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I’m Coming Home!

Traveling Solo Quote

The past year has been quite an amazing adventure. It has always been a dream of mine to live in the United States and this year I got to fulfill that dream. A friend recently asked me was I glad I did the graduate visa, without hesitation I responded ‘I’d do it again in a heartbeat’.

It is the pity the graduate visa is only 12 months (14 months if you include the 2 months you’re not eligible to work). I would have loved to do another stent in a different State, perhaps New York or take a trip back to Chicago. While my bags may be packed and I get ready to go to the airport I am not ready to leave, there is still so much left for me to discover.

As all my friends know I am obsessed with quotes and sayings. It is amazing how a small phrase can motivate or cause the reader to reflect. With this in mind I have picked out three sayings that pretty much sum up my year and how I am feeling about returning home.

When I told a childhood friend I was going away he gave me smirk as if to say ‘Are you serious?’. As you can imagine this was not well received. He followed up with, ‘I’ve known you forever, there is no way you will last in a hostel never mind alone’. Now I’m the type of person if you tell me I can’t achieve something I will do damn sure to prove you wrong. A week in I had found myself an apartment and had assembled my bed (granted it was IKEA).

One thing that I have discovered this year is that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. Although there was times throughout the year that I wished I was a home curled up in front of the fire or sitting down to one of my Dad’s Irish breakfasts, I remained determined to make the most of my year!

Traveling solo makes you step out of your comfort zone, try to do things you would not normally do. During my first couple of days in SF I was invited to a house party with another Irish girl, I suspected that there might be some awkward lingering until everyone had a couple of drinks. How I was wrong! As people arrived at the party they said hello to people they were familiar with and introduced themselves to people they did not know. As the weeks went on I found that I had no problem introducing myself to people with a handshake and a ‘nice to meet you’.

While growing up my gran would often tell me to always trust my gut instinct. I don’t think I understood quite what she meant until this year! Having ignored my gut and finding myself in a pretty shitty situation I have learnt what she meant the hard way.

I have learnt so much about myself (as cliché as it sounds). I have learnt what I want to achieve in my career over the next few years, where my strengths and weaknesses lie and finally, I have learnt to do things for myself without seeking approval from others.

I no longer fear being seen alone in a coffee shop and would gladly go for a drink alone if I found myself with time to spare. This is something I use to overwhelm me. I do not find myself getting embarrassed as easily as I use to by fear of what others may think.

A Year in San Francisco

Returning home is a bitter-sweet! I am looking forward to a nice healthy home cooked meal, no longer living out of a suitcase and of course seeing my family and friends. Although I know more of me wishes that it was just for a visit and not for ‘the foreseeable future’.

I will miss the pace of life in San Francisco, the work hard play hard attitude with everyone working on ‘the next best thing’. Yet at the same time people remain ‘chilled out’. I was engrossed by the tech industry, using mobile apps for practically everything. I will miss all the different cultural norms that the United States has to offer. Those are only the touch of the iceberg.

Is there anything I would change about the past year? No! Everything that happened over the past year, both good and bad has been a learning experience and I am better off for it. So yes, I would like to go back to page one and do it all again! I have met a great group of friends, inspirational people and fantastic mentors.

I leave with the resounding thought that… What is meant to be will be! Hopefully, that means I’ll be back some day 😉

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Vancouver, British Columbia

Prospect Point Vancouver

On the 12th of October I bid San Francisco goodbye. As my friends and family know I applied for the H1B back in April, with the hope of staying in the States for at least another three years. Over the last few years there has been a huge demand for H1B visas and this year was no different. With over 200,000 applicants and only 60,000 visas available all applicants were entered into a lottery. Unfortunately for me and many others I was unsuccessful.

Instead of going home straight away I decided to spend a month traveling North America. First stop was Vancouver, Canada. I have a good few friends from home living in Canada. Unlike America, work visas to Canada are easier to obtain. This was my first time going to Canada and to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect.

