place where I won't see it.  I'm not there yet.  Maybe some people won't understand that, but I waited 30 years to fall in love, to find someone that loved me too.  Then I did and it didn't work out, and that's a hard thing to have to be reminded of with knick knacks and keychains and coffee table books.  But just like the photos, I know I'll get there someday.  It's inevitable.  And when that day comes, and I go through that Rubbermaid container, I'm sure I'll cry a little, but also smile a lot.  I'll hear his voice in my head, the one that had just one phrase for when I would make a ridiculous purchase of something expensive I didn't need:  "They seen you coming, dearie!"


I think about Ireland every day.  I think that's inevitable too.  Do you know when you come back from a week or two vacation and it's really hard to go back to work and get into a routine?  It's like a vacation hangover, almost, and you get all sad and nostalgic and wish you were back where you had just been?  That feeling gets multiplied by 12 when you're gone for 12 weeks :)  I try to dissuade myself from it and remind myself of those lonely first days in Dublin, when I hated everything and thought for sure I had made the wrong choice.  But those thoughts are quickly replaced with some awesome memory or another, and I find myself sitting at work googling tour guide jobs or how to study for your master's abroad.  For months, I was missing my first love.  Now, I miss my second.  I think about those green fields, the colorful windowboxes, the live trad sessions.  I think about Sean and Julia and Mairead and Jamie and Melissa and Lilly and Cathal and Krista and Karen and her phantom husband Tom (haha) and I think I could be happy there too.  I could make a life there.  I know I could make it on my own.  Crazy that it took someone else believing that about me to make me believe it too.


I'll love you forever for that, Kev.  Thanks for being my first love... and thank you for giving me my second.



Just for fun, this is a little Irish vocab list I put together while I was over there... I would hear something that was different than what it would be in America and I would quickly put it in the notes section of my phone.  This is the list I came up with... anyone got any that I missed?  :)

Crisps- Chips Chips- Fries Chipper- Take away place (usually open late) that sells fries Take away- Fast food Jumper- Sweater Lorry- Truck Peckish- Hungry Pram- Stroller Shifting- Kissing Dear, Dearer- Expensive, More expensive Pinting- Drinking Laying in- Sleeping late Lift- Ride Ride- Sex  (don't find this one out the hard way like I did!) That's gas- How funny Boot- Trunk Queue- Line Lads, mates- guy friends SatNav- GPS Petrol- Gas Your man- Any man Giving out- Telling someone off Fair play to you- Good for you, well done  (this one is my absolute favorite... I'm going to try to bring it to the states... it'll be like Gretchen Wieners tried to make fetch happen) OAP (Old Age Pensioner)- Senior Citizen The Dole- Welfare, public assistance


I thought about all the photos I could use to wrap this up.... my favorites from my professional camera, or photos of Kevin and I... but honestly, I wanted to end on a light note, a fun note... and so I'm ending with the most ridiculous amount of selfies you've probably ever seen in one place :)  When the horrible, atrocious, not-even-a-song song #Selfie came out, my friend Stephen told me that the song reminded him of me.  We are no longer friends.  Okay just kidding.  But as much as I hate it I have to admit I could see why.  When you're in a foreign place traveling on your own and seeing amazing things all the time, it's just a force of habit!  Rather than ask someone else to take your picture alone, you stick the camera out in front of your face and "selfie".  And so that's what I did for three months, and so my Facebook friends have all had a sneek peak at these crazy selfies I took all over Ireland.  I hope you enjoy them!


My first beach walk on an Irish beach.  Brittas Bay Beach, in Wicklow... not sure why I am looking off into the distance like that?  Maybe I'm looking off towards the next 3 months on the trip?  Yeah, let's go with that :)



On my way from Wicklow to Kilkenny, I was trying desperately to find the Wicklow Gap.  No seriously... I legit couldn't find it.  It's not like I could plug it into the GPS or anything, and when I stopped for directions a guy at the gas station told me that the highway department was discouraging people to drive it due to the icy conditions.  So he referred me to drive the Sally Gap instead...



And why don't we do a little ice/ snow comparison between the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Gap?  Which of course, I stumbled on a few hours later :)  This is my, "look, there it is!" selfie...



This could have been the very road that Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank met on in P.S. I Love You.  Because obviously I pretend movie characters are real people.  No but really...

P.S. This was my first Ireland National Park visit... Wicklow Mountains National Park!  I am dying to come back to this in the summer sometime; the colors are supposed to be incredible...



Selfie with cows in Kilkenny...



Visiting the Rock of Cashel... as you can see from the scaffolding, they were fixing it up and doing some improvements for my visit...



So, let me reiterate something I may have mentioned in another post... the day I visited the Rock of Cashel was probably one of my top 3 windiest days in Ireland, if not #1.  It was RIDICULOUS.  There was a storm going through Kilkenny at the time, and I can't even tell you... when I got to the top of this thing, to the actual cathedral ruins... this was pretty much my reaction to how bad the weather was... (and also, this has to be my favorite selfie of the ENTIRE trip)...



No really, it was bad...



My Irish movie tour continues with a trip through Inistioge... this town common was where much of the movie Circle of Friends was filmed.  Sigh.



I have a weird thing for lighthouses... it's like an architectural fetish, if you will... so yup, passing through Wexford, there was NO WAY I was going to miss Hook Head Lighthouse, the oldest operational lighthouse in the world!  One of the coldest days I can remember in Ireland (notice my Rudolph nose) but so worth it...



Waterford Crystal... a magical place where you can spend $500 in about 5 minutes... not that I would know or anything...



The day I rode the hop on/ hope off bus all around Cork... with only random teddy bears as my companions...



The selfie I took with a mannequin at the Cork City Jail... I think he's into me...



Waiting for my turn to make out with the Blarney Stone...



In Midleton visiting the Jameson distillery...



And that time they had me watch a video about Jameson by myself in a full theater, since everyone else on my tour was German and needed the German version... oh heeeeeeyyyyyyyy, drinking-Jameson-alone-in-the-dark selfie!  What's up?



Hanging out with some old friends at the International Museum of Wine in Kinsale (there is no shortage of alcohol themed attractions in Ireland)...



Mizen Head, the most southwestern point in Ireland!  Another windy day...



Sunny skies at the Beara Peninsula...



Selfie with the tallest ogham stone in the world.  Look how tall it is, just look!!!  Amazing :)



Meeting of the Waters at Killarney National Park (my 2nd national park visit)...



Selfie in the most expensive jaunting car ride that ever existed in the history of ever... at least they gave me a blanket!  And by gave, I mean they let me use it during the tour...



Waiting out a hurricane/ tornado/ monsoon at Ross Castle in Killarney...



5 minutes later...



Pretty day and pretty colors at Muckross House in Killarney...



Rocking the Ring of Kerry...



On the Ring... Portmagee!



En route to Dingle, via the Conor Pass... p.s. I should wear bright colors more often, I kinda like this!



