Bucket List #2: Paris

As much fun as I had writing about Rome yesterday, I’m even more excited to write about Paris! I feel like I’m getting all the traditional American cliches out of the way early, but this is definitely somewhere I’ve always dreamed of taking the love of my life! I don’t know about you, but I feel like ‘romance’ or ‘romantic’ is almost synonymous with Paris, at least in the eyes of most Americans. Similar to yesterdays post, I’ll take you through three places in Paris that I’d love to visit WHEN I go. Also, hold me accountable to using the word “if” when speaking about the places I’m going to go. I’m going to speak it into existence by saying “when” instead of “if.” Cheesy, I know, but it’s gonna happen! Anyways, I know there’s no possible way I can cover all I want to do in Paris, so this would also need to be a multi-week trip. I feel like I’m going to say that about everywhere I choose to write about! If you’ve ever been there and have some insight as to what our family should do, shoot me a comment on here or on social media!

First: Eiffel Tower (Duh).

Would this be anywhere but first on my list? Until researching about Paris (and France as a whole), I really didn’t know much about it other than the Eiffel Tower! When researching it some more, however, I learned some truly fascinating things about this tower! The idea was for the tower to be designed to serve as an entrance into the World Fair. This tower was only supposed to last for 20 years, and was widely criticized as a “monstrosity” (planetware.com) when it was first constructed. This, however, became the most recognized structure on the Paris skyline, so naturally, it was left to bask in its beauty. Along with visiting the tower comes my desire to sample as much French cuisine as possible, and this would be a perfect place to visit Le Jules Verne restaurant. This Michelin-starred restaurant sits on the 2nd level of the tower, and has a panoramic view of the Paris architecture. Trust me, when we go to Paris, this will be a no-brainer (and I’ll even take lots of pictures for you all, now that I actually remember)! I did read that the restaurant does not oblige its guests to wear suits or ties, but that casual wear like shorts and t-shirts would not be acceptable, so this would be an amazing place to get a phenomenal, formal meal with Rebecca, and to view the gorgeous skyline.

Next: The Louvre.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that my feelings for fine art were really discovered, and even then, those feelings would put on hold for four years while I played baseball in college. After being out of college, I’ve rediscovered the love I have for almost all fine arts, and that’s why the Louvre is on my ‘must-do’ list when I visit Paris. As I’ve already discussed, I’ve also become somewhat of a history junkie in the last few months, so seeing sculptures and paintings dating back to the 17th century would just be incredible. The thought of standing in front of a creation that someone actually made over 400 years ago gives me chills just thinking about it. I can’t imagine actually seeing it up close and personally. I do admit, as a newly found history buff, things like this elicit an emotional response inside of me that I didn’t know existed for a long time. Of course, the Mona Lisa, would have to be at the top of my list, but I have been reading that the process for actually seeing the piece is excruciatingly inefficient. From what I can tell, the closest anyone can get is about 12 feet, and that the room where it’s exhibited is suffocating when at capacity, as it usually is. I’ve never been, so I can’t make any judgment, but this will be one thing I keep in mind when the family goes. Even if it’s annoying, I can’t not see arguably the most famous work of art in world history. For you major art fans, don’t judge me for saying that. I’m just an average and ordinary person, and I’d bet 4/5 average people like me would say Mona Lisa if you asked them to name a work of art off the top of their head. If I’m wrong about that, let me know in the comments 🙂 .

Last: A football match at Le Parc des Princes (home stadium of Paris Saint-Germain).

I know it seems odd that I’d put this ahead of other amazing things to do in Paris, but above all, I’m a gigantic sports fan! PSG’s stadium holds about 50,000 people, and as amazing of an environment it was to see an MLS match in Cincinnati, I can’t imagine what it’s like watching one in Europe! Ultimately, I want to see some Premier League matches, but I’ll save those for future posts! PSG is one of the most well known clubs in the world, and is by far and away the best team in the French league right now. They’ve won 2 league titles in a row, and 6 of the last 7. I know it’s beginning to sound like I’m making things up, but being a soccer fan (sorry, as an American, it’s confusing on whether or not I should say soccer or football!) is something that really started about 2 years ago. I went to some obligatory matches in college because my then-girlfriend was on the school team, but I never got into it as an actual fan. Sure, me and my roommates played FIFA all the time in our apartments, but I would never go out of my way to watch a match on TV. That changed about 3 years ago, but this year in particular, I would literally wake up early on Sunday mornings to watch the matches going on in the English Premier League before we went to church (or after, depending on which service we went to). Back to PSG; the stadium looks immaculate from the pictures I’ve seen, and this would be an absolute thrill to see one of the best clubs in the world up close!

