5 Reasons to Wander Paris Without a Map

Paris has been my favorite weekend trip during my time abroad so far. Maybe it was the fact that it was during my extended spring break, or that I was accompanied by my boyfriend. It could have been the constant pastry food coma that I was in. No matter the exact reason why I loved it so much, some of the best moments of the trip happened when there were no plans.

It goes completely against my nature to explore a new city without an exact plan or destination, and I still did manage to route parts of the trip in order to see what a tourist needs to see, but when I got the chance to put away my phone I did. Of course, getting home from where we ended up called for a little technical help. Paris is a beautiful city and I believe now that the best way to see it for what it is is to wander it without a map. Here’s why:

1. The Best Views Are Not Always The Classic Ones

DSC_0505.jpgAlmost everyone wants to see the love lock bridge when they go to Paris, but even better than that is the small park underneath Pont Neuf that provides sanctuary from the constant flow of people at the more tourist-focused locations. The walk to and from the Sacre-Coeur just added to the view at the top, so even walking instead of riding makes for a view.

It’s often right around the corner, behind, or underneath the crowded stuff that you can find the real views that are worth seeing and completely taking in. That is not to say that I did not enjoy the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay, but they just did not capture my attention in the same day.

2. Each Person Is Different.

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I cannot honestly say that all locals were nice and welcoming, especially this one waitress who was not having our English, but the people that were willing to have conversations with us made up for it all. Upon entering two random, separate stores, we met two people born-and-raised in France who spoke perfect English. It was because of their language abilities that we got to know the people, making us wish we spoke fluent French in order to make interactions like these more commonplace.

The first was a student working in a small boutique and had a great taste in music. The other was a man who owned Pigalle Basketball and loved sharing the sport’s culture in France with us, not to mention throw a few jokes at my boyfriend. Two very different people, and maybe one more interesting that the first, but amazing to converse with nonetheless.

3. You’ll Stumble on the Best Macarons

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You can get Ladurée just about anywhere nowadays, so the real key is following your heart, eyes, and stomach to the local stands. Some of them are gimmicky with their fancy flavors, but macarons come down to the sweetness and consistency to me. I wish I had taken down the name or location of the place that we got creme brûlée and coconut macaroons, but I can say it was a display in the Montmartre area.

The same idea goes for other local cuisine, from pastries to gourmet dinners. Trying a cuisine for the first time makes it hard to decide if it is genuinely good or bad, but as far as my own enjoyment was concerned I was never disappointed by the food we found in Paris. We never tracked down a particular restaurant. Instead we chose what looked best on whatever street we were on. Maybe we got lucky, or maybe Paris is just full of really amazing food.

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4. It Truly Is Romantic

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I was lucky enough to spend three days in Paris with my boyfriend. As college students, opportunities like that don’t come up very often. Leaning on nothing but each other to figure out what step was next was exactly why I wanted to go there with him in the first place. When I felt the need to navigate the city with a map, he pulled me back to reality and away from my screen. I have him to thank for making the trip as great as it was.

**Edit: Only go with a spouse/life-long partner, not your cheating college boyfriend.

5. You Just Can’t Go Wrong In Paris

 

 

Every city has its bad neighborhoods, but there is something about Paris streets that leave me willing to risk it in order to explore. That may sound naive, and part of it may come from the fact that I had a strong, protective male with me, but I also think it shows a shift in my own perspective by the end of the trip. I may not have agreed with my own post upon my arrival the first night, but after even just my first full day I was embracing the city more for what it was; beautiful, interesting, and full of possibilities.

Rain or shine, Paris is full of exciting things on every street. Not with the same excitement as NYC or London, but the kind of excitement that hits home when you see beautiful street art or architecture. I will return to Paris one day. There is no doubt in my mind that I can make that happen. I hope to return with the mindset that I left: leave the phone in my pocket and just keep wandering.

On to the next,

Casey

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7 Things to Do in Interlaken, Switzerland

When making my country bucket list for my study abroad trip, Switzerland slowly made its way to the top as I returned to the list over a few months time. I had no desire to ski the swiss alps or explore the water. I just wanted to see the beautiful mountain from the bottom and eat some chocolate. Not knowing who to go with or how to get there, I tried not to get my hopes up until I was booking the trip itself just two weeks in advance.

I found myself being able to go, with my friend Caitlyn by my side, in late February. It almost didn’t happen a couple times, and getting there was a feat in it of itself, but I am so thankful for having made it through the whirlwind trip.

