Tag Archives: travel

Prague

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Prague was one of the places we were most excited to visit and while our time there wasn’t spent entirely as I anticipated, we had a really, really good time and thoroughly enjoyed the city!

Inside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica

The first night we arrived in Prague after a bit of a dinner disappointment, we decided to stay in, watch a movie, and go to bed early. Well we watched a few too many movies and an early start (not surprisingly) just didn’t happen. We spent the day at the Prague Castle, which was really very beautiful. We wandered through the exterior courtyards, visited the Basilica of St. George, the Powder Tower, and the Golden Lane. It is a very extensive and elaborate castle and while not the most impressive as in wow-factor, it was in my opinion the most informative and all-encompassing (although there were a few too many details about torture for my taste). After a few hours we exited through the back of the castle onto a terraced hillside overlooking the city. We stopped at a cafe to split a carafe of wine and to fully appreciate the view of the city.

Overlooking the city

Overlooking the city

After our drink we made our way down the hill to “Lesser Town” the area across the river from the main city of Prague. We wandered through the streets for a while, went into a few shops, stumbled across a children’s dance group performing traditional dances in traditional dress, and then walked across the Charles Bridge to Old Town, the historic center. As it was approaching evening this area was a bit too touristy for Erik and I, so we sat in a park for a while and watched the loud American tourists that seemed to be everywhere! As soon as the crowds started to thin we went in search of dinner and had the worst meal of the trip! They clearly forgot about our food, we watch as people who arrived after us sat down, ordered, ate, and left, before finally receiving our dinner which was cold and had clearly been sitting under a heat lamp for the last 30 minutes. Erik was not happy and we decided that we needed to change the course of the night.

Excited in the Ice Bar

Excited in the Ice Bar

We had heard 2 things repeatedly about Prague–that we should go to an Ice Bar and on the Prague Pub Crawl. I was really excited about one and Erik the other, take a minute to guess . . . I bet you guessed correctly, Ice Bar was me and Pub Crawl Erik. Well I won out (mainly because it was too early for the Pub Crawl) and we went to the Ice Bar which was a lot colder than I thought it would be! We were given gloves, parkas, and vodka shots with flavored syrup in ice glasses when we walked in. It was still early so it wasn’t very busy but it was fun. We left there just before the Pub Crawl was supposed to start and decided on a whim to try to make it, and make it we did!

Dancing Building

Dancing Building

It was our last week in Europe and we decided that it was now or nothing, so we didn’t hold back. The deal with the Pub Crawl was the first hour you drink unlimited vodka shots, absinthe shots, beer, and wine, so we did. We met some Australian and Canadian friends and I won’t tell you all the details but to sum it up, we drank a lot, had a lot of fun, and Erik and I lost each other at the last stop which was a 5 story club with hidden rooms everywhere. We both made it back to the hostel safely at a ridiculous hour and we slept nice and late the next day.

Paddle Boating

Paddle Boating

Saturday with our late start we wandered around New Town, saw the dancing building which was cool but not worth all the hype, and then went paddle boating. I appreciate the gimmicky cheesy stuff every so often, but Erik is a no apple picking, no pumpkin picking, no touristy fun kind of guy so I was very pleasantly surprised when he say “Let’s rent a paddle boat,” and it was a lot of fun! It’s one of those things you always want to do but never get around to and Prague was a good place to finally get to it. We paddled around for an hour before taking a walk along the river, stopping for a much needed cup of coffee, wandering around a bit more, grabbing dinner, and then embarking on Prague Pub Crawl Part 2!

Prague Pub Crawl Part 2

Prague Pub Crawl Part 2

We knew what to expect this time and did it right! We made tons of friends from all over, had the correct ratio of absinthe to vodka shots to be drunk but not unhappy, did a bit of dancing, stuck together so we didn’t get lost, and ducked out of the club part early because it was too much to handle twice in a row.

The following day, our last in Prague, we explored another area of the city, ate some street food, saw too many tourists, found a cafe in a square for an afternoon drink, and then had to head back because I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t hungover, if this trip has taught me anything it is how to avoid a hangover, no I came down with something and spent our last afternoon in Prague in bed feeling like death. The following morning we said goodbye to Prague, hopped on our train to Berlin, and the count down to the end has unfortunately begun.

My next post will be from the States. All good things must come to an end I suppose. . .

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Hungary

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My favorite thing about traveling is the unexpected surprises that you come across along the way. Everything about Hungary fell under that category.

