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March 2018

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I love to travel, and I love to bake, and when those worlds collide is when my own world feels balanced. While in Salzburg, Austria over the summer, my friend Sam and I took a class in making apple strudel, a renowned Austrian treat that might clash with visions of wiener schnitzel, and isn’t the famed sachertorte, but is important to the fabric of the country’s cuisine.

The Edelweiss Cooking School is housed in a cavernous chamber, set in the Mönchsberg Mountain just outside of the Old Town. There are no markers denoting the school, so slipping into the cool room and adjusting my eyes felt like a delicious secret. Our instructor mentioned that this was once someone’s home, which we could see from the bunk bed whose frame still stood in an alcove.

Sam and I met our only other cooking companion, a middle-aged Australian woman who’d come here while her husband and their two friends commenced on a hike that she was overly uninterested in. The three of us, along with our instructor, had a blast. Sam and I set to work on our strudel, while the other woman and our instructor worked on the second. For an hour and a half we chatted, baked, and ate many traditional goodies; and we got to take the remainder of our apple strudel back with us. Silently, we were screaming, Score!

I have loved apple strudel since first coming to Salzburg two years ago, and taking the time to actually learn how to make it–and to do it with our own hands–made the trip here all the cooler. And it’s amazing to work through the process, to see for yourself the dough so seemingly breakable that can hold so much weight inside.

The strudel was way easier to make than you’d think by looking at it, and we were thrown straight into action. The instructor talked us through it in about five minutes and, with a smile and a clasp of her hands, beckoned for us to begin. She encouraged us along with patience and tips for assembling, and assured us of how possible this all was.

You know how Maria von Trapp sings of crisp apple strudels? Yup. That was made very possible.

Apple Strudel – A Quick History

The oldest known recipe of apple strudel, or the German apfelstrudel, hails from the 17th century. It’s a pastry that took shape with the rise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, its dough fashioned after Turkish and Hungarian cuisine, and is one of Austria’s national foods, an oblong filled with an apple-cinnamon-raisin mixture.

How to Make Apple Strudel

The dough was pre-made for us, because it needs to rest for about two hours. All that’s needed is to knead together flour, oil, water, and a pinch of salt, and to let it set.

STEP ONE: PREP THE FILLING

The instructor had already also cut up the apples for us, so we set to mixing the apples, the cinnamon, the sugar, the rum (MMHM!), and the raisins together until everything was evenly combined.

STEP TWO: ROLL AND STRECH THE DOUGH

So we got to sort of try our hand at being those pizza makers you see in cartoons, or in movies who sing in deep baritones and thoughtlessly toss their dough up into the air and catch it precisely. No, it didn’t leave our hands, but I was humming some sort of Italian melody to myself as Sam and I first rolled out the dough, then held it from opposite ends of our square table and used our fists to stretch and thin it out. Apple strudel dough is malleable and relatively hard to break, even thin, so we really worked it into its rectangle.

After rolling it out, we had to cut its rough edges off for that practically perfect shape and lather it in melted butter.

STEP THREE: ASSEMBLE THE STRUDEL

This was the step that worried both of us, because it’s one that you have to just do. We poured the filling mix onto one end of the dough, which was set on top of a floured tea towel spread across the table. Lifting the edge of the towel nearest the mixture, we had to nimbly toss the dough over it, and continue rolling it into tight formation.

“You can do this part,” Sam said to me, taking a step away from the dough. Eyeing the towel and the dough, making sure we were all on the same page, and with the instructor watching eagerly, I tightened my grip on the towel and sent the first roll of dough neatly over.

“That’s it!” The instructor exclaimed. Sam and I each did half of the roll, both of us giddily furling the log of raw pastry to the end. Using extra dough, our instructor made little shapes to put on each of our pastries as badges of identification. We topped it off with another dousing of melted butter.

STEP FOUR: BAKE

At 400 degrees F, bake for about 40 minutes, until it’s golden brown.

The Salzburger Nockerl

Sam and I had only booked the apple strudel making course, but we decided on a whim to upgrade to the full lunchtime class (complete with a goulash soup to start our feast with). Then, we were able to learn how to make Salzburger Nockerl, Salzburg’s answer to the French soufflé and a three-mounded delicacy whose appearance celebrates the three mountains the city is surrounded by. It took less than ten minutes to whip up, ten minutes to bake, and less than three minutes (after giving it a few minutes to cool) to vacuum up.

Using manual rotary hand beaters, we first beat eight egg whites until they were creamy, then added three tablespoons of sugar and continued to beat them for one minute. This is where it became important to be gentle: after adding the egg yolks, we had to use a whisk to fold custard powder and flour in. Following our instructor’s lead, we tilted our bowls and slowly, slowly folded everything together. (The extra emphasis is for me, who tends to over worry and takes extra time for my own assurance it will turn out well.)

We three shared a pan that was greased and based with three dollops of cranberry jam. One at a time and whipping out our trusty spatulas, we each layered our mixtures over the spots of jam, each of us now artists, tongue between teeth, holding our breath, eyes mere inches from our bowls as we said a prayer and watched as fluffy mounds formed on top.

The End Results

We were first treated to goulash soup, another favored Austrian dish. I was forced to activate my second and third stomachs in order to eat the treats we’d made, beginning with the nockerl. I have been obsessed with cranberry jam since this dessert, and was the icing on the cake of this light, vanilla-y dessert. Our mounds sort of became one–a mountain range, if you will. But they were easy to separate exactly.

We dug into the apple strudel next, and my gosh, was it glorious. Flaky, warm, a vision of cinnamon and sugar and apples, I was so proud of Sam and I. We kept turning to each other, nodding with mouths full, unable to speak but knowing exactly what the other meant. We still agree that this was our favorite activity during our travels. To create something traditional to another country, and now to be able to make it for everyone back home, was a really rewarding alternative activity.

Sam and I had apple strudel for breakfast the next couple of days, and the third guest at the school brought her entire strudel.

