365 Daily Prompt: Road Trippin’

You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely–bike? Hot air balloon?)

The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon

Photo credit

I am definitely a bit rusty on my Blogging since coming home, so it’s time for a prompt to help motivate me! This question is so perfect right now, since I’ve been talking to my friends about travel and I’ve been daydreaming about vacations.

I like to drive, always have. I find it calms me down. I drive a manual transmission 2005 Honda Accord. I like being in control and driving down the freeway with hardly any cars to my right and left. Before I did my 15.5 hour solo trip down to Irvine a few weeks ago, I had only driven 3-4 hours tops. That was with my parents. I did well on that long solo trip though, thanks to my stack of CDs and the trusty GPS.

If I were to embark on this cross-country trip, first I’d want to see Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe in California. I’ve been to Yosemite before, but two hours is rather short and I did not get to see El Capitan. I’ve always heard people rave about Lake Tahoe. I wonder if it’s worth it. This is why it’s on the list.

My next stop would be the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. The views are breathtaking, I’m told. From here I would travel to the South: San Antonio, Texas for something deep fried to eat, then listen to some good jazz at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and see Savannah, Georgia, the city John Berendt wrote about so eloquently in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Finally, and I’m not sure how I would get there, I would spend some time in Boston, Massachusetts and learn more about our nation’s history and then I would go to New York City, New York.

Yes, this trip could be wildly unrealistic, but it certainly covers all the places I still want to see in this amazing country.

What do you think? Does it sound exciting enough? What is your ideal trip, and what mode of transportation would you want to take?

Top Five Irish Adventures

Traveling to Ireland soon? Are you struggling to pin down the sites you want to see? Consider these places for your trip. You can visit them all in a week!

1. Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Known as the “glen of two lakes”, Glendalough boasts a scenic landscape that is hard for anyone to resist. The Upper Lake is a nice place to take pictures and skip rocks, and the walk to the 6th century monastery is both peaceful and mysterious. The graveyard is interesting, as several of the tombstones are indecipherable due to their age and St. Kevin’s Cross and the Round Tower are part of Irish folklore. Glendalough is also kid friendly, as there are grassy areas with natural features to scramble around on. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike up to the waterfall. I highly recommend the Wild Wicklow Tour–my guide was friendly, flexible and knowledgeable. You’ll see much more than Glendalough itself.

The monastery at Glendalough is utterly charming.
The monastery at Glendalough is utterly charming.

2. O’Neills, Co. Dublin
One of the most handsome, traditional pubs in Dublin, O’Neills is a gem that not every tourist knows about. It’s not far from St. Stephens Green and Trinity College. O’Neills is a great place to meet up with friends or to soak up the ambiance–they do traditional music every night and the food is pretty impressive. The Carvery is excellent (come hungry!) and the main menu offers something for everyone. While you should also experience Temple Bar, if you like to get away from hordes of people and always wanted to hear traditional music in a pub, this might be the place for you. I took my study abroad friends here and since then we’ve all returned numerous times.

My favorite place to unwind in Dublin.
My favorite place to unwind in Dublin.

3. Galway City, Co. Galway
You haven’t seen Ireland if you haven’t been to Galway in the West! They hold the biggest arts festival in the country and 20% of its population are college students. The main city is walkable–you can see most of it in two hours. Don’t rush, though, as you’ll want to enjoy a meal here and listen to street music. They have a farmer’s market, several fun shops and some beautiful attractions. The Spanish Arch area out by Galway Bay is a must-see, as well as Galway Museum right behind it and the Galway Cathedral close by.

Galway has an artsy feel: do not miss out!
Galway has an artsy feel: do not miss out!

4. Connemara, Co. Galway
Words can’t really express this place. The views are incredible. Driving around the peat bogs and seeing the idyllic-looking horses in the tall grass is essential to the Irish experience. My family drove quite close to Connemara National Park, which I hear is a must-see as well.

Take the Sky Road in Connemara for an awe-inspiring experience.
Take the Sky Road in Connemara for an awe-inspiring experience.

