Queen’s Country – UK

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We heard her before we saw her.

“Milaaaaaaan sisteeeeeerrssss!!!”

Popping out from the sea of early morning tube commuters was an electric neon sweater worn by a beaming, 4’8 Filipina, giggling and taking photos of us with her iPhone. After embracing and covering the basic ‘how-are-yous-and-the-parents?’, we slugged on our backpacker bags, committed ourselves to not domino-ing stray commuters over, and weaved our way towards the tube with the brightest crayon in lead.

Neila was one of my mom’s best friends from when I was in High School and perhaps her worthiest comrade of misadventures – a title not to be taken lightly. My basketball spirit night – half time – guess who decides to surprise everyone fully decorated in black & gold home coloured ABBA costumes, neon wigs, sunglasses and a full fledged dance routine? I can’t remember if I was more embarrassed or impressed by their confidence.

Back to London.
Like ducks in a row, we meandered through the tube, hopped onto a double decker bus, and toured through Regents Park before finally throwing down our bags on the Neila’s doorsteps at 221B Baker street*. (Ugh wouldn’t that be cool though). From there we were reunited with the world’s cutest kid, Neila’s youngest, Gabriel, who’s room we were stealing for the next couple of days.

The Fernandezes were the best hosts. Being able to meet up with them reminded us of how lucky we are to have friends and family friends in all corners of the globe and how important it is to keep those connections alive.

Besides the Fernandez family, Kat and I also met up with a handful of other high school friends now studying or also visiting London. If you grew up internationally like myself, you’ll understand how no matter where on earth you go, you’re bound to find friends or know a friend of a friend. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Nepal, India, New York or London, I most likely have a friend who’d love to show me their city and make a meal out of it.
My classmates are scattered all across the globe and I love it.

My obsession with tea, BBC Sherlock & the actual classic Sherlock mysteries, Agatha Christie, Jacksgap, World war II books set in England, Fish & chips, and Downton Abbey were in full swing when we landed in Heathrow and have only increased since we’ve left.
I swear that dream flat in London will come true on day. 

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Neila’s papparazzi attack
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our ‘we’re so excited to see you and be here but we’re sleep deprived and crying from a 14 hour flight’ look
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Nitrogen ice cream. Camden. Go.
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Going to Hogwarts brb
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Best friends from Bangkok!
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Two Weeks in the Emerald Isle

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(There’s a video attached below so don’t miss that!)

“Here’s another one for ye lasses.” John dutifully swigged back his pint, closed his eyes and began to bellow – “It’s a long way to Tipperaaary to the sweetest gal I knooOoOw – what the FECK?!” Just as two other voices joined in, their song was cut short with a blow to the back of John’s head by a flying beer coaster.

“SHATTAP YE FECKING EEJIT!” John swivelled round and met the stern glare of a red bearded, arms crossed figure who stood poised and ready to throw another soaked beer coaster across the room – Aedan, the barman.
“We’re closing up soon!” He barked, momentarily breaking eye contact to swiftly jostle empty pints of Bulmer’s and Guinness into the sink.

‘Closing up?’ I thought as I glanced around the room. A fire roared cozily in the corner, casting dancing shadows on the small clusters of people perching precariously from their bar stools, still sipping on half empty (or full?) pints. While the musicians and the foot stomping dancing had already retired for the night, I heard John and the lads behind me continue to wail on another love song about another sweet lass from another small village of in the south of Ireland. From behind the counter, the red bearded barman momentarily halted his relentless scrub of the bar’s counter to throw down his towel, give a small chuckle and shake his heard. The clock above his head read 2:00 am. Even he knew it – the Celts were far from closing time.

Ah, Ireland. The magical land that has captivated thousands of hearts all around the world. Girls mentally booked a one-way ticket to Dublin in 2007 after bawling their eyes out in ‘P. S I love you’ while men continue to use their 5% claimed Irish blood to thoroughly enjoy the holidays that excuse borderline alcoholic tendencies (excuse the stereotypes). Ah yes, the Irish. With their tendency for fun, articulate and rich literacy, leprechauns, and the fighting spirit of the underdog working class, the stereotype is almost too fun and good to be true. And while the grass may literally be greener across the pond, I couldn’t help but notice the unexpected debris that littered the parks and piled up on the streets.

Don’t be fooled. Our first night out at the Celts may have been a storybook beginning to our time in the Emerald Isle, but I quickly learned that unlike most stereotypes conceived abroad – Ireland is no perfect fairytale. For years I had been dreaming of what it would be like to set foot in Ireland. To escape to a fairytale land where leprechauns hid gold, all boys looked and sounded like Hozier, where crooked rivers would snake under moss ridden cobbled stone bridges and the thumping music from the local pubs would rise high above the thatched roofs and away into the pink-purple contrail streaked sky. With those expectations, how could I have not been expected to be shocked by reality?

(Funny to think that out of all the places I’ve been, my first true experience of culture shock was in Ireland)

I quickly learned that the country I had so longed dreamed of was not brand spanking spotless. Dublin wasn’t the jewelled city that I had envisioned it to be, nor did everyone smile and tip their hats to us as we passed by and never had I anticipated that I’d be running along the Cliffs of Moher coast, hunting down the swirling empty plastic bags of fertiliser that were close to plunging over the edge.

But once I admitted to myself that I had set unrealistically high expectations and finally overcame what I would describe as culture shock, I began to see Ireland through different lens. Perhaps it was the puzzling sunny weather magically bestowed upon us or my growing appreciation for high-quality beer paired with live music. Either way, I began to equally love Ireland for its rough edges and perfect cuts – It was raw, genuine and grand.

And isn’t that why we travel?

Right when we believe we’ve stepped far out enough of our comfort zones, we reteach ourselves all over again that there are always expectations to be shattered, room to gain new perspectives, and time to fall in love with strangers you’ve just met and places you’ve only arrived at.

The Emerald Isle does deserve its namesake. While there wasn’t one exact location in Ireland that I can honestly say I’d like to spend the rest of my life at, it’s the country as a whole that calls me to return. For reasons I can’t explain, there’s a raw and unique quality to the country that will leave an unexpected mark on you. Something will ingrain itself into your bones and make you feel at home. As you’re gazing out at and rising high above the green and yellow dotted horizon through your plane window, an unexpected pang of homesickness will rush through your body. Wait a month later and you’ll still be homesick for Ireland. I don’t expect for the feeling to withdraw any time soon.

And they don’t lie when they say that Guinness doesn’t travel well – guess you better get on.

(TLDR – look at the photos)

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Ring of Kerry Tour
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Rock of Cashel
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The full works Irish breakfast complete with blood pudding (2 sausage-y looking things on the right side of the plate)
So what have I still got up my sleeve from Europe? WELL! I’ve finally come around to making a fun video featuring mostly my beautiful sister (I promise you won’t get sick of her face).Just click on the photo below and voila, you’ll see it!

Seattle’s treated me incredibly well for the past three weeks, but T-3 days until I leave for Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands to begin my summer job!
Here’s to eternal sunshine and summer vibes,
– JM