“Everyone’ll be so excited when they come back to this!” She said before returning into the sunlight to catch the taxi our instructor called for her.

For an alternative to-do, this is your must. And just think: your cooking repertoire will be easily enhanced.

WHERE TO BOOK

You can purchase tickets through their website or through Viator. Sam and I booked on Viator, a site I highly recommend for any sort of activities you may be looking for, and their pricing is slightly better than through the school’s direct site. You can find them here on Facebook for more photos, reviews, and recipes to remember how to make everything you learn!

ADDRESS: Ursulinenplatz 9, Salzburg, Austria

After the door clicks shut, it is dark, save the slit of gray light streaming in dully from the top corner of the room.

This empty silo is shaped like the steeple of a church, or the hull of a boat, but jaggedly cut, and stretches 79 feet high. Between hushed footsteps and a weighted silence comes the distant sound of air swirling. It whooshes and whistles and twirls like ribbon around a spool. It makes the silence all the more noticeable and uneasy, the void oppressive and haunted.

This is the Holocaust Tower, located in the zigzagging complex of the Berlin Jewish Museum. Its architect, American-born Daniel Libeskind, designed it with this emptiness in mind as an homage to the tumultuous German-Jewish history. The freestanding building is primarily underground, needing a lower level passageway to reach the permanent exhibit, and is a perfect representation of Berlin as a city and as a history. I began here while visiting, in the axes that orbited around Jewish people living in Germany between the ’30s and ’40s: the Axis of Exile, the Axis of the Holocaust, and the Axis of Continuity.

The Axes

In a crisscross manner of angled windows and walls, where direction doesn’t seem to exist, it is as disconcerting to maneuver as it is to humanly wrap your head around the heaviness of this history, which saw foundations and developments right in this city. Behind glass sit collections of things. I don’t say things for lack of a better word, or to denounce their worth, but because that’s what most of these preserved pieces of people’s lives are: things. They are ordinary kitchen utensils, family photos, sculptures. They are menorahs and letters. But they breathe with lives that shared in moments, big and small, with them.

The uneven structure demands attention and caution. It is, in a way, the injustices mirrored in the floor plan that also houses everyday treasures of lives affected and, ultimately, desecrated by blind hate.

The Garden of Exile

At the end of the Axis of Exile is a door that leads visitors out to the Garden of Exile, executing the same, uncomfortable disproportion with 49 tilted towers of concrete that rise in strict rows. I tripped in places, and steadied myself in others, trying uselessly to center my balance but knowing, here, there was no such thing. and admired the olive willows that fanned out over the tops of the columns. It is the only place in the museum that creates a perfect square.

It’s similar to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, where the feeling of being in a maze overcomes, and one whose minimalism leaves the most room for reflection and understanding. Even with others around, and colliding at intersections, it hushed and isolated. But the olive willows the bloom above leave room for hope and a tomorrow that climbs above the past.

Cherchez La Femme

While I was there, a new exhibit on the next floor up, Cherchez La Femme, featured. It explored the customs of religions around the world and the controversy regarding headscarves. I’ve never considered that they are a universal tradition, worn by nuns and brides as well as women in the Muslim order, and I was happy to be made aware of that. We are more interconnected as humans than many would like to believe.

There were points made on the contradictory argument about how a woman chooses to dress herself, whether she is wearing “too little” or “too much” clothing, and testimonies through photos and videos of why women decide to wear headscarves, all of which converged at the societal uprising based on independent thought and choice. Displayed were posters from the women’s international marches following Donald Trump’s inauguration, and political cartoons of the xenophobia that has seized people globally.

I think a lot about how we are living in a juncture of history being made (seemingly) daily, and always right before our eyes. We are witnesses of the present, and bearers of the past for the future. Being surrounded by contemporary cultural and social protests, their influence on display in a museum, was and remains surreal. To look at it is to see the now, and the ghosts of eras gone, as they bleed together. But the exhibit reclaimed female identity and empowerment: it not only educated, but revived.

The Shalekhet Installation

Within the museum’s Memory Void is the Shalekhet installation, also called Fallen Leaves. Over ten-thousand open-mouthed faces, carved from iron plates, lay piled on top of one another and spread into an expanse of darkness. They symbolize the innocents victimized by violence and war, maybe scattered along the floor for that state of vulnerability. If you made a noise, it would bounce between the walls, settle into metallic faces, and return to somberness.

The Permanent Exhibit

Upstairs is centuries’ worth of Jewish history and tradition as people migrated through Europe. At the top landing, a set of stairs runs into a white wall, the story incomplete and, despite the cycle of oppression and intolerance, continuous.

A wish tree greeted me at the entrance, where a concealed staircase allows visitors to climb up among the branches and, finding a red balloon and pencil below, hung a wish of my own in the leaves.

Traditions of bah mitzvahs and Chanukah, tales of designers and artists, and various artifacts from the Holocaust took me through the religion and the tragedy–a bookend, in a sense.

I loved immersion in a religion that I really didn’t know much about at all before visiting. Most of my knowledge stems from history classes, but only those delved into the Holocaust. The context of the faith holds so much more importance to me now, and to understand their customs was a beautiful revelation.

The Berlin Jewish Museum

Lindenstraße 9-14

You can purchase tickets to the Berlin Jewish Museum here. I recommend reserving about 3 hours of your day to this museum, but if you have longer, certainly there is plenty to see here that you can satisfyingly stay longer. If I’d had another day, I would have gone back again.

Directions that best suit your route to the museum can be found here.

The Berlin Jewish Museum is, by far, my favorite thing that I did while in Berlin, and I can’t wait to pay a return visit.

Have you been the Berlin Jewish Museum?