One of my favorite places in all of Ireland... the Dingle Peninsula!



Pinnacle of my trip:  I GOT TO HOLD A BABY LAMB!!!  It was all downhill from here...





Deep sea fishing in Dingle... but I didn't catch anything.  Wah wah.



Rocking my wet suit in Dingle Harbor, about to hit the water for kayaking...



Doolin drunky eyes selfie...



The coveted Cliffs of Moher selfie...



Visiting the Burren with Mel and Marc... my 3rd national park visit!



On my way to Galway, I stopped at the Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara... a place my dad and stepmom visited on their honeymoon.



Walking the Salthill Prom and becoming a Galway girl :)



Man.... the Galway Cathedral is gorgeous... so is this angle on me... what's up double chins!



My first visit to Inishmore... this was on Dun Aengus... also where they filmed scenes from Leap Year, including the proposal scene, but I digress...



Back on Inishmore a few weeks later for Memorial Day weekend!



Hiking in Connemara National Park in Clifden... my 4th national park visit...



Selfie in front of Cong Abbey...



And down the road at Ashford Castle... this is actually a hotel you can stay at.  I mean, rich people can stay here.  Poor people like me stay at B&B's down the road :)



On the top of Croagh Patrick, the hardest hike of my life...



And back down on the bottom again... this is my "I rocked that mountain!" selfie, although I'm sure Kevin would disagree with that statement :)



Ballycroy National Park... my 5th national park visit...



Sligo Abbey on another beautiful Irish day! :)



Another one of my favorites... walking the beach in Strandhill... as you can see, it was totally calm and still...



Does this helmet make my head look big?  Horseback riding in Grange, outside of Sligo...



Donegal Castle...




Donegal Abbey.


a) This is what my sister refers to as "the cheese face".

b) I have lipstick on my teeth.


Back to regularly scheduled programming...



I loved Donegal!!!  It's beautiful...



I didn't visit every single beach in Ireland, but this was by far the most perfect beach (on the most perfect day) that I found in all of Ireland.  Silver Strand Beach in Donegal... sheep grazing along the walkway to the beach, the most perfect set of old beach stairs down the cliff to the sand, the peaceful cove it sits in with a few waterfalls on the cliffs around it... this place is heaven and I still dream about it.



Romantic sunset selfie with my favorite cliffs in Ireland, the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal...



Glenveagh National Park... my 6th and final national park visit!  Saw 'em all, woot woot!



Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland!



Walking the city walls in Derry...



Me in front of the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which I didn't get to climb cause it was closed.  Damned if I walked all that way and wasn't at least going to get a picture with it...



A half hour later, over at Giants Causeway... another beautiful sunset night!



Okay so clearly I didn't start hitting the tanning beds or douse myself in self-tanner... this is just a funny camera trick... that being said, I look like Tan Mom in this selfie at the Bushmills Distillery...



Rocking a captains hat at the Titanic Museum in Belfast...



And an even cooler viking hat on my last weekend in Dublin :)



So there it is, folks.  One year ago today, I came back from the trip of a lifetime.  I can't believe it's already been a year when so much of it seems so recent, but thank you for baring with me and reading these posts and looking at my pictures throughout this year of lackadaisical blogging.  I have one more blog post coming about Ireland, and it is probably the most important one of all, because it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.  I was in Ireland when the tragedy at the Boston Marathon unfolded, and I felt utterly helpless being so far away when it occurred.  So, as I have been saying for the past year... I will be finishing the gallery of images that I will be putting up for sale, and I will be sharing those images here, on Facebook, on Pinterest, EVERYWHERE!  I want to reach as many people as possible because all the proceeds from any sales of these prints or products will go directly to The Massachusetts Resiliency Center, to support marathon survivors.  I really hope you see something that you love, that you might consider putting on your wall or giving as a gift to someone who loves Ireland... it would mean all the world to me to be able to make a strong contribution.  I will be shouting it from the rooftops when this gallery is done, so stay tuned!  XOXO.

Tips for Touring Ireland from the Accidental Tourist


When I was planning my trip, I looked over lots of travel info.  I fell in love with blogs like The Lost Girls, I collected Ireland travel books and brochures, and I pinned countless planning and packing guides.  And during my three month journey, I definitely learned a couple things that I thought I could pass on to anyone else planning a long jaunt to Ireland... or to anywhere else for that matter!  Most of the following tips apply to traveling in general.  I hope they help you on your next journey!

- Write it down. Always write down where you went, places you stumbled onto, great meals you had… Write down bulleted things even if you don’t take the time to journal. THIS IS MY BIGGEST REGRET FROM MY TRIP, and it’s why I listed this as my first tip.  I started out wanting to journal everything, and I did fairly well for about 5 weeks, up until I left Cork.  After that I was on the go all the time and I let all writing fall to the wayside, and I regret it big time.  There are so many things that happen in the course of travel... WRITE THEM DOWN!!  Again, even bulleted points that you can fill in later.  It really sucks to be giving advice on an area you visited later and say "I had the best dinner in Ireland there!" and then have no idea the name of the restaurant you went to.

- Throw it out. If, when packing, it’s something you don’t absolutely NEED, don’t pack it.  The day before I left, my sister went through my suitcase (the huge, brand new, $110 suitcase I had just purchased from TJ Maxx) and basically starting ripping things out of it, ignoring my protests of "I really need that!" or "What if they don't have wrinkle release spray in Ireland???"  In the end, it made my bag a little lighter, but I could have done a lot better.  Trust me, if you think you might not need it, take it out.  There's nothing worse than literally having to rent a car to get your bag from one place to another because its too heavy to hoist into the bus.

- Plan ahead. Don’t rely completely on Bus Eireann.  There were some times that I prebooked a rental car because I knew I wanted to stop at a bunch of places between Point A and Point B, but there were a few times where I thought Bus Eireann would do the trick and I relied on that.  That is, until I tried to take it from Dingle to Doolin and realized what would be a 3 hour car journey would be a 9 hour bus trip.  When you’re traveling, even for an extended period of time like 3 months, time is precious and you don’t want to waste an entire day on the bus.  Make sure to check the schedules ahead of time and see when it makes the most sense to take a rental car rather than the bus.

- Cover yourself. Always, ALWAYS get the full insurance on your rental car.  Seriously, I cannot stress this enough.  I don’t care if you’re a great driver, I don’t care if you’ve been driving stick shift since you were 15 years old.  GET THE INSURANCE.  With it, you are able to walk up to the rental counter drop-off, hand them a rearview mirror that you managed to rip completely off the car, and walk away without saying a word or paying an extra dime (not that I know from experience or anything).

- Take advantage. There are tourist offices everywhere in Ireland, something I hadn't realized or hadn't really thought of before I was there.  Take advantage of this gold mine of information!  Try to stop in when you arrive in a new area, talk to one of the reps there, grab some brochures, grab some coupons.  You can find great deals in the tourist offices and you can also find out about local tourist attractions that your guidebook might have missed.