5. The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Though the Cliffs are probably the most popular tourist destination in Ireland, they are stunning. You can take a hike along the cliffs, called the Burren Way–for hours if you like. I had two hours to explore the Cliffs, and it was plenty of time for me. I would’ve liked to walk along the Burren Way for a considerable amount of time, but since I was on a tour I made a point to take photographs I’d love and study the various angles of the Cliffs. A word of caution: people do fall off the Cliffs, so stay AT LEAST three feet away from the edge. I’d double that amount in the event of strong winds and rain, because you have a higher chance of losing your balance and slipping. Just use your common sense and don’t risk your life for a picture! I recommend the Wild Rover tour for those of you who will not drive in Ireland: you’ll get two hours at the Cliffs, some time to stretch your legs and enjoy The Burren and two hours in Galway. The guides are fantastic, and the value is excellent for the price. I took the Wild Rover tour to Belfast, the Giants Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which I also recommend because unlike the Cliffs, there are no stone barriers at all–you get to walk around it all.

Pick a clear, sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher for the best views.
Pick a clear, sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher for the best views.

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts: did I miss something people have to go see? What was your experience like in Ireland?

Scotland’s Gems

Last Thursday my friends and I landed in Edinburgh a day before our UC Education Abroad Program trip started, so we had time to explore the city on our own. The first morning I went to the National Museum of Scotland, a friendly, hands-on place that is perfect for kids. It had a lot to offer, with a total of seven floors–I only had time for two. I particularly liked the space exhibit and Dolly, the first cloned mammal. I caught up with my friends soon after and went on a free tour of The Royal Mile, Grassmarket and many of the closes (neighborhoods) hiding just behind the main streets. I had a nice time talking to people on the tour and listening to our cheerful tour guide. I could tell he loved his job and that he was passionate about Scottish history. After the tour I headed to Edinburgh Castle, which is by far the most impressive castle I’ve seen on my study abroad adventures.  For starters, it’s huge! There are about 20 museums within the castle you can explore, and most of the rooms are open. You can catch sweeping views of the city here as well. It’s worth paying the admission price if you get excited anytime you hear the word “castle” or want to see the Honours of Scotland and some cool dungeons.

Edinburgh by night
Edinburgh by night
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh as seen from the castle
Edinburgh as seen from the castle
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile: architecture you can fall in love with

Our first day as a group we went to see the Railway Bridge, Blair Castle and Culloden Battlefield. The Railway Bridge in South Queensferry is massive, but I liked the bridge next to it because it reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. At Blair Castle I lingered at the back of the group so I could read most of the signs and look at the detail in the rooms. While the castle was nice, my favorite part was its grounds. We followed a trail that led into the woods and took a ride on the swings at the playground. At Culloden Battlefield we learned about the Jacobite defeat by the British–they fought a losing battle and roughly 2,000 men died. The exhibit took forever to explore, but once we stepped on the battlefield itself it became entirely worth it. We saw the blue and red flags of the Jacobites and the Brits swaying in the tall grass and imagined what it must have been like to do battle on April 16, 1745. I liked the lone cottage with peat moss on it standing in the field. I thought I would see something picturesque like this in Ireland first, so it made me laugh.

Grounds at Blair Castle
Grounds at Blair Castle
The cottage at Culloden
The cottage at Culloden
Culloden Battlefield--poor Jacobites!
Culloden Battlefield–poor Jacobites!

That night we ate a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, meeps and tatties. The haggis surprised me, as it wasn’t firm and looked like finely ground beef. While I thought it tasted OK, I couldn’t finish it, as I’d had a filling meal of fish and chips in Aviemore for lunch. I wasn’t a huge fan of the meeps (turnips), but I was game to at least try it. The tatties were simply potatoes, and I found that the haggis tasted better when I mixed them together. The raspberry dessert ended the meal on a refreshing note.

After dinner we listened to a Scottish folklore storyteller for about two hours. He was entertaining and I stayed awake for most of it. The food coma left me slumped over the back of one of the chairs for some minutes!

