Monday, November 17, 2014

The luck of the Irish - Ireland's west coast

When Sam told me he wanted to visit the Irish countryside when we were making our list of destinations, I secretly kept pushing this trip off.  All I've ever heard of Ireland is that it's beautiful but usually cold and rainy.  Eww.  My top vacation of choice is always the beach and sun, which my sun-reflecting husband always endures.  Love him.  So, for his birthday month trip we visited his top travel destination on our list.  

I'm not sure how this happened and can only chalk it up to some good old Irish luck,but we had gorgeous weather in October.  Couldn't have asked for bluer skies with the occasional sprinkle that led to double rainbows.  Instead of a pot of gold we found stones with the first Celtic crosses, real wool yarn, cliffs that were breath-taking, and of course every thing fried and beer!  I fell in love with this country to say the least and can't believe I was dreading coming to this island.  Not to mention the cute B&B's.  No more continental German breakfasts for us.  Homemade eggs, pancakes, sausage, coffee, and everything a normal American breakfast would entail.  
  1. Ryanair to Kerry, Ireland. 
  2. You need to rent a car to travel this gorgeous country.  Much cheaper to buy from other sites when compared to Ryanair "deals."  We bought the $50 insurance because driving on the wrong side of the road makes your brain freak out.  
  3. We stayed one night in Killarney, one night in Dingle, and one night is Doolin.  Loved the B&B's in Dingle and Doolin.  Stayed in more of a hotel in Killarney that could have had a nicer receptionist but otherwise was perfect.  
  4. We went from Killarney to Dingle to Doolin, and looking back it might have been better to make the long drive upon arrival because you are much more excited to see the countryside than on the day you leave.  
Killarney -
I had no clue what to do in Killarney other than drink Guinness and eat.  Can't go wrong with that, right?  We mainly stayed here because it was close to Kerry, and we knew we wouldn't be up for a 3.5 hour drive in the car after our previous night's Oktoberfest in Stuttgart. Luckily we brought some pretty cool friends along on this trip and they suggested we go out to Kerry Woolen Mills.  This is a historic wool mill is one of the last mills left in Ireland.  My friend Heidi is super into yarn and has high hopes on making her own yarn out of I think what you call pre-yarn?  I can't even begin to think about how that works, but I have no doubt that she will do it!  And then maybe she'll make me something?  Hint. Hint.  Hehe just kidding!

I don't even knit and I was excited!  Look at all that real yarn in gorgeous colors!
After the boys almost went crazy from spending way too much time in the wool factory, we went for a small hike to see a waterfall.  You could spend the whole 4 day weekend hiking in Killarney!
Couldn't get enough of the green moss

Obligatory Ireland Guinness photo-op.

Dingle Peninsula - 
We took a half day to do Slea Head Drive.  There are a ton of sights to see, and my favorites were the Reasc Monastic Site, Gallarus Oratory, and Kilmalkedar Churchyard.  We stopped to eat at The Stone House Restaurant for lunch along the way too.  That evening we were lucky enough to see one of the oldest and greatest uilleann pipe musician at O'sullivan's Court House Pub.  Uillean pipes are bag pipes inflated by the elbow.  It was an awesome experience.   Dingle is a great place to pick up souvenirs too - women be shoppin'... and eating ice-cream at Murphey's (shhhh don't tell the boys).    But this is a must do.  It reminded me of Jeni's ice cream back in C-Bus!  

Dick Steve's Slea Head driving tour 
Can you see the uilleann pipe?
Doolin -

Our hotel in Dingle was located on Conor Pass, so we took it up to see a view of Dingle, and made the treacherous ride down the other side toward Doolin. I really wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher, reads "more" not "mo-hair" if you're one of my southern friends.  Or is that just me?  Remember friends I'm a scientist not a writer!  These cliffs are jaw dropping and I'm so glad we were able to see them from the bottom by boat and from the top.  No need to purchase your tickets early.  Our B&B owner, Kate, called down to see if tours were still going out for the last time (5:30ish), and we bought tickets at the port from O'Brien Lien Cruises.   On our way back to the airport we planned to go to the visitor's center and run over to take some pictures from the top, but then we found out they were charging a ridiculous amount to just see the cliffs.  So, we went a little further up the road (Doolin towards Kerry airport) and saw a sign for a walking trail to the cliffs.  After winding down some farm roads we came to a parking lot and paid 2 Euro to park, then we walked about 15 minutes and came to the cliffs.  I wish we had more time to explore, but we were pressed for time to make our flight.  Sorry I can't be more specific on the location, but I found this walking tour, which leaves from O'Connors Pub every morning at 10AM.  Looks fun - let me know if you do it!  During our night in Doolin, we enjoyed live Irish music, the best fish and chips, and drank all types of Irish beer at O'Connors Pub!
Cliffs of Moher by boat
Happy 18th Birthday, Trevor.  Miss you and wish you could have seen these one day, but we know you were with us in our hearts.  XOXO

