Ireland – 10 Reasons It’s Perfect for New Travelers

If you’re new to traveling or looking for a first adventure to embark on abroad, I highly recommend visiting Ireland – this especially goes for my American friends! I like to think I’m pretty well travelled (even though there’s so much more to see!) and yet I have so many friends back home who have never been on an airplane, never left the country (or have only made a quick 30 minute hop over the border to Niagara Falls). I completely understand that traveling is not part of everyone’s upbringing and that financially it is not in everyone’s budget. But if you are someone who is dying to go abroad and start adventuring into new countries, then Ireland is a perfect place to begin! I was amazed and overwhelmed at how easy it was to travel around, I’ve gotten used to some more complicated places so it was wonderful to kick back and relax and just take everything in.

So here are my reasons for why Ireland is perfect for someone new to traveling:

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1. Everyone speaks English

When people ask me about my travels, one of their biggest concerns is communicating with locals. I get asked all the time things like: How do you order food? How do you find where the bathroom is? How do you ask where you’re going? Sure, this can be tricky in small villages in non-English speaking countries.  (But even then, you can always point and use hand gestures to figure things out!) But in Ireland this is hardly a problem and every major tourist area is full of English speakers as well as people from all over the world. Signs, traffic symbols, maps, etc. are all readable and recognizable, making it incredibly easy.

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2. Tourists are so Welcome

I have definitely been to some parts of the world where I’ve felt less than welcomed by locals, although most people in the world are proud of their culture and country and are happy people want to visit their home. Ireland is full of such friendly people and there are tons of tourists everywhere, making them used to travelers of all kinds and prepared to handle them. For example, in Dublin, there are reminders on every major corner of which direction to look when crossing the street so pedestrians don’t forget that drivers are coming from opposite directions than most people are used to. People are very willing to help, answer questions, and tell you about the country. They have maps everywhere. Cities and large towns have signs pointing in directions of tourist attractions and sites so even if you get lost it’s easy to get back on track.

3. Awesome Transportation Options

Ireland has all kinds of transportation options for any kind of tourist. I’m not sure I would recommend driving yourself around Ireland if you are not used to manual cars, small European roads, or driving on the left. But if you’re up for a challenge then you can rent a car and drive all over the country (you may be left with white knuckles though). I know I am not equipped to drive there, but it was no problem because we still went to many parts of the country during our short trip. If you like to walk, Dublin and many of the smaller towns are completely walkable and it’s definitely excellent exercise. If you’re more of a car person but don’t want to drive, then there are taxis all over the cities. The buses in Dublin are incredible because they are everywhere, totally accessible for tourists, and are quick and easy. They have options to hop on and off certain buses throughout a day if you want to get quickly around many parts of the city, buses going straight to and from the airport for much less cost than a taxi, buses to sightsee if walking isn’t your thing. And they have trains that are super comfortable, pretty timely, and easy to figure out how to get tickets and where to go (unlike some other European cities).

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4. Fantastic Tour Options

If you’re like us and you want to see outside of Dublin, but have no idea where to start, check out a tour! We realized we weren’t up for driving, but we wanted to see more of the country and get a better sense for other parts of this beautiful country. We did a lot of research of tours that leave right from Dublin and take you all over the country. Many of these tours take up the entire day, but are completely worth it! Every tourist I talked to who had tried a day tour absolutely loved it. They are also very affordable for how much you can do and see.

5. Beautiful Nature

Ireland is famous for being full of green landscapes, but actually going there and seeing the beauty of this country is just breathtaking. The Cliffs of Moher, the Wicklow Mountains, Burren National Park, all of the vast coasts, and the green rolling hills and farmland around the country are spectacular. There are fewer and fewer places left in the world where you can see nothing but nature for miles, but in Ireland there is more than enough of that. It’s hard to describe in words how phenomenal the views are. It is perfect for hikers! If you love to get awesome photos, this is definitely the country to visit.

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6. The History

For those of you who are history buffs, Ireland is full of historical places to visit. Just driving around, you will see old stone buildings all over. Ireland was discovered thousands of years ago and you can see that for yourself just from driving around looking at different places. Walking around Dublin, there are monuments, statues, castles, and old buildings to visit on every corner. I highly recommend stopping and looking at signs to read about what happened on that corner a hundred years ago, or how old that church you’re passing by is. The stories this land holds of people who had suffered and fought for liberties for generations and of people who made their own success out of small resources around them, and how the environment has changed or remained protected over hundreds of years. There are endless amounts of things to learn and even if you know nothing about Irish history, you’ll discover so much just from being there.

