Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and Ik Kil

One of the main reasons we wanted to go to the Yucatan was to see some ancient ruins. We were able to arrange through our hotel to hire a driver for the day for very little cost who took us to Chichen Itza and a beautiful cenote at Ik Kil.

Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities hundreds of years ago and is now a large site of ruins. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has millions of visitors each year.

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I was amazed by the size of this site, it felt like we could keep walking and walking and there was always more to see. We could turn a corner and suddenly there would be another huge stretch of ruins. Actually standing there and walking around creates a really special feeling, like you’re somewhere you’ve only read about in textbooks in the past. It brings the whole history to life, something you can’t get from reading.

If you’re going to visit, I highly recommend doing a little research on when to go. One day of the week is free for Mexican citizens, making it way more crowded than other days. I also recommend going as early in the day as you can because by mid afternoon there were ten times as many people as when we first arrived and the temperatures were scorching. And as it was extremely hot, naturally we had to take a break for ice cream.

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After a few hours exploring everything this beautiful place has to offer, we were so ready to head to the cenote and go swimming to cool off and relax. Our driver took us to Ik Kil, which is very close to Chichen Itza. The water is about 130 feet deep (40 meters) and the denote itself goes 85 feet under ground (26 meters). This was the most beautiful cenote we visited on this trip.

 

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Swimming in that cold water was exhilarating and refreshing. Experiences like this are why I travel. The clear, bluish-green color of the water makes it hard to realize how deep the water actually is. This is a moment I’ll never forget because feeling so in touch with nature is one of the best feelings – with birds and bats flying over you, fish swimming beneath you, and butterflies all around.

 

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Overall this was one of the best days of the trip because we saw such a historically significant place and had the perfect afternoon in a stunning cenote. The next day we headed to the town of Tulum.

Leaving for Mexico and Finding Valladolid

So despite having travelled to far away places across the world, like Fiji or Cambodia, I had never actually been south of the border to Mexico before this latest trip. I was excited to go on some new adventures because I hadn’t been out of the country since the previous Summer.

Arriving at the airport was extra exciting because I walked up to my gate and got called to the podium to receive a note. I wondered what it was about, but it was actually sweet.

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I also found out I was upgraded to First Class, which is always an excellent benefit of being a frequent flyer. The meal was pretty great, especially because it was unexpected. I got lobster ravioli and a delicious summer salad. Thanks United!

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The guy I sat next to on the plane lives in Cancun and had a ton of information about traveling around the Yucatan. I went into this trip pretty blind and was thankful my cousin Katharina had done some research for our adventures. Finding a great travel partner is essential to having a great trip, and luckily my cousin and I love to travel together and are always planning new trips. So this guy next to me gave me great advice of cities worth seeing, places less worth seeing, and what was safe/dangerous nearby. I always recommend asking locals for their opinions because then it’s way easier to break out of the tourist bubbles and see something “real” in the country.

So after arriving and finding my cousin, we made our way to our hotel. She had been waiting a few hours, so she had plenty of time to gather information about buses and traveling around, which became so helpful. Unfortunately it was close to midnight when we got going so it was dark and hard to see much on the drive besides the lights of other hotels. We had a beautiful suite that was way bigger than anything the two of us needed, but we were excited to spend the night somewhere so nice.

The best part of arriving in Mexico was the following morning. Because of Katharina’s jet lag , coming all the way from Germany, and my general excitement, we were both wide awake and ready to go out by 6am. We went straight to the beach to enjoy the amazing weather. When we were there, it was April, which means it was still snowing where I’m from. Just being able to put on flip flops and feel the sand on my toes was spectacular.

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Cancun was only our arrival point, we had no real intention of staying there because the plan was to backpack around and head to Belize. So after a delicious breakfast, we decided to get going to our first destination – Valladolid. We took a local bus, where we were the only tourists on board, and headed to a bigger bus station.

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The trip from Cancun to Valladolid was a few hours. We weren’t on a fancy bus, it was a smaller company that seemed to be more for locals. We stopped frequently to pick up people along the road and it wasn’t as direct as other bus companies would have been. But it was worth the ride, because Valladolid is so beautiful and we picked a newer hotel that also has spa amenities. Talk about paradise…

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We went to Valladolid for two main reasons – 1. To be close to Chichen Itza and 2. To see some cenotes, which are like caves with natural water where you can go swimming.

So after settling in, we took a taxi for super cheap to two cenotes called Samula and Xkeken. The great part of Valladolid compared to other cities we ended up visiting is how much less expensive it is. We could take long taxi rides for barely anything once we split it between the two of us.

These two cenotes give very different vibes. One is super dark, creepy almost and has tons of bats. It’s beautiful for sure, but a little less inviting to go swimming.