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that there are other things that will 100% be done on this trip, for example: The Notre Dame cathedral, Palais Garnier, Luxembourg Gardens, and like I said earlier, as many cafes and bistros as possible! I get so excited when writing about this stuff that I think we just need to move our family to Europe for a couple years (shh, don’t tell Rebecca, I have to work my way into that one!). Anyways, thank you so much for reading! As always, comment here or on social media about your experiences in Paris! I’d love to learn from every one of you 🙂

Blessings,
Madison

Bucket List #1: Rome

I’m so excited to be starting my bucket list series today! I do want to say as well, if you follow me on social or here on WordPress, please make sure to leave a comment with your buckets list destinations and tell me about your experiences in the places I write about! Now, on to destination number 1: Rome, Italy (also, thinking about all my Italian friends as I write this post. Stay healthy!). I think every American, at some point, has fantasized about going to Rome. For me, I’ve had an obsession with history since I left college, which is unfortunate, because I hated history while I was in school! Now, I’m fascinated with almost all of it. For instance, the castle I posted on Friday from my time in Ireland had a date on it of around 1200. That is just baffling to me that the structure I visited has been on this earth for 800 years! It’s mesmerizing because we learn about our American history dating back to predominantly the 1700s, which sounds incredibly old, until you visit a castle that’s been here since the 1200s! Throughout this post, I’m gonna talk about the 3 things I want to do in Rome, and this will serve as somewhat of a guide for when I’m lucky enough to be able to go!

First: The Colosseum.

The Colosseum is about as synonymous to Rome as anything. As a sports junkie, this would be the one thing I MUST do when I go to Rome! The more I research on the history of the Colosseum, the more magnificent it becomes. According the planetware.com, construction of the Colosseum began in 72 AD, and was ‘inaugurated’ in 80 AD with a “series of games.” To get a grasp of how big the Colosseum is, I pulled this paragraph from ducksters.com:

“The Colosseum was huge. It could seat 50,000 people. It covers around 6 acres of land and is 620 feet long, 512 feet wide, and 158 feet tall. It took more than 1.1 million tons of concrete, stone, and bricks to complete the Colosseum.”

Now, 50,000 doesn’t seem gigantic today, especially when we have college football stadiums holding over 100,000 people. But thinking about the time in which it was constructed, that had to be astronomical! I also read that the first events held in the Colosseum lasted lasted 100 days and held over 3,000 gladiator fights (also from ducksters.com). I certainly won’t criticize from my narrow point of view, especially because this is such an integral part of the history in Italy, but it’s sometimes shocking to think that we used to use “fights to the death” as entertainment. Again, not criticizing! It’s just crazy to think about what would happen if that were applied in today’s modern times. From what I’ve been reading online, you can get self-tour tickets for about $30, but I’m seeing that the better value is to get the deeper tours, like one for $85 where you can go out into the arena, see where animals were caged, and see the rest of the underground chambers (probably the one I’d want to do the most). When our family goes, I’ll make sure to include what we paid and what we got to see!

Next: Vatican City.

While I, myself, am not a Catholic, I do think that this would be a great experience. For one, this is where to leader of the 2nd largest Christian denomination in the world is housed. Two, it’s the home of the largest church in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica). And 3. It’s where arguably the most famous artist in world history, Michelangelo, completed his work on the Sistine Chapel. By the way, I’m on “awesome history overload,” right now, meaning it’s difficult for me to process how unbelievably important and awe-inspiring all these things are, and the fact that they’re all in this one place! Other fun fact, up until a couple years ago, I didn’t realize that Vatican City was actually it’s own country! Yes I feel dumb, and no, you’re not allowed to make fun of me for it. Another thing that draws me to visiting Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica particularly, is that this is where all of the Popes are laid to rest. Like I said earlier, I’m not Catholic, but I do think there’s a measure of respect that should be paid to people that have had this much influence over such a massive population. I would have the same level of reverence at the burial sites of people like Confucius, Martin Luther, Muhammad, etc. This is number 2 on my list of amazing places to visit in Rome.

Last: Palatine Hill.

The hardest part about this post is that there are so many other places that need to be visited! But I ultimately settled in on Palatine Hill as a must for when I visit Rome. From what I’ve been researching, Palatine Hill has evidence of it being the first place that was settled in Rome (as early as 9th century BC!). This is also the site where early leaders (emperors and the very wealthy) chose to build their homes. I’d be very curious to see what their definition of magnificent would be compared to what we have today. The main reason, however, that I chose Palatine Hill for a “must visit” on my list is simply because of the extraordinary history that goes into being the oldest settlement in Rome. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around some stories I’ve heard from great grandparents that lived through the great depression and World War 2, let alone seeing ruins from 9th century BC up close and personally. I’m amazed just thinking about it. This circles me back to why I fell in love with the idea of travelling and exploring the world. There’s so much to see and so much history to learn. I not only think this is fun, but I think it helps us have a better understanding of who we are as humans. We don’t just have to read about this in a textbook and say, “Oh, that’s cool, it’s really old and some crazy stuff happened.” We can actually see remnants of what our ancestors left behind and have some sort of connection with those that came before us. I’m not thinking about this from a spiritual perspective, but I do think that an expanded worldview is a good thing, and seeing what our ancestors left behind only adds to our worldview.

I know I missed so many things! There are probably some people from Italy that have already thought of 25 things I should be doing while I’m there, and I truly hope I get to do them some day soon! I really think that a trip to Rome would have to be at least 2 weeks long for me to get to some of the things I’d want to do. I have to have time not only to see all the awesome “touristy” things, but I want to just be part of Rome for a while! I want to go to the restaurants, the sporting events, see the architecture, and just do everything that it is to be part of Rome. I know it’s a lot to ask for a short trip, so this one is gonna be a long one!