Drinks in the park with Zora and Zille

Drinks in the park with Zora and Zille

We arrived in Budapest on the morning of the 8th and spent the day catching up on our lack of sleep from the night train. In the evening we met up with a friend of mine, Zora, who worked harvest with me at the winery in the Fall. Zora and her boyfriend Gabor met Erik and I for a beer and then we made our way over to a Portuguese bar to meet a few of their friends, for what we thought was a wine tasting and concert. After a while there we were rather hungry as Erik and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we went to a Turkish place for Gyros, at which point Zoras older sister Zille joined us. We decided to make one more stop for the night, and went to an outside park/bar in the city center where I tried a Hungarian orange cocktail which was really good and very girly!

Ruins in the English Park

Ruins in the English Park

It was really nice to see Zora and Zille again and we spent most of our week in Hungary with them. The following day we explored in the morning and then met up with Zora at her apartment where we left our bags and then took a walk through the park before getting on a train heading east to Tata–where her Mother and Stepfather, Dezso live. We spent the afternoon walking around the lake and an English park with Zora, Zille, their Stepfather, and their younger sister Gina before heading back to the house where their mother had dinner ready. We sat down and all had a shot of homemade Palinka, a traditional before dinner drink. I am not a big fan of shots but Palinka falls under a different category. It is made by distilling fermented fruit and is smooth and aromatic, particularly the homemade ones.

Zoras family in the cellar

Zoras family in the cellar

Dezso is a winemaker in his spare time and a very good one, so not only was the food amazing (and our first home cooked meal in a month) but the wine was fantastic as well and it just kept coming. After dinner Dejun brought us down to his cellar, which he built along with the whole house (which was beautiful) by himself, where he keeps small tanks of each of his wines. We tried a few of them again and had a nice end to our night, all talking and laughing in the cellar.

20130516-113228.jpgThe following morning we were up and back to Budapest early as everyone had to get to work. We spent the day doing laundry at Zoras apartment (a much needed activity) and wandering around the area that she lives in. We had lunch by the lake, took a look at a castle, explored the neighborhood, and a walk around the park before meeting up with Zora and Gabor who had rented a car for the 4 of us to head to the country for the weekend. We drove 3 hours to the far western side of Hungary, almost to the Slovakian border, to Zoras family’s vacation house. We arrived rather late and spent the first night drinking Palinka and a chili alcohol called Bull Killer. The Palinka was very nice but being the spicy food lover that I am, I really enjoyed the Bull Killer to everyone’s surprise.

The boys in front of the house

The boys in front of the house

Saturday morning Zora and Gabor made us a traditional breakfast. It was similar to scrambled eggs but with 2 types of sausage, tomatoes, onions, and white peppers cooked in. You eat it with a chili pepper paste that was amazing, as well as with bread and tea. It was a very nice breakfast to start our sightseeing filled day. We first went on a short hike up to a castle where we had magnificent panoramic views of the area. We spent a bit of time there laying in the sun and enjoying the view before making our way back down.

In front of the villa with Zora & Gabor

In front of the villa with Zora & Gabor

We then went for lunch in town before heading to a park with a villa. There was a bit of confusion on how to get into the grounds of the villa, so we hopped the fence and climbed the hill where to our surprise, a Polish hunting festival was taking place. Lucky for us there was a booth selling kurtoskalacs, traditional Hungarian dessert, similar to fried dough. It was a cylinder in shape, hollow in the middle, and coated in traditionally sugar in the outside. We had to try it and got one coated in coconut. We then sat down in the grass with our snack and watched the sun begin to set. Back at the house Erik and I set about making an apple pie while Zora and Gabor started on dinner. I am pretty good in the kitchen and I am definitely one who likes to experiment when cooking, but I always have a recipe for reference, except this time. Pies are pretty easy so it wasn’t too difficult but I don’t make pie crusts too often so that was a bit interesting. It turned out really well, the crust was just a bit bread-y. It was Gabors first American apple pie.

The cell at at the winery

The cell at at the winery

Dezso has his main cellar down the street from where we were staying and after we stuffed ourselves at dinner (both Zora and I made WAY too much food) we walked over to the cellar and I have never seen as many stars as I did on that walk. The town was very nice and quaint in the daytime, but nothing compared to the sky when the sun went down! We again tasted through the wines, although here there were about 3 times as many, as he had both tanks and barrels. Zora had a list of the ones we were to try and we didn’t waste any time. We were all a bit drunk and had an intense table tennis battle before calling it a night.