As the friends I was staying with had work during the day I kept busy doing touristy things. Over the 9 days I visited the aquarium, biked around Stanley park, drove to Whistler, visited Grandville Island and the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
A friend suggested that doing a bus tour would be a great way to see the city. The company I went with was WestCoast Sightseeing. There were 20 stops throughout the trip with a pre-recorded audio guide. The one-day ticket was $42 (CA). Highlights of the tour were Gastown, Stanley Park and Chinatown. You could hop on and off the bus throughout the day.

I stayed on the bus all the way round and then got out at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens in Chinatown. Entry to the gardens was $12 (CA). While the gardens were interesting and I got some great pictures there wasn’t a lot to see.

I first visited Stanley Park with a friend from college. We rented bikes ($9 per hr) and cycled around the outskirts of the park. It was a great and easy way to see the cities skyline and see a good bit of the park. On another occasion I walked around the park visiting areas that bus had stopped at during the tour. My two favourite spots in the part were the Totem Poles and Prospect Point.

The Totem Poles are 9 beautifully carved, red cedar portals located at the Brockton Point Visitor Centre.
Prospect Point is located at the highest point of Stanley Park. After the walk up you are rewarding with a spectacular view.

Whistler Vancouver

The only thing I knew about Whistler was that the Winter Olympics was held there in 2010. A friend I was staying with had never been before so we decided this was the perfect opportunity. We rented a car and drove up to Whistler. Since there was three of us this worked out cheaper than the bus and we also could be more flexible on our times. The short hour and a half drive up was beautiful, that being said it would not be a drive I’d like to do in the snow.

When we arrived we discovered that the ‘Peak to Peak’ gondola we had hope to do had closed 3 days previous until the winter season. After wandering round the small village we set off on a walk. We did the ‘Lost Lake Trail’, it brought us around a lake (surprise surprise) that was calm and picturesque. The trail took approximately 2 hours.

I think my favourite part was the drive back. We left relatively early, giving time to stop at the recommended viewing points and take photos along the way. I would definitely like to visit Whistler again, possibly even to go skiing!

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Capilano Suspension Bridge is 140 metres long and 70 metres above the Capilano river. Entry to the property is $38 (CA) which is quite pricey. There is a free shuttle available over the bridge and depending on your driver the journey should be narrated pointing out places of interest.

If I’m honest the suspension bridge was a little bit of a let down, there really wasn’t much to be excited about. I preferred the complementary tour I took of the grounds that identified each of the trees and informed us of the wildlife in the areas. The treetop walk and cliff walk were really cool and probably the highlight of the property for me.

I really enjoyed my time in Vancouver catching up with old friends and exploring what the city had to offer. A place a recommend everyone should visit!

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Adapting to the New Normal

While Ireland is the place I will inevitably return to and a place I will forever call home, it was always known I would spend my first few years after graduation abroad. Leaving not because I had to, but because I wanted to, something not all of my generation and generations before me are lucky enough to say.

Since leaving Ireland, I have exchanged birthday and Christmas wishes via Skype, been kept updated through plenty of whatsapps, Facebook posts and many Snapchat’s. I have watched my youngest sister complete her leaving cert, finish secondary school and start Art College. My other sister has turned twenty-one, spent five months in Finland, and passed her driving test and these are only the major milestones I’ve missed.

Sisters

I come from a very close-knit family. Growing up I would always know where my siblings were and through the years this didn’t waiver. There is very little we don’t share with each other, which unfortunately, includes my entire wardrobe. This is why it has come as such a shock how quickly I have adapted to the new normal.

The new normal I am referring to is celebrating all these events from afar, yet feeling like it was only yesterday when I was there in person. On a recent phone call my youngest sister, I commented on how it didn’t feel like that long since I’d left and I regretfully admitted that I was no longer missing home.

