“A Life Less Ordinary”: Glasgow, Scotland

View from the Glasgow Necropolis

I LOVE GLASGOW. This January we traveled to Scotland’s most populous city to fulfill our teenage dream of seeing Cake play a live show. Wintertime Scotland may sound intimidating, but so worth it.

Pro tip: If you’re cheap like me, traveling off-season is a great way to save money on transportation and accommodations (flights and apartments are usually a lot less expensive) meaning more funds for whiskey and postcards. We’re walkers–our favorite way to travel around a new city is on foot–so we definitely packed our winter-wear for this trip. For me, this meant double leg warmers and wearing something other than flats.

This is a really long post but Glasgow is too amazing to not discuss #allthethings. Get ready for a an extra intense history overview and too many cemetery pictures.

Why “a life less ordinary”? This quote was written on the floor of the entrance to Hillhead Bookclub, where we had dinner our last night in Glasgow. Is this also an excuse to reference Danny Boyle’s 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, and Holly Hunter? Am I pressuring you to listen to the soundtrack that includes the best version of REM’s Leave? Yes to all those things.

Ewan McGregor is Scottish so I feel like this fits the overall theme.

Where are we?

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and known for its industrial landscape. While the origin of the name is under debate, it is believed that Glasgow is derived from Middle Gaelic, meaning “green basin”. The city has the largest percentage of Gaelic speakers outside of the Highlands and Islands. Although the indigenous language is not recognized by the United Kingdom or European Union, Gaelic is an important part of Scottish culture and history.

Alexander’s School was built in 1858. I just love the building.

A great source of fishing, the River Clyde and the surrounding areas were settled by many different communities near Glasgow. In the 6th century, Christian missionary Saint Mungo (you know, THE St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in Harry Potter) established a church where the current Glasgow Cathedral stands.

The Gallery of Modern Art building was previously the mansion of slave owner William Cunninghame. He owned 300 slaves.

Walking through the Merchant City area, I was surprised to see a sign for Virginia Street; ever the pochemuchka (the Russian word for the one who asks too many questions) I had to learn more about the connection between the American south and Glasgow.

Many of the streets and buildings still bear the names of the Tobacco Lords, the group of merchants that made the most profits from transatlantic trade (and some owned plantations in the New World too) although there have been calls to hang plaques to tell the full story.

Buchanan Street, one of Glasgow’s most famous areas, is named for Andrew Buchanan, a Tobacco Lord during the 1700s.

Glasgow became a central trading port following the Acts of Union in 1707–the treaty that combined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland–and played a large role in transatlantic trade and slavery. A central part of the triangular route, much of Glasgow’s wealth was derived from slave labor:

“There are 19 recorded slave voyages which left from Glasgow’s satellite ports of Greenock and Port Glasgow over a sixty year period from 1706 and 1766 – with these direct voyages estimated to have carried around 2 to 3,000 people directly into slavery.

Yet Glasgow was far, far from being an innocent bystander in the slave trade.

The very reason the Tobacco Lords became successful – and why the city prospered as a result – was because they were able to monopolise the produce grown by slaves on the plantations of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, namely tobacco and sugar. So much so, in fact, that for 50 years from 1740 to 1790, Glasgow became the hub for the world’s tobacco – at times trading more than all the English ports put together.

A trade built almost exclusively on forced slave labour. ”

Williams, Craig. 2018. “The History of Glasgow and its Relationship with the Slave Trade.” Glasgow Live. Available here.
A store front in Merchant City, Glasgow. The “Tobacco Lords” built the area as a testament to their wealth.

While the city profited from slave labor in the New World, many Scots and the University of Glasgow played a large role in the abolitionist movement. Following American independence, Glasgow continued to grow during the Industrialized Revolution, which saw steel making, shipyards, and heavy industry further the development of the city. After WWII, economic decline led to de-industrialization of the city.

Glasgow is known for its architecture; there are a large number of historically and culturally important buildings throughout the city. During the Industrial Revolution, many of Glasgow’s red and blonde sandstone buildings were covered with a black layer of soot from industrial pollution and furnaces. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956 and many of the city’s 1,800 buildings were restored to their original appearance.

In 2013 “People Make Glasgow” became the official motto for the city.

The Sites:

University of Glasgow:

Glasgow University Union. The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The University is taking steps to reconcile its connection to slavery. They published the Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report in 2018.
It took me a while to find the Cloisters (we actually stumbled upon them after leaving the Hunterian Museum). University of Glasgow graduations are held here.
The Cloisters can be seen in a number of TV shows and movies including Outlander and Cloud Atlas. I actually just saw Cloud Atlas for the first time this summer–thanks Bri!

