Dublin, Ireland

Everything they’ve told you is true: Ireland is a stunner and has a beneficent magic about it that permeates everything. It may be a small island, but with its breathtaking landscape and plethora of cultural expressions, it leaves a lasting impact. It is truly an enchanted land that you should put in a top position on your bucket list, and for which I will plead my case starting now.

Let me begin by noting that it is quite appropriately nicknamed the ‘Emerald Isle’. That is because never in your life will you see a blade of grass greener than those in Ireland. And by green I mean electric green, as if the land is plugged into a power source somewhere. This radiant grass would of course explain why the Irish cows are literally beautiful. Which, of course, explains why Irish dairy cannot be reckoned with. And it all starts with the magic Irish grass.

And that magic grass runs all the way down to the Cliffs of Moher and ancient stone henges in Kerry and back around to the Blarney Stone in Cork and up through the GAA fields of Stradbally, clear up to the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim and back down through the rolling hills of Connemara and straight over to the Republic’s capital city of Dublin.

There are so many incredible places in Ireland to see, but for now Dublin gets the main stage. It is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and for such a small city it’s got a big personality. It has survived Viking attacks, the plague, and devastating fires only to come out on the other side mightier than ever. It has castles, grand urban parks, a beautiful coastline, one of Europe’s oldest universities and, of course, Ireland’s legendary brew, Guinness. It’s a complete sensory experience and the culture there bubbles with ebullience. This infectious spirit is everywhere and no matter if you are traveling with friends or traveling solo, you’ll always meet a kind soul who is up for a good chinwag over a pint of Guinness. Click on my DUBLIN TO-DO LIST to find out where to go and how to get the most out of your visit.

The Irish

The Irish are known for being a friendly bunch, and rightfully so, but ‘friendly’ is a bit of an oversimplification.  I would start by saying they are suspicious first and friendly second.  At the beginning they might look at you with a side-glance because you’ve got a funny accent but once the ice has broken and they’ve decided they like you, they’ll be inviting you over for dinner that evening.  But let’s be honest, you’ve also got grounds to be a bit suspicious at first.  It’s not unlikely that they’ll try to convince you to get in their bloody cold ocean while you’re in town.  That is because many Dubliners strip down to their skivvies and jump into the freezing-ass-cold Irish Sea every day of the year for ‘health purposes’, which certainly deserves a side-glance or two from your end.

When I lived in Dublin I worked as a physiotherapist and I had half of my patients trying to convince me that the best thing I could do for myself would be to go swimming in the just-above-freezing sea water daily. One of these patients had even been bitten on the foot by a seal while swimming and they still went every day. They say getting in and out of the cold sea is healthy because it ‘flushes your organs’ and I guess the Irish liver could use a good flushing once a day because that is about as often as they are in the pub.

The Irish pub is where it all happens. Life, I mean. It is at the very heart of their culture. Where I grew up in the Deep South of the United States, it was considered that drinking alcohol would get you a first class ticket straight to hell, but on Sundays in Ireland the congregation goes to the pub after church and spends the day there singing songs together. Kids -n- all. ‘The whole lot’, as they say. And it is truly a glorious thing.

Irish pubs often break out in ‘singsongs’. I remember once I was with a special soul that took me out for the evening when I first moved to Ireland, and when I say “out”, he really took me in, through a little nondescript wooden door that was in the middle of an old stone wall. On the other side we emerged somehow into a pub where everyone was drinking pints and singing Irish folk songs – the entire bar was joined in song for hours. It was magical. I had never seen anything like it before and I stood there with tears streaming down my cheeks because not even in my wildest imagination could I have dreamt up something so wonderful. Music is an inherent part of the Irish culture and they take it with them everywhere they go.

The Irish are spirited folks, but very down to earth and there are little formalities there. I once met the Taoiseach (prime minister), Enda Kenny, in a pub and I walked up and introduced myself and asked him if I could tell him why I thought Ireland should vote no on the austerity measures they would be voting on in the coming days. He happily listened and invited me to sit and have a pint with him and the group he was with. In the U.S. the president doesn’t leave home without secret service and a bulletproof motorcade, so there is absolutely no chance that,

  1. he would ever be in a bar amongst ‘normal’ people, and
  2. an unknown person could approach him and ask if she could give him her opinion on whether the U.S. should accept a multi-billion-euro international bailout over a beer.

But in Ireland it’s possible: they leave the bulletproof motorcades and formalities to the ‘Yanks’.

It is true that Dubliners like a good pub, but with that said I can tell you I did not meet the Taoiseach in Temple Bar. That’s because Dubliners themselves don’t go there. In reality, this quarter is probably the least authentic part of the city. Apart from a few select spots, Temple Bar is considered tourist territory by Dubliners, who steer clear of its expensive pints and souvenir shops selling stuffed leprechauns. You’re almost always best getting off the beaten path. That is my golden rule for every city and Dublin is no exception.

Once you find a nice pub to settle into, you’ll quickly notice there are quite a lot of profanities flying around your head. Don’t worry, it isn’t directed at you. In general the Irish just swear. A lot. Think of it as more of a verbal tic than a sign of aggression. It makes an impact and adds a bit of color to their story. Some of the words may sound abrasive but are actually lighthearted. Let’s take ‘feck’ for example, not to be confused with its cousin spelled with a ‘U’. As expletives go, feck is a family-friendly, playful word and serves a broad range of linguistic purposes. I once suggested to my boyfriend that he tell his mom that he loves her more often. The first time he did she smiled and responded with, “Oh feck off would ya.” In American English terms that would translate to “I love you too.”