The next day we went on a Loch Ness boat cruise with Jacobite Cruises. We started at Clansman Harbour and braved the cold in the top deck for half of it, and then sat in comfort in the enclosed lower deck to watch the scenery. In the afternoon we stopped at Glencoe to take pictures. Personally, it was the best 10 minutes I spent in the Highlands. The views of the mountains were stunning and I loved the colors. I highly recommend seeing Glencoe (and spend more time there than I did!)

I have to say that I’m sad time is passing by so quickly. Still, I’m really glad I got to go because it was such a good experience to meet people from other UC schools and appreciate another culture’s history, architecture and natural beauty.

Spotted this photo opportunity at Glencoe.
Splendid photo opportunity at Glencoe.
Glencoe!
Glencoe!

Thanks for reading. If my post triggered any memories of Scotland for you, please share!

Parisian Getaway

As I sit here listening to jazz, I’m content to reminisce on my two-day trip to Paris this week. It all went by so fast, but my friend Sangeeta and I made the most of it. Our goal was to see the main sights, try a few pastries and get an introduction to one of the most famous cities in the world all within our budget. Did we succeed? I think we did.

While Paris is a lively hub and has beautiful architecture, to me it is too large to love it all. The Louvre and the occasional street corner are special, but in general there are too many tourists and shopping districts. Also, it seems like most of the large buildings (hotels and apartments) try to outdo each other and don’t succeed, as they look similar and thus lose their magnificence. Since spring has just begun, the flowers are sparse and the trees are still dead. If I came later in the year, my impression of Paris would probably be different.

The Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie, Eiffel Tower and the many delicious desserts were my favorites. Each site has a unique feel to it: the Louvre is stately and very well composed; I loved the endless rooms and its warmth, Monet’s waterlilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie mesmerized me and I noted the individual, muted brushstrokes and how they contributed to the vitality of the entire composition. The Eiffel Tower was grand and close to what I expected–the walk from the Metro to the tower itself was suspenseful, because it took five minutes to get there and it seemed like we should have been there already. Though we caught glimpses of the tower during the day, seeing it at night and going all the way to the top was a treat. It was worth the wait. Finally, the food: I tried the chocolate-filled beignet, glacé and the Nutella and banana-filled crepe. If I could study gastronomy in Paris, I would!

As for the French, I was continually surprised by their hospitality and kindness. We talked to two nice people who helped us navigate the Metro and around the Palais du Luxembourg. Out of the four restaurants we went to, only one owner was truly nasty to us. (We sat down for a moment to consult our Metro map and the owner kicked us out of our outdoor table when all the other tables were empty).  Overall, though, I found myself saying more “mercis” and “bonjours” than I thought I would.

The next time I visit Paris I plan to sit in one of the many gardens for a few hours and enjoy the sun. I will spend time walking around St-Germain and the Latin Quarter, two places I’d want to see more in-depth. I’d want to do day trips out of Paris, and have a picnic (maybe do a hike?) I also wouldn’t mind buying inexpensive gifts for friends, drinking chocolate, eating pain au chocolat and a huge baguette, and window shopping for fancy clothes and shoes. I’d like to make the effort to learn a few French phrases and pronounce the words right, too. Someday I’ll make it happen.

I won't forget the smell of those crepes.
I won’t forget the smell of those crepes.
The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience. — in Paris, France.
Eiffel Tower. The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience.
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid — in Paris, France.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries — in Paris, France.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Louvre
The Louvre
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

I’ll leave you with some other photos of the trip. There are so many things to see in Paris, and if you go I recommend staying for more than two days. Take time to enjoy the city and indulge your senses.

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Just Another Day in Dublin

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Did school really start last Monday?