The People’s Palace:

I loved visiting the People’s Palace! The palace was opened in 1898 in an overly crowded part of the city with the intent of providing a cultural center its inhabitants. The site features a museum and gallery of the social history of Glasgow.
Smudge, the celebrity cat of the palace, was “employed” in 1979 by the museum to control the rat population. In the 1980s, following NALGO’s (National and Local Government Officers’ Association) denial of her admission as a blue collar worker, she was granted membership to the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Trade Union. She passed away in 2000, but lives on through the plaque dedicated to her services.

George Square:

George Square was named after King George III and developed around 1790.
Originally a pasture and unpaved road used to bring cattle for milking, the area grew rapidly during the 1750s from the influx of wealth from cotton, sugar, and tobacco from the New World. It is now the principle civic square for the city.

Glasgow Cathedral:

The Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis are absolute must-sees if you’re planning a trip to Glasgow.

The Glasgow Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow.
The University of Glasgow held classes at the Cathedral before it was established in 1451.

Glasgow Necropolis:

I know its incredibly morbid but I love visiting cemeteries. The Glasgow Necropolis is one of the city’s most famous sites. Between 1831-1851 over 50,000 people were buried here.
The Victorian Glasgow Necropolis opened in 1833 as an interdenominational burial ground.
The first person buried here was Joseph Levi, a Jewish jeweler.
Me right before I slipped and fell 100% in the mud. Classic Ashlyn.
Architectural historian and architect James Stevens Curl described the Necropolis as “literally a city of the dead”.
In typical Victorian style, the layout of the Necropolis is similar to a park, with multiple paths and 3,500 statues and sculptures.
The view from the Necropolis includes the Glasgow Cathedral and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Ashton Lane:

Absolutely beautiful Ashton Lane! The street is lined with a number of great bars and restaurants including Brel, Innis & Gunn, and Ubiquitous Chip.

Glasgow Botanical Gardens:

One of my favorite places in Glasgow! The Botanical Gardens are over 200 years old and were established by Thomas Hopkirk, a Glasgow botanist.
Jurassic Park vibes.

More Beautiful Places:

Bath Street
Woodlands Methodist Church
View from Kelvingrove Park
St. George’s Place

Restaurants & Pubs:

Drygate Brewing:

Located right next to the Glasgow Necropolis, Drygate Brewing is a great spot for a beer after a day of exploring (or drying off if you fall in the mud and are covered in muck from head to toe like I was).
We had the Seven Peaks (IPA) and the Disco Forklift Truck (pale ale).

Innis and Gunn:

We loved Innis and Gunn! They had a great menu with a ton of vegetarian and meat options, plus good beer too. Chris ordered the burger (of course).
Halloumi fries with peanut sauce—so good! I love halloumi anything but this was the first time I had the option of this salty cheese in fry form (highly recommend). This is probably my second favorite Halloumi dish after I ordered a vegetarian kebab in Prague that included both halloumi AND falafel.
Thai fried cauliflower
Halloumi flatbread (you’re sensing a theme now right?).

Chinaski’s:

An amazing secret speakeasy in Glasgow, Chinaski’s is named for Charles Bukowski’s alter ego and the space is a small homage to the American writer. We LOVED this spot and had to order their truffle fries and macaroni and cheese along with our cocktails. Absolutely highly recommend!

Akbar’s Glasgow:

Akbar’s is a huge restaurant with an enormous menu. We stopped for dinner with the intention of heading out after but were so filled with good food (garlic and cheese naan bread?!) that we ended up calling it a night because nothing could top dinner. This (horrible) picture is their palak and paneer dish with a side of the amazing naan bread. SO GOOD.

Hillhead Bookclub:

The description for Hillhead Bookclub is one of the best you’ll find: a licensed land of milk & honey where the ping-pong is plentiful, the computer games are retro, the cocktails arrive in gramophones and the strawberry mojitos cost nought but 3 pounds. We went for dinner on our last night (sad face) and ordered sandwiches (amazing).
With double floors (including a top floor of just vintage games and pool), I really loved Hillhead Bookclub. I wish we could have tried their brunch but alas left before the weekend.

McCune Smith:

Named for James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a medical degree (he graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1837), this small cafe was established by two brothers near the “old college” to showcase local and sustainably grown Scottish ingredients .
Chris and I ordered matching sandwiches: the Scottish take on a Reuben (mine veg and his with meat). So good! The ladies behind the counter were also arguing whether or not Merissa from the OC was a tragic figure and I almost just asked for a job application right then.
I just loved the atmosphere of this cafe. “A little history in every bite” is definitely a motto I can live by.