I realized soon after moving to Dublin that British and American English vocabulary vary greatly. The Irish have words that don’t exist at all in American English (i.e., eejit, delph) and sometimes the words do exist but have an entirely different meaning (i.e., fanny). One afternoon I was sitting in the car with my before-mentioned boyfriend and his mom and I couldn’t sit comfortably because I was sore from a long run so as I was thinking out loud, I said that I needed a massage on my fanny. Needless to say that didn’t go over so well… It’s worth familiarizing yourself with potential word flare-ups before you head over so you don’t completely mortify yourself.

As for when to go, Dublin is beautiful all year round but during the winter months the days are really short and during the summer months the lines are really long. May has always been my favorite month of the year there not only because there aren’t so many tourists yet but also because the beautiful gorse bushes are in full bloom and the rains have slowed…a bit. With that said, the magic of that land can and will bestow all four seasons upon you in one day, so it’s best to always come prepared.

Everything about the Emerald Isle is indescribably unique. The possibilities are endless, the moments are never dull and it has some of the most magnificent landscapes this earth can offer. But I would argue that the best part about the entire adventure is that no matter where you are, when you go or what you’re doing in Ireland, you’ll be embraced by their passionate spirit.  Perhaps you’ll leave a toe tapping fiddle player or a poet.  Their music and their laughter are so contagious that whether you stay for three days or three years, you’ll undoubtedly leave a different person than the one you were when you came.

In case you missed the link for my Dublin To-Do list in the text, here it is again: Dublin Attractions

My recommendations on…

Reading List

Dubliners by James Joyce
Ulysses by James Joyce
Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar wilde 
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by W.B. Yeats 
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill


Dublin Attractions

  1. Dublin has incredible museums that are completely free, 7 days a week. The National Gallery has works by Vermeer, Monet, Picasso and Ireland’s Richard Gorman; The National Museum has 3,000-year-old bodies found in Irish bogs, striking Celtic jewelry collections and it is also where you can visit Michael Collins’ barracks. Dublin Writers Museum has a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Samuel Beckett’s phone among other intriguing items. The Chester Beatty Library is consistently rated as one of Europe’s best museums with its sacred texts and illuminated manuscripts from the world’s great religions and systems of belief. And you can see all of it without spending a dime.
  2. Walking from museum to museum, it won’t take you long to notice Dublin’s vibrantly colored front doors, which stand as stunning examples of the city’s Georgian legacy. Georgian architecture was used during the 18th and 19th centuries by Ireland’s ruling Protestant class and as a result, carries with it quite a political weight due to Ireland’s complex history of English oppression. The city is home to hundreds of three-story Georgian townhouses, which are typically terraced, with a distinctive arched window frame above the heavy, paneled and brightly colored front door. Inside they have high ornate ceilings, elaborate, marble chimneys and lavishly adorned walls.
  3. This architecture can be easily seen around St. Stephen’s Green, and Fitzwilliam and Merrion Squares. No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street offers a glimpse into what life was like for the middle and upper classes in Georgian Dublin. From 1794 Olivia Beatty, the widow of a prominent wine merchant lived there and it is fully decorated today as it would have been during that time.  They offer guided tours four times a day but you can visit anytime between 10am – 5pm if you are interested in just having a look at what Georgian Dublin was like.
  4. The last of the great Georgian public buildings erected in Dublin was the General Post Office (GPO), which coincidentally was also the headquarters of the Easter Uprising in 1916, eventually leading to twenty-six counties’ independence from Britain. Except for the outer walls, the building was destroyed by fire during the rebellion and rebuilt in 1929. Today, you can still see the British Army’s bullet holes on the front of the building. The GPO remains a symbol of Irish nationalism and has an incredible museum that illustrates ‘The Uprising’ and how Ireland got its independence back.
  5. Directly in front of the GPO, you’ll notice a huge silver spire named, ‘The Spire of Light’. What originally stood there was the city’s most prominent monument called, ‘Nelson’s Pillar’. It had been there since 1809 and nationalists couldn’t stand having a monument saluting a British hero as the center point of their city. There were a few failed bombing attempts throughout the years until a man by the name of Liam Sutcliffe, was ‘successful’. Sutcliffe planted a bomb on March 7, 1966 with a timer to go off in the middle of the night (morning of March 8) so no one would get hurt. It all went as planned and the only hiccup was that a taxicab got a dent in it. The government officially denounced the attack, though it is said that the President at the time, Eamon De Valera, called the Irish newspaper owned by his family, to suggest the light-hearted headline: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin By Air”. The government quickly decided to demolish what was left of the pillar in a massive controlled explosion followed by a deafening roar from celebrating crowds. Nelson’s surviving head can be visited at the Dublin Civic Museum.

    Thirty-seven years later Nelson’s pillar was finally replaced with The Spire of Light by way of architectural competition in which, London architect, Ian Ritchie won. Subsequently, most Dubliners like it only slightly more than Nelson’s Pillar and have nicknamed it, ‘The Stiletto in the Ghetto’. In Dublin, public art often collides with cheeky street humor and ‘The Spire’ is definitely no exception.
  6. Just on the other side of the Liffey from The Spire is one of Ireland’s academic treasures, Trinity College. Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and modeled after England’s Oxford and Cambridge universities. It is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland and it is Ireland’s most prestigious and oldest surviving university. It is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in Europe and is notably strong in the fields of law, humanities and literature. Apart from its strong academics, Trinity College is also known for being home to the Book of Kells, which arrived at the college in 1661 after the Cromwellian raids on religious institutions. The Book of Kells is the world’s most famous medieval manuscript, which is written in Latin and contains the four gospels of the New Testament. It is considered a masterpiece of western calligraphy and is one of the finest examples of insular art. 

