01/05/2017

BELFAST VLOG | Giant's Causeway, Rope Bridge, Game of Thrones Location!

Belfast Vlog: Giant's Causeway, Game of Thrones, Rope Bridge

Hi lovelies!
Alex and I took a weekend off from being productive postgraduates and headed to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The second day of our adventure we spent touring around the north coast of the island of Ireland, enjoying the breathtaking scenery and historical locations.

Northern Ireland is officially part of the United Kingdom, but the landscape of course is very similar to the rest of the Irish island. We had a chance to check out places like...
Carrickfergus Castle: an amazing old castle in County Antrim, dating back to 1177...
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: a 20-meter long rope bridge 30 meters above the sea, linking the tiny island of Carrickarede to the mainland...
Giant's Causeway: a UNESCO world heritage site of approx. 40,000 basalt columns caused by a volcanic eruption 50 to 60 million years ago...
The Dark Hedges: a tunnel-like path framed with trees, most known for its appearance in the Game of Thrones TV series as the King's Road.

A proper blogpost with guides and tips of our tour will follow, but for now, enjoy this little vlog to give you a sneak peek!



Have you been to Northern Ireland? Would you like to go? Would you enjoy more vlogs like this?Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Love, Melissa

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22/04/2017

10 Finnish Stereotypes Your Finnish Friend is Tired of Hearing

10 Finnish Stereotypes Your Finnish Friend is Tired of Hearing


I've lived abroad for long enough to have answered the classic "Where are you from?" at least a hundred times. Well, we all have at some point of our lives, so we all know what comes next: wherever you come from, whatever your answer might be, the person asking the question tries to make sense of you and break the ice by telling you that one thing they've heard about your home country.

When you come from a country like mine - a puny, irrelevant Finland somewhere between Russia and western Europe - there are only so many things people know. Are we like Swedes? Do we hate everyone? Funny or not, believe me, after hearing the same things over and over again throughout the years there's a point where even a calm, silent Finn has had enough of your bullcr...

...What I'm trying to say here is: here are 10 Stereotypes Your Finnish Friend is Tired of Hearing! Clinically tested by yours truly!


1. "But you're from Finland? How can you feel cold?"

How? How about by not dressing properly?

My Finnish skin doesn't make me immune to cold temperatures. Yes, there indeed is a chance I'm more used to cold than someone from a more southern hemisphere - in other words, I'm not necessarily wearing a coat in +15C - but there is a limit. That limit is very easily reached in a place like Ireland, where the humidity gets into your bones and freezes you from the inside no matter how many layers of scarves you're wearing. The Atlantic wind is ruthless, folks.


2. "Your education system is so flawless. Why would you move abroad to study?"

Probably because I wanted to study somewhere else than Finland.

Yes, education is great. Yes, it's free. Yes, we rank incredibly well internationally every year. But also no, we do get homework, we do have exams and our teachers are not rich. Thank you for verifying that.

If you're interested in finding out why I left Finland, check out this blogpost: WHY I MOVED ABROAD. It will reveal the secrets of Finnish emigration on my part.


3. "Finland? You speak Swedish/Russian/English there, right?"

Well, you're not entirely wrong there. Finland is a bilingual country: Swedish is the first language of roughly 5% of Finns. And well, at school we indeed learn English and even Russian sometimes.

But the answer to your question here is NO. The logic to my first language is pretty simple: Finland - Finnish. Finnish is my first language. No, it's not anything like Swedish of Norwegian.  No, it doesn't sound like Russian either. It's the odd-one-out orphan separated from her brothers and sisters at birth, and while Estonians and Hungarians took a southern turn, we got stuck here in the North.

How does it sound like? Ask me to demonstrate one more time ("Just say anything!") and you can be sure the example I'll give you is something sort of hääyöaie or tunturikyyhky (for some reason deemed incredibly hard by my quebecois friends).


4. "What do you know about problems, you're from Finland..."

As a postgraduate in conflict studies and international politics I've noticed not everyone is aware of the complexity of Finnish history. On our last Independence Day I posted a short message on Facebook congratulating my tiny little homeland, took the bus to the campus and walked to my seminar. One of my colleagues had noted my status and wished me happy independence day. Everyone in the room fell silent and looked slightly confused until someone finally asked: "Wait... Independent... from who?"

Finland is your fairytale come true - a Cinderella rising from poverty, war and famine to the promised land of Angry Birds it is today, and it's true we're doing incredibly well nowadays. It doesn't mean we haven't had issues. It doesn't mean we don't have any issues. The fact that you mostly hear Finns complain about the lack of proficient heating in their apartment abroad doesn't mean it's the biggest problem their delicate Finnish skin has ever heard of.


5. "Finland? Hey, I have a friend from Sweden called ____! Do you know him?"

Yes, Björn Persson, of course I know him. He's a cousin from my mother's side.

No, I don't know your Scandinavian friends. We're quite a few million people in there, with a few borders and language barriers in between.

Finnish Food


6. "Norway, Sweden, Finland... What's the difference?"

Say that one more time and I'll show you why Finns are always depicted with a knife in their hand.

... Just kidding. There's a point in there though - you wouldn't say "Germany, France, Spain - what's the difference?" to a guy from Madrid. Despite us all being from northern Europe, our cultures have their own really distinctive features, the languages vary and the history of each country is very different. We don't even eat the same things: Finns have their mämmi, Swedes have their surströmming and Norwegians have... whatever it is that they eat. Don't even get me started with Danes. They can't even understand each other sometimes.


7. "You must really enjoy this summery weather seeing you don't have summer that up in the north."

Why yes thank you, see, in Finland we live in eternal darkness and this is the first time I've laid my eyes upon something so bright.

... Come on. Even Iceland has its summer! Stop with the polar bears and penguins. Finland might be in the northern Europe, but that doesn't mean we're still living in the Ice Age. Our summers are usually between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (sometimes even 30!) so thank you for being concerned about my vitamin D intake, but believe me, I'm doing just fine.