Artisan Roast:

Artisan Roast was our first coffee stop in Glasgow. The barista gave me a confused look when I ordered cold brew in January, but I wanted something cold after walking in my sweater+leg warmers+extra socks+boots. Their coffee was great and we loved the laid back vibe of the area too. They also plated “Cannonball” by the Breeders; a song I haven’t heard since roughly 1999.

Papercup Coffee Company:

Genuinely great coffee and an awesome brunch menu, we walked a solid mile and a half to Papercup because I read how they serve some of the best coffee in Glasgow. They were also playing the Juno soundtrack so extra bonus points for them! It’s a small space but totally worth the trek and waiting for a table.

++Special shout out to the Old Ship Bank pub in Glasgow too! We stopped by to use the bathroom and ended up hanging out with an older gentleman named James, a native of Glasgow, for hours. He told us about the history of the area, current politics, and his excitement for a date he had scheduled for the next day. The pub was awesome and just felt so Glasgow… that’s the only way I can explain the atmosphere. The entire space was filled with people who just returned from a funeral and, according to James, this is “typical” for natives of Glasgow.

Bookstores:

Voltaire and Rousseau:

Voltaire & Rousseau is located on the small street of Otago Lane, hidden behind old bicycles near the entrance. I. Love. This. Shop. While there may have been some kind organization when Voltaire & Rousseau originally opened, as owner David Yeats says, “things fall apart.” Virtually impossible to find a title you’re looking for, but I think the point of the shop is to feel like you’re actually swimming in a sea of books, an experience I can get behind.

I ❤ Glasgow

Moulin Rouge vibes

Don’t forget that you can download the MWA Map and have all of my food/pub/sites/bookstore recommendations with you whenever you travel.

Currently:
Reading: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay)
Watching: Big Little Lies Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: Burn it all Down

Today’s Rain is Tomorrow’s Whiskey: Edinburgh, Scotland

View from Edinburgh Castle and one of the times I’ve broken my strict “never climb an old volcano” vow.

Sigh, Scotland. Edinburgh has been at the absolute top of my travel list since I first saw Danny Boyle’s (equally both amazing and scarring) Trainspotting. 

Well, but me and Scotland

Edinburgh is a gorgeous city filled with a ton of history, culture, and of course, whiskey. Get ready for a loooooong post filled with Scottish adventures including murder legends (obviously), cocktail villages, and of course #alltheharrypotterthings. Somehow I even managed to find Russian pierogi (but are any of us actually surprised?)

Old Town, Edinburgh

Where are we?

The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is the seventh largest city in the United Kingdom. Its name derives from the Brittonic Celtic word “Eidyn” and although the meaning is unknown, scholars believe the term references Castle Rock, the location of Edinburgh’s Castle. Castle Rock was formed over 350 million ago out of volcanic rock. Often compared to Rome, Edinburgh was built on seven hills.

Earliest human inhabitation of the area goes all the way back to 8500 BC. In 1706, the Treaty of the Union combined the Parliaments of Scotland and England to form the Parliament of Great Britain. This was largely opposed by many Scots, which led to numerous riots in Edinburgh. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Edinburgh was occupied by the rebel Jacobite Highland Army until their defeat by the British at the Battle of Culloden. Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom today.

Or as we all know, the premise to the first season of Outlander.

Known for its distilling, brewing, and printing industries, the city’s Old Town has its trademark smoke-stained buildings and the winding, cobblestone streets feel like you’re stepping out of a Harry Potter novel, which of course makes sense because much of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the series came from the time she spent in the city.

There is so much to see in Edinburgh! We only had a couple of days but you could easily spend a week just wandering and exploring this beautiful, historic city.

The Sites:

Overwhelmed by all the things Edinburgh has to see? SAME. Friendly reminder that you can find all of the sites (including my personalized Harry Potter walking tour) in the Middle World Adventures map.

Trainspotting Dreams Coming True:

First #myheartisexploding moment came immediately after exiting the bus from the airport into the city. Our stop on Princes Street is the location of the infamous “Choose Life” scene at the beginning of Trainspotting, when Renton and Spud are being chased by police officers.

While the storefronts have changed (there’s now a Next department store and a greeting card shop), it was still such a cool nerd moment for me to be standing at that stop.