University College Dublin is foreign to me. There are a few things I’m still adjusting to–the campus layout, getting comfortable with the library, finding the best places to eat. I find that most days I feel lonely because I don’t have my friends from back home to hang out with. I wouldn’t mind even sitting in the library and not talking; just being with friends is what counts. I also feel continuously aware of my international student status–look, newbie alert! So far my classes seem stimulating and challenging. The scariest part of school is that I am attempting to pass six upper division classes and get credit on my home campus. This requires a new sort of studying: going through a reading list and selecting what I think is the most beneficial. The “research focus” is such a wonderful idea, in my mind, as it encourages self-initiative. In the U.S., professors guide their students through the course every step of the way in terms of exactly what they’ll teach (the good ones, anyway). Lecturers and professors abroad give suggested further reading lists to their students and expect that the students will prepare themselves. I guess it’s sort of a mixed bag; you get more independence in Ireland but that means that you have to come up with a study strategy, and fast.

It’s OK. Besides the Newman Building, where I have all my classes, I spend the rest of my time in the library. T_T

I signed up for the Belfast Trip today with an international society so that’s making progress, I guess. Time to make friends and put myself out there.

TODAY’S LOWLIGHTS:

-Missed UC Irvine. No microwaves in the common dining areas? Come on.

-The bitter cold almost strangled me when I cycled home.

-Felt some anxiety and frustration about school and living away from the States.

TODAY’S HIGHLIGHTS:

-Sat in between two friendly Irish girls in my Millennium Development Goals class.

-Visa Debit Card came in the mail.

-Did a decent amount of studying and sat with my friend Sangeeta for a few minutes.

-Made Angie’s Clam Chowder recipe! (Minus the clams, but now I know where to buy them). Shrimp made a perfect substitute–I chopped the ingredients, put them into the soup pot and prayed that it would turn out. Fifteen minutes later the soup was thicker, the potatoes cooked well and the cream I put in made it look delicious! Simple, filling soup, and the smell was fantastic. Trying new recipes is so fun. Cooking is art, and when you make something new it is rewarding. Do browse Angie’s WordPress Blog! She writes memoirs from her life and the recipes she creates from her own garden tie in well. Seems effortless, but I know she takes time to work on her Blog. 🙂 Also, her food photography is better than mine!

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Goodnight! As always, thanks for reading.

10 Observations on the Irish Culture

Ireland uncovered!

  1. The Irish people are friendly. Yes, the stereotype is true. If you’re trying to find your way, Dubliners are more than happy to help you. Most of the people I’ve talked to give excellent directions and they take the time to listen to you. If you greet a complete stranger, you’re likely to get insights into their personal lives before you part ways with them. Also, public service workers and shopkeepers will chat with you and offer their honest opinion on a product if you ask for it. Though they like customer assertiveness, if they don’t have it they won’t guilt you into buying something else.
  2. The Irish people are laid back. They just don’t rush. I notice that the average Irish person will enjoy life’s pleasant moments, whether it’s laughing, dancing, eating or drinking. If they complain, they don’t generally do it in public.
  3. That said, the Irish drive insanely fast. Sounds like a contradiction to number 2, doesn’t it? People are certainly in a hurry to get places in this country. Drivers tend to speed up when they see the red stop lights. Pedestrians beware: jaywalk with caution! When in doubt stay at the curb, even if you miss your bus across the street. Once I saw a woman and a child casually skip halfway across the street two seconds before a car whooshed by them.
  4. They don’t refrigerate their chicken eggs at SuperValu. Apparently it doesn’t matter whether you choose to refrigerate or leave them sitting out.
  5. You will hear Bruce Springsteen and U2 nearly every time you go to the city centre. I love it. It’s not “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, that’s for sure.
  6. Irish pubs are some of the best places to meet with friends and enjoy delicious food on the cheap. Many of them offer live, traditional music. Since living here, being at the pub is teaching me to sit and relax and not worry about things. Eating a meal with deliberation is a lost art in America, but here you can take a bite of hearty food and get lost in the pub environment. The older pubs have a cheeriness and an atmosphere that makes you think about the lively conversations that took place there, and the gleaming beers on tap and the whiskey bottles give it a rustic feel.
  7. Travel within Ireland is relatively easy. Car, bus, train, rail and plane–plenty of options. You can hit the coast in all directions in 3-4 hours from Dublin. Belfast in Northern Ireland (UK) is only a two-hour train trip away.
  8. The rain is bearable. I was very surprised that for it being winter and rainy almost every day, it’s not bad. Since precipitation actually warms the ground, it’s better than it being bitterly cold outside. If it rains early in the day it usually clears up and sometimes you can see the sun.
  9. They have an odd sense of humor in TV ads. While they portray the fresh and happy lifestyles of the Irish, they will say something humorous and go on like it is the natural thing to do. For an American abroad, it’s comical.
  10. Getting away from the city centre is good for you. Being away from the frantic shoppers, traffic congestion and touristy places allows for a well-rounded experience of Ireland. Go outside, ride a bike and explore the little towns.
The music is fantastic at The Porter House.
The music is fantastic at The Porter House.

