First Scuba Diving Experience along the Florida Keys

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I loved every second of this – put me back in the water!

Scuba diving had been high on the bucketlist for a while and what better place to try it for the first time than while I was driving from Miami to Key West. This is a stunning 3 hour and 40 minute drive crossing over 42 bridges on the Overseas Highway. It is incredibly scenic as you pass multiple islands and keys such as the Islamorada Keys and Bahia Island. It has to be one of the most beautiful drives I have ever done, with the water by your side and underneath you for the majority of the drive. (Check out this photo of the roads found on apassportaffair.com, note: the COLOUR of the water):

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Prior to my trip to Florida, I found a Scuba Diving company called “Try Scuba Diving” which offer one on one lessons for beginners. The dive site is located half way between Miami and Key West – a perfect pit stop activity for the long drive.

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I arrived at the dive site area, a small cove just off the highway called ‘Horseshoe’. I quickly understood the name given the rocks around the water come together with the shore shaped like a horseshoe. The water was so clear and I was a mixture of excited and nervous for my first ever dive, I dipped my feet in and it felt like a bath – no need for a wet suit in the gorgeous Florida November weather! I saw others snorkeling close to the shore, one guy brought this to the shore (apparently it is illegal in Florida to remove conchs from the sea so don’t worry he put it back in after the photo):

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We also spotted this guy among the trees along the shore, the colours on him:

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I met with my diving instructor, Luke who had just finished up with another group. He talked me through how to use the equipment, the importance of BREATHING (I learnt that holding your breath is the worst thing you can do), popping your ears, our hand signals for the dive and other safety rules – He was super encouraging and assured me that I was going to survive (haha). We walked out into the water put on our gas tanks and we swam under. Luke brought his GoPro along so he got some footage (below) of our dive. We swam to the very bottom and followed fish along the rock face, the water was super clear so you could see everything and the colours were amazing.  The dive was about 40 minutes long but I could have stayed down there for hours, It was actually far easier than I thought it was going to be. It was such a great experience which I would definitely love do again sometime in the future.

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Road Trip to Put-in-Bay, the Island nobody knows!

“Where is Put-In-Bay?”

When I tell people in Chicago that we took this trip more times than not, they have never heard of this place. To fill you in, Put-in-bay is an island off Ohio on Lake Erie and below is how we ended up there and what we did.

One of my very good friends was visiting me from Ireland who I hadn’t seen in almost a year so I thought what better time to take a roadtrip, show her more of the USA and to go somewhere I didn’t know existed up until recently – Put-in-Bay.

Day 1 : Road Trip from Chicago

We embarked on the 4 hour drive from Chicago to Ohio early on a Tuesday morning, Google maps indicated to me to take one turn out of the city and then it was pretty straight the entire way passing what seemed like an unnecessary amount of corn fields and toll booths. Who knew there was an Island off Ohio? This was the time to check it out. We finally pulled into the parking lot at Port Clinton pulled out our luggage and headed towards the Jet – express ferry which would be our way to get to the island. We paid the fare of around $25 each and hopped onto the boat. It was such a glorious day and the views on the way through Lake Erie were simply stunning passing other small islands and houses looking like they were worth a fortune to our final destination. I had heard that the weather in Chicago wasn’t too great so I was pretty smug that we had found the sunshine.

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We made it to the Island and the next port of call was to find our hotel, I asked one of the guys at ferry booth for directions – we were both sweating in the heat, lugging our bags and dreaming of a pool, so the sooner we found the hotel the better. We walked through the quaint streets filled with country style store fronts and we saw older couples zipping around on Golf carts, we found out that carts are the main form of transport on the island and very few cars are on the island as they need a permit to do so. I had heard that the island was especially known for its party scene and bachelor / bachelorette parties however as we arrived on a weekday I guess we caught more of a mellow atmosphere on the island. We followed the directions given to us and our hotel turned out to be only a 5 minute walk from the lake -we quickly realised that the island was a lot smaller than we initially thought. As we walked toward the reception door, we saw that there was a pool with a bar right in front – all of our prayers had been answered and we were ready to jump in. We quickly checked into our hotel, The Commodore Resort, unloaded our belongings to our room and made our way down to pool, dying to cool off in the water with some form of alcoholic drink to start our getaway. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool and catching up with each other and then headed out later in the evening.

