Yu yuan classical garden in the heart of Shanghai

China is definitely filled with beautiful temples and fabulously manicured gardens. Walking through these tranquil gardens on these hot summer days is such a peaceful experience. We spent the morning walking through this beautiful gardens enjoying the sunny weather and the cool the shade provides.

Yu yuan Garden was finished in 1577 by a government officer of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) named Pan Yunduan. Yu in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying, and this garden was specially built for Pan’s parents as a place for them to enjoy a tranquil and happy time in their old age.

In the 400 years of existence, Yuyuan Garden had undergone many changes. During the late Ming Dynasty, it became very dilapidated with the decline of Pan’s family. In 1760, some rich merchants bought it and spent more than 20 years reconstructing the buildings. During the Opium War of the 19th century, it was severely damaged. The garden we got to explore is the result of a five year restoration project which began in 1956.

Yu yuan Garden
Dragons cover the tops of the walls in the Yu yuan Garden

Yu yuan Garden occupies an area of 20,000 square meters. The pavilions, halls, rockeries, ponds and cloisters all have unique characteristics.

As we entered the garden we encountered a rockery, which is called the Great Rockery. With a height of 14 meters, it is the largest as well as the oldest rockery in the southern region of the Yangtze River.

the Great Rockery
A small temple on top of the Great Rockery

Cuixiu Hall sits at the foot of the rockery. It is a quiet and elegant place surrounded by old trees and beautiful flowers.

Cuixiu Hall
Cuixiu Hall at the foot of this rockery

Sansui Hall was built in 1760 and was originally used to entertain guests. Later it became a place to hold ceremonies for the gentlemen and bookmen. With a height of nine meters and featuring five halls, it is the largest and most commodious structure in the garden. The name Sansui is derived from the book History of the later Han Dynasty, and means ‘propitious’ and ‘lucky’.

Sansui Hall
Mom relaxing in the Sansui Hall
Yule Pavilion
Me in the Yule Pavilion

Wandering through the area of Yule Pavilion and Wanhua Chamber, we found  numerous pavilions, corridors, streams and beautiful courtyards.

Wanhua Chamber,
Wanhua Chamber

After such a peaceful morning we couldn’t wait to have a cup of lovely Chinese tea in Shanghai’s oldest teahouse.

A Taste of Street Art in Shanghai

In a city of over 20 million, I was bound to come across some street art. It surprised me that the Chinese word for graffiti is tuya (涂鸦), a word used to describe “scribble”. Traditionally, graffiti is viewed as criminal art or vandalism in China. If caught painting in non-designated areas, artists will be fined, arrested, forced to paint over their work, or possibly held in jail for a few days.

Street art in Shanghai
A beautiful mural I found in Pudong, Shanghai.

In an attempt to reverse the negative connotations of graffiti, some artists refer to themselves as aerosol artists. Also to development of graffiti in China all the materials must become popular and cheap for everyone as spray paint is a rare commodity in Shanghai.

At the moment the government allows street artists to only paint in certain designated places and are often supervised while doing so.

Street art in Shanghai
Artist at work under the supervision of the police

Despite the ambiguity of the law against graffiti the phenomenon of graffiti is on the rise. I look forward to seeing what other pieces I can find in this bustling city.

10 Things my first months of Living in China has Taught me

Moving halfway across the world to live and work abroad is always a big challenge, but also hands down my favourite way to explore this amazing world. I’m still new to Shanghai, China but reflecting on the experiences and lessons I’ve learned in this short period of time I know this has been a good move. I moved to China with the idea of living here for a year, but one month in I realised that I would definitely be living here for longer.

Here are the most important things I have learned so far while living and working in Shanghai, China.

1. WeChat is Everything

The mobile phone is king in China and you will be lost without a smartphone. I had my smartphone unlocked before I moved to China and downloaded WeChat the Chinese version of Whatsapp. But that’s just the beginning, because WeChat is your life. Chinese people actually don’t use regular text messages, they just use WeChat to text, send voice messages and even to send actual documents as attachments. I have also embraced WeChat pay which you can use to pay for almost anything, so I don’t need to carry cash with me here in Shanghai. Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall places has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Other than WeChat you need a smart phone to order taxis, food delivery and train or plane tickets by using different apps on your phone. You also need your mobile phone to access the shared bikes here in Shanghai which makes life so much easier.