Don’t overtip. So in most cases in Ireland, tipping is not expected because service people are paid a normal wage, unlike in America where they rely on tips.  I still tipped every night at dinner, but I cut back on tipping for most other things after the first time I had an Irish bartender chase me down the street to give me back the 5 euro I tipped him for a couple of afternoon beers.  Ironically, this bartender ended up being the first person I kissed in Ireland… so maybe the moral of the story is really that you should definitely overtip ;)

Don’t let your guard down when it comes to your stuff. By my last weekend in Dublin, I had been in Ireland for 3 months and I felt pretty comfortable in my surroundings.  A little too comfortable, as it turned out.  On my second to last day there, I was sitting with Kevin and friends of his in a pub in Dublin, and I had my bag down by my feet because the bar didn’t have any hooks.  Quite suddenly, I felt something bump against the leg of my chair, and I glanced to the right of me.  Down the bar sat my bag.  I was very disoriented, confused, trying to figure out how my bag that had been on the floor had ended up on the bar.  A very disheveled woman standing in front of my bag turned around, looked at me and said "Oh, is this your bag?  It was out on the middle of the dance floor and so I grabbed it for you and was going to give it back to you."  I took it from her and Kevin and his friends made me check it completely before the woman scurried out of the bar.  She hadn't taken anything, I think simply because she didn't have time.  My good camera, which is pretty heavy, was in my bag, so I think she had hooked her foot around the straps and tried to slide it down to where she was sitting.  She wasn't expecting the bag to be so heavy and so it bumped my chair on the way and caused me to notice when I normally wouldn't have.  I couldn't believe that I had lasted three months without any incident and I almost had my wallet and camera stolen my last weekend there.  My point is, as comfortable and safe as you feel, don't ever let your guard completely down.  There are bad people everywhere, even in beautiful countries like Ireland.

- Join Meetup groups if you’re anywhere for an extended period of time. By the end of my second week in Cork, I felt like I had seen everything I wanted to see on my own, and I went on to see what sort of meetup groups Cork had to offer.  I found one for expat women in their 20s and 30s that was having a brunch the following day, so I quickly joined it and attended the event.  I was so glad I did, because I ended up hanging out with two girls from the group quite a bit before I left Ireland, and I feel lucky to stay in close contact with one of them.  I felt like I walked away from Cork with one really close friend, and I think that's the point of meetup groups to begin with.

- Always be completely honest at customs. This might seem like a fairly obvious one, but really.  My welcome into Ireland was less than warm thanks to a seemingly harmless lie I told.  On my way to Ireland, I sat next to a chatty Irishman (imagine that :) going home to visit his family.  He asked me why I was heading to Ireland and I told him that I would be traveling for the next few months.  We talked about it a fair amount and he asked me what I was going to tell customs.  I said that I was going to tell them I was traveling for fun.  Now, I don't know if this man was just mean-spirited and pulling my leg, but he spent about a half hour convincing me that if customs heard I was just hanging out in Ireland for 3 months they might be suspicious of my intentions.  So what did I decide to say instead, as I strode up to an already-scary looking customs agent at 5 a.m. in the morning?  "I'm here for work."  Yup, that's what I said.  The stupidest possible thing you could ever say to a customs agent in a country in a catastrophic recession is that you're coming into the country to work.  I mean, if that's actually why you're going and you have the proper work visas, then more power to you and that's what you should say.  But when you're going for leisure and planning on taking photos for recreational purposes and to MAYBE sell later, never call that work.  Unless you are ready for the three hour interrogation, the threats, and the tears.  Just be honest, and save yourself the hassle.

- Take pictures, but also put the camera down. I took over 22,000 photos in Ireland.  22,000.  And that actually does not include the photos I took on my crappy point and shoot camera, which probably brings that number to about 24,000.  In my defense, I was working as a photographer full time before I went to Ireland and this was a major reason why I went to Ireland, to see pretty scenes and take pretty pictures.  But looking back, and thinking of my level of interaction with other people at certain points in my trip, I wish I had put the camera down more often and just enjoyed what was around me with my own eyes and not through my lens.

- Ask your B&B host for recommendations. Here's the wonderful thing about B&Bs:  very often, you will be staying with a family who has lived in that area for decades, if not generations.  They know the best pubs, the best restaurants, and the best off-the-beaten path spots that will never be in any guidebook.  Use these people, talk to them, listen to their wonderful stories, and take advantage of their knowledge of the area.  They're in the hospitality business for a reason, and that reason is that they want you to have a wonderful time in their home and in their town.

- Leave some wiggle room in your itinerary, and don’t prepay for hotels and B&B’s if you can help it. I planned and booked a B&B for every night of my trip, but things change.  I skipped my Waterford overnight stay because I loved Kilkenny so much.  I left Wexford early for the same reason.  I ended up on the Aran Islands twice, in Cork twice, in Killarney twice.  I got to stay in Lehinch, Inisheer, Kenmare... and none of these places were on my original itinerary.  Keep your options open, figure out where you like best, and do what you want to do.  Travel is your time to be selfish, so don't feel guilty if you decide to cancel a stay in a certain place.  Obviously, you want to be courteous and give as much notice as you can, but try not to prepay for any B&B or hotel stay if you can help it.  This way you won't lose money and go over budget if you decide to change your plans as you're traveling.

- Do your research on TripAdvisor. I planned my entire trip on TripAdvisor.  Seriously.  I found it to be completely invaluable when it came to booking quality B&B’s and hotels in the right locations.  I would search B&B's in the towns I wanted to stay in and go through TripAdvisor's first 10 or 20 recommendations.  If there were as many negative reviews as positive on a place (or if there was one particularly bad review on a place that mentioned something awful like bed bugs or some other repulsion), I crossed it off my list and moved on to the next.  I usually came up with a list of about 15 places to stay in each town.  From there, I would visit the B&B's website, check out the photo gallery, check the map to see how close it was to where I wanted to be, get in touch, ask if they had availability, see how low I could get the rate down for a solo visitor... and when I was sure I had the best choice for me, I booked.  It may sound like a tedious process, but it was actually fun, and it's the reason I'm not sitting here telling you housing horror stories.  I honestly stayed in some of the best B&B's in the country of Ireland, and I could not be more happy that TripAdvisor was there to help guide me to them.

- Leave reviews on TripAdvisor when you can. After relying on TripAdvisor to plan my trip, I felt sort of a sense of responsibility to leave my own TripAdvisor reviews for places I visited, especially places I liked!  I always made sure to leave reviews for great B&B's and restaurants I visited and tours I took.  Honestly, that's how some of these businesses survive, and as a small business owner I know how important it is to get great feedback from your customers.  Word of mouth is huge in the hospitality business, and who better to hear reviews from than fellow travelers?  Take the time to write reviews, even if its weeks or months after you've arrived home.