Cliffs of Moher from the top
It was so sad to leave this beautiful country, and I am forever a fan of Ireland!  I'd even go back if it was rainy ;).  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Greek island anniversary

I can't tell you how incredibly blessed I feel to be able and travel for every birthday, holiday, or anniversary.  We recently celebrated our three year anniversary in Crete!  Please try not to secretly hate us after you see these gorgeous pictures of breathtaking beaches.  Instead immediately put this on your bucket list.  Make. It. Happen.  Crete is a Greek island, and it is nothing short of amazing.  There's not too much to say about it.  The pictures speak for themselves.  

  1. This was a little bit trickier of a trip logistically.  Flights are expensive out of Frankfurt International airport and the Ryanair Frankfurt Hahn location doesn't fly to Crete.  However, Ryanair Dusseldorf Weeze airport does.  It's a 3 hour drive from Wiesbaden, and the flight out on Friday mornings is 6:30 AM.  Do yourself a favor and drive down the night before and have some close-enough-to American Burgers at Beef Brothers in Dusseldorf while enjoying their awesome restaurant pedestrian zone.  The atmosphere reminded me of  a Thursday college night.  Then stay the night at Best Deal Airport Hotel, so you can roll out of bed and catch your flight in the morning.  
  2. Rent a car! You will need it to get around this giant island.  We stayed over a four day weekend and only saw the west side of the island.  Our car rental was through the Ryanair website. Super easy, no hassle.  Well the first car had to be returned because we got in the car and the gear shift knob immediately fell off, but after that we got upgraded.  I'll take it!
  3. We stayed at the Grand Bay Beach Resort on the northwest side of the island.  The staff was extremely accommodating.  They upgraded us to one of the two suites that had swim-up pool access, gave us a free mini bar restocked daily, a free 45 min massage, and upgraded our all-inclusive meal status.  Can you believe it?  It finally happened to us!  Couldn't have asked for a better anniversary weekend!  The resort served a traditional Cretan breakfast every morning that was delicious.  Be aware that while this resort is located on the water the beach is filled with rocks, so make sure to get out of the resort and check out the gorgeous beaches of Crete.
  4. Elafonisi beach is a far and treacherous drive.  Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the beach when you get there because you will NOT want to leave.  We also visited Falasarna beach, which was a much easier drive and had gorgeous water as well.  There's still nothing like the pink sand beach.  Make sure you take the trek to Elafonisi!
On to why you come to the blog.  Pictures!  I got a fancy camera for my birthday (thanks, Sam!), so hopefully you'll notice a difference between my old blog posts and my new ones.  Probably not though, because I've only taken a 1 hour course on how to use it.  I'm open to any and ALL suggestions (I'm talking to you Jenn)!  

Blurred out background for the win!

Loved the architecture!

Sitting on our swim-up patio
Our hotel beach!

Elafonisi Beach!

We made it to a pink sand beach!

Couldn't get enough!

Falasarna Beach!

The clearest water ever!

My stud of a husband!

Of course we took the mini bar to the beach...

Trying to be like Murad Osmann

We'll never forget laying on these amazing beaches, sitting under our tiki umbrellas while enjoying drinks and food from the beach huts, and our precious time together.  Here's to three of the most amazing years and many more to come!  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lunging through the Chinque Terre

Cinque Terre means the five lands in Italian.  On the west coast of Italy there are five towns connected by hiking paths.  As we hiked (more like did 1000000 lunges) through these five towns I thought about the five towns I've called home and how they've shaped me.  

