Plenty to keep you occupied as a female solo traveler in Dublin

IMG_3948

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” a wise person once said, or rather, a wise company. I couldn’t agree with you more Guinness. Stumbling upon this advertisement in the Guinness Storehouse museum was more than fitting at the time because Dublin is the city in which I chose to really embark on a solo female travel adventure: three whole days (including a day of travel) all on my own. This might seem like a piece of cake to many well-versed female solo travelers, but at the time, I hadn’t really fully done it before. I was indeed a newbie to the whole thing.

As I mentioned in my post about traveling solo for my first day in Cork, female solo travel is often seen as a taboo thing, because somehow being women automatically makes us more endangered. Though I do believe there are certain cities and areas that a woman should avoid while traveling alone, I would say the same thing for a man in most cases. Feeling this way didn’t make me any less nervous though, as I was still quite new to the whole idea when I arrived in Dublin (I barely count walking around Cork for an afternoon and a morning by myself). That being said, I discovered that if you were ever to take your first trip as a solo female travel, Dublin is definitely a great city to do it. There is an array of sites, activities, and museums to keep you occupied. This city is full of beautiful history, hidden gems, and little quirks.

Unlike in Cork where I kept exploring some of the historical buildings and museums until my friends arrived, Dublin was all mine. My itinerary was wide open with what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to see. This sort of liberty is a bit unnerving at first. If you usually travel with other people always, then you will have trouble knowing what to do with yourself, feeling like you are waiting to make a plan with other people, feeling like you should be having a friend next to you deciding what the best plan of action is. This kind of freedom of being able to just start exploring is kind of scary but is also immensely rewarding.

Continue reading “Plenty to keep you occupied as a female solo traveler in Dublin”

Beer, Butter, and Swans: Quirky adventures in Cork, Ireland

Sometimes, you’re just sitting on a park bench chatting it up with some of your friends while the sun beats down on your face. Oh sun hugs, one of my favorite things. Sometimes, birds join the party, not unexpectedly so. Mostly ducks and pigeons, of course, but also the occasional swan. But, what is it with swans? You want to like them because they are just so majestic and beautiful, but if you don’t already know, then I’ll clue you in on a small fact. Swans are actually evil. Don’t let their beauty  fool you. You know how I know this? Because for some reason, it appears as though European swans are the worst of the lot, even in the lovely Ireland, where I had the unique opportunity to witness a two minute battle between two swans. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was at least a good 30 seconds, and the best part about it all, other than the fact that I was shocked beyond measure and didn’t know if I should fear for my life or burst out in laughter, was that the one that ended up losing, didn’t just fly away. No, it walked on water for a good five seconds. It’s normal for a bird to glide ever so slightly over the water as it flaps it wings viciously, but have you ever seen a swan walk on water, barely using its wings at all, in what appears to be slow motion? Thank you to the Lough, a lake or oversized pond of sorts about a twenty minute walk southwest of the city center in Cork, Ireland and its city of birds, I can now properly say that I have.

Traveling is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get, like one great Forrest Gump once said. Okay, so I altered the quote ever so slightly, but I really do think that it holds true. My experiences with this idea never cease to end, and they weren’t any different throughout the rest of my time in Cork, Ireland.

Though I spent my first full day in Cork by myself, a couple of friends came in around noon at the Cork train station. After checking into our hostel, we only had half the day to explore the city.

Cork is a beautiful city to explore. The city center is actually quite small compared to other cities and is, therefore, quite walkable. You don’t really need to take public transportation everywhere to get to where you need to go, such a beautiful change from a good majority of the cities in which I’ve traveled so far.

Though it was kind of chilly and a bit rainy (because you know, it’s Ireland.), the weather was still decent enough to walk around in, and the sun even came out for about an hour or two for us in the late afternoon.

When in Cork, you must happen by the English Market, not only is it one of the hot spots of the city, but it is a fantastic place to get some of the best potatoes. I never knew potatoes could taste so amazing. Throw them together with some spicy sausage and some garlic mayonnaise, and the foodie locked inside you might burst out with deep appreciation. Also soda bread, that’s a thing, and it’s delicious. Buy some. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Our first day together consisted mostly of hitting up a few sites, the first of which was Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a cathedral that was actually quite recently built, as far as cathedrals go, having been built in the 18th or 19th century, if I remember correctly.