8. "Can you introduce me to one of your Finnish friends? All Finnish girls are so blond and beautiful."

I refuse to introduce any of my lovely Finnish gals to anyone who doesn't know a thing about Finland. How would you know to appreciate their incredible stubbornness and blatantly straightforward way of stating their opinion?

Yes, some of us are blond, but I'd like to remind you we're not talking about that weirdly culturally stereotyping adult film about Swedish sluts having fun in the sauna you probably inspired yourself from - we're talking about 5,5 million people. We come in all shapes, sizes and colours.


9. "I'm not gonna hug you, I know how jealous of your personal space you Finns are."

Thank you for leaving me without love and affection to protect my national pride.

More seriously though, we're all different. It's true we're most likely not going to jump to your warm embrace of kisses and back rubs unless we've lived in such a culture for some time. We might even need some guidance with such gestures at first. But as someone who's been bootcamped with this stuff for three years now I can assure you I'm almost prepared to reach out for the hug now. Almost.


10. "You must be so amazed by all this freedom since you come from a communist country." 

I don't even know what to say to you.

I admit, I have been amazed by the variety of brands in Canada in the past. It's true we don't have that many international chain stores and restaurants in Finland. It's true I've probably looked really confused while listening to you blabbering about Lucky Charms because I have no idea what the hell that is.

But last time I checked, it was referred to as "nordic welfare system", not communism. Sorry if our high taxation rate insulted your freedom.

What kind of weird stereotypes of your home country have you heard of? Do you ever wish you didn't have to reveal where you're from all the time? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Love, Melissa

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18/04/2017

Travel Article App Spring Giveaway!


Springtime gains momentum and summer holidays lie ahead. Do you have a weekend getaway planned? I'm personally trying to convince Alex to escape to Faro, Portugal with me at the end of the semester.

In case you're planning a trip to Canada's East coast sometime soon, I have exciting news for you! Couple of my travel posts about Canada's fascinating French-speaking province are now available for download as a GPS-guided tour on GPSMyCity travel app.

What's that, you ask? GPSMyCity allows you to download an unlimited amount of travel blog posts to your iPhone from hundreds of carefully selected travel blogs. The app gives you an implemented GPS-tour taking you through all spots mentioned in the posts - offline. I mean, does it get any better than that? Possibly, if the lovely guys and gals at GPSMyCity developer team introduced a "free donut voucher for every dowloaded travel article" campaign of some sort, but I've been really content with working with them all this time.

Normally you could get a GPS-guided tour implemented to my blog posts to your phone without the need for a wifi or roaming with the price of $2, but our springtime seasonal giveaway now lets you download two of my posts entirely FOR FREE. We all love free stuff. Go ahead and try the app out:

5 REASONS TO VISIT MONTRÉAL

MY QUÉBEC: 3 X 3 THINGS TO SEE, EAT AND ENJOY

The giveaway runs from Wednesday 19th to Tuesday 25th of April. It costs nothing. Downloading the app from the AppStore is completely free, and so are these articles for the time being.

 What are your holiday plans? What would be the cheapest non-European travel destination from Dublin? - asking for myself! Share your stories in the comments below!

Love, Melissa

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08/04/2017

The Sunshine Blogger Award - The Strayling


The Sunshine Blogger Award - The Strayling

What a Saturday: the wonderful Emilia On The Road nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! Thanks a million Emilia, it was exactly the spark of sunlight I needed to see in this pile of assignments, dissertation interviews and graduation chaos. Writing a blog always makes the work feel all the more meaningful when you know it's appreciated!

Here are Emilia's questions for the award:

1) What is the first thing you usually start missing from home after having been gone for a long time?
- I'm not good at missing things. I know I'm expected to cry over the lack of all those stereotypical Finnish emblems like salty liquorice, sauna and good vodka, but hear me when I say I need none of that. But there's one thing... I miss cardamom. Yes, I know:"What?" Finnish people love to shove that stuff all over their bakings, and it's available in every store, crushed, in these nice, easy-to-use long tubes. But not elsewhere. The rest of the world wants their cardamom from sketchy ethnic kiosks as entire pods you have to tear open one by one with your tiny little fingers and crush the contents with a knife.

2) What languages can you speak and are you brave enough to use them all?
- On paper I speak six languages: Finnish (my mother tongue), English, Russian, French, Swedish and German. I also took a beginner's course in Mandarin Chinese so I'm able to understand basic phrases and characters, and two courses of Irish Gaelic of which I now have passive knowledge. In practice I can get by with all of them as a tourist, asking for directions and whatnot, but when talking about anything more complicated I rely on my big four: Finnish, English, Russian and French. Russian is my favourite one of them - wait, do people usually have favourite languages or am I just being weird again?

3) What has been the most potentially dangerous situation you've ended up in on a trip?
- Whoah! Had to think of this for a while - I've stayed incredibly safe during my travels. I guess losing a passport in Moscow was a bit of a drag, but the only even slightly threatening situation happened in Paris while I was waiting for the tube with Alex. A teenage boy tried to forcefully kiss me while I was boarding the train and then proceeded to push Alex - too bad the kiddo was so tiny I didn't even notice and the only reaction he got out of Alex was a confused raised eyebrow. Still makes me laugh.

4) What is your preferred way of travelling - planes, trains or automobiles :)?
- To be frank, I hate flying nowadays. I honestly have no idea what happened, I've been on a plane 28 times during the last three years - I guess it was too much for my poor anxious soul and now boarding a plane is just a pain in the ass. Trains for the win!

5) What are your travel plans for the ongoing year?
- We're absolutely totally broke right now (thank you, Dublin's rental market), but are planning on spending a few days in Faro, Portugal after the semester is wrapped up. I really, really want to get out of Europe for a bigger trip maybe at the end of the summer when my master's thesis stops acting like a stone in my shoe, but have no one to travel with.

