Heading South From Dublin

When we talked about what to do in Ireland, we decided we definitely wanted to leave Dublin and see some other parts of the beautiful landscapes around the country. We looked at tons of day trip options that leave from Dublin to go all directions throughout the country and we found one that just sounded like such a perfect day.

We picked a fantastic tour through Railtours Ireland First Class. We met our guide Paddy at Connolly Station, which was super easy to get to from our hotel. I loved this tour’s options better than some others because it gave us a chance to take a train along the coast. We had a lot of time on buses throughout the trip, so it was nice to do something different.

From the train we could see the beautiful Dublin Bay and then the spectacular Killiney Bay, which is home to many celebrities such as Bono, Van Morrison, and Enya. We were so lucky with the weather because we were really able to see clearly and enjoy gorgeous skies. Looking out the window during this train ride was so enjoyable because the views were pretty epic.

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The train went through the town of Bray, which was once designed to be a huge spot for tourism as a seaside resort. We could see the Irish Sea, where there were amazing cliffs by the water.

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The train then headed inland into the county of Wicklow. We stopped at tiny Arklow station, about an hour and twenty minutes after stepping onto the train. After arriving, our guide showed us to our coach, which would be our ride for most of the day.

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We then headed to Avoca, which is a small village where the oldest hand weaving mill in Ireland is located. The mill has existed since 1723. We were given a personal tour of the mill and had an opportunity to watch how they make their famous woolen products, a truly fascinating experience. They showed us around different sections of the mill and explained various steps of the weaving process. We were also given plenty of time to shop in their impressive store.

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We walked through the town and had lunch in a little pub called Fitzgerald’s Bar, which has been featured in the BBC television series BallyKissangel. We had a yummy lunch and were able to get to know our guide and the other travelers. We met some really nice people and were lucky to have an awesome group! The group was mainly made up of Americans, which made it kind of fun after traveling abroad for a few weeks.

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We continued our drive and stopped at the Meeting of the Waters for a really nice photo stop. The guide was very patient and let everyone explore and have fun, even though we were on a tight schedule. I really appreciate that in a tour because that’s what we’re there for.

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We drove for a little while longer, passing through small villages and able to see spectacular views of mountains and other impressive landscapes.

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If you’re prone to getting car sick, there’s definitely potential on this part of the ride, especially after eating lunch – but it’s totally worth it. When we got to Glendalough, it was absolutely stunning! I really didn’t know what to expect with this day trip, but this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It is a National Park, famous for its scenery. We visited both the lower and upper lakes.

 

We waked through the park along paths and arrived at an ancient monastery. There has been a settlement here since the 7th century, which is when the monastery was founded by St. Kevin. We were able to walk around the ruins and see the cemetery. It is amazing to be surrounded by ruins from that long ago. The round tower once served as a bell tower and is 100 feet tall.

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After taking in so much beauty, we headed back to our car and drove back to Bray station. Here we were able to hop right on a train that headed straight back to Dublin. Again, the views from the train were incredible.

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If you’re looking to do a day trip out of Dublin, this one is exceptional. It showed us so much of the natural parts of Ireland and gave us a real look into the age of some of these places. The guide, Paddy, was phenomenal and everything on the tour was exactly how it should be. Another bonus to this trip is that this one was only 7 or so hours while many other day trips into Ireland are more like 13-15 hours. Overall this day was perfect and gave us so many worthwhile memories!

Discovering Dublin

Dublin is an incredible city, full of history and great energy. We’re so glad we were able to go spend some time there. Originally when we talked about traveling this summer, we weren’t sure of the best place to go. We talked about various ideas, but we decided based on our schedules and interest that Ireland was the perfect country to visit.

Dublin is located on the Eastern Coast of Ireland. People settled in Dublin as early as the 9th and 10th century, which is absolutely amazing to think about. Coming from America, things from the 18th century seem very old, so imagining people living in this country over a thousand years ago is astounding.

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I came to Dublin straight from Copenhagen, which was a quick easy two hour flight. Flying in, the beautiful views from the plane foreshadowed what was to come on the trip.

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I arrived in the evening, so by the time I made it through a lot of questions at passport control and got out of the airport, the sun was beginning to set. Dublin has great transportation available for tourists and travelers. They have an Aircoach bus that just goes to and from the airport and a few key spots in the city. It only cost me ‎€8 to get from the airport to my stop the city, which would have been more like €30 by taxi. The bus even had free wifi which is always a bonus while traveling.

I stayed at the Grand Canal Hotel, which is located close to many worthwhile sites in the city. The hotel was comfortable, had great food, and had excellent staff that helped me so much during my travels with tons of advice and suggestions.

The next morning, we were eager to get up, have some breakfast, and start seeing Dublin.

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We decided we wanted to start at Trinity College, so we began walking. On our way, we found the National Library of Ireland and thought it could be interesting to see. When we walked in, the older man at the front desk asked why we were there. I guess it’s not as common for tourists to visit this library as other sites in the city. We asked if we could look around and he responded like “uhh ok?” But it was beautiful inside. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the main room, but take my word for it. The library has existed since 1890. It was classic and elegant, the kind of library you want to sit in and do research even if you have nothing to research.