If you are obsessed with European architecture, especially beautiful churches with stained glass windows, much like myself, then it is definitely worth the 5€ for adults or the 3€ for students. There’s also a tiny (meaning that it looks like a miniature version) labyrinth on the grounds, intended for meditative prayer that you can walk through.

Our explorations of the city streets also took us by the Red Abbey Tower, an old medieval tower of an old abbey, one of the last pieces of Medieval architecture still standing in Cork, a cool thing to explore if you are into medieval history.

Really into towers? Not afraid of tiny spaces? Really want to be that obnoxious person that tries to make a song out of church bells? Then, the Shandon Bells Tower is definitely a place that you don’t want to miss! By paying only 5€ for adults or 4€ for students, you can climb all the way to the top of the Shandon Bells Tower of the St. Anne’s Shandon Church in Cork. On one level, you can actually ring the bells yourself. The church has even been so kind as to provide songs for you to try out on the bells. On another level, you can witness the bells actually being rung, with ear muffs provided by the church, of course. Then, once you get all the way to the top, you get the most gorgeous view of the city while still hearing the bells sing their songs. It’s a pretty fantastic experience, if I do say so myself.

Cork’s quirkiness doesn’t stop there though. Despite the unfortunate lack of time I had in Cork to fit this gem into my schedule, there is a butter museum in Cork! Now in what used to be the old home of the Cork Butter Exchange, this museum takes you through the history of dairying in early Ireland, the development of the dairy industry in Ireland in the 20th century, the history and the production of Cork butter, and the history of the great Cork Butter Exchange. Additionally, it’s only 4€ for adults and 3€ for students! Who knew that butter was one of Ireland’s number one exports? Who knew that Ireland even made butter? I, most definitely, did not.

Lastly, don’t forget to hit up Franciscan Well Brewery, a craft brewery slightly northwest of the Cork city center. As a former beertender myself, living in France has put a large dent in my craft brew consumption over the past 7 months, as it’s the land of the wines, is craft brew scene is basically non-existent. So, needless to say, I was in a beer heaven of sorts at this place.

Founded in 1998, Franciscan Well Brewery was built on the grounds of an old Franciscan monastery that dates back to 1219. Local legend claims that the well from which the monastery got its water back in the day had healing powers, and people would come from all over to drink from it. Now, how cool is that? As a history buff and a storyteller, I adore a good legend. You can learn all of this and more through a guided tour of the brewery with free samplings for only 10€.

12928438_10207967243832900_7859396603835492964_n

Unfortunately, the brewing does not brew with water from the well in modern day, however, they do brew amazing beer. They have three main brews: Rebel Red, Chieftain IPA, and the Friar Weisse.

Rebel Red, my personal favorite, is a red ale with a bit of a caramel finish named after Cork County’s nickname (because apparently each county in Ireland has its own nickname. Again, who knew? The things you learn in Ireland), Rebel.

The Chieftain IPA, brewed to honor the king who founded the site of where the present-day brewery is, King Diarmund McCarthy Mor, is not overly hoppy, so even the likes of Stout lovers can enjoy it.

Lastly, the Friar Weisse, a German style wheat beer, offers anyone who tastes it an enjoyable bit of citrus with some added clove.

So, even though this brewery is still growing, it’s definitely a not-miss stop, especially for my fellow craft brew lovers out there.

 

Cork is a must on any traveler’s bucket list. Cork’s quirkiness meshes well mine, as I’m sure it will with many people’s, and I can’t help feeling that I’m going to need to go back there some day. Besides, where else would you get the opportunity to participate in an unusual combination of travel experiences? Beer, butter, and swans, my friends….The unknown side of Ireland.

