The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to take our indoor workouts at the gym and bring them outside, to our homes, or both. In a silver lining of sorts, the gym shutdown also coincided with Spring, which meant the weather in Michigan was final warming up - making working out at the park much more feasible than in mid-January.
But that was months ago, and while I’ve been enjoying getting in my exercise outside, running on my own at a park can get rather boring after a while. I miss the energy of being around other people. As someone who taught Zumba for practically a decade, I love group exercise classes, so perhaps it was divine intervention that when I googled “outdoor workouts in Grand Rapids” this past week, I was met with an entire list of free outdoor workouts that were beginning the same week!
I immediately made time in my schedule to go to the next upcoming class, which is called SoulfulMOTION. This one involved a lot of squat exercises, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll definitely want to hit up their class. The class began at 9:30am on Saturday morning at the North Monroe Lot in Downtown Grand Rapids and lasted for 45 minutes. There were a lot of people there and yes, everyone was still practicing social distancing. Of course, weather in Michigan can be unpredictable but thankfully it was a nice sunny day for us. The energy was awesome. The music they use is workout remixes of Christian songs, but it's such a positive environment that it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable by any means if perhaps I don’t share the same personal views. At the end of the day, it’s a workout class, not Sunday School. And I genuinely had a great time!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. The free outdoor workout classes in Grand Rapids include things like Zumba, Yoga, Kickboxing, and more. The city of Grand Rapids has provided a list of the workouts including times and locations on their website, which you can find here.
So, while we may have to wait a little while longer for those gyms to reopen, free outdoor workouts sound like a pretty fantastic option right now. It's a wonderful way to lift your spirits and connect with the community.
Hopefully we’ll see each other there. In the meantime, hope you are staying healthy and well!
Right now the world is coming together in solidarity with the black community. Speaking up, protesting, making calls to local leaders, donating, getting educated - these are just some of the ways we all should be helping. When it came to this travel blog, however, I had to ask myself ‘how can I address the current social climate and continue to write about travel and things to do?’. My answer was that I wanted to support black-owned businesses and black voices in the travel community by sharing them on here with all of you. And while it's one way to show support, I want to emphasize it doesn't replace all those other active steps that I will continue to do and that I hope anyone else reading this will do as well.
The first black-owned business I’d like to share is Malamiah Juice Bar, which is located in the Studio Park Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have to give a shout out to my awesome comedy group, Funny Girls, for letting me know about this place. They have all sorts of healthy juice and smoothie options, as well as several different acai bowls to choose from. During my visit, I ordered the Berry Bowl. It costs $10.50 and then with a tip it’s about $13-$14. I’m a sucker for an acai bowl and this one did not disappoint. It was so good! It had acai blended with coconut milk, bananas, and strawberries. Then it’s topped off with gluten-free/vegan granola, banana and strawberry pieces, and honey. Plus, it’s really filling too. One of those and you’re set for breakfast or lunch. Because of the coronavirus pandemic right now, you can order online ahead of time at malamiah.square.site and they’ll bring it out to you once it’s ready. I ordered out front when I got there and it was a quick wait. I definitely want to go back soon and try their Peanut Butter Bowl next!
Now, something else really cool about this place is that they also give back to the local community. On their Instagram they recently shared that they’ll be donating part of their proceeds from their Justice Juice to GR’s Pride Center. I think that’s pretty awesome. And that’s just one example of how Malamiah gives back.
You can read more on that at their website, www.malamiahjuicebar.com.
I would encourage anyone reading this to stop by Malamiah Juice Bar ASAP for a healthy treat, and if you need some company, I am definitely ready to try that Peanut Butter Bowl!
If there is one positive to come out of us staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, it is that the world finally has discovered how fabulous Leslie Jordan is. The actor and comedian made a name for himself as the nemesis of Karen Walker on Will and Grace - hilariously entering scenes uttering the phrase "Well, well, well" in his distinct southern accent. In the era of lockdown boredom, however, his signature phrase has now become "Well shit. What are y'all doing?"