On the southwestern coats of Ireland lies a seaside town with a dolphin-in-residence and one set of stoplights. Dingle is unassuming on first glance, but, like a charm, it wraps you around its finger and exudes an unmistakable warmth and unique flavor. “You’ve decided to stay in the real Ireland, as we like to say,” my driver into town said, a playful crease around his eyes. Even in the darkness cloaking the views, I could make out the defined rise and fall of its rolling sentinels of shelter. I glimpsed the town and, suddenly, we were driving away, shrouded again in the darkness as we pulled up to my hostel.

The splendor of Dingle is born out of its hideaway nature. Built precariously on the westernmost point of Europe, it suffers from more rainfall than really any other region of Ireland but, in return, is rooted in exaltations of mountain and valley, of the wild Atlantic Ocean, of small-town glory. The local craic intangibly pulsates through its rounded streets of corner shops and pastel exteriors. And they have been labeled Ireland’s number one foodie town. What sort of marriage of elements could be better than this?

Two days in Dingle is the magic number–long enough to soak in its vivaciousness, short enough to remember you’ll be back. Here’s a breakdown of my suggestions for how to spend them.

Getting Here

Renting a car would be the easiest way to get here. If you’re unable to do that, book a flight into Kerry Airport and hire a shuttle straight to Dingle. It isn’t the cheapest option, but it saves a lot of time. Visit their site here to contact for price quotes.

Where to Stay

The Rainbow Hostel, a 15 minute walk outside of town, was reminiscent of summer cottages in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I arrived on a Thursday night, the hostel’s open mic night, and waited to check in while a group of four sat around a table conversing with their guitars and renditions of Beatles songs. It smelled like a winter night, a fire crackling in the corner, and my pillow and bed were criminally comfortable.

Typically, hostels are cheaper than their B&B counterparts and the experience reflects that. But I was pleasantly surprised to be in a hostel that was so cozy and so unlike other hostels I had been in. I was in a 6-bed female dorm with a cast of characters that changed nearly every night, and all of the guests forged a lively, tiny community I was happy to share in. There was always a buzz whenever I was coming or going, and the hosts were so welcoming. I ran into one of them downtown and he suggested a few things to do over the rest of the afternoon. Would absolutely stay again.

Reserve a bed here.

What to Do

Cycle Slea Head

I came to Dingle for this specifically, which found me lying on my bed at the hostel, coat and shoes still on, for thirty minutes before I could gather the strength to put my pajamas on. But it ranks as one of my favorite experiences ever (outerwear and all). You can read my tips here on preparing for this long and stunning ride.

See Fungie the Dolphin

She dives among the waves and swims beside sightseeing tour boats out to see her. She’s Fungie, Dingle’s unofficial mascot and beloved phenomenon. While I was there, nearly everyone I talked to, including the co-owner of the Rainbow Hostel, asked if I had seen. “You have to!” They’d exclaim when I said I hadn’t yet. I did, indeed, see her cheekily poke out a couple of times.

Now I am giving you the same demand: Go see Fungie. To get to her, you’ll find a lovely walk parallel to the beach that starts on a side street lined with houses. It looks like it can’t be correct, but it is. Eventually, the land will open up and there, the closet to Narnia can be found in a set of steep stone steps. (Say that ten times fast.) And once you get to the end of the line, a craggy cliffside with stones that double as thrones, sit back and wait for her to appear. Even if you miss her, the distanced view of Dingle is unbeatable.

Visit An Díesart

I found Dingle’s spiritual and cultural center on Google, and decided on a whim to go. Showcased here is revered stained-glass artist Harry Clarke, twelve of whose works are set in a small chapel. They are seriously gorgeous, huge, and hushing. Upstairs are floor-to-ceiling murals that share the story of Nano Nagle, a wealthy Catholic woman who devoted her life to educating poor children and founded Ireland’s first convent in 1777. As the Penal Laws enacted at the time disallowed Catholic practices, she formed hedge (secret) schools and was referred to as “The Lady of the Lantern.” Religious or no, the center is a pocket of Irish history with intriguing contents. The gardens around the back are a must-see, too.

Go to the Dingle Farmers’ Market

On Fridays from 9am-3pm, the Dingle Farm Produce and Craft Market is set up at Holyground with an assortment of vendors. Take your pick from organic fruits and vegetables, fresh pastries and baked goods, cheese, beeswax products, or crepes, and peruse the stalls of handmade crafts. I purchased a couple of signs refashioned out of roof shingles found in Dingle, and purchased a rockin’ quiche. Sit at one of their long plastic tables set up between booths before another few laps around.

Walk around downtown

Because:

I went in for an Irish coffee. It was serendipity.

Where to Eat

Danno’s

Enter through the white and blue archway that leads you into a small courtyard, all of it reminiscent of a Santorini, Greece I have yet to see, and adjust your eyes to the dim setting at Danno’s. They sell the classic burger, sandwich, and seafood dishes. I thought I was going in for a sandwich, but something in my brain was hardwired for their homemade cheeseburger, and the words were out of my mouth before the waitress could ask what I wanted. None of the food pictured below lasted long.

Tree House Cafe

Off of Main Street is this little gem, with its selection of sandwiches, soups, and pastries. The orange hues and patter of chatter made it a really chill spot. I succumbed to their carrot and coriander soup, with a slice of brown soda bread on the side.

Harrington’s

At first, I was only here for the fried Mars bar my writing professor in Dublin recommended. However, a starter (dessert is the main attraction for me, always) of fish and chips now goes down in my book as some of the best. Brightly lit with playful pastels, and serving take away as well as in-house dining, Harrington’s caters to both location and locals.

And the fried Mars bar? Lick-the-plate-clean fantastic. I unabashedly scraped every last bit up with my spoon to savor it.

Murphy’s Ice Cream

Originating in Dingle, Murphy’s homemade ice cream is straight from the cow, it’s so creamy. Pine after their many tempting options, from 2-scoop cones to one of their magical sundaes. My favorites are Kieran’s Cookies and Irish Coffee which, yup, you can taste the whiskey. The flavor even has a small disclosure listed under it.