 

Why yes, I’m on holiday, by myself: my account of my first adventure of traveling alone as a female in Cork, Ireland

Female solo travel, three words that are either taken with complete shock doused with fear or with complete and utter bravado. It is well known that we live in a very crazy world, one in which terrorist attacks have become the norm and many people fear for their safety on a regular basis. This fear not only keeps people from traveling, but it keeps young female travelers from traveling solo. However, in my opinion, we must keep traveling, especially as young female travelers. This is the attitude I decided to take on for my trip to Cork, Ireland and then later in Dublin, Ireland.

I didn’t want my fear of the unknown to stop me from pursuing my travel dreams. As I was unable to meet up with some friends in Dublin that I would be traveling with later on in the week, I decided to head to Cork first, meeting them there and then tackle Dublin all by myself at the end of the week.

So, I decided to get to Cork one day earlier than my friends and start to explore on my own. I was quite nervous, this being my first time really traveling by myself, especially with everything that has been happening in Europe lately. However, I know that I am smart enough to be vigilant and cautious, paying extreme attention to my surroundings 100% of the time, so I booked the tickets despite my fears and tackled my adventure with full force.

I took an Aer Lingus flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to the Cork Airport. That was easy enough. I’m well versed in how airports and planes work, so there was no problem in that. Then, I took a bus from the airport to the city center after having kindly asked the woman at the information desk the best way to get to the city center. (Now, I will say that it did help that the first place that I decided to travel solo does speak my native language.) Then, having looked up directions to my hostel before leaving my apartment in France (which was thankfully only a 5-minute walk from the bus station), I proceeded to get to my hostel and to check in, still without any problems. Thankfully, by this point, I was starting to relax, feeling confident in myself and my abilities. I am an adult after all, an adult who has traveled a good amount of times to know at least a little bit how things work.

After having settled in my hostel (I must be honest that traveling solo does make carrying your bags up three flights of stairs rather difficult, however, it can still be done.), I took to the city. I had looked up directions from the hostel to the tourist information center to acquire a map. Having found the info center, I found it to be closed, though not surprisingly so as it was late Sunday afternoon, just as practically everything else was.

So, what did I do next? I just let my fears go and just started walking. I had a general idea of what the city center looked like, its size, and some of the different key sites and places, having done some research on the city before my travels. So, I just started walking, embracing this idea of female solo travel in an unknown city. No one looked at me funny. No one even talked to me. After all, for all they knew, I was probably just another local. Not only was it invigorating, but it was empowering. Here, I was accomplishing something that many people either frown upon, fear, or don’t understand. I didn’t want to let my fears control me. I wasn’t going to stay holed up in my hostel for almost an entire 24 hours before my friends arrived in the city. I was going to take the opportunity to do what I wanted, to explore the city in the way that I saw fit, without compromises, without having to give up seeing specific parts of the city because other travel companions didn’t want to. I felt free. I had my own schedule. I only saw the sites I wanted to see, and I only stayed certain places for as long as I was wanting to, for a short while or a long while.

Though I didn’t go into any museums or buildings or anything as it was Sunday, therefore basically everything being closed, and as I did know that my friends would want to explore those places with me, I just simply walked the length of the city center and outside of key sites just to get a feel for where everything was and a feel for the city itself.

Now, of course, a girl does have to eat at some point. This was the part I was most nervous about, mostly because I was unsure of the tipping practices in Ireland. I had done some research online before starting my adventure, but it was still unclear. So, I decided to play it by ear.

I found a small pub, because I really wanted to get some fish and chips, and when I walked in, I almost left, as it was almost completely empty, as I was the only female in there besides the bartender, and as I was the youngest person by at least 10 years. I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I told myself no. I was not going to chicken out. I was not going to starve for the night because I was afraid of encountering an awkward situation. No, I was going to eat, by myself, in a foreign pub in a foreign country. So, I walked forward and asked the bartender if they were serving food, as it was only just after 6pm (in France, most places don’t start serving food until 7pm. That’s just how the French roll.) She smiled and gladly answered yes. Thank goodness. I didn’t want to have to awkwardly leave because they weren’t serving food.