6) Do you prefer staying at hotels or hostels, private rooms or dorms, or is it couch surfing or house sitting all the way for you?
- I'm a cheap-ass traveller. I don't even remember how it feels like to stay in a hotel - snoring, weird smells, people screaming their lungs out behind your dorm door, beach party 24/7 - it's all I know. I always find the cheapest possible hostel and hope to stay alive through the stay. I've seen some weird shit by now....

7) What places or countries would you recommend to a nature lover?
- There might be some slight bias happening here after living in Canada, but... I mean, Canada. All of it. Everyone should visit Banff National Park at least once in their lives because believe me, that place leaves you in awe. Let's try this out: Google Image search "Canada". That photo you see? That's Banff for you. Go!

8) Top 3 - Countries with the Best Food
- You probably expect me to say "Italy" but I refuse. French cuisine is a blast especially if you want to explore the fascinating world of intestines. Personally I absolutely ADORE Russian food, I could live off pelmenis (dumpling-like dough pockets filled with meat or potatoes/mushrooms and served with sour cream). The last one... I say Mexico. Spice is life.

9) What part of being a travel blogger do you love the most?
- All of it! Writing is my passion, editing is my calling, coding is my secret lover. Having the chance to share your thoughts and experiences with other likeminded people is just the best thing ever. It also offers me the perfect counterbalance to my otherwise overly serious, academic life where everything is terror, death, international human rights law, torture and conflict resolution. On those days when my morning starts with a 2-hour lecture about sexual violence as a weapon of war it feels good to come home afterwards, sit down with my computer and a cup of tea, and just talk about some random fluffy happygolucky travel adventures.

10) Are you interested in getting to know new people when you travel or do you prefer to keep to yourself?
- I'm an extrovert in a closet so yes, I absolutely love meeting new people. People might not always be as excited to meet me because I can be cringy, but that doesn't stop me from trying to know everyone! There was this one time only when I attempted to stay away from my dorm mates in Marseille - two Finnish girls had been checking out my boyfriend out loud right in front of my face, completely oblivious I understood every word.

Now for my nominations!

The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award from bloggers to bloggers - in other words, it's a way for us to spread our love for the inspiring blogs that we have discovered and to show our support to the blogging community.

So here's the deal. If you've been nominated, you'll need to...

1) Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog
2) Answer the questions you got from the person who nominated you
3) Nominate other blogs and give them questions to answer
4) Notify your nominees through social media or by commenting on their blog
5) List the rules and display a Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post

I'm nominating the following wonderful, talented bloggers:
The Sunshine Blogger Award1. Dignifiable
2. Moore Misadventures
3. A Lovely Life, Indeed
4. Meo

Here are my questions for you:
1. Do you prefer to travel alone or with someone? Why?
2. How much in advance do you plan your trips?
3. Have you ever visited a place you were really looking forward to, but then ended up disappointed in it?
4. Is there that one thing you can't travel without?
5. Have you ever met someone unforgettable while travelling?
6. How many countries have you visited so far?
7. Do you attempt to meet locals while travelling or do you prefer to stay by yourself/other travellers?
8. What motivates you to write a blog?
9. What is your favourite place/country you have visited? Why?
10. Share a memorable travel story with me!


 Feel free to copy and answer the questions. Let me know if you do, I'd love to read them! Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Love, Melissa

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26/03/2017

Where Is 'Home' for an Expat?

Where is home for an expat? - The Strayling

Moving abroad from the familiarity of one's home country can be an exciting and terrifying experience at the same time. But what happens when you visit home after years of living abroad? Suddenly not feeling at home in your own country can take you by surprise. Where's your home now, expat?

Every migrant must have heard the classic, silently judgemental comment at some point of their foreign journey: "So... when will you stop this aimless wander and come back home?" It's a harmless wish expressed by someone who loves and misses you back in where everything is just like in the old days. Someone wants you back there so things could be like they used to - you could stroll around those same old streets, buy those good old local groceries and chit chat away in your native language. It's an invitation to that reassuring familiarity, suggesting that anything and everything you experienced since leaving your home country's soil was just a temporary displacement, like a journey made by Bilbo Baggings, and in the end you can always fly back home into the open arms of your welcoming native land. But does it really work like that?

If you were born and raised in a single country to parents with a single nationality, the case looks clear at first glance: you grew up in Finland to Finnish parents, what's the problem? Your home is in Finland. Stop acting like a special snowflake. However, this blog post is not written with the thought of contesting the idea of 'home country', despite the complexity of that very notion to those individuals who have migrated at very early age  - it's to contest the idea of 'home', and how our sense of home can shift as we ramble on around the world and plant seeds of ourselves in all its different soils.

The experience of migration inevitably involves the confrontation between 'home' and 'away' - to travel is to move, to estrange yourself from familiarity and inhabit an unfamiliar space. That unfamiliarity in a new space goes by the name 'culture shock': the habits we found comfortable, reassuring and deeply rooted in our spine are gone, and have been replaced by some sort of anomaly that only poorly replaces the things you hold dear. If you're from a northern nation like yours truly, entering a southern culture sphere with much less personal space and much more kisses on cheeks can be an absolute shock for someone like us who are used to silently staring at other people from a distance. The 'Away', the opposite of your home, is filled with these anomalies, unfamiliarities and wrong kind of bread. Everything back home was so comfortable.

But as time goes by, your survival instinct kicks in and you start inhabiting this unfamiliar space with more confidence. Kisses on cheeks? Bring it on, bro! Embrace me like the latino you are! A bottle of juice and a bag of crisps for lunch? Whatever you say Tesco, I'll take your meal deal, I'm too hungry to fight it. As the days, months and years pass by, these unfamiliarities turn into familiarities: your every morning starts with a bag of apple-cinnamon oatmeal and instant coffee, you surf the tube system eyes closed and speak the foreign language in your sleep. You're on track with everything going on in your host country, every local celebrity photographed drunk in a bar, every politician embarrassing themselves in public, every reform made to a healthcare policy.