If you have any amazing ideas for things to do in Rome, whether it’s based on your own research or from your own experiences, leave it in the comments here or on my social media!

Blessings,
Madison

Ireland: The Most Gorgeous Place I’ve Ever Been

So, I had an original plan of writing about all the places I’ve already been in my lifetime, but I’m quickly realizing that I desperately want to research and write about my bucket list destinations! With that being said, there’s one more place I’ve been that I want to write about before I get to my bucket list: Ireland. Of all the places I’ve ever been, I can, with absolute certainty, say that Ireland is the most gorgeous place I’ve been in my entire life. I can honestly write that pictures do not do it justice. The pictures are amazing, but seeing it in person was awe-inspiring. Today, I’m going to take you through my trip to the Emerald Isle, and on Monday, I’ll start going through my bucket list 🙂 .

Me getting to go to Ireland came about completely unexpectedly. Like most Americans that haven’t been to Europe, I knew that I wanted to go some day, but there was no plan or destination I had in mind, and Rebecca and I weren’t in any financial position to plan a long trip out of country for ourselves. The way this trip came to be was full of coincidences, and I’m so glad it worked out the way it did. Enter, Brent Vernon (www.brentvernon.com). For anyone that doesn’t know him, Brent has been traveling full time for over 20 years as a musician/singer, artist, author, and ventriloquist, and he does all of those things at an extremely high level! As a little kid, my older sister and I used to listen to his CD’s in the car on road trips, to the point where we had almost every song on our favorite CD memorized. Quite a few years later, Brent came to our church to perform a Sunday morning concert, and it was amazing for us because we’d never actually met him, so it was, in some ways, like meeting a celebrity! A couple years after that (December of 2017), Brent came back to our church to do a little Christmas concert. The Sunday he was supposed to perform, our worship leader had fallen ill and would be unable to lead worship that day. Our pastor asked Brent if there would be any way he could lead a couple usual Christmas songs to help us out, and Brent agreed. He also invited the usual singers to lead with him as part of morning worship, to which I found myself overjoyed to sing with a professional recording artist!

After that service/concert, our family went out to lunch with Brent. While we were there, he graciously expressed how he’d enjoyed having me with him on the platform (at least that’s how I interpreted it…lol), and he brought up an amazing opportunity. That following summer, he would be going to Ireland with a team of singers to perform at a conference called Summerfire, and he invited me to go as a part of his team. This conference gathers a couple thousand people, making it BY FAR the biggest crowd I would have ever sung in front of! Now, I had sung most of my life, and I’d even performed in two of our high school musicals (one of which I got to play the role of Danny Zuko from Grease), but the crowd wasn’t more than a couple hundred people. This would be a completely different animal, but I was unbelievably excited! A couple weeks later in January, I accepted the offer to join Brent, and I was officially going to Ireland!

While there was never a doubt that I would go after I accepted, Rebecca and I did find out in February of 2018 that we were expecting our first child (who you all know now as Griffin). This meant that she would be about 6 months pregnant when I left for Ireland. We made sure to discuss how that would affect her if she was by herself for almost 2 weeks. However, she was so amazing, that she never even thought of asking me to stay home. I would have without hesitation, but since she’s the greatest wife that’s ever lived, she still wanted me to go. Yeah, I know, I’m a lucky guy! Anyways, back to trip preparation. We had a great host that planned everything for us from start to finish, so getting ready for the trip was very smooth. However, I will admit that I was completely negligible about researching the climate in Ireland. From what I heard while I was there, it’s usually chilly and rainy. If that were the case I would have been TREMENDOUSLY unprepared. Fortunately for me, the United Kingdom and Ireland were in the middle of what they considered a drought, meaning it was about 70-75 degrees and sunny for our entire trip! It was so amazing to me that the news stations were talking about conserving water and wearing lots of sunblock when going outside, but to us, it couldn’t have been more perfect weather!

One of the most vivid things I remember about the trip was how exhausted I was upon arrival! We woke up in Hobe Sound, FL around 8:00 a.m. EST (Ireland is 4 hours ahead of the eastern time zone). My flight went through Hartford, CT, where my connecting flight to Dublin took off around 4:00 p.m. EST. With a 6 hour flight, and the time change factored in, I arrived in Dublin at 4:00 a.m local time. I wasn’t able to sleep on the flight at all, so by the time we got to bed that night, were had all be awake for over 24 hours. When I got to Dublin, I went straight to the breakfast buffet at the airport and ordered a full Irish breakfast and a double espresso. Point #1: European coffee is WAY (and I mean WAY) stronger than the U.S., so be warned if you’re a weak coffee drinker. The full Irish breakfast was something that I had at least 3 times while we were there (bacon, black/white pudding, potatoes, grilled tomato, baked beans, toast, and scrambled eggs).

Alright, enough about all the excitement leading up to the trip; let’s get into the details!

First: Shanagarry.