His recurring role on Will and Grace as the character Beverly Leslie was how I discovered this incredible comedic talent, so you can imagine my joy when I began seeing him at my local Starbucks in LA. Of course, wanting to be respectful I never dared to actually say hello. That is until I was having coffee with some of my Zumba students one day on the outside patio area, when suddenly Leslie walks by. My students, knowing I am a fan of his, call him over and he gladly comes and chats with us for a bit. I could not believe it! Here I was talking and grabbing a picture with Leslie Jordan and he could not have been sweeter! I would continue to run into him from time to time and we would have a nice chat. He really is a sweetheart, which is why I am thrilled to see how popular he has become, all while making us laugh when we need it more than ever.
In a matter of just several months, Leslie Jordan's popularity has skyrocketed thanks to his witty, hilarious videos on Instagram. At the basis of it, he is really just rambling into his cell phone camera, but it's pure comedic gold.
This wasn't anything new though. The veteran comedian had been doing these types of videos for a while on his Instagram account. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit and folks were searching for something to make us laugh again, Leslie delivered. He has become a pop culture phenomenon and truth be told, no one deserves it more. He's unique - there is no one like him on the comedy scene. Plus, he's so nice and gifted. It's about time the world knows his name too.
Lord knows I have been dealing with moments of sadness throughout all this. I have things to be grateful for, but the uncertainty of our world has me scared. What helps me get through tough times? Laughter - and I know I'm not alone. Here's the great thing about Leslie Jordan: his comedy is also endearing. His sweet nature and joyful humor will lift your spirits and bring a smile to your face.
So, if you find yourself looking for something to sustain you right now, follow him on Instagram.
Leslie, if by some miracle you read this, thank you for your kindness. That meant the world to me and I hope we can bump into each other again at the coffee shop someday again soon.
*Subject to change pending updates in regulations amid the Covid-19 outbreak
The reality of our world under the coronavirus pandemic is that we have to find new ways to occupy our time and go on with our daily lives. Even for those of us still working, life as we know it has been turned upside down. Even something as routine as going to the gym is no longer an option right now. So, what can we do to remain healthy and active?
For me, exercise isn’t just about being healthy; it’s also a way to relieve stress and feel better. The same goes for being outside. I love to go hiking and my workouts have usually been a combination of time at the gym and at the park. Well, considering I’m not heading to the gym anytime soon, my options during this pandemic are either at-home workouts or the park – and yes, we are allowed to go outside to get exercise under Governor Whitmer’s Stay At Home order here in Michigan.
Personally speaking, the at-home workouts just don’t do it for me though. I feel cooped up if I stay indoors too much, so that means I’m heading to the park. If you've been used to going to the gyms, you might not be sure where to go right now, and heading to the same park everyday can get boring after a while.
So, if you’re in need of some parks to go to right now, here are my top picks for the Lansing and Grand Rapids areas:
1. Hawk Meadow Park
Pros: Good for running, walks, longer trails, more nature
Cons: 5k trail can get really muddy in certain parts, parking available but limited spaces
This has become my go-to park in the Lansing area for the past month. It’s about a 5 minute drive from the Saginaw Highway exit on I-96. This is a pretty big park, which means plenty of trails and space to run. In addition to paved trails, they also have an extended 5k trail further into the woods. Mostly people tend to stick to the main trails, so if you’re looking for more distance and less people, I’d try out that route. If you do the 5k trail though, be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy. There will be definitely be a few spots along the way where you’ll have to stop and try to get around the mud and puddles.
2. Granger Meadows Park
Pros: Good for running, walks, plenty of parking
Cons: shorter trail, more built up
This park was originally recommended to me by a co-worker. It’s located in the East Lansing area near the Eastwood Towne Center mall. It’s definitely more built up than Hawk Meadow, since this one has a baseball diamond, tennis courts, and a playground. However, it’s a good trail for running and I’ve been going here for quite a while so I’d definitely recommend it. There’s also a hill there. If you climb to the top it’s a nice view, especially at sunset.
1. Aman Park
Pros: longer trails, plenty of nature, good for walking and running, parking available
Cons: no signs to find your way around
According to my father, this was a park I went to frequently as a kid, though truth be told I only remember coming to this specific one only once or twice. Nevertheless, rediscovering it in the era of Coronavirus has definitely come in handy. This is a large park with plenty of space to explore.
