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The 6 month mark

Last Sunday marked the 6 month anniversary since I moved State side and I have loved every minute of it so far. I’m not going to lie, I do occasionally get quite homesick. In fact if my parents hadn’t paid a visit this month, there is a very good chance I would have booked a ticket home.

To mark the occasion here are 6 of my biggest highlights/accomplishments over the past 6 months…

1. Moving into my own apartment… and surviving!

Growing up in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, allowed me to live at home throughout my education and the years that followed. Although I really hate being referred to as spoilt, I did however live very comfortably at home. Growing up my Mum would go to the moon and back for each of us (and still does), we would wake up to breakfast, return from school to food on the table, received  help with our homework and we always had freshly cleaned clothes.

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Moving into my own apartment was going to be accomplishment of its own, never mind the fact the apartment was located in a totally different country. I am happy to say my clothes remain clean (although rarely ironed), home cooked meals still occur, and I am still alive (always a bonus).

2. Christmas

Having moved over at the end of September going home for Christmas was not feasible. As my family pointed out, I had just said goodbye to all my friends and family, was I really going to return 3 months later for a visit. With this in mind I accepted an invitation to spend Christmas in Philadelphia with my friend Erin and her family. I was a little apprehensive about going as I see Christmas as a very family orientated time of year, this concern quickly disappeared on entering her home and saw a stocking hanging at the fireplace with my name on it.

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The whole experience was better than I ever could have imagined. After celebrating the new year together we took a trip to New York to spend the night with some friends. It was a brilliant ending to a fantastic Christmas, that being said, I don’t intend in spending next Christmas without my family.

3. Weekend Brunch

This is a weird one but there are so many nice (mostly healthy) places to eat. Having a reservation is not a thing here… however, standing in line for two hours is! I know for Irish people we do not like waiting around and certainly don’t like standing in a line for hours in order to be fed. So if you feel like you’ll be hungry at 11am, grab your place in line at least an hour before that.

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Ok, so i’ve made brunch sound like an awful thing, but trust me it’s not! There is lots of places to choose from so you never get bored of the same food or run out of places to try.

4. Spending time with my parents 

I always knew my mum would come to visit, however, I was unsure about my dad. Now don’t get me wrong I know he would want to, however, when working in a family business taking holidays is not always an option. Shortly after I arrived in SF my mum told me she was planning a visit in the new year, to which my dad replied that she was not going without him. March 11th, they both arrived!

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To say we did a lot during their visit is an understatement, we packed everything in. So much so my dad teased about why would he visit again as he has seen it all. The highlights of their visit for me where little things, Dad trying to pay cash in an Uber, Mum’s face when I brought her to Mixt Greens, Dad’s dancing on St. Patrick’s Day and then Mum threatening to stay up night cause she didn’t want to go home!

5. Discovering California

It took a while but I finally started to tick off the tourist attractions one by one. I’ve cycled the bridge, climbed up Coit Tower, Baker’s Beach, Pier 39 and the likes. I still have a lot to do such as Alcatraz at night, Japanese Tea Garden’s and much more. But what I like the most is discovering the hidden gems outside of the city. Point Bonita Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods and Napa are all short drives out of the city and are all equally breathtaking. Another bonus point for most of the places out of the city is that the weather is a lot better, it’s really a win win!

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6. Passing my driving test

Although I have absolutely no need for an american driving license I thought it would be fun to do the test and get myself another card for my wallet. I sat the test on the 23rd of March without any lessons and am glad to say I passed first time round (something I haven’t been able to say before). Once passing the test I quickly realized it has its benefits, I now can rent a car at an hourly rate from ZipCar, which will make my weekly grocery shop that little bit easier

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Roam Burger

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Anyone who knows me from San Francisco will not be surprised that this restaurant is my first food post… I rave about this place and insist on taking everyone there! Roam Burger, is where the best burgers in the Bay can be found.

They have two locations in the bay one on Union St. and the other on  Fillmore St.. Myself and my roommate actually stumbled upon these delicious burgers by accident. We had been invited to a house party on Fillmore and knew we had to have a bite to eat beforehand. Coming from Ireland I have been blessed to grow up with grass fed meat, a luxury I completely took for granted. When buying meat here there isn’t always the option of ‘grass-fed’ and if there is it is rarely within budget.