 

 

Day 2: Golf Cart rental & Winery

Golf Cart Rental

So we decided to rent a golf cart for a couple of hours to see more of the Island, we paid $19 for 2 hours rental so it was so worthwhile. We noticed quite a lot of cart rental companies around but we just went with the closest to our hotel.We hoped in that amount of time we would make it around the entire island, I think we made it around about 3 times in total – the island is that small! It was another gorgeous day and we took turns driving around the cart which was a highlight of our trip taking in the views of the lake, we passed vineyards, the winery we were visiting later, a tiny airport, barns and guesthouses on our way . Again, we were met with elderly couples also on golf carts and got real entertainment out of overtaking them going literally 10 MPH, the maximum speed a golf cart was capable of – I think we may have been some of the only people in our 20s on the island which we were totally content about.

Put-In-Bay Winery

I had booked us into the Put-In-Bay Winery tour months in advance, but I think would have accepted walk ins – it cost us a mere $10 each for a sampling for about 8 different types of wine and the tour, so reasonable and a perfect activity after racing around the island on the cart! We showed up for the tour and as it was quiet on a weekday, it turned out it was just the two of us and our tour guide on the tour. The winery tour is situated in an Estate House, which was incredibly majestic. Our tour guide filled us in on the history of the house and the interesting story about the family who used to live here, the Dollar family – rumour has it that those people’s spirits still roam around inside the house. Turns out many people on the island have witnessed unusual happenings in the Dollar Estate but also in the hotels on the island, one hotel being the Park Hotel which is one of the oldest on the island.

Places to eat on the island

To be honest, it was really hard to find good food and places to eat on the island – I think I have just developed really high standards given the Chicago food scene is so good that it was really hard to find quality restaurants.

Places we tried include:

Hooligans

I cringe everytime I go away and end up at an irish bar, but with our limited options we decided to try Hooligans Irish pub we close to our hotel. They offer standard Irish pub grub.

Pasquales Cafe

We ate breakfast here both mornings as it was one of the only cafes we could see open on the main street. As we went in the first week of September, I think things were slowing down on the island after the high peak summer season, so a lot of businesses had shut their doors until next year.

Put-in-Bay Brewery

We ate here one evening – both of us ordered pizza, one could have done us – they were pretty big!

Bars on the island

The Round House Bar

This was one of my favourite bars on the island, turns it is one of the oldest too. The exterior of the bar is round shaped and it was actually constructed on mainland Ohio and shipped over and assembled. While we were there they had a live Jazz / Blues band playing on the stage directly behind the bar, which set a great atmosphere.

Mojito Bay

This bar made the island seem exotic, located in a straw hut near the lakefront with the floor covered in sand with swings as bar stools, they have a serious selection of mojitos to choose from.

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Mist Pool Bar

This was bar at our hotel pool – they offered up 4 different types of summery cocktails for around $7 – a fraction of the price you’d pay in Chicago for the same drink.

Overall, the island makes for a great road trip and getaway – it’s hard to understand why more people don’t know about this island.

Arizona 3 Day Itinerary

At the start of September I took a solo trip to Arizona, this was my first time visiting Arizona and it exceeded all expectations – I only had 3 days and managed to see Phoenix, Sedona and the Grand Canyon, drive through Flagstaff and accidentally get onto route 66. Below is my trip itinerary outlining how I fit it all in:

Day 1: Phoenix

Arrive to Phoenix International airport.

Car Rental

I rented a car for the duration of my trip and I would highly recommend doing so if you want to see as much as possible in a short space of time. You can get an easy 15 minute, free shuttle from the airport to the car rental center. Beware, the Phoenix highways are not for the faint hearted, they were some of the fastest I have experienced in the US so far.