Connemara

Don’t get me wrong, like everything the bad comes along with the good and on these occasions I find myself longing for home. Varying from the cravings for a decent bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, to a good ole chat with a friend I’ve known longer than the stamp on my passport. The moment that made me realize all the life events big and small I was missing out on, occurred during one of our frequent family skype calls. My mum mentioned an event that occurred three months previous to which I had no knowledge of. Looks of disbelief crossed their faces, they couldn’t believe that this was something I didn’t already know. With a quick summary I was brought up to speed, however, it wasn’t the same. Moments like these have been the toughest part of being away from home; these are also the moments people back home don’t get to see.

As the time approaches for me to return home I do so looking ahead to my next adventure. My gran recently expressed a sigh of relief to hear that I would be coming home, ‘well hopefully that’ll be traveling out of her system for a while’. To this my dad smiled, ‘I don’t think she’s done quite yet’.

Family

A Jam-Packed Weekend In Seattle

I recently took a much needed vacation to Seattle over memorial weekend. My cousin recently joked that my life is just one long vacation… I think she failed to remember I also work Monday to Friday.

Flights from San Francisco worked out at $220 which was very reasonable considering the long weekend. We found a very central AirBnB located in Capitol Hill, which is about a 40 minute walk from Pike Market and the Space Needle. The biggest cost of the weekend was transport. We decided to be extremely lazy and get Uber’s most places and unfortunately ‘UberPool’ is not yet a thing in Seattle.

Here are my top 6 highlights from the weekend and things I highly recommend you do if you ever find yourself in Seattle:

Chihuly Garden & Glass 

Chihuly Garden & Glass

I am not a big fan of museums or guided tours but the Chihuly Garden & Glass museum is in a league of its own. The glass pieces are amazing!! I found myself looking at them and just wondering HOW. The museum offers short free guided tours in particular rooms which provides you with a better insight on Chihuly’s work.

You can buy a ticket for the museum and the space needle in a bundle, saving around $5. Buying the bundle online allows you to skip the lines and is more convenient. The picture below is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. At first glance the green glass piece looks like a normal tree, only at closer inspection do you realize it is glass.

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Knee High Stocking 

We found this little cocktail bar by chance. We originally had planned on going to Neddle & Thread an up-class cocktail bar, however, it was closed! Knee High Stocking is located on a very small corner, in order to gain access you must ring a bell where a host will come out and ask for your reservation. It is a very cosy bar, with a certain charm. When we arrived I was a little peckish, and ordered a portion of bread pudding. It was delicious, I would go back just for the bread pudding! Don’t worry they also have a large drinks menu 🙂

To be guaranteed a table you must have a booking, so be sure to text +1-(206)-979-7049 your reservation before you arrive.

Japanese Gardens  

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The day we went to the Japanese Garden’s was a very dull day, however, our timing could not have been better. Admission to the gardens is $6 and a free guided tour of the gardens commenced just as we arrived. The garden is very peaceful and very nice to stroll around. During the tour there was an opportunity to feed some of the fish and turtles. The garden is meant to be beautiful in the Autumn and I can see why.

Gas Works Park   

Gas Works Park

We ventured to Gas Works Park on our last day as the sun decided to make an appearance. This is a public park on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant. It is the strangest parks in Seattle and there is discussion that is could be among the strangest in the world. It has also been used as a setting for various films.

Throughout the trip I found it very difficult to see the picturesque Seattle skyline which is shown during the opening credits of Grey’s Anatomy and on many postcards. However, from Gas Works Park there is an incredible view of the city. This is were the picturesque skyline can be found!

Pike Place Market 

Pike Market

Before going to Seattle I heard many mixed reviews about Pike Place Market. Some said it was a must and others said not to expect much. My opinion, it is well and truly what it says on the tin… a famers market.