Equally important: they have locations in Dublin and Killarney. Major score.

So there you go! For a quintessential Irish escape, Dingle is the place to be.

Have you been to Dingle? What are your favorite spots?

Cyclists near and far, beginner and intermediate, this one’s for you.

I’m an amateur rider at best, having spent a summer learning how to confidently bike from my home in Everett, Massachusetts to downtown Boston in order to feel secure in cycling through Dublin for four months. When I arrived, the left lane driving and bike paths that wound in and around traffic shattered any stitch of self-assurance I’d previously had, and settled on renting bikes here and there. But I am a fervent lover of the mode, and it is probably my favorite way to see the world.

Along the Dingle Peninsula is the Slea Head Drive, a roughly 30-mile loop with views that still give me shivers to think about. Rugged, green, dramatic in its shifting landscapes, it  is one of the country’s most spectacular scenes. The way the road ribbons around the coast, formations of rock rising on one side and out of the ocean, which rolls and explodes below, is exquisite and truly a wonder. It passes through villages, around mountainous bends, and eventually, lands you back in lovely Dingle. I spent two days there for a weekend solo in mid September and was immediately caught under the spell of its mystique. It was an opportunity to stretch my legs without the fear of upsetting the rules of the urban road.

My arse was sore for a week (yes, the aches wore off after seven whole days) but it was worth it.

I would go back again and again because the land beckons like a harmless siren. It frees you; the hours spent alone on a bicycle among nature’s bounty gave me the space to unload my mind and to reflect on the the moments I was creating. Slea Head is surprising, daunting, and in its total glory. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the following beforehand. #unsavinessatitsfinest But I definitely learned them along the way. Here are some tips for your cycling trip!

Pack plenty of water and snacks

This one should be obvious for a long ride, and a slightly challenging one at that, but it wasn’t obvious to me. I didn’t have enough (read: really any) of either with me, which made the final leg of the ride difficult, and then even more difficult because I was grumbling and considering hitchhiking and kicking myself for not being in a better mood. Save yourself the hanger and a parched throat with granola bars, fruit, and 1-2 bottles of water.

Clock in early the night before

Dingle’s pub’s doorways pour into the streets with trad music, but don’t let them tempt you for too long. Even if you don’t start the ride until the late morning or early afternoon, you’ll want to go forth with a clear head and rejuvenated body. Dingle is a nice town in itself to ride around if you so choose before or after your ride.

Check the weather (and dress appropriately)

But remember where you are. Ireland isn’t as rainy as it’s made to seem; really, the country sees showers and the occasional spitting of rain, but the skies can (and will) clear just as quickly. And then cover up the blue again. It’s a rhythm that you have to be prepared for. Pack a rain jacket, wear sturdy shoes, and expect that you’ll go from chilly to hot to chilly–perfectly in time with the clouds.

*The above photos were taken on the same horizon within 10 seconds of each other. It was like the ocean had split in two and here I was, standing in the middle of polar opposite forecasts.*

Allow 5-6 hours and no bike lanes

In total, it took me about five and a half hours to return to Dingle, with numerous stops and a handful of bike-walking breaks. The terrain won’t let you just zip over it, and anyways, why would you? Arduous and jaw-dropping all in one, Slea Head is an entire day’s trip. And so worth that pint you’ll be craving afterwards.

The loop is also rather quiet, meaning you won’t have to worry about too many drivers honking at or skirting around you. There are no bike lanes, so you have to cycle either in the road or, when prompted, on the edge of the broken yellow lines and the shrubbery. It’s probably best this way, though. Once in a while I joined their prickly ranks, but generally speaking, you can burn rubber in stress-free solitude.

…And traffic jams

Because it gets narrow. The excitement of watching a tour bus make it through the twisty-turvy road is priceless.

Rent from Paddy’s Bike Shop

For €15 a day, you can rent a bike from Paddy’s, which includes a key, a lock, and a map. Visit their site here to see their rental options.

Keep on the straight and narrow

The road hugging the water is one straight shoot. The further inland you trail, the more breaks in the road you find, and the more you second guess your direction. Signs do crop up, not regularly, which is a good sign; if you haven’t seen anything directing you towards the next right, you’re good to keep on going where you are. It’s like the when in doubt, choose C rule: when in panic mode, go straight. Odds are you’ll see a sign shortly thereafter that sets your breathing back to normal.

Stop frequently, and cycle leisurely

I said it once and I’ll say it again: stop frequently, and don’t rush. This is a journey that demands your full attention, that you will fall in love with, that wants to and almost definitely will recharge your soul. With sights like this hard to come by, don’t squander the opportunity to just stop along a wooden fence and admire the view. Watch cows and sheep meander through their fields, enjoy wind-torn hair and the ocean air, and take pride in this adventure.

Cycling Slea Head is, to date, one of the most thrilling adventures I’ve had and one I intend to conquer again. Because that’s what you do, you and your trusty bike: you conquer the ride.

Still, nature claims its total victory.

I hope these tips helped! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Happy spring! It is far from the season here, as we’re expecting more snow today. *face palm* I thought that I would start an Ireland series here, because I am SO excitedly returning to visit my sister, Kaylee, as she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester. We both are now honorary Champlain College students, and both Champlain Dublin alum who are going to join in the program’s 10-year anniversary celebrations in Burlington, VT early this coming June. As Ireland is on my mind nearly all the time these days, I’m here to continue to spread the love I have for that country.

This is around the time of year people, mainly college students and recent grads, embark on a new, Great Big Adventure that includes backpacking across Europe or simply solo travel. Dublin is an ideal place to spend time alone; here’s why.

It’s easy to navigate.

Dublin is a walkable city, meaning you don’t have to concern yourself with the public transportation system. It’s contained for the most part, and there are plenty of landmarks (the River Liffey, St. Stephen’s Green, Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College, the Spire) to keep you on the right track and that serve as excellent points of reference. No, street signs aren’t always noticeable; but a map will get you where you need. If not, as for directions.