The drive from Dublin to Shanagarry was about 3 hours, but it was the most beautiful car ride I’ve ever taken. As I get more experienced as a blogger, I promise you I will have more pictures for you going forward! The rolling hills look like they’re literally drawn onto the skyline. Shanagarry was a tiny little village with a few stoplights and a population of about 540 people as of 2016. We arrived to a quaint little bed and breakfast that was just outside of the middle of town. Our hosts cooked an amazing meal for us and took us to the Kilkenny Shop, which is dubbed the “largest collection of Irish design” (kilkennyshop.com). The next morning, after my full Irish breakfast at the b n b, we drove about 10 minutes to the coastal town of Ballycotton. While in Ballycotton, we did the most European thing I could have ever thought of: We had tea and biscuits while overlooking Ballycotton Bay! I’m such a nerd, I know. After we were done at Ballycotton, we packed up went to the Trabolgan Holiday Village, the site of the Summerfire Conference. I had such an amazing experience singing at the conference, making new friendships with the conference worship team, and bonding with our group that Brent had invited over.

Next: Blarney Castle.

We had a nice routine going while we were at the conference. During the day, we would do breakfast at our little lodges at Trabolgan, meet for rehearsal, go to lunch somewhere off the village property, find a cool experience to do (detailed later), and then head back for some rest before that evening’s service. One of these experiences included going to see the world famous Blarney Castle. We got to tour the castle (originally built in the 1200s!) and read about all the history on the plaques located around the property. I was so astonished at the history of this place. As much as I love the U.S. and am a huge patriot, It was amazing to see the depth of history and culture in a country that’s been around for so long. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the part about the Blarney Stone (or properly known as the Stone of Eloquence). The following quote is taken from Wikipedia (don’t judge me, I’m not in school anymore), “Tourists visiting Blarney Castle may hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence. There are many versions of the origin of the stone, including a claim that it was the Lia Fáil — a numinous stone upon which Irish kings were crowned.” And that’s exactly what we did! Again, I’ll make sure to have pictures for you going forward, since I was a dumb head and didn’t take a picture of me hanging upside down to kiss the stone!

Last: Cobh.

There are so many more things I could go into detail about, but that would require a much, much longer post, so I’ll just give you the tidbits! One day, we took a 30 minute drive to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”), where we explored the St. Colman’s Cathedral that towered over the city, overlooking Cobh Harbour. Most notably, this was the location that the Titanic last docked before it went down. Looking back, I would have gone to the little museum they had in memory of the Titanic, but that wasn’t included in our trip, so I would have had to pay extra for that. Next time though, this will be a must! Towards the end of our stay, we drove into downtown Cork, where we explored the shopping, coffee bars, restaurants, and visited Cork Church, where most of the musicians from the Summerfire Conference called their home church. Honestly, my favorite part of Cork was the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that my new friend, Herbert, took me to one night after service had ended. This was the best Indian food I’ve ever had, and it’s really not even close!

Of all the great experience we had while we were there, my favorite part of the trip comes in two parts. 1) The beauty of Ireland opened my eyes to what the world has to offer. I love the U.S. as much as anyone, but I want to see everything I can see before I pass. This trip gave me so much hope for what’s out there to explore, and I, along with my family, full intend to take advantage! 2) The bond I formed with the group over there is still alive and well almost 2 years later. We have a group chat going on Facebook Messenger, that, although we don’t use it as much as we did right when we got home, we still tell each other that we miss everyone often and that we can’t wait to see each other again, whenever that may be. I loved the Emerald Isle so much, and to end this post, I’m excited to say that Brent has invited me back again this summer! Now, the conference is unfortunately up the air to do said illness we spoke about a couple days ago, but I’m hopeful that the trip can go on as planned! Even if it doesn’t, Brent has assured us that this trip is open indefinitely, and that the conference will continue to have us as long as we have a group to bring. Rest assured, you all will be kept up to date on this situation, and if I end up getting to go, I will take LOTS of pictures, I promise!

Starting on Monday, I’ll be writing about my bucket list destinations. If any of you have been to them already, make sure to leave a comment about your experience!

Blessings,
Madison

Louisville: Bourbon, Baseball, and Thoroughbreds

Today, I’m gonna share a bit of another small trip Rebecca and I took to Louisville as a little getaway in May of 2019. This was actually our first time being on a trip that would be overnight away from Griffin. Our trip to Cincinnati in August of 2019 was the second (see my post from Tuesday). Needless to say, this was much more difficult than the Cincinnati trip because it was the first time. Cincinnati was a little difficult because we were gone for more than one night. Louisville was the first true test of being away from him. Louisville was a lot like Cincinnati in the sense that it was a big city, but not so big that you couldn’t get where you needed to go in a short amount of time. Before I get started, you should know that Rebecca wanted to plan a trip for us to surprise me (I ended up figuring out the destination when we were about 30 minutes from Louisville), so she chose all our activities for the duration, and she did an amazing job!

First: Bourbon.