 

Then we headed to Trinity College, which was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. It has a beautiful campus. Just take a look at some of these photos:

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If you go to Dublin, I highly suggest stopping at Trinity College and seeing the Book of Kells. Just being in that room surrounded by history and these books dating back hundreds of years, is completely worth the visit. The library contains a long, beautiful room with books on two stories with ladders and stairs reaching each shelf. It’s the kind of room that you could just sit and look around for hour upon hour and not notice the time pass.

 

We then headed to St. Stephen’s Green Park, which is centrally located in the city. It was created in 1664 and opened to the public in 1880. We found it refreshing to stop for a break from the urban hustle and enjoy some nature. The green of the park and beauty of the ponds was lovely to see. And if you like hanging out with birds, this is definitely the place for you because there were plenty!

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Right across from the park’s entrance, is the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. I don’t only recommend this place for those who want to buy something, it is a nice stop for anyone. The building has a beautiful interior full of light and windows. It’s one of the nicest shopping centers I’ve ever seen, just take a look:

 

We had a quick lunch there upstairs overlooking the busy streets full of performers and tourists below us.

We stopped at The Rolling Donut, which was definitely a good idea!

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When I travel, I love to see palaces and castles, I guess it’s just cool to see the wealth displayed with furnishings and decorations. I’m all about interior decorating and making my home look special, so seeing these places is always inspiring and exciting to me. I always love all the attention to detail.

So of course I was eager to visit the Dublin Castle. It originally opened in 1204 and since the 1930’s the Irish Presidents have been inaugurated there.

 

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We really enjoyed visiting the Castle and looking around all the rooms. Afterward, we headed to the Christ Church Cathedral, which was founded in 1030. The exterior was breathtaking and beautiful to look at.

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We continued walking and found this super cool art shop called Jam Art Factory. If you’re looking for something unique to take home as a souvenir from Ireland or a special gift that’s not all “Kiss Me I’m Irish,” then this store is perfect. It has all kinds of artwork that was fun, thought-provoking, and exciting to look at.

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After taking a break looking at the unique art, we continued our journey walking around. We stopped to look at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which opened in 1878. It has a lovely park area outside it, which was relaxing to visit.

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We decided to walk throughout this entire day so we could really see everything and take in the city in ways you can’t from a bus or tour. We walked about 40,000 steps and spent the entire day morning until dinner walking every place we could. The city is full of life and excitement, history, and beauty. Here’s just a few more photos I took while walking around taking everything in.

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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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Returning to Sweden

I’ve written about visiting Sweden a few times before. It’s somewhere I try to go at least once a year with my family and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can make it out here twice a year. I’ve travelled here close to thirty times in my life. We stay in a little beach town on a peninsula sticking out at the southwestern point of the country. My visit here is something I look forward to all year.

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This time, getting here started out with a bit of stress. I’m used to the trip out here and I fly enough to know not to expect things to go perfectly…but it can still be frustrating when flight one of three suddenly becomes 3 hours delayed because of too much air traffic. In those moments it’s important to act fast, talk to an attendant, and make a plan to get to the final destination in case future flights are missed. The airline told me I would be fine and didn’t need to change anything. But because the flight out of Buffalo was grounded and there was no real schedule for when it would be taking off and the estimated takeoff time would leave me about ten minutes to catch my next flight, I told them they needed to give me a backup plan. Luckily we took off a little earlier than the estimated time and I made it to Newark with a half hour to eat a very rushed dinner before boarding my flight to Brussels.

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I had a great long flight and could even stretch out because the seats in my row were empty! The flight went by quickly and was very relaxing. And Brussels has a nice airport to sit in, even when you’re on the brink of falling asleep at any moment. I should’ve stopped to buy chocolates, but I was so sleepy.

I was relieved to sit down on my last plane after a long day and that flight to Copenhagen was quick and easy. I even got a mini nap in.

I always love landing in Copenhagen airport, seeing the bridge to Sweden, the beaches, and the red roofed houses.  Walking out of customs is always special, especially when my dad is there waiting to meet me. I’ve been coming here just about every summer since I was this age…

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The porch looks a little different now

 

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So coming to this small Swedish town every summer is important to me because it’s definitely somewhere that has a special place in my heart; it is one of my homes. My first few days here always feel magical because it’s just a time to walk around, take everything in, and enjoy the silence. For me, this is a place with few distractions, little technology, no unwanted work, and a place to constantly explore and learn. It is a place where I truly can connect with the natural world around me and focus on the little things that make each day so special. And of course it’s the perfect place to do a little photography

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Long Beach

I recently had such a great day visiting Long Beach in California, I just had to share! This is definitely not my first time visiting the area, but it was such a special day.

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After getting lucky with little traffic out of Los Angeles, we started off the morning right with some ice cream after breakfast.