The Irish are friendly people.

Which is to say, they are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. You’ll find camaraderie in pubs, in the park, on the street asking for directions. Irish people love to chat, and will befriend you instantaneously.

 

It is a safe and welcoming environment.

You probably don’t want to hang around Temple Bar at 2am on a Saturday alone, but then, where would you feel safe doing that anyways? Dublin proper doesn’t give you many reasons to believe you are in danger, considering pickpocketing isn’t a major issue, and people are pretty genuine. I spent an evening in pubs with an older gentleman who I got to talking to, who engaged me in wonderful conversation, and who I bid goodbye and promised I would be fine getting back to my AirBnb alone. I didn’t feel threatened by him at all, but I know my comfort level. Like I said, the Irish love to make new friends, and the whole country wraps you up in its people’s true warmth.

 

It’s a great place to set your own pace.

Dublin is dazzling in historic charm, between its museums, Georgian homes, and scones (Queen of Tarts, you guys). It’s also very laid back, and you’ll want time to see it all on your own schedule. Don’t follow a timetable; have an idea for what you’d like to do, but know that a burrito joint (Burritos and Blues) might catch your eye and you’ll have to wait until later to visit that museum. It’s okay. Whatever you decide will give you a good sense of both city and local culture. That’s the best way to see it.

Dublin is a meditative, homey escape.

The calming energy you’ll find here is exceptional, and with every passing hour you’ll feel less like a tourist and more like you’re at home. It’s somewhere that demands you sit with a cup of tea, some Butler’s hot chocolate, and/or said scone in one of Dublin’s parks or green spaces and people watch. Or read. Or walk and drink in the vision of beauty that this city is. Though it’s a metropolis, there is a huge element of quiet, of thoughtfulness, of peace that contrasts its business. It’s not an island retreat, but it provides retreat nonetheless. And probably some of the best rejuvenation there is.

Have you ever traveled to Dublin solo?

Lin Manuel Miranda’s March Hamildrop, a collaboration with Ben Platt/Dear Evan Hansen, was released with perfect timing this morning. It comes just before the March For Our Lives this weekend, and a portion of the proceeds from the song “Found/Tonight” will support the march. And in the light of national crises we have born witness, we’ve been needing this sort of art to carry the fight forward. Like they say in the mash up, “The morning is breaking, and all is new.” The collaboration is sheer brilliance, and hopefully its reach will be tenfold.

We are living at a time where history is happening around us daily.

This is an era that will be studied by my future children, that will reign as one of the most turbulent periods in American history, that is a horrifying wake-up call we have been given the task of standing up to. I can’t say it enough how much I wish this weren’t where we found ourselves; but at the same time, it is empowering to live in such revolutionary times. It’s inspiring to have witnessed the stirrings of another American revolution, exposing the deep cracks in our foundations and using status, creative work, and simply voice to put an end to the terror.

Because it is a terror, how blinded this country has been to its problems.

This collaboration features “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen and “The Story of Tonight” from Hamilton, with a sprinkling of lines from other songs in each show. Ben Platt and Lin Manuel Miranda begin with verses from one another’s shows, the first line coming from Platt, who sings, “We may not yet have reached our glory, but we will gladly join the fight.” Miranda chimes in with, “Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?” The two then weave in and out of the two show’s narratives that so perfectly blend in message and relevance.

There is this fantastic juxtaposition that rises out of the songs, between two sorts of empowerment: out of remaining engaged and passionate for your beliefs and values, and out of leaning on others for support, knowing that there are always going to be others out there to lift you up and keep your fight alive. In reoccurring line in the mash up, Platt and Miranda sing, “And when our children tell their story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.” It encourages these voices to be heard, especially now, when a group led by high school students are directly facing government and NRA officials.

Anyone, anyoneANYONE, can change the world.

Art is the greatest mirror of the human condition. It is the best expression of pain, of happiness, of all the emotions in between and those that have no name but that, through art, are described and given new life. Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen have found extreme popularity on Broadway, and in pop culture for younger generations. They both arrived to the scene at a time when the country and, specifically, the generations of tomorrow, needed them most.

And together, they are a thunderstorm of power: Hamilton, where “The Story of Tonight” is sung by young revolutionaries when the New World was just a dream; and Dear Evan Hansen, whose “You Will Be Found” speaks to the high school, pubescent period of life and reminds us that, no matter how alone we may feel, we aren’t. These shows were physically written in the same era, but their stories span centuries; still, they share in the necessity of continuing forward. Unlike after mass shootings before Parkland, the issue of gun violence will not be ignored like this time.

“Found/Tonight” is the musical version of keeping that torch alive, for all who have been affected. Like they sing, “It’s only a matter of time.”

Here it is.

“Yo. Want to give us a lift?” Sam directed her question at a black car that drove past us, the driver barely glancing at two very red-faced girls sweating through their dresses, sitting/leaning against uneven rocks, and balancing slices of warm cheese and meats and grapes on our laps.

“This cheese is probably still good, right?” I asked, holding a slice and sniffing it as it drooped sadly over my fingers. We had only just bought it that morning, but it had been a victim of the staunch heat for probably an hour and a half by then. I ate two and a half slices.

I suggested Hohenwerfen Castle as a half day trip for us to embark on.

It had popped up in numerous searches I’d done for day trips outside of Salzburg, Austria, and stands among mountains that reach higher peaks the further out of the city you get. They also had a falconry exhibit, which wasn’t what really stirred my blood, but would be awesome to see. We thought we’d picnic on the grounds, enjoy the sights, and be intimidated by those creatures.

To get there, we took a 45-minute train to Werfen, and, as the castle website says, “A shady footpath takes you from the station directly to the adventure castle, which takes around half an hour.” We swiftly passed through spacious villages, through wilderness and mountains. There was no air conditioning on the train, so we kept our window open and relished in the harsh and howling wind pushed through.