Town 1:  I was born in Decatur (Decatur where it's greater). I have a few memories one being the loss of my first dog, getting stung by a bee in my outdoor play tunnel, and of my sister threatening to hit someone who made fun of me with her cast on a walk home from school (I had a lot of hair and bullies loved it). Oh, the things we choose to remember as kids.
Town 2:  Next I moved to Norcross where I went through grade school all the way to high school.  I made great friends, learned independence, and became a young adult. 
Town 3:  I headed off to Athens (GOOOO DAWGS, Sik 'Em).  This is where I learned how to start anew and make friends (even if it took a whole year to meet one of my current best friends who lived on my freshmen dorm hall), learn networking skills, and where i found my passion for research.
Town 4:  That passion lead me to my fourth town Columbus, OH (OH - IO!).  My new affinity for the Big Ten didn't surpass my love for the Bulldogs, but it sure was nice to wear a hoodie instead of heels to a football game (it's too cold for all that cuteness).  This is where I was molded into a scientist and had a twisted love affair with a protein called NOD2 and the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Town 5:  After five years, a PhD, and a new husband, my journey led me to my fifth town Clarksville, TN (Clarksvegas).  We only lived there two years, but it was my first time living in a home, becoming a professional, and my introduction to the Army.  

While the five towns that have shaped me could be hiked to, I don't think I'd ever want to make that journey on foot.  The five towns of the Cinque Terre - Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are only about 7 miles total if the normal hiking trails are all open.  Much more doable.  A few of the connecting trails were closed due to a flood in 2011, so we were lucky enough to be able to hike (more like lung) up into the mountains.  Thank you Nike Training Club App for the many lunges I suffered through in preparation over the past few years.  We hiked up, up, up and over several mountains.  It was a relief each time we made it to a new town.  We celebrated by drinking wine and eating a new Italian appetizer along with taking a few dips in the water.  

  1. We took a late flight out on Ryanair to Pisa.  Stayed overnight in Pisa at Hotel Ariston, and then ate breakfast with the leaning tower as a gorgeous view.  Then walked to the train station to head to the Chinque Terre.  It was about a 2 hour train ride and a pretty decent price.
  2. In the Chinque Terre we stayed in Vernazza at Camere Giuliano. Giuliano is welcoming and hand built all of his rooms (#1 on Trip Advisor as of 9/2014).  The architecture is amazing!
  3. Make sure you check the ferry times if you want to enjoy a relaxing boat ride back to the city you're staying in.  If you're like us and forget, you can always take the train back.
  4. Get to Montorosso early.  The umbrellas on the nice beach are quickly reserved, and you'll feel like beggars going from each company asking if they have a place for you to take off your giant backpack that you just hiked with.  Also, be prepared to pay 25 Euro for two lawn chairs and an umbrella (this was after 1PM).  The beaches are privately owned and there is very little space on the public beach.  
  5. Make sure to buy your ticket early if you are leaving late in the day to catch your flight.  We stood in a long line at the ticket kiosk and almost missed our train.  Why didn't we learn from our trip to Barcelona?

We woke up to this view outside our hotel window!

From our room in Vernazza

Why didn't anyone tell me about pesto lasagna?!?!

Okay, so after stuffing ourselves with Italian seafood and frying like an egg on a rock, which may have lead to getting a bit dehydrated, we called it a night.  We woke up early and started our trek to see each town.

Vernazza --> Corniglia (Regular hike open)

Leaving Vernazza


We deserved this wine and cheese

Corniglia --> Manarola (Alternate hike)

Hiking through vineyards on a mountain


Olive pizza in Italy = whole olives dumped on olive oil covered pizza

Manarola --> Riomaggiore (Alternate hike)

Leaving Manarola


We ended the day soaking up the evening rays

After watching to sun go down while looking at how much land we had covered, we ate some delicious seafood and took the train back to Vernazza.  The next morning we woke up and finally used our backpacks for what they were made for.  What a workout!

Vernazza --> Monterosso (Regular hike open)

Leaving Vernazza

Looking back at the Cinque Terre



What a crazy few days!  This trip was definitely a workout, but we loved the breathtaking views along the way and learning the little quirks of each towns.  If you enjoy hiking and a good workout this trip is for you!  If you don't enjoy hiking or working out this trip is still for you!  There are alternate modes of transportation to get around and see the cute little towns.  Have fun!

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