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

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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

 

Picture This: How I See Things

This past weekend has been one of the craziest of my life. Typing has never felt so good as my voice is fading from the past few days as I go through rushing for sororities at my university. I have luckily been able to talk a lot about how much I love to write! More on that later, but due to my hectic schedule I did not want to leave you all hanging and I was not about to skip a post! I promise this sorority will not  affect consciousofcasey again, but for about the first time in my life I was not prepared for not having time to write! I thought I would take the limited time I have to share some photos. They say pictures say a thousand words, which saves me a lot of time for not having to write those words myself.

I take a lot of pictures, whether they be of food or landscapes, so these are just a few of my favorites that kind of fit well together. The following pictures take you on a journey from Chicago to New Jersey. I have taken all of these in the past 6 months or so… Enjoy!

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Photo 1: Somewhere between it all
Photo 2: New Jersey
Photos 3, 5, and 6: Ocean City Boardwalk
Photo 4: Ocean City, New Jersey

Only after this post goes live will I post any of these photos on Instagram. I did not want this post to just be a copy of my Instagram feed, but new perspectives and images. I am just an amateur with an iPhone, but looking through these now remind me how much I love photography.

Do any of you know any good cameras for traveling? I am hoping to save up for one soon, but I am so lost on what is good for someone who wants to experiment more with manual, still have the option for automatic, and take really high-quality shots without carrying around something giant!

See you with more words next time,

Casey

 

What I’m Going to, and What You Should, Miss About Chicago

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Two days from now I am leaving my hometown, and for once I have no idea when I will be back. No Thanksgiving or Christmas pulling me home this time. While I couldn’t be happier to be heading back East, leaving is a strange feeling. I didn’t always like Chicago, but my eyes have really opened up to it these past couple years.

While I do not actually live directly in the city, I thought I would share what I am going to miss most about Chicago and what parts of the city are really worth seeing. The best part is that you could see or go to most of these in just one day!

1. Navy Pier

IMG_5096.jpgThe first time I went to Navy Pier was to see a play in middle school. Last time I went was this summer with my two best friends. All the times in between are a blur, except the awkward magic that is prom. Navy pier has so many activities to offer, but the long, historical ferris wheel ride is my favorite. I have yet to play mini-golf there, but I have heard that it is pretty fun too!

2. Anywhere with Deep DishIMG_9639.jpg

Luckily for all of us deep dish can also be found in the surrounding Chicago suburbs AND be shipped anywhere in the America, so there are always opportunities for deep pizza. Giordano’s in my go-to, but Gino’s East is another Chicago classic. East coast pizza is amazing, but deep dish has a special place in my heart and stomach.

3. The ArchitectureIMG_2366.jpg

I learned to really appreciate Chicago architecture when my basic photography class went around the city taking photos. From the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park to the random banks near Union Station, I find the building’s and their histories beautiful. Walking from place to place in the summer is the best way to see it all.

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4. The Willis (*Sears*) Tower

Probably the most touristy place on this list, but the wait in line is worth it. The view reaching from the horizon of the lake to the surrounding suburbs is stunning, even on the cloudiest of Chicago days. I don’t mind heights, so I find sitting on the ledge is the best part!

5. The Lincoln Park Area

IMG_9074.jpgFull of one-of-a-kind shops and the Urban Outfitters surplus store, the neighborhoods near Lincoln park makes me think that I could have maybe survived going to school in Chicago. It is a quiet alternative to the magnificent mile with its suburban townhouses and zoo animals–both in the zoo and on campus.

Honorary mentions to Lollapalooza, the people of Chicago, and the suburbs, all of which have their good and bad moments.

Distance is definitely going to make my heart grow fonder, but i’m not going to miss Chicago winter that will, of course, be over soon after I leave.

Any Chicagoans think I missed something? Anyone heading to Chicago soon?

Your Resident Chicago Suburb-ean,

Casey

 

 

My Kind of Off-Season Get Away: CT, USA

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Nothing sounds better to me right now than a nice trip. I was lucky enough to travel a lot during my college search, and going to college itself it such a traveling treat with so many new places to explore near campus. While I want nothing more than to travel to new places, returning to my favorites come as a close second. Not even the freezing cold temperatures would keep me back.

While my mom and I flew to Connecticut about ten months ago, the stressful four hours at UConn have been practically repressed from my memory as the rest of my short time in Connecticut was so amazing. I recommend you check this place out if you ever get the chance!

Madison, Connecticut Highlights

The Emptiness

Going to Connecticut in the off-season is not going to be the warmest or most energetic, but you will get the best service. It could be my own introvert-ness, but nothing beats an almost empty dining room or a full beach for two. It creates a peaceful air about the area that is a rare experience.

The Food

You have all probably caught on for my love of food. The Madison Beach hotel is a IMG_4752.jpgseafood lover’s dream. Unfortunately I would not define myself as one, but I still enjoyed my shrimp meal. The real treat is Christy’s, a short 30-second drive from the hotel. The actual restaurant was adorable, which matched the amazing pancakes, eggs, and bacon that were delicious. The picture I have does not do them justice.

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Panorama of Stoney Creek

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During my short time in CT, my mom wanted to take a trip down memory
lane in a town that was just a quick detour from our way to the airport. We simply drove through Branford, and it was so different from what I have grown up in. For that it was amazing. My mom said it had barely changed since she lived there, making it that much more adorable.

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The Pure Beauty

Connecticut is so breathtaking in the barren winter and beginning of spring, I can only imagine how amazing it is in the summer. The Madison Beach Hotel is right on the beach, right next to tons of houses. It is all surrounded by the ocean wave sounds and breezes– all of which I am a sucker for–but I think anyone would fall for the coast here.

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Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall–Connecticut is an amazing destination that I hope to explore more as my life shifts more to the East Coast. It is only the tip of the iceberg for my New England and traveling adventures.

I hope I have single handedly boosted Connecticut’s tourist rates, if the hopeful reboot of Gilmore Girls hasn’t already.

Are any of you from CT and find my love for your home area strange? Have any of you been or are considering going?

Continue Wanderlust-ing

Casey