Before I get to the Bourbon, I wanted to shout out another restaurant that we went to that was featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives: The Irish Rover (Season 26, Episode 5). As I’ve eluded to before, Triple D is my favorite Food Network show, and it’s now a tradition of ours to look for restaurants in the area that have been on the show. I’ve actually seen somewhat mixed reviews of Irish Rover online, but our experience was great! We ordered the cabbage rolls because they were one of the things Guy ordered when we watched that episode (delish). We also ordered 2 scotch eggs as an appetizer, Rebecca ordered the fish and chips (pretty much her go to if we’re anywhere that has it), and I got the bangers and mash. If you saw the post yesterday, you now know that those two dishes are about the only things we know about European cuisine. It was the first time I’d ever had scotch eggs, so I don’t have much to compare it with, but they were great according to my taste buds! Overall, we were pleased with our experience, and I’d recommend it if you’re in town! Now, on to the bourbon! Our visit to Louisville included a tour at the Evan Williams distillery, which was one of the coolest parts of the trip. There were a few tours offered, so we decided to take the “speakeasy tour,” which included a “secret” passageway into an early 1900s style room, much like actual speakeasies would have looked. The bartender was in character the whole time and told us stories of the people around town that would visit the local watering hole and avoid suspicion from the town police. While in the speakeasy, we tasted several different bourbons (both Rebecca and I couldn’t stand the taste of it, so this was more like a “dip your tongue in to avoid it massacring your taste buds.”) While we didn’t buy any bourbon upon leaving, we went to the shop upstairs and got a couple things to take home, mine being a bottle of bourbon barbecue sauce, and Rebecca’s being a coffee mug with Evan Williams’ colors and logo (actually our most used mug between the two of us now). This tour was awesome if you’re either a fan of bourbon or want to hear about a company that’s been part of the fabric of Louisville since it began!

Next: Baseball.

This next part was OBVIOUSLY going to be my favorite part of the trip, given my background with baseball: The Louisville Slugger Museum. Weirdly, in all my time as a baseball player, I never used Louisville Slugger bats, but this was going to be awesome no matter what. This part of the trip is another essential on anyone’s trip that included Louisville. The company has been around since 1855, is probably the most well known brand surrounding baseball, and the tour was a blast for even non-baseball fans. We were first taken to a video room where we watched a short clip about where the trees are imported from (a piece of property in Pennsylvania), and what happens to them before they’re brought to the factory in Louisville to be made into bats. Next, we’re taken through a room of life-sized statues of all the players that were sponsored by Louisville Slugger throughout the years, with facts about the company being scattered on the walls and on plaques next to the players. Then, we actually went through the factory to see the different stages of bat making (I was nerding out SO hard during this part!). This was amazing to me because I’d never actually seen the process of how a bat is made, and to see if transformed from a tree trunk in Pennsylvania to something big leaguers use every night was fantastic. At the end of the tour, there was a batting cage available for anyone to use (it was only a few extra bucks) that allowed you to use a bat that was previously used by a big leaguer, that way we could feel how heavy these things actually were! This is something I’d LOVE to bring Griffin to visit when he’s of age. I don’t know if he’ll ever love baseball the way I do, but this would be a fun trip nonetheless.

Last: Thoroughbreds.

On the last night of our trip, we went to Churchill Downs to watch a night of horse racing. Oddly enough, there are two huge horse tracks within 40 minutes of Indianapolis, and I’d never been to one in person! I’m not much of a gambler, so it was cool to watch everyone up at the counters placing their bets, and seeing the horses and jockeys getting prepared before the gates opened. I’d love to come back some day for the Kentucky Derby. We were there on a random weekday and it was a blast. I never realized how fast the horses were until we watched them go through the finish line which was about 50 feet to our right. They didn’t look incredibly fast coming out of the gate (all the way on the other side of the track), but my goodness! When they ran right in front of us, I would actually say it was majestic! Seeing such a humongous animal move with that much power and agility was simply incredible. Of all things you must do if you go to Louisville, you MUST visit Churchill Downs and take in this amazing atmosphere.

I’ll end on a funny note (much to the chagrin of Rebecca). Keep in mind that Rebecca planned the trip so I never knew what was next, I just followed suit and had fun. The first day we were there, we had brunch and went to the Evan Williams distillery, then we found a sweet little coffee shop right in the middle of downtown. After that, we went home for a little nap before dinner. We woke up at about 5:30, got ready to go, and headed out for this “experience,” so I knew it was more than just a nice restaurant. We arrived at a cabin that was placed about a half mile off of a country road. When we pulled up, Rebecca said, “I know how much you love cooking, so I got us a ‘Cooking with bourbon class that we help cook and have a meal with two other couples’.” This sounded amazing! We went inside to find a table of 6 people plus the 2 hosts with a nice, hot, home cooked meal sitting in front of them. We sat down, and one of them asked, “So…did ya’ll get lost?” Not having any idea what they were talking about, Rebecca said, “Nope! 7 o’clock, right?” To her shame, and everyone else’s enjoyment, the host politely said, “Actually…..we started at 6 hun!” Once we finally got over our embarrassment, the group felt it was only fair for us to set the table for them since they’d cooked the meal without us (it was all in good fun, lots of laughs!), so we did that, and had wonderful meal with 8 amazing people!