What I liked about the market is that instead of being built up you go down to access other levels as the foundation is built on a hill. There is some cute little stores. We went into one particular book shop where the shop keeper seemed to be the main attraction. Be careful as when you walk in the main entrance there is a fish stall where the staff can often be seen throwing fresh fish around, something not to be missed.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room

The first ever Starbuck’s is located in Seattle down by Pike Market, but realistically once you’ve been to one Starbuck’s you’ve been in them all…except this one! Straight away from the outside you can tell the ‘Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room‘ is going to be a completely different experience.

For those who actually drink coffee (unlike me) this will be your heaven.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room

A short drive from San Francisco

Photo taken at Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Work was closed for Presidents Day (16th February) so a road trip was a must. It was all very last minute and to be honest there wasn’t really much of a plan, other than to get a car and drive.

Sorting Transport 

As I am under 25 years and without a credit card I did not have many options when it came to hiring a car. I ended up going with Hertz and got a Toyota Yaris. With full coverage insurance it cost us $136.

Things to note:

  • Hertz accepts debit cards
  • The card you use must belong to the main driver
  • They will take a $200 deposit from your card
  • If you are under 25 there is discount codes available online
  • You will be asked do you want them to refuel your car or will you do it yourself – do it yourself, its cheaper!                                                                          

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   Route  

  1. Point Reyes National Seashore

   2.  Petaluma (overnight)

   3.   Bodega Bay

 

 

Point Reyes National Seashore

On arrival we found a large cabin that is home to the Point Reyes park rangers and the information centre. It was here we received a map of the area and were recommended the 8 mile (4 there & 4 back) Bear Valley Trail. This is a vey flat trail with a breath-taking view at the end. The walk took 4 hours, walking at a leisurely pace. It was a warm day so we found ourselves gulling through water.

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I was suggest bringing a few snacks for when you reach the edge of the cliff. Sit down and enjoy the view! There is a small but beautiful beach down a rather steep climb. Please note that this is not a recommended climb and I have been told people have been injured during the climb. In saying that, if you would like the adventure I would recommend climbing down onto the beach and enjoying your snacks there.

Point Reyes National Seashore is somewhere I plan to bring all my visitors. A place not known to all travelers but without a doubt worth a visit.

Petaluma

This small town has a lot to offer, from the lovely restaurants to the talented Petaluma Pete who plays his piano on the a street corner. Looking for a quite weekend away or just an evening out of the city I would highly recommend checking out Petaluma.

Accommodation – This was quite a random find and a good one at that. I was checking out google maps and saw it was a town close by. We booked into Motel 6, an absolute steal! $75 for one room, with two queen beds and onsite parking. Remember this was over valentines weekend and a long weekend.

Food – We were very lucky and got a table at Risibisi Restaurant, a busy little Italian restaurant in the center of the town. There was a special Valentines Day set menu which had some lovely dishes. Unfortunately it lacked a choice of good desserts 😦 , which sent us off in search of a supplement, this is where we came across Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Every wall was covered with a section of sweets/candy to choose from, we were like two kids in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

On Sunday morning after a quick Yelp search we found ourselves at Hallie’s Diner. I would advise you get down early as the place fills up fast. We were very lucky to get seated straight away. We both devoured the Cinnamon French Toast, a breakfast I would definitely go back for.

Shopping – Another lucky find was Petaluma Village Premium Outlets. After breakfast on Sunday morning we stopped by for what we had intended to be a ‘quick look around’, three hours later we hit the road again. Some great deals can be found in Nike, Ann Taylor and Levis.

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Bodega Bay

It around 2pm by the time we arrived at Bodega Bay. We had sat in a good bit of traffic on the way from Petaluma, I put this down to the fact the sun was beaming and everyone wanted to get out in the fresh air. We didn’t mind too much as the views were breathtaking. We drove all the way up a windy quite narrow hill were we parked the car and walked to the cliff side. There wasn’t much of a walk, more like a stroll along the cliff, this suited us fine as our legs were tired from the previous day.