I had less than 48 hours in the country, but I think I used my time wisely enough to be able to pass on my tips. Here is what I consider to be the essential things to do and see in Interlaken, Switzerland:

1. Go Paragliding

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I am not sure if I can do the experience of paragliding justice through my words, but I will give it a try. After what can only be a complete lack of coordination on my end during the first attempt at take off, my pilot Simon and I sailed off the side of the mountain over the city of Interlaken. From the moment we were in the air, I was in awe. The nerves I had were gone and I wanted to soak up the 15 minutes that I had because it was pure bliss to just look out at the lakes, buildings, and mountains. He even pulled some “rollercoaster” moves that would normally ruin anything for me, but I embraced it all. I would recommend paragliding to anyone, and just about anywhere. I hope to do it somewhere warm next time.

2. Don’t Just Eat Chocolate; Make It!

The Funky Chocolate Club offers an experience that takes you from bean to bar. They definitely tailor to the gullible tourist market, but I am not mad about it. Their calling is for a chance to get “chocolate wasted” and they delivered as soon as they gave us our first piece.

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Our adorable chocolate guide taught us about the history of chocolate, how the different kinds are made, and helped us make three bars of our own. It was a chill vibe that also enhanced the importance of the chocolate process. The best part was that because I made the chocolate, it is just a bit easier to ration it knowing I put work into it. I still went through two of the three bars in a week.. oops!

Would also highly recommend their chocolate covered strawberries.

3. Stroll Through Unterseen

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Deciding to get up at 5:45 am on a Saturday, after a full day of traveling the day before, was the best thing we could have done for ourselves. I could not exactly tell you how the larger city of Interlaken is divided besides this area, but the town of Unterseen was worth seeing. There was no one around, even after we took our time getting up and eating breakfast, as we strolled the streets at 7am.

Clouds were everywhere and it could have been warmer, but seeing the unique architecture and shops was nice. It was also our first real look at the mountains. They took my breath away, as we had arrived too late to see them the night before. I had seen mountains in California and Pennsylvania, but these are in a league of their own in both size and density of trees. I was constantly turning every which way in order to see them all.

4. Eat An American Burger at an Irish Pub In Switzerland

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The 3 Tells Irish Pub has the worst nachos I have ever had, thanks to some stale chips and nasty guac, but the biggest and messiest burger I may have ever had. That is a very good thing. It was right next to our youth hostel, Balmers, which is probably why it is so popular. The cheese on the burger had a great taste, the bun was different, and the fries were unnecessary considering the size of the burger but I still scarfed them down. It was kind of our only option to eat at the time, and the service was a little uncomfortable, but overall I can’t complain too much when they serve a quality burger like that.

Shoutout to Barracuda Cafe and Bar, just down the road from 3 Tells, for serving bagels in the morning and mojitos at night.

5. Sneak into the Victoria-Jungfrau

Just make your way through the first floor and even up a staircase or two. We simply wanted to get warm, but it was probably the nicest hotel I’ve been in–even if I didn’t stay there. I spent maybe 40 minutes here while our chocolate cooled, but it was the perfect spot to taste of life of luxury, even it was just from using their bathroom and sitting on some cozy sofas.

6. Take A (Free) Bus To Oberhofen Castle

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Now we are still not sure whether the ride should have truly been free but hoping on and off several buses without being checked for tickets made it easy to jaunt about. Working in several missed buses there and back, and maybe a few panic moments, we found out that Oberhofen Castle was surrounded by beautiful water and a quiet town. It took us about 5 minutes to realize that the only thing to do there that time of the year was take in the view, but making out way out there was well worth it just for that.

7. Check out a Lake or TwoIMG_5618.jpg

The bus ride to Oberhofen offered an amazing view of Lake Thun (pronounced “tune”), but Lake Geneva gave that a run for its money as we made our way to the airport. Lakeside mountains are a combination I never grew up seeing but that I miss already.

 

Here is a look at some of the stuff I mentioned, as Caitlyn captured it all in an amazing video. Let me know if I missed anything… I may need to go back some day when it’s a bit warmer!

Here’s to my next adventure and finally writing about them!

xx Casey

I’m Going to London! Setting Intentions for my Spring Abroad

2018 is about to be quite a year for me. Last year I set specific goals, but now I am just going into 2018 as mindfull, eager to learn, and adventurous as possible! I am excited to have some people reading along, so plan to hear more from me as we go!

