Incredible Ireland

When my close friend from McGill Brianna Miller was named to the 2017 World Cup Squad, I knew I had to go. She would be playing alongside many of my other friends and past teammates in the most important tournament in women’s rugby…that seemed like a once in a lifetime travel opportunity I couldn’t pass up. To make matters even better, the tournament would be held in Ireland!

I played in my own semi-final rugby match on Saturday afternoon before rushing home to shower and hop in an uber to the airport. I flew overnight with a quick stop in Iceland before landing in Dublin at 10AM. I headed straight to our Airbnb to meet up with my travel compadres—Elai, Bryce, Steph, and Lauren. We did not waste any time heading to Dublin’s infamous Temple Bar for a pre-game Guiness; when in Rome!

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Afterwards, we made our way to UCD for Canada’s second pool game against Wales. The game was a low-scoring nail-biter, but Canada was able to come away with a 15-0 win. Following the game, we headed to an organized dinner/drinks event for all the Canadian supporters at a local pub. Running off the excitement of being in Ireland with friends, we made our way to Temple Bar for a late night out full of live music and beer.

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The next morning we eventually got out of bed to begin our first day of exploring. We had a delicious brunch on our way downtown before heading to our next destination, St Patricks Cathedral. After wandering around the beautiful church, we headed towards the nearby Guiness Storehouse. We did a self-guided tour through the massive five-storey building before reaching the Gravity Bar on the top floor, where we enjoyed a pint with a 360 view of Dublin. I am not sure if it was all in my head, but I genuinely enjoyed the dark beer far more than I expected to.

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Our next stop was a family and friends event for Team Canada held at the Canadian ambassador’s residence. We were running late so we decided it was necessary to get a cab; unfortunately for us, there were none in sight. Our only alternative mode of transportation was a horse-drawn carriage, so we did what we had to do. Also unfortunately for us, the horse or his driver had no sweet clue where we needed to go and they dropped us off further away from tour destination than we started. All in all, a huge scam that cost us way too much time and money, but a great story! The event featured a lovely spread of food and wine, but most importantly it was great to see and chat with all the girls we know on the team.

After the event, we enjoyed a traditional Irish meal at Dublin’s oldest pub; I indulged in bangers n’ mash, while others got Irish stew! Continuing on that theme, we headed for a nearby pub to hear more traditional Irish music. The music setup resembled 15 friends in a living room jamming out to whatever song came to mind next. Based on the photos on the wall, it seemed the group was comprised of resident musicians that play at this bar quite regularly.

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Elai, Steph, Lauren and I got up bright and early the next day to pick up our rental car and head for the countryside. Steph bravely volunteered to be the primary driver for our excursion and she adjusted to the wrong side of the road like a pro! Our first stop was a short jaunt in the beautifully green Wicklow National Park.

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Next up was Kilkenny, known as the medieval town for its many medieval buildings still intact. We wandered through the beautiful cobblestone streets, grabbed lunch at a cute café, and stopped in for a visit at Kilkenny Castle.

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Our final stop of the day was Cork. Cork is known within Ireland as one of the rougher parts of the country, but it made sense logistically to make our way further West before another big day of driving. We checked into our Airbnb and headed into town for dinner. We could see evidence of the city’s rough reputation on the first part of our walk, but the city centre was actually quite nice. We had a lovely dinner at Gallagher’s Gastropub that was made even better by amazing (non-Irish) live music.

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The next morning we set off for Blarney Castle before leaving Cork, famous for the Blarney Stone. Legend goes that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you will be blessed with eloquence. Of course, we could not resist missing out on this endowment, and we waited patiently in the long line for 10 seconds of glory to kiss the same stone as countless other tourists. The castle was quite beautiful, but the huge grounds were equally so, with massive gardens and greenery.

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Most of Miller’s family had already made their trip to the Cliffs of Moher and they had unlucky foggy weather. It rained heavily for most of our road trip from Cork to the Cliffs of Moher, which was not looking good for us either. Luckily, just as we drove into the parking lot, the clouds parted and the fog disappeared for a relatively clear visit to the Cliffs! The Cliffs of Moher is a natural wonder that is 100% worth the hype; no matter how many tourists crowd this iconic site, its breathtaking beauty cannot even be captured on camera. The other thing that can’t be captured is the terrifying experience of walking so close to an unfenced edge up all that way! I could have happily spent a whole day walking this beautiful coastline.

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Next and last stop of the day was Galway, a quick one hour drive from the cliffs. Galway is known for being a cultural hub with many great restaurants and bars. The town was certainly lively for a Wednesday night by the time we got downtown. We enjoyed yet another great meal and got our first taste of delicious Irish seafood! We definitely wished we had more time in the charming city as we walked around the bustling Latin Quarter. Unfortunately we were limited by the World Cup schedule and had to return to Dublin early the next day to catch our next match.

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We dropped our rental car and headed straight for the field to see Canada face off against number 2 ranked New Zealand. Unfortunately, New Zealand came out strong and Canada did not show up which ultimately resulted in a big win for NZ. This loss disqualified them from the semi-final rounds and put them into the consolation side where they will play for fifth. We stayed to watch the England vs USA game and enjoy the beautiful sunny weather.

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When we got back into Dublin, we went to Trinity College to stroll around and take in the iconic beauty of the campus. Afterwards, we headed to our final Airbnb conveniently located steps from Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, and loads of great restaurants. After a quick power nap, I headed out for a final stroll of the beautiful streets of Dublin before my last dinner. We enjoyed an awesome meal of seafood before heading to meet Bryce at a nearby bar. Bryce’s former teammate (born and raised in Dublin) organized a pub crawl through four of the favourite local spots—far from Temple Bar! We had an awesome last night dancing to throwback tunes until 230AM, when I said goodbye to Lauren and Steph who are in Ireland for another week.