What to order:

I always order ‘The Classic‘ which comes with tomato, lettuce, onion and pickles. I personally hate tomatoes and pickles, so I ask for them to be left out. There is beef, turkey, vegetarian and bison to choose from, I always opt for the beef which is grass fed. You then have the option of a lettuce wrap instead of the regular bun for those who are a little more health conscious. I have opted for the lettuce wrap on a few occasions and have found it can be very hit or miss. If it is not ‘wrapped’ properly in the kitchen the whole burger can fall apart in your hands. If you want fries you have to order them separately, I always get the ‘sweet potato fries’ which never disappoint.

Roam Burger

Price:

The Classic – $7.99

Sweet Potato fries – $3.99

Atmosphere:

The set up for Roam Burger is very standard by San Francisco standard. You go in, order your food, pay for your food, take a number and find a seat. I personally prefer the layout of the Fillmore branch, there is more seating and a nicer atmosphere. I find this set up works if you want to eat and go, not exactly the place you can sit and chat after finishing your food as there is a demand for seating.

Overall: 

I am giving Roam Burger 4/5 stars. I attended the Union St. branch when they were very busy and found there was very poor management when it came to customers finding seats before their food was ready. People that ordered after us took seats ahead of people that were previously waiting. Also on the odd occasion I have received fries that were ‘warm’ but not ‘hot’. But overall the food is fab and the staff are friendly, the loss of one star will not stop me from continuously returning :)

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Guest Blog: USIT 1 Year USA Graduate Programme

ciaraennis:

I recently wrote a short article for USIT on my 12 month graduate visa to date.

Originally posted on USIT Work and Travel Hub:

This month we caught up with Ciara Ennis, a Business/Marketing graduate from DCU who is currently in San Francisco on the 1 Year USA Graduate Programme.  Like a lot of participants, Ciara stayed in Ireland right after she graduated college and gained some experience before deciding to take part in the programme right before her 12 month cut off point.  We asked Ciara why she decided to take the plunge, what she’s working at now and what advice she would give future participants.  Here’s what she had to say.

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What made you decide to go for the 1 Year USA Programme?

For years I had spoken quite openly about wanting to working abroad, to the extent my family thought I might never leave! On graduating I started working on

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Brunching & Munching

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As my life pretty much revolves around food I thought it was only appropriate that I start to document some of those experience. I started with an excel sheet (very organized I know) of places that have been recommended to me and also places I have tried myself. As friends and family begin to visit San Francisco they will be looking for recommendations and I find whenever I am asked on the spot I blank, so hopefully this will kill two birds with one stone. Besides if anyone ever comments on my eating habits (which I hope will never be the case) I can say it’s research…. :)

As previous mentioned in another blog post weekend brunch is extremely popular here in California. The price range of food varies as much as the lines you find yourself standing in. In each post I will try give a price estimate, if they take reservations and maybe even a rating. It will be trial and error for the first while but hopefully I’ll get there eventually!

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A short drive from San Francisco

Photo taken at Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Work was closed for Presidents Day (16th February) so a road trip was a must. It was all very last minute and to be honest there wasn’t really much of a plan, other than to get a car and drive.

Sorting Transport 

As I am under 25 years and without a credit card I did not have many options when it came to hiring a car. I ended up going with Hertz and got a Toyota Yaris. With full coverage insurance it cost us $136.

Things to note:

  • Hertz accepts debit cards
  • The card you use must belong to the main driver
  • They will take a $200 deposit from your card
  • If you are under 25 there is discount codes available online
  • You will be asked do you want them to refuel your car or will you do it yourself – do it yourself, its cheaper!                                                                          

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   Route  

  1. Point Reyes National Seashore

   2.  Petaluma (overnight)

   3.   Bodega Bay

 

 

Point Reyes National Seashore

On arrival we found a large cabin that is home to the Point Reyes park rangers and the information centre. It was here we received a map of the area and were recommended the 8 mile (4 there & 4 back) Bear Valley Trail. This is a vey flat trail with a breath-taking view at the end. The walk took 4 hours, walking at a leisurely pace. It was a warm day so we found ourselves gulling through water.