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7. The Weather

Someone may laugh when I say the weather makes it worth the visit since Ireland isn’t known for the best weather. If you’re all about the beach and catching rays, then maybe this isn’t the place to go. But I found it very refreshing to get away from the heat and direct sun and just relax in regular clothes. I’ve travelled other parts of Europe in the Summer and the heat can be exhausting and even painful at times. In Ireland there’s no concern for sunburn or heat exhaustion. Its cool, breezy, and yeah sometimes there’s some rain. If you pack a raincoat, it’s no problem. And like some locals told us, the weather changes every five minutes, so even if it starts pouring, it may be sunny within minutes. If you are someone who likes a cooler temperature, then Ireland should be high on your list!

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8. Delicious Food and Excellent Shopping

Ireland has some great restaurants and shops! If you love fish and chips, you’ll be happy to find some in pretty much every restaurant or pub around. They have excellent dinner options with tons of meat dishes. The seafood around the coast is amazing and fresh. In Dublin, you can find any kind of cuisine you feel like. Walking by restaurants, everywhere smelled so good it was hard to decide where to choose to go. And they have yummy desserts, bakeries, and ice cream places all over the place. And there are so many stores around that there’s plenty to buy everywhere!

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9. The Beer and Whiskey

For anyone who loves to try new beers, explore a brewery or distillery, or just hang out in a pub for the night, then I think there are few places better than Ireland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pubs and bars in one city like I did in Dublin. You can check out the Guinness Storehouse, it’s definitely a popular attraction for tourists and the Jameson Distillery is definitely a common choice. There are even museums dedicated to these gems. Many tourists love to go to a pub, listen to live music, and have a good time. It’s a great way to end the evening.

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10. Endless Attractions

Whatever kind of traveller you are, I guarantee there is something in Ireland for you. There are all kinds of museums, zoos, parks, excellent hiking locations, historical sites, castles, libraries, big cities and small towns, and plenty to do or see. There are tons of stores so shopping is awesome. After heading back to the airport, I left only wishing for more time. There is enough to do or see to make a trip for two weeks filled, but you can also easily see plenty and enjoy just a few days. You can travel in style or find cheap options to get around. So any kind of traveler will find something in this wonderful country!

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Exploring Barcelona

I was so excited to wake up in Barcelona and have a full day to see the city. We started the day with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. I couldn’t believe how many options they had – they know how to accommodate to people from all around the world.

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It was spectacular to see all of the beautiful buildings, fountains, and sights along the streets. The weather was perfect, which made the day even better. People were out and about all around us, but because of the winter, it wasn’t too crowded anywhere. This made it perfect! It was so nice to see people biking and walking for transportation.

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We started walking down La Rambla, a central street in the city full of shops, restaurants, and history. It stretches all the way to the Balearic Sea. We walked along this main street, but also made sure to check out side streets around the area.

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We stopped in the famous Liceu Opera House just to take a quick look.

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And looked at the pavement mosaic designed by the famous artist Joan Miró who is known for Modern Art, Surrealism, and Dadaism. His style can easily be seen in this colorful mosaic.

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We also found our way to the huge indoor market nearby. I always love to look at all the different foods and items markets around the world have to offer. I was amazed with this market and didn’t want to stop looking at all the interesting foods. Just check out some of these photos

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We continued our walk towards the harbor. My dad even made a friend!

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So we finally made it to the harbor after plenty of walking and beautiful sights, and we weren’t disappointed!

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After taking in the fantastic views from the harbor, we took the metro to get closer to the hotel. We had hoped to find lunch pretty quickly, but as what happens when traveling, it took longer than expected. We walked down one street and didn’t find a restaurant, so we tried another street with less luck, and then kept going on this way for a while. But these things happen and eventually we found the perfect place. And on the way we stumbled upon this

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After lunch, we took a little break at the hotel. From my window I could see a school and all the kids were having recess on the roof. I work with kids at home and I thought these children were adorable

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After a quick but delicious dinner, we headed to see a guitar performance. My mom is a professional guitarist so she was very excited. We walked to a local church. When we arrived, they told us that the church was taking in homeless people for the night to keep them warm because the temperature dropped so much that evening. There were many homeless people in the streets in Barcelona, so it was nice to see people helping them and taking care of them. They could hear the guitar performance because they were clapping from downstairs, so it was great knowing they could enjoy it too. The performance was very intimate and small, but extremely impressive. Even if you knew nothing about music, you could appreciate the skill and talent of this duet. It was a really amazing experience.

 

It was a wonderful day full of incredible experiences, it’s almost hard to believe we saw and did so much in just one day. That’s how traveling should be though – unbelievably great and special!

Barcelona Bound

After a quick visit to Sweden, it was time to head to Spain! It’s always exciting to travel somewhere new and I couldn’t wait to experience everything Barcelona has to offer.

In the airport in Copenhagen, we arrived to our gate and a famous Swedish soccer team quickly took over the area. They were on their way to Barcelona to compete. People were taking photos with them and getting autographs. The pilot made a special welcome announcement to this team.