2. Lake Harbor Park
Pros: access to Lake Michigan beach views, plenty of nature, longer trails, good for walking, parking available
Cons: not good for running, takes a little while to get there since it’s on the coast
I’m always up for a hike that includes some beautiful views of Lake Michigan. This is definitely one of many advantages Grand Rapids has over Lansing as far as hiking goes. The only bummer about this trail is that it’s not great for running. That being said, it’s not totally flat either, so you still get in a good workout.
3. Riverside Park
Pros: plenty of trails, great for running or walking, along the river, parking available
Cons: more people on nicer days
I just ran here the other day. It's right outside downtown Grand Rapids, which means it is going to be busier than other parks. While normally that may not be an issue, it can be a little more risky in the age of social distancing. Nevertheless, I love the space and it's perfect for running. If you decide to go here, try to head there during non-peak hours or to a different park if it's a nice day.
I hope you guys are staying as healthy and sane as can be expected amid all this. It’s a difficult time but we’re in this together and things will get better. While I do have a few more posts from California to share, I will put those on standby until this is done. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing other ways to help stay healthy, creative, and in good spirits. Be safe and be well.
*Subject to change pending updates on regulations amid the Covid-19 outbreak
Considering I work in news full-time, the last thing I feel like talking about right now is the Coronavirus. That being said, one of the industries hardest hit by it has been travel. From vacations cancelled or postponed to temporary travel bans, travelers are learning to make due with a new way of life in the midst of an outbreak. Add on to that the stress of being out of work or trying to find a babysitter for your kids because their schools are closed for the next few weeks. It’s a tough time all-around.
For the majority of us, we’re under self-isolation. We may not have the virus, but we’re trying to stay home and away from others as much as possible to help avoid spreading it further. It’s called ‘Social Distancing’ .
Now, while some folks are handling this outbreak gracefully, there are others who seem to think “shitting yourself non-stop” is a symptom. Newsflash: it’s not. People hoarding toilet paper and hand-sanitizer right now are the real-life version of the token asshole in every disaster movie.
With travel virtually obsolete and our social scene bleak, it can bring up feelings of boredom and frustration. So, what are some positive things we can do to help us get through the Covid-19 outbreak?
1. Save up for your future travels
Believe me, it can be SUPER tempting to book a plane ticket right now. The other day I saw a $46 round trip ticket from Detroit to New Orleans, and I seriously considered taking a weekend getaway. The thing is, you can run the risk of your flight getting cancelled, especially if things continue to get worse. What you CAN do though, is use this time to put away extra money for future travels. If you’re not out spending money because everything is closed, then save up! This virus won’t be around forever and we’ll get to travel again. In the meantime, we can save up for adventures to come.
2. Get out in nature
Social distancing just means staying away from other people; it doesn’t mean you have to stay inside though. Personally speaking, nature is one of the best ways I can lift my spirits and exercise at the same time. If you’re feeling unsure of hitting the gym, go on a hike! You’ll feel better and won’t have to worry about being around any crowds.
3. Help out someone who can’t go out
If you’re young and healthy, consider running some errands for folks who are considered high-risk if they get the Coronavirus. Be the person who asks “What can I do for others?” instead of “I’ve got mine. You’re on your own.”
4. Stay in communication
Being physically isolated doesn’t mean you have to stop talking to each other. Thankfully we live in a time when technology is very helpful during an outbreak. Facetime, phone calls, texts. It’s important that we still remember to reach out to each other so we don’t feel so alone.
5. Find the funny and the good
Coronavirus – or any outbreak for that matter – is a serious thing and I would never aim to maliciously make light of that. However, these things can leave us feeling stressed out and perhaps in a state of panic. Memes and videos can help us relieve some of that. And hey, IT'S OKAY TO LAUGH. You’re not a bad person for laughing at a Coronavirus meme. It means you’re human and trying to not lose your mind from all the negativity that you’re also hearing. There are a few viral videos out of Italy that I love. One shows people under isolation playing music together from their individual apartment balconies and another of an opera singer serenading his neighbors in Florence. When times are tough, it's okay to seek out things that lift us up.
6. Watch your favorite travel films
Feeling bummed you can’t actually take that trip to Paris right now? Let the movies bring you there. They can inspire you, so that when this does blow over, you’ll be even more ready and excited to travel again.