Vancouver Art Gallery - The Strayling

Then you encounter that person. "When will you stop this aimless wander and come back home?" And as the plane lands and you enter that once familiar soil of your reassuringly familiar home country, you expect everything to have stayed exactly as they were since the day you left.

But it hasn't.

Why does rye bread make my tummy ache so bad? Why does Finnish coffee suddenly taste so bitter? What new transportation system? Wait, where did they put that new tramline? No sorry, I haven't really followed the news, don't know what's going on in the politics. Yeah.

The home your family talked about suddenly feels so alien. Why? What did you do wrong? This is your home country, you've missed salty liquorice since the day you left, and died to spend a day in the summery, sunny streets of Helsinki just like back in the days. Why does it feels so... not at all home?

Our understanding of 'home' comes from familiarity. What is familiar is what we feel comfortable with; we surround ourselves with things that make our everyday life run smoothly, simply. What is not often considered in the notion of migration, of estranging yourself from familiarity and your home country is that travelling doesn't only include a spatial dislocation, the act of leaving the familiar place, but a temporal dislocation. My Finland is the Finland of the past, the one I left three years ago: this 'past' is now associated with home that I can no longer return to, because it doesn't exist in the present. This is why 'home' is always a question of memory.

This 'home' we crave for becomes a mythic place of no return - the geographical location exists, Finland is always there if I wish to return to its familiar sounds and smells. But the time and place of the home country we knew has passed on, has morphed the way us emigrants have evolved and changed. The terrifying realisation of not knowing where you are while standing in the middle of that shopping centre you've spent time in since you were five years old - it was renovated while you were gone, and you're now completely at the mercy of your friend to lead you through corridors and shops you've never seen before. The corridors you knew are long since demolished.

What that person asking you to come home means with 'home' is that space you inhabited as the person you were years ago. But it ignores the pain of an emigrant who returns to this space and is put on the mercy of others' hospitality, of accommodating you on their sofas and futons, of letting you use their monthly bus card so you could stop spending your now foreign currency on single tickets. Home is not being on the mercy of public wi-fis as you no longer have a Finnish phone number.

You have become a visitor in your own home country.

The empire State building in New York, USA - The Strayling

The nostalgia of walking the streets once part of your everyday reality only carries you so far. Day by day you start missing your oatmeal-instant coffee breakfast (possibly because that once so familiar Finnish nutrition is now completely alien to your digestion system), your new vacuum cleaner you just bought back in Dublin, the smell of the Guinness factory roasting malt on weekends.

You wanted to return 'home' to your family and friends, to salty liquorice and sunny days in Helsinki, but those expectations you put into this experience inspired by your memories can't be dug up from your luggage you spread on your family home's floor. You're a stranger in your own Finnish skin, speaking your native language feels reassuring and alien at the same time. You accidentally answer to people in a wrong language and get judgemental looks from your friends as you try to explain you don't do it to seem special. It's just... what you're familiar with now.

Your family and friends were not there to see you change. They didn't sit on your back as you were lost in Montréal, they didn't hold your hand as you accidentally kissed someone on the lips while trying to go for the wrong cheek first. They weren't there as you shed your Finnish skin and started asking 'how are you?' from every person encountered, when you learned to chit chat about weather with the Irish. But the same way those people didn't see you change, you weren't there to see your home country change like they did.

The unexpected, unfamiliar space entering your bubble of familiarity in the form of a culture shock, requiring the shedding of your skin, an irritating itch (as put by Sarah Ahmed) moulds you little by little. Travelling is about the surprises in sensation: different smells, different sounds, different tastes and people. As time goes by, those surprises become more and more rare. The shedding. You've become a summary of all your lived experiences around the world and no longer fit into the old mould of that person you were when you first left.

Fishing huts in Porvoo, Finland - The Strayling

This experience of leaving home and returning to an unfamiliar place is the failure of your memories to make sense of those changes: 'failure which is experienced in the discomfort of inhabiting a migrant body, a body which feels out of place, which feels uncomfortable in this place', as put by Ahmed. You can no longer inhabit this once familiar space in the way you thought would be familiar.

My parents divorced when I was very young, and none of us stayed in that home, in that city, after it was all over and life went on. Despite my dreams occasionally still taking me back to that apartment in Espoo, nudging me towards a place my subconscious still believes is my home, it's a place of no return, a space which no longer exists. I believe this experience has affected my abilities to adapt to change, to the feeling of displacement and making myself feel easily at home in an unfamiliar space. 

Exactly the same way I identified my 'home' as the place where (as tacky as it sounds) my heart was as a child - by my family, not in a certain geographical location - I now as an adult identify my home by my Canadian partner, Alex. He's my anchor, the familiarity I will carry with me wherever I go - the mixture of French and English, of chocolate spread on my toast and of rising intonation when asking questions (something I really had to practice so he'd understand I'm asking a question!). The memories created with him are my present, and the memories I have of Finland I will always associate with my 'home country', but no longer with my 'home'.

Home is where your heart is, right?

(This post was inspired by Sarah Ahmed's wonderful article Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement, and Avtar Brah's book Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities.)

 Where is your home? Have you felt like a tourist in your home country after moving abroad? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Love, Melissa

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20/03/2017

How to See the Cliffs of Moher & The Burren

How to see the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren

The Cliffs of Moher and the national park of Burren are the most visited nature attractions in Ireland, and that's for a reason. But how do you get around rural west Ireland if the idea of driving on the left terrifies you, or if renting a car is out of the question? We hopped on a bus of Galway Tour Company that took us to the Cliffs of Moher tour from Galway. Here's everything you need to know!

Galway Tour Company offers many different varieties of their tours to go and check out this magnificent piece of cliff, but we took the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren one, since it was offered with a discount by our hostel. The price is 30€ for adults, 25€ for students and seniors, and 20€ for children. In 8 hours you get bused around the coast with a very, very talkative tour guide who might make you sing if you're late from the bus. Be prepared.