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Bodega Bay is considered a prime spot for whale watching (especially between the last weeks of April & start of May), but we were hopeful we would catch a glimpse. After a half an hour or so of patiently looking out we began to give up hope. We wandered over to a group that had gathered at the point of one of the cliffs, it was there we caught a glimpse of a group of gray whales. Due to the time of year (February) the whales were quite far off the coast.

Overall our trip was a great success. Although we started out without much of a plan, only a car and a place to sleep, we packed a lot it. When living in a city you can easily forget that there is more than concrete buildings and the hustle and bustle of city life. Some of the most spectacular views are only an hour out of San Francisco.

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North of San Francisco

Work was closed for Presidents Day (16th February) so a road trip was a must. It was all very last minute and to be honest there wasn’t really much of a plan, other than to get a car and drive.

Sorting Transport 

As I am under 25 years and without a credit card I did not have many options when it came to hiring a car. I ended up going with Hertz and got a Toyota Yaris. With full coverage insurance it cost us $136.

Things to note:

  • Hertz accepts debit cards
  • The card you use must belong to the main driver
  • They will take a $200 deposit from your card
  • If you are under 25 there is discount codes available online
  • You will be asked do you want them to refuel your car or will you do it yourself – do it yourself, its cheaper!                                                                          

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.13.27 AM

   Route  

  1. Point Reyes National Seashore

   2.  Petaluma (overnight)

   3.   Bodega Bay

 

 

Point Reyes National Seashore

On arrival we found a large cabin that is home to the Point Reyes park rangers and the information centre. It was here we received a map of the area and were recommended the 8 mile (4 there & 4 back) Bear Valley Trail. This is a vey flat trail with a breath-taking view at the end. The walk took 4 hours, walking at a leisurely pace. It was a warm day so we found ourselves gulling through water.

IMG_2574

I was suggest bringing a few snacks for when you reach the edge of the cliff. Sit down and enjoy the view! There is a small but beautiful beach down a rather steep climb. Please note that this is not a recommended climb and I have been told people have been injured during the climb. In saying that, if you would like the adventure I would recommend climbing down onto the beach and enjoying your snacks there.

Point Reyes National Seashore is somewhere I plan to bring all my visitors. A place not known to all travelers but without a doubt worth a visit.

Petaluma

This small town has a lot to offer, from the lovely restaurants to the talented Petaluma Pete who plays his piano on the a street corner. Looking for a quite weekend away or just an evening out of the city I would highly recommend checking out Petaluma.

Accommodation – This was quite a random find and a good one at that. I was checking out google maps and saw it was a town close by. We booked into Motel 6, an absolute steal! $75 for one room, with two queen beds and onsite parking. Remember this was over valentines weekend and a long weekend.

Food – We were very lucky and got a table at Risibisi Restaurant, a busy little Italian restaurant in the center of the town. There was a special Valentines Day set menu which had some lovely dishes. Unfortunately it lacked a choice of good desserts 😦 , which sent us off in search of a supplement, this is where we came across Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Every wall was covered with a section of sweets/candy to choose from, we were like two kids in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

On Sunday morning after a quick Yelp search we found ourselves at Hallie’s Diner. I would advise you get down early as the place fills up fast. We were very lucky to get seated straight away. We both devoured the Cinnamon French Toast, a breakfast I would definitely go back for.

Shopping – Another lucky find was Petaluma Village Premium Outlets. After breakfast on Sunday morning we stopped by for what we had intended to be a ‘quick look around’, three hours later we hit the road again. Some great deals can be found in Nike, Ann Taylor and Levis.

IMG_2641IMG_2644

Bodega Bay

It around 2pm by the time we arrived at Bodega Bay. We had sat in a good bit of traffic on the way from Petaluma, I put this down to the fact the sun was beaming and everyone wanted to get out in the fresh air. We didn’t mind too much as the views were breathtaking. We drove all the way up a windy quite narrow hill were we parked the car and walked to the cliff side. There wasn’t much of a walk, more like a stroll along the cliff, this suited us fine as our legs were tired from the previous day.