Lovely Places:

The National Art Gallery of Scotland first opened in 1859.
The beautiful Princes Street Gardens
St. Giles’ Cathedral contains buildings built in 1124.
The Merchants Hall in New Town

True Crime Spots:

I wish we had time for a tour of the Surgeons’ Hall Museum! They have the Burke Death Mask on display. William Burke, half of the infamous Burke & Hare team, murdered 16 people in Edinburgh during the early 1800s. During the time there was a huge demand for bodies by anatomy schools in Edinburgh; Burke & Hare delivered the corpses of their lodgers for cash. After being discovered by police, Hare was granted immunity for confessing the murders. Burke was hanged and his skeleton (and face mask) was put on display where it remains today.
The view from Mary King’s Close. A “close” is an ancient alleyway and Mary’s is one of Edinburgh’s most famous as well as most haunted sites in the city. This passageway (to the left of the picture) is named after Mary King, an affluent merchant who lived here in 1635. After years of disease (including haunting descriptions of the bubonic plague and how it was treated yikes), overcrowding, and poor living conditions, the Close became a site for underground trading. Parts have been demolished, but a portion under the city remains open for tours.
View from Grassmarket: Grassmarket was the site of public executions in Edinburgh. One of the most famous stories is that of Maggie Dickson. The wife of a fisherman who deserted her and left her destitute in 1723 (#boybye), Dickson left the city for Kelso. There, she found work for an Innkeeper and also fell in love with the Innkeeper’s son. After becoming pregnant, Dickson gave birth to a premature baby who passed away a few days later. The baby’s body was found, traced to Dickson, and she was charged under the contravention of the Concealment of Pregnancy Act and the murder of her son. After being found guilty, she was sentenced to death and hanged in the Grassmarket Gallows on September 2nd, 1724. After being pronounced deceased, her body was transported to Musselburgh, where, on the way, she awoke. Since the sentence had been carried out, Dickson could not be tried again, and she lived another forty years with her husband (boy, welcome back, I guess).

Harry Potter Tour:

Nicolson’s Cafe, now Spoon, is where J.K. Rowling wrote many of the chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This plaque is located at the corner of Drummond Street.
The entrance to George Heriot’s School, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
Me about to break into Hogwarts (via Kristin Ariel Photography)
Victoria Street is rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a graveyard near Old Town that was established in 1861.
One of the graves, Tom Marvolo Riddle, is said to have been the inspiration for J.K. Rowling ( He-Must-Not-Be-Named’s dear old dad)
Searching For Tom Riddle’s Grave: Our Edinburgh Adventure
One of my absolute favorite places in Edinburgh. I could have easily have spent hours here just wandering around. Photo credit to Casci for capturing me #livingthatbackpacklife

Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2018:

It was a (very) happy coincidence to visit Edinburgh during their 2018 Storytelling Festival. While I was hopping-up-and-down-ecstatic at all the nerdy possibilities, my friends were the absolute best and came along on a couple of stops. Unfortunately, due to the limited time we had in the city, I could really only see a couple of exhibitions.

Absolutely breathtaking to see in person!
The National Library of Scotland featured an exhibition of the work of Frederick Douglass. Douglass, born an American slave in 1818 and making his escape to freedom in 1838, is one of the most famous activists of the anti-slavery movement. He arrived in Edinburgh in 1846. The exhibition was amazing.

Edinburgh Castle:

Image by Kristin Ariel Photography
View from the trek up to Edinburgh Castle
Photo by Kristin Ariel Photography

Jack White:

We saw the always amazing Jack White during his Boarding House Reach Tour.
I only cried twice. Okay, three times.

Restaurants & Pubs:

My Favorite Meals in Edinburgh:

The Painted Rooster: We found the Painted Rooster for breakfast and happily, take-home pierogi. I had vegetarian haggis while a friend braved his first haggis tasting. After speaking to the Russian server and owner, Chris and I 100% brought back to-go pierogi, promptly eating them as soon as we were back in Hungary.
Elephant & Bagels: The most adorable cafe located smackdab in the middle of our Harry Potter tour, Elephant & Bagels has a great menu and was absolutely packed when we stopped for lunch. I had my go-to: everything bagel with honey, brie, and walnuts.

Edinburgh Cocktail Week:

Happily, we were in town for the 2018 Edinburgh Cocktail Week and were able to visit the Cocktail Village–a large tent filled with the city’s best bars and their unique cocktails created just for the event.
We loved the Cask Smugglers stand (Kristin Ariel Photography)
Our favorite stand was the Pop Up Geeks! They were fully immersed in the world of Willie Wonka (Kristin Ariel Photography). I was 1000% fan-girling the bartender.
I love this so much.
Best Marketing ever?
❤ this girl! (Kristin Ariel Photography)

Whiskey & Folklore Class

How can you not sign up for a whiskey and folklore class while in Edinburgh? We attended this class and had a blast. Our host discussed the history of whiskey distilling in Scotland as well as the city’s best true crime murder stories (be still my heart). It was an amazing start to our trip. Whiskey tasted: Auchentoshan (Lowlands), Glenlivet (Highlands), Old Pulteney (Wick). and my favorite, Lagavulin (Islay).