    The library at Trinity College also houses around seven million printed volumes and significant quantities of manuscripts, including a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and an iconic 15th century wooden harp, which is the mascot for the emblem of Ireland (and Guinness).
  7. Dublin is one of four UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world, including Edinburgh, Melbourne and Iowa City. It is a city where songwriting, playwriting, prose and poetry are valued and celebrated. The Nobel Prize for Literature has gone to four writers associated with Dublin, including Seamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and W.B. Yeats.  Other Dublin writers who are internationally renowned include: Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Lady Gregory, Eugene O’Brien, Eavan Boland, Cardinal Newman, Flann O’Brien, Brendan Behan, and Maeve Binchy, to name but a few.
  8. Because there are so many writers from Dublin, almost every street and pub has been featured in a story, novel, or song. The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is a fun way to experience some of these places by taking you directly to the places the authors have written about. The guides are actors offering literary history during the tour, which lasts roughly two hours. Online tickets are always the safest bet that you’ll get a spot on the tour and they cost €14 per adult.
  9. Dublin also has literary festivals where the city’s writers converge to give readings and interviews. Try the Mountains to the Sea Festival (March), the Dublin Writers Festival (June), the International Literature Festival (May), and the Dublin Book Festival (November).
  10. Dublin Castle was originally built in 1204 on a site previously settled by the Vikings. After the Norman invasion of Ireland, King John of England commanded that a castle be built with strong walls and good ditches for the defense of the city, the administration of justice and the protection of the King’s treasures. Over the years it has served as a military fortress, a prison, treasury, courts of law and it was the seat of the English and then British Administration in Ireland for 700 years. They offer tours daily with experienced guides that take you from the excavation site of Viking and medieval Dublin to the former State Apartments.
  11. If historic jails are your thing, you can put Kilmainham Gaol (jail) on your Dublin to-do list. It opened in 1796 and was involved in some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s history. It is most widely known for the many Irish revolutionaries and leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising that were imprisoned and executed there on orders of the UK government. Thousands of ordinary men, women and children were also held there for crimes ranging from stealing food to murder. This is also where many of the convicts in Ireland waited to be transported to Australia. They offer guided tours but it is best to book online in advance to guarantee a spot. After learning about all that imprisonment, you might need a cold beer to lift your spirits, so….
  12. You already know this but I am going to tell you anyway; you can’t come to Dublin without visiting the Guinness Brewery. You just can’t. Even if you don’t drink beer, the Guinness story is an interesting one and the brewery is housed in an old fermentation plant in downtown Dublin. It is a dramatic story that begins over 250 years ago and the tour takes you through it, starting on the bottom floor of the world’s largest pint glass and it ends seven stories up at the Gravity Bar with panoramic views of Dublin and a complimentary pint. My Southern Baptist grandparents even took a tour and drank a pint with me at the top! It is a lot of fun and definitely worth your time!
  13. Ok, after that beer it is time for a little fresh air. The good news is that you’ve got a lot of options. From the brewery you can easily walk to Dublin’s famous shopping street, Grafton Street. Did you ever see the movie, ‘Once’? The picture on the cover was taken on Grafton Street and parts of the movie were also filmed there. It is a pedestrian only street busting at the seams with vitality. The architecture is mostly Victorian in style, dating from the late 19th/early 20th century, thought the origins of the street date back to the early 17th century. And if you’ve got a thing for shoes, Grafton (and Wicklow) Street is where to go! I would start on the southern end of the street next to Trinity College and work your way towards St. Stephen’s Green.
  14. St. Stephen’s Green is a little oasis in the middle of the city. This Victorian park is spread out over 22 acres and includes ornamental lakes and beautiful flowers. It was actually Sir A.E. Guinness who initiated the plan to open up the park to the people of Dublin after it served as a private community for the wealthier residents of Dublin for more than a century. Today it is a popular lunchtime spot for locals and children who go to visit their favorite ducks.
  15. The other famous swath of green in Dublin is called Phoenix Park and it just happens to be one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Originally formed as a royal hunting park in the 1660s, a large herd of fallow deer still remain to this day. It is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and with its many walking and cycling trails, it is a great spot for a plethora of outdoor activities.
  16. Dublin has so many great parks, but I would argue that the absolute best one is Croke Park. But unless you are a Gaelic sportsman, you’ll just be a spectator here.  Croke Park is the stadium ‘headquarters’ for Gaelic sports and it has the prodigious capacity of 82,000. The stadium itself is mammoth and the atmosphere there is just as big! Gaelic sports are Ireland’s pride and passion and have the same emphatic fan base as European soccer and American football. The main two Gaelic sports are called hurling and Gaelic football and they are both played on a field twice the size of a typical soccer field.  The season runs from February to September but tours of the stadium run year round. It is an awesome way to spend an afternoon in Dublin because I can tell ya’ – it won’t get more Irish than this!
  17. Dublin’s north/south train is called the DART, which consists of one line from Howth and Malahide in northern Dublin all the way to Greystones in County Wicklow. It primarily runs along the coastline of Dublin Bay, which makes for an absolutely stunning ride. It’s a lucky thing that it takes such a scenic path because it moves slower than Christmas, so at least you have plenty of time to take some Instagram-worthy money shots! There are a lot of great stops along the Dart line but two in particular that I would put on your ‘must see list’; Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey.
  18. Dun Laoghaire is a port town where all of the ferry boats from England dock. You can stroll along its mile-long pier and watch as the fishing boats and yachts sail quietly in and out of the harbor. If you pay attention to where the fishing boats dock when they come into the harbor, you can walk over and see all the seals in the water waiting to catch some escaping fish. They will actually let you buy fish they’ve brought in for a euro or two so you can feed the seals yourself.
  19. Right on the edge of Dun Laoghaire, which you can see from the pier, is the infamous James Joyce Tower, where he spent six nights in 1904 and from which the opening scenes of Ulysses take place. The tower is now a museum (about James Joyce) and like all Dublin museums, admission is free. It is also right here that the infamous 40-Foot is located where Dubliners ‘flush their organs’ by jumping into the bloody cold Irish Sea.
  20. Three stops away from Dun Laoghaire is the beautiful seaside town of Dalkey. It’s not a wonder that it is the Beverly Hills of Dublin with its jaw-dropping landscapes and picturesque castles perched on the hillsides. The main street, befittingly called Castle Street, has some great restaurants and local spots, such as Finnegan’s Pub, but the best thing in Dalkey to do is to stop into Select Stores and have Oliver whip you up an incredible smoothie before setting off on foot up to Vico Road. You’ll pass Bono, The Edge and Enya’s house along the way! It is hard to compare scenery in Ireland but the view from the top of Vico Road is definitely at the top of the list.
  21. Ok, now that you’ve gotten out of Dublin’s city center, I’d say to just keep on going. This might seem like a strange tip, but there are so many day trips around Dublin that are worth making. You can arrive to all of the following destinations I’ve suggested by bus, but if you are feeling brave I’d advise renting a car (or ‘hiring’ a car as the Irish say). It’s much more fun than taking a bus and gives you so much more freedom. But when I say “brave”, what I really mean is BRAVE because (a) you’ll most likely be driving on a side of the car that is all wrong, and (b) Irish roads are like nothing you’ve ever in your life seen before. 