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The other has a high ceiling inside the cave and has a large pool. We could see fish swimming throughout the water.

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Both cenotes are incredibly beautiful and worth visiting if you’ve never seen one before like the two of us. They were practically empty of visitors which makes them more appealing than some other cenotes. We loved exploring, feeling part of a natural wonder, and getting refreshed in the cool caves and water when the outside temperature was so hot. Not to mention, the areas around the cenotes are super unique as well!

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When we finished this part of the day, we ended up unexpectedly getting a lot of time to see Valladolid. Our taxi driver had no idea where our hotel was (perks of a new hotel!) and gave up looking really quickly, so he dropped us off in the town square and sent us on our way. Instead of trying another taxi, we decided to brave it and walk. But that was perfectly okay because it gave us the perfect opportunity to see some of this city and it is a beautiful place!

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After walking in the heat for a half hour, we were ready to jump in the pool at the hotel. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening relaxing. We had a delicious dinner with some tacos that were some of the best I’ve ever had in my life (as expected). Amazing. Writing this while sitting in Sweden months later, I am craving Mexican food!

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We went to bed early that night after quite a long day of travel, cenotes, and heat. We had big plans for the next day to visit Chichen Itza, so we needed some rest.

 

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!

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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Traveling Home To Sweden

I am fortunate to have homes in a lot of places – places that make me feel at home. I’ve mentioned a lot throughout my blog that while growing up, traveling to Southern Sweden happened every year at least once. My mom bought the house we live in here a few years ago from her parents. If you look at this map below, our small town doesn’t even make it – but Trelleborg is very close to us. If you look closely, we’re on the tiny piece of land sticking out right over Trelleborg. My mom grew up close by in Lund and Falsterbo was her summer home.

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People often ask me what I do when I visit here for weeks at a time year after year, and honestly there isn’t that much to do in a town this small. Of course there are a few stores, restaurants, and local sites to see, but for me it’s not about any of that. I come for the peace I haven’t found anywhere else in the world. Here in one of the most striking, naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen, serenity is everywhere. Just take a look at what I’ve photographed around town:

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I’ll tell you more about each day, what we do, and how we live in this small town in Sweden in other posts! I hope you enjoy all these photos and see the natural beauty of this part of the world most people don’t know about

 

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!!

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.

Our Brief Time In Ljubljana Before Visiting Croatia

I don’t think either of us had woken up feeling as refreshed as we did on our morning in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It’s those hard days of traveling, the ones that push you past your limits, that make you appreciate the good moments that much more. We looked outside and were excited to see such beautiful weather! So we got ready and made our way downstairs to have breakfast in the hotel and it was so good!

There were so many options available:

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And the thickest hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life – basically just melted chocolate!

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Ljubljana is such a beautiful city! And yes that’s a real place – (my friends all asked me if I sat on my keyboard when I texted them where I was). Many people told me it was turning into a game of Where’s Waldo except Where’s Shiri because we moved around so often on this trip!

The city is full of mountains and truly stunning old European style buildings. The city was located at the middle of the trade route between the northern Adriatic Sea and the Danube region. This city has kind of a similar vibe to Bratislava in that it felt like Old Europe with less tourists, but it was a lot fancier in the area we explored.

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We stumbled upon some really goofy things in this city. Like this small section that had it’s “own weather” because it mysteriously rained right there and only there:

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It was so refreshing in the morning heat!

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Or this random chandelier hanging in the middle of the street for no apparent reason:

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So we looked around different shops and made our way up to the castle – which turned out to be more of a hike than we expected! We certainly got our morning workout on this walk. We had to go up the mountain on very steep roads that residents must walk daily, like this one:

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But once we made our way up, the views of the city were amazing!

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And the castle was lovely as well! The castle is estimated to have been built during the 11th century and was rebuilt in the 12th century.

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Unfortunately, our visit in Ljubljana was very short because we had to leave in a few hours for Croatia. We had planned on having more time the day before, but with the craziness of our journey to the city, we lost out on a lot of time. You have to expect the unexpected when you travel though and try your to make the best of it, which we definitely did. So we had to head back down those steep roads and walk through the city very quickly, grab some food and necessities for our next part of the trip, and just explore for only a short time. But what we saw was so worth it!

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And I loved this because it’s one of my favorite quotes!

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So we made our way back to the hotel (totally bummed we had to leave already because it was the best hotel of the trip!) and we headed to the train and bus station to figure out how exactly to get to Croatia from here.

Our Day in Bratislava

After the previous day’s difficulty finding somewhere for breakfast, we decided to eat at the hotel and enjoy a big buffet that had tons of options.