IMG_2676

Bodega Bay is considered a prime spot for whale watching (especially between the last weeks of April & start of May), but we were hopeful we would catch a glimpse. After a half an hour or so of patiently looking out we began to give up hope. We wandered over to a group that had gathered at the point of one of the cliffs, it was there we caught a glimpse of a group of gray whales. Due to the time of year (February) the whales were quite far off the coast.

Overall our trip was a great success. Although we started out without much of a plan, only a car and a place to sleep, we packed a lot it. When living in a city you can easily forget that there is more than concrete buildings and the hustle and bustle of city life. Some of the most spectacular views are only an hour out of San Francisco.

Just do it!

Photo taken at Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

Photo taken at Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

So only about four people know what it was like for me moving away and as I sit on my bed this evening reading my cards and letters that everyone was so kind to give me before I left, I find it only fitting that I write this. Side note – YAY no more writers block!!

I was never scared about moving away and when everyone told me I was very brave, I just kind of thought ‘hey, it’s an adventure’. I got up that morning, stripped my bed (wouldn’t be like me to leave without being a little dramatic), went down for breakfast and set off with my family on my merry way to the airport. First stop was to drop our little ‘teacher in training’ off at the bus stop, which would bring her to teaching practice. It was quick and easy, like ripping a bandaid off, almost like I was going to see her later that day (ignoring the fact it was going to be 14 months).

Then there were three (Dad, Mum & the youngest)! We all lined up to check in, Dad making friends with the people in the line, hoping they’d look after me and Mum making sure I had everything I needed. Bag checked, ticket in hand, it was time to go through security. We walked upstairs in terminal two, making small talk, acting like I was heading away for the weekend. All of a sudden it was time to say goodbye..

I can’t remember who I hugged first but they all got their hugs and kiss goodbye. I remained strong, no tears!! I started to walk up to security… I looked around and in that moment I decided I was no longer going, I was staying at home! I ran back into Mum’s arms with tears in my eyes, I can’t remember saying much, but instead listening to my Mum’s encouraging words. After another big group hug I decided I was going to do this! Dried my eyes, bag on shoulder and off I went, this time without looking back!

Now don’t get me wrong, the water works started straight away once I got on the plane, sat in my lovely middle seat and began to read the letters my family had sent me away with. Now thinking back that wasn’t my smartest move, but sure I’m known to not always make the smartest of moves.

The point I suppose I am trying to make is, although things may seem scary, daunting or a little out of your reach, if it is something you want, what is the harm in trying! Nothing comes easy but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

Those 3 Questions…

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I am moving to North American at the end of the summer for 14 months. This is something I have always said I would do, so when I told my parents I was going they were like ‘yeah ok’ and I knew what they really meant was ‘come back to us when you’ve booked your flights’. I could understand this reaction as we hadn’t actually been home from Chicago 24 hours and also the fact I had been going to America for the last 3 years.

Now, the date has been set, visa has been approved and flights have been booked, it has become a reality! Slowly, I have begun to hear my parents tell people and talk about it as a reality. There are three questions that are repeatedly asked, the sequence varies…

Question 1: Do you have a job set up?

Question 2: Do you have a place to stay?

Question 3: You know people over there, don’t you?

… but it all ends the same, ‘I’m sure you’ll have a great time’, to which I politely smile and thank them.

It is funny to watch everyone’s reaction when the answer to all three questions is no! There is that look on their face that screams ‘ARE YOU CRAZY’.

The truth is I can’t bloody wait. I am the eldest in my family and have never lived away from home on a long term basis (excluding the adventurous summer spent in Chicago, but that is for another day). What appeals to me most about moving is the fact I know no one, no baggage, no expectations, a fresh start!

Don’t get me wrong I will miss my family so much, but as my 7 year old cousin reminded me over the weekend, we now have Whatsapp, FaceTime (not that I actually have an iPhone) and Skype. It is not as if my own form of communication is a letter in the post!