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And then we got in line for a whale watching boat tour. I did one of these trips a few years ago and it was amazing to see marine life and enjoy the boat ride.

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So I was definitely thrilled to do it again!

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The boat ride lasts a couple hours and it’s such an exciting joy. The trip out of the harbor area is full of waves, making it feel like you’re on a rollercoaster. The wind blows sprays of water on you, but it just makes the whole experience feel that much better.

We quickly were surrounded by dolphins and their little ones. I love seeing animals in the wild. Unfortunately, you never know when a dolphin will jump out of the water or where so it’s very hard to capture a good photo. But I did my best.

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And then we got very lucky and were able to find a fin whale! 

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After finishing the amazing tour, we realized we hadn’t had our fill of marine life, so we decided to take a trip to the aquarium right around the corner. I’ve been to a few aquariums, but this one was really special. The size was perfect, the variety in animal life was spectacular, and the exhibits were wonderful to look at.

It was so much fun hanging out with guys like this during our visit

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We were even able to touch some animals in their opens tanks

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It was a great experience overall and I definitely recommend this aquarium to anyone in the area!

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!

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!

Our Journey to Croatia

It has been my dream to see Croatia since I can remember. The original reason we organized this entire trip was because of this dream – so we just looked at a map and planned from there.

We were relieved at the train station when our bus pulled up and was large, spacious, and had this magical invention called air conditioning. The bus was not crowded at all, which made it even better. They say the best way to see a country is to drive through it, so I was excited to have some time off a train and to be on a bus. It was a great experience to look at little towns as we drove through and to see other parts of Slovenia.

We got off the bus as this little train station, Divaca, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. We had an hour to wait until our next train would be leaving. We later found out that the train waited for the next bus from Ljubljana, so if we had taken the later bus, we would have been fine. But we couldn’t have known that before and it’s better to be safe and prepared. So for this hour we hung out in the heat because there was nothing to do around there. Inside the station there was one person working who didn’t speak any English and there were no other waiting passengers, shops, or anything going on. So we sat outside and talked with two French girls who were hiking and camping around different parts of Europe. We were happy when our train finally arrived – that is, until we got on board – because it was very warm, humid, and uncomfortable. I fell asleep for most of the hour long ride.

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At the next station, where we were to switch onto another train, the next train was there waiting for this one to arrive – something I’ve never seen before. Their whole system waits for buses and trains because there are so few passengers – if one train is late and the next one does not wait, they barely have any passengers to make it worth leaving on time.

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We had thought the last train was uncomfortably hot, but we had spoken too soon. This next train was over a hundred degrees inside without any sort of fan or air conditioning system. It was close to one hundred degrees outside, so with the greenhouse effect happening and the heat having nowhere to escape from this train, it was brutal. I didn’t think it was possible, but it was even worse than the trains on the previous day. On the ride, we went through pitch darkness at one point as we passed through a tunnel without any lights, which was a little creepy. I stood most of the ride to keep my face against the open window, desperate for fresh air. This train ride was a little different than our other experiences on trains this trip. Despite the heat, there were beautiful views as we entered Croatia.

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It was so exciting to finally see the ocean appear – our energy returned almost as quickly as it had disappeared earlier.

When we got off the train in Pula, we arrived at another very small train station with only one employee working who was extremely rude, indifferent, and unhelpful. She didn’t know or care to answer any of our questions and was too busy looking at Facebook to be interested. So we decided to call a taxi because there were no other buildings nearby and the walk to a bus stop was far enough that it didn’t feel worth it in the heat. It turned out our hotel was a bit further than we had expected from the train station, so the taxi ended up making much more sense in the long run. We had a really nice driver who showed us around and talked about the city and gave us great advice. It’s always nice to meet people who take real pride in their towns. His hands and arms were badly deformed from burns, and I wonder if those scars were from the war.

When we finally arrived at our hotel after a full day of buses, trains, walking, and car rides, it was such a relief! Our hotel was so beautiful and different from the other hotels we had been at because it is much more for families and sits right on the beach. It is slightly outside of Pula in a town called Medulin. We picked this area in Croatia because it was pretty easily accessible from the rest of our trip, it is famous for its beautiful beaches, and Katharina remembered being there as a child and said it was the perfect spot to end the trip.

We had to wait to checkin because a British woman was throwing such a fit at the front desk that it required all the staff’s attention. She claimed something was wrong with her bill. But once we finally checked in and walked around to look at the hotel, we were so excited and happy to be there – like just look at this!

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We got settled in and immediately went for a swim in the pool because we both needed to relax and cool off after the long day we had been having. Behind the pool was a stone beach and a long promenade full of shops and restaurants. After we cleaned up, we took a walk along the water to find dinner and chose a small Italian place right on the beach. It was a five minute walk from the hotel and a fifth of the price of the hotel restaurant – sometimes in touristy areas it’s worth exploring to find cheaper options.

We were so happy to get back to our room and get some sleep in the air conditioning after the long day. It felt good to be settled in and finally be in the country I’d been wanting to see for so long.