- Try to meet a new person every day, but forgive yourself if you need some alone time too. Here's the funny thing about me:  people that know me and know my personality would probably call me outgoing.  My own sister called me outgoing before I left for Ireland.  But here's the truth:  I am outgoing once the initial part is over.  The MEETING part.  That part terrifies me.  I'm sorry to tell the hard truth, but without a little liquid encouragement, I find it very hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger.  It's much easier to make friends and be outgoing when you're introduced by other friends, but when you're in a place where you don't know anyone, that isn't an option and you have to fend for yourself.  And it definitely took me awhile to get into the groove, but I started opening up more and becoming less worried with how people perceived me, and it made all the difference.  There were nights, however, that I didn't want to meet anyone new, that I didn't want to go through the awkwardness of saying hi to a stranger, and so I would stay in.  And then a few hours into my night in, I would start beating myself up that I wasn't out making the most of every moment.  It was a vicious cycle.  But then I would remind myself that if I was home I wouldn’t be going out every single night.  I was on the road for 3 months.  That gets tiring, and some nights I just didn’t have it in me to go out and try to meet new people.  After a couple weeks, I forgave myself for those nights and really concentrated on making the most of my alone time, whether it was catching up on emails, blogging, journaling, or writing home.  One night, I decided to stay in, and what would come on RTE but one of my favorite Irish movies, Circle of Friends.  I managed to write 42 postcards that night :)

- Load your phone up with helpful apps. I was lucky enough to be due for an iPhone upgrade a few months before my trip, so once I had my iPhone 5 and my old iPhone 3 was out of use, I had it "unlocked" so I could take it with me to Ireland and just purchase a new SIM card when I arrived there.  I did my research and downloaded some helpful travel apps.  Honestly, I went a little crazy with the app buying, because I had a few Apple gift cards I wanted to use, but I can say that my most useful apps when traveling were Whatsapp, Viber,  Oanda Currency Converter,  and TripAdvisor (of course).

- Have an emergency credit card just in case. I used a debit account to pay for everything in Ireland, and if this is the route you're going, be sure to talk to your bank about your travel plans, including exactly where you're going and how much you would like your daily limit to be.  If I had been paying just a tiny bit more attention to those daily limits, I would probably not have run out of money in England like I did :).  Within a week of being in Liverpool, I found out that I had overdrawn my checking account and I was officially out of funds.  This was especially distressing since I had an entire week in London ahead of me.  Spoiler alert: London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I was officially freaking out.  Luckily, I had applied for an emergency credit card before leaving the states, and I was able to use this for my week of London adventures.  Obviously, it's never ideal to have to put purchases on a credit card, but it can help you out of a jam like it did with me, and if you're diligent about paying it off when you get home then you have nothing to worry about.

- Buy an Irish GPS card.  I have a Garmin GPS that I use in the states, and before I left I decided to look up and see if there was an Ireland SD card for the Garmin I already had, so that I could bring it with me for when I had a rental car.  Lo and behold, there was, right there hanging out on!  I read the review and was a bit nervous about it, as the reviewer said that it only worked on major roads and not in smaller towns and villages, but I decided to give it a go anyways.  It was honestly the best investment I made in preparation for this trip.  It worked EVERYWHERE, and I didn't have to pick up my map once.  I would highly, highly recommend getting an SD chip for your GPS if you are planning a trip abroad and will be doing an significant amount of driving.  To take away the headache of trying to find your way (especially when you're driving on the opposite side you're used to on narrow, winding roads) is priceless.

- Make copies and backups of your itinerary and all important documents. I made 3 copies of EVERYTHING; my passport, my travel health insurance card,  my credit card, my itinerary, etc.  I gave one folder full of this stuff to my mom, one to my best friend, and I kept one with me, but in a separate bag than the originals were stored.  My itinerary was on an Excel spreadsheet that listed the dates I would be places, the address and phone number of each B&B I was staying at, and the names of the proprietors of the B&B’s.  I also took down the address and phone number of the Embassy in both countries I was visiting.  Overcautious, yes, but when you’re a single female traveling alone, you try to have all your bases covered.  If anything had been stolen at any time, I know that I would have not had much of a problem at all, and that was all the reassurance I needed.

- Bring at least one converter to charge electronic devices. I brought one charger with me (that I purchased from Apple, in the World Traveler Adapter Kit) and bought two more there.  They’re not always provided at B&B’s and so it’s good to have them on hand.  I was charging quite a bit; my iPhone 3 would lose battery quickly, I needed my iPod for all those long walks around cities and countryside, and I would always have my iPad with me for writing purposes.  I also needed to charge my camera equipment pretty much every night, so it was a lot.  Make sure to be prepared!

- Try new things you wouldn’t normally try. Maybe this should be number one… this is SO IMPORTANT.  Travel, in itself, forces you out of your comfort zone, and my advice is to let it.  Do things you wouldn’t normally do.  Kayaking on the ocean?  Never in my life would I do that at home.  I have a deep-seeded fear of sharks after being allowed to watch Jaws at a very young age lol.  But in Ireland?  Yup, sign me up.  Dangle over the edge of a castle to kiss a stone?  Sure, why not.  Hell, I even ate black and white pudding, because when in Rome, right?  Live it up, do things you never thought you would, and enjoy the ride.  No good travel story ever started with the words “So there was this one night when I stayed in the hotel room and watched TV…”

Next up on the blog:  my final summary of the most incredible trip of my life :)  I wrap up my Ireland trip in a neat little bow and give you the real deal on the next blog post... I hope you enjoy it!


Liverpool and London

I can honestly say that leaving Ireland was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.  After 3 months, I had completely fallen in love… with the country and with one particular person living in it.  Despite knowing I would see Kevin a week later in London, it was still impossibly hard to leave Dublin, and there were more than a few tears shed at the airport knowing that from that moment on, everything would be different.  We were no longer living in the present tense and avoiding the date on the calendar.  It had arrived.  And although I had two more weeks of vacation ahead of me, my Irish adventure was done.  The trip I had spent two years planning and dreaming about had come to an end.  There was no knowing when I would be coming back.  I don’t know if sadness is the word I would use to describe how I felt leaving.  Hopeless is a good descriptive.  Devastated might cover it as well.  

By the time I got to Liverpool, I was an exhausted hot mess, and I have never been so relieved to hug an old friend.  Jack and I have known each other since 2003, when we lived on the same floor at Bridgewater State University (BSC back then).  Jack was on the exchange program from London, and we hit it off right away.  When he came back to Bridgewater 2 years later, he lived on our couch for a month (how our RA didn’t notice, I will never know)… and when he came back a few years after that, he brought his girlfriend Amy for her first trip to the states.  They started in Boston and so we had a mini- college reunion to welcome them to the states.  As many times as Jack came to the states to visit?  Multiply that by about 6 and that’s how many times I told Jack I would be coming over to visit him.  After Ireland, England was my second most coveted destination, and there were so many times I wanted to go there that life kept getting in the way.  I was so happy to be able to visit after Ireland and spend time with Jack and his now fiancé Amy.  And I was absolutely thrilled to be ending such a sad day with them, because if anyone can cheer you up, it’s these two and their ridiculous stories told in their scouser accents.