    For starters, their roads were laid out in medieval times and were not designed for vehicles. Still today they are barely wide enough for one car but somehow you’ve got to make room for two cars, one going each direction. You might think there would be a small shoulder on the side of the road to pull off on to allow an oncoming car room to pass, but no. Irish roads don’t have shoulders. They have hedgerows. Hedgerows that are so thick they’re comparable to a brick wall. So should you decide to rent a car, you’ll want to point out to the car rental guy at the beginning that all those scratches down the right side of the car were already there, so the new ones you’ll add to them won’t be noticed. And you should go ahead and sign up for that extra insurance option…
  22. Ok, so where to first? Glendalough. It is an enchanted valley south of Dublin in County Wicklow, which makes for an easy day trip. It is also home to one of the most important early medieval monastic settlements in the world, founded in the 6th century. It was one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations until the Normans destroyed the monastery and the diocese became united with Dublin. The extensive ruins that remain include several churches, a cemetery and a 30-meter high round tower. They have an incredible visitor center that offers audiovisual shows and guided tours of the site. 

    Glendalough’s scenery is so breathtaking that that is where they filmed Braveheart and there are walks through the area where it was filmed. The grounds are covered in an illuminated green moss and the forests are thick with conifers and deciduous oaks. It was actually oak timber from Glendalough that was used to build the second-longest Viking longship ever recorded. Simply put, the area is just stunning and if you are a hiker, it also serves as an ideal base for hikes through the valley and around the glacial lakes. 

    Though Glendalough has amazing wildlife and nature, you don’t have to worry about bringing your bear spray or snakebite kit because Ireland has neither bears nor snakes. A somewhat bizarre but total positive is the lack of dangerous animals there altogether. There is nothing that stings, poisons or attacks, apart from nettles. As the legend goes, St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland, so yet another reason to dye a river green and get sloppy drunk in his honor.
  23. After leaving the monastery, I would spend the second half of my day driving through the Wicklow Mountains, which are part of a national park and are completely surreal.   There is one scenic drive in particular that is my favorite: from the Monastery, drive a few minutes to Laragh and take the Military Road (R115) across the mountains through Glencree, the Liffey Head Bog (source of Dublin’s river Liffey), the Sally Gap, and over to the Glenmacnass waterfall.
  24. Alternatively you could also take the R759 from near Roundwood to near Blessington and cross the Military Road at the Sally Gap. You’ll have views over Lough Tay and the privately owned Guiness Estate. But to be honest, you can take a right or left from any point in the Wicklow Mountains and your mind will be blown.
  25. A perfect way to finish out your day is by stopping at Johnnie Fox’s on your way home. It was established in 1798 and is one of Ireland’s oldest and most famous traditional Irish pubs. The furniture hasn’t changed much since 1798 and dining or drinking there is as if you are hanging out in the living room of a 19th century rural Irish home. The food is outstanding and the ‘craic’ is even better. No need to worry, Johnnie Fox’s is not a little drug depot in the mountains. Craic is a Gaelic word that basically means ‘fun’ and the Irish certainly know a thing or two about that.
  26. Another really cool spot in that neck of the woods is Powerscourt Estate. There is a manor house that sits on 47 acres of formal gardens, complete with secret hollows and magical walks. The Gardens have been continually designed from 1731 onwards and National Geographic has recently voted them the No. 3 garden in the world. About 6 kms away from the estate is Powerscourt Waterfall, which is an ideal location for picnics and nature walks. Both Powerscourt Estate and Powerscourt Waterfall are great for children due to the vast amount of space both offer.
  27. On the other side of Dublin, in the Boyne Valley, is one of Ireland’s most treasured gems; the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange. Built about 3,200 B.C., making it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, Newgrange is a passage tomb and ancient temple that is of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. It is a large mound covering over one acre and retained at the base by 97 kerbstones, which are decorated with megalithic art. It has a 62-foot long inner passage that leads to a cruciform chamber and is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice. At sunrise from December 19th -23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates a mystifying orifice in the roof at the entrance of the passageway and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending all the way to the other end. On December 21st, as the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated for 17 minutes. It is believed that the purpose of the Stone Age farmers who built Newgrange was to mark the beginning of the New Year and to serve as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death. It is a mystical place and extremely deserving of your time.
  28. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that you can’t leave Ireland without having some of their mouth watering Irish ‘Brown Bread’. The Irish know how to bake a mean loaf of bread. But let’s be clear, you don’t go to Ireland for the food, you go for the craic. I could talk all day about Irish dairy and Irish brown bread, but the food conversation stops there. With that said, when Irish brown bread and Irish butter meet, time sort of stops for a moment.
  29. Having lived in Dublin for three years, the before mentioned attractions would be my focus when visiting the city. With that said, there is a great new app called, ‘Dublin Discovery Trails app which takes you on two-hour themed walks and helps you independently explore the city. This is another great way to check Dublin out.