A small sign outside of the Werfen train stop denoted Hohenwerfen Castle’s entrance location, and pointed to our right. We crossed the river slicing the town, and as we began walking my mountain-loving blood couldn’t contain itself, at points me exclaiming about the sheer glory we were in.

Maybe because it was hot, or because we weren’t actually sure we were going the right way–the fortress was perched precariously above us, and we headed for it, but the closer we got, the farther away it appeared–but the shady footpath felt a lot longer than that. So we found ourselves gasping (not really, but the drama of the word adds some oomph) for a breeze and some shade, one of which we sort of found.

There was a clearing that hugged rocky skyscrapers ahead, and, now dragging our feet underneath us, agreed to stop to rejuvenate with lunch. A number of cars zoomed by, and each time we desperately, jokingly, begged whoever would listen to take us, anywhere by then. Just out of the blazing sun. Two very pale, very sunburn and freckle-prone women shouldn’t be left exposed like that.

Our lunch was warm, though very tasty, and I popped grapes into my mouth like I were serving a Roman emperor. It gave us the burst we thought we needed to finish what little we probably had left.

But it wasn’t even the end of the walk. It was the end of Part 1. Part 2 was a more shaded uphill climb. Part 3 was along the highway.

Our other option was a scenic wooded hike. “Are you down?” I asked Sam. My legs burned just at the thought.

A breakdown-lane footpath. That’s where we found ourselves, naked to the eye of the sun, working our calves as we walked up, up, up, our torsos reaching ahead of our lower bodies and demanding our feet keep up.

It was a slight bout of misery. The area was the saving grace, making us push ahead. For a bit, I was a few feet ahead of Sam, and we were yelling complaints back and forth to one another. We passed a sign that listed Salzburg and the kilometers between us and the city, and Sam declared, “At this rate, we can walk all the way back!” Given that we had to take this route back to the train, we basically had.

I don’t remember at which point we came upon the parking site, just that when we had I was simultaneously thinking that I would probably have a crooked back  from carrying a tote bag with cameras, my journal, and other various necessities, on top of back problems I already had. Then we cheered and tried to forget that we had to do this again.

A two minute cable car lift carried us up to the fortress, and we just made the next guided tour. It was done with an audio guide, leading us through the small but secure castle. This felt less regal than the Hohensalzburg Fortress, but not less important. It is a region of villages and countryside, the castle built in a market town, a slower-paced alternative that I can get behind. Austria and Germany are very similar, and though, as I’ve said, I don’t have much experience in Germany, this felt like a very Austrian place. Like a quick drive to ski down those mountains or eat some hearty schnitzel.

I also love being in Austria because I don’t know much about it besides where I’ve been.

As an avid history lover, there’s a fair amount of knowledge I could spout about at least five other European nations, not to mention some Asian countries and the whole of America. But I’ve never taken classes that delve into the history of Austria. Once a stronghold in a European empire, and with impressive fortresses like this, how could it not have things to share about itself?

Hohenwerfen castle’s history spans a century, fashioned as a jail for Protestants and peasant rioters and as the home of Archduke Johann. The jail was surrounded by plaster walls that were four meters thick, and with a nine meter long drop down to a dark cell, where most prisoners either went blind or mad. A pitch here, where hot liquid would be dropped from, gave rise to the German phrase “to have a pitch,” or to have bad luck, for the unfortunate souls caught in the fire.

The falcons were caged outside, in an enclosed outdoor section of the fortress, and I paused to admire their huge presence and even larger wingspan. Hohenwerfen eventually became a hunting base and an army training camp, fitting for a place that didn’t concern itself with formalities. Maybe being so encumbered with this terrain was altogether humbling and eye-opening enough that people reflected on things differently.

We were brought up to the bell tower to tear up at 360 degree views of the river and houses below, the mountains from every direction that traveled on seemingly forever. It truly looked like a painting; and it was so windy in there I felt like I was at an all-immersive museum, looking at a work of art as the effects of what it felt like for the artist to actually paint it swirled around me.

 

I remember thinking that this had been worth the climb.

And on the way down, each stuffed with a slice of Sachertorte cake, I almost forgot how the sun had earlier been a menace.

Would you visit Werfen?

James Taylor knew what he was talking about. Except instead of sunshine and moonshine, I can see the flourishing clouds covering and uncovering the sky and feel the drunken ecstasy.

The mountains are one of my favorite things in the entire world, and though Ireland isn’t mountainous, per se, the terrain is rugged and craggy and, of course, green. Strung with valleys that cater off into the distance, and sheep that dot the landscape, it is a storybook fantasy come alive.

While in Galway, Sam and I booked a tour through the Connemara Valley with Viator, an eight-hour bus ride with stops at Kylemore Abbey, Ross Errilly Friary, the town of Cong, Lough Corrib, and Loch Na Fooey. Since neither of us was prepared to rent a car and try our hand at navigation, and Viator is highly rated, we went for it.

Worth it.

Our tour began at the bus station in Galway City, and Sam and I boarded around 9:30 with cups of Butler’s hot chocolate and porridge/yogurt items. If I can side note this for a second, I would like to say that Butler’s hot chocolate is everything your chocolate-craving mind could ever want. It’s so rich, it’s basically melted chocolate. You know how most times, hot chocolate is the best at the bottom, where the deep flavors pool up and give actual meaning to saving the best for last? That’s Butler’s, but all the way through. Yes. I know.

We were slightly sickly full from the drink, neither of us able to finish our small cups, but promptly at 10 our driver, Mike D., as he had introduced himself, pulled away from the sidewalk. He kept us entertained all day, cracking jokes about how the Irish eat their potatoes and informing us of the (real estate-prime) lands that cannot be built on.

Our first outing was at Lough Inagh, an hour into the trip, where it was spitting rain. We marched along the squelching earth along with everyone on the bus, mirroring the army of sheep that kept their distance.