The night I arrived, Amy’s family took us all out to dinner and we went over my itinerary for the week.  Unbeknownst to me, Amy had taken a few days off for my visit, and recruited her parents for the other days I was around, and just like that I had a full schedule of Liverpool fun on my plate.  Her parents were sweet as can be and after dinner we headed to their neighborhood pub, where everyone knew their name and I got my first taste of English pub life.


It was great to stay with friends in Liverpool because it meant some chill nights on the couch, which is what I needed after 3 months of go, go, go in Ireland.  It also lead to my introduction to the biggest train wreck of a show I have ever seen, The Valleys.  Think Jersey Shore with Welsh accents and lots more nudity.  I am ashamed to say, but I literally spent one whole day of my time in Liverpool with Amy and Jack on the couch, binge watching The Valleys and an almost-as-bad show called Made in Chelsea (think less Jersey Shore and more Laguna Beach or The Hills).  It was gloriously relaxing, even when Amy told me she couldn't wait until I was gone so she could stop eating junk food ;)


My first full day in town,  Amy and I visited both cathedrals in the city and went to lunch at The 23 Club.  The cathedrals in Liverpool are so vastly different and it was really cool to see the different styles of both.  The Liverpool Cathedral is spectacular and is the world's largest Anglican cathedral, and the fifth largest cathedral in the world.  The other cathedral in Liverpool is the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and is much newer, the Liverpool Cathedral being built in 1904 and this one being built in the 60's.  I have to say that architecturally, and pretty much every other way lol, I preferred the Liverpool Cathedral.  There's just nothing like it.  And the view from the top isn't too shabby either.  It's a much different feeling standing in the metropolitan cathedral, which reminded me of a much more modern church.


Amy also took me to the Tate Museum, and after that waited patiently for me while I spent an afternoon doing the Beatles Story.  Now, here's a fun fact about Amy, my first ever born and bred scouser friend... she HATES the Beatles.  Hates them, wants nothing to do with them, wouldn't mind if they didn't exist at all.  I can't explain it, because I don't think I have ever heard her give me a reason that I would consider valid, but there it is.  The girl from Liverpool despises the Beatles.  I, on the other hand, LOVE THEM, and fully embraced all that Liverpool had to offer in terms of Beatles activities.  So much so that I even had to cancel a private Beatles tour I booked for myself, because at this point in my trip my checking account was calmly reminding me to calm the eff down.  But I did still get my fair share of Beatlemania, thank God...


The Beatles Story is an awesome museum in the Albert Dock that I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting Liverpool.  Seriously, this was one of my favorite museums of all time, because it was set up exactly the way I love:  videocassettes let you do the self-guided tour at your own pace, it's interactive, and there is a ton to see and listen to.  I could have spent the whole day there (and just might when I return to Liverpool this summer for Jack and Amy's wedding) and the gift shop was deadly for a Beatles fan.  Luckily, as I said, my checking account wasn't going to let me get too crazy, and so I managed to escape with just a set of 4 small mugs (ya know, for all the coffee I drink HAHA) and a magnet.


I also took The Magical Mystery Tour, which was AWESOME and very good for a travel on a budget :)  Since you're riding around on a big tie-dye bus with 40 other Beatles fans, it's much cheaper than doing a private black taxi Beatles tour.  I think the Mystery Tour cost me 14 pounds and was worth every penny.  Our tour guide was hilarious, informative, and the bus stopped at all the major Beatles sites in the city, including the homes of Ringo, John and Paul, Strawberry Fields, and Penny Lane.


The other place I can't wait to visit again this summer in Liverpool is Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club and many other pubs that the Beatles frequented as they made a name for themselves in the music scene around Liverpool.   The Cavern Club was where the Beatles got their start and where they were discovered by Brian Epstein, and although the original Cavern Club was closed and filled in, they built a replica right across the street.  The original Cavern Club is also back open and I ducked in there for a beer, but the real action is happening across the street in the "new" Cavern Club.  Once again, this was a place I could stay all day.  It's an underground club with signatures from all over the world covering every square inch of the walls and ceilings, and bands playing good English rock... yes, you guessed it... lots of Beatles covers, lots of Oasis tunes... I was in heaven.


We also took a wander down to The Grapes one day, and Jack brought us back to the booth in the bar where the Beatles signed their first contract.  There was a commemorative picture of this event over the booth, and we sat in it and toasted and took shots to celebrate.  I'm sure Amy thought I was insane for taking as many pictures as I did, but I have loved the Beatles since I was old enough to know who they were, and I loved doing all this Beatles-related stuff in Liverpool.


After our beers at the Cavern Club and shots at The Grapes, we boarded the Mersey ferry for a water tour of the city.  Already buzzing from our first two stops, I really didn't need any more alcohol, but Jack went to the ferry concession stand and came back with a few beers for us to enjoy on the upper deck as we listened to the audio system tell us all about Liverpool.  By this point in the day I had purchased a Union Jack flag, and proceeded to take it out and wave it around in the wind while singing "Ferry Cross The Mersey" at the top of my lungs.  Moral of the story:  I can no longer handle day drinking like I was able to in college.


(me being ridiculous with my Union Jack flag)


As we came back across the Mersey, we noticed a helicopter hovering over the Albert Dock area.  After the ferry we had reservations to be on the Little Yellow Duckmarine, and it does it's "splashdown landing" right off the Albert Dock.  Amy and Jack were trying to figure out what was going on, and Amy told me how one of the Duckmarines had sank recently.  "I hope another one didn't sink, I really wanted to take you on that!"


Spoiler alert:  Another one sank.


Now, it's not really funny.  It's not.  I'm sure it was very traumatizing for the people on there, especially the children, to be on a boat that started sinking as soon as it entered the water.  But since I know no one got hurt, I know that there were no deaths or injuries or anything of that nature, I can say this:


It was funny.  Because we were supposed to be on the boat that sank, and the only reason we weren't is because it was full and so we had to take the next time slot.  And immediately, because of this fact, Jack started talking about how "his whole life had flashed before his eyes" and he was "seeing things clearly".  He and Amy were already engaged at this point, and he started talking about how they should get married right then and there and not waste any more time.  Mind you, we were in the McDonald's by the Albert Dock when he said this, and he proposed that the cashier could be the officiant and the drive through guy could give Amy away.  All this was after we had walked into the Little Yellow Duckmarine office to get our money back, and Jack had said "So the 5:30, is that just running a little late then?"  The look of daggers the girl working shot him... well, lets just say not everyone finds Jack's humor as amusing as I do.