But no matter where you go or what you see, the ‘craic’ will be legendary and you’ll have the time of your life!

A Bavarian Love Story

There was a pair of red cowboy boots that I saw eighteen years ago in a shop window in Boston. They were the most incredible shoes I had ever seen. I stared at them for a long time but in the end I decided not to buy them because fashionably speaking, they were a bit too risky.   As soon as I walked away I knew I had made a mistake but I didn’t yet have the years of life lessons I needed in order to trust my gut and turn around and go get them.  I always regretted that decision and to this day, I still think about those shoes.  

Flash forward fifteen years…

The summer of 2015 in Munich was particularly hot and my friends and I spent most of our free time swimming in nearby lakes and sitting under the chestnut trees of Munich’s beer gardens. On one particular sweltering Sunday we spent the afternoon floating down the Eisbach, an alpine creek that runs through Munich’s English Garden, followed by a beer in one of the park’s famous beer gardens called the Chinese Tower.

As I was sitting at a table talking with my friends, I felt the heat baking my skin and my attention began to drift away from the conversation around me and instead to the thousands of people perched under the chestnut trees – also there escaping the heat. As I was scanning the crowd, my eyes suddenly stopped on a handsome young man sitting alone drinking a beer and reading a book by Max Goldt. Curiosity crept in and I couldn’t help but to sit there and watch him. He was confident, cool, casually dressed in a white t-shirt, navy slacks and sexy leather loafers. But there was something more than just his good looks – there was something about him that was completely captivating. After some time, he looked up and caught me staring at him, but instead of looking away embarrassed – I just smiled at him- and he smiled back.

Over the course of the next hour I attempted to re-enter the conversation with my friends but it was useless because my interest was completely consumed by the handsome guy with the leather loafers and the book. I hoped he might come over and talk to me, but as Germans don’t ‘do’ small talk, he didn’t dare. As I was raised in the States, women are taught not to be the ones to approach a man, so I also didn’t dare. It was just too risky.

I eventually grew weary from the heat and decided to leave my friends and my mystery man and go home. As I got up from the table he looked up at me and we exchanged one last smile before I turned and walked away. The bike ride home took twenty minutes and for the entire trip I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Suddenly I remembered the risky red cowboy boots in Boston that I’d always regretted not buying and my daydreaming turned to panic.  I suddenly felt despair that I had walked away and lost the chance to meet him. As soon as I got home I ran inside while simultaneously rummaging through my bag trying to find my phone. I found it and quickly texted my friend, Jihan, to ask if she was still at the beer garden. I sat suspended in time until she answered. When she replied, “Yes” I described the man to her and asked her to see if he was still there. The suspense morphed into an incredible relief when she replied that he was. This time I opted for the risk, so I asked her to write my name and number on a sheet of paper and go give it to him.

Then there was silence….

I feigned ease during those next thirty minutes – and then suddenly my phone beeped. It was a text from an unknown number… a text from someone who was completely witty and captivating… and my heart melted.  

That was the start of the life I have dreamed of since I was a kid. We married last year and now I am pregnant with our child. He is the best dream I’ve ever dreamt and my love for him is far beyond spoken words. Only he and the Stars will truly ever know…

Attractions in Paris

  1. Go to Marais, Montmartre or the 6th Arrondissement and get absolutely lost.
  2. If you end up in Marais, walk down Rue de Bretagne to the Marché couvert des Enfants Rouges (amazing market) and pick up a bottle of wine and some cheese on your way to the enchanting park of Place des Vosges. This is one of Paris’s hidden gems!
  3. If you end up in Montmartre, I’d suggest either taking a 2CV tour of the area, or as I said above, getting intentionally lost. But regardless of which one you choose, afterwards, you have to go find Rue des Abbesses, sit at one of their cafes and soak up the magnificence that surrounds you. I think this is one of the best streets in Paris.
  4. The 6th Arrondissement is on the ‘Left Bank’, which is on the other side of the river from Montmartre and Marais. It is completely charming and known for its café culture, art galleries and revolutionary intellectualism. It was also the hood of Voltaire and Napoleon. Per the advice of one of my Parisian friends when I asked her what I should do while in ‘the Sixth’, she responded, “You should go to the Pantheon and from there, walk to the Jardin Du Luxembourg. Afterwards, take Rue de Vaugirard and turn right on Boulevard Raspail. At the corner of Raspail / Rue de Sèvres, turn right on Rue de Sèvres and you’ll catch a sight of the incredible boutique Hermes. From there you will see the Square Boucicaut behind you and behind that is the Bon Marché. If you continue to take Rue de Sèvres to Rue de Rennes, it will take you to Saint Germain des Prés.” I took her advice and undoubtedly saw some of the best of Paris.
  5. On a smaller scale, but worth seeing for its stain glass alone, Saint Germain des Pres is the oldest church in Paris and nestled in one of it’s most iconic neighborhoods. It is also here where the great philosopher René Descartes is buried.    
  6. Buy a bottle of wine and walk down the Seine River at night under the sparkling Parisian sky.
  7. Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most fascinating cemeteries. It is home to the tombs of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Molière, Chopin, Oscar Wilde and a host of other famous names. Aside from this, the landscape and architecture of the cemetery makes it an art piece unto itself.
  8. Paris is known for its fashion, among other things, which makes shopping at its second-hand shops and vintage markets a total thrill, for women and men alike. Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen and Marché aux puces de la Porte de Vanves are Paris’s best vintage markets and where you can pick up beautiful antiques, name brand fashion, or oil paintings that may have been composed by some old French Master. Also on Sundays in Marais on Boulevard Beaumarchais, you’ll find an incredible street market with charming antiques and vintage clothing. Last time I was there, I bought a beautiful antique brass vase for $10 and it is still my favorite piece at home.
  9. I might also suggest a stroll through the gardens of the Palace of Fontainebleau, which is just outside the city.
  10. You can also see a show at the Palais Garnier, better known as the Opera of Paris and the setting for The Phantom of the Opera.
  11. If you are visiting Paris with someone you enjoy kissing, you can go recreate Robert Doisneau’s Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville (Kiss by the Town Hall) in front of the Hôtel-de-Ville in the 4th arrondissement.

