Posted by: Justin and Amy | May 22, 2013

One more thing….

One More Thing

One More Thing

The legendary product presentations by Steve Jobs would always end with the slide above, indicating he had saved the best unveiling for his final announcement. And so it seems fitting that our Irish MBA blog also had one more surprise entry.

Ireland Beckons Once More

Our previous blog celebrated a wonderful graduation trip back to Ireland in December 2012. It seemed to be the perfect ending to our time, but our streak of visiting Ireland would not be broken in 2013. As the new year began Amy and I launched Playing Grownup, our non-profit. Our speaking tour began in late February when we received a call in the RV.

Unexpected call in the RV

Unexpected call in the RV

The Irish accent rang from the other end of the line as I learned that I had been named the 2012 Student Of The Year by my MBA program at University College Dublin. This pleasant surprise meant that we were invited to travel to Ireland to attend the annual alumni dinner event in April. We obviously did not pack formal black tie worthy attire in the RV so we had some prepping to do!

Awards Dinner Evening

Amy and I arrived the morning of the event and quickly checked into our hotel and started preparing for the Alumni Awards Dinner. I was once again out of my league sitting next to other awardees which included the current CEO of Revlon as well as the CEO and founder of the disability awareness group called Kanchi. A brief 5 minute highlight video is included below:
Click picture to view highlights

Click picture to view highlights

It turned out to be a beautiful evening in Ireland with sunny skies and the excitement of the evening was the perfect adrenaline rush we required to counter our jet lagged bodies!

UCD Student of the Year Award

UCD Student of the Year Award

It was a surreal feeling living out of an RV in the US one minute and then in a tuxedo in Ireland the next! We sat down at our table and began meeting the other award winners and attendees.
UCD Business Alumni Awards 2013

UCD Business Alumni Awards 2013

The Dean provided an introduction to the crowd of 400+  and before I knew it my name was called out. Below is a video clip of my brief acceptance speech:
UCD acceptance speech

Click on the picture above to view video

Family Fun

Although we would be in Ireland for only a weekend it would be filled with lasting memories. The day after the award dinner we started the process of catching up with our Irish friends and even some family members who made their way over for the occasion.

Lunch in Howth, Ireland

Lunch in Howth, Ireland

Every Nation Dublin

We also made sure to attend Sunday service at Every Nation Dublin. This was our home church during the MBA and they allowed us to provide a Playing Grownup announcement during the service. Afterwards, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch with our friends.

Sunday lunch crew

Sunday lunch crew

Expecting Greater Things

This trip also allowed us to share the good news that Amy and I are expecting our first baby! We made sure to seek the advice from some of my old MBA classmates who had just become proud first time dads!

Old classmates, new dads!

Old classmates, new dads!

Farewell Irish MBA Blog

Once again we say good-bye on the Irish MBA blog. It has been a wonderful vessel to reflect on the adventures of uprooting ourselves as a young married couple in North Carolina to pursue a masters in Dublin. Thank you to our family, friends, and followers who cheered us on along this journey! We want to leave you with a quote from the Bible as you embark on your own Irish MBA adventure:

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” Ephesians 1:11

Please feel free to share how you too may be finding your overall purpose in God’s hands. Amy and I along with our soon to be little girl would love to pray for and with you in your next steps. Farewell!

Farewell from the Thomas family!

Farewell from the Thomas family!

Posted by: Justin and Amy | February 24, 2013

Dec: Graduation and the Final Post

The Final Post

This blog was started to document our experiences of pursuing an MBA in Ireland. As we reflect on the year and a half abroad and the 77 total blogs, we realize we gained much more than a degree. Amy and I were immensely blessed throughout the process of moving from our North Carolina home in August 2011 to eventually graduation ceremony in Ireland in December 2012. Enjoy this final entry!


The best part of graduation was the fact that my Mom was able to join Amy and me for my graduation ceremony in Ireland.

Departing for Graduation!

Departing for Graduation!

The graduation ceremony included the typical gowns but also presented some unique features such as a good portion of the talk being in Latin! I successfully made it across stage and collected my MBA degree that was also written in Latin.

Celebrating with Degree in Hand!

Celebrating with Degree in Hand!

This week long trip also allowed Amy and me to “show off” our favorite Irish spots to Mom that ranged from Stephen’s Green, Blackrock Park, Stag’s Head pub, and many more sites around Dublin.

Showing off the UCD campus to Mom

Showing off the UCD campus to Mom

The real fun was renting a car and driving to Donegal which is clear on the North West corner of the island for a road trip! One of the highlights was going to one of the largest cliffs in all of Europe called the Slieve League Cliffs.