From there, Mike D. went over our options for Kylemore Abbey, the next stop on our itinerary. We could either receive our ticket from him on the bus and pay him with cash, or purchase a ticket with the group rate inside with card. We could either begin at the gardens, which we would take a shuttle to, or to the home and chapel’s grounds. Sam and I handed our eight euros over to Mike D. on our way out, hit the restroom, gawked at the sight of the abbey rising almost naturally from the ground, and waited in line for the shuttle to the gardens.

Kylemore Abbey was designed in the late 1860s by Mitchell Henry, as a gift to his wife Margaret. This was a token of Mitchell’s affection for his beloved, and probably the most romantic gesture I’ve ever witnessed. An estate nestled into a valley, seemingly built by fairies, and literally jumping out of the pages of a Victorian novel, Kylemore Abbey is a dreamscape, just in the way it was meant to be. Add in the colorful legends of the land and you’ve got yourself a fairy tale to end all fairy tales.

When Margaret fell ill and passed away, her bereaved husband built a Gothic church in her honor and remained on the estate until 1903, where he sold it to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester. In 1923 it was opened as a benedictine and remained an operating boarding school until 2010.

The clouds that hung over the estate were a piece of the story, making it even more magical and exposition-worthy.

Sam and I went to the perfectly manicured Victorian walled gardens first. It was stunning neatness, secretive and surrounded by the mountains drenched in light fog.

Just outside the walls stand 10,000 oak and ash trees planted by the Benedictine community here in a reforestation effort.

Guests can also sponsor a tree here to contribute to their initial work. And Kylemore is derived from the Gaelic coill mor, meaning big wood that was found on the north side of the area’s lake.

And after touring the few rooms open to the public at the estate, we followed the road down to the Gothic chapel, featuring the Ironing Stone where children can make a wish and sculpted giant’s fingers crawling out of the earth.

We were allotted two hours at the abbey, which was the ideal amount of time to explore without feeling rushed. Sam and I stopped at the Tea House by the walled gardens for scones and protection from the sudden onslaught of rain as we waited for the shuttle back.

Back on the bus, Mike D. led us further into Connemara:

Killary Fjord

The only salt water carrier we’d pass and the place where the sun burst out from behind the clouds with gusto. It was like some god was looking down on us, knowing we were stepping into a trap of glory, and said, “let there be sunlight.” The view was a poem, verses as valleys and refrains in the lake’s stillness. I still look at my photos and immediately lose my jaw.

These photos were taken not five minutes later. This, my loves, is the glory of Ireland.

Sam caught me clicking my heels in the air, but I think this photo is a more accurate celebration of my awe.

Cong, Ireland

For 45 minutes, we spent leisure time in Cong, the filming location of The Quiet Man. It is a quintessential Irish town in its pastel buildings, quiet shops, and remains of a monastery all living in harmony. The walkability is a lovely plus.

Ross Errilly Friary

The final leg of the tour went to Ross Errilly Friary, one of the country’s best-preserved medieval monastic sites. There was time here, too, to sit, to admire the cows roaming the land, to climb up the ruins, to weave through rooms-turned-burial grounds and apologize to the remains of people you are walking all over.

I followed someone up around this set of ruins, and was kept up there like a Rapunzel whose Mother Gothel liked to live on the edge by a boy who decided to sit and relax right by the makeshift stairs back down.

And we were so excited about this threshold! The perfect size for Sam, and making me feel slightly like a giant! I banged my head off of it after picking up the comb that fell from my bag (and, as Sam said: you know we’re best friends because while other people looked on and called out to see if I was okay, Sam was doubled over laughing.)

The day was long, but it was an excellent way of seeing Connemara. The drive was enough to keep us enthralled, staring out the window for hours, and every stop was like another slice of cake granted to me. I loved being handed information and exploring knowingly, and the timing of everything was right on.

Since then, I’ve been squirreling away my money to share in the cost of a Connemara estate with my eventual Prince Charming. See you there in twenty five years.

Booking Information

Visit Viator to book your Connemara Day Trip from Galway. Prices range from $30-40 USD. Tours leave from the Galway Coach Station at 10 am and return at 6 pm.

I hope you’ll tour with this group!

 

 

I love Dublin. Which many of you already know. I’m currently tapping my fingers rapidly against the keyboard, hoping to drum up some new way of writing out my love for the city, but I keep coming back to the word home. There’s a low key wonder to Dublin, not asking of itself and only presenting its heart on its sleeve. My memories there are encased in a halo of buttery yellow, because it’s just so dang lovely in sights and manner. I always felt safe and happy there. I feel safe and happy when I return to moments spent there, as you may have read in my post here about returning over the summer.

Dublin is historic, quirky, youthful, delectable, clever, and undoubtedly gorgeous. It is the sweet and the sour, a juxtaposition of past and future, and in many ways a boundless determination to linger in this balance. These photos don’t capture it fully, which is like Dublin itself: pleasantly complex.

Champlain College, Dublin, where I studied in the fall of 2015.

Sometimes, the best method of persuasion is through visuals. I hope these photos inspire your trip to Dublin!

One night in October or November of 2017, my best friend Sam was sleeping over and we began talking travel. I was in the hypothetical phase of a trip to Europe in the coming summer to celebrate my graduation from college, and as the thought cropped up we laughingly sighed, “What if we just go to Europe this summer?”

Then we looked at each other, a serious glint in our eyes.

What if we just go to Europe this summer?”

This time, planning a trip as a passably-fledged 21/22 year old adult and with my best friend was exciting. It was one of the saving graces of my final semester, taking (too long) breaks in between writer’s block while working on my thesis and exploring the endless possibilities that lay ahead. I decided on one week solo, and then Sam would meet me in Ireland, where we would begin two and a half weeks of silly, thrilling, cider-filled adventures. It was another milestone to put in the friendship books, featuring a rainbow of gel pens and shiny gold stickers.