In what I can only imagine will be a quick 2 and a half weeks, I will be in London. Years of yes, no, and maybe so’s about studying abroad will be exchanged for a whole new set of thoughts as I navigate a new city and try to make it my home in just four months.

Everyone keeps asking me what I plan on doing when I am abroad. Have I got an extensive London bucket list? What am I most excited about? As I get closer, I definitely find myself thinking more specifically about my trip. Even the trips within the trip, considering I have all of Europe at my finger tips. For me, it all boils down to having an overall open mind set without being set on exactly what I will do and how it will go. I know there are some certainties that come with my trip, but the rest is waiting for me once I get there.

What I Know

I will visit five European countries besides England this Spring, but I am open to what countries those are. I have been saving to make sure that I can see the views that until recently seemed so unattainable to see. Greece beaches and Swiss mountains are what I envision, but I don’t want to get set on places that I may not find a companion to go with. I have my base number and I will be grateful to see whatever beautiful destinations I make it to.

There is a whole lot of food in Europe, and I plan to eat as much of it as I can. I will get self conscious about my body here and there, but every food baby should come down to being a sign that I am doing something right. It’s time to eat everything comforting, indulgent, sweet, spicy, and new. The food can be all or one of those things.

I know that my camera will be my best friend because just as it is important to live in the moment, it’s important to follow my passions and remember the entire experience.

What I Intend to Find Out

I may be in an English speaking country but that doesn’t save me from culture shock. I’ll see how they live across the pond, creating an adjustment period that is sure to leave me missing my friends and boyfriend back home. A long distance relationship is something I never imagined myself having to deal with, but on top of that I have to adjust to my life there and focus on myself. It’ll be a bit of a balancing act and a whole lot of learning on my part.

Going abroad for a month in Spain brought me a new sense of independence and confidence that has been dwindling since my return. I can only hope to learn about myself as I am forced to live for myself and make all of my own decision as I adjust and move forward.

Intentions and unknowns aside, I could not be more excited for what is to come. There is no denying that there are going to be tough times, but I know all of the tough times will be met with equally as amazing times. I plan on capturing as much of my trip as possible and sharing it with whatever readers stumble this way.

Here’s to an adventurous Spring 2018!

Casey

 

Granada, Spain: First Impressions

And just like that I’ve been in Spain for three full days. I keep having to recount on the calendar from both shock and exhaustion. I slept like a baby the first night here, leaving me somewhat ready to live the sleepless life of a Spaniard while taking in as much as possible. Between the walking tours and host mom bonding, I have some thoughts on this beautiful city:

Architecture // Arquitectura

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While I fell in love with UD for its “old” brick buildings and style, Granada takes that love for old architecture to another level. There are plenty of modern buildings to appreciate, and I won’t romanticize the simple apartments, but the historical buildings and albayzín take me through time and space with their many influences and styles.

Coffee // Café

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I’ve seen just one Starbucks since I stepped off my plane, and it was in the Madrid airport. I’ve passed a Dunkin’ on the daily as we’ve explored, but I am continuously drawn to every single small coffee shop we pass. I’ve managed to surpass my host mom’s expectations by not just not having the jitters from their “strong” coffee but also needing more coffee throughout after the cup she gives me with breakfast. My cortado experiences haven’t failed me, but more importantly the black coffee is also much smoother than in America.

Food // Comida

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Not everyone here eats breakfast, but when they do it can easily be a cup of chocolate and fresh churros without judgement. I could go for a syrup soaked french toast any day in America, so that sweet alternative is nice for when the typical coffee and toast doesn’t cut it.

The unspoken motto here is that lunch is the most important meal of the day, which so far have consisted of a rice-with-red-meat-sauce and then carrot puree with chicken wings. With nothing too terrifying (yet), I’ve taken on that big meal every day with open arms and a mouth open wide. Don’t even get me started on the magic of tapas.

Other // Otro IMG_8444.jpg

It’s been an overwhelming couple of days, but I could not be happier to be here. I knew coming into this that I would go outside of my comfort zone, and here I am waving at it from a distance–churro in hand. The biggest surprises continue to be the struggle of showering and how quickly I go from understanding my host mom to being completely lost. It’s more apparent to me now than ever that a smile means the same thing everywhere. I can only imagine that my Spanish discussion class will help me, only after the initial pain of getting into the swing of things. It’s been easy to forget I’m actually going to come out of this trip with another grade on my transcript.