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We headed to the train station, bought our day tickets to and from Bratislava (just an hour away from Vienna), and we got on the train early. We looked at photos from our trip so far and laughed a lot thinking about all the memories we had made already. Across the aisle sat two clearly rich and very snobby girls who spent the entire ride bragging to each other about the trips they’ve been on and their designer brand clothing and suitcases – they were trying to one up each other and show off. It was obvious without speaking the same language, but my cousin confirmed after realizing we both were eavesdropping.

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So Bratislava is a city many people have actually never heard of. It’s the capital of Slovakia and has a population of around 500,000 people. It sits on the River Danube and the River Morava and is bordered by Austria and Hungary. It still has a relatively low tourism rate, so it is a different experience than some of the major cities of Europe.

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Once we arrived, we felt a lot of confusion about how to get to the main part of the city. We got on the right bus, but missed the stop we wanted. The bus driver did not speak English very well, but one of the passengers told us where we needed to go. A French couple who also didn’t speak the greatest English got off the bus with us and we crossed the street to the other bus stop and headed the direction we had come from. It’s important to know if you make a mistake or wrong turn when you’re in another country, there is always a way back and this time it was very easy to figure out.

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When we arrived in the main part of the city, we were happily surprised. It felt like a much more authentic European city with few tourists, less English spoken, and stunning architecture. The people in the town were incredibly friendly and really helpful because I think they were glad to have people from other parts of the world visit their city and they were proud of their home. So we walked around and saw small streets and old churches.

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We entered one church and were able to sit and watch a baptism take place, which felt pretty special to witness.

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The city is full of interesting art and very cool, humorous statues:

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We had fun walking around and looking at everything the city has to offer and we had a more personal experience because of how quiet the city was compared to some of the huge cities we had just visited.

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We had lunch in a small Slovakian restaurant where I enjoyed gnocchis with chicken and Katharina had a traditional soup. The food was really great, but the service was slow because it was really busy and understaffed and the servers were clearly overwhelmed and stressed out. We had fun though because a cute family sat next to us and the little kids played with us. I like children a lot and it’s easy to play with them in any part of the world because you don’t need a language in common to communicate.

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After lunch we found a yummy gelato stand (have to try ice cream in every city of course) and sat by a fountain as we enjoyed the deliciousness.

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After ice cream, we we walked around and stumbled upon this amazing courtyard and a man playing piano. He was a wonderful pianist so we paused for a moment to really listen and take it all in.

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We found a nice vintage clothing store and popped in and I bought a cute sundress for $6. And then we walked up to the castle. It was hot outside so the uphill walk up became harder than expected, but it was completely worth it. The first written records of the castle date all the way back to 907AD!

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From the castle, you can see amazing views of the Danube River.

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We met some guys from America at the castle who offered to take some photos of us, which we appreciated. It felt good to talk to Americans again, we didn’t run into too many during our travels so I missed it.

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After looking at the castle for a while, we slowly headed back down to the bus stop, found the right bus and caught it just as it arrived. We happened to see the same French couple who we had met on the bus ride  into the center of the city earlier in the day. They were not as impressed with the city as we were. I think it’s important to have an open mind when you travel and take things for what they are, not what you hope and expect them to be. The city is beautiful and has a lot to offer and we had an amazing day there together. We made it to the train station and found our train. It felt so good to sit and relax and have that hour off our feet to just hang out. A really nice man sat down and talked to us the entire ride back. He ended up giving us all kinds of advice for the remainder of our trip and even let us try some traditional cake he had with him. He had travelled extensively throughout Europe and spoke several languages. I love meeting people along my journeys, sometimes you get the best advice and ideas that way.

Once we made it back to Vienna, we headed to our hotel and cleaned up so we could go out again. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant that was extremely crowded and took some time, but it gave us more of a chance to talk. It was a beautiful night, so we walked around the city one last time because the next day we headed to Budapest!

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I still can’t get over the lovely architecture!

Exploring Vienna

We got up early to get ready for what turned out to be a big day. We took a tram to a more central part of the city and walked around for a while in search of breakfast. We picked a cafe where we could sit outside, but it was so windy! Things kept blowing away and it turned into a pretty bad hair day quickly, but we still enjoyed our rolls with jam and hot chocolate with whipped cream.

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Then we took the train and went to see the famous Schönbrunn Palace, which was the home of members of the Hapsburg monarchy for hundreds of years. The impressive 1,441-room palace was built to its present form in the mid 1700s and was given to the Empress Maria Theresa as a wedding gift. Together, Maria Theresa and her husband Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children. The Empress faced a lot of pressure to produce a male heir and had to send many of her children away because of marriage negotiations with other political powers – an example is her daughter Maria Antonia, more well known as Marie Antoinette, who was married to Louis, the Dauphin of France, and later executed by guillotine.

Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth also lived in the palace. The couple suffered many tragedies throughout their marriage, which began when Elisabeth was only 16 years old. Elisabeth struggled throughout the marriage with adjusting to court life and often refused to eat, fell ill, and disappeared traveling – especially after the death of their first daughter. The Emperor’s brother was executed in 1867, the couple’s son committed suicide in 1889, and in 1898, Elisabeth was assassinated. It is said that after his wife’s death, Franz Joseph told relatives that they could never know how much he loved her.

Needless to say, the Schönbrunn Palace is full of history and complicated truths of a very powerful family.

This photo is only of the side of their home:

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By the time we arrived at the palace, it was very crowded with tourists. It was confusing where we needed to go and what kind of tickets to buy, but in the end we figured it out. We had an hour and a half to wait before our tour inside the palace started. So we decided to look around the outside, which was so beautiful with elaborate gardens, fountains, and statues. The attention to detail was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

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This fountain alone is the size of a small house:P1010745

It’s hard to imagine people actually lived and walked around here calling it home.

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We also were able to see the garden maze that was designed and built as a form of entertainment for the Hapsburg family.

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But the maze was a little too complicated for us to figure out! It was over 90 degrees outside with the sun beaming on us and we wandered around the maze with no luck finding the right way to go. We finally gave up to go see the inside of the palace.

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When we finally were able to tour the inside of the palace, I was extremely impressed. We weren’t allowed to take photos, unfortunately, so I can’t show you what it looked like, but just imagine huge rooms with giant windows and attention to detail on every centimeter. The furniture was hand carved and elegant looking with only the best materials. Some rooms even had gold built into the walls’ designs. Table settings with expensive and beautiful china was put on display. The paintings hanging on the walls were also stunning and decorative, each with their own story. We were able to listen to an audio tour all about each room, who stayed there, stories of the family, and who built what within the palace. Mozart even performed here as a child. The views from the windows of outside were breathtaking.

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After touring what seemed like a small section of the palace in regards to how large the entire building is, we decided to head over to the Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn)! 

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This is the oldest zoo in the world and was built in 1752! It was designed by Adrian van Stekhoven after being ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I, to serve as an imperial menagerie. The zoo was then centered around a pavilion meant for imperial breakfasts with the then thirteen animal enclosures. The zoo was first opened to the public in 1779 and even had no entrance fees. Today the zoo is a center for species conservation and provides plenty of educational opportunities. Some buildings within the zoo have been preserved from the Baroque era and complement the modern architecture.

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The zoo has a huge variety of animals and is one of the biggest zoos I’ve ever been to. I was surprised by the size of the location considering how old it is and that it exists within a major city.

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We loved looking at all the different animals!

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The zoo is even one of the few zoos in the world to house giant pandas!

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The zoo has games for children and many educational exhibits.

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And, of course, they have ice cream! Definitely mandatory on a hot day!

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So we had a blast checking everything out, but we were exhausted by the end of it. Both of us struggled to walk to the train and find our way back to the hotel.

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I went straight to bed when we got back and napped because my whole body hurt after the day’s adventures. After resting for a short bit, we decided we had both recovered enough to get dressed up and try to find something for dinner.

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We searched on tripadvisor and found a Mexican restaurant that ended up being delicious!

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The restaurant, Taqueria Los Mexikas, is a small place, but the people running it are so nice and the food is amazing!

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We enjoyed our meal, then headed into the main part of the city again. In the station, a couple was fighting horribly on the escalator. The man stormed off after screaming at his wife. Their children looked mortified and uncomfortable. When we headed back to the hotel at the end of the night, we saw this same family again all smiling as though they were having the best vacation of all time – except you could see in the wife’s eyes how sad she was.

We found a good frozen yogurt place and enjoyed our treats outside as we talked about the day. You can never have enough desserts!

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We were both so tired by the time it got dark out, we decided to head back to the hotel. On the train, this really gross looking old man leaned over and asked us if we wanted to get a beer with him. Katharina was quick to say no in a pretty harsh way, which I was grateful for because the guy looked like a total creep. We both felt really uncomfortable and quickly got off the train and ran all the way to our hotel laughing. Katharina said maybe next time we shouldn’t dress up, which made me feel kind of bad because she is right in some way, but at the same time women should be able to dress nicely without worrying about the threat of men.

When we finally made it back to the hotel, we both quickly collapsed in bed and talked a lot about other creepy stories about men, like this stalker I once had at my physical therapy place. We talked about our plans for the next day and were excited because we were going to see the city Bratislava!