I rented a car from Thirty Car Rental for $50  for the 3 days. I always book my car rentals from Hotwire as they generally have the lowest prices and best deals.

Desert Botanical Gardens

First stop was the desert botanical gardens which was a short 16 minute drive away from the car rental center. As I arrived to the gardens in the afternoon, I would recommend anyone wanting to visit to go earlier to beat the scorching heat. I paid around $25 for the entry ticket to the gardens which goes towards its maintenance. The gardens themselves are beautiful , with different types of desert plants, catcuses and even caught a glimpse of the Arizonian wildlife, with lizards scurrying across my feet.

Camel back Mountain

I went to Camel back mountain in the evening as I wanted to catch the sunset – one of the highly rated hikes in Phoenix. I put the location into Google Maps and drove. I arrived to the bottom of the Cholla trail to realise it was a residential area with a bunch of signs indicating no parking sunset to sunrise, so the race was on to find an alternative parking area before the sun went down – I could see the sun disappearing behind the mountain as I drove looking for a parking spot. Thankfully, I found an alternative parking area before it was too late called Echo Canyon Trail as it was towards the end of the day there were spaces available but I can imagine during the day it very limited. I parked up and walked up to the start of the hike to get some photos. I just had enough time to catch the sunset before the hiking trail closed.

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Accommodation

I stayed at The Quality Inn Phoenix Airport. I booked a private room which included 2 single queen beds, poolside view so I was very happy to pay the $48.79 for one night as it was convenient to everything I wanted to see.

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Day 2: Sedona & The Grand Canyon

I hit the road at 5 am to get to Sedona which was a 2 hour drive from Phoenix. I would definitely recommend the drive as it is super scenic. I drove through all sorts of terrain, catching the sunrise as I drove through the Phoenix highway, through to more mountainous green areas, to what looked like complete desert, derelict areas to the most beautiful and most unique to my irish eyes, the redrocks approaching the town of Sedona.

I had read a lot about Sedona prior to the trip, about the hikes and trails to experience and that was right up my alley. I reached Sedona around 8am, early enough to beat any other tourists for my first hike of the trip. The desert town of Sedona is quaint and it is quite literally in the middle of redrock buttes and canyon walls which can be viewed in every direction you look – something like bedrock from the Flinestones is how I would best describe it.

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Cathedral Rock

From Sedona, I drove to Cathedral Rock a meer 5 minute drive from the town. I got there just after 8 am, which I would highly recommend doing as once again I noticed the limited parking but luckily I found a space, paid the $5 fee for space from the machine and I was on my way up the rock face. Little to my knowledge upon beginning I found that this trail was more of a rock climb than a walking hike – I began to question in my head how this was an official trail – but my worry was eased when I could see other hikers up ahead coming back down on the same path – they survived – so can I! As I reached what I presumed must be half way I was suddenly extremely out of breath and for someone who I thought had a very active summer I knew the sudden struggle for breath was not normal. I came to the conclusion that it was either the altitude or the adrenaline rushing through me as I turned my head to look back at the stunning red rocked landscape. I continued my ascent where I came across a group of people doing yoga on the rock face (I thought to myself as yogi, this is my kind of heaven!). They asked me to take their photo incorporating the view and I went on my way further up the rock. I finally reached the top point where I met other hikers taking in the view, which was of course a stunning array of red rock formations. I spent about 20 mins up there, absorbing it all before making my decent back to the parking lot.

Accommodation

After making it back down Cathedral rock, it was time to find my hotel. It happened to be situated in the very centre of Sedona which was an easy find given the town of Sedona is pretty quaint.

I stayed overnight in Sedona at Cedars Resort – this was the most pricey booking of the trip but worthwhile given the hotels location and its amenities, check out that pool with view below. I paid $158 for 1 night.

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Upon, check in I went to find lunch – the hotel receptionist recommended a place called the Secret garden cafe which I found a convenient 5 minute walk from the hotel – located in an ancient looking arts & crafts village called Tlaquepaque in the town center of Sedona.