Highest Cliffs in Ireland!

Highest Cliffs in Ireland!

However if you ask Mom her memory from the trip the castle stay would certainly make it near the top. The great part of this adventure was that they gave us a free room upgrade which we gladly accepted and stayed like true royalty!

Treating Mom and Amy like the royalty they are

Treating Mom and Amy like the royalty they are

On our final night we went to our favorite restaurant, Paulie’s Pizza where the manager greeted Amy and me and remembered us from all of our date nights we had at this small pizzeria.

Final Pizza Dinner at Paulies!

Final Pizza Dinner at Paulies!

We realized that we had not seen live music in a pub this trip, so after dinner we walked to Baggott Street and although it was only Tuesday quickly found what we were looking for our final night. Our trip concluded singing John Denver’s “West Virginia” which was too perfect just like our Irish MBA experience!

Music Night in Dublin

Music Night in Dublin

Our Next Adventure

Amy and I flew back to Virginia with Mom as we started our next adventure post-graduation to start a non-profit called Playing Grownup. The vision is to equip college students for life after graduation by providing on campus seminars. To achieve this goal we have purchased an RV and will be traveling around the USA this semester meeting and talking with students to help encourage and equip students in their finances and relationships. We look forward to giving back after receiving so much. Follow us on this next journey on our new blog here and at

Leave a final comment and let us know your favorite blog from IrishMBA! Thank you friends and family for all your support over the last couple of years to make this dream a reality!

Playing Grownup Begins!

Playing Grownup Begins!

Posted by: Justin and Amy | February 14, 2013

Oct-Nov: South African Memories

South African Memories

Amy and I were in South Africa for a total of seven weeks and were blessed to have experienced the best of its people, food, wine, shopping, and pure natural beauty. Here is our attempt at sharing these memories while encouraging our blog readers to consider visiting Africa themselves! The MBA taught me “lots of do’s and don’t”  so here is our Top 5 Memories!

Welcome to South Africa!

Welcome to South Africa!

Top 5 Things to Do in South Africa

1. Explore South Africa Until You Get Sick: Whale Watching Story

This recommendation probably needs some explaining. What I mean is try new things and soak in the culture. South Africa offers almost 2,000 miles of coastline and there is much to see on land but most people forget about the adventures by boat. I wish I had. It was the annual whale watching season so one day Amy and I decided to travel with Amy’s Mom and Godmother to the best area to view them from land in the small town of Hermanus. After viewing them from afar we decided to buy tickets for a whale watching boating experience.

This was the closest I got to whale watching

This was the closest I got to whale watching

I quickly discovered that riding a pontoon boat on a lake in Virginia was a much different experience than the fierce  African ocean waters. The whale watching boat was filled with a couple hundred passengers  standing inside and out viewing the spectacular whales within mere feet of our ship. I however, was clutching a rail looking straight ahead in the distance praying to God with my remaining strength that my sea sickened body would survive the remaining 2.5 hours of this trip. Amy took great care of me  but could not resist taking the picture above. So I say with experience go venture out into the wild world of South Africa until you get sick or better yet right up to the point of sickness!

2. Visit South African Vineyards: find a good excuse like “MBA school research”

Similar to how there was a pub on every corner in Ireland, South Africa seemed to have a vineyard at every field pasture. As a wine novice I struggled to appreciate the complexity difference between the local Pinotage red versus the Bordeux Blend. I was more impressed with how so many wineries could survive and succeed in this highly concentrated market. Didn’t Porters 5 Forces of competitive industry business theory mean this was not possible? I used this question as an excuse to visit the different wineries to see how they differentiated themselves…one glass at a time.


Oldest Winery Founded in 1685

3. Climb Table Mountain: Story of motivation

Table Mountain is the iconic backdrop of the city of Cape Town. It’s simply stunning and they have a tourist friendly cable lift that goes to the top. Amy and I did this, twice actually, and enjoyed both trips with various friends and family that visited.

Cable car going to Table Mountain

Cable car going to Table Mountain

However I would highly recommend hiking up to the top, sweating like crazy, thinking that you’ll never make it, and you’ll then appreciate the summit much more. I somehow convinced Amy and our friend visiting from the States that this was a good idea. Fifteen minutes into our hike I found myself trying to remember all those Organizational Behavior articles from class on how to motivate others. Somehow my stories on case studies and word games helped and after two and a half hours we arrived to the top for some magnificent views!