Important: since we're in Ireland, make sure to dress properly! The weather gets infernal at the cliffs, so make sure to have good shoes, preferably boots since the pathways are muddy, and a good coat. If you're visiting outside of the summer season, save your ears and take a beanie with you. And hold it tight.

DUNGUAIRE CASTLE
Our first stop was by the Dunguaire Castle close to Kinvarra. The castle originates from the 16th century and got its name from the Dun of King Guaire, the king of Connaght. Our 15 minutes was spent by admiring the impressively low tide (seen in the photo below!) and trying to circle around the castle like a hoard of lemmings. Back to the bus we go.

Dunguaire Castle

The barren landscape of the Burren is astonishing. Our enthusiastic tour guide Gary was able to tell us that all of this used to be under water millions of years ago, thus all the limestone.

The Burren Limestone


POULNABRONE DOLMEN
Now that you guys are in Ireland, you better get used to these seemingly impossible gaelic names! The second stop was Poulnabrone Dolmen, one of the 174 portal tombs in Ireland. It dates back to the Neolithic period, approximately between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. So damn old.

This is the closest you can get: as you can see, it's circled with a rope fence. Some time ago a group of idiots decided it'd be funny to try and move this prehistoric tomb, so now there's a 24/7 surveillance. This surveillance is a guy sitting in a car next to the tomb.

It was so windy we survived outside for a solid 5 minutes. Again, please dress well. The land is so barren the few trees are all grown crooked due to the never-ending gust.

Poulnabrone Dolmen Tomb


KILFENORA CELTIC CROSSES
Our third stop, Kilfenora, is an adorable little village in the heart of the Burren. The reason for stopping here is their famous celtic crosses, dating all the way back to the 12th century. The cathedral around it is pretty much destroyed, but it's still possible to explore the cemetery and admire the graves.

Kilfenora Celtic Cross

What is this? A door for leprachauns?

Kilfenora Celtic Cross


DOOLIN VILLAGE
We stopped for lunch after noon in the village of Doolin. It's the tiniest thing. We had a solid 45 minutes to eat, but after the waitress screwed up my order at least two times, in my case it meant more like 15. Reminds me again why these tour buses are really not my way of travelling, but sadly the options to get around in here are quite limited.


Doolin landscape

Doolin village


THE CLIFFS OF MOHER
Finally! The admission fee to the cliffs is included in the price of the tour, but please take this into account in case you decide to arrive by car: visiting the cliffs is not free. There's a visitor centre with a cafe and a museum where you can gather your strength before facing the gusts of the cliffs. Check out their website: Cliffs of Moher

The cliffs stretch for 8 kilometres and are 214 metres at their highest point. It's easily one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. We were lucky to have a good weather during our visit, but our very own enthusiastic Gary told us it's not always the case - sometimes the fog gets so thick you can't see a thing. Make sure to check the weather forecast in advance or you'll end up paying to see the tip of your nose!

Now, the wind. It can easily get as fast as 120km/h, and hear this from someone who's been there: it can sweep you off your feet. It can rock the bus from side to side. So as you approach the cliffs, please for the love of God don't get on the wrong side of the fence! Here's how it all looks like around the cliffs:

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher path

The Cliffs of Moher path

The Cliffs of Moher

You can walk along the cliffs as far as you like, but Galway Tour Company allows you 1,5 hours on the location. Our sensitive asses survived a solid 20 minutes outside, and after the excruciatingly strong wind caught my bag and broke the strap, we headed inside and devoured warm beverages for the rest of the time.

This is how it looks to the opposite direction from the cliffs:

The Cliffs of Moher landscape

This area was beyond the maintenance of the Cliffs of Moher visitor centre. People actually jumped the fence and posed for pictures a metre away from the edge. I personally preferred to squeeze the stone fence so hard my hands turned white. Fear of heights? Yes. Fear of dying? Hell yes.

The Cliffs of Moher path

The Cliffs of Moher warning

The Cliffs of Moher viewpoint

As seen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!

COAST ROAD
Our last stop was by the Coast Road to have a view of the Aran Islands on the horizon. The drop in itself isn't as impressive after seeing the cliffs of Moher, but 8 metres is enough for me to not get too close to the edge. The barren soil gets unstable, so watch where you walk. Our 10 minutes in here passed fast taking Instagram-worthy photos of us staring at the horizon.

Coast Road, Aran Islands view
How to see the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren Pinterest

The bus took us back to Galway bus station at 6pm. Crazy wind, crazy tour guide, crazy landscapes and one absolutely gorgeous Ireland. There's something about the barren land and the winds of the Atlantic Ocean that create quite a magical atmosphere on the west coast of the island.

 Have you been to the Cliffs of Moher? How was your experience there? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Love, Melissa

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05/03/2017

NEED A HELPING HAND? | My Weirdest Google Search Hits

My Weirdest Google Search Hits

Writing a blog demands you to be quite aware of your Search Engine Optimization - SEO. During my time as a blogger I've followed my Google Search activity with much amusement, because believe me, people google the craziest things! Sometimes, fortunately, they land on my blog with these keywords. People ask questions. Worry not. Now, after all this time googling and desperately looking for advice, I have provided you with answers to Top 10 most common, rather weird Google Search hits to The Strayling. Off we go!

1. Multiculturalism Pros and Cons
This is by far the most popular search term leading you in here, so let's look into it. I don't usually go into politics outside my scholarly entourage, but now that the cat's on the table, let's address it like the mix of a Trinity College Dublin postgraduate student in migration and conflict studies and a feel-good blogger that I am.

