The Best Places I’ve Ever Been
I’ve been off work sick for about a week. It’s torture. I love being busy – I’m usually overflowing with tasks, whether its mothering my daughter, cooking, keeping the fires going (we usually have two: one in the wood stove in the kitchen and one in the sitting room fireplace), or, of course, working my actual day job at Holycross Stores and The Tipperary Kitchen. I’ve also taken up writing a weekly food column for The Tipperary Star, where I focus on a different local producer each week and create a recipe from their product. I love my life here in Ireland. I loooove being busy.
This past week has been a shock to my system. Relying on my husband to keep the house clean and our daughter cared for and my father-in-law to keep the fire going was, at first, torturous. But the last few days have finally seen me getting used to it. I’ve been able to take the time to reconnect with friends in Canada and in other parts of the world. I’m reading more. I’m listening to the radio and my favourite albums. It’s been a nice trip down memory lane. That leads me here, to this post. I’ve been looking back on old photos and reliving some amazing past adventures. I thought I’d share some of the best places I’ve ever been with you and tell you why they were so life-changing. Aren’t we lucky to live in an age where we were easily able to record our younger lives and experiences? OK, here are my Top 5! I would love to hear/see about yours, too.
1. South Korea I spent 2007-10 living and working in South Korea. It was the biggest, craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was fresh out of university, mad to travel, had absolutely no money and no cares. I found a job, they paid for my flight, found me an apartment, paid the rent and then proceeded to pay me about $2000.00 CAN a month. I almost missed my first flight and Air Canada let me on the plane, but refused to check my luggage, so I literally MOVED TO ASIA with only my carry-on and my handbag. And a camera.
I played with five year olds during the day and partied with the other expats at night. The expats came from all over the English-speaking world. We all hung out at the same bar and there were other Canadian teachers at my school, so even though I went to Korea knowing no one, I came out of it with lifelong friends and a life partner (that’s right, I met Patrick at the foreigner bar in 2008).
I learned enough Korean to get by and made wonderful Korean friends, too. I miss them all the time. I need to get back there, to someday show my kids where their parents met. To a young, travel-crazy individual, I can’t recommend teaching abroad enough. I have friends teaching in Turkey right now and it looks like they’re having a great time, too, so there are plenty of options out there.
Things I love about Korea: THE FOOD, the lifestyle of a carefree foreigner, the amazing group of international friends (will we all ever be in the same place again? Probably not.), the low cost of living, the Korean people (including their priceless reactions to my curly hair and how protective my Korean friends were of me).
If you go you must experience: Mudfest, Jeju-do (a semi-tropical island off the South coast), jjimjilbang (Korean saunas), kimchi-making, island-hopping off Incheon, travelling along the beautiful East Coast, hiking Suraksan, eating strange, raw sea creatures (when you’re by the sea).
2. Indonesia Patrick and I spent a month backpacking around the Western part of Indonesia in 2009. We started in The Gili Islands, then worked our way across Bali, Java and Sumatra. It was one of the best, worst and all-around craziest experiences of my life.
Patrick got a cheap (but safe) scuba diving PADI cert in The Gilis and, as a result, saw some amazing undersea creatures. I lounged on the beach and chatted with the local ladies. We ate barracuda, satay, curries, nasi goreng and copious amounts of sambal. We drank litres of Bintang beer. We lived very well for about 20 bucks a day.
In Bali we shopped for (and shipped) art. We saw dance performances and ate the ubiquitous babi gulung (roast pig stuffed with spices). We took the bus to Java and were dropped off in a random place in the middle of the night. We got a drunk taxi driver who drove five metres and then got out of the car and left us. We got another taxi and, at dawn, climbed an active volcano. We spent several blissfull days in Yogyakarta and saw ancient temples. A guy asked me to name his newborn baby.
We got spooked in Jakarta, boarded a massive ship and sailed for three days to Sumatra. We were segregated by sex (a Muslim country) and the women in my cabin thought I might be related to Britney Spears. They fed me fruit and looked inside my makeup bag.
We drove to the jungle and hung out with orangutans. One of the best experiences of my life. I popped xanax on a daily basis because I have an unhealthy obsession with natural disasters and tropical diseases. Indonesia in a nutshell.
If you go you must experience: Bukit Lawang (home of the orangutans), Yogyakarta, Borodrodur, Gunung Bromo (the volcano), travelling on an “ekonomi” train, eating Padang, swimming with sea turtles and giant clams, riding on the back of a motorbike “taksi”.