After the Duckboat fiasco, we headed to Camp and Furnace for the Liverpool Craft Beer Festival.  Jack and Amy had gotten us tickets prior to me arriving, and I will say that I am pretty much always up for a beer festival.  What is it about getting hundreds of random strangers together and throwing really good beer into the mix?  It's just fun... that said, I definitely learned I cannot party with English scousers.  At the end of the beer festival, so about midnight, Amy was ready to keep the party going and hit some parties.  I was ready to put my fat pants on and hit my pillow :)  It's amazing to think that just a few short years ago I was going out every single Wednesday- Saturday.  WHAT HAPPENED TO ME??!?!?!   Old age has definitely taken it's toll...


Okay, before I go on too long, let me summarize Liverpool:  do the Beatles Story museum, the Magical Mystery Tour, the Tate Modern museum, go shopping and eat around the Albert Dock, visit the Liverpool Cathedral, and take a ferry across the Mersey while singing "Ferry Cross the Mersey" at the top of your lungs.  Okay, you can leave that last one out.  But everything else is a must-do ;-)


Here are some shots from Liverpool!




The famous Liverpool lambananas...



Amy, her mate Jenny, and Jenny's daughter Evie, who is going to be a flower girl at the wedding.  This girl is precious!



The Liverpool Big Wheel...




Albert Dock area...










The Beatles Story!







The Magical Mystery Tour....



George Harrison's birthplace is the photo on the left, and Paul McCartney's childhood home is on the right....



There are Beatles touches everywhere in Liverpool...







Love this place...





Can't wait to visit the Cavern Club again this summer...






As important as the Beatles are to Liverpool history, the Titanic has a deep connection to the city as well.  Below, you'll see a photo of a group of windows.  The left window balcony is where it was announced to the world that the Titanic had sunk.  Below that, you'll see signs commemorating the homes of Thomas Ismay (founder of the White Star Line) and Captain Edward John Smith, who captained the Titanic on it's maiden and only voyage.





More scenes around Liverpool....







The Liverpool Cathedral...




View from the top of Liverpool Cathedral....





Around the cathedral...



The Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral....




Downtown Liverpool...









These were taken in Croxteth Country Park...




After putting in so much effort to hold a baby lamb in Ireland, this was shockingly easy... you can just go to a petting zoo!  :)



Jack being Jack...



Another Place is an art installation on Crosby Beach in Liverpool that basically consists of iron statues of the artist's own body, facing the ocean in different spots along the beach... sort of creepy, but I thought it was a pretty cool sight...




The happy couple :)



Amy's parents are members of the National Trust, and took me on a tour of this beautiful Victorian home called Rufford Hall, built in the 1500's...



Amy's parents Kate and Tim on the left... aren't they adorbs?





After our tour, Kate and Tim took me to Southport and we meandered about for a few hours...




After a week in Liverpool with Jack and Amy, I headed by bus up to London to meet Kevin.  I was supposed to stay the whole week and a half in London with Jack’s parents, but then Kevin had decided to come over so we could have a few more days together, and so I split the week between a few days in a London hotel with him and the rest of the week with Sue and Stu :)


Let me just say this:  I had not expected to stay in a hotel in London, so I never did any investigating as to how much hotel rooms there cost.  When Kevin made the plan to come over for a couple days, I started looking into booking us a room… and basically wanted to cry.  London is the most expensive city I have ever been to in my life.  Hotel prices were ridiculous and I was worried we would end up in a hostel in the worst part of town.  Fortunately, by chance, I ended up finding Hotel Xenia in South Kensington, which had just opened a couple of months prior and was therefore significantly cheaper than anything else I could find.  Not only that, but it was right in the middle of everything I wanted to see, so it was the perfect location.  From the reviews on TripAdvisor that had been posted in the couple months the hotel had been open, I was expecting a nice hotel but a tiny room.  And for the most part, that was accurate.  But while the room was tiny, it was absolutely perfect, and as soon as I walked into it I wanted to live there.  The bed took up most of the room, but the ceilings were high and the bed faced a floor-to-ceiling picture window with a leafy view of the tree-lined road the hotel was on.  There was a flat screen TV over the desk, which had a crocheted “God Save The Queen” pillow on its chair.  There was also an iPad on the nightstand that was programmed with all sorts of information about the area and things to do in London.  And every night when we got back to the hotel, the bed had been turned down and there were two fresh pastries on the nightstand table waiting for us.  It was perfection.


The same can be said for the rest of London, which I can honestly say is my favorite city in the world.  Now I am NOT a city person… in all my years around Boston I never lived directly in the city, I only like visiting NYC every few years, and the city I live in now, Burlington, only has about 40,000 people in it, so it feels more like a big town than a city.  But London?  London is EVERYTHING.  I cannot even begin to explain how much I loved it there, and if money (and proper visas) weren’t an issue, I would move there in a heartbeat.  The history of it, the architecture, the museums, the beautiful people, the amazing food, the fact that there’s always something to do and see.  And the tube system was simply the best subway system I have ever experienced.  Seriously, I lived around Boston for 5 years, and I still get lost getting around that city on the train.  In London, we bought Oyster cards, downloaded the tube app on my phone, and we were home free.  We never had a problem, and it was the easiest system to navigate.  I was so in love with the tube system there, I bought a mousepad and mug with the whole system shown on them, with the mug having the Mind the Gap emblem over the tube map.  I think NYC and Boston could take a few pointers from the London tube system,  Just sayin’.


I arrived in London on a Monday afternoon, and after checking into the hotel, I headed out to meet my old college friend Adam for beers.  Kevin’s flight didn’t arrive until 7:00 that night, so I hopped on the tube and met Adam for some drinks.  Adam was another friend who went to BSC on the exchange program and although he had been allowed to stay in the states for a couple years for school, it had been years since the last time I saw him.  Not much changes, though, and we fell right back in to the old routine of him rolling his eyes at me as I told him one ridiculous story after another.  At the end of our drink date, he shoved a pint glass in my purse as a memento.  Such a good friend :)


As I headed back uptown to meet Kevin at Victoria Station, where he was taking the train from Gatwick, I checked my phone and Facebook.  A week prior, while I was in Liverpool, I had learned that a photographer friend of mine had gone missing while trying to recover his mountain bike in a state park in Connecticut.  I felt helpless, being so far away and not being able to help in the search, and I had been following the story from other photographer friends all week.  That day, as I arrived at Victoria, I saw on Facebook that a body had been found, and they thought it was Eric’s.  And although I had only known Eric for a couple years, and I didn’t know him super well, I found myself bawling.  Hysterically.  By myself, walking around the train station, trying to find Kevin.  I got a text from him saying that he was outside, and by the time I got to him I was a hot mess, not being able to control my crying, thinking about Eric’s pregnant wife Amber and their two children.  Eric was only 33 when he passed away, with two young children and another on the way, and it just devastated me.  As soon as Kevin saw me, he grabbed me and yelled “Were you mugged?!?!”  He was completely flustered and it took a few minutes to calm down and tell him what had happened, and when he finally understood he hugged me and just let me cry.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning about what had happened to Eric ended up affecting me quite a bit while I was in London.  I was edgy, I couldn’t sleep well… and poor Kevin ended up having to deal with my frustration and sadness.  Of everything I regret from my trip, this is what I regret most, and I wish I had those couple of days in London with him back.  I would hug him more, tell him I loved him more, not pick small fights over stupid things and then withdraw.  This is probably the most personal thing I have written, admitting that this is the pattern I follow when I’m sad, but it was definitely what happened in London, and I regret it enormously.