2. Free VPNs Will Not Cut It for Internet Usage

If you want to access sites and apps like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and more, you’ll need a VPN. It is a virtual private network which allows you to access sites that are blocked here in China. I am so glad that I was warned about this before moving to china. The going rate tends to be about $50-$100 USD per year for a functioning VPN. Trust me, the free ones might work for a week or so but in the long run you realize how lost you are without access to the big world wide web without a VPN.

3. In winter, AlWAYS go well wrapped up to restaurants and cafes

I wish someone had told me that, due to a government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river. This policy was intended to bring about huge savings in energy costs. Just a few miles to the north of Shanghai, the public buildings are toasty warm throughout the winter. However, in Shanghai itself, we are expected to happily shiver through freezing winter temperatures whenever we leave our houses.

4. Invest in a proper face-mask as Surgical Masks Don’t Do Anything

When I moved to China I had no idea what the pollution level was. I have seen images of very polluted days in China, often accompanied by photos of people in surgical masks. I thought these might be rare occurrences but soon found out that this is quite common during the colder months. Forget the surgical masks, they are great for keeping yourself from getting sick on a crowded subway, but they will not work for the pollution at all. What you need is a 3M mask that will protect you from PM2.5. Don’t worry, you will be able to buy one here in China, and they even come in funky colours!

5. Buy an Air Purifier, your lungs will thank you

The media emphasizes wearing a mask outside, but let’s be honest, if it’s really polluted, you’re probably staying indoors. This is an option I have opted for a couple of times so far this winter. Unfortunately the pollution filters into our houses and I have woken up coughing more than once on heavily polluted days. I now know that it is very important to invest in a good air purifier for your apartment if you plan on living here for a while.

6. Fitted Sheets Are Not Popular

I never really thought twice about my sheets. While I like to sleep with soft and comfortable blankets, my bottom sheet never concerned me all that much. Well, over my lifetime I’ve become very accustomed to fitted sheets, and I was shocked to find that China does not share my love for fitted sheets. After searching a bit online I eventually found a place that sold them. But next time I am definitely bringing some from home!

7. Coffee Is Expensive

While many of the foreign restaurants are only expensive by comparison, imported foods and coffee are much more expensive than they are back home. Thanks to China’s tariffs, you can expect to pay up to two or three times the original price for items like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal.

Coffee is seen as a luxury in China, and many coffee shops price the drink accordingly. I was shocked to find that I could buy an entire meal for half the price of a tiny latte.

8. Bring Your Own Sunscreen

I was warned before moving to China that sunscreen isn’t very common here. Most people in China cover up to avoid the sun’s harmful rays so sunscreen tends to be sold in small bottles and is super pricey. In China you will also find the term “whitening” on your sunscreen along with most facial moisturisers. So I have brought my own, as personally I am very nervous about using a product that will end up bleaching my skin.

9. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper

While I knew about squat toilets, no one ever told me not to flush my toilet paper. Next to every toilet you’ll find a small basket for you to throw your used paper. Chinese pipes aren’t equipped to handle non-organic waste, so you may find your toilet clogged if you try flushing your paper one too many times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Many public restrooms also don’t have toilet paper or soap, so you’ll probably want to bring some hand sanitizer from home and pick up a mini pack of tissues when you arrive.

Living in Shanghai, China
Bike of Burden

10. “That’s so China” Is an expression you will also end up using

Being open-minded is so important, as cliché as it may sound take everything with a pinch of salt and remember that you are a guest in another country. What you may see as the cultural or social norm will most likely be different, once you learn and adapt to living as a ‘guest’ in another country you will enjoy the experience a lot more. A saying that has stuck with me and can only be fully understood by individuals who have experienced travelling or living in China is to “expect the unexpected” and “that’s so China”. As soon as you think you have seen it all, whether it’s something new or shocking, positive and/or negative something else will occur making you say “that’s so China”.

Living in Shanghai, China
Drying chickens with the laundry on a sidewalk next to a busy street…..only in China!