Blessings,
Madison

Jamaica: Geckos, English pubs, and Dunn’s River Falls

Although Ireland has been my favorite vacation so far, I must say that our honeymoon to Montego Bay, Jamaica was a close second. In fact, I think I’ll even say that the two vacations could be listed as 1a and 1b! Our wedding was on Friday, August 4th, 2017, and we had decided to leave early Sunday morning for Sandals, Royal Caribbean (I’d advise anyone getting married to have a gap day between the wedding and the honeymoon. We were able to have a full day of rest and just hang with all our friends and family from out of town without a schedule to adhere to). Fun fact: There are two Sandals resorts in Montego Bay: The Sandals Montego Bay and the Sandals Royal Caribbean. By booking at one, we also had full access to the other one all throughout the day (or at least until the shuttles stopped going back and forth). This was great because we actually formed a little friendship with a couple from the other resort, so we were able to go back and forth to hang out with them every now and then.

First: The geckos.

Everything about our arrival was very easy. When we got to the airport in Montego Bay, there was a lounge for anyone that had booked through Sandals that had drinks and snack included while we waited for our shuttle to arrive. Upon arrival to the resort, we were taken to our suite, and away our honeymoon went! First and foremost, I have to preface this part with the fact that I hate anything that crawls; insects, spiders, lizards, literally anything that slithers or crawls like a bug. Honestly, this was the only negative that I saw, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal (I can hear everyone with arachnophobia dying inside right now). Very occasionally, I would see a little gecko run across the sidewalk from one bush to the next, but that was about it. The ONLY part that I would actually not do again from the trip had to do with the geckos: The French restaurant, Le Jardinier. Now hear me out. The food was great. I would go to the restaurant for the food in a heartbeat. The only problem was that we were seated in a table in a corner near a bush. Unfortunately for me, the bushes are where most of the creepy crawlies hung out. The entire time we ate, I was looking over my shoulder at what felt like dozens of geckos within a couple feet of me. Keep in my mind, I have a TREMENDOUS aversion to that type of stuff, so I can subsequently feel all the eye-rolls going on right now as well. Like I said, this restaurant was the only place I was bothered by the geckos. Other than that, I was good to go!

Next: English Pubs.

We developed a pretty good routine while we were in Jamaica. It’s amazing how much human beings crave structure, even during a week long vacation. In the morning, we would would go down to the main breakfast buffet. After enjoying a cup of blue mountain coffee (if you’ve never had it, and you’re a coffee drinker, your life will be changed), we would go catch the ferry out to the private island about a football field away from the shore. For lunch, we’d eat at either the Jerk Shack on the private island, or we’d go back to the The Mariner, which was a little bar and grill right next to the beach. Also, for anyone that cares for drinks, the assortment was plentiful, but for beer drinkers, the only thing on tap was Red Stripe at almost every spot on the island. After lunch, we’d go take a nap in the suite, as we had rain every single day for about an hour around 1 or 2 p.m. After taking a nap, we would find a resort activity to do, like paddle boarding or taking a couple hours to lay in the hammocks above the water. For dinner, we would go to one of the nicer restaurants that require semi-formal dress and a reservation. My favorite was definitely the Bombay Club, where I had the surf and turf both times we went. After dinner, there was usually some sort of entertainment in the amphitheater in the middle of the resort. My favorite night was when a well known steel band came and performed for everyone (for any “Office” fans, I’m also thinking about Michael Scott singing “hot, hot, hot” while playing the steel drum after his vacation with Jan). Where does the English Pub fit into all this? Well, every night after the entertainment, we would go to The Cricketers Pub, located right next to the amphitheater. This was the one thing that we stuck to religiously. All five nights that we were there, we went to this pub, and we would order the same thing every night. We actually had a “usual” by the time we left! I don’t even have a “usual” at any restaurants at home! I ordered the bangers and mash, and Rebecca would get the fish and chips, and each night, it was better than the last. This is also where we got to know the two bartenders at the pub and learned more about their life stories and how they came to work at Sandals. This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Last: Dunn’s River Falls.

Almost everyone I knew that had been to Jamaica before told us that this was something we needed to do while we were there. I will add that this was the only additional thing we had to pay for while were at Sandals (this, and whatever we wanted to buy from some of the local shops). The shuttle took about 2 hours to get there, and we actually stopped on a bridge overlooking the most gorgeous view on the island (at least that’s what our driver told us). I wish I had a picture of it, but I wasn’t really into picture-taking at this particular time. In fact, all the pictures you see that I post from around that time were probably only taken after Rebecca gave me a death stare if I didn’t take it. Fortunately, I’ve come around , and I actually enjoy taking them! Now that I’ve started a travel blog, I think I may be a little more obligated to in the future! Anyways, we got to the falls, and we were placed with a group of about 15 people that will be hand in hand as we started from the bottom and walked through the water up to the top. Pro tip: Make sure you have water shoes! Rebecca was smart enough to bring hers, but I ended up buying some on the way to the falls. We had an absolute blast with the group we were part of. There were some flat spots along the falls that had some natural pools built up, so where there was a slowdown, we were able to swim around for a bit while we waited on the groups in front of us to regain their footing. Now, the only thing that was a little bit of a downfall was the exit from the falls. When leaving to get back to the parking lot, there was a relatively narrow walkway that was loaded with vendors trying to sell you anything and everything for about a quarter mile. I hate letting people down, so I’ve never enjoyed walking through areas like that where high pressure sales are enforced. Nevertheless, the experience was amazing, and I recommend anyone on the island to go check it out!