 

We had a smooth and relatively quick flight with Norwegian Airlines. I was exhausted after a lengthy trip getting to Sweden that was full of delays and a lost suitcase with everything I needed. I had to resort to buying clothes and necessities at the grocery store once I arrived. But it all worked out in the end because I got my suitcase a few days later when we arrived to Copenhagen airport before Barcelona. I passed out on the plane because I was so tired and woke up as we started getting closer to our arrival. The views as we landed were incredibly beautiful and I was so excited!

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We luckily got all our bags (something you really appreciate after an airline loses yours) and we found a taxi to take us into the city. The drive was about twenty minutes and our driver was speeding through the streets around other cars. The buildings around us looked beautiful and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore this amazing city.

 

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When we pulled up to our hotel, I think my mouth actually dropped because it was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen. And once we got inside, I was not at all disappointed. I felt overwhelmed with how impressive the hotel was. I felt like I was on the Titanic or something. The beauty and class of an old European place like this is in the tiniest of details.

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The view from my hotel room’s tiny balcony was also pretty fantastic!

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Since we were all very hungry and pretty tired, we decided to grab some lunch in the hotel restaurant. Lunch was so delicious, I’m still craving it now more than a week later.

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We decided to rest a little so that the next day we could really go out and see a lot. People in Spain tend to eat and go out a lot later in the evening than many other places in the world. So by the time we were ready to go out, it was normal dinner time around the city. And we had another spectacular meal.

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My first impression of Barcelona so far was that it’s a great city full of beauty and extremely nice people and it definitely has the best food!

History and Sites in Havana, Cuba

We started our second full day in Cuba with breakfast on the hotel balcony and enjoyed the beautiful view again.

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We left to see the Revolution Museum, which was interesting, but majority of the exhibits were in Spanish so it was harder to follow and understand. There were tons of photos, newspaper articles, clothing, and personal belongings from the revolution.

Let me give you a very brief summary of some of Cuba’s interesting history.

Cuba was inhabited by Mesoamerican cultures before Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the land in 1942.

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Cuba then became a Spanish colony. In 1762, the colony was occupied by Great Britain before being traded back to Spain for Florida. The Spanish-American War caused Spain to withdraw from Cuba in 1898 and the United States gave Cuba its independence in 1902 with the requirements of the Platt Agreement. This agreement gave the US the right to intervene militarily in Cuba and have access to Guantanamo Bay. In order to prevent fighting within Cuba and protect American economic interests, the US occupied Cuba for several years in the early 20th century after President Palma’s regime collapsed. During this period, the Cuban Communist Party was developed. American troops withdrew in 1909. Several presidents took over in Cuba over the next three decades. In World War I, Cuba declared war on Imperial Germany on April 7, 1917, just one day after the United States entered the war. Cuba could not send troops to fight in Europe, but played a major role in protecting the West Indies from German U-boat attacks. Cuba suffered an economic collapse due to a significant drop in sugar prices. In 1925, President Machado took over and did not step down after his term ended. The revolution of 1933 undermined the oligarchic state. In 1940, Fulgencio Batista, who was endorsed by Communists, won the election. Ramon Grau was elected in 1944, and with the end of World War II came economic boom. The increased prosperity brought corruption and nepotism within the country and as Cuba gained a reputation as a base for organized crime, Mafia mobsters came to Havana. Batista was re-elecred in 1953. The country did well economically and continued to grow for while, but the middle class became dissatisfied with the administration. In the 1950s, the economy started to collapse as unemployment rates soared and domestic product growth diminished.

In 1953, Fidel Castro and his supporters led an attack near Santiago de Cuba, which failed. Castro was sentenced to prison and after being released he went into exile in Mexico. This is where he met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and began organizing how to overthrow Batista. After many failed attempts to overthrow Batista and after the United States imposed trade restrictions on the Batista administration, the military situation became untenable and Batista fled.

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Castro took over in 1959. The revolution became increasingly radical and many opponents were executed or imprisoned.

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Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island and many went to the United States. Castro opposed the United States’ influence in Cuba and even threatened a war on the US. The relations between Cuba and the US continued to deteriorate rapidly and the dispute escalated. The two countries severed all diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. The Kennedy administration forbid American citizens from traveling to Cuba or conducting any financial or commercial transactions with the country. The Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred in hope of overthrowing the Communist regime, but the invasion failed. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred.

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Throughout the 1970s, tens of thousands of dissidents were held and tortured under inhumane prison conditions and many were executed. Between 1959 and 1993, around 1.2 million Cubans fled for the United States by small boats or rafts, it’s estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 died trying. Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006 and withdrew from public life and officially resigned in 2008. As of 2015, Cuba was one of the few official socialist states in the world. The United States and Cuba have worked on their relationship and now it is legal again for Americans to visit Cuba.

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After our visit to the museum, we took a trip to a Jewish synagogue. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m Jewish and often visit Jewish museums or synagogues during my travels around the world. There are only 3 synagogues left in Havana and only 5 total in Cuba. We looked around the sanctuary and talked to people who work there about it. They told us how the Jewish population went from about 20,000 to 1,300 because of the revolution and events I described above. The Jews fled and emigrated to America, Europe, and Israel.

