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.

450.gif

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.

P1050106.jpg

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.

P1050158

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:

P1050122P1050123

P1050120P1050128P1050125P1050129

 

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!

P1050163.JPG

 

P1050169.jpg

P1050166.JPG

 

P1050176.jpg

 

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!

IMG_3130.jpg

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.

 

P1050186

P1050193.JPG

P1050204P1050211

 

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.

P1050246.jpgP1050242.jpg

 

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.

IMG_3147

P1050256.JPG

 

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.

P1050258

 

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.

P1050288

P1050287

P1050284

P1050254.JPG

 

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:

P1050107.jpg

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.

P1050638.JPG

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).

P1050280.JPG

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.

P1050401.jpg

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.

P1050446.jpg

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!

P1050304.jpg

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!

IMG_3183.jpg

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.

P1050285.jpg

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!

P1050249.JPG

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.

Falsterbo-1.8.gif

 

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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 7.08.46 PM.png

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…

big family 2 copy.jpgshiri little and tough.jpg

The porch looks a little different now

 

img_3005.jpg

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

IMG_3026.jpg

P1040752.jpg

P1040773.jpg

P1040944.jpg

P1040807.jpg

 

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.

P1040465

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

IMG_2727.JPG

 

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.

IMG_1186.jpg

So I was definitely thrilled to do it again!

P1040547.jpg

 

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.

P1040498.jpgP1040491.JPG

 

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

P1040533P1040530

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

IMG_2760.jpg

IMG_2763.jpg

P1040556.jpg

P1040571.jpg

P1040582.jpg

 

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

P1040569.JPG

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.

p1040203

 

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.

p1040205p1040209p1040210

 

 

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.

p1040219p1040216

 

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

p1040218

 

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.

p1040233

p1040234

 

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

p1040221

p1040224p1040225p1040226p1040229p1040228

 

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

p1040237

P1040238.jpg

 

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

p1040241p1040252p1040254p1040258p1040259p1040262p1040267p1040274

 

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

p1040279

 

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

p1040282

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!

img_1560img_1562

 

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.

 

p1040428

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.

img_1565img_1568img_1576img_1579

 

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

IMG_1581.jpg

 

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.

img_1566

 

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.

img_1612

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!

A Perfect Vacation Spot In Cuba

I’ve been to beaches in different countries around many parts of the world – from Santa Monica to islands of Fiji, from Ghana to South Africa, and from Israel to Sweden – just to name a few. I couldn’t begin to count the number of beaches I’ve been to throughout the world, and some are definitely famous for being the best in the world. But walking through the sandy beaches of Cuba was really spectacular.

cuba_map

After Havana, we spent the rest of our trip in Varadero on the northern coast. We arrived to a resort that couldn’t have been more beautiful.

P1030358P1030372P1030356

 

And besides the obvious beauty of the hotel itself, the beaches nearby were incredible. With white sand, crystal clear turquoise water, and endless miles of open space.

 

P1030528P1030667P1030588

 

While vacationing in Cuba, we were able to do a variety of activities, including horseback riding along the coast, taking a boat ride into sea, and snorkeling off coast in beautiful coral reefs.

P1030538P1030543

And in case the beaches and pool weren’t enough to keep you occupied, the resort was sure to offer a crazy amount of entertaining activities from foam parties, to dance lessons, to exciting evening shows.

 

We could even ride around in style with our old 1950’s car

P1030511

And there was always plenty to eat everywhere we went

P1030622P1030579

P1030669

 

It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I’ve really been to many beautiful places. It’s a wonderful place to visit because there is plenty to do to keep you busy, so much lovely scenery to enjoy and experience, and natural wildlife close by. It’s exactly the kind of place people dream of  with real serenity and relaxation all around.

P1030472P1030493P1030601P1030585

 

 

I hope one day I’m able to go back!!

 

P1030674

 

 

Overcoming Post-Travel Blues

I had the time of my life this past summer. Well, this whole last year actually. I was able to see places I’ve always dreamed of visiting – from Cambodia to Croatia. I was able to experience things most people never do. I was able to truly live and find myself through the greatest journeys I’ve ever had. During my last semester of college, all I knew was that I wanted to escape and get out of this town, to travel and see the world as much as I could – a lot of people feel that way and say it out loud, but I actually took the jump and did it. I took the goals I had created and I went for them, even when it was hard or scary or bad timing or whatever excuses people make every day for not going after their dreams. I understand why people don’t or can’t accomplish their ambitions, but I don’t understand people who don’t bother trying. Traveling gives me the greatest kind of high I can have, it gives me amazing excitement and passion – it makes me realize love is real because I love to travel more than anything. So even at the worst moments, even when I’m terrified or struggling, it’s absolutely worth it.