If someone you know is buying up all the toilet paper from stores, feel free to send them a bottle of Miralax.
I’m not a fan of people who hate on Los Angeles. Sure, there’s plenty to roll your eyes at: the hipster juice bars selling over-priced beverages that promise miracles. The crowds of aspiring influencers taking endless photos in front of the Paul Smith store on Melrose Ave. Or the combined scent of poop and weed that lingers around Hollywood.
But regardless of how many stereotypes LA plays into, one thing that shouldn’t be discounted is that it also has a real heart and soul to it. I find the folks that hate LA have either never been there or never had a chance to really get to know it.
We recently lost one of basketball’s greatest players in Kobe Bryant. To the world, Bryant was a sports icon and superstar, but for Angelenos he was a hero and symbol of hometown pride. But it was his tragic and sudden death that united LA in a way I had never seen before.
When I visited Los Angeles in February shortly after his death, I found endless tributes to his legacy. There were murals up and down Melrose Ave. dedicated to Kobe and his daughter, Gigi. People also wore clothing to honor their favorite Laker. Even LA’s metro system found ways to pay their respects with buses that read ‘RIP Kobe’ and subway screens with the numbers 8 and 24 on them.
It's been two years since I left Los Angeles. At the time, I needed a change; I wanted to see new places and was interested in pursuing expanded career opportunities. But it was the friendships I made in LA that made me yearn to go back and visit.
My trip to California was a very quick 5 days. It was short, sweet, and a necessary break from Michigan. After a few days in the Laguna Beach area, I took the train up to LA to meet up with my cousin Betsy and her family. It was some much-needed family time. Even the shortest reunions are worth it just to see the people you love.
After spending the night at my cousin’s place, it was off to my old neighborhood of West Hollywood to see some of my former Zumba students for coffee. Becoming a Zumba Fitness instructor was hands-down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did it give me great employment opportunities while living in LA, it also introduced me to a network of people across the city that I was able to build friendships with. My class at 24 Hour Fitness in West Hollywood was always tight-knit – many of them knew one another years before I showed up. I got to catch up with Greg, Teri, and Susan. We couldn’t believe it had already been two years, but that’s the thing about friendships: you catch up right where you left off.
After coffee, it was off to brunch with my good friend Heidi. We caught up for over 4 hours! It was just like old times, since we always loved checking out the cool spots around WeHo.
The night ended with a trip to LA’s famous Magic Castle, which sits on a top of a hill in the heart of Hollywood. This spot is so exclusive you actually need a connection to get in, so shout-out to my friend Jonathan for making that happen. This mansion is really cool inside, and in a city where casual attire is dominant, it’s fun to see everyone all dressed up. You’re treated to magicians performing all over the mansion, as well as stage shows at designated times throughout the evening. Yours truly even got pulled up on stage at one point! I suppose the real magic of that moment was that I didn’t fall over in my heels…
When I think of what I miss most about LA, it’s not the warm weather or the ocean – though they are definite perks. Instead, it's the friendships and people I care about that make it so special. It’s easy to write off Los Angeles as this soulless, vapid city, but I beg you to consider a whole other side to it; a side where genuine friendships are made and good people are all around you. This is the LA I know and love.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m totally jealous of those sunshine-and-rainbows bloggers. You know the type: they post deliriously happy photos in their Lululemon attire holding an acai bowl from the latest trendy spot. Their captions read like peppy rip-offs of Eat Pray Love, and their lives seem utterly perfect. I can’t help but wish I was that effortlessly sure of myself. If anything, my time in Michigan has me more unsure. Maybe it’s going back home - that feeling of going backward in life. It feels as if all those accomplishments I made in LA and New York after college have suddenly disappeared and I’m left with this empty version of myself. I chose this, but I've also come to realize it's just not the home for me it used to be.
And then I remember the real Eat Pray Love, which has been a major source of inspiration for me since I first read the book (and yes, the film’s pretty good too!). The thing is, author Elizabeth Gilbert went through that experience in her early thirties, a time when most people seem to be settled down in life and who they are. Instead, Elizabeth went out and re-vamped her life in the pursuit of inspiration and happiness, and in doing so, found incredible success.
I’d love to feel like those bloggers who seem to have it all together, but the truth is that social media is a highlight reel, not a true reflection of everything we as humans are going through.