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I was suggest bringing a few snacks for when you reach the edge of the cliff. Sit down and enjoy the view! There is a small but beautiful beach down a rather steep climb. Please note that this is not a recommended climb and I have been told people have been injured during the climb. In saying that, if you would like the adventure I would recommend climbing down onto the beach and enjoying your snacks there.

Point Reyes National Seashore is somewhere I plan to bring all my visitors. A place not known to all travelers but without a doubt worth a visit.

Petaluma

This small town has a lot to offer, from the lovely restaurants to the talented Petaluma Pete who plays his piano on the a street corner. Looking for a quite weekend away or just an evening out of the city I would highly recommend checking out Petaluma.

Accommodation – This was quite a random find and a good one at that. I was checking out google maps and saw it was a town close by. We booked into Motel 6, an absolute steal! $75 for one room, with two queen beds and onsite parking. Remember this was over valentines weekend and a long weekend.

Food – We were very lucky and got a table at Risibisi Restaurant, a busy little Italian restaurant in the center of the town. There was a special Valentines Day set menu which had some lovely dishes. Unfortunately it lacked a choice of good desserts :( , which sent us off in search of a supplement, this is where we came across Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Every wall was covered with a section of sweets/candy to choose from, we were like two kids in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

On Sunday morning after a quick Yelp search we found ourselves at Hallie’s Diner. I would advise you get down early as the place fills up fast. We were very lucky to get seated straight away. We both devoured the Cinnamon French Toast, a breakfast I would definitely go back for.

Shopping – Another lucky find was Petaluma Village Premium Outlets. After breakfast on Sunday morning we stopped by for what we had intended to be a ‘quick look around’, three hours later we hit the road again. Some great deals can be found in Nike, Ann Taylor and Levis.

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Bodega Bay

It around 2pm by the time we arrived at Bodega Bay. We had sat in a good bit of traffic on the way from Petaluma, I put this down to the fact the sun was beaming and everyone wanted to get out in the fresh air. We didn’t mind too much as the views were breathtaking. We drove all the way up a windy quite narrow hill were we parked the car and walked to the cliff side. There wasn’t much of a walk, more like a stroll along the cliff, this suited us fine as our legs were tired from the previous day.

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Bodega Bay is considered a prime spot for whale watching (especially between the last weeks of April & start of May), but we were hopeful we would catch a glimpse. After a half an hour or so of patiently looking out we began to give up hope. We wandered over to a group that had gathered at the point of one of the cliffs, it was there we caught a glimpse of a group of gray whales. Due to the time of year (February) the whales were quite far off the coast.

Overall our trip was a great success. Although we started out without much of a plan, only a car and a place to sleep, we packed a lot it. When living in a city you can easily forget that there is more than concrete buildings and the hustle and bustle of city life. Some of the most spectacular views are only an hour out of San Francisco.

Just do it!

Photo taken at Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

Photo taken at Treasure Island, San Francisco, California

So only about four people know what it was like for me moving away and as I sit on my bed this evening reading my cards and letters that everyone was so kind to give me before I left, I find it only fitting that I write this. Side note – YAY no more writers block!!

I was never scared about moving away and when everyone told me I was very brave, I just kind of thought ‘hey, it’s an adventure’. I got up that morning, stripped my bed (wouldn’t be like me to leave without being a little dramatic), went down for breakfast and set off with my family on my merry way to the airport. First stop was to drop our little ‘teacher in training’ off at the bus stop, which would bring her to teaching practice. It was quick and easy, like ripping a bandaid off, almost like I was going to see her later that day (ignoring the fact it was going to be 14 months).

Then there were three (Dad, Mum & the youngest)! We all lined up to check in, Dad making friends with the people in the line, hoping they’d look after me and Mum making sure I had everything I needed. Bag checked, ticket in hand, it was time to go through security. We walked upstairs in terminal two, making small talk, acting like I was heading away for the weekend. All of a sudden it was time to say goodbye..