Pros: Needless to day, everyone gets to be themselves. Usually the pros mention this 'enrichment' aspect, as in, cultural diversity allows us to engage more with other cultures and this way teach us the many ways of perceiving different attributes of life from food to religion to social interaction. The host society gets to see a wide range of sub-cultures being born in it, and migrants can comfortably reside in their new country without the fear or losing their heritage or being forced to blend into a homogenous mass that is the perceived 'Dutchness' or whatever the country we're talking about. Let's take Canada for example. Their immigration policy is based on the idea of 'mosaic': small pieces create a large, colourful entity that we know as 'Canada'. A happy immigrant is a contributing immigrant, as they say.
Cons: When not carried out properly, multiculturalism can create segregation. Let's take this bunch of Chinese immigrants and put them into the China Town. Now do your Chinese thing. No need to blend in. Let's celebrate your difference. Multiculturalism in its worst makes us ask what does it mean to be 'Chinese', how do we perform this Chineseness and why do we have to caricature ourselves like this anyway. It isolates minorities into ethnic communities separate from the majority population and stalls the integration process where the migrant gets to properly interact with the host society and feel 'at home'. Mind you, this is the case only when proper integration policies aren't implemented and migrants are left to handle their integration process by themselves. (Attention: integration =/= assimilation!)

2. Instagram Follow Button
What kind of Follow button do you want? You mean like the preview of my insta I have on the sidebar? You can head to SnapWidget and get one of your own. Or you just want a javascript button to easily let your readers follow your Instagram with one click? You could try AddThis and get a readymade code for your button. If you want a button that just takes the visitor to your Instagram account without autofollow - like I have on the sidebar with all those small social media icons - you have to do some crafting yourself, but let me get you started:

You could head to SeekLogo and download a vector image of the button to your computer. Change the size and edit the colour as you please with Photoshop, or whatever it is that you prefer using. Upload the image to your domain and make it into a link to your Instagram account. If you want a hover effect, edit another photo with e.g. a different colour and upload it to your domain. Now write the code so that when the visitor hovers the image, the second photo will appear. Like so:

<a href="https://www.instagram.com/YOUR USER NAME HERE" target="_blank"><img onmouseout="this.src='NORMAL IMAGE URL HERE'" onmouseover="this.src='HOVER IMAGE URL HERE'" src="NORMAL IMAGE URL HERE"/></a>

There must be hundred other ways to do it, but that's an easy one.

3. Must See Vancouver
So you're travelling to Vancouver and searching for tips? Look no further, I have just the right blog post for you. Here: 4 MUST-SEE SPOTS IN VANCOUVER. You're gonna love it. I loved it. I loved it so much I could live there happily ever after.

4. Looking for Long-Distance Relationship
Now hold on a minute. Are you saying you're looking for a long-distance relationship? Or just looking for ways to cope with it? Because if we're talking about the first one here, you're out of your damn mind. Why would you intentionally try and find a long-distance relationship? It's hell on earth guys! Stick to normal dating and if that monster lurking into your lives becomes inevitable, you can refer to my LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP 101 blog post for some survival tips.

But I repeat: you don't want to have a long-distance with someone just for the crack of it. Get a pen pal.

My Weirdest Google Search Hits

5. Fairmont le Château Frontenac / Québec Castle Hotel 
Ah, le Château Frontenac! Québec's most well-known landmark. It's all things gorgeous. If you want to book a stay there, head to their homepage: Fairmont le Château Frontenac
If you're interested in taking a sneak-peek inside and read my review of it, check out my blog post:
FAIRMONT LE CHÂTEAU FRONTENAC: QUÉBEC'S FRONT PAGE

6. Irish Slang 
This is a popular one! People strand in here in the hopes of finding out how to talk like an Irish. First of all, let me offer you my BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO IRISH SLANG post to get you started.

Now, four specific words give me hits. Let me help you with your queries. Mind you, there are multiple Irish English dialects, but it's your lucky day since my Irish friend is from Cork and that's by far the craziest, most bizarre accent of them all. He's here today to provide you with answers:

Craic - A universal English equivalent for craic? It's 'crack', as in 'fun' or 'enjoyment'. You might hear an Irish say 'Well tis gun be good craic', in other words, he expects it to be fun.
Hello - Saying hi people generally say 'sup', 'sss'da craic?' [whats the craic?] 'how's da form', 'how's she hanging', 'any scéal' [scale, scéal = Irish for story] but generally insults are also accepted, like 'sup scuts' [scut = disreputable person] or 'hey motherfuckers'.
Goodbye - People say 'slán' [Irish for goodbye] 'talk cha', 'safe journey', 'gwan', 'gluck', 'fuck off so', 'il talk cha', I say 'later bitch' to a group of friends quite a bit. 'See ya' being an obvious one.
Friend - Usually I'd use the negative like: 'they're not a total dickhead like'. Generally you would call someone 'sound' and then someone would ask them do you know them well. If you do, it means they're your friend, if you don't, then you might either be hedging your bets not wanting to sound like a dick or you might consider becoming friends with them. But you wouldn't really say someone is my 'friend', you would say they're sound or yee hang out. You could also use the word 'langer', it's a mainstay in Cork and can be a harsh insult or a term for endearment depending on the context. You can be a langer which results from 'acting the langer', or it can be dismissive if someone's 'a bit of a langer alright'. Or it can be used playfully without negative connotations.

You can also listen to The Langer Song on Youtube if you want to get more immersed to this real Cork spirit.

7. Emporter Conjugation
Unbelievably so, my blog is now a destination for French grammar assistance. Luckily I have one native-speaking boyfriend here with me and he's ready to help you with this one:

Pronoun Conjugation: Present
J' Emporte
Tu Emportes
Il / Elle Emporte
Nous Emportons
Vous Emportez
Ils / Elles Emportent

8. Living in Finland Pros and Cons
Pros: It's safe. Free public healthcare. Good and free education (unless you're a non-EU university student, sorry). Low crime rate. High life expectancy rate. Highest gender equality rates in the world. Beautiful girls (I have to cheer for the home team a bit, right?). Houses are well built and insulated so you won't freeze during winter. Wonderful nature. Technologically advanced.
Cons: The language is hard to learn and I bet you can't find a job if you don't speak it - unless you work in IT or such. It's effin' dark during winter. It's effin' cold during winter. It's effin' cold sometimes even during summer. People like to pout in solitude and mind their own business. Racism. Everything is expensive (mind you, the salary is correspondent!). Everyone wants to live in Helsinki and there aren't enough apartments. Finland is actually pretty hard to reach flight-wise, so if you enjoy your frequent trips to Europe, Ryanair won't be there to save you. Did I mention it's really, really dark?