Celebrating making it to the top of Table Mtn

Celebrating making it to the top of Table Mtn

4. Shop Till you Drop: How to develop your negotiation skills

It was perfect living in South Africa while taking a negotiations class. I learned how that we all have a dominant style and that mine was “accommodating” where the long term relationship is valued desired outcomes. This is great when negotiating minor deals with strategic long term partners but absolutely horrendous when the situation and negotiation outcome is critical to my needs! The street vendors and shops provided plenty of opportunity for me to realize sometimes you need to change your dominate negotiation style to your specific objectives. Amy benefited from all this with a new ring and I enjoyed practicing away.

Street Vendor Booths

Street Vendor Booths

5. Get into the wild: Go on a Safari!

After the whale watching debacle described earlier I was ready to view animals on land and this was a treat. From the primates at the Monkeyland park, to elephants at the Knaysna Sanctuary our safari experiences were some of the most memorable moments of South Africa. We also fed ostriches (much scarier in person) and walked alongside penguins it was Africa at its finest. Go ahead and splurge on a Safari it’s well worth the experience to ride in a Jeep as the sun rises searching for lions and rhinos through the African plains!

Safari Jeep Ride

Safari Jeep Ride

I would also highly recommend having friend connections in South Africa! We were immensely blessed by having met many South Africans in Ireland that connected us with their families during our time here. There is nothing better than going over to a warm house for some afternoon tea with new friends and staying over for a visit! So get planing your own trip to South Africa to make your own top 5 list! To view more pictures of our time in South Africa please click here.

Posted by: Justin and Amy | January 26, 2013

Oct 17: London Award Ceremony

Student of the Year Finalist

I believe that we are blessed in order to be a blessing to others (2 Corinthians 9:8-12). I received a tremendous blessing during my studies when I learned that I had been selected as one of four finalist for the MBA Student of the Year Award by the Association of MBA’s. Many of my classmates in Ireland, let alone across all of Europe, were much more deserving of this recognition. For instance, I had a classmate that could do long division in his head faster than I could type the equation into excel. Then there was another that could solve case study questions faster than I could even complete a Google search. Needless to say I was truly honored to represent the University College Dublin’s Michael Smurfit MBA program as the first finalist for this European award by the Association of MBAs.

Association of MBAs Sponsored the Award

Association of MBAs Sponsored the Award

As a finalist I was flown from Cape Town to London for a Gala Dinner award ceremony. I was guaranteed a financial prize and trophy and told to wear a tuxedo and prepare a speech in case I won the overall award. It all felt so unreal.  There I was in the middle of my exchange classes in Cape Town running around trying to find a tuxedo to rent and travel almost 20 hours to London for just one night! Unfortunately Amy was not able to attend so I kept the trip short and promised lots of pictures including the shot below at the dinner with other members from my Irish MBA:

Justin Thomas (FT MBA 2012) Finalist AMBA Student of the Year, Cathal Brady (EMBA 2004) Winner AMBA Entrepreneurial Venture Award 2012, Dr. Brian McGrath UCD MBA Academic Director, Michael McDonnell MBA Programme Manager

Justin Thomas (FT MBA 2012) Finalist AMBA Student of the Year, Cathal Brady (EMBA 2004) Winner AMBA Entrepreneurial Venture Award 2012, Dr. Brian McGrath UCD MBA Academic Director, Michael McDonnell MBA Programme Manager

To end any suspense, I did not win the overall award-heck I was lucky to be part of that crowd! There was one of the most powerful business women in Romania, an awarded entrepreneurial from London, and the overall winner from Sudan who was a practicing veterinarian. After the results were announced we celebrated by screaming at the camera (per the photographers prompting) and I may have gone too far in my excitement…

Left to Right: Me, Husameldin Elnasri (winner), Ramona Pergel, Kriss Akabusi (Guest Speaker), and Benedict Carandang

Left to Right: Me, Husameldin Elnasri (winner), Ramona Pergel, Kriss Akabusi (Guest Speaker), and Benedict Carandang

As I returned back to my room I reflected on the event and the past year. I recalled having to take the entry examination twice just to get an acceptable grade for entry into the UCD MBA program in Ireland. It was certainly not my natural abilities that lead to this recognition but rather a faith in something and someone greater than myself with my Christian faith. What a memory and experience I will always remember and I smiled all the way back to Cape Town to rejoin Amy.