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Sunday Erik and I made breakfast, french toast and eggs-in-a-hole with orange juice. It was our last day in the countryside, so we packed everything up and left the house on our way to the Tokaj Wine Region for a few tastings. Our first stop was a Palinka Distillery for a private tour of the facility and a tasting. The tour was all in Hungarian but I understood a surprisingly large amount of what was being said. We then sat down for our tasting and I cannot put into words how wonderful the Palinkas were. They were incredibly aromatic with strong, clear flavors, and were both smooth and warm all the way down. The two we tried were pear flavored, one a normal pear and the other a Hungarian pear that we didn’t recognize. After our tasting we made our way to the center of the Tokaj region and stopped at a winery, Chateau Dereszla. Here we also had a tour of their underground cellar, this time in English luckily. It was so cold in the cellar that we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm, even though it was practically summer outside. The man who showed us around was very nice and told us about the importance of cellar mold, the history of the winery and the region, how they age their wine, and gave us a bit of information about the different varietals grown in the area and the history of how winemaking in Hungary started. It was very informative and interesting and then we sat down for our tasting. The wine of the region tends to be more commonly sweet, which neither Erik nor I would say is our favorite, but every wine we tried we enjoyed and we decided to buy a bottle. We made one last stop for a late lunch before making the drive back to Budapest.

Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall

Our last two days in Budapest we spent sight seeing. On Monday we had lunch at a cafe in a small square where we tried Goulash, a traditional tomato based Hungarian stew. We then went to see the Grand Synagogue, St.Stephen Basilica, and the Parliament building before walking back down the Pest side of the city along the Duna, the river dividing the city into Buda and Pest. We stopped to have a beer at a cafe along the river and watched the sun begin to set before going in search of dinner. We weren’t finding anything that looked good, so we decided on an Italian restaurant that turned out to be filled almost exclusively with Americans. There was a couple in their 50s from Texas at the table next to us who started talking with Erik when I was in the bathroom, who we talked to for a bit while waiting for our food. When they finished their meal and got up to leave they told us to enjoy our trip and that they took care of paying for our dinner which was incredibly nice of them.

The Parliament Building

The Parliament Building

Tuesday, our last day in Budapest we went to Central Market Hall, a two story farmers market inside an old train station, where we tried Langos, the last traditional Hungarian food on our list of things to try. Langos is somewhere between fried dough and a giant savory pancake that you cover in sour cream, onions, and cheese, we added tomatoes and a meat. It was very good, but also incredibly greasy and left us both sleepy and saturated for the majority of the afternoon. From there we went to Gellert Park, a park on a cliff over looking Pest where we went into the Cave Church, and saw the Liberty Statue. We continued walking to see the Royal Palace, the Chain bridge, and the Fisherman’s Bastion before making our way back to Pest to meet up with Zora.

Zora & Gina

Zora & Gina

Zora and her younger sister Gina met us for a ferry ride along the Duna to Margaret Island, where we took a walk and then met up with Gabor and Zille at a beer garden on the island for a drink. We spent a few hours with then before saying goodbye and going our separate ways.

We enjoyed every moment of our time in Hungary and would greatly recommend visiting this beautiful and overlooked country. The people were really nice, the food very good, the exchange rate was fantastic, the countryside beautiful, the wine and Palinka delicious, and the city was unlike any other I have visited. Although after everyplace I seem to claim that that one was my favorite, I can honestly without a doubt say that Hungary was the highlight of our trip, in part because my friend Zora and her family spoiled us, but also because everything about our time in Hungary was a pleasant surprise. We are now in Prague for the beginning of the end of our Euro Trip.

Munich, Germany

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20130510-173411.jpgThis is the last back post and then I am all caught up from my week of no Internet. On May 4th we parted ways with Rachel as she went off to Pisa for a day before flying home to New York and we got on a train to Munich. While I very much enjoyed our time in Italy, the train ride made me realize how much of the country we missed in our short visit. The train wound through mountains, small towns, along rivers, and through vineyards confirming in my mind that another trip to Italy focusing on the countryside is a must-do in my future!