For the more mainstream ventures: 

  1. If you want to stay on ‘the beaten path’ while in the city, consider buying The Paris Pass, which allows you free access to the most famous Paris museums and monuments, with a hop on, hop off bus tour included in the price.
  2. For incredible views of the city, you can either go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre or Belleville, the hilltop district where Edith Piaf was born. The latter is a great place to have a sundowner.
  3. If you’ve eaten one too many baguettes with cheese, you can quickly burn it off by climbing 674 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower. For the not-so-sporty types, you can opt to take the elevator to the top for under €12.50. I would recommend seeing it both during the day and at night when it sparkles!
  4. Rent a car or take a 2CV car tour on the Champs Elysees and brave the famous Arc de Triomphe roundabout!
  5. Ok, Ok, Ok… let’s talk about the Louvre. I am going to say something that will be deemed sacrilegious, however, noteworthy. The Louvre is considered the world’s greatest museum… but that all depends on what you consider ‘great’. If it is 18th century paintings of dogs on the hunt, war scenes, or straight-faced portraits of people you’ve never heard of, then the Louvre is for you. You’ll find 783,000 square feet of exactly that. For the rest of you, I’d go take your money shot in front of its famous pyramid by I.M. Pei, and then either hit the pavement and go see PARIS or visit the impressionists (Picasso, Renoir, Monet) at Musee D’Orsay. Yes, I know Mona is inside the Louvre but she is small and surrounded by thick glass and 300 people with flashing cameras, so I am of the opinion that studying a print of her is much more interesting than going to see her at the Louvre. If you are visiting Paris for longer than an extended weekend, going to the Louvre might make sense, but if you only have two or three days, there are so many other things to spend your time doing. If you do decide to go, buy your tickets in advance! The ticket line at the Louvre is something of an anomaly. It may be one of the longest lines I’ve ever seen. If you buy your tickets in advance online, you get to skip the queue and walk right in.
  6. Versailles is one of the most well known palaces in the world and the poster child for opulence. It was home to the royal family, political center of France during Louis XIV’s reign and remains to this day completely intact. For these reasons, it has important historical significance in French history. If you enjoy history and are ok with crowds, it is certainly worth seeing. They have an awesome website which contains everything you need to know about its history, opening times, tours, and prices. It would be smart to visit this site and purchase your tickets in advance. Like the Louvre, this will help you avoid lengthy lines.
  7. Having lived in Europe for a total of seven years, cathedrals and churches have all started to look the same, so when my husband said he wanted to see Notre Dame I was a bit hesitant. I thought if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I could not have been more wrong. Notre Dame is mind-blowing. It is the most awe-inspiring, dignified and glorious cathedral I have ever seen. Don’t let the line scare you. It moves fast and worth every minute of the wait.
  8. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a relatively new (1914), yet popular, landmark in Paris and located at the top of Montmartre, the highest point in the city. This stately church was designed by Paul Abadie and built between 1875 and 1914. What I find more interesting than the church itself is the neighborhood it rests in. Montmartre nurtured the great Parisian artists and writers of the 20th century, such as Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Matisse to name a few and today it still gives way to an incredible Bohemian lifestyle. This is also where my favorite street (Rue des Abbesses) is.
  9. After breaking one of my heels between two disagreeable cobblestones in Germany a few years back, I quickly realized why no one there wears them. Then I went to Paris, where I walked blindly into the birthplace of Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Hermes and Versace wearing my practical German walking boots only to be passed by women in stilettos. This is a city of fashion, so if you are in to discovering the newest wrinkle, you’ve landed in the perfect place. Cutting edge trends and chic Parisian boutiques surround you no matter where in the city you go. With that said, the Louis Vuitton ‘mothership’, called ‘Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme’, recently redesigned by master architectural auteur Peter Marino, is located in the first arrondissement and whether you have money to spend there or not, you should at least go see this incredible space.
  10. After all of this walking around your feet probably need a rest, so it is finally time to nestle into the café culture of Paris. And I do mean ‘nestle’. As it is in Vienna, the Parisian café is a place to sit and stay awhile. You may at first think that Parisian waiters are rude, but unlike the Viennese waiters, they actually aren’t. They are simply professional men (most often men) in a hurry, waiting on tourists that are speaking a cocktail of languages. Unlike many of the waiters in English speaking countries who are waiting tables until they get a ‘real job’, for most French waiters this is their career. So go easy on them. They will be around to help you shortly. My favorite Parisian cafés are on the Rue des Abbesses in Montmartre but you can honestly go anywhere in Paris and find the ‘perfect spot’.
  11. The oldest restaurant in France is in ‘the 6th’ on Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and is called Procope. It was established in 1686 but still has incredible food, is reasonably priced, and still has the hat that Napoleon left as an IOU, and the table at which Voltaire frequented and drank many of his forty daily cups of coffee.