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After our visit to the synagogue, we walked to a main street and waited for a taxi to drive by to flag down and headed back to the hotel to shop a little and clean up. We packed and got ready because the next day we would leave Havana. We had seen and experienced so much during our short visit in the beautiful city, so it was hard to think about leaving already.

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For dinner, we drove to a nearby restaurant where we had to walk up a long staircase to a beautiful dining room. The service and food were exceptional and we enjoyed a wonderfully delicious meal. I had lobster and chocolate cake. We stayed for a long time relaxing and talking.

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We walked through a big square and looked around.

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We walked to another main road to find a taxi and had to argue about the price because they wanted to charge us $20 for a less than 5 minute drive, just because it was a touristy area. I would never accept that kind of price and if they say they won’t lower the price, just walk away. We walked away and kept walking until they chased after us and brought the offer down to a quarter of the original offer. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we went back upstairs to the balcony to listen to Cuban music before going to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Havana, Cuba

I woke up feeling pretty refreshed, but definitely not ready to get up. It was 3am after a very long day by the time we made it to sleep the night before, so I could’ve easily slept in late. We went upstairs for the hotel breakfast and it was a mediocre buffet. I wasn’t totally sure how the food would be in Cuba. The view from the breakfast table was great.

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After breakfast, we decided to take a walk around and see what there was nearby, but as soon as we got outside, a man offered to take us around and give us a tour in a car. He explained all the places we could go and was very excited to hear that we are Americans because he had lived in the states for a few years. We decided to take him up on his offer. The car was a 1951 Chevrolet convertible and it was awesome.

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We drove around the city and saw many military areas, monuments, beaches, markets, and general city life. It was a great way to get a sense of the city and see so much.

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We stopped in a famous cigar shop that has the world record’s longest cigar displayed on the ceiling.

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We stopped for lunch in a local place for lunch and had amazing lobster like nothing I’d ever had before.

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He drove us to places where there were no other tourists so we could really see how people actually live in Havana. I think it’s always important to break out of the tourist bubble on some level and see different parts of a country.

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We drove out to Ernest Hemingway’s old home and were able to tour the beautiful and very spacious property

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And the views from his home were incredible!

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The drive back was a little long and I had a hard time keeping my eyes open after the five hour tour of the city. Once we made it back, I was happy to clean up and climb into bed for a short nap. Once we got up, we decided to head upstairs for dinner because there was music playing all evening on the balcony. We had a delicious meal and relaxed for a few hours just enjoying the music and watching people dance.

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It was a day filled with excitement. By 11, we headed to the room to relax and get some rest so we were ready for another day of adventure.

Checking Out Cologne, Germany

It was a little sad waking up that day in Croatia – maybe because it was only 4:30am, but also because it was our last full day together on this incredible trip. We had to clean up and finish packing before checking out because a taxi was arriving to pick us up at 5:30am. I always suggest having a taxi come earlier than you need because they are rarely actually on time – especially in other countries! Our taxi did come late, so we were happy we had plenty of time to get to the airport. Turns out the driver had been stopped by police on his way to our hotel – something that is pretty common there. He took us to the airport and was so nice talking to us the entire way. He explained how hard living in Croatia is because of the government, corruption, and the economy. He explained that he worked in Italy for years to get extra money.

When we got to the airport, it was really tiny and our options for passing the time were slim. We had some ice cream for breakfast – super healthy perk of being adults – so we fulfilled our daily ice cream dose.

After checking in and going through the short security line, we found our gate and sat there for what felt like forever. There was one shop and a cafe that sold booze at 6am but no food. There were people sleeping all over the place because it was so early.

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We had had a wonderful time in Croatia and it was every bit as magical as I hoped when we had originally started planning this dream trip. But the time had come to get going and make our way back to Germany.

I passed out on the short plane ride, but Katharina was so excited about the perks of economy plus that she wasn’t able to sleep. I’ve become spoiled with those benefits because I fly so often.

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I did catch some of the views though before we landed!

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So we made it back to Germany and arrived in Cologne or Köln at 9:30am.IMG_4226

To save on some money, we were going to stay with Katharina’s friend, Lena, but unfortunately she wasn’t going to be around until late that afternoon like 4:30pm so we needed to occupy ourselves for a while. We went to the main station to lock up our bags in this pretty sketchy system. Basically we put in money, then two doors open where we put our bags in, then the bags get sucked down underground somewhere and disappear. I’m not going to lie, I feared we wouldn’t be seeing those bags again.

But then we stepped outside and I almost fell over, I was so blown away. There stood the famous giant cathedral and it was unlike anything I’d seen before. This is why I travel – moments like this. Where you find out you can still be surprised and feel something so profound. The cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark – an average of 20,000 people come here each day! The cathedral was built between 1248 and 1880. The towers are 157m or 515ft tall!