The Pop Up Geeks:

The Pop Up Geeks is an absolute must-visit while in Edinburgh. Every few months they choose a different nerdy theme and apply it comprehensively to the entire bar including the menu, the decor, and the marketing. While we were visiting it was everything Lord of the Rings (“There and Back Again”). My friend Kristin was SO EXCITED and not being a LOTR fan myself, I was just thrilled to be there with her. Make sure to reserve your spot.
Photo Credit: Kristin Ariel Photography

Shops:

Located on Victoria Street, John Kay’s Shop is a beautiful combination of new and antique books right in the heart of Edinburgh. I was eyeing a couple of special edition Brontë novels but exercised my limited self-control and purchased postcards instead.
“Smell the Old Books for Yourself!” proclaims Armchair Books, a used bookstore located in West Port near Grassmarket. The “very nearly” organized chaos of this shop made my heart incredibly happy.
Absolutely adored this bookstore.
Happily, Bonkers Gift Shop was located right next to our Air BnB and I was able to pick up on all of my favorite tourist purchases: strange, hand-drawn postcards, obscenely specific greeting cards, and various pet-related gifts. So cute.

Edinburgh absolutely tops the list of my favorite places. I can’t wait to plan our next trip.

Darling, I love you more than whiskey.
(Kristin Ariel Photography)

Extra special thank you and love to Kristin Earwood, an insanely talented photographer and wonderful friend. Check out her amazing work here.

Currently:

Reading: Josephine Baker’s Last Dance (Sherry Jones)

Watching: Lorena (Amazon)

Listening: Boom! Lawyered (Re.Wire: Season 2)

Year in Review: 2018

How is it already January? Anyone else feel like the winter Olympics were last month (probably just me)?

November and December have been absolutely crazy months for us. We were in six different countries (seven if you count a week in the UK during mid-October) including about a month away from home. I’m REALLY far behind on updating everyone on the amazing places we’ve been this year, along with the continuous atrociousness that is USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and the USOC (spoiler alert: it’s even worse if that’s possible, but I’m sure you already guessed that). 

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Because we’re in a new year and I love making lists, this post will include 2018’s #allthethings : life things, my favorite things, traveling things, food things. You know, my usual rambling.

Here’s the Thing: Sometimes Life is Good and Bad.

Like most things, 2018 was both wonderful and terrible. This year I was forced to really start to put a lot of my own experiences in perspective; a combination of the #metoo movement, Nassar victim impact statements, and constant discussion of abuse made avoiding my own history inescapable. I learned that I need to start taking my emotional and mental health more seriously rather than continue my usual tactic of ignore, ignore, ignore.

I learned that I’m not alone.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: One of the best memories of this year is streaming the Larry Nassar sentencing from my phone with a friend in a Slovakian speakeasy. A pretty perfect representation of my 2018.

This year I laughed until my stomach hurt, sat at the edge of the world, and ate an obscene amount of sweets with my coffee. I was able to see my family, my friends, and experience new places with the people I love. I had carrot cake cheesecake for my birthday, walked Prague with two of my favorite boys (Ike and Chris), won a fantasy football true crime league, and hosted more get-togethers than I can count.

Looking back, my heart is both broken and full. I’m so incredibly thankful for everything I have and accomplished this year.

There is pressure during the new year to make a fresh start. In a lot of ways a new beginning sounds great, but in a lot ways it doesn’t.  I’m in a sort of weird in-between limbo right now. And you know what? That’s fucking okay. I am striving to just be content with where I’m at rather than put pressure on myself to move too quickly (one of my intentions for 2019).

Saying Goodbye:

Ike in 2016.

Before I start my lists, I want to take a moment to speak on one the hardest months of my life. In January Ike was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given weeks to live. We were completely devastated. At only eight years old and in great health, the diagnosis came as a complete shock.

My little bandit.

Ike came from a longggggg line of Boston Terriers; we adopted his grandad Skittles when I was in middle school. He (and Porkchop) have always been such a constant in my life that letting him go was one of the absolute most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

Thankfully the diagnosis proved to be incorrect in that the masses on his liver and pancreas weren’t in fact cancer. That news however, was coupled with the fact that the small mass in his chest (right between his lungs and heart) could prove to be fatal.

Best of brothers.

After two months of chemotherapy, I had high hopes that he could recover. Ike was a tough and stubborn dog; his abdominal masses were shrinking and he was doing great. When he started having issues breathing I hoped it might just be due to the change in the weather. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The mass in his chest was growing. And there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Look at these babies! Ike was constantly judging everyone.