Tired Muscles, Happy Heart

woman-six-pack-abs

Photo Credit: Bing Images

One of my personal goals is to get into the best shape of my life. I gave myself a year from last month and wrote that I would need to complete a few workout programs and do activities like swimming and hiking to get there. I think it’s a pretty realistic goal and I can’t wait to cross it off my list!

For the past six years of my life I’ve said, “I’m going to get into shape” and then after a week or two I’d give up. I didn’t push myself hard enough at the gym and stuck to wimpy levels on the treadmill. I wasn’t consistent in track and field, either. The first year of college I didn’t exercise properly–super long gaps between workouts to start with, and when I did a workout I started out running on a treadmill and wore down my muscles before doing the machines and strength training. Sophomore year, the latter end, was slightly more promising. I had a workout buddy and made sure to do cardio and strength training weekly. The problem was with my limited workout knowledge, school schedule and occasional laziness. I didn’t have a plan.

I sound like a hopeless case, don’t I? With this goal I mean to see it through. Some realities include *not* running marathons because I don’t like running all that much and not getting a flat stomach. I have a petite, muscular build (like a gymnast), and I am fine with weights and all. My body fat is mostly in my stomach, which I find incredibly annoying. If there were anything I could change, it would be my stomach and abdominal area. The last time I remember having a flat stomach was maybe freshman year of high school. Puberty is not about to reverse itself.

Here’s my plan. I talked with a friend who loves exercising, and she sent me an ab schedule–I told her I needed major work on that area. She has me doing sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and planks. I do push ups, too, since I build muscle fast in my arms and match the number to my sit ups. And it’s kicking my butt. If I didn’t have my rock and metal music, it would be difficult to keep going. The exercises started out easy, because the number was so small, but now I’m doing numbers like 85 and up. I exercise 3-4 days and then take a break, and repeat. I can do these exercises at the gym or at home, which is convenient. Before I start the day’s workout I stretch so I won’t strain my muscles and stretch sometimes during the workout.

When I was in the second week of the program I got headaches (not enough water in my system) which caused exhaustion and minor frustration. Now I have timed my workouts to roughly an hour and then do half an hour of cardio on the free motion machine. In just over a week I’ll be done with the first workout program and will start a new one.

I’m starting to see results from my first workout plan. I don’t feel as tired during my day and my endurance is increasing. My muscles are not constantly sore anymore, either. Also, I don’t feel as embarrassed as I used to when I look at myself in the mirror. Eating healthier is also a part of this, and I am enthusiastic about finding great recipes to help me. I feel relieved that I am actually making this work. The health benefits are awesome!

There’s no turning back. I’m going to complete this goal and then I’m going to Blog about it!

Why Frozen Food is Such a Waste

I’m a college student, which means two things when I think about food: 1) I want it cheap and 2) I want it convenient. (Even better is free food). Last year I bought frozen food at the grocery store, like many college students do. Along with the fruits and veggies I picked up, I’d spend a ridiculous amount of time searching for frozen food that I thought would be edible and quite delicious. Going into it I knew there were plenty of preservatives and ingredient lists that barely fit on the box. But I kept buying it and making a sad face when the food disappeared from my freezer. Then, at the end of the school year I realized I had to start cooking on my own, as my roommate would not be around to cook dinners for me anymore. * It wasn’t like I had never cooked before–I could follow recipes and I usually didn’t burn food. My parents had me make dinner at home many times. I felt fairly confident in my abilities. All I needed was a cookbook.