Grand Canyon

Following my early lunch, next of the agenda was a place that had been on my bucket list of as long as I can remember – The Grand Canyon. The drive was 2 hours from Sedona and I needed to leave directly after lunch in order to make it there in time for the tour I had booked. Upon booking, the tour director informed me that the drive was easy from Sedona to the Grand Canyon – I can now say that that is not entirely true given that a stretch of the drive was twisting around a cliff face, including some of the sharpest corners I’ve ever had navigate, but nonetheless an adventure – if I was unsure of the adrenaline earlier in the day I was sure as hell experiencing it now due to the drive and what I was heading for. Off to see one of the seven wonders of the natural world – I could not wait.

I arrived to the Grand Canyon with time to spare before meeting my tour guide and the group I would be joining. It turned out that the tour was departing from the National Geographic Center located in the Grand Canyon Village – The first thing I noticed about this village was the amount of Elk statues and signs.

The time for the tour arrived and we all climbed into the open air pink jeep that was taking us around the Canyon. Our tour guide was amazingly informative and friendly, enroute to the park he told us a bunch of facts about the Grand Canyon that I had no idea about prior like how about 90 wildlife species call the Canyon home, including mountain lions, it is one of the top places for suicides in the world, so many cars have gone over the edge that they had to resort to spray painting the cars the color of the rock to conceal and 60 years ago, 2 planes collided head on in the middle of it.

As we got closer, we were able to see our first snippets of the Canyon through the trees. Itching to get out of jeep, we pulled up at our first stop, Moran Point and got some shots next to a rock shaped like a duck overlooking the Canyon. Luckily for me as a solo traveller, our guide offered to double as a photographer. The tour was about 3 hours in duration and an amazing experience, it hard to put into words how beautiful the canyon is. On our way back to the center we got up close and peronal to an Elk on the side of the road.

Here is a link to the tour company I went with: Pink Jeep Tours

Day 3: Airport Mesa, & return to Phoenix

Sunrise at Airport Mesa

This was my last day and once again I got up at the crack of dawn (4:45 am) to make the most of the day and catch the sunset at Airport Mesa, an amazing view point overlooking Sedona. It was no surprise due to the beauty of this place that other hikers had the same idea and as I got the top of the view point in the darkness I could see about a dozen others waiting for the sun to make an appearance, some equipped with expensive looking camera material perched ready to catch the best shot. I looked up the time of sunrise and google told me it was at approx. 6:57 am. So we waited, but while we did the clouds started to the darken and the next thing we knew we could see a storm unfold in the distance. The thunder and lightening rolled through and performed a spectacle in the distance. Suddenly, there was clap of thunder so loud that it almost shook the rock area we stood on, everyone looked around nervously worrying that the lightening might in fact hit us. Finally the sun started to come up, so I got a few shots including the below shot of the lightening hitting the rock in the distance which I thought was pretty good timing. Not long after there was a downpour of rain and everyone raced down to take shelter in their cars. I had seen enough and decided to drive to Oak Creek Canyon ( a 10 minute drive away) and wait for the rain to stop. Thankfully the rain stopped and I hopped out to take in the views, it was substantially cooler to the previous day with on and off rain showers which put an end to my plans for doing some other hikes in the area. I decided to head back to Phoenix early as I knew I would catch the remainder of the good Arizona heat there and I had to catch a flight back to Chicago from Phoenix that day anyway.

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Hole in the Rock

Once I got back to Phoenix, I went to check out some of the sights I didn’t have time to see on my first day there, one being the Hole in the rock located at the Phoenix Zoo and also walked around Payago Park – it was sweltering again and stark contrast from the storm I experienced at the start of the day in Sedona.

Royal Palms Resort & Spa – Resort Pass

Due to the heat, I decided to buy a resort pass to cool off by the pool at Royal Palms Resort & Spa – the pass was $65 well spent as I would have paid anything at that point just to cool off from the desert heat. Coincidentally, the resort was conveniently located not even a 5 minute drive from where I was. I hopped back in the car, turned the A/C on full blast and arrived to what was the most majestic hotel I have ever experienced. I was greeted by the hotel staff ready to valet my car and I spent the remainder of my day before the airport on a pool float with a Pina Colada – heaven!