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Katharina’s other friend called and was able to meet us for a few hours to hang out, so we decided to go back to the cathedral later in the day since we had so much time. We went to a cafe where we could sit outside and get some food while we waited for her. I felt truly exhausted and worried how I would get through the day. I think suddenly for the first time during the entire trip I began to feel very homesick. I was relieved when Katharina’s friend arrived and was able to show us around so that we could keep moving and make the best of our last day and I could get my mind off missing home. It’s a strange feeling being homesick, it’s one I have not felt often despite my many travels. Because it was also Katharina’s first time in the city, we were able to basically tour all the main sites and walk around all over the place and discover it together.

We walked across the The Hohenzollern Bridge, which is famous for locks being placed all over it. It was built between 1907 and 1911. I couldn’t believe how many locks there were! Katharina’s friend said that they’ve considered having to cut the locks off because it is too heavy.

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Her friend works for the Hyatt so she took us there to take a look at some of the really fancy parts that only VIP customers are able to see – it was beautiful!

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Then we walked along the water of the Rhine and headed back to the other part of town on another bridge.

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The views from there were just as amazing!

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Then came the best part of the day – the ice cream!!! Let’s have a moment to take this in and appreciate the amazingness:

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I think I’ve had dreams about this ice cream since – maybe that’s weird.

Anyways, then we walked around a ton more and slowly made our way back to the cathedral.

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We had a chance to go look inside, which was as spectacular and impressive as the outside!

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Although I am Jewish, I absolutely respect and appreciate other religions – so it was really neat that we could go inside and witness part of a Sunday mass in this breathtaking cathedral.

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I already said it, but even now just looking at the photos – I’m still amazed and blown away by the detail and beauty of this place.

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So this was where we parted with Katharina’s friend and headed into the train station to hang out until her other friend, Lena, was ready for us. I looked at my phone and we had walked over 26,000 steps! It sure was a long day especially with such little sleep.

We waited at the train station for an hour before meeting her friend Lena. We got drinks at a cafe in the station and I managed to fall asleep at the table because I was so so so so tired. We found Lena and then went to retrieve our bags – and of course there were major issues. We waited in line for 20 minutes to have the machine break down as we were second to next in line. People started panicking and getting very upset because, like us, they were worried about this sketchy system. A ticket woman finally arrived and told us we all had to use a different machine – so we had to wait in another line for half an hour. When it was our turn, we were both really nervous. We each took a minute to pray and cross our fingers, but then finally our bags popped out of the machine!

We took a tram and walked a short bit to get to Lena’s apartment, it felt like a long walk with our heavy bags and exhaustion sinking in. I was at the point where I was barely functioning. As soon as we got to the apartment, Lena was nice enough to let me take a nap in her bed before dinner. This was perfect because Katharina and Lena were able to catch up. I woke up feeling incredibly refreshed and actually alive again – no more delirium!

So we walked through the city to find dinner and it was nice to see another part of the city. We found this awesome burger place and had an amazing dinner while sitting outside and talking a lot. It was fun to see Katharina relax with her friend and interact in German. I met a guy from the Dominican Republic who worked at the restaurant and he was so nice. I told him I’d been to his country before and this made him really happy. He was interested in my story because he said he loved the way I spoke English and said it was so different from other people around there.

So after a fun night, we headed back to Lena’s apartment and sat outside on her balcony. We drank champagne and talked about everything we could think to talk about. They told me hilarious stories about people from their home town and the boys of their lives and we talked about our experiences along the journey those last few weeks.

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We went to bed early around 10pm so we would be a little more refreshed for the next day because we had to make our separate ways home in just a few hours. What a day!!

Exploring Pula, Croatia

As I’m looking through photos for this post, I still can’t believe how beautiful Croatia is. Although the timeline of our trip only gave us a few days there, I’m so glad we had the experience and could witness the beauty.

When we woke up on our second morning in Croatia, we were both a little exhausted from not sleeping well after the incident the night before. We grabbed breakfast on the hotel balcony overlooking the water again.

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We spent the morning relaxing by the pool and the sea, swimming often. Again, the sea was crystal clear and the views around the beach were breathtaking.

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We felt very lucky because so many people in the world can’t or don’t make time to experience moments like that – to see the world, to find a beautiful place, to just enjoy a moment. I value my time and don’t take it for granted.

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We shared pizza for lunch outside and swam for a long time in the pool. It was hot enough outside that my hair would dry after swimming within minutes. By mid-afternoon, I headed to the room to clean up and get out of the sun. After resting for a short time, we decided to head out into town and explore the city Pula. We both agree that when one travels, it is so important to break out of the tourist bubble and put in the effort to actually see the place you’re visiting – not just the hotel and tourist section. So we found a bus stop and figured out how to get to the center of the city, just 45 minutes away. It was really hot and stuffy on the bus, but we were able to see some of the smaller towns of the area and where and how locals actually live. We were the only tourists on the bus. When we got off at the main station, we started exploring and walking around. We didn’t have a map or plan – we just walked.