 

But let’s be honest, that kind of high is hard to come down from. When I came back after the trip of a lifetime this past summer, after a year of traveling to places some people have never even heard of, I felt on top of the world. Even though I felt homesick at times, coming home was hard and my desire to get back was so strong. When I came home to my messy apartment, friends who had their own crazy summers without me, time before my job started, and this seemingly empty routine waiting for me – it all just caused that amazing high from traveling to crash very quickly. A lot of people gave me a hard time for spending too much time traveling and not enough time developing a “real” life.

 

The week I came home from Europe, I wrote this:

It’s weird when you come back from a trip like that because there’s no way it doesn’t change you, that you don’t grow, see the world differently, learn about yourself and who you are, realize where you come from. And then you come back and you’re suddenly thrown into this routine again with people who were there before the experience that changed you. And that homesickness you felt while you were away turns into this travel-sickness causing you to miss being back out there now that you’re home. And then there you are and you suddenly find yourself surrounded by people you realize don’t actually know you that well, who don’t know the side of you that exists when you’re on the other end of the world. These people who have no idea what you’re going through. You look out the window at what’s going on out there, thinking about how much really is out there. You wonder who here would understand it. You can’t tell anyone how you feel because they haven’t experienced it; they’ve never left this town the same way. And you’re supposed to be happy when you get back to the people you love, so you feel guilty wishing you hadn’t come back. This emptiness just starts consuming you and you’re not sure if it’s the jetlag messing you up or maybe it’s having to face the reality of your life and who you were versus who you are, how you can be one thing here and another there. You try and mix the two together and it doesn’t go well at all because you need different survival techniques in each place and they don’t work the same elsewhere. The real world is different from the travel world.

You must think I’m crazy. This must sound nuts if you haven’t experienced it. I always find that coming home is harder than anything and everything that happens during my travels. Harder than getting sick in a third world country, harder than getting lost in a big city where they don’t speak English, harder than trying to understand the train schedules on a busy day. Coming home takes real work. But eventually you get by. You start adjusting back – so slowly at first you don’t even realize it and you try holding onto who you were when you were away because you like that person better and it felt more real than anything you were at home before. But there you are, going back to your old ways. Forgetting the small details. Forgetting why you felt free and alive in a way you never had before.

And that’s when I know I need to plan another trip before I lose that part of me completely. That need for something else in life – for freedom, for dreams, for change.

 

Obviously when I came home, the post-travel blues took over me. I felt very lost and confused about my place in this town, the direction my life was going, and how I would get through. The confidence I have when I’m on a plane heading to somewhere I’ve never been before seemed to disappear once I walked through a doorway I had been through countless other times. My first instinct was to plan another trip and run, but sometimes you have to take a break and focus on your home life too. That’s what everyone kept telling me anyway, and I get it. I love to travel; it’s practically an addiction. I certainly felt like I went through withdrawal for a long time after I returned home after this past summer. But now, four months after my backpacking adventure, things are finally truly better. I’ve gotten new jobs that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with, I’ve worked on relationships that definitely needed attention, I’ve focused on my health, and I’ve developed a home life that I’m extremely happy with (one that works for me).

 

For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling like I’ve found a purpose. This may sound very silly, but I think a lot of people my age struggle with this reality every day.

 

So there have been some small trips across the country over the last four months, which I will be writing about very soon (I promise)! And we all know I’m always planning another big adventure and working on something in my head – so get ready!

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.

IMG_4219

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.

IMG_4223P1020333

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

P1020331

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!

P1020336 P1020337

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.

P1020385 P1020376 P1020394

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!

P1020398 P1020399

P1020400

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

P1020380

The views from there were just as amazing!

P1020409

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

P1020411 P1020412 P1020414

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.

P1020348

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

P1020347

P1020362

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.

P1020361

P1020363 P1020366P1020364

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.

P1020369 P1020372

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.

IMG_4241

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 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.

IMG_3879

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.

P1010937IMG_3844

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.

P1010842

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.

P1010871

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.

P1010839P1010867 P1010857 P1010860 P1010859

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

IMG_3847

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

P1010841

P1010879 P1010884 P1010877

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.

P1010883 P1010885  P1010864 P1010896

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.

P1010874

IMG_3849

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.

IMG_3851 IMG_3853

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.

P1010899P1010894

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!

P1010916

P1010919

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

P1010926

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.

P1010935 P1010932

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!

IMG_3869 IMG_3863

IMG_3865

I still can’t get over the lovely architecture!