Not even a late night of partying could keep me from enjoying one final good meal at a well-known baker/breakfast spot! After a great breaky, ELai and I parted ways and I headed for the airport. Overall the trip was short and sweet and definitely left me wanting more of Ireland! Ire’ll be back!

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All About Amsterdam

My job makes it tough to take the frequent extended vacations I had gotten used to as a student. But I refuse to let something like a “job” get in the way of my globetrotting. As a result, I decided to celebrate my 23rd birthday in style–a quick weekend getaway to Amsterdam. I snuck out of work a little early Thursday to meet Nick for our 5:30PM flight; a short 7 hours later, we woke up in Europe.

Amsterdam is world-renowned for being one of the most progressive cities in the world; that was evident as soon as we strolled up to the cab stand where the only taxis in sight were Teslas. We cabbed to our Airbnb to get oriented but headed on foot to De Pijp for a bite to eat before we were able to check-in. Our walk towards the city followed 1 of Amsterdam’s many gorgeous canals lined by the city’s infamous houseboats. Once we had entered De Pijp, one of Amsterdam’s up-and-coming yuppie neighbourhoods, it wasn’t long until we stumbled upon one of the cafes Elai’s friend had recommended to me–Coconuts & Coffee. It was just what the doctor ordered after a long (semi-sleepless) night of travelling–a stunning 3 story open-concept loft with delicious food and coffee.

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With full stomachs, we headed to the nearest bike rental shop so that we could fit in with the locals. Amsterdam is rated the 2nd most bike-friendly city in the world next to Copenhagen, with bike lanes as the bare minimum and bike highways, stop lights, and multi-storey bike parking lots as the norm. One tour guide stated that their are 1.3M bikes in Amsterdam, with only 800,000 people living in the city.

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Our first stop of the day was the eclectic Albert Cuyp Market in De Pijp; it seemed that their were lots of markets all around the city, but apparently this one is renowned as the largest daytime market in Europe. Some stalls were simply an extension of the store behind them, which was a little strange for something like pharmacies. The row houses that lined the street of the market are especially beautiful.

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Next, we headed to the area where all of Amsterdam’s most well-known museums are situated around the iconinc Iamsterdam sign–which was being absolutely mauled by the masses I may add. I am certain that anyone with a photo in front of that sign with no other people in the frame either had an AK47 or were there at 5:15AM. Based on crowds and lineups, we opted to go for the modern art Museum–the Stedelijk. As with most modern art, some is downright strange (to the untrained eye) and some is pretty cool.

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My favourite part about Amsterdam had to be simply biking across the countless bridges and around the winding streets that line the canals. Around every corner, there is another beautiful view.

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To my dismay, my aging body called for an afternoon nap if I was going to last til all hours of the morning so we headed back to check into our Airbnb–a super cute little apartment in a quiet residential area. Not only is airbnb the cheapest option going for anything more than a hostel, it was a great way to get a more local feel for the city!

We headed back into the city on bike for our 8PM dinner reservation at Supper Club. For once in my life, I lowered my 4 star Yelp rating standards to see what all the hype was about; the reviews online were extremely polarized–people either said it was amazing or the weirdest thing they had ever been a part of. My personal opinion–it was both, but well worth checking out. The weird factor was evident from the moment we walked in the door and were greeted by a drag queen wearing a wig with a baby’s head on top. We enjoyed a cocktail in the lounge downstairs before heading to our bed at 8.

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Yes I said bed, you can choose to reserve a bed along the walls or a table in the middle of the room. We enjoyed a delicious 5-course meal as we sat back on our beds and enjoyed the infamous entertainment. I could easily see how the quasi-cabaret show sparked controversial reviews; it was certainly up there on the strangest things I’ve ever seen, but the entire experience was so cool, we loved it.

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After the show finished, they took away the tables and folded up the beds to convert the room into a night club. Nicks sister Josie flew in from London to meet us for the weekend, so she joined us right at the bar to dance the night away. I must say, biking home from the bar at the end of the night was the perfect cool-down.

Despite the late light out, we didn’t want to waste the day away in bed so we were on our bikes by 930 AM headed towards central station to meet Josie. We headed into Jordaan for brunch–another up and coming yuppie neighbourhood. After a delicious breaky, we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather on a cruise of the Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. There are a ton of cruise companies but I had read about one specifically online that I wanted to try–Friendship Cruises–and it did not disappoint.

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The vessel was a retired Holland America Cruiseship lifeboat, complete with a bar on-board (very important). Touring the maze-like canals of Amsterdam is simply a must-do if you’re in the city. Around every corner there is a post-card perfect view… or a very low bridge that you must duck your head under to avoid concussion.

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Post-cruise, it was time for a snack and we had been dying to try some of the Dutch cheese shops on every corner. We wasted no time grabbing a couple blocks of cheese, some crackers, and heading for Vondelpark–Amsterdam’s largest and most popular park–to enjoy the beautiful weather some more.

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For our last night in the city, we attempted to go to a spot I had read about online that turned out to be a stone’s throw from the airbnb. The restaurant is in a greenhouse in a park and all the produce used is grown in-house. Unfortunately, it is a popular spot and we were unable to get in, but even seeing it was cool!

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We headed to another spot closer to the airbnb and out of the city centre, filled with mostly locals, and enjoyed a lovely final dinner. Afterwards, we headed into De Pijp to a low-key bar to try out some local beers before calling it a night.

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Morning came too soon and before we knew, we had to part with our beloved bikes and soak in every last second of the city on a long walk to central station to head to the airport. All in all, it was an amazing quick getaway which I plan to do more of–life is too short to let being time-poor get in the way of seeing the world.

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