Kevin had never been to London either, so we spent the next few days exploring the city.  The weather was on our side most of the time, and we took the tube and walked everywhere.  We visited Trafalgar Square, which I loved, and walked through the National Gallery.  The amazing thing about London is that so many of these incredible museums were free, including the National Gallery.  We attended the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which was an incredible thing to see. The monarchy sort of fascinates me, and so I took a million pictures at the palace, even though most of the time it was too crowded to see what was going on.  My advice on the Changing of the Guard is to get there early in the morning to get the best standing spot that you can.


We visited Leicester Square, which I didn’t like as much as Trafalgar Square because it reminded me of a small-scale Times Square.  It was much more commercial, with a movie theater on one side and a Ben and Jerry’s on the other (not that I was complaining about that…).  Seeing theater in London was a huge deal to me, so the big draw to Leicester Square was the same day ticket counters.  I love the theater, having spent years going to plays with my mom and various friends, and the London stage is supposed to be the most renowned theater in the world, along with Broadway in NYC, so it was a must for me while visiting.  I was tempted to drag Kevin to see The Phantom of the Opera, since the original stage it showed on in London still plays it, but we decided instead to see something neither of had seen.  We chose Once since it is set in Ireland and it had just opened at the Phoenix Theater.


When we arrived at the Phoenix and found our seats, we were commenting to each other how cool it was that the stage was set up like an Irish pub, complete with bartenders and drink specials listed.  And then we noticed a couple people going up there, on stage.  It took a little bit of pondering, but we finally realized that we could go up on stage and order a drink.  WHATTTTTTT!!!!  There was no way we weren't doing this and we hurried up to the stage.  We ordered beers from the bartenders at "the pub" and they were served in commemorative Once tumblers.  We started chatting up the bartenders, who furthered this already amazing experience by telling us that we were going to be part of the show.  The actors would be coming out any minute and they would start playing, just like a normal Irish pub, and we would be "pub patrons" who could stay up on stage and listen to the music and dance until we were ushered off and Act 1 officially began.  I was in 7th heaven and I couldn't believe we were actually lucky enough to be standing on a London stage, as part of the show, no less.  It was crazy to look out at the theater filling up, while we sipped our beers on stage.  I suddenly wished I had dressed better for the occasion!  We stayed on stage for the first couple of songs and then made our way to our seats.  It was, by far, one of the coolest experiences of my entire trip.  I will never forget it.


The day after Kevin left, I went back to the theater alone to see Stomp.  I had less choices when I went alone because it was a Sunday matinee and there wasn’t too much to choose from, but I had always wanted to see Stomp and had heard it was incredible in London.  It didn’t disappoint and it was honestly one of the best things I have ever seen in my life.  For anyone who has the chance to see Stomp, DO IT.  The talent of the performers in that show is just mind-boggling.


While he was still with me, we did a few more touristy things, like the London Eye and Westminster Abbey.  The London Eye was another must-do for me and I thought the views were spectacular.  Of course we didn't have the best weather day, but you pretty much never do in London :)  I had never been in a sightseeing pod like that (I had skipped the Liverpool Eye) and so I was really glad I got to see London from that perspective with Kevin.  Westminster Abbey was really cool as well and I was glad that we paid for the whole tour and were able to do it at our pace.  Although it was sort of a rough start... those who are friends with me on Facebook already know this story :)


Kevin and I are walking around the outside and we walk up to a guard and this is basically the conversation that ensues:


Me:  "I'm sorry to bother you but I have a super nerdy and touristy question to ask you."

Guard:  "Go ahead..."

Me:  "What door did Kate come in?"

Guard:  "Who?"

Me:  "Kate Middleton."

Guard, confused:  "Well Kate wouldn't really come here..."

Me:  "Well I know she doesn't come here every Sunday for service or anything like that, but the day she got married, what door did she walk in?"

Guard:  "Um, Kate got married across the street, at Westminster Abbey..."

Me, TOTALLY CONFUSED:  "Wait, isn't this Westminster Abbey?"

Guard:  "This is the Houses of Parliament."


Hahaha yup.  That actually happened.  Am I embarrassed that I didn't recognize basically the most recognizable structure in Great Britain?  Yes I am.  But hell if it's not a funny story to remember.  I turned around and Kevin was basically dying.  Although in my defense, he didn't recognize it either :)  We sheepishly crossed the street and took the tour at the Abbey, where I did indeed find the door that Kate walked through on her wedding day :)


Jack and Amy came up from Liverpool for Kevin's last night and we made reservations at the Sydney Street Grill, which was a fancy sort of steakhouse.   We were really trying hard not to spend too much money in London, so this was our night to splurge.  It was so nice to get dressed up and go to dinner all four of us, and pretty much immediately Jack and Kevin developed a bromance and basically ignored Amy and I.  It was awesome though... we had such a wonderful meal at this place and such a great time with the 4 of us.


On Kevin's last day, we went to Portobello Road and did some shopping, Kevin's absolute least favorite thing but also the only day I could work in a Portobello Road trip :)  Portobello Road was so, so cool, and basically everything I was expecting.  It was also so, so long... I'm pretty sure we only covered about half of it and we were there for HOURS!  But it was awesome to walk among the vendors, looking at all the different antiques... it reminded me of going to the Brimfield Fair, only on one long street instead of several open fields. I didn't buy much because I didn't have much room left in my suitcase at that point, but I did buy a print of London and a couple other small things.  I also loved the area surrounding Portobello Road, which is the Notting Hill area.  True to the movie, this area is absolutely gorgeous.... big tall rose bushes everywhere, beautiful, colorful town homes... I actually have a ten hour London layover on my flight to Scotland this summer, and this is where I requested my friend Adam and I meet for the day.  Again, if money was no object... I would be living in Notting Hill, no question!  Or at least have a house there.  You know, a second home :)


There were also a couple things we thought about doing and then decided to skip.  We took the tube to the Madame Tussaud's museum as something fun and goofy to do... and then got there and saw the OBSCENE price of admission and decided against it.  I mean, really... talk about ridiculous.... I wish we had known that Sherlock Holmes' house was on that same tube stop, but we didn't and instead hopped back on the tube and headed to the London Eye.  On Kevin's last day, we also decided to skip the entrance fee and tour to St. Paul's Cathedral, and instead relax and have some drinks and tapas and just take in the view of St. Paul's Cathedral from an absolutely perfect adjacent roof deck spot at a restaurant and bar called Madison.  Seriously, I felt so indebted to Adam for telling me about this place, because it was perfection.  The open terrace has comfortable couches and chairs, and the view of St. Paul's Cathedral CANNOT BE BEAT from this spot.  Some of the pictures of it below were taken from there, including a couple I took from outside the elevator on the ground floor of the building Madison is in... the building itself provided nice reflections of the cathedral.  It was the perfect last afternoon together, if there could be such a thing... Kev and I relaxed, drank some wine, looked out over London, and talked about the previous two months and what our favorite parts were.  I felt lucky to get that last relaxing afternoon with him, without having to rush off to do an tour or something.