China is a complicated country with a long history, and living here has been positive and negative all in one. I have experienced and accepted some of the ‘negatives’ to living and working in this big city but still love the country as the positives out shine any of the negatives. I think the surprise of discovering new things every day has made my life here an adventure. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to arrive in China with an open mind. China is so large and complex, discovering new aspects of life and culture are just part of the fun!

Living in Shanghai, China
Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Don’t let your fears and apprehensions hold you back from the adventure of moving to China.

Dafu Buddha, a Chinese Masterpiece

 Mom and I in front of the Leshan Giant Buddha

Mom and I in front of the Leshan Giant Buddha

MASTERPIECE.  No matter where you are (and where you’ve been), I’m certain you’ve stumbled upon something extraordinary: a place that blows your mind; a work of art or object that speaks to you; or even a location or scene that’s special, unusual, or even magical in some way.

I thought of the Dafu or Leshan Giant Buddha that I had the opportunity to see while on my China Odyssey with my mom.

Construction on the Leshan Giant Buddha started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. After his death, however, the construction was stuck due to insufficient funding. About 70 years later, a jiedushi decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Haitong’s disciples in 803.

The Buddha is 71 meters tall, the largest stone Buddha in the world
The Buddha is 71 meters tall, the largest stone Buddha in the world

Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.

His shoulders are 28 metres wide
His shoulders are 28 metres wide

When the Giant Buddha was carved, a huge thirteen story wooden structure, plated in gold, was built to shelter it from rain and sunshine. This structure was destroyed and sacked by the Mongols during the wars at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. From then on, the stone statue was exposed to the elements.

At 71 meters tall, it is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.

Foreshadowing a humid day

Foreshadowing is a literary device in which an author hints certain plot developments that perhaps will come to be later in the story. It is used to arouse the reader, viewer or listener about how the story will proceed and mentally prepare them for how it will unfold.

The Magnificent Mist covered Xian Wall
The Magnificent Mist covered Xian Wall

Exploring the magnificent city walls of Xian during our China Odyssey was definitely an amazing adventure. Here is a taste of our mist covered morning spent on one of the most famous ancient city walls in China. Xian wall is the longest, the most intact and best-preserved, and the largest in scale of the ancient defense systems in the world. This wall has a circumference of 13.74 kilometers which you can walk, bike or for the soft option take a little “golf cart” trip. 

Four reasons why it’s time you take a Road Trip in Germany

Nestled among nine other countries, Germany is an expansive paradise for travellers who love to be on the road. Its idyllic mountain scenery and lush countryside combined with deep pride in its automotive exports are a formula for some of the best driving conditions in the world. The diligence and care they take in the cars they produce are reflected in the pristine, perfectly maintained autobahn. Here are just four of many reasons why a road trip in Germany should be on everyone’s bucket list.

https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1508698947694-5ae81f424907?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&ixid=eyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9&auto=format&fit=crop&w=1189&q=80

  1. Go on a nostalgic journey through an enchanting Fairy Tale Route

The Fairy Tale Route is perfect for the young at heart, spanning from Hanau where the Brothers Grimm were born to Bremen. There are countless charming towns and villages along the way that still retain that picturesque medieval quality we associate with The Grimm Fairy Tales.

 

Some of the places you pass through actually featured in the stories – such as Hamelin, where the Pied Piper legend was born, Alsfeld, where Little Red Riding Hood’s house still stands, and Bad Wildungen, where Snow White lived.

 

  1. Lovers of wine can follow a route dedicated to the beloved grape

The ‘Deutsche Weinstraße’ is the oldest wine route in Germany, having been established in 1935. It starts in Schweigen-Rechtenbach, on the border of France, continues throughout the stunning Rhineland-Palatinate vineyards and ends in Bockenheim an der Weinstraße.

 

From March through to October many places along the German Wine Route host some of the largest outdoor wine festivals in the world. Everyone from amateur wine drinkers to expert sommeliers can soak in the heritage and majesty of the wine-growing region.

https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1537640538966-79f369143f8f?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&ixid=eyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9&auto=format&fit=crop&w=1053&q=80

  1. Enjoy a thrilling driving experience with access to roads that have no speed limits

While there are certain stretches of road that do impose limits, Germany is the only country in Europe that has no official speed limit on motorways. Drivers go at speeds of up to 150mph and sometimes more, with the government believing people do not need to be micromanaged. For the ultimate road-trip make sure you choose the right car and have a clear plan of your route. If you do decide to drive fast, be sure to have read the relevant highway information and adhere to all regulations.