When I sat back to think about my celebratory New Year’s Eve options this year, many ideas popped into my head. I could, of course, go celebrate it with my family in Georgia (USA) like I’ve done so many times by eating pig’s feet to bring luck, collard greens to bring dollars and black-eyed peas to bring coins. Or I could stay in Germany and celebrate with friends over Bleigießen (German fortune telling via molten lead) and ‘Dinner for One’ (an English comedy sketch that has become a New Year’s Eve ritual in Germany).   There are so many beautiful cities across the world with wonderful traditions, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that actually the best place for me to usher in the New Year is simply from a place of gratitude.

If you think about it, we are all a complete success. We are actually one of the greatest, most unbelievable, most victorious creations that has ever lived. It is only a failure of our imagination and recognition that prevents us from pausing sometimes to revel at how incredibly, categorically, ridiculously and astronomically lucky and great we all are.

How cool is it that the Divine Force that created oceans, planets and galaxies, looked at you and thought the world needs one of you too? We were born into what I consider an ‘auspicious age’, in that we are living in a time of incredible mobility, astrophysics, inconceivable medical advancement, and LBGT rights, just to name a few. Five hundred years ago we were throwing our trash out the window and then wading through its decay on the streets. Five hundred years from now, the planet will be a technological quandary. But right here, right now, we are given the opportunity to experience life in a way that we have never before and may never be able to again.

So I challenge us all this year to try and live more from a place of gratitude and less from a place of basing our happiness upon a socially prescribed lifestyle that keeps us constantly in need of more and in search of an obscure ‘pot of gold’. You already are that pot of gold. So expect miracles. Choose people who choose you. Don’t push, but instead follow that all-knowing magnetic pull. Wait without anxiety. Forget the mistake but remember the lesson. Be the story that you always wanted to tell. If you get knocked down, add more lipstick and attack. Know the universe has your back. Don’t forget to fall in love with yourself. And most importantly, have a damn fun time in the process. That breath you just took was a miracle…

You’re already an illustrious triumph.

So cheers to you and Have a Wonderful New Years!



A Winter Wonderland

Growing up in the United States, I was a devout member of the Christmas season. I always tried to pick out the best tree, decorated it to perfection and topped it off with a beautiful star. I brewed homemade mulled wine to fill my house with the scent of Christmas (and to have the odd glass or three) and invited friends over for dazzling Christmas parties. I had every Christmas cd known to man, but I always went back to that one amazing carol, ‘A Winter Wonderland’. It wasn’t until I moved to Germany that I realized they actually exist. If you’ve been to one of Germany’s Christmas markets, you know what I’m talking about. For you newcomers, get your earmuffs on and cameras ready because Santa Claus really lives in Germany.

After four Christmases living here, following the scent of fir sprigs and cinnamon north to south and east to west, I have decorously appointed myself as a Christmas market connoisseur. I can confidently tell you that beyond the myriad of reasons I am so proud to live in Germany, the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) top the list. From Munich to Dresden and Goslar to Lüneburg, Germany outdoes itself year after year.

During the four-week Advent season, which begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year, you’ll find at least one Christmas market in almost every town and city across Germany. Each Weihnachtsmarkt has its own personality and specialties but you’ll find Potters, Glassblowers, Bakers and Craft Workers at each one, demonstrating their artistry and selling their goods. You may at first attempt to ignore the homemade gingerbread cookies and chocolate covered delights but after your second glass of glühwein (mulled wine) you may find that your self-control has melted down enough that you forgot why you even thought it was a bad idea in the first place. And the reality is that is was NEVER a bad idea. You can drop the guilt at New Year’s doorstep where we all will stand together on our soap boxes and swear away ‘empty calories’ forever. Reconcile any calorie build-up then, but not now; the Christmas markets are no place for worries.

Many cities and towns, like Hannover, transform part of their markets into an alluring fairy forest made from real fir trees, replete with bars hidden amongst them (because what fairy forest doesn’t have a bar) and tables made from tree trunks. Evocative aromas dance through the air teasing you with the smells of delectable glühwein, mouth-watering bratwursts, homemade fudge, and ambrosial roasted chestnuts. I sang ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ at the top of my lungs in church and in my car at least a couple hundred times in my life, but it wasn’t until going to the German Christmas markets that I actually found out what chestnuts really were. A little nut from Heaven is what they are. Hand delivered by the Christ Child himself.

Many European countries draw crowds for their traditions but no one does Christmas quite like Germany; and what better place to visit a Christmas market than the country where they originated? In the Late Middle Ages in Europe special winter markets, often open only for a day or two in early winter, offered townspeople a chance to stock up on food and supplies to last them through the cold months. With time, crafts men and women began setting up stands at these winter markets to sell baskets, toys, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and other baked goods. This was the precursor of contemporary Christmas markets, with the first documented ones in Munich (1310), Frankfurt am Main (1393) and Dresden (1434).

Regardless of which quaint markets in Germany you choose to visit, you will find stunning backdrops, incredible food, a gilded atmosphere, and many nostalgic stalls selling authentic Christmas gifts that are not mass-produced but craftwork of real quality. To experience a real Weinachtsmarkt is to experience a true fairytale, so hopefully this Christmas season I will see you in a lane where snow is glistening; it’ll be a beautiful sight, where we will all be full of delight, walking in a Winter Wonderland…

Our Expansive Space

There I was. Standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, alone, with nothing more than a backpack and a certainty that soon it would make sense why I had chosen to come here. I wasn’t meeting Francesco, a friend of a friend, for a few more hours, so I had some time to amble along the cobblestone streets before refreshing after the thirteen-hour flight and making myself presentable for dinner. As I looked around, trying to decide which direction I should take, I saw a poster for a Gustav Klimt exhibition and felt an immediate lure. How could I have known that making the decision to see it would be the reason I would move to Vienna a year later, eventually ending up in Germany and living the life I had dreamed of as a child?