Videos/Pictures from Event

Just prior to the award ceremony I was interviewed on my reflections of the MBA. You can view this video here. For those wanting to read more you can check on one of my MBA program directors wrote a blog on the college website here and the official AMBA page here.

Posted by: Justin and Amy | January 20, 2013

Oct 8: South Africa Classes Begin

South Africa

We settled into South Africa for the first couple of weeks quite nicely with beautiful drives, winery visits, and shopping; but alas it was time to get back to business with classes. The purpose of us being in Africa was for me to complete my MBA by taking two elective courses at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. We took full advantage of arriving early by visiting the campus and meeting some of the staff. I enrolled in a Negotiations and Social Innovation course that I assumed would make me the perfect combination of Donald Trump’s ruthless deal making with Bill Gates philanthropic global impact, however I later learned developing these skills took more than two weeks in an MBA classroom…

University Cape Town MBA Program

University Cape Town MBA Program

I was appreciative of the opportunity to study here as it was ranked the top MBA in Africa and allowed me to get out of the comfort of Ireland and stretch me further by dealing with new professors, classmates, and culture. Speaking of getting out of one’s comfort zone, as soon as we stepped into the Cape Town building on our initial tour it felt oddly different. I later learned that the building had been a jail with thick concrete walls and old cells turned into study areas! Amy felt it as soon as we stepped down the long hallways pictured below but I was still all smiles.

The Old Jailhouse Turned MBA Facility!

The Old Jailhouse Turned MBA Facility!

It would be a condensed two week semester with classes every day but I was ready to get back into the swing of things. I would be trading in my former 10 minute walk to campus in Ireland with a new 50 minutes commute in my rented mid-sized sedan that allowed me to practice driving a stick on the other side of the road. We were off on another adventure and while I was back to school Amy played host to her Mom and Godmother who had traveled from the USA to visit and take part in the new adventure. South Africa would prove to be a beautiful country that we shared with family and old friends while being blessed to make new ones during our seven week stay.

Justin and Amy Visiting Campus Before Classes

Justin and Amy Visiting Campus Before Classes

Posted by: Justin and Amy | December 23, 2012

Sep 15-18: Dublin Farewell


We flew out of Paris to Dublin to exchange our 35 day backpacking gear for proper luggage. The plan was to gather all of our luggage, books and keepsakes from Ireland and move to South Africa for my final MBA course electives.  We were blessed once again by having fantastic support from our friends in Dublin, especially Johann and Andrea who picked us up from the airport and provided us a place to stay while we completed our final errands in Ireland.

Back in Dublin Relaxing

Back in Dublin Relaxing

One of my favorite errand memories was when we remembered we had left a framed picture in our old apartment. We decided to try and ask for it back from the new tenants and I nominated Amy to take the lead on this one. I waited anxiously in the car as Amy knocked on the door and explained the situation to the two new girls who had moved in to our former residence. Before I knew it Amy came out holding our old picture!

Picture Rescue Mission Successful!

Picture Rescue Mission Successful!

We attended church in Dublin where the pastors prayed and blessed us on our next journey. It was moving having the support of the church as we ended our time in Dublin to begin our new adventure in South Africa.  From the moment my acceptance letter came to this moment of the pastors in Ireland praying for us, we were confident Ireland was the right place for us. We felt the same level of excitement as we prepared to spend the next 7 weeks in South Africa.

A Year's Worth of Luggage

Packing for South Africa!

PS- For those viewing this post online at the featured image at the top is a view of the Barney Castle grounds. This is where the famous stone that you can kiss (the Blarney Stone) to receive the gift of gab! As seen from many of my long winded blogs I kissed the stone!

Kissing the Blarney Stone!

Kissing the Blarney Stone!


Posted by: Justin and Amy | December 19, 2012

Sep 12-14: Paris


Why has it taken so long to write this blog? Perhaps it was due to the fact it was the final Europe backpacking stop and we didn’t want it to end or maybe it was due to all the adventures after this one was complete! Regardless, it was fun remembering our time in Paris and we made up for the lost time by adding in plenty of pictures. We hope you enjoy sharing in the experience.

Day 33

Believe it or not sleeping on a train all night is not a luxurious experience. Especially if you elect not to purchase a bed and try to sleep in a chair like Amy and I did for our final backpacking destination. As the overnight train from Barcelona to Paris slowed to a stop we stretched our sore bodies out of the chairs and into the city of love while feeling slightly grumpy from the lack of sleep!

Seat/bed to Paris!

Seat/bed to Paris!