 

  1. Spend a day in areas of astounding natural beauty like Lake Konigssee

The name means ‘Kings lake’ and at 190 meters, it is the deepest lake in Germany – surrounded by the steep cliffs of Mount Watzmann, all road trippers should wind down with a trip here. Fellow travellers recommend typing Hotel Bergheimat in Schonau am Konigssee into your navigation system. This brings you to the main road that leads into the Konigssee where there is a large area for designated parking that is close to the lakes and boats.

https://unsplash.com/photos/7uDRk7fnou8

As well as the ones already mentioned, there are a number of routes in Germany that are connected by a theme. The roads are signposted clearly and provide road-trippers with tried and tested circuits that suit their interests.

A Walk through the Old Shanghai

No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.”
― Patrick Rothfuss

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Images of Life in Shanghai

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Happy Year of the PIG from the Alleys of Yuyuan Garden.

As I explore the alleys of Yuyuan Garden I am constantly reminded that it is the Lunar New Year and that we have entered the year of the Pig! Chinese New Year 2019 started on Tuesday, February 5th and ends on January 24th, 2020.

You probably know there are 12 Chinese zodiac animals used to represent years, 2019 is the year of the Pig. Zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture, and can be used to determine your fortune for the year, marriage compatibility, career fit, best times to have a baby, and so much more. Many large corporations in China still reference it before making important decisions!

But did you know that the zodiacs originally had something to do with the worship of animals?

One legend says that the Jade Emperor needed to choose 12 animals as palace guards. The Cat asked his neighbour Rat to help him sign up. Rat forgot, which is why they became mortal enemies.

At the palace, Ox was first in line, but Rat secretly climbed onto Ox’s back and jumped in front of him. Tiger and Dragon thought it was unfair, but they could only settle behind Ox. Rabbit found it unfair too. He wanted to race with Dragon and succeeded.

Alleys of Yuyuan Garden
The bazaar surrounds the beautiful Yuyuan Garden

This angered Dog, who bit Rabbit in a fit and was sent to the back as punishment. Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey and Rooster fought amongst themselves as well. Pig was late because he overslept.

Of course, this is only a story and there are quite a few different versions.

According to the Chinese astrology, 2019 is a great year to make money, and a good year to invest! 2019 is going to be full of joy, a year of friendship and love for all the zodiac signs; an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

Alleys of Yuyuan Garden
Browse the array of Old Shanghai treasures and pick up artworks and craft items.

But if you were born in the year of the PIG, 2019 is seen as a hurdle you have jump over as your zodiac year is bad luck. There are multiple explanations for this. The Chinese believe that children can easily be taken by demons. And your benming year (the year of your zodiac animal) is your rebirth year.

Your defence from evil spirits and bad fortune is the colour red. Just as you can decorate your home in red for protection and fortune, you can also wear red clothing. Many people will wear red underwear every day of the year. Others add on red shirts, pants, jewellery, insoles and more! Even in modern times, it’s still treated as a real concern.

Either way I do hope that 2019 is a very good year for you!!

Happy Year of the PIG!!

10 Things you should know about Chinese New Year

It is the Lunar New Year and everything in China seems to have turned red. Houses are decorated with red Spring Festival Couplets, red lanterns, and red paper cuttings and even city streets are lit up with red lanterns. This is because red in Chinese culture is the symbol of happiness, wealth and prosperity, and can ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. These red decorations are to the festival what Christmas trees are to Christmas.

It is such a beautiful time of the year to be in China and to experience this important festival. As this is my first year living in China during this festival I have done a little bit of research about it and have found some very interesting facts. Did you know that The holiday is also called “Spring Festival”? This surprised ma as it is in winter, but it is seen as the ‘Start of Spring’ . While wintry weather prevails, ‘Start of Spring’ marks the end of the coldest part of winter, when the Chinese traditionally could look forward to the beginning of spring. I do hope this is true and that it will be warming up soon.

Here are some more facts that you might find interesting.