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The city is so beautiful! We found the famous Pula Arena – the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders completely preserved. The arena was built between 27BC and 68AD. Today the area is used for concerts, theater performances, cinematic showings, and even a few sporting events.

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As we kept walking around, we had no idea where to go so we walked along the harbor’s edge and looked at the stunning architecture and views.

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And we stumbled upon this establishment:

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Anyways, we were hungry and wanted dinner. My advice for finding somewhere to go when you’re lost and looking for dinner – find other tourists if you can and follow them. We noticed an American family and overheard them talking about dinner. They seemed to have an idea of where to go, so we walked behind them casually for a while and they led us right to the section of town that’s lined with restaurants and shops – the smaller touristy section of that part of town. As we walked through, men were cat calling at us, telling us how beautiful we are and trying to hit on us – whatever, we weren’t into it.

We picked a smaller restaurant where no one was standing outside harassing us to sit down. We were able to sit outside and take everything in.

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Unfortunately, our dinner was taken over by some very rude people sitting next to us. They had a large group of people, probably just a few years older than Katharina and I, and one of the couple’s had a small child as well. So people say that stereotypes exist because there is some truth behind them – and this group did not let anyone down with how the rest of the world stereotypically sees Germans. This German group was so incredibly rude and obnoxious with sending food back, complaining about dishes, giving the server terrible attitude, and they were nasty to the child as well. They were outrageously arrogant. Poor Katharina was so embarrassed because, as a German, being even remotely associated with people like that bothered her terribly. It’s always interesting when you travel to see how stereotypes or ideas about other cultures and even your own culture and nationality play out. Eventually, the owner of this little restaurant stormed out from the kitchen and told them if they had such a problem with her place then they could leave. I was kind of happy when she did because their attitude nearly ruined our dinner. You would never see a manager or owner talk to a customer like that in America, but sometimes maybe it’s not such a bad thing to put people in their place.

But regardless of that, the food was great!

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When we needed to pay, they told us the credit card machine was broken – another reason why it’s always important to have some cash around with you when you travel in other countries. But we were prepared.

After dinner, we ran into a parade of people dressed in traditional clothes with all sorts of props, which was exciting to see. This was the second time on the trip that we accidentally stumbled upon a parade like this!

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We slowly headed back to the bus station, and it was ridiculously crowded and hard to walk because of a concert at the arena. When we got to the station, we were a little confused where our bus would be. Sometimes things aren’t so clear in other countries. We stood where we believed the bus would be and waited and waited and waited. After a long time, we both got nervous that maybe we had missed the bus or had been waiting in the wrong spot. We finally asked a man if we were in the right place and he assured us that we were, but for some reason the bus was late. We know from our other travels there that the bus timeline isn’t always accurate. Eventually the bus pulled in and we figured it out. The reason the bus was so delayed was because of the concert in the arena – the traffic was worse than LA! It took us twice as long to get back to the hotel because of it. When we got back, we quickly packed up and organized all of our things and went straight to bed because we had a big day coming up!

Waking Up In Croatia

I was so excited when I woke up and realized where I was. I made sure to get up early around 7 in the morning so I could grab some good spots by the hotel’s pool because I knew it would get crowded early on with the 100+ degree weather. We enjoyed a great breakfast on a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean – so beautiful! The food was excellent and we had the best chocolate croissants of all time.

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We headed back to our room so we could get ready to spend the day in the ocean and by the pool (something we had been looking forward to the whole trip). It was so hot outside it was hard to breathe, the air felt so thick. We don’t get weather like that in Buffalo. We had to go in and out of the water all the time to handle being out there – not that either of us were complaining!

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I can’t tell you how good it felt to swim in that crystal clear water and walk along the smooth rocks that line the sea. Even better, it wasn’t crowded and we felt very safe in the water. This may come as a surprise considering how much I travel and some of the crazy things I’ve done in my life, but I’m a little scared of swimming in open water and don’t actually do it very often. But this I couldn’t resist and it was so warm, yet totally refreshing.

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The pool’s salt water felt so good to swim in. We did water aerobics with a group and had a lot of fun!

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It was a blast of a day and we were able to eat lunch outside too!

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But a long morning in that heat and sun was more than enough for me and by the early afternoon I definitely needed to take a break and rest inside a little. I enjoyed just being able to lie down and not have to run somewhere or sit on a train. I was able to talk some with family and friends from back home. It’s amazing how much you can stay in contact with people now. I remember as a kid when we would visit family in Sweden for the entire summer without cell phones and only dial up internet that one of us could use at a time. Things have definitely changed and improved with staying connected to those across the world!

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So we got dressed up and went out for an early dinner. We ate seafood right next to the ocean. It was delicious and we had the best views!