Despite my sarcasm, deep down I’m still a hopeful optimist, but where’s the humor in walking around posting “Ain’t life grand!” all the time. No! The point of comedy is to highlight the absurd, to take the craziness that life throws our way and turn it into something to laugh at. Yeah, going through less-than-ideal situations isn’t fun, but if you can find a way to turn it around and make lemonade out of lemons, by all means do what you gotta do.
That being said, you may be reading this and thinking to yourself 'Alright, Jill, but I’m not a comedian or writer'. Well, that’s where your inner traveler can come in to help you get through tough times. Comedy and writing are great outlets for me, but it’s not always enough. So lately, I’ve decided to let the explorer in me seek out activities and places around Michigan to lift my spirits. From art museums to trying hot yoga for the first time, I’ve found that discovering new places or taking time for things I already love has helped tremendously. A few weeks ago I saw some artwork from Andy Warhol at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and it was awesome!
This is what travel is all about: exploring new places, trying different things, meeting new people. Don’t get me wrong, visiting new cities and countries is fabulous, but you don’t always need to leave your own city to do these things. Find new exhibits to check out, attend a concert, find a cool trail to hike, try a new activity that’s totally out of your comfort zone. Another idea? Volunteer. Focusing on those less fortunate can put things in perspective. Plus, you can meet some really amazing people along the way.
When we feel stuck in life, it’s easy to retreat, to stay at home and binge out on Netflix, but don’t let your life pass you by in front of a screen. You don’t need to travel the world to find inspiration and joy, but you do have to make the effort to seek it out – and that’s exactly what I plan to do with my remaining time in Michigan. It's okay to feel sad, but the important thing is that we do something about it. And if we can't change our circumstances right away, at least we can make the most of the wait time by embracing our inner traveler.
The irony as I wrap up this blog post is that I feel like I’m starting to sound like the sunshine-and-rainbows bloggers, but in my defense, I’ve never once owned anything from Lululemon.
Coming up next: California!
Lansing, Michigan. It’s not Grand Rapids and it’s definitely not Detroit. To put it bluntly, this part of Michigan only feels like an ‘exciting’ place if you attend Michigan State University. Pardon my cynicism, but as you can imagine, it’s incredibly hard to go from Los Angeles and New York to the painfully quiet streets of Mid-Michigan. I made the leap for work purposes, and though it’s merely temporary, I find myself craving the busy streets of a big city more and more as each day passes.
Aside from avoiding the MSU crowd like the plague and spending time with friends from work (seriously, thank God for them!), I haven’t really made much of an effort to write about Lansing. Every weekend I escape to Grand Rapids, but you’d think after a year and a half in I must have found something in Lansing worth writing about aside from reasons not to date college students. Of course, there’s Michigan's Capitol building, but what else? I began to look back at my time here and then it hit me that I had, in fact, found something months ago that was totally worth sharing: Pablo’s in Old Town Lansing.
I realized that I had likely blocked out Pablo’s from my subconscious because when I initially went there, it was on a really bad date. That being said, a great restaurant shouldn’t be discounted simply because of a date gone awry. From what I did remember, the food there was incredible. It turned out this date-gone-wrong actually gave me the chance to discover an authentic Mexican restaurant right here in Lansing. Silver lining? I’d say so!
Since it had been a minute, I knew I needed to brush up on my Pablo’s menu. And so, with better company this time, I made the venture back to this Lansing gem.
The first time I ate at Pablo's the weather was nice and warm, so we dined outside and I didn’t get to see the restaurant’s interior. This second time, however, it was January in Michigan, so eating inside was the only option. It’s pretty simple inside, but they do have some nice artwork to jazz it up a bit.
A nice perk about Pablo’s is that they serve breakfast all day, so if you’re craving eggs at 4 in the afternoon, you can get it. The only thing the menu was missing that I was hoping to get this time is Ceviche, so that was a bummer. My first time there I got the veggie burrito, so naturally, I wanted to try something else. This time I got the steak fajitas. I rarely eat meat but was in the mood for it this time. While the fajitas were good, the meat was pretty fatty so I really didn’t eat much of it at all. I’d say between the two, my preferred menu choice would be the veggie burrito. I mean, it was so good it stayed on my radar months later.