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It’s flown by more than anything, but I already have great memories to show for it. Bring on the next 4 weeks.

Hasta luego,

Casey

Spain Countdown: 2 Weeks

One year ago, I was bouncing around the idea of studying abroad during a winter session.

Eight months ago I found out that I was accepted into the program.

Two weeks from now I will be on my way to Spain.

The process to studying abroad is a slow one, but it has still been barely enough time for the fact that I am living in Granada, Spain for a month to sink in. I’ve taken action on something Idsc_0815 had talked about doing for years but with a twist.

I never thought I would study abroad in Spain. The plan was always London and only London. The UK is not off my list, but I couldn’t wait until junior year of college. I also wasn’t about to have my first experience abroad be for a full semester. That brought me to the magic of a month in Spain, with a host grandma to lessen the strains.

It’s this huge leap of faith outside of my comfort zone, into a Spanish speaking country that will support my minor and nurture my terrible accent, that I am eagerly counting down to.

As I prepare for all of tricks and turns of travel, I am kept awake at night by a few particular ideas:

1. Familia de acogida

If there’s one thing that moving halfway across the country for school taught me, it’s that there’s nothing like family. Or family-like figures. The idea of my host family, which is essentially three generations, is so comforting. I might still be overly optimistic in hoping that I’ll develop some incredible bond with all of them.

2. Hablando Español

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Taking up a Spanish minor is mostly for my own enjoyment, no matter how un-naturally the language can come to me sometimes. Time for me to embrace how terribly I sound in the start in order to not just get by but enhance my skills.

3. La comida

Get back to me on this after I make eye contact with what’s on my plate, but the authentic cuisine and endless coffee that I am bound to enjoy already make my tastebuds water.

4. La belleza pura

Everyone I know can expect a lot of Instagram posts, and this trip was my main motivation for purchasing my Nikon, but pictures are really only worth taking if I have a beautiful subject. It’s not hard to be better than my current polar vortex location, but Granada is going to have a type of classic European beauty that I have not yet been able to witness.

5. La perspectivaimg_7908

I used to have this idea that traveling would change me. That every stamp on my passport would practically bring me to enlightenment. I’ve changed my tune a bit, or perhaps just my wording. Spending a month in Granada will give me the perspective I need to grow as a person. That growth, no matter how big or small, will allow me to enjoy not just my month in Granada but all future endeavors. Whether it be more independence or appreciation for what I have, Granada ought to teach me a little something more than what my SPAN208 class has to offer.

~Be on the look out for more travel posts~

Constantly excited,

Casey

Follow my travels more on social media! @caseyirwin97 @penneformythoughts

 

You Can Call Me The Girl Who Ate the World

It was my creative writing class this semester that gave me the final push to return to my abandoned child of a blog. It reminded me that it’s not about what exactly I write but that fact that I am writing at all. The following personal narrative, and my final for the class, brings me nothing but pride and hunger for both food and adventure

Of all the posts to return to CC with, I think this is a curveball for all of us but enjoy!

The Girl Who Ate the World

By Casey Irwin

I plan on eating the world. Our planet we love and live for, I plan on devouring—and I don’t just mean I’m going to eat at the “Top Ten Restaurants in Rome”.

I am going to eat Rome.

Devour Moscow.

Consume Toronto.

Throw in some Hong Kong and even Vienna for dessert. I am going to eat the world until nothing remains.

I left Chicago because there was nothing left of it. I was eating away at it as I grew up, really learning the best mindsets when setting out to explore my city, person, or plate before me. My family nurtured me with putting experiences over everything, which showed me the best approaches to satisfying my hunger. I started off slow, not completely taking it in until the picky eater in me faded away and a big appetite took its place.  Even as I visit, returning only after it has had a chance to rebuild itself in my absence, I eat all that I missed and more of the surrounding areas. Eat one city and it is as if two grows back in its place. There is always something new to try while too much of the same also remains.

Next I will be on to Spain. I go. I try the Paella. The Jamón. The Tapas. But I don’t stop there. I consume the smiles that join me for every meal. I am given energy by the flowing conversation around the table. I snack on the satisfaction of a meal out, with a buzz from a coffee and a life-high hangover. Every element of Spain fuels me for my next trip, repaying the meals that my host family feed me with the filling feelings of appreciation and love. I leave without a regret; not a corner unturned.