1. Chinese New Year Is About New Potential

Nearly all of the traditions and observed during Chinese New Year serve one purpose: to usher in as much good fortune and prosperity in the new year as possible. I like that they arrange things in a way to receive as much incoming luck as can be grabbed. Washing hair or clothes is not allowed on the first day of the lunar year because it is seen as “washing one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the year. Sweeping up and taking out the garbage symbolize removing the good luck from the house, so people don’t do that either.

2. Chinese New Year Isn’t on a Fixed Date

The date for Chinese New Year changes each year. It always falls between January 21 and February 20, which is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. Chinese New Year 2019 is on Tuesday February 5.

The lunar calendar is still really important in China, even though it has officially moved to the Gregorian calendar like the rest of the world. All traditional holidays and days such as the Winter Solstice are celebrated. Some people still calculate their birthdays and ages according to the lunar calendar too!

3. The festival is celebrated for 16 days till the Lantern Festival.Traditionally, the 16 days from New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival each have a special celebration activity. In the evening of the 15th day of the first lunar month (February 19, 2019), on the night of the full moon, families gather for dinner and go out and see fireworks and light lanterns. Lanterns are put up for decoration, let loose to fly, and floated in rivers. I can not wait to go and see this, although I think it is going to be very crowded.

4. It is a day for praying to gods

The Spring Festival was originally a ceremonial day to pray to gods for a good planting and harvest season. People also prayed to their ancestors, as they were treated as gods

5. And fighting off monsters

But the myths are much more interesting. According to one legend, there was a monster named Nian (). It would come about every New Year’s Eve. Most people would hide in their homes. But one boy was brave enough to fight him off using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated their survival by setting off even more firecrackers. And that practice became a crucial part of the Spring Festival.

6. The festival causes the world’s largest annual migration.

For Chinese people, the most important part of the Chinese Spring Festival is to enjoy a reunion dinner with their families on New Year’s Eve, even if they have to travel long distances. It is the longest public holiday and the whole country is on the move. 200 million Mainland Chinese travel long distances for these holidays, and it is estimated that there are 3.5 billion journeys in China. Tens of millions of people travel in other countries too. It makes the largest annual human migration in the world, known as the Spring Festival Travel Rush.

In China, where much of the migration takes place, it’s been claimed that trains are so overcrowded people have to wear adult diapers for their 24-hour journeys home. Something that I am glad I will be missing as I am spending the whole holiday in Shanghai.

7. Billions of red envelopes are exchanged.

Chinese people love the colour red. Giving red envelopes is a way to send good wishes and luck (as well as money). The practice of giving red envelopes (hong bao) with money inside has been digitized. People can send small gifts to friends, family, and employees digitally via China’s messaging apps. The world record for most text messages sent in a day is broken each year during Chinese New Year. The current record was 19 billion.

8. The Chinese Calendar Is Way Ahead of the Gregorian

Per the Chinese calendar, Chinese New Year in 2019 begins the year 4716. The future seems to have arrived because year numbering was once based on the whim of emperors and when they decided a new era had begun.

9. Fireworks are used to scare evil spirits

Most mainland Chinese believe that the flash and bang of firecrackers and fireworks scare away demons and evil ghosts. The loud bangs and chaos are meant to frighten away the Nian, a mythological beast that once came around to eat villagers.

Always a country that likes to do things big and set records, China has often grabbed the record for the world’s largest organized fireworks display during Chinese New Year. Fireworks have been banned here in Shanghai so unfortunately I did not get to see this display.

10. Singles hire fake boy/girlfriends to take home.

Chinese New Year is a joyful time for most, but for singles above the normal matrimonial age it’s not. In China, females are said to be marriageable up to 30, and males before 32. For “old” singles, parents are extremely anxious. So New Year’s Eve stress is heightened by embarrassing interrogations of the singles. Desperate parents even arrange dating (prospective marriages) for their single children.

To solve this problem an interesting solution has appeared — renting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the New Year. There are websites and agents who specialize in this business. It is quite sad that people need to go to this extreme just to avoid being questioned by their family.

I look forward to going out in Shanghai to check out the parades, lion dances, lantern statues, and amazing food!