9. Cringyness
Yes. You're in the right place. Welcome.

10. How to Irritate a Citizen of Each European
This is my favourite. My blog is now a source of hatred and ethnic stereotyping. Sadly I can't provide you with all the answers as this blog post would become too long, but let me get you started with the two nations closest to my heart here and now:
Finns: Call them a Swede. Tell them Nokia is Japanese. Ask if they speak Russian as their first language. Casually touch them during a conversation.
Irish: Call them British. Tell them Ireland is exactly like Britain. Assume they have a British monarchy. Actually, just talk about the British.

 What are the pros and cons of multiculturalism in your opinion? How about living in Finland? Do you have more questions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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03/03/2017

BLOG NAME CHANGED!


Hi lovelies! Today I come to you with some pretty big news: my blog's name has changed. The URL stays the same old so no need for panic - or frankly anything from your side of the deal. So why did I change it?

If you want to do a little exercise, you can type in "Terra Incognita blog" to Google Search and see if you find me. I bet you don't. That's because there are so many blogs or travel agencies around the world with that exact name that I drown in this mess called Terra Incognitas. The domain name isn't free in any form, the blogspot URL isn't free, there's at least 5 Terra Incognita Twitter accounts... you get the drift. It wasn't original enough and seriously affected my SEO.

So we here at ex-Terra Incognita are now called The Strayling. What's that? It's a real word, believe me or not, combining the verb 'stray' with the suffix '-ling'. A strayling is someone who wanders, a drifter, the one that strays.

I have aggressively changed my social media account names today. Make sure to follow me all around internet so you won't miss the rest of my adventures! 
(If you're already following me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest of Bloglovin', don't stress, you're still on board)

Twitter: @thestrayling
Facebook: @thestrayling
Pinterest: thestrayling
Bloglovin': The Strayling

But more importantly: I HAVE A NEW INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT! And I mean completely new. I wanted to separate my blog activities from my personal life, so go ahead and follow my new only blog-related Instagram account:

Instagram: the_strayling

I'm so excited. Are you? I hope you are! Tune in for new posts in the near future, including a fresh story in Melissa's Misadventures series - this time it's me causing public disturbance in a Hare Krishna mass....

Do you like the new name? How did you come up with your own blog name? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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01/03/2017

A WEEK IN IRISH NEWS


None of us can miss out on news about large-scale international events, no matter where we live. But how about the smaller ones? What kind of national issues made it to Irish headlines this week? I kept an eye on Irish newspapers for a week and for each day picked an article specifically dealing with Irish issues that probably didn't make it outside of the island. And here we have it: a week in Irish news from 20th to 26th of February 2017!

MONDAY
A good start, right? A man in his 50s was found dead in an apartment on North Circular Road following a shooting incident on Sunday night. No one has been arrested yet, but gardaí are investigating the incident.

I picked this one for multiple reasons. Firstly, I had no idea the police are called gardaí in Ireland before I moved here, and wanted to show you a bit of that gaelic craic in action. Secondly, the amount of shooting incidents and people dying from gunshots or stabbing in Dublin was an absolute shock for me at first. Nowadays, sad to say, I'm pretty used to it. I don't think we can pass two weeks in here without the news telling yet another story of someone being shot dead. Usually it's about gang violence or drugs. Thirdly, we live only a few blocks away from the crime scene...

TUESDAY
I don't usually like to say this, but now I will: only in Ireland could a video of a baby drinking a pint of Guinness become viral - and so the hashtag #PintBaby was born. A reporter from RTÉ found a clip from a documentary filmed in 1997 where the camera cuts to a baby taking a gulp from a pint of Guinness, and the video soon started spreading all over social media. After intensive search, the Pint Baby was found, and apparently prefers to be called Stephen.

This hashtag was no. 1 on Trending on my Twitter feed last night. Not gonna comment on the question whether a baby should be allowed to take a sip of beer or not, but the response to the video here in Ireland has been surprisingly positive. The general attitude seems to be "Ahh for god's sake, we've all done it..." The Irish truly are a special folk!

WEDNESDAY
Well there's a title that grinds the gears of a Lit graduate. A man from Cork has been found guilty of IRA membership after 500kg of ammonium nitrate based fertiliser was found from the back of his van. The man stated he was going to Monaghan (a city by the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) for a drinking session and was apparently not aware of the fertiliser in his car...

Now, I picked this article to show you the haunting presence of the past still lingering in Ireland: this is the second case of someone associated with the IRA being arrested for the possession of explosives since I moved to Dublin. The other guy was arrested from a bus to Belfast (the capital of Northern Ireland) with TNT in his bag. There's no way the IRA still exists in the same form as during the Troubles in the 60s and 70s, but there are a couple of contemporary movements, such as RIRA (The Real Irish Republican Army) and NIRA (New Irish Republican Army) attempting to keep the legacy alive. Sinn Feín, the political party associated with the demobilised original IRA, has condemned the activity of these groups. However, I feel like the threat of a so-called "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic due to Brexit keeps everyone on their toes nowadays, since there's this fear of the peace agreement falling into pieces and violence returning if a proper border control is installed in the north. You know how The Cranberries sing: It's the same old theme / since nineteen-sixteen / in your head, in your head / they're still fighting...

Wow, this got serious. Anyway, no one's building car bombs anymore, please mom don't be scared.