Alright, here’s my final pro tip! If you ever visit on of the Sandals in Jamaica, and if you love coffee like I do, try this out. Each morning, housekeeping would restock whatever you used from your refrigerator or coffee basket the day before. Here’s what we did. We knew we’d be able to get the blue mountain coffee at the breakfast buffet, so we took the coffee pouches that were in our rooms and put them in our luggage. Each pouch made a full pot of coffee, so if you take the 5 mornings we were there, plus 3 pouches they restocked every day, we had 15 pouches of the most amazing coffee in the world to take back home with us! Trust me, it’s worth it 🙂 .

Blessings,

Madison

Cincinnati, Soccer, Tattoos, and Belgian Waffles

Last year, my wife and I went on a short, weekend trip to Cincinnati for our second anniversary. While we really wanted to do something big, we were at a place in life where something short and sweet was required. Keep in mind, our son, Griffin, was only 9 months old, and anything away from him for more than a few hours felt extremely odd. Nevertheless, anyone that has kids knows the necessity of getting away, even if it’s only for a day or two. We settled in on Cincinnati because it was close (barely two hours from Indianapolis), and because it was only going to be a Friday night-Sunday morning kind of trip (we don’t like to travel far if it’s only going to be a short duration). We were newbies at parenting and those were requirements we put on ourselves for our first trip away from Griffin.

The first thing I’ll say about Cincinnati is that there was something comfortable about it, meaning it felt a lot like Indianapolis. It had a relatively big downtown, but not so big and congested that you couldn’t get to your destination within about 15 minutes, even with traffic. We enjoyed this primarily because I hate driving with traffic (I’m too timid) and Rebecca has….let’s call it a traffic induced temper (Don’t worry, I got approval to say that). Now, I won’t write this post and pretend that Cincinnati is the most gorgeous place ever, but I tend to see the bright side in everything, so that’s where my focus will lie. Honestly, you could stick me in a 3rd world country and the only thing I would see are the positives, but I digress.

First: FC Cincinnati.

The most memorable thing for me was my first ever MLS match! I watched a handful of matches in college, and I’d been to a few in high school (I was a rowdy “student sectioner”), but I’d never been to a professional soccer match. 2019 was FC Cincinnati’s first year in the MLS, and they had a home match that Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps. First and foremost, if you EVER go to a soccer match at FC Cincinnati, just know that you either need a VIP pass to park on campus (matches are played at the University of Cincinnati’s football stadium), or you need to get to the match somewhat early to find parking within a half mile of the stadium. We made the mistake of getting there about 10 minutes before the match started, and ended up parking on some obscure street about a mile from the stadium. Fortunately, we used a Bird (if you don’t know, it’s a ride sharing scooter that you can use in most big cities) to get from where we parked to the stadium on time for the start of the match. The fan experience was terrific for anyone that’s just a fan of sports, let alone avid soccer fans. Soccer fans are absolutely RABID, and that was on full display at this match. There was somewhat of a rowdier section behind one of the goals that had drums and chants going the entire match, and we were on the edge of our seat almost the entire time! Granted, it was a great match and neither team blew the other one away, so that helped, but even for a casual soccer fan like me, it was an amazing experience. If you’re a sports fan at all, this is a must next time you’re in Cincinnati!

Next: Our first tattoo.

Since my freshman year in college, I’d wanted a tattoo. Nothing fancy, nothing too big or showy, but just something important to me. I’d always heard that from the moment you first want a tattoo, wait a year and see if you still want it. Well, as of our anniversary, it had been 5 years and I still wanted one. But what would I get? It was fitting that Rebecca had also had a recent revelation about wanting a tattoo (she didn’t have any either), so we decided to get a couples tattoo while we were there. It seemed fitting, being that it was our anniversary and all. I remember the drive there, where for the last hour of the drive, I scrolled through pictures of couples tattoos while Rebecca drove. There were a lot of yin and yang type tattoos, almost like puzzle pieces that would fit each other, but were separated into two parts. We both decided on something that would commemorate our anniversary (August 4th, 2017). In short, we ended up getting Roman numerals on the outside of our forearms (mine is on my right forearm, hers is on her left). Here’s my advice to anyone thinking about getting a tattoo: 1) Listen to whatever your artist says about cleaning and taking care of your tattoo, and 2) You will want another one almost immediately! I’ve wanted a second one since the minute we left the shop! I’m sure I’ll get a few more on my right arm sometime in the near future, but just be warned about your new addiction! Also, we got our tattoos done at Mother’s Tattoo (this was in Covington, KY, literally 5 minutes outside of Cincinnati) and it comes HIGHLY recommended. It was ultra clean, and everyone there was extremely professional. Remember about the addiction part though, ink at your own risk!

Last: Belgian Waffles.