Doors of Shanghai

“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.”
― Elizabeth Taylor

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Why you should explore this Unique Alley in Shanghai

Alleys provide great opportunities to walk through something a little more intimately scaled. Sometimes they provide a refuge from the city. But Tianzifang is the opposite of a refuge. It is tucked away off the French Concession in Shanghai and is a maze of alleys and shops that was definitely slightly overwhelming the first time.

Tianzifang is a history-rich old quarter where East meets West. As I looked around I could see products not only designed in China but all over the world for sale in tiny restored buildings that are back-to-back with local residences. While my eyes were feasting on all the things that the merchants sell, my mind was also wandering amidst the traditional vibe of the place. The aesthetics of the establishments are very charming since the shops are still reflective of old Shanghai style.

As I explored the alleyways I ended up being jostled around with other tourists who were also getting lost in the maze for the 20th time. My first visit was very overwhelming and I could hardly take everything in. But this was a great excuse to go and visit again, and the next time I made sure that I arrived before 9am, so as to avoid the crowds that start flooding in after 11am.

Here are some essential Travel Tips for when you visit Tianzifang

  1. When you drop by Tianzifang, keep in mind that there are three main lanes which you can take. These lanes each go from north to south and there are several smaller alleys which intersect with each lane. If you find yourself quite lost because of all the turns that you have taken while being entertained by the various products that are being sold, just look for one of the main lanes and you can easily find where you are supposed to go next.

2. Get there very early to avoid hordes of domestic tourists. Otherwise be prepared for being pushed around when this area gets busier.

3. Avoid going in the holidays when it is very, very crowded.

4. Learn to bargain on the stuff you are going to buy. I was advised that you should pay as little as two thirds of the price asked originally.

5. A camera is necessary when you go to Tianzifang as there will be so much you would love to capture. But be careful as it is not allowed to take pictures in the residential area where the local residents still live.

6. Look out for the old residential buildings called ‘shikumen’, literally ‘stone doors’. These houses have stone door-frames and solid wooden doors.

7. Many original residents still live in the narrow lanes. Please be mindful and respect their privacy.

8. Some shops do not permit you to take photos, even of the exterior. So don’t feel offended when they stop you and chase you away.

9. Besides places of business, there are still some residents living there. Don’t enter residential houses mistakenly.

10. Take toilet-paper as there are only traditional Chinese toilets. Otherwise there are nice public toilets in the mall across the street where the Starbucks is located.

Where is your favourite alleyway to explore?

Why I Walk to Explore places like Rathmullan in Ireland

Rathmullan, situated in County Donegal, Ireland is the perfect location to ‘get away from it all’. While driving along the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland we spent the night in Rathmullan and the next morning walked along the Milford Sli na Slainte (path to health). With it’s wonderful beach and wooded hillsides we could relax and enjoy the quieter pace of life that is characteristic of smaller Irish villages.

Rathmullan, situated in County Donegal, Ireland
The beautiful Beach of Rathmullan, situated in County Donegal, Ireland

The Milford Sli na Slainte is a path that started at the pier and took us all along the beautiful beach to a rocky outcrop at the mouth of a small river. After crossing the bridge over Maggie’s Burn we turned left onto the Fanad by-pass road. This road took us through the countryside, along pastures and woodland until we once again got back to the town centre.

Here are ten reasons why you should sling on your best walking shoes and explore the countryside:

  1. Walking is free exercise. Walking is as close to free as it gets. You don’t need fancy shoes, or clothes, or equipment. If you head straight out your front door, a walk will only cost you some time and a little rubber off the bottom of your shoes. Many people are surprised to learn that walking is actually a serious form of exercise. Although you may not feel like you are working too hard, in just one mile you can burn off over 100 calories.