So, I sat by myself at the bar, drinking my Guinness and eating my fish and chips. I started relaxing again. No one asked me why I was by myself. No one even asked me at first sound of my accent where I was from and what I was doing in Cork. It was so freeing, and it made all of my fears just fade away. The bartender was quite lovely as well. She eventually asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Cork. The fantastic thing about this was that when I told her I was from the Indianapolis area, she not only knew where it was but will be attending one of Indianapolis’ most well-known and busiest events of the year, Comic-Con, in August this upcoming summer. This absolutely blew my mind and made me realize how small this world really is. This is the beauty of travel to me. You never know just how truly close you are to the other people on this planet until you start to learn their stories. It’s amazing, and it makes my longing for travel even stronger.

After having eaten, I retired back to my hostel early, as I was exhausted and felt like hunkering down with a book.

The next morning, after having checked out of my hostel and stored my luggage until I checked back into the hostel with my friends, I went in search of a coffee shop. Again, I was nervous of standing out. However, I found the most amazing coffee shop, called Three Fools Coffee, in the middle of the main shopping street in the center of Cork City. Being a small square building in the middle of the main middle walking median, I decided why not. It was open, and I saw mustaches everywhere! Apparently, this is basically a mustached themed coffee shop. I had to enter.

 

12377846_10207939887269003_3900735514012096385_o

 

I was the only one in there (due to the fact that I was still running on France time, aka an hour ahead of Cork and the rest of Ireland, without realizing it. So, as I thought it was almost 9am, it was actually almost 8am. oh well…) But again, the guy working was really nice, answering my questions about the coffee and not even commenting on my accent. It was so lovely! I’m always pegged as a tourist/expatriate anywhere else because apparently my accent is considered heavy, so everyone can always tell. So, needless to say, it was heaven not to be constantly asked very first thing where I am from and what I am doing there.

So, I grabbed a coffee (which was normal sized, not like the little espresso shots France and most of the rest of Europe calls coffee in lieu of espresso like we do back home in the States. To clarify, in France, and most of Europe really, espresso = coffee, coffee like back home in the States = Americano). So, yes even though there is almost the same amount of coffee, technically, in an Americano as there is in an espresso, I just like to enjoy my coffee. Coffee is like a hug in a cup to me. I love enjoying it slowly while I read or write, which is exactly what I did here, once again enjoying this whole idea of solo travel. I had plenty of time before I had to meet my friends at the train station, so I could stay there to read, to write, and to drink my coffee as long as I pleased. It was, again, invigorating, being on my own schedule without the pressure of having to constantly be somewhere. I was, after all, on vacation.

After having stayed there, doing the above-mentioned things and seeing many locals in action as they came and left the coffee shop, for about two hours, I went on my way to explore the city some more before meeting my friends at the train station. At this point, the sun starting coming out a bit, and I just soaked it in, having found a small park to sit in for about twenty minutes or so. It was here that I did some reflection.

Why are we so afraid of traveling alone, as females? Yes, I am sure there are some places that would just be extremely dangerous, even traveling in groups. Yes, I am sure I would avoid this places. However, in my opinion, as long as you stay away from sketchy areas and don’t put yourself in questionable situations, what is the big deal? Female solo travel gets a lot of flack because females are seen as fragile and more likely to be taken advantage of. Though this can be true in some situations, I feel this is even more of a reason to travel alone as a female.

In my experience, traveling alone strengthens you. You get to see the world through your own eyes without the influence of fellow travel companions. You take more precautions because you are alone, which in turn makes you even more stronger and more adept at taking in your surroundings. I felt as though I really saw part of Irish culture because I wasn’t shielded by the perceptions and ideas of fellow travel companions. I just saw what was put in front of me. Of course, I would have to dig much deeper to really get a feel of the Irish culture. One day of solo travel is definitely not enough, but being able to take in my own observations privately, at my own pace in my own way really felt so powerful and really made me feel like I was in the country I was visiting.

I was forced to interact with the man at the coffee shop and the woman at the pub because I didn’t have travel companions to talk to, thus I was more able to get to know the local culture through them.