We cheered up when we successfully located our budget friendly hotel using the metro. After checking into our 1950s building we immediately took a power nap. Feeling rested we located a highly acclaimed crepe restaurant and enjoyed an authentic French dining experience. It was just what our travel wearied bodies needed to begin a walking tour of the city.

First French Crepe!

First French Crepe!

Along the way on our walking tour I realized it was much cooler in Paris than I had anticipated. My trusty shorts that guided me through the hot month of August now needed an upgrade so we made a quick detour and purchased a new pair of jeans. Amy was not about to be left out of the Paris shopping experience so she joined the party and selected a locally made perfume.

Perfume for Amy

Perfume for Amy

We then started our walk at the famous Notre Dame cathedral and immediately felt the unique atmosphere of Paris all around us. We walked all around the city from the cathedral, Holocaust memorial, Ile Saint Louis island and the oldest stain glass in Paris at the Sainte Chapelle church.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

We relaxed along the canal with a French bottle of wine and cheese to savor the moment.

This is what you do in Paris!

This is what you do in Paris!

We concluded our first day in the city by dinning next to the Eiffel Tower wetting our appetite to climb to the top later in our stay.

Day 34

We showcased our previous 33 days of backpacking experience this day by conquering 3 museums, 2 crepe shops and an Eiffel tower visit. But before this could all begin we had the adventure of showering in our hotel which included paying 2 Euro a piece for the “privilege” of walking out of our room and down one flight of steps to the one shower that served the hotel guests. Living in Paris backpackers style baby!

Nice Room but no Showers!

Nice Room but no Showers!

Our first stop was the Louvre Museum where we saw all the sculptures and paintings I remembered seeing in school books including of course the famous (but surprisingly small) Mona Lisa.

There's Mona Lisa!

There’s Mona Lisa!

With a hop, skip and a couple of granola bars we then went to the Impressionist Art Museum and enjoyed the Van Gogh and Monet collections like two cultured people should (right?). We then wore in our walking shoes further by going to Rue Cler St. for a crepe stop and enjoyed the sights and smells of the area.

Rue Cler Goodies!

Rue Cler Goodies!

Our final museum just before closing time was the Armoury Museum which housed Napoleon’s Tomb.  This was a great balance from all the art museums.

Next to Napoleon's Tomb

Next to Napoleon’s Tomb

We weren’t done yet as we then capped off the busy day by walking up the Eiffel Tower. We then took an elevator to the top and viewed the entire city over a glass of Champagne just as the sun set.

Champagne at Eiffel Tower

Champagne at Eiffel Tower

Day 35

For our final full day of backpacking we took a train from Paris out to Versailles and were soon overwhelmed with the size and magnitude of the former Marie Antoinette estate. We enjoyed seeing the Hall of Mirrors where the treaty to end WWI was signed.

The Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors

After touring the extravagant inside we had a picnic in the massive outside gardens. We ventured quite a distance, so much so we took  a small cart back up to the estate.

Enjoying the Gardens

Enjoying the Gardens

Eventually we made our way back to Paris. We shopped Parisian style and then met a friend for dinner to celebrate a successful day and trip! The next morning we would be flying back to Dublin to pick up our belongings and say good-bye to our friends before the next adventure would begin. What a trip!

Final Dinner in Paris

Final Dinner in Paris

We have many more pictures of our wonderful stop in Paris. Click here to view more pictures from our final backpacking stop.

Posted by: Justin and Amy | November 8, 2012

Sep 8-12: Barcelona

“Barcelona or Bust”

Another lesson in the MBA has been to have a clear vision for your team. Something for the troops to rally around and embrace as its mission. Just like a politician comes up with a catch phrase for supporters to shout, Amy and I choose “Barcelona or Bust” for our motto during this leg of the backpacking journey around Europe. To see how we did read on!

Day 29

As we prepared to leave Lourmarin for Barcelona we knew it was going to be another challenging travel day. I felt that in order to adequately prepare for this long day of travel I needed some solid food from the French that I can rely on…. so I ordered a Big Mac combo meal with of course French fries at the local McDonalds. It was just the comfort food I needed!

French Comfort Food

Barcelona or Bust became truly became our travel motto on Day 29 as we needed to take 1 taxi, 2 buses, and 4 trains before eventually arriving at our destination!

Amy looked much better than me after 4 trains…

I must admit arriving after dark in a new and large city known for pick-pocketers and in search of downtown hostel was somewhat stressful.  We were blessed to meet an elderly woman on the train who asked where we were going and yelled “follow me” as we departed from our train. It must have been a great (and humbling) scene with this old lady confidently leading the way down dark streets through the city as two scared Americans followed behind. I love God’s irony.