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They cooked the food in this little open kitchen right in front of us:

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When our bill was brought out, we were also given two shots. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely ever drink anything alcoholic, it’s just not my thing. We hadn’t had any drinks the whole trip and we both felt like we didn’t want to be rude by not taking what was given to us – so we each took a shot. So we left and started walking along the beautiful water and watched the sun set.

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But all of a sudden the shot hit me. It hit me really hard. Because I don’t often drink, it’s not uncommon for one drink to affect me, but this was a lot more than that. And when I looked over at my cousin, I realized it wasn’t just me feeling it. She was breathing hard and holding her stomach as she walked. I asked if she was okay, she said no, and I said me neither. We both needed to sit down and suddenly I couldn’t see straight and felt really dizzy and ill. Katharina thought maybe it was food poisoning, but I was sure it was the shots. I began to worry that we had been drugged because it all happened very quickly and we both felt it within the same minute. Although I don’t drink much, I have never in my life felt so sick from any amount of drinking, let alone one drink. I decided we needed to try to get back to the hotel before things got worse so we were at least somewhere safe if we were in fact drugged. We had to walk slowly though and it felt like it took ten times longer than it had the way there. We stopped a few times to catch our breath on the beach. I was very relieved when we finally made it back safely to the hotel. We sat out by the pool for a little while to stay in the fresh outside air.

I don’t know what happened to us after dinner. I don’t know if it was just a really strong shot, if there was something else mixed in, or if just the combination of the heat with dehydration and the alcohol was what did it, but I do know that it was scary and not at all worth it. Turns out in some situations being polite is totally overrated. It’s not always a good idea to drink in foreign countries.

We rested and hung out for a little while and eventually started to feel normal again. We decided to go out once more to get some fresh air and we felt like walking around would be good after what had happened, especially since that was our original plan for the night before the shot incident. So we walked down the promenade and looked at different shops and restaurants.

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And we got some popsicles because, even though it was late at night, it was still so hot outside! We enjoyed looking at the water and taking in the beautiful scenery.

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We got back to the hotel and saw that a band was playing music out by the pool. It was a great way end to the night, being able to sit and listen for a few moments, before heading to bed.

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Although we had a long day and both felt exhausted, neither of us were able to sleep well. It had been quite a day!

Budapest and Birthday Celebrations

This was a special day because it was my cousin Katharina’s birthday! We slept in to what was late for us (9am) and headed down to breakfast in the hotel. We made sure to celebrate with hot chocolate and champagne.

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Then we went to the grocery store to buy snacks for our trip to Budapest! We found this cigarette vending machine, which is definitely not something you’ll find in America:

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The train station was very crowded and there were a ton of people going to Budapest as well – mainly backpackers. We were grateful to have taken the time to get seat reservations again because even with those reservations we had issues getting to our seats and had to fight multiple people out of them. If you didn’t have a seat reservation on this train, you were out of luck and had to stand or sit on the floor for hours. No one could walk in the aisles because it was completely full of people and luggage. The reservations we purchased were only $3 a person and absolutely worth it. The train stunk because there were so many sweaty people so close together and it wasn’t particularly comfortable. We met two Italian guys our age who were also doing Interrail and had been traveling for a lot longer than we had. They were very friendly and nice to talk to. They sat on the floor next to us and often had to move into our seat area if people attempted to walk by to get to bathrooms.

 

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So I’ll give you a very brief summary of Budapest and its history. Budapest is an amazing city – the capital and largest city of Hungary and one of the largest cities in the EU. The first settlement of the territory was built by Celts before 1 AD. The Ottomans pillaged Buda in 1526 and occupied it in 1541, which lasted for more than 140 years. In 1718, the entire Kingdom oF Hungary was removed from Ottoman Rule. The 19th century was filled with Hungarian struggle for independence and modernization. The city was a twin capital of the Austria-Hungary monarchy, but has occupied both banks of the Danube River since the unification of Buda and Pest in 1873. The proportion of Jews in the city peaked in 1900 – it was often called “Judapest” or the “Jewish Mecca.” In 1918, Austria-Hungary lost the war and collapsed – Hungary declared itself an independent republic, the Republic of Hungary. In 1920, the Treaty of Trianon partitioned the country, causing two-thirds of its territory and nearly two-thirds of its inhabitants to be lost. In 1944, Budapest was partly destroyed by British and American air raids. And in 1945, the city was besieged during the Battle of Budapest. The city was damaged a lot during the war. The Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, managed to save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest by giving them Swedish passports and taking them under his consular protection, but still, significant portion of Budapest’s Jewish population died during the German occupation of Hungary. After the liberation of Hungary from Nazi Germany by the Red Army, Soviet military occupation ensued, which only ended in 1989. During that time, Hungary was declared a communist People’s Republic. Today Budapest is the 25th most popular city in the world for tourists to visit. It has one of the largest synagogues in the world, one of the largest Parliament buildings in Europe, and tons of museums. It’s definitely a city worth visiting!