20130510-173419.jpgWe arrived in Munich rather late and after checking into our hotel decided to go down the street for a drink. Erik being ever friendly decided to find us some friends and sat down with a group of people who we wound up spending the rest of the evening with. They were 3 Germans, a sister, her brother, and his wife. They were very nice and after chatting for a while (and yes lederhosen came up in conversation at least once) they invited us to join them at a club, as the bar was closing. The music was. . . different but we had a nice time and enjoyed talking with our new friends. We finally had to bail as we were falling asleep, and made our way back to the hotel. We had a lazy day and didn’t do much as Erik had caught a virus and wasn’t feeling well. It wound up not being such a bad thing to catch up on our sleep as everything seemed to close down on Sundays.

20130510-173427.jpgThe following day we wandered around and saw a bit of the city, ate a lot of pretzels, bratwurst, and beer. We went out again that night to the same bar and wound up sitting next to a large group of people who were speaking in English and talking about the US. Erik once again made friends and we spent the next few hours talking to 2 Germans, and an Irishman. They all worked together at a company down the street and went out for a few drinks and those 3 wound up spending the rest of their night with us. They were a lot of fun and when it was time to leave, one of them, Lars, who also was the boss of the company paid our tab which was very nice of him! He went home and we went around the corner to another bar with the remaining German and the Irishman whose names I cannot remember. We again had a great night and met some wonderful people.

20130510-173437.jpgOur last day in Munich we spent exploring parks, seeing the remaining landmarks that we hadn’t gotten too, and enjoying the beer gardens before our night train to Budapest, Hungary. It was a really lovely day, one that we both agreed might be our favorite so far. The weather was beautiful and all in all everything was very relaxing. At 11:40pm we got on our night train, a night train that we believed we had a sleeper reservation for only to discover that no we did not! Luckily Erik went to explore and found us an empty cabin. We moved out of our fluorescent light normal seat car into this cabin, pulled the shades down over the window, closed the door, turned off the lights, spread out each over 3 seats, and attempted to sleep for the 9-hour trip to Budapest.

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Italy

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Our hostel in Sorrento

Our hostel in Sorrento

After 24 hours straight of travel we made it to Sorrento, which is located south of Naples. We arrived in the most beautiful hostel I have ever seen, just before we were supposed to meet Rachel and her friends for dinner, so it worked out well. We all met up and went in search of food. We stumbled across a small family restaurant and sat down for dinner. We had a nice light local white wine and I have my first Italian pizza. After dinner (which was amazing!) we went in search of gelato and wandered down to the water to admire the view, watch some fireworks, and take a moment to appreciate that we really were in Italy.

The group in Pompeii

The group in Pompeii

The following day we visited Pompeii in the morning which was really very impressive. I had no idea how large the city of Pompeii was. We spent quite a few hours in what remains of the city before venturing out into the town in search of lunch. Now I knew that it would be warm in Italy but I was not prepared to start summer. It was in the high 80s and we were all a sweaty mess. After lunch our group made a split and Rachel, Erik, and I made our way back to Sorrento while the other two girls went into the city of Naples (which based on their later reflections I wouldn’t recommend).

Some of the ruins of Pompeii

Some of the ruins of Pompeii

Back in Sorrento we explored the central part of the city, went in search of something to drink, and then made our way to the water. We spent the better part of the afternoon looking for a way down to the beach but unfortunately failed in that respect.

It was hot, too hot for me, and after a walk through a lemon grove made our way back to the hostel. Rachel and Erik went for a swim in the pool while I took a shower. We spent the rest if the afternoon drinking cocktails and sitting around the pool where we met up with another girl, Dani, who Rachel knew and who was joining the other two girls for a few days. A little after 7 Ariel and Julia returned from Naples and we all had dinner on the water. We found a great little seafood restaurant and ordered things like seafood pizza, seafood risotto, spaghetti and mussels, the list continues. It was a really nice dinner, we had a nice bottle of wine, and everyone enjoyed themselves. At the end of our meal the waiter brought us out each a shot of Limincella, a lemon alcohol that is very popular in the area and absolutely delicious!

After dinner the gelato search began, not that it was much of a search at all, as there is gelato on every corner, the Starbucks of Italy! All of these places have the same basic flavors and I decided to try something different so I went with Pear & Chocolate. While an odd combination it worked quite well and I was very happy with my choice. We walked around the town a little longer before calling it a night.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