  2. Walking connects me with my surroundings. One can’t possibly notice the many small details of buildings and woodlands while driving. When you’re on foot, you notice all kinds of things you’d never notice in a car. I always thing of a walk as an opportunity to explore the area and to admire the scenery. I usually try to do some research beforehand and find out a bit about the area and always take my camera with.
  1. Walking changes your perspective. You start to see where the environment is built for people, and where it’s built for cars. Cosy shops lining the street become more inviting. It’s while I’m walking that I notice the frost on the grass, or a rabbit hiding behind a tree, or the moon peeking out from behind the clouds.
  1. Walking inspires curiosity. Who built that building? What was it like then? Who uses it now? What is over that hill? Are those berries edible? Wouldn’t it be cool to have a coffee shop on that corner? You might not know where you’re headed, and that’s ok. Getting lost in nature is the bes thing ever!
  1. Reduce your carbon footprint. Many of us would like to make a personal contribution to climate change, and here is a simple way that you can… ditch those car keys in favour of walking shoes and avoid carbon emissions completely. Every trip (however short) you take on foot is one you aren’t taking in your car. That’s good for you, and it’s good for the environment.
  1. Free your brain. Anxiety, stress, and mental health issues are common issues that people face in today’s society. Walking is a perfect way to zone-out, de-stress and rid yourself of all the negative thoughts in your mind from the day. A brief walk can melt mental fatigueimprove memory, and even help stave off the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Taking a walk is a great way to leave all the worry of the day behind.
  1. It’s a Great Way to Enjoy the Weather. Summers are short and oh so sweet. I just can’t wait to get outside, and while I haven’t figured out how to be able to spend all day on a blanket at the park, walking somewhere gives me a great excuse to savor a few sweet moments of sunshine. I have nothing against the other seasons. I love rainy spring walks, and crisp fall walks. I even love bundling up for an icy winter walk, especially late at night. Every season (and day, for that matter) has its moments. Walking gives you a chance to soak them up.
  1. Its Great for Your Creativity. English wordsmith William Wordsworth is said to have spent much of his life on foot, walking. Henry David Thoreau often walked up to 20 miles at a time before he put pen to paper. Virginia Woolf was a regular walker. In fact, there’s a very long list of writers who considered walking part of their craft. If you’re a creative type, the walking path might just lead to enlightenment.

 

  1. It’s an Excuse to Get Some Ice Coffee. Walking is a great excuse to pick up a cup of ice coffee to enjoy along the way. At least you’re burning some of those calories, right?

 

  1. It’s the Perfect Time do do Some Reflecting. We often think of meditation as something that happens when you’re sitting still, but in reality, that’s very hard to do. The washing machine will chime. The phone will ring. Your neighbours will make noise. If you walk, your brain will be able to do its quiet wandering with less distraction.

 

What are your reasons for walking?

Postcards from Dublin, Ireland

These are some of the photos I took in Dublin while on my Road Trip through Ireland.

Postcards from Dublin, Ireland
Dublin is filled with some amazing buildings. This is the Building housing Modern Art.
Postcards from Dublin, Ireland
In the heart of Dublin

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat Moon

What I learned from my Ireland Road Trip

Road Trips are a commitment, there’s no way around that. And once you’ve started, there’s absolutely no getting out of it. Well, I guess you could always hop out halfway and call for a cab, but that’s for quitters and it’s also slightly dangerous. Stay in the car.

Going on a road trip Through Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way with my friend Amy sounded like the best thing ever! It was only once our trip had started that I realised we would have very limited space for most of our trip. My travel companion was literally twelve inches away from me for most of the day. I also quickly learned that the driver needs to be fully focused so there was no talking while she was trying to navigate the treacherous back roads along the Irish coast.

I think the big thing about Road Trips are that everyone, at some point along the journey, finds themselves wondering why on earth they decided that this was the best way to travel? And yet, despite this moment, you will get back in the car, and continue the adventure. And then – maybe not immediately, maybe not in a week, but eventually you will realise that there were also lessons learnt along this journey.

#1 There is no such thing as too many snacks.

We were both travelling on a very tight budget so before heading out, we thought that skimping on the number of snacks we purchased was one of the best ways to save a little money. This was a very big mistake. We realised this half way through our journey and this time round, properly stocked up on snacks. Snacks were an important component to keeping the both of us sane on this trip.

#2 There is no such thing as too many stops.

Sure, it was important to reach our destination eventually, but it was the stops along the way that I remember most clearly about our time on the road.

Being able to stop whenever we wanted was one of the greatest benefits of a road trip so we tried to take advantage of it! Whenever you saw some beautiful landscape or a great look out point we took the time to pull over to the side of the road to enjoy it!

#3 Just be present.

Like a lot of people I am guilty of taking a lot of photos, more than needed. And in doing so I often miss out of the moment. Just by taking in the scenery and not looking through my camera lens constantly I felt more present.