I’m going back to California next month for a visit and can’t wait to find new things in my former home to share with you – and maybe even some old favorites! From South Orange County to Los Angeles, it’s a long overdue reunion with one of the places I love most.
Welcome to the final post about my week in Ireland, where I end up right back where I started in Dublin.
One of the disappointments of the walking tour I did here when I arrived at the beginning of the trip was that it didn’t include a visit to Trinity College. That being said, I made sure that was something I’d check out when I got back to Dublin.
I checked back in to Sky Backpacker’s hostel and then went over to Trinity College. I will say it’s incredibly convenient how close everything is. The university was a mere 10-minute walk from where I was staying near the Temple Bar area.
It’s a beautiful campus that dates as far back at the 16th century. While walking around campus is nice, the must-see part is the old library. This is where you’ll get to see the Book of Kells, which is like a thousand years old. The Long Room in the old library will tug at the heart strings of any book lover, including yours truly. It’s really an incredible place and you’ll find all sorts of old texts in there. I will say this place is also a top spot I'd recommend in Ireland. I believe it’s about 14 euros to get into the old library but again, totally worth it. Besides, when else are you going to get that chance?
Later on, I got back to the hostel, where surprise, I met another American. This time it was Liz from New York. We made plans to join a Dublin pub crawl later that night, but not before partaking in the free sangria Friday night that Sky Backpackers puts on. It was while sipping sangria in the hostel’s lounge that we met Marc from Sweden and Pete from Australia. After talking for a bit, we opted to all go the pub crawl together. It was a great night out, made even better by fabulous company and pizza at the end of the night. I know what you’re thinking: pizza in Ireland? Well, when you’re several beers in and hungry, pizza is just fine.
The next morning I woke up bright and early, checked out, and caught the 747 bus right on Bachelor’s Walk to get to Dublin Airport. I allowed extra time for myself to get to the airport and it was the best decision I could make. You see, at Dublin’s airport, they have Americans clear U.S. customs in Ireland instead of back in the States. It’s incredibly convenient since you get it out of the way, but it does mean you must allow yourself more time (at least 2 hours) when flying back to the U.S. from Dublin. Now, bear in mind when I was there the airport was plenty busy and that wasn’t even during the high tourist season, which is summer. If you go in the summer, 3 hours might be a good way to play it safe.
I will say I got some serious Irish luck for my trip back home. The night before I flew out, I got a notification I had been rescheduled on a different flight and airline. Instead of flying on a budget ticket (A.K.A. nothing included) on Iceland Air, I had gotten automatically re-booked for a regular seat on a Delta flight. That meant I got all the perks that come with a regular international flight ticket: in-flight entertainment (hello Star Wars movie marathon), food, and most importantly, wine. The bad news was that I managed to catch a cold as well, and when you have a persistent cough you end up getting repeated dirty looks from snobby middle-aged women. Yes, by all means, let me adjust my flight in the off-chance that you might get a cold, Karen.
All in all it was a fantastic time finally seeing Ireland. I will say my main regret was not doing a road trip there. I think that’s how I would love to really experience this lovely country. But hey, that’s what next time is for right?
If you’ve been reading any or all these, thank you for sharing in my travel journeys. I’m more than excited for 2020, which will include California and a long-awaited dream of taking a few months and really backpacking throughout Europe.
I’ll also be sharing with you new finds from right here in the Midwest. Have a wonderful new year and see you in 2020. Let’s live it up!
Despite being a portion of the trip that featured my other favorite sight in Ireland, the city of Cork itself was underwhelming and frankly, super sketchy. I got off the bus from Galway only to realize I won’t be going out at night while I’m here. Keep that in mind: if you stay in Cork city, make plans outside of it.
I walked up the steep hill to Sheila’s Hostel. I couldn’t tell you who Sheila is, but she might want to update the place a bit. As I walked inside, thoughts of The Shining kept creeping into my head. I thought I'd legit run out screaming if I happened to come across a pair of child twins. "What the 'redrum' is going on here?" I kept asking myself. There’s something truly creepy about these older buildings, and this was definitely my least favorite of the hostels. They didn’t have lockers in the rooms. Instead, you could rent one on the bottom floor, so basically, I had to run up and down four flights of stairs anytime I needed to grab something from my locker. It was a great workout but a pain in the butt. I was only here two nights though, so at least it was a short stay.