Back in my pathetic frozen food days, I was a snob for sure. But I paid for my snobbery, and here’s why.

Pros:

Home cooked food is generally healthier for you than frozen food.

This one is just common sense. There is usually a lot of salt packed into the food and enough preservatives to kill a small animal. When you cook at home, you control the ingredients that go into a recipe–you can modify a recipe to fit your lifestyle and the nutritional value is higher.

It brings out your creativity.

Frozen food is lame because all you have to do is tear open the box and heat up your food in the microwave. You’re not doing anything cognitive. However, cooking is awesome because you can substitute ingredients and learn how to make complicated meals. You can garnish your food and plate with sauces, herbs and fruit for special occasions or otherwise. If you want to learn to make a certain style of food, you can. Yesterday I noticed I had a bunch of chicken broth to use up, so I glanced at the recipe on the back of the container and saw that I had most of the ingredients already. To make new yummy food, think about what’s in your refrigerator now.

You end up saving money.

I used to think paying $5-8 for two meals in the frozen food section was a real deal. But it’s really only two meals. When you cook a meal that serves four people and you’re feeding only yourself, you might spend $15-20 depending on the recipe. The payoff comes when you store the leftovers and realize you have enough for six meals and not four.

You save time.

Think about the time you spend selecting frozen food items. Then think about the time you could spend checking ingredients off your list as you walk through the grocery store. if you know what you need already, chances are you can find it quickly. Also, when you make a bunch of meals in advance at home, that’s time you don’t have to spend shopping or cooking.

You can store your homemade food in the freezer, and it will last for months.

This is a great advantage! As long as you place your food in freezer-safe containers or Ziploc bags and store it properly, you can enjoy a meal you made several weeks later.

You can impress people with your skills.

Invite people over when you hone a recipe. Eating is a very social activity, and not many people will turn you down if the food is hot and mouth-watering. They will probably ask you how to make it or what your secret is.

Home cooked food tastes so much better!

Of course it does. After the first time you try a frozen entrée, it loses its magic. The food you make yourself, though, doesn’t get old as easily.

Cons:

You may get tired of lunch.

This is true. I need to get more creative at lunchtime, because I either eat leftovers from dinner or make a sandwich. It’s all for the sake of saving money. The goal is not to starve yourself, so try light entrées.

You may have to make two trips to the store in a week.

The grocery store depresses me because it is expensive. But hey, you might get some good exercise in.

You will learn something new whether you like it or not.

Patience is one thing I have learned from cooking on my own. The dish might not taste fantastic the first time you make it, and the time you need to cook something will vary. Also, learning to prep food in a quick and efficient way is beneficial.

Ultimately, frozen food can’t win over home cooked goodness. You will be healthier and a lot less dissatisfied with your food if you take the time to cook. Two cookbooks I recommend for college students (and anyone!) are How To Cook Everything-The Basics by Mark Bittman and the Taste of Home Cookbook 3rd Edition.

*This is VERY rare for a roommate to do. I fully appreciated every meal Vanessa cooked for my roommates and me. The thing is, she liked to cook for us!

Daily Post: Five a Day| Exile Never Tasted This Good

You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

fettuccini

1) Beef jerky. It’s portable, so I can go walk around the island barefoot and put it in my pocket for a snack later. Plus it will keep up my energy so when I’m confronted by my merciless captors, I’ll be able to think on my feet.

2) Pork buns! I prefer ones from a tiny bakery in San Francisco. They come in a big pink box and they have a large meat to bread ratio. They’re perfect anytime of the day.

3) Fettuccine Alfredo. My favorite noodle dish. Please let there be cheese sprinkled on top…

4) Lava cake. It’s time for a little indulgence here on the island. Calories do not count when you’re being sent away…for good. I might never come back to civilization; one has to plan these things out for herself.

5) Kettle chips. You can’t eat just one. That crunchy, satisfying feeling is too difficult to forget!

Photo Credit