This was perhaps the best part of the trip because I had the best Belgian waffle I’ve ever had! I have to start this section off by telling you that I’m an avid Food Network watcher, more specifically, “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” Since Triple D became my favorite show to watch, we’ve tried to find restaurants that have been featured on the show in whatever destination we go to. On this trip, we went to Taste of Belgium (Season 21, Episode 6 on Triple D). While I can’t remember what Rebecca ordered, I ordered the brunch burger (I’m salivating while typing this, just so you’re aware). On this burger was a sizable patty, an over easy egg, Havarti cheese, bacon, waffles as the bun, and a side of maple syrup. It was literally all the best things about breakfast and lunch combined together. I tried a bite of the waffle separate from the burger, and yes, it was (by a long shot) the best Belgian waffle I’ve ever had. It was extremely messy (mostly due to the thorough coverage of maple syrup), so I sat my pride down and ate this burger with a fork and knife, and I 100% do NOT regret it!

I almost forgot: where did we stay? We ended up staying in an AirBnb about 10 minutes outside of downtown. We’ve rather enjoyed using AirBnb since we’ve been married, mostly because they tend to be cheaper for what we need, and because we usually are out exploring the city we’re in instead of spending the majority of our time in the room.

All in all, this was a great trip for us, especially for that time in our lives. Griffin was 9 months old, and while we wanted to get away to be together for a couple days, it was difficult to plan anything more than a couple hours away in fear of something bad happening while we were gone. It will be a fascinating adventure to see how we evolve in our travels as Griffin gets older. He’s at an age now (17 months) where he’s starting to enjoy things other than eating and sleeping, so we want to be able to take him with us! Now, it’s just a matter of finding things he’ll enjoy that we can have fun with as well 🙂 We’ll get better at it, but the only way to find out is simply to just go and do! Hope you all enjoyed the Cincinnati recap! Seriously, go try Taste of Belgium…you won’t regret it.

Blessings,

Madison

My first travel blog :)

Hey everyone! If you don’t know me already, my name is Madison Foster, and I created this blog to share my passion for travel. Now, before we dive any deeper, you must know that while I love travel, I haven’t been all over the place (which would seem odd for someone that seems to love travel so much, no?). I want to create this blog to connect with other travelers and create a community of people that love seeing the world and want to bond with each other over their experiences in various parts of our planet. Below, I’ll lay out somewhat of an itinerary for my first few posts, and to let you know what I’ll be primarily talking about on a day-to-day basis. I hope you all enjoy!

First: What sparked this blog?

To keep it simple, I never knew I’d want to see the world as much as I do until about a year and a half ago. Throughout my life, I’d been to quite a few places in the U.S. (mostly for baseball in high school and college), but it was typically the same places because our teams played in the same tournaments every summer, with the exception of 2 or 3 (we normally played 8-10 tournaments). I remember a trip to the Bahamas when I was in 8th grade (gorgeous), and my wife and I went to Jamaica for our honeymoon (also gorgeous, as long as we stayed on the resort). Outside of that, I wouldn’t exactly call myself an experienced traveler, but hey, I’m only 26; I have plenty of time 🙂 . However, there was one trip that really opened my eyes to the beauty and awe of what the rest of the world has to offer: Ireland.

During the winter of 2018, I had a professional singer friend that visited our church, and after I sang with him as part of our praise team, he invited me to go with him and a small group of singers to perform at a worship conference in Ireland (Trabolgan Holiday Village to be more specific). This was my first trip to Europe, and while I expected it to be somewhat similar to the U.S., the travel bug just hasn’t left me since I came home. The hills of Ireland were comparable to the most gorgeous parts of the States, and every single person I met welcomed me with arms open and a warmness that I’ve only found in the Midwest. As soon as I came home, I asked if I could be considered to go back with that friend for the next conference. Although I wasn’t able to go in the summer of 2019 (the group wasn’t able to go due to scheduling conflicts), the passion I’ve felt to return grows almost daily. Maybe the next time I go won’t be as awe inspiring, but I’ll never know until I go!

Fortunately, I was kindly offered a spot as part of the group for the summer of 2020, and I accepted! Unfortunately, the destiny of the trip is up in the air at the moment, due to ailments that I’m sure you’re aware of (I don’t want to type it on here after finding out that some friends of mine had their posts taken down when referring to said ailment by it’s actual name). While I’m hoping for a miracle so I am able to return to Ireland, I also understand that the global measures being taken may prohibit a return in 2020. I was, however, informed that the door for that trip remains open indefinitely, as long as the group wants to keep returning to the conference, so this could hopefully become a regular occurrence!

As promised, here’s how my posts are going to work over the next few weeks:

First, I’m going to write a few posts on the places I’ve already visited. The first few will be on places I’ve been in the U.S. (again, predominantly where I went as part of a travel baseball team). The next few will be on my vacations to the Bahamas and Jamaica, and the final post will be a recap of my visit to Ireland. After that, I’ll be posting daily about a destination I desire to go to, and this will also serve as somewhat of a bucket list for me and my family. I can tell you that my first post of this nature will stay in Ireland. My goal is to find different destinations, research awesome things to do there, and write about those awesome things to share with you all. I’m also going to be on Instagram to share photos of the various destinations that I’d like to visit. I’ll definitely be on other social media outlets, but I’ll let you know when those come about!

I hope you all enjoy my posts, and if you’d like to follow along, just subscribe to the blog and follow me on Instagram to get involved! I’m unbelievably excited about this, and I hope you’ll join in my journey, literally and figuratively 🙂

Kindest Regards

Madison