THURSDAY
Interesting times in the Irish politics: prime minister, in Ireland referred to as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny is about to resign due to a police scandal involving false accusations made about a whistleblower. Thus Fine Gael, the party of Mr. Kenny, needs a new leader, a new prime minister. We finally have news as to when the Taoiseach is about to step down from his throne: after his visit to see President Trump in the White House on St. Patrick's day.

I haven't followed Irish politics as much as I probably should, but there seem to be changes in the air: in addition to Enda Kenny resigning, Sinn Feín also got a new leader just a few weeks back (that was some serious political shit storm right there for a while). The only issue I'm actively checking up on is the question of the 8th amendment - better known as the abortion ban for anyone outside Ireland. Having my say in local politics would also be pretty much the only reason why I'd eventually be interested in getting an Irish citizenship in case we actually (probably by accident) end up staying in Éire.

FRIDAY
Yes. There's nothing the Catholic church can do to surprise me anymore. Glenamady church in Galway has decided to install a drive-thru service on their grounds so people can quickly and conveniently get their ashes on Ash Wednesday.

I grew up in a 99% Protestant country and have only gotten my fair taste of Catholicism after first living in Québec and now in Ireland. In case you're like me, completely oblivious about religious dates: on Ash Wednesday the ashes of previous year's palm leaves from Palm Sunday are placed on the heads of the congregation for the start of Lent. Is Ireland religious, you ask? Well, let's just say I've never seen this many Jesus shrines on roundabouts before... It's been a weird experience for someone whose country doesn't have such a visible relationship with Christianity. Thanks to Ireland, I also had a chance to write my very first email starting with "Dear Father _____....."

SATURDAY
Since we've already covered politics, crime, religion and viral phenomena, I've spared the Saturday slot for pure entertainment and Irish celebrity gossip.

Remember Jedward, that overly energetic teenage duo with hair defying the laws of physics representing Ireland in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest? THESE GUYS? Well, as I've found out by now, these guys weren't just a one hit wonder - they're actually pretty big celebrities in Ireland to this day. Pretty sure you can't walk 100 meters in Dublin without finding their face from a lamp post.

Anyway, Jedward was apparently refused entry to Warner Music Ciroc bash at Freemasons Hall in London's Covent Garden on Wednesday night. Some A-list celebrities like Ed Sheeran and Doutzen Kroes were on the list to this VIP after-party, as supposedly was Jedward, but upon arrival the duo found out their names were not on the VIP-list after all. Jedward now claims that it was all set up, as there was a frenzy of paparazzis ready to photograph them being thrown out by the door. Oh my.

SUNDAY
Our week will finish with a weather warning - we're in Ireland, after all. Met Eireann (the Irish weather forecast service) issued an orange warning today as the wind reached a whopping 120km/h. Fallen trees and flooding have kept the whole country indoors today, including yours truly.

If there's one aspect of Ireland that really, really puts me off, it's the weather. You've been to UK? Think it's bad in there? WELCOME TO IRELAND. Honestly I thought I'd be prepared to face the Atlantic winds and 24/7 misty rain after living in Britain, but no. Ireland takes the game a step further. It's a hell on earth in here on most days - I even invested in my first-ever truly waterproof mascara a while back just so I could stop looking like a beaten up panda after 15 minutes outside.

Do you actively follow what's going on in your new home country? Or do you care more about what's going on in your old home? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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24/02/2017

A DAY TRIP TO MALAHIDE


One of the things I love about Dublin is how close to so many other cool places it is. I've previously told you about all the wonders of BRAY and HOWTH, but this time our destination is a wee bit different. No cliffs, but castles. I'm of course talking about Malahide.

Malahide is a town North of Dublin, and couldn't be easier to reach: the Dart takes you there in half an hour from the city centre. The biggest attraction by far is the Malahide Castle, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the whole of Ireland, according to someone somewhere. I had insisted on going for almost three weeks, until finally the miracle of sunshine was blessed upon Ireland and we had the perfect weather and zero excuses to ditch this thing again. So off we went, no idea what to expect.

Malahide turned out to be the most adorable thing. I took so many pictures. So. Many. Let's have a look!



Now this wouldn't be an Irish coastal town if it didn't have a small harbour, like so. We took a tiny tour around.



I tried to come up with a cheeky thing to say about this photo but then my buzzkill editor side took over and all I can say is I LOVE OUTDOOR LIGHTING.

Now, the cute city centre. Photos will follow below. I mean, how are you supposed to pick a restaurant when they all look so welcoming? I want to eat in all of these. I want to get my hair cut in that salon just because of the lights outside.







I honestly had no idea how many palm trees there'd be in Ireland before I moved in and was baffled by all things tropical. What's up with that? Where do you guys get your palm trees?

After rolling around aimlessly for an hour or so and getting lost like two times we finally headed to the right direction and found the castle grounds - which was surprisingly hard for us taking into account it's pretty much the same size as the whole town centre in itself. And it's right across the road from the train station, but you know.





There was an inner garden here, but you'd have to pay to get in. Alex wanted to come back in the summer.





The castle! Apparently the oldest parts of it date back to the 12th century, owned originally by the Talbot family for over 790 years. It eventually got sold to the Irish State in 1973, and is now open for visits.

We didn't go in: visiting the castle and the West Gardens inside the walls comes with a price we were not interested in paying at this time of the year - 12€ for adults, 8€ for students and 6€ for kids. We planned on returning during summer when we'd actually see flowers in bloom.

The castle and the surrounding lands are a pretty impressive sight in itself though:





Alex was fascinated by these flowers. No matter how far the winter is, I'm still confused by the amount of green in here at this time of the year. Is this the real life? Is this my winter now? Smelling flowers in February?

Later on in the evening we returned to the town and found a pub to have a pint in. Gibneys was pretty full and sportsy, but we fit in and had a break before heading back to Dublin.



A lovely trip all in all! Like Howth and Bray, Malahide was added to my personal list of "Places Where I Want to Retire". Talk about a long-term plan....

Have you been to Malahide? Are there any other such spots within a day trip distance from Dublin I should go and check out? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments below!


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