3. Portugal We’re coming up on a whole year since our first-ever family trip. Last year, Maeve was seven months old and couldn’t yet crawl or walk. It was the perfect time to take her on vacation as she was perfectly content to be strolled around – she would NOT be OK with that now!
I had been wanting to visit Portugal my whole life. Growing up in Cape Breton, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by multiculturalism. That said, my best childhood friend (and still a wonderful friend) is half Portuguese. I spent so much time in her home, with her Portuguese Dad and all of the photos, stories and culture she was exposed to. When she travelled to Portugal for visits, I always wanted to go, too.
So when I finally got to go last year I felt like a kid again. I got to spend time with my friend’s dad and he opened up his Lisbon home to us. We took the train to Porto and fell in love with everything about that city – the medieval, winding alleyways, the River Douro and the most delicious cheeses, wines and cured meats. Maeve was a prime attraction for locals, with her blond hair and bright blue eyes. We were cooed at and smiled to wherever we went.
We went to the coastal university town of Aviero. We spent time in Costa Nova at the beach, eating fresh seafood and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. For a first family vacation, it was perfect in every way.
If you go you must experience: Piri Piri Chicken with Creamed Spinach at Bonjardim (Lisbon), Fiera de Ladra (the “Thieves” Market) in Lisbon, Taste Porto Food Tours, Costa Nova in Aviero, pastel de nata and espresso EVERY MORNING, drinking Sagres in the main square in Porto.
4. China When I told my Korean friends I was going to China for my Christmas break they begged me not to go alone. “Someone will take you! They will sell you as a bride!”
Sometimes Koreans can be a little anti-China. That said, there were times, travelling alone, that I got into certain situations and remembered their words. I played on the safe side. Just so you know, though, sometimes proper taxis in China are just unmarked vans. This was my first solo-vacation (and my last, incidentally) since meeting Patrick. He went home to Ireland for Christmas and so I wanted to go somewhere, too.
Here’s the thing, though: I hate airplanes. So. Much. I will go really, really far out of my way to avoid flying. So that’s why I took a ferry to China. It took 18 hours. I was in a cabin with three women who were studying in Korea. The ferry docked in the city of Tsingtao (yup, where they make the beer). I spent a day or two there. The Germans occupied Tsingtao during the World War, which is why the beer is so lovely. I think Tsingtao would be much nicer in the summer, but I still had fun drinking beer and slurping noodles.
I took an overnight train to Beijing. The crowd at the train station was scary and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find my car. Just as the train was announced a young woman appeared out of nowhere. She grabbed my elbows, stuck them out, and helped me push my way through the crowd. She found my car, showed me where to go and was gone before I could practice my Mandarin and say thank you.
I had no seat. A woman was sitting with her three children in four seats. She took her youngest on her lap and gave me one of their seats. The children shared their snack with me (chicken feet from a convenience store), then we all fell asleep. Every time I woke up, a different child was sprawled across my lap. Beijing is one massive contrast. Communist and strict; mystical and spiritual. Amazing sights, smells and markets. Elderly folk having dance parties in sub-zero temperatures. The Great Wall is way more impressive than Karl Pilkington said. It (and the wind) took my breath away. The Ming Tombs were cool, too.
If you go you must experience: Travel by train, Beer Street in Tsingtao, The Temple of Heaven, The Silk Market, The Summer Palace, Peking Duck on Ghost Street, Wangfujing Night Market (where you’ll find all those lovely scorpion kebabs), The Great Wall, Hot Pot, Hutongs, Beijing Park Life.
5. Ireland Can you blame me for including my adopted home in this post? Ireland has changed me. I wasn’t a mom before I moved to Ireland. I was living in Canada’s biggest city prior to moving here – concrete on concrete, business attire every day, brunching on weekends and trying to stay on top of trends. All of that changed when I moved to Ireland.
I’m happy here. I’m settled. I love the fresh, local ingredients I have available to me. I love that Dublin, Waterford and Cork are less than two hours away. Limerick is less than an hour. I love being back on a farm. I love being surrounded by a large, extended family. Ireland is home.
If you go you must experience: The Antrim Coast, The Copper Coast, nights out in Galway, the Lakes of Killarney, wandering around Cork, Ballymaloe Litfest, quiet pubs in Tipperary, visit a farm, eat lots of butter and cheese, drink tea, hike around Glendalough, go to the Avoca in Wicklow for tea and shopping.