I have really embraced solo travel, and I think I’d like to do it more often. I felt more aware of the local culture in Ireland, having to take it all in by myself, than I have been with other places that I’ve experienced in the past. I also learned how to deal with fatigue and discomfort more and in better ways because I only had myself to rely on. It also made my self-perception and my sense of confidence more clear and higher because I had accomplished traveling by myself in a foreign country. Thankfully, Ireland speaks my native language, so I should try a country where they don’t to really challenge myself, but I did it.

So, why is it that we are so afraid, as women, to travel alone, or why is it there is such a negative stigma around female solo travel?

Travel is about strengthening yourself as a person, getting to know the world we live in, and using that knowledge to better ourselves, so why not do so on an individual basis, where the results are so much higher and better?

A gorgeous end to my Iberian Peninsula adventures: Madrid

Though it’s been a long time coming, I’m finally getting around to talking about my last stop in my Iberian Peninsula adventure. I apologize for it’s lateness. I’ve been teaching, preparing for my departure from France in about 5 weeks, and for my next adventure.

Anyways, one must not pass through Spain without passing through it’s capital. Madrid is truly the capital of Spain. You can tell. If I had to describe it, Madrid is like the Spanish New York, business men and women everyone, lots of culture, but also lots, I mean LOTS of tourists. Everywhere we walked it seemed as though we were just a part of the big sea of humans.

Unfortunately the first day full day we were in Madrid, it was cold and rainy. I did not properly prepare for such weather. The struggle was quite real by the end of our two weeks. I was almost ready to skip Madrid altogether, especially when I saw how cold and rainy it was. However, I’m thankful that we didn’t.

Despite the weather, my friend, Sara, and I took a free walking tour. Now, I had never taken a free walking tour before because I usually try to avoid big groups of tourists together at the same time (I don’t really like to stick out). However, as it was something FREE to do and as our wallets were quite thin by the time we got to Madrid, I thought why not?

The fantastic thing about free walking tours is that they are absolutely free. Though tips are generally expected and actually rather polite, you still are not absolutely required to tip. Also, they are a great way to see different parts of the city and to learn about the city. I really enjoyed it not only for all of the history of Spain that I learned about but also because our tour guide was quite hilarious. She loved to tell fun little anecdotes complete with impressions and all.

During our walking tour, we learned about the Royal Palace and all of it’s glory and it’s relationship with the cathedral, which is literally right across from it. Now, a little bit of history. The Royal family and the Royal Palace were so ”glorious” at the time that the palace was built that the Royal family forbid the cathedral from looking more beautiful than the palace, because the King didn’t want the Church competing with the Royal family. How crazy is that? So, as a result, the Catholic Church in the capital city of Spain isn’t as beautiful of some of the others throughout all of Spain. I would say it’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t appear to be the cathedral of the capital city of Spain. However, just because the front of the church doesn’t particularly stand out (for it is the side that faces the Royal Palace), that doesn’t mean that the back half can’t be beautiful in it’s own right. Also, if you are looking for something to do, it is open and FREE to go into the cathedral during open hours.

Left: Front of the cathedral Right: Back of the cathedral

12742628_10207532532165380_7017359241672463626_n

glimpse of the Royal palace from the gardens

If you are interested in more ridiculous stories about Madrid’s history, I suggest walking on over to Plaza Mayor. Now, I suggest not eating from any of the restaurants in this square. They are all extremely touristic and highly over priced (and apparently not of good quality according to our tour guide). It’s also a hot spot for people to sell you random overpriced tourist junk. Don’t give in to the trap!

This square as it exists now is actually the fourth one to have been built. The original was built in the 16th century during the reign of King Phillip III. After the first square was built, in order to figure out the cause of/prevent the spread of an illness epidemic, a city ordinance was put in place where no one, absolutely no one, not even children, were allowed to drink water. So, the alternative? Wine and lots of it. So, everyone, even children, were bumbling around drunk, and what do you get when you have that mixed with fires in chimneys during the winter time? Fires, that’s what. So, all according to our tour guide, there were not one, not two, but three fires, three winters in a row! That’s some intense stuff. Wow!

So, the square as you can see it today is the fourth square to have been built. I think thankfully by then they got some sense, stopped building the square and its buildings out of wood, and finally the epidemic passed. Crazy times, they were. I can only imagine.