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A Guide to 48 Hours in Los Angeles, California


I’m back here to write about my trip to L.A

As part of what I have made into my annual trip to California, my roommate, Kelly and I decided to go to Los Angeles over a weekend in April. Chicago had been so cold that we were ready for some sun. This was my second time in LA, having gone the previous year also via San Diego & Palm Springs –  the easy-going lifestyle, the weather and its situation on the Pacific coast make it easily one of my favorite states. We arrived in LAX on Friday evening and arranged to go back to Chicago on Sunday evening, meaning we had to fit in everything we wanted to see and do in 48 hours.

Where we stayed…

We decided to go with Airbnb and booked into a studio at Venice beach – it was a little on the pricey side (around $150 per night but worth it for convenience, it literally was a minute walk from the Venice Boardwalk and the beach. LA is super spread out and you will spend a lot of time in Uber if you stay somewhere remote. Link to our Airbnb Studio

Where we brunched…

 The Butcher’s Daughter, Abbot Kinney Road, Venice, CA Link

 The Rose Cafe, 220 Rose Ave, Venice, CA  Link

Where we drank…

 Townhouse, 52 Windward Ave, Venice, CA Link

 Venice Alehouse, Venice Beach, CA Link

 High: Rooftop Lounge, Venice Beach, CA Link
Check out that view.


Things we did…

 Skatepark, Venice Beach, CA
 The Venice Beach Boardwalk
 The Hollywood Sign
 Abbot Kinney Road
 Griffith Observatory



Solo in San Francisco, California

I took a weekend trip to San Francisco back in April and it quickly became one of my favorite cities in America for several reasons. Firstly I was really drawn to how scenic it was between the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito to the seals at Pier 39 but also how diverse and artistic some of the neighborhoods were with streets lined with walls of artwork, residential houses painted 5 different shades adding such vibrancy to the city. I also happened to catch the best weather on the few days there and missed the foggy overcast weather that San Francisco is known for. Here is a list of everything I managed to do on a weekend trip to San Francisco, California.

Things I did…

1. Bike across The Golden Gate Bridge

Top of my to-do list was, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge, something I had been longing to check off the bucket list for some time. For the full experience, I decided to rent a bike from Fishermans Wharf and bike all the way to the Bridge and across to Sausalito. It was high up there on one of the best things I have got to experience in the States to date.

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2. Sausalito

I hadn’t heard much about Sausalito before planning my trip but the bike ride was worth it over to this small fishing town. From the town, you can look across the water at San Francisco offering amazing views and cute restaurants, boutique stores and coffee shops. It was really beautiful, it reminded me of a small Italian fishing village. I rented my bike for around $25 as a single day rental, the pass came with a discount coupon to one of the restaurants at Sausalito so I decided to chill out and enjoy lunch there which overlooked the harbor.

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3. Ferry from Sausalito back to San Francisco via Alcatraz

I was thankful to find that there was a regular ferry service taking people back from Sausalito to San Francisco. To get to Sausalito involved at of downhill biking and I wasn’t ready to commit to returning by going uphill. A lot of people had the same idea as me as they were also ready and waiting board with their rented bikes. Although I did not have enough time to get to the island of Alcatraz, the ferry passed close enough to take a peek at the island – it is definitely something I want to get to if I ever head back to San Francisco.

4. Visit the seals at pier 39.

The seafront is made up of piers starting from Pier 1 all the way up to Pier 45, perfect for a bike ride. Most famous of all and the one which draws all the tourists is Pier 39. This is where all the seals hang out which is really cool to see.

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5. Go to the top of Twin Peaks for the view!

Twin Peaks is the highest point in the city and the view from the top is pretty stunning! You can choose to hike from the bottom to the lookout area (or an uber will also bring you right to the top).