We arrived at our hostel and realized why it was a budget friendly stay. There was an unwritten condition that all tenants needed to be fit enough to climb mountains because the rooms were positioned on top of a shopping center with steep stairs seen below.

Stair climb to hostel

After conquering the summit we were welcomed be a Cantonese speaking receptionist who did not understand our English and did not have our reservation in his book. Oops. Thankfully after showing him our ipod touch with our online reservation confirmation (but more importantly cash) he checked us into our room and we headed out for our first tapas. Barcelona or bust baby!

Tapas celebratory meal

Day 30

We literally soaked in the sites on Day 30 from start to finish from the drinks, sun, and even the water. We started by discovering a deliciously fresh juice and breakfast bar around the corner from our hostel- I was loving Barcelona already. With is renewed strength we walked the famous Ramblas street enjoying the sites and sounds of the city.

Walking the Ramblas

The street ended by the water so we decided to take a break from walking and hopped on a tour of the city bay via boat. The sun was out and we relaxed in front exposing our white Irish skin to the Vitamin D of mother nature.

Barcelona boat cruise

After the boat ride we enjoyed walking around the city viewing cathedrals, museums, and even an Irish Pub! After passing so many by throughout our Europe trip it just seemed right to pause and remember our time in the Emerald Island. As a bonus it was Sunday and they had American Football games on tv for us to enjoy the NFL kick off its season.

We capped off the night by traveling out to Olympic Park and watching the fountain show. Initially we captured pictures from a distance but eventually made our way to the very front to literally get the experience of the fountains splashing on us and our poor camera. But it was worth it.

Barcelona Fountains

Day 31

You can’t leave Barcelona without knowing the name and works of the legendary architect Gaudi. We first visited his unfinished and most famous work, the Sagrada Familia church which became Amy’s favourite cathedral. What he started in the late 19th century is still being worked on today using his original plans and vision.

The Holy Church


We then travelled to Gaudi’s Park called Parc Guell to enjoy more of his work. This is where the Barcelona iconic lizard sculpture resides along with his trademark wavy building designs.

Amy and the lizard!


It was an incredible day of appreciating architecture which I thought I would never say. We ended the night with a large Spanish meal to help us plan for our upcoming travel day.

Day 32

We checked out of our hotel with the whole day at our disposal before our night train to Paris left. Feeling cultured from the day before we continued with this new found appreciation for the arts and went to the Picasso museum. Afterwards we ensured that we sampled the sangria and seafood platter. However there was a strange vibe throughout the city with flags waving everywhere.

Cantonese Day


As you may know Spain is in a bit of a crisis with unemployment in the 20+% and budget cuts for many social programs. We soon found ourselves in the middle of “Cantonese Day” where thousands from Barcelona marched waving the Cantonese flag and promoting a free Cantonese State separate from Spain.

Empowered with all this new knowledge we tried to make it to our night train. However wouldn’t you know it the protest/parade was going on right in front of it! Once again we needed help. Through a series of events we were graciously directed to the open train entrance from a local who wished us well on our travels.  We boarded an all night train from Barcelona to Paris on our final stop!

For plenty more pictures of Barcelona click here.

Posted by: Justin and Amy | November 3, 2012

Sep 6-8: Lourmarin

Lourmarin, France

This is a stop full of surprises, challenges and flavors never experienced before on our Europe backpacking trip. Intentions were always good yet the outcomes we sometimes  less than desired. We present to you stop eleven on our 35 day tour in the Provence region of southeastern France in the small community of Lourmarin. It’s a long read but we hope you enjoy the stories!


Day 27

If I learned anything from the MBA it was the need to have goals. Some articles I read referred to them “B.H.A.G.” for big, hairy, audacious goals to motivate your team on achieving greatness. So it was with this in mind, that on Day 27 our objective was to arrive at our hotel in Lourmarin for dinner reservations at 8pm. While this may not sound like the type of MBA stretch goals I described earlier it quickly matured into a full fledged BHAG!

It all started when we arrived at the Provence train station. Our plan was to take a local train or bus to our hotel. This seemed quite reasonable given we had 4 hours to make our dinner date, yet the fun was just beginning.

BHAG: T-minus 4 hours

Train Option

We got off our train and went to the information desk at the small AIX-TGV French train station. We knew we were in trouble when the attendants did not even recognize the town we were trying to reach. Imagine us trying to pronounce “Lourmarin” with an Appalachian twang mixed with a little Irish accent from our travels. Even after pointing to the name on paper they had no idea where it was let alone how to get there. Their recommendation was to travel to the next biggest town. Hmm.