12734071_10207532536645492_8181406078711724217_n

Plaza Mayor: King Phillip III

While you’re in the area, head on over to Puerta del Sol, Spanish for ”Gate of the Sun,” the busiest square in all of Madrid. This place is crawling with people, making it a fantastic place to grab a cup of coffee under the sun and just people watch. Now, the coffee at these restaurants will be a little pricier than other places because of it’s central location but still a decent price. You can see all types of people here: students, business men and woman, tourists, you name it.

Also, another a piece of advice. Guard your belongings with your life! This place is a tourist hot spot and is known for pickpockets. You can still enjoy your surroundings, just be cautious while doing so.

The history in this square is rich. In this square once existed the main gate into the city during Medieval Times, and the gate faced the South, leaving it wide open for constant sun exposure throughout the day, hence it’s name.

This square is also the resting place of the bear and the tree statue, the symbol for the city of Madrid. According to the legend of the city, when it was founded, the area in which it was built was flooded with bears. Thus, from then on it became the emblem of the city. According to our tour guide, the bear is also supposed to be female, just a fun little fact.

It also contains the famous clock known for the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes to ring in the new year. The tradition: the bell rings 12 times in 12 seconds as it strikes midnight. During these rings, everyone eats one grape for each second, the purpose being that if a person is able to eat all twelve grapes then that person will have a really good new year.

As you can see, quirkiness does not lack in the city of Madrid, and it continues. If you head northwest of the Royal Palace, you’ll eventually come across the Egyptian ruins, the Debod Temple, in West Park. These ruins were a gift to Spain for helping Egypt save the temples of Abu Simbel from a threat of destruction while the building of a big dam. The temple was deconstructed and then reconstructed in Madrid to where it is on display for public viewing for FREE.

I used to be obsessed with ancient Egyptian history when I was younger, so it was definitely on my list of sights to see. Though it was quite small, and though there was not much to learn about, it was still quite fascinating to see and to learn about. Who knew that I could take a quick trip to Egypt in the middle of Spain?

12745848_10207532530805346_3776522134494890726_n.jpg

While your there, I suggest not skipping out on going to the Buen Retiro Park. Being quite a massive park, you can spend much time here just roaming around the different parts of it, enjoying the plants, the animals, the sun, and even the man-made pond!

Sara and I walked to this park on our second day, when the weather was absolutely gorgeous, so we spent about a good 45 minutes to an hour just basking in the sunlight while enjoying the view of people paddling boats around in this man-made pond. Renting a boat does indeed cost money, but who needs it when you can just sit, enjoy the sun, and people watch?

12772069_10207532534925449_5619723982019348357_o

And on your way to the park, why not check out the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, aka Madrid city hall. Though most governmental buildings can be quite boring to tour (unless you are very interested in learning about it), this city hall is FREE to go inside, if for nothing else than for a free toilet (guilty. you know, you have to take advantage of it when you can in Europe.) Plus, the outside is a beautiful display of unique architecture, and while I was there, the message displayed is something I can definitely get behind.

12705746_10207532533965425_2821870395839575345_n

Unfortunately, due to our lack of funds and our extreme fatigue from having been traveling for two weeks straight, we weren’t as vigilant about seeing as many attractions as in the other cities we had passed through. However, here are some that you might want to consider stopping by:

  • Plaza Espana 
  • Gran Via Avenue – lots of beautiful buildings and many stores if you are looking to do some shopping
  • Royal Theater 
  • Victory Arch
  • etc. etc. Here is a fantastic link that shows you all of the possible things to see and do in Madrid: http://www.madridtourist.info/index.html

While in Spain though, may I suggest just letting yourself roam a bit, get some tapas and some sangria, see what this beautiful country has to offer.

You have to know that we spent our last couple of hours indulging in a nice cup of Spanish coffee and teaching a Spanish man the word ”straw” in English. You never know what you’re going to experience when you start living that traveler’s life. Here’s to more adventures to come, and to this beautiful picture of the Pyrenees as we crossed from Spain over to France on our way home.

12698331_10207532555005951_373993697034983232_o

Bisous et à plus mes amis….