I realised that I had to stop rushing through the sights and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the scenery. I tried to slow down and take in my surroundings with all five of my senses. While on this road trip I was forced to relax and do one thing at a time. When we weren’t driving somewhere we focused on what we were doing right at that moment, whether it was hiking or having a cup of coffee or walking along the beach.

Even though we were busy almost constantly, I felt more present, and time seemed to last longer.

#4 Silence is okay.

I don’t always deal very well with silence. While travelling I am usually either talking or listening to music. But I quickly learned that my travel partner needed to be fully focused so there was no talking while she was trying to navigate the treacherous back roads along the Irish coast. At first I found it quite frustrating to drive in silence, but it did give me the chance to think and to take in my surroundings. There were a number of wonderful, peaceful silences that I experienced with my fellow traveller while driving through scenery that looked like it could be from a documentary.

#5 Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s a necessity

If ever patience were required, it is on a road trip. Things go wrong. You get lost. Sometimes things go wrong and there is nothing you can do except breathe, take a step back, and find another way. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do except wait and be patient.

There is traffic. You’re have to deal with other drivers. There are 20km/ph towns and 80km/ph highways. Your GPS is wrong or does not know where you are. We knew we were in Ireland the moment our GPS couldn’t pronounce the names and settled for spelling it. Your sandwiches will get soaked, cheese will spoil and milk will go bad. You and your road trip partner will probably get on each others nerves at some point.

It happen. We had to deal with it. I had to embrace the chaos.

#6 It’s the Company You Keep

At the end of the day, what matters most is who you are with. This holds true in any circumstance, but especially on a road trip. Choose someone you can get lost in conversation with for hours. Someone you can be yourself around. I’ve learned that you truly know someone only after you’ve ridden with them in a cramped vehicle for days on end and witnessed their driving, and what they really look like when they wake up in the morning.

#7 Go With the Flow and be Spontaneous

I love lists and checking things off and knowing what’s supposed to happen before it does. In our day-to-day life, it’s natural to try hard to maintain strict control over things. We plan and budget, set up meetings, and schedule activities. Our lives are often ruled by our calendars.

On our road trip however, all of that went out the car window. It was quite a challenge for me to go on a road trip where I didn’t have every minute planned. Not knowing where we were going to stop next or even spend the night was quite stressful for me. It took me some time to feel comfortable with having no plan and to just go with the flow. By not having a set itinerary we had time to stop at amazing scenic spots we would have missed otherwise. We got to lingering at deserted beaches and ended being so busy enjoying the moment that I even forgot to look at my watch.

I learnt that the main key to enjoying every aspect of a road trip is to relax and go with the flow.

#8 Choose experiences over things

We lived out of a car (actually, a crossover van – thank you, Amy!) for 3 weeks while driving along the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland. I tried to pack light but after 3 weeks there were still things I brought that I hadn’t used, and clothes I packed that I didn’t wear. Truth be told, I didn’t miss them one single bit. There wasn’t one time that I thought “I wish I’d brought…”

I also didn’t miss any of my stuff from home while we were gone. I was too busy living to worry about stuff. I have decided to travel lighted, to acquire less and to do more in the future!!

#9 It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

A real Road Trip is all about the journey and not the destination. Even though at times the experience seemed endless I was never quite truly ready for it to end. The sore butts and the cramped feeling of being so close to someone else 24/7 are just some of the memories I’ll be taking with me forever. It’s the stops along the way, both expected and unexpected, that really make a road trip. The quaint small towns, weird roadside attractions, and even getting lost that add to the excitement.

When the trip was finally over, there was a sense of loss. So relish the journey—every part of it.

#10 Following your dreams isn’t easy – nor should it be.

Following mine has taught me so much more than these lessons. Many of them aren’t clear, yet, but they will be. And when they are, I’ll share them.

These are just some of the lessons I learned from our epic road trip. What have you learned from your own experiences?

Photo diary of Londonderry

Photo diary of Londonderry
Photo diary of Londonderry

The Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland took us through Derry, officially Londonderry, the second-largest city in Northern Ireland. This is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in Europe. We walked the approximately 1.5km city walls around the inner city. This wall provided a unique promenade to view the layout of this beautiful city.