The vet told me this was a difficult way to pass away… and we would know when the end was here. We didn’t want our best boy to suffer. Even now, I can’t even talk about that day and the morning I had to make that decision, never knowing if it was right. I’m just so incredibly thankful to Chris, my friends here in Papa and far away, my family, and of course,  Porkchop and Arya.

Ike and his new sister Arya in 2017. She actually found the skin issue on the back of his neck (you can see it here in the picture too) that led to us beginning the tests.

I still expect him to grumpily come inside out of the rain or itch his face on the covers every morning. Chris still looks for him when he comes back from traveling for work. Arya and Porkchop were both really confused at first, but I think are doing better. PC really misses his little brother. We all miss this little guy.

Ike’s favorite pastime: sunning himself. On his last day with us he had all the sun.

I don’t really know how to end this except to say how heartbroken I still am. Some days are easier. Other days are really hard. If you’re reading this and are working through something difficult that happened to you this year, just know that you’re not alone. And its 100% okay to feel sad or guilty or angry or a combination of any and all the emotions. 

Best Places of 2018:

This year we saw incredible new places and had the opportunity to visit old favorites.

The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Places we visited in 2018:

  • Belfast (and the coast), Northern Ireland
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Charleston, USA
  • Cleveland, USA
  • Dresden, Germany
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Kethely, Hungary
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Peniche, Portugal
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Seville, Spain
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Zagreb, Croatia

I’m extremely thankful to have the chance to visit a couple of our favorite spots with friends and family who made the leap over the ocean to spend time with us in Europe.

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

Choosing my absolute favorite places is virtually impossible. Taking into account a number of factors, here are my picks for 2018 (in no particular order):

Coast of Northern Ireland

Christmas in Zagreb

Seville, Spain

Edinburgh, Scotland

Honorable mentions go to Budapest because of so many reasons, but specifically the Budapest Beer Week that was absolutely awesome.

Favorite Concerts of 2018:

This year was THE year of shows for us. We saw a ton of our usual musicians (Pokey LaFarge) and a couple of new ones (FINALLY Flight of the Conchords went on tour). Here’s a list of everyone we saw live in 2018:

  • A Perfect Circle
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three
  • They Might be Giants
  • Jack White

My favorite shows of 2018:

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Middle school Ashlyn was absolutely ecstatic to see Franz Ferdinand. They were great–full of energy and fun–and sold out a huge space. 100% recommend. (Prague, Czech Republic)

Flight of the Conchords at Capitol Theatre

Finally saw Flight of the Conchords in real life. (Dublin, Ireland)

JACKWHITE__EDINBURGH_8_11_12042-500x315

Of course Jack White is at the top of the list. He was amazing (as always) and just as incredible as when we first saw him play in 2005. (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Special shout-out to Jane Goodall, who spoke in Budapest this year. Technically not a band, but it was truly a dream come true to see her in real life.

Favorite Books of 2018:

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via Cutiosities on Etsy

This year I surpassed my goal and read 41 books! 2018 was definitely a year of nerding out both in fiction and non-fiction. I joined a couple of book clubs (one here in Papa that connects readers from all over the world, Now Read This! A NYT/NPR collaboration, and of course Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf). My favorites are definitely influenced by a lot of the personal struggles I had this year. Here are my top books published in 2018:

#8. Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out (Erin E. Moulton): An anthology of stories of sexual assault, Things We Haven’t Said is a powerful book on why survivors struggle with speaking out on their experiences through providing an outlet to victims who typically don’t have one.

#7. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Kate Manne): A professor of philosophy at Cornell University, Manne states that misogyny is “a social and political phenomenon with psychological, structural, and institutional manifestations” that enforce gender roles that continue to influence society today. Detailing the impact of these ideas both culturally and institutionally, Manne’s book provides context on why we expect (and allow, and in some ways, forgive) actions of one group of people over another. 

#6. Heart Berries: A Memoir (Terese Marie Mailhot): Mailhot’s memoir is raw and at times difficult to read. A Native author, this beautifully written book details her life in crisis: poverty, overcoming multiple disorders, losing custody of her child, growing up with an absent mother, and life on the Seabrid Island First Nation Indian reservation in British Columbia. 

#5. A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law (Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson, and Anthony C. Thompson): This slim book (128 tiny pages) is a discussion on race in America by the leading civil rights leaders in the field. Their conversation on inequality and changing culture and institutions was one of my favorites this year.

#4. Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens): Owens’ first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing is a gorgeously written story of a girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina. I adored not only the descriptions (it reminded me so much of Charleston) but also Kya’s story of persevering on her own and in her own way.  