 

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So my first impressions of Budapest – another extremely beautiful city that is clearly so full of history. We had a bit of confusion at first in the train station with trying to convert money and figure out where we needed to go and how to get there, but once that was all settled it was easy to find our way around. We saw some refugees around the station, but nothing like what is occurring there now. We waited for over an hour to get our next train reservations to Ljubljana so we were prepared for our next part of the journey. We used GPS to find our way from the train stop to the Bastion Hotel, which was not too easy to find because the hotel was barely marked and its entrance was on a small side street.

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But the hotel was wonderful and we were really happily surprised.

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We decided to go to a relatively new museum called Hospital in the Rock. So we went down to the station, quickly realizing the city has the biggest escalators ever, but they move so fast!

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We ended up getting off at the wrong station and found ourselves in a major construction zone and unsure of which direction we needed to go. We were thankful to have GPS and definitely needed it because it was about a 20 minute walk. At one point we had to climb up a very steep set of stairs up a mountain, and in the 95 degree temperature, it was not easy. We were stressed for time and had to move fast so we both felt exhausted, hot, sweaty, and out of breath by the time we found the museum – but we found it!

 

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So within this mountain is this amazing museum all about what used to exist inside a natural cave system. During World War II, an air raid emergency hospital was opened within these caves and during the American air raids in 1944, the hospital was used extensively – the 94 beds were constantly filled. Patients were even kept in hallways. The hospital had a very high death rate because the conditions were poor and caused major risk for infection and there were not enough medical supplies. Multiple surgeries would occur in the same room, patient beds were pushed together, and bandages would even be taken off dead bodies and used on living patients. With the end of the war, the hospital was closed in 1945.

And with the Cold War and the Revolution, the hospital was transformed into a nuclear bunker – but it was luckily never needed.

 

 

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No photographs were allowed to be taken inside the museum, but very interesting exhibits were set up with wax figures of the doctors and patients so visitors can get a real idea of what it would have looked like when the hospital was in use. It is definitely a museum I recommend seeing because learning about some history of World War II and what was occurring in a specific place within one city is fascinating. We both learned a ton about Hungarian history and individual stories of survival within horrible conditions.

Here’s our tour group:

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The people running the museum are extremely friendly and helpful, so we asked them for recommendations of where to head for dinner. They told us we definitely should go towards a specific direction and that we’d find something to eat up there or the bus to go back towards our hotel. And were we glad they suggested that! Because as we walked, we stumbled upon some of the best views of our trip!

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And then ran into the Matthias Church, which was originally built in 1015, remodeled in the 14th century, and restored in the 19th century.

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It’s an amazing thing when you travel and stumble upon such beauty unexpectedly. And from there, you can see the castle and the entire city!

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It was truly breathtaking. But we were hungry, so we asked a young couple how to get back to the area where our hotel was, and they were extremely helpful in telling us which bus to take and where to get off and where to go from there. We crossed over Danube River.

 

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And then we couldn’t help but stand in awe looking at what was around us because it was so beautiful:

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Then we continued our search for dinner – (clearly kept getting distracted). We found a pretty touristy area full of restaurants, shops, and interesting statues like this giant one:

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And finally we picked this nice Japanese restaurant for dinner to celebrate Katharina’s birthday and the food was so delicious!

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After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and enjoyed seeing the city at night, which manages to be just as beautiful as it looks in the daylight.

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Swedish Food

For many people, the food is one of the best reasons to travel. I always love to try new foods that I maybe wouldn’t if I were home in my usual routine and comfort zone. Craziest thing I’ve ever eaten abroad was kangaroo sausage and ostrich sausage (not as nuts as my dad who tried monkey!) but I wouldn’t say I’m extremely adventurous – no spiders for me please!

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I always think it’s worthwhile to check out grocery stores in other countries because you get a better feel for the place, find new things you probably wouldn’t get at home, and you get to see how people interact differently in other places. The grocery stores here are similar to in America except definitely smaller and with fewer options. I’m used to Wegmans in Buffalo, which is like the Beverly Hills of food shopping, but it’s also cool to have fewer choices and try something out of the norm.

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So what do people eat in Sweden? Meatballs of course – can we be more stereotypical?

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But what people here love the most is fish! Herring, eel, salmon – you name it, they probably have it

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The shrimp here are totally different than the giant ones we’re used to in America, they’re small, juicy, and definitely have a different taste and texture even.IMG_3030

Of course they have great cheeses, this is Europe after all:

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We all know that’s I’m crazy for desserts, and the ice cream in Sweden is one of my favorite parts of coming here. They have flavors I have yet to find in America like pear, and the ingredients are slightly varied enough to make it special compared to what we may get at home.

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But what’s really wonderful is the breakfast:

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Not exactly pancakes and bacon, but I’m not complaining!