Hotel Call #1

Somewhat frustrated with the lack of assistance from the train info desk we then called the hotel directly. We were fortunately transferred to an English speaking employee who said the last bus of the day had already traveled and there was no more public transportation available to Lourmarin. Oh no.

At that moment Amy and I realized that our travels had “Europeanized” us by always having public transportation options at our disposal. But alas it seemed public transportation had met its match here. The receptionist recommended we take a taxi but that would be very expensive or we could rent a car. Hmmm.

Taxi Disaster

I then attempted to take control of the situation as any MBA future leader of the free world is trained. I offered blind assurance to Amy telling her everything would be ok (just like a C-Suite executive to his soon to be laid-off staff).  I then invited her to take a seat while I investigated the taxi situation (just like a CEO locks themselves in an office to create a strategy they have no idea about and starts Googling).

After a few minutes I came back to Amy and excitedly explained I found a fantastic deal to get us to our hotel for only 18 Euro and to follow me. Perplexed, Amy followed but felt something was off and she would soon be justified. To make a long blog even longer allow me to explain what happened next. By the time we had driven out of the train station parking lot in our taxi the meter was already in the double digit costs. I asked the driver if the deal was still the 18 Euro as we agreed. He then smiled, nodded and said “Oui”. However the cost kept rising quickly and I then wrote down “18” on a piece of paper and showed the driver. I then discovered that the French accent makes “80” Euro sound just like the number 18 and we were about to pay the former rather than the latter. We attempted to explain to the French speaking taxi driver that we could not afford that and to drop us off. Confused, the taxi driver phoned his boss when I then explained the situation and he then informed the driver to take us back to the closest rental car place. 25 Euro later we found ourselves 15 feet from where we started. We took our bags from the taxi driver to try another option. Hmmmm.

Expensive tax ride from train station to car rentals

Rental Car Plea

We struggled to laugh about the taxi adventure we had just had and told each other driving a car may be a better option anyway. The taxi driver had dropped us off at the car rental booths by the train station so we began looking at all the options and decided to work our way left to right to see what the best deal would be for our journey. Our plan was to negotiate the best price, but one by one Avis, Budget, Enterprise and more than all half a dozen rental stores were plum out of cars. At this point we headed back into the train station. Hmmmmm.

Hotel Call #2

Our bags thudded back on the original train station tile where we stared (maybe even glared) at one another as we considered our next option. Out of ideas, I called the hotel back in desperation. I removed all prideful pretenses and said that we were out of options and asked if our English speaking receptionist friend or anyone else from the hotel could pick us up. Now imagine this requests. Two English speaking backpackers who are complete strangers and have not planned properly need a ride and are asking you to leave the front desk or call your friends and family to pick them up. As expected, the answer was a polite no. However she did suggest another option that we had not yet attempted. Hmmmmmm.

BHAG T-minus 2.5 hours

We had burnt through an hour and a half and gone literally nowhere. We were still sitting in the same train station that brought us into Provence. It was time to go somewhere with only 2.5 hours until our dinner reservation!

Bus #1

Based on the hotel receptionists recommendation we traveled  on a local bus from the train station into the main station. Here we worked with the information booth trying to see which bus option would take us as close to Lourmarin as possible. We then waited but for the first time we were making meaningful progress.

French Bus

Bus #2

The second bus took us to a random French town in the middle of nowhere. However, it must have been a place for workers in and out of the main city to commute daily as it was a direct bus route that took about an hour. We then arrived at a small train station and considered our next options hoping to keep this momentum.


We then walked into this small train station and thought why not see if they went to Lourmarin. The gentlemen behind the counter did not even know where this village was! We started to get concerned. Hmmmmmm.

Hotel Call #3

We phoned our receptionist friend back and informed here of our location. She said we were not close but getting closer! The new plan was for our receptionist friend to call a taxi on our behalf and to just wait. So we anxiously awaited our second French taxi experience.

BHAG T-minus 1 hour

We were sitting waiting on our taxi when we arrived at only one hour until our dinner reservation. This had all the makings of a truly big, hair, and audacious goal. Although my MBA professors would have been proud Amy and I were ready for this goal to be over.