I can’t remember who I hugged first but they all got their hugs and kiss goodbye. I remained strong, no tears!! I started to walk up to security… I looked around and in that moment I decided I was no longer going, I was staying at home! I ran back into Mum’s arms with tears in my eyes, I can’t remember saying much, but instead listening to my Mum’s encouraging words. After another big group hug I decided I was going to do this! Dried my eyes, bag on shoulder and off I went, this time without looking back!

Now don’t get me wrong, the water works started straight away once I got on the plane, sat in my lovely middle seat and began to read the letters my family had sent me away with. Now thinking back that wasn’t my smartest move, but sure I’m known to not always make the smartest of moves.

The point I suppose I am trying to make is, although things may seem scary, daunting or a little out of your reach, if it is something you want, what is the harm in trying! Nothing comes easy but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

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Health & Fitness & all that Jazz…

Photo taken at Fort Mason, San Francisco, California

Culture in Ireland is slowly but surely changing. People are becoming more conscious about what they eat and making a conscious choice to exercise.  When I was in secondary school I would come home and make pasta with cheese. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t cause I wasn’t able to cook something fancy, but it was the mentality of what was the point when I was only cooking for one. My youngest sister now comes home from school and makes herself a sandwich, with chicken, pesto, sundried tomato’s and goats cheese. Now she may be the exception, as she is quite the chef, but I do feel younger generations are more aware of healthy eating. As Operation Transformation makes its way back onto Irish television screens, we see communities getting together to come out and get fit! Local supermarkets advertising weekly deals on fruit and vegetable, all ready to give us that kick we need to get started.

I recently bought myself an UP Jawbone, for those of you who do not know this is a fitness tracker. It tracks how many steps you take daily, your sleep and you can also record the food you eat through the app. December 2013, myself and my sisters bought one of these bands for my dad and to this day I am surprised he religiously wears it (expect for last week when he momentarily lost it, but that’s another story). It is suggested that you aim to take 10,000 steps per day and I am finding myself getting disappointed if I do not surpass this target. Another thing that gives me a slight nudge in the right direction is that I have ‘teamed up’ with my dad and a close friend back home, which has released my competitive streak… I must beat them on a daily basis, although I don’t think they are aware of this competition.

I have also joined a gym close to work and try to go every day after work and if I am feeling super motivated sometimes on a Saturday too. I am not going to lie, the steam room and jacuzzi have a huge pull on that motivation, but that only happens if I commit to an intense 45 plus minute workout beforehand. I find my peers here are very focused on eating healthy and keeping active, some go as far as eating lunch at their desk as to have time for a 40 minute run during the day. People take pride in their health/appearance going for their bi-weekly manicures and I have even heard of people in the gym talk about their weekly massages!

Shortly after moving into our apartment we bought a Nutri-bullet, something I had never heard of before and was convinced I was also never going to use it. Now, I have two juices a day, one for breakfast and another as a mid-afternoon snack. One day in the office my manager walked by and saw me drinking my dark green drink, he asked did it have kale. As I nodded he began to reply, ‘Oh you certainly are a true Californian now’! A statement that made me laugh, people at home eat Kale too!

On the odd sunny occasion in Ireland you will hear the phrase, ‘the sun comes out, clothes come off’. You will see young girls wander around as if they are in the south of Spain, and men wandering around the city centre with tops off as if they are at the beach. Imagine if Ireland was always guaranteed that sunny weather throughout the summer/year, I feel people would be more health conscious, similar to how people are when they are prepping to go away on holiday – getting beach bod ready! I certainly know I became more aware of what I was eating and ensuring I got that gym session in once I booked my one way ticket to California.

Ireland may be years behind in a lot of things (roads and transport systems to name a few) but it is catching on quickly when it comes to the importance of fitness and healthy eating. Gyms and fitness classes are popping up across the country and there are more healthy options available when eating out. I hope by the time I move back home that Ireland will be on par with the way of living over here (maybe leaving out the weekly massages), hoping that people will invest in their health and see the benefits of staying fit!