Maybe India is next. India might be a bit harder to swallow, but I will take on any challenge if it means a full stomach. To some people it isn’t as pleasant as other places, but throwing enough spices on anything will make it tasty. I will be bloated by the rivers, and I’ll need to run off those festivals and traditions later. Social media will capture it all before there is nothing left to capture. Consuming India is a more intimidating idea, more than just the different table manners that come with a different place. It can take a lot of energy to step into a place without letting expectations and other people’s judgments take over, but what you get out of it is so much more. I won’t let the over crowded streets clog my arteries when there is something so satisfying about sharing a meal or traditional chai tea with someone that expects nothing from you except a smile.

Again I will be forced to question myself as I make my way to Egypt. History is like the bran muffin of subjects to some people, while to me the thousands of years of being marinated in conflict and culture have left Egypt ready to be cooked and consumed like a fine steak. My tongue may grow tired from trying to speak the native language, only to have my appetite grow with the humorous conversation around my mispronunciations. The tourist filled pyramids won’t stick with me, like how carbs never manage to keep me full for long. It’ll be the authentic restaurants and people that will carry me from one adventure to the next.

It’s then that I am ready for Melbourne, Australia. One of my high school best friends was from here, but I would like to think she would be encouraging and even helpful as I nibble away at it. The artistic support that has been created by the beautiful city, whether it be through the discussion around cafés or street art, will make it go down so smoothly. The intriguing thoughts brought up enrich my body more than any vitamin could.

Can’t leave out South America. I’ll make my way through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela by way of the Andes Mountains. The rough terrain has nothing on my chompers, making my way through small villages and vast cities. You would think that I would get tired of it after so many countries, but people tend to forget just how different the Latin American countries are. Only once I take a sip of satisfaction where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet will I move on.

To Baklava in Athens.

Korean Barbeque in Seoul.

Matriarchy in Mosuo, China.

The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

Equality in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Only the penguins of Antarctica are safe. One sided conversations leave a bad aftertaste.

I will travel them all, picking my teeth clean of them one by one, until I have licked my plate clean and eaten it too.

~          ~         ~

 I would eat the world if I could; for I think it would taste pretty damn good.

That is the thing though. Food isn’t just food. We don’t just consume and grow from what we put in our mouths. Food is the conversation around the table. Food is the energy of whoever you care to share a meal with and the culture that surrounds its roots. Meals are remembered by the place they are eaten and who they are with. Food is an experience that can be done alone, but is so much better with people by your side to complete the experience.

Starved Rock State Park

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Every week approaching summer seems to get longer as we have to stare at beautiful days from inside buildings. One thing that I didn’t think I would miss about warm weather is being out in it. I never used to be an outdoorsy person, and I don’t think I would put that in personal description about myself now, but cabin fever has me dreaming of fresh air and long walks. Now the beloved beach is a different story, but the woods are a new thing for me. It leaves me reminiscent of my day trip to Starved Rock State Park in Olgesby, Illinois this past summer. The midwest is not known for much other than strange metal beans and pizza, but I will give it some credit for maintaining our nation’s natural beauty at a few more hidden gems.

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  • That moment you step out of the car, whether your from one or 10 hours away, is going to be a great feeling. Before the heat hits you, but after the air conditioning has been giving you goosebumps, is pure bliss–and you don’t quiet know what is ahead.
  • The views are amazing from the top of the highest mountain or the deepest part of a valley.
  • Horseback riding and boat tours are apparently offered and I am sad I missed them but you shouldn’t.
  • You can’t get a better workout than running from a giant spider or searching for that one hidden trail.

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Specifics:

  • Waterfalls: I never thought I would see a waterfall in a place so close to my everyday suburbs. I believe my friends and I made it to the biggest one, and while it was still not huge it was still breathtaking.
  • Lodge: Starved rock isn’t just a bunch of trees, but an occasional wedding destination or lunch outing. Taking cover for an hour or two in the lodge is perfect for getting reenergized for the next trail, especially when they have a great menu.
  • The River: Some of the trails go right along the water. It’s no ocean, but the breeze coming off the water and openness comes as a nice second.

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I can imagine my experience would have been even better if it hadn’t been the hottest day of the summer when I trekked through the woods. Now you definitely won’t see me camping anytime soon, but I am ready to hit some East Coast hiking trails soon! Being around actual mountains is a real treat that I could get used to.

Have any of you ever been? How about East Coast destinations? 

Constantly Curious,

Casey