I won't talk about our time at the Gatwick Airport, saying goodbye for the last time.  Honestly it's emotionally taxing to even think about, and obviously some things should stay private.  But I can say this:  I love Kevin for loving me so well, and for the things he told me that day that I will hear in my head every single time I start to doubt myself or whether I am good enough.  Because of him, I know that I am.  I'll be eternally grateful for that.


The rest of my time in London felt fairly empty without him, but thank God for wonderful friends and their families.  Jack and Amy were amazing and had made all sorts of excellent plans for us.  Jack had gotten tickets to the Royal Ascot horse race, and so Amy, Jack, Stu and I got decked to the nines and headed to the race course.  I, being the typical non-better who knows nothing about horse racing, decided to bet once on whatever horse whose name I liked the most.  I saw there was a horse named Berkshire, which is a place near where I grew up in MA, so I laid my money down on good ol' Berkshire, who was NOT an extraordinary horse and not even expected to place.  THAT DAMN HORSE WON THE RACE!!!  First race of the day, I pocketed 100 pounds.  I was PSYCHED to say the least, jumping up and down and celebrating my accidental victory.  And yes, I did the smart but un-fun thing and pocketed the money without betting for the rest of the day :)


Ascot was also the place where I got to see the Queen of England.  Talk about a cool experience from the trip... Jack had told me that she would be there and while I held out hope that I would get to glimpse the entire Royal Family, it was just her riding in her royal carriage.  She rode in proceeding the races, and while everyone cheered and I basically lost my mind from the sheer awesomeness of the moment, I said to Jack "So what next?  Do we all break into God Save the Queen?"  Jack laughed and said "Nah that would be a little much..."  about 30 seconds later the entire place was singing God Save the Queen.   No joke.  It was one of those great moments and I closed my eyes and listened and laughed and it was the perfect English experience.


Jack, Amy and I also decided to go to Wimebledon on one of my days in London.  Yup, I went to Wimbledon.  I have really really cool friends, because had it been up to me I probably wouldn't have even known that Wimbledon was happening while I was there.  Luckily, Jack was all about it.  Unluckily, queuing for tickets to Wimbledon is a 4 hour process that starts at, oh.... 4 AM IN THE MORNING!!!!  That is pretty much what time we woke up to get to the queuing field.  That's right, there is a field at Wimbledon for the lines.... and they are happy to hand you a 25 page brochure about how to queue correctly when you arrive.  Not to mention that this particular morning ending up being my harshest lesson in English weather:  despite being late JUNE, it was freezing.  Like, not a little bit chilly.... FREEZING.  I stupidly did NOT wear enough layers, or socks.... and I was so cold that I legit bought a tote bag from some English newspaper seller so I could get the blanket that came with it.  I then used the Wimbledon sweatband that was also in the bag to warm up one of my feet.  And nothing worked, because it was freezing, and the ground was all wet.  Needless to say, I was not so much a happy camper while queuing, but once we got in our moods improved greatly :)  We got to see Nadal warm up and Andy Murray play, and I was thrilled a week later when Andy Murray won Wimbledon!  It was very cool to get to see those people up close and personal.  Towards the later afternoon, I ended up so tired that I ended up falling asleep on the lawn while we watched a match.  At that point I decided to call it a day, and was very impressed with myself when I had to take two buses and a tube to get to Sue and Stu's house on my own and I managed to find my way without getting on the wrong bus or train.


Jack also took an afternoon off to go sightseeing with me.  We started the day by heading to Abbey Road, as I really wanted to see the Abbey Road studios and re-enact the famous Beatles photo taken on the crosswalk there, that graced the cover of the Abbey Road album.  Word of advice:  DOING THIS DURING THE DAY IS A COMPLETELY FRUITLESS VENTURE AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS.  It's a very busy street and there are literally tourists lined up on each side waiting for their turn to rush out.  The problem with this, of course, is that when the cars die down enough for you to run out to take the photo, there are people running from both sides so you inevitably ruin each other's shot.  It was such a cluster!  I couldn't even believe it lol.  After awhile, we just gave up, but my advice would be to go at sunrise when no one is there yet and the streets are quieter.


We also visited the Tower of London and took the tourist ferry from there over to the Tate Museum.  We went under the Tower Bridge and doubled back to the Tate, where Jack is a member and so we had access to the "members only" café and terrace.  I had visited the Tate Liverpool with Amy, but the view from the Tate London was spectacular and another great place to sit with food and drinks and just soak it all in.  After we finished touring the museum, we walked to the Hummingbird Bakery, where I got a cupcake called "The American".  The American was basically a maple and bacon cupcake.  Sounds about right :)


On my last day in London, Jack and Amy brought me down to Brighton to meet Jack's Nana.  Brighton is by the ocean and we spent the day visiting with Nana, eating a great lunch on the Brighton Pier, and taking some engagement snaps of Jack and Amy.  Brighton was gorgeous and we got a great weather day, despite some pretty threatening rain clouds.  They made for a great backdrop for pictures of the beach though :)


Here are some of my favorites, from my favorite city in the world...










One year later, editing these... I noticed that the cab driver in the following photo is giving me the thumbs up haha!  It made me smile when I saw it... I never noticed it before :)




London tube, I love you!!




















Our perfect little hotel in South Kensington...



Covent Garden...



Trafalgar Square was one of my favorite spots in London...







Buckingham Palace...






The Changing of the Guard...







This dog, with it's nose in the air... I can't... so freakin funny.



The Houses of Parliament... NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH...







Westminster Abbey ;-)





The London Eye...








The Tower of London...






London from Tate Modern...




St. Paul's Cathedral...






Portobello Road, Portobello Road, the place where the riches of ages are sold... I need to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks again!  Love that movie :)




Notting Hill is so charming...



Abbey Road, a must-stop for any Beatles fan...



Brighton to visit Nana... my last day in England!  There she is... love her!












I have two more blog posts coming your way that sum up my trip and my experiences... it only took a year but I am finally finishing up this trip blogging!  I will explain the delay and more in my final Ireland blog post.  Stay tuned!  xo.