We were in Ireland for 10 days, eating our weight in scones, listening to trad music and bubbling over with a happiness that truly couldn’t be contained (resulting in some tipsy, loud remarks about how we wouldn’t be leaving the country), feeling humbled by the hills and valleys and water like glass that filled our sights, and running into Americans who swore Titanic was actually pronounced Titantic.

Sam and I split our time between Dublin and Galway, the urban and the removed, all charm.

From Dublin, we hopped on an already packed coach bus to Galway, sitting across from each other and popping our earbuds in for the ride. When we were deposited at the bus station two and a half hours later, on the edge of Galway city, I accessed the public WiFi and took screenshots of the directions to get to our AirBnb, arriving by the 409 bus.

Before that, though, I went to the restroom, which charged 20 cents to use, and required you to pass through a turnstile that turned against the flow of bathroom users. A cluster of people who had just gotten off of their buses was growing, all of us milling around for a second confusedly as one, then another person, pushed to no avail. So I stuck my 20 cents in, pulled the bar towards me, and shimmied around it to get in.

About twenty minutes later, we were on the 409 bus, studying the ten or so screenshots of our route and, where it only vaguely noted we had twenty stops before ours, counted down those being rung.

“Twenty,” we began to chant quietly.

“Nineteen.”

“Eighteen.”

The problem became that stops weren’t being called out, or listed on a digital scroll above the seats, so we didn’t have an accurate tally.

“Okay, this must be sixteen,” One of us said.

“Or is it fourteen?” The other asked hesitantly.

“Shit.”

Sam realized that the bus had WiFi, and once I logged in and plugged our information in, Google kindly informed me that we had missed our stop and were about a twenty minute walk to our lodging. (Twenty is probably not my best number. Good year of life, bad number.)

Immediately we rung the button for the next stop, grabbed our luggage from the designated storage right by the door, thanked the driver, and hopped out. I had quickly taken more screenshots, these even more vague than the last ones, and we stood stranded for a moment.

“Um. I think we go this way?” I suggested, pointing to the way we had come from. We were in a bustling spot, a main drag with rotaries and traffic lights that went red after maybe ten minutes of said traffic had zipped through.

Ireland doesn’t like signposts.

Street names are usually denoted on a small sign placed on a low wall, or, in city centers, high up on corner buildings or just not at all. We took estimated guesses as to where we should go, putting to use the sense of direction I inherited from my dad, backtracking the route of the bus and turning off onto a slightly inclined street that I cross-examined between the two sets of screenshots. It looked like it could fit the bill.

Both of us looked confused enough to attract the attention of a girl about our age, who noticed us either from across the street or who was quickly approaching from behind as we, probably stopped, were staring futilely at directions that simply said, “Turn left onto the road. Continue up the road for 340 meters. Merge onto the destination road. Arrive.”

We didn’t even know if we were on the right road.

“Are ye’s lost?” She asked a yard away.

“Yes,” I sighed gratefully, giving her the address and shoving the bare directions that we had at her. We were, indeed, headed the right way; it would be on our left.

Sam and I arrive shortly after that, once we had stopped to confirm with a neighbor tending to his lawn that the address was around these parts. Our suitcases vomited some of their contents, which we pretended was unpacking, and flipped through the pile of snacks, maps, and guides that our lovely host left for us.

When we were content with our “settled” state, Sam and I decided to head into Galway City for dinner. With the hopes of getting it right this time, we heeded the advice of our host, and the internet, to take the 403 bus that picked up right down the road from us. Since Ireland drives on the left side, we waited at the bus stop opposite our AirBnb, since that was the direction they would head into town. Right?

Wrong. The bus came relatively quickly, and we found seats in the front row of the second level to slide into. At the bottom of the street, the bus veered left, back towards the highway-like area we had mistakenly found ourselves only an hour before, and at the rotary continued up the road parallel to our AirBnb.

Sam and I looked at each other and didn’t bother containing our laughter.

“Where are we going?”

“Who knows!” We giggled.

The bus did get us to the city center, but in a very roundabout way. It returned to the bus stop that we had decided not to wait at, the one on the same side of the road as our stay, and we made a note to throw logic to the wind and get on at that stop for the rest of our time. But it was an industrially scenic extra ten minutes we were given, and that, contrasting with the imagery of Ireland’s west coast being so rural, so green, so not this picture of industry that we were seeing. And I loved it.

In Galway City, we sat outside in the cooling evening, along the main, medieval street, blankets across our laps and pizza steaming on the table in front of us. The street hums with people coming in and out of restaurants, potential eaters perusing the menus listed outside front doors, street performers and band members preparing for that night’s set. At Trattoria Magnetti, I sung the praises of my carbonara pizza and Sam relished the margarita.

We decided to walk around a bit, two buzzes along with that evening hum, and on our way back to catch the bus, stopped at the only store open, a small Tesco’s where we each decided to buy a sleeve of digestive cookies. They looked tasty, their bottoms coated in rich chocolate. While abroad two years ago, I’d always seen them, but never tried them. Why? I kept asking myself from that night. Why would I do that?

It began to rain while we stood at the bus stop, but we didn’t care. We tightened the hoods around our faces, did a jig over the cookies in our hands, the warmness in our stomachs, and the lightness in our hearts. We knew our way back.

The thing about getting lost is that you’ll regain your footing. Even when directions are vague, or cities/countries don’t indicate streets with signs, or you just don’t know where the hell you are or what you’re doing there (in cases like this, specifically). It’s okay not to know it all. Or, purchase an international plan if you’d feel safer doing that. But that ruins some of the “it’s kind of out of my hands but I’ll get back eventually” humor. Sometimes, it’s just really fun to end up at the wrong stop. It’s even more fun when you’re sitting with your best friend, replaying the day while eating through a roll of dark chocolate digestive cookies, and savoring the way the late June light over Ireland lingers past 9 pm.

Cheers to detours!