Waiting for Taxi

Taxi Drive #2

Shortly after, we were back in a taxi and this time we were not getting out. We showed the driver our hotel address and sat back with no idea how long it would take or the cost. It did not matter!  The driver tried to talk with us, but quickly realized we did not speak French and refused to acknowledged us for the rest of the trip. We awkwardly sat in silence but enjoyed the views travelling through the Provence countryside of France.

 BGAH T-minus 4 minutes


We did it! We stepped into the hotel lobby just before 8pm and proudly checked-in with our English speaking receptionist friend making fun of us for our travel disasters. We rescheduled our dinner to a later time since it was at the hotel itself and dressed up to enjoy a celebratory dinner! You may be asking why did we have to make it to this hotel and dinner anyway? Well we had purchased an online coupon to stay at this hotel with dinner included for a fantastic deal. It was a luxurious stop for us and we desperately wanted to take advantage of the deal.

Hotel Arrival


Funny enough the dinner almost was the end of Amy. You would think after all the challenges from the journey dinner would be the icing on the cake. Since our coupon included dinner I once again employed my return on investment MBA thinking cap and convinced Amy that we should therefore order the most expensive appetizer to maximize profit. It did not matter to me that the menu and restaurant staff only spoke French most expensive is better right?

Our appetizer came out and we thought it was a block of mature cheese. Amy took the first big bite and gagged. We later realized that we had ordered frague-duck liver pate. This was unexpected. What proceeded to happen was out of an episode of Mr Bean where I attempted to do what he did (click here) and stuff away the pate as quickly as possible as to not offend the restaurant staff.

Fortunately the delicious creme-brulee saved the meal and we celebrated the day’s adventures.

Delicious Creme-Brulee

Day 28

If you are still reading this epic blog congratulations! You have entered into the elite VIP IrishMBA blog readers club. Your reward is the pictures below with much less description.

We woke up to Day 28 with a beautiful sunrise in Lourmarin and witnessed that we had stumbled upon a hidden gem. There was a town-wide market outside already in progress with everything from French cheeses, fish, jewelry, and clothing items.

One of many market booths

Afterwards we walked to a nearby winery and vineyard. The attendant allowed us to take a couple glasses with our bottle of newly purchased French Rose wine and directed us to a nice picnic location under the bridge. We relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Relaxing in Lourmarin

We capped off the night with an outdoor cafe with great food and scenery. We strolled around the corner after dinner and watched the locals duke it out with an intense game of bocce-ball.

Day 29

Before we knew it our time in the Provence region was over and the adventure of travelling to the next city was upon us. We enjoyed our stay in Lourmarin and invite you to look at more pictures here.

Posted by: Justin and Amy | October 24, 2012

Sep 5-6: Nice, France


Of all the cities we explored during this trip Nice was the most polarizing. We loved it and felt culturally enriched while at other times felt uneasy walking the commercial strip littered with trash and beggars. We saw the most beautiful sunset of our lives here while later viewing some unsavory characters by the train station.  Overall it was a fun and beautiful one night stop into Nice.

During our travels Amy and I kept a journal which we filled out each night. This has served as the underlying for many of these blog posts. However for this post we have decided to enter Amy’s journal entry for a change- enjoy!

Day 26: Amy’s Journal Entry

“All travel days have been big days and this was no exception. After we said good-bye to our Italian family hosts we got on our first train of the day to Le Spezia. The info desk was very helpful there so we felt good about our game plan to take 3 more trains and arrive in Nice around 4pm.

The first melt-down from me (Amy) was when Justin accidentally got off at the wrong stop. It was easily solved as another train came in 5 minutes.

Accidental train ride required extra food

Once we arrived in Nice we went straight to a hostel recommended by Rick Steves (our travel guide).This is melt-down number 2…at first we thought we would save 15 Euro and stay with 6 other people for the night. When we looked at the room Justin quickly agreed that it was worth the extra money to have a room on our own. However the extra money only got us our own place…it did not include a clean feel good space!

Room of “luxury”

We didn’t spend much time there and went straight out to find food. This is where meltdown number 3 happened….we got lost and I was starving! Finally we found the recommended place we were searching for and had some yummy local food and drink. All was right again.

Food that helped save the day

We then enjoyed a walk by the French Riviera beach where we perfectly timed it to enjoy the sunset- one of the best I have ever seen! From there we continued to explore the coast and the old town. The city was alive as we stumbled on a huge orchestra playing classical music for a free outdoor concert.

Sunset in France

We eventually made our way to get ice-cream and enjoyed the random combination of avocado and mango flavors. The tram ride home to our hostel was a perfect topper to a very busy day! To see more pictures from Nice click here.

Older Posts »