As I walked from room to room, enjoying the ambience that only inquisitiveness paired with that level of filigree can create, I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be moving closer and closer toward symphonic music. When I finally uncovered this mystifying space, I was escorted into it by a capacious curiosity. Beethoven’s 9th symphony was playing from the speakers and I found myself surrounded on three walls by a single piece of art. Spirituality, intemperance, sensuality, hope and greed, coalesced to create a masterpiece of eternal bliss. It was Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze and I had never been synchronously struck by stillness and harmony before like I was in that moment.  

I have spent almost half of my life traveling into unknown spaces, thinking that I was moving out of my comfort zone, only to find that with every step along my journey, I moved more and more into it. I had to travel 4,800 miles from Denver, Colorado to Venice, Italy to feel the most alive and understood in that one moment than I ever had before in my life. It was standing there that I realized comfort is derived from honoring the spirit of who you are and following the path that belongs to you. Your comfort zone is with you wherever you go and trusting in that is where you’ll find your freedom.

Attractions in Hannover

The region of Hannover is home to fairy tale castles such as, Marienburg Castle, Bückeburg Castle, Hämelschenburg Castle, Bad Pyrmont Castle, Bevern Castle, Fürstenberg Castle and Corvey Castle. Visitors find themselves transported back in time while discovering a wealth of fascinating treasures. They are all home to year-round opulent festivities and markets, which can be found on the websites of each respective castle. All of the castles have belonged to the infamous Guelph family for seven hundred years and still do even today. All these castles bear testimony in stone to courtly intrigue, to the rise and fall of mighty dynasties, to the lives of princesses, rulers, kings and their lovers at the royal courts – and they tell fascinating stories in which great joy and sorrow are closely intertwined in tales that have eternal appeal. In several castles the authentic furnishings have also survived the ravages of the years and they make history come alive more vibrantly than any book could ever do.

The Red Thread is a ‘DIY’ tour that takes you 4,200 meters through the city center to see important architectural, historical and entertaining attractions. You can pick up an informative brochure, which describes all the monuments you pass on your tour from the Tourist Information Office.

A wonderful way to get off the beaten path in Hannover is to take an Eat The World tour in one of Hannover’s four popular neighborhoods. Eat The World was founded in Berlin, but has expanded to many other German cities with the aim of giving people local insight into the life behind the scenes of a city which includes history, architecture, and cuisine. Along the way you stop in three to five different restaurants and sample what the locals eat. Its an amazing concept and totally worth your time!

Sit on the right side of tram 4 or 5 heading north-east from Hannover’s city center for the best view of the mansions along Nienburger Strasse. This will take you through the elegant heart of the university and reveal why Hannover was once said to be “schönste Stadt der Welt” – the most beautiful city in the world.

If you are not tired from walking through castles and fairy tale towns, you can keep going in Europe’s largest urban forest, called the Eilenriede, where you can walk from one edge of Hannover to the other without seeing a building. If that still isn’t enough fresh air for you, you can visit another one of the city’s leafy oases at the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. It is here that the International Fireworks Competition takes place every year, decorously acquiring an international reputation and drawing visitors from all over the world.

You can also visit Hannover’s maritime wonderland called the Maschsee while you are in town. It is a 190-acre recreational area with a beautiful lake in the middle. You can walk its 6.5 km path around the lake, or opt for yachting, canoeing or pedal boating instead. It hosts one of northern Germany’s biggest events every year called the Maschsee Lake Festival. It is usually in August and has over two million visitors every year that come for its open-air concerts, dances, theatrical performances, as well as its myriad of culinary treats.

Hannover’s castle-like Neues Rathaus or New City Hall was opened in 1913 and sits in the Maschpark on the southern tip of the city center. It is famous for a number of things, one being its diagonal shaped elevator that slopes at an angle of seventeen degrees as it follows the dome to the top. It is here that you can also find four scale models of the city in the Middle Ages, before World War II, after the destruction of The War, and as it stands today.  

Despite WWII bombings, Hannover’s Altstadt (old city) is a charming place to stroll through. It is here that you will find the gothic Marktkirche, the Old City Hall, the Ballhof and the home of Germany’s famous mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

The Marktkirche, or Market Church, was built in the 14th century and is considered the southernmost example of North German brick gothic architectural style. It is the main Lutheran church in Hannover and has through its years provoked much interest due to its architectural style, as well as the ancient symbolism it portrays. It has a giant pentagram built on its western tower and a hexagram surrounds the clock tower. Five and six pointed stars were first used by Teutonic pagans and it is no secret that many of the pagan traditions, such as Lower Saxony’s Easter fires are still very much alive in this area today.

The List / Oststadt is a chic neighborhood that has been a residential area in Hannover since the 14th century. It borders the Eilenriede, Hannover’s urban forest, on one side and the city center on the other, making it a premier location. The buildings in this area were built during ‘Gründerzeit’, an age of industrialization and economic boom in the 19th century before the stock market crash of 1873. They were built with richly decorated facades in the form of Gothic Revivial, Renaissance Revival, German Renaissance and Baroque Revival. It is a beautiful area of the city to walk through and it gives you a feeling of what they city was like before WWII.

Hannover’s Berggarten is Germany’s oldest botanical garden, dating back to the 17th century and today houses a world famous orchid collection. It is located on the infamous Herrenhausen property and can be visited along with two other gardens on the magnificent grounds.