#3. Educated (Tara Westover): I finished Tara Westover’s memoir in two absolutely brutal days. Educated tells the remarkable story of Westover’s life from being born (sometime, her actual date of birth is unknown) to survivalist parents.  Their mistrust of medicine and education meant that she had very little experience of the outside world. Her desire and determination to leave home for education (eventually a PhD and at the disapproval of her family) is one of the most incredible (and impressive) stories I’ve read all year.

#2. One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy (Carol Anderson): Anderson discusses the implications of the 2016 election–the first in fifty years to be held without the complete protections of the Voting Rights Act–and how voter suppression systematically blocks the ability of many Americans to submit their ballots. Her work details the impact of Jim Crow and voter requirement laws implemented after the abolishment of slavery, the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters leading up to the Civil Rights Act, and the continuous suppression through various laws and redistricting today. 

#1. I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Michelle McNamara): My favorite book of 2018 is McNamara’s account of her obsession to help catch one the of the most horrifying rapists and murderers in United States history, the Golden State Killer (a name she coined). I’ll be Gone in the Dark is so well-written that you feel her passion and dedication to find the man who assaulted more than fifty woman and killed ten people on each page. The chilling final chapter–McNamara is speaking directly to GTK–and her prediction of how he might be caught is eerily similar to way it actually happened in reality, although she passed away unexpectedly before he was arrested.

There are also a ton of great books I read this year that were published before 2018 including Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram W. Kendi and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 

Favorite Brunches of 2018:

It’s no surprise that brunch is my absolute favorite meal. Here are my favorites from 2018:

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#8. Blueorange (Vienna, Austria): This everything bagel from Blueorange was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I had in 2018 (a big accomplishment considering Chris is the king of making them). Brie, honey, walnuts, and greens… what else do you need in life?

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#7. Munchy Food Truck (Zagreb, Croatia): Who says it isn’t appropriate to order a homemade waffle covered in Nutella and bananas at 10am? If you dip it in coffee, it counts as breakfast.

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#6. Holy City Brewing (Charleston, SC): It’s no secret that HCB has my favorite brunch in Charleston. My last minute visit meant I had only one Sunday for brunch and this crunchwrap was absolutely the best decision I made all summer.

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#5. Urban House (Bratislava, Slovakia): The best Bloody Mary of 2018! Look at this amazing spread. My favorite dish is their vegetarian English breakfast–the greens are the tastiest part of the meal.

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#4. Maggie May’s (Belfast, Northern Ireland): Maggie May’s has the absolute best diner food. A small, cash-only restaurant in Belfast, their menu is extensive and the food is so genuinely good.

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#3. La Jeronima (Seville, Spain): This croissant was stuffed with roasted eggplant and honey marinated tofu (I can feel the collective “ugh” from meat-eaters reading this and the “ooooh!” from my veg friends haha). This tiny cafe in Seville had such a unique menu that I wish we were able to have breakfast there every day.

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#2. Copenhagen Coffee Lab & Bakery (Lisbon, Portugal): So here’s the thing–I love a solid avocado toast and this was hands-down the best I had all year. Heather and I chose this PLUS sweets with no regrets. Not pictured is the hot ham breakfast sandwich that Chris ordered that smelled so good, Karl had to get one for himself (second breakfast for the win).

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#1. 3FE (Dublin, Ireland): Look at this scotch egg! These hash browns! In addition to their amazing menu 3FE also hosts coffee tastings and training for those interested in learning more about roasting their own blend. This tiny cafe earns my favorite brunch of 2018.

Favorite Podcasts of 2018:

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I love podcasts. Sometimes I don’t turn on our TV for what feels like weeks because (nerd alert) I’ve discovered a new show and binged all the episodes in a few days. Similar to my book choices, my favorite podcasts are heavily influenced by a lot of my personal struggles and growth this year. Here are my favorite podcasts published in 2018:

#8. Believed (National Public Radio): The goal of Believed is to answer the question so many people have asked: How did Larry Nassar get away with decades of abuse to hundreds of girls and women? Their interviews with survivors and parents can be an extremely difficult listen, but necessary if we want to learn how to change the system that allowed for this abuse to occur for so long. 

#7. Keep It! (Crooked Media): Keep It! is my weekly guilty pleasure podcast. Hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel, they hilariously discuss the intersection of pop culture and politics. Kara also has my favorite frustrated statement of 2018: “people just need to read!”