6. Go to the beach for sunset.

Evening activities are tough when on a solo trip so I decided to head to Baker beach to catch some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge in the sunset. The beach was packed at this time – everyone had the same idea.

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7. Take in the view from the Painted Ladies.

Alamo Square is surrounded by old Victorian houses – the houses painted more than 5 colors are known as The Painted Ladies, something I only learned while I was there.

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8. Walk through Chinatown for the Chinese boutiques and restaurants.

A walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown will offer you a different side to the city with the main streets lined with Chinese boutiques and restaurants.

9. Walk around Mission District for street art.

Mission District was one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. Packed full of artwork (if you read my other posts, you’ll know I’m a sucker for street art and Mission District offered some of the best!). Make sure to get to Balmy Alley and the Clarion Alley Mural Project.

 

 

 

Street Art North America

Here is a collection of street art I have stumbled across in Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, L.A, Miami, Detroit and Montreal! 

CHICAGO

Greetings from Chicago Mural in Logan Square
Ipsento 606 N Milwakee Avenue in Wicker Park

 

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Mott Street, Wicker Park

LOS ANGELES

Abbot Kinney Road

 

 

Abbot Kinney Road

SAN DIEGO

USA Hostels Ocean Beach

 

USA Hostels Ocean Beach

SAN FRANCISCO

Balmy Alley

 

Mission District

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIAMI

Wynwood

 

Wynwood

 

Wynwood

 

Wynwood Walls 2016
 
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Wynwood Walls 2018
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Wynwood Walls 2018
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Wynwood Walls 2018

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Wynwood Walls 2018

MONTREAL, CANADA

 

 

The Chicago Summer Bucket List.

Hello all,

Let me start with saying that the Chicago Summers ARE THE BEST.

I am fortunate enough to have already experienced two summers here and I’m very excited about this upcoming one. Having struggled (for real) through the long cold Chicago winter, here is my Chicago Summer Bucketlist:

  • RENT A BOAT.
  • ATTEND MUSIC & STREET FESTIVALS


    Lollapoolooza, Pitchfork and Mamby on The Beach to name but a few. I would be lying if I said I didn’t plan on going to the majority again this year. The street festivals such as Taste of Randolph and Wicker Park fest which generally only have a small admission fee are definitely worth a potter around also.
 
  •     HEAD TO THE ROOFTOPS 

Top Picks:

The Cabana Club at the Robey

Gibson’s Italia

Londonhouse

Cindy’s Rooftop

Raised at The Renaissance Hotel

Waydown

Bernie’s Lunch & Supper

Celeste

The J.Parker

 


BASEBALL: THE CHICAGO CUBS

  • BIKE RIDE ALONG THE LAKE FRONT
  • JOIN A VOLLEYBALL LEAGUE

Looking forward to seeing what Summer 2018 brings..

Over & Out,
L

Here it goes…The first blog post.

This marks my First. Blog. Post. Ever. (So please bear with me).
WHY? I’ve actually been thinking about starting this for a while and when I say a while I mean two and a half years ago when I first arrived to Chicago. However with a new job and a new city to navigate I sort of let it slip to the back of my mind and as I write this I still haven’t told a single soul that I’ve finally taken the plunge *queue fear*.

So as self explanatory as the name ‘What Lorna Saw Next’ is, you will catch me here posting about travel, lifestyle, fitness & whatever I find relevant to me.

Having lived away from Ireland for, what is soon to be more than half the time I’ve spent in my twenties, I think this is a good way to remind my friends and family at the other side of the Atlantic or geographically far from me that I am in fact still alive but also let you guys in on living abroad, my travel experiences, and my life in general in the United States. I also want to use this as a form of online diary to tuck those travel memories away, anyone who knows me will be aware that I am a keen traveller and not much time goes by before I get itchy feet and start planning the next trip away. Even if my parents are the only people to read this at least I will have something to look back on over time. Who knows, maybe someone out there will find my posts useful,helpful or entertaining in some way. Here it goes…

Over & Out,
L

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