The good news is that the two places I was planning to check out weren’t actually in the city of Cork anyway. My first full day I went to see the famous Blarney Castle. In addition to the Cliffs of Moher, this was one of my favorite places I saw on the trip. I really lucked out in terms of weather. It was a perfect, sunny day.
I took the 215 city bus for just under 3 euros over to the village of Blarney where the castle is at. To see the castle and grounds it’ll cost you 18 euros, and I’m telling you it’s totally worth it. Once you pay, you have free range to explore. The castle itself is surrounded by these incredibly beautiful gardens that’ll leave you feeling as if you wandered into a fairy tale.
My first stop was the castle itself. I first checked out some caves below the castle. While a cool experience, if you’re claustrophobic, avoid them. There's only one way in and out too, so you definitely get up and close and personal with your fellow travelers.
After that, I went up and throughout the castle. It’s one of the biggest castles I saw in Ireland. Now, if you’re wondering about the Blarney Stone, you’ll find it at the very top. I was fortunate that it wasn’t a busy travel season, so while the line to kiss the Blarney Stone may usually be very long, this time around it was a really quick wait. For reference, my trip was at the end of September and into the beginning of October.
Kissing the Blarney Stone is just one of those things you have to do in Ireland, but even the adventurer in me got a little nervous while doing it. They lay you down and push you over the edge at the top of this massively high castle. You’re there looking down at the ground below, then they tell you to lift your head and kiss the stone. The thing is though, you have to lean far enough over the edge to be able to it, so you’re counting on these people to not let go. One slip up and it’s a big ol’ Blarney splat. I will say it was a memorable kiss to say the least.
I then made my way into the gardens. It’s such a pretty area that it truly takes your breath away, and I don’t doubt that it was even more stunning with the sun out. Also on the grounds is the Blarney House, which looks like a castle itself, but rather one from the 1700s. In the high tourist season you can even go inside the house, but unfortunately it was closed until spring.
While I may have been lucky with the weather my first full day in the Cork area, my second day was the complete opposite. I got up early and my plan was to visit the seaside town of Cobh. Not only was it known for having a beautiful cathedral, but it was also where the Titanic made its final stop before heading out to sea. I had also heard there was a Titanic museum there as well that I was hoping to see.
I couldn’t help but notice the clouds setting in as I was on the bus to Cobh and like clockwork, then came the rain – and plenty of it. I got off the bus and was hit with heavy winds, cold weather, and rain. I walked over to Cobh Cathedral while simultaneously trying not to get blown out to sea. What was initially meant to just be a sightseeing stop, became a literal shelter from the storm.
The church itself was beautiful inside. Catholic churches are definitely known for having some exquisite architecture. There were a few other people inside but other than that it was pretty empty. I gave myself a good 20-25 minutes inside there, hoping the storm would let up a bit. After all, I didn’t want to spend my entire day inside there. No such luck. The rain seemed to get heavier and the winds stronger as the morning went on. Oh well. I figured I’ll fight it out and still walk around the town. Not even 10 minutes out in the elements and I was soaking wet, shivering, and utterly miserable. I decided my trip to Cobh was going to be much more brief than I anticipated. I went back to the bus stop and headed back to Cork city. I soon realized the rain was going to remain for the rest of the day, but I also didn’t want to stay cooped up in my hostel. I hit up a coffee shop to do some writing and checked out shops in the area. I was still soaking wet and cold, so I figured I could at least treat myself to a nice warm sweater.
I eventually made it back to the hostel on haunted hill as I began referring to it, where I got to meet one of my roommates. She is from Ireland and was in Cork for a short visit. It was really cool talking with her because I got to learn more about the history between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. While I knew about it somewhat, hearing about it from her and the real-life ramifications that Irish people have experienced was incredibly poignant to listen to. It’s easy to get caught up in seeing new places, but some of the most memorable moments are the people you meet and learn from while you're there.
The next morning it was time to head back to Dublin for one more day of exploring and of course, an epic final night out in Ireland. Stay tuned for the final portion of my Ireland adventure...
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com