#6. Uncivil (Gimlit Media): The only reason Uncivil isn’t number one on my list is because  most of their episodes were published in 2017 and therefore didn’t qualify as a “2018” show. Discovered late this year, this was one of my binges of 2018. Each episode “ransacks America’s past” and tells an untold story related to the Civil War.

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#5. My Favorite Murder (Exactly Right): My favorite true crime podcast, MFM is hosted by Karen Kilgarariff and Georgia Hardstark. Each week they share stories of murder, cults, and hometown stories from listeners. Not only discussing true crime, Karen and Georgia are also super open about their own struggles with mental health, finding time for self-care, and sparked a million taglines including the famous “stay sexy and don’t get murdered”, “you’re in a cult, call your dad”, and my personal favorite: “can’t you see from my really thick black eyeliner that I’m no one’s mother?”

#4. R U Talkin’ REM: Re: ME? (Earwolf): As stated by Scott Aukerman, it truly is the year of R U Talkin’ REM Re: Me. Hosted by the superfan Adam Scott Aukerman (Adam Scott [Parks & Rec] and Aukerman [the hugely underrated Comedy Bang Bang!]), this podcast discusses the impact of R.E.M.’s music album by album. Their banter is hilarious and each episode is filled with smaller episodes (“Is this an episode of ‘I Love Films?'”) that Chris and I always played during our hours on the road this year. 

#3. GymCastic: The Gymnastics Podcast (Gymcastic): Definitely a niche podcast for fans of the sport, Gymcastic makes the top of my list not only because of their analysis of the sport (and mostly hilarious takes on competition, scoring, and love for the athletes) but their unrelenting dedication to discussing the Larry Nassar abuse that finally began to garner mainstream media coverage this year. Each week hosts Jessica and Spencer held MSU, USA Gymnastics, and the USOC accountable and provided an outlet to athletes and survivors. Their coverage of not just the abuse, but of the cover-up and mismanagement makes Gymcastic one of the my favorites this year. 

#2. Serial Season Three: The Cleveland Court System (This American Life): Rather than focus on one particular story (unlike seasons one and two) season three instead tells the “extraordinary stories of ordinary stories” taking place at a courthouse in Cleveland. These  largely untold narratives of people working through the complicated (and convoluted) justice system was one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking podcasts I listened to in 2018. 

#1. Scene on Radio Season Three: Men (The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University): I loved season two (“Seeing White” featuring Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, host of Uncivil) so I was really looking forward to season three of Duke University’s podcast. With the goal of discussing “How did we get sexism, patriarchy, misogyny in the first place? How can we get better at seeing it, and what can we do about it?” hosts Jown Biewen and Celeste Headlee tackle a topic each week and provide feedback on how we can combat these systems. The episode “Himpathy” was the most difficult and impactful for me; it featured input from Kate Manne on not only why survivors of abuse feel sympathy for their abusers, but also how society does as well. 

Extra love to Pardon My Take and Fantasy Football Focus, which I binged throughout the entire NFL season. 

Favorite TV Shows of 2018:

This year I hardly watched any new shows (too much reading and podcasting I suppose) so my list is embarrassingly small. But here are the shows you absolutely need to watch:

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#5. Ballers Season Four: If you know me, you’re not surprised by this choice. Listen, I love the Rock. I love Rob Cordray. I love football. Is this a ridiculous show? Yes. Do I love it? Yes. Does the plot matter? Nah, not really.

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#4. Better Call Saul Season Four: One of my favorite shows continues to get better with this newest season. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks are still absolutely amazing as Saul and Mike. The return of Gus Fring (one of the best characters of Breaking Bad) makes this season binge-worthy for sure. The season finale nearly gave me a heart attack.

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#3. End of the F***ing World: Technically the show premiered in the UK in 2017, but it wasn’t picked up and added to Netflix until 2018, so it counts for me. I loved this show. Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther are superb as Alyssa and James. Their relationship is endearing, odd, and their adventure to find her birth father completely drew you into the show; the final episode was amazingly filmed. I’m so glad it was picked up for a second season.

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#2. Game of Thrones Season Seven: Finally, this year I got into GOT. I always begrudgingly sort of paid attention to the show over the years but never committed (why is everyone so dirty?) until this year. Maybe call it the revenge of Arya Stark or the undeniable affection I have for Tormund, but I’m 100% in moving forward. Better late than never.

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#1. Sharp Objects: Yep, Sharp Objects beats Game of Thrones for me. The combination of Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen gives me LIFE. Incredibly creepy and at times jarring, Sharp Objects was my favorite show of 2018. Closer was my favorite episode that also creeped me out the most.

Here’s to 2019!

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Currently Reading: My Sister, the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite)

Currently Watching: Ozark Season 1 (Netflix)Ashlyn (2)