The following morning we were up bright and early and on our way to Rome. We arrived in Rome after not too much trouble, checked into our hostel, and began to explore! After a bit of a wait in line we bought our tickets for the Forum and spent the better part of the afternoon in the Roman Forum and surrounding grounds. It was very pretty and afforded great views of the Colosseum, some terrific buildings, and splendid gardens. That night we had an interesting dinner, we went in search of a restaurant and were talked into a outside restaurant and wound up eating in what they called “paradise” which was a wobbly, crooked table on an incline, in the back of an alley with a fluorescent spot light on us. It was very odd but the food was really good and we got beer in a giant stein as the wines were out of our price range. After dinner we went to see the Trevino Fountain and the Spanish Steps as well as have a gelato, naturally. While both places were quite touristy and crowded, I really enjoyed the Trevino Fountain, as cliché as it might be to say there was something magical about the fountain at night that took you out of the city and transported you somewhere else all together. I couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling of calm that came over me while we were standing there. We of course all made a wish and threw in a coin, some touristy traditions just have to be done! The Spanish Steps were steps. While they were pretty, I believe that is one greatly overrated feature of Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

The following day was a public holiday in Italy. With most things closed our options were limited but we managed to still have a busy day. We woke up early and went to the Colosseum before the lines started to build. It is truly a magnificent space and a powerful one. All I could think the entire time we were inside was, how many people died here? It was very powerful and a bit chilling to think of life at the time the Colosseum was in use. There was a terrific information display on one of the upper levels that did a really good job of showing what life would have been like. After the Colosseum we went to the Vatican. It was very crowded and everyone seemed to be either a) in large groups with matching hats/bandanas/capes, b) families dragging around unhappy teenagers, c) nuns and priests, or d) overdressed couples and then there was us. We were a bit out of place, or at least I felt out of place so we didn’t stay long as we’re weren’t interested in paying or waiting on the long line to get in. After that we took a walk in search of a park that we never found, got some gelato, and then went back to the hostel for a while as it started to rain.

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

That night we went out to a fancy dinner that my parents set up through a friend of a friend and we were well and truly spoiled. It was a lovely restaurant outside, luckily with a roof as it was still raining. When we sat down were we’re brought sparkling wine. We ordered calamari to start and they brought us a white pizza ( a common appetizer) as well. We were rather full before our dinner even arrived but we managed to struggle through another bottle of wine and our meals. I had a pasta, as did Rachel, but the shining star of the meal was the steak that Erik ordered which to all of our surprise was about twice the size of his head! They brought us a limoncello at the end of the meal that completed our food coma. It was a wonderful meal and a very nice treat for us to have a nice dinner, but even nicer was that we didn’t have to pay at all!

Florence from the river

Florence from the river

The following day we left for Florence which was my favorite city in Italy! We stayed at a very nice B&B just outside of the city center. The first afternoon we walked around and draw all of the sights, walked along the river, got gelato of course as it was a daily necessity, and explored before heading back early for a dinner of bread, wine, cheese, and sausage in the room. The following day we woke up early to wait in line to see The David which was very impressive. I have never been a huge fan of art museums but it was one of those things you just have to see. We had lunch at a market and then headed to the edge of the city to a park on a hill that offered panoramic views of the city. I got us a little bit lost in the park (one of my favorite pastimes) and we wound up taking a few mile walk around the park and a few old neighborhoods. I really enjoyed it but I think everyone was a bit annoyed with me by the end. We went back to rest our feet for a time and then went out for dinner for our last night in Italy.

Sights from our long walk

Sights from our long walk

We tried pizza in every city, and gelato every day and my vote for Italy’s best pizza (as it is quite different in each place) was in Sorrento, followed by Rome, and with Florence finishing last. As far as gelato goes, my favorite and I everyone else agreed was in Florence. I think we just stumbled across a particularly good shop but everyone had their favorite that day. Erik had Coffee and Dark Chocolate, Rachel had Azteca and Grapefruit, and I had Maya (chocolate chili pepper) and Cheesecake.

Belgium

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Church in Brussels

Church in Brussels

The woes of a traveller–we have not had steady internet in the last few places that we stayed so posting was not an option. Not to worry, I have continued writing the posts and will upload them over the next few days to catch up.

Our time in Belgium was cut shorter than planned and a bit stressful, but I will get to that later. We enjoyed our time in Brussels and Bruges and they are both what I would deem quite livable cities.

20130508-180430.jpgWe left London and ventured out of the United Kingdom and into the continent, headed for Belgium. After a quick shot through the Chunnel, we arrived in Brussels and made our way to our B&B which was essentially a studio apartment. It was beautiful and in a very nice location. We spent the first afternoon getting our bearings and looking around. We didn’t really have a plan and this was the perfect city for the plan to be lacking.

20130508-180447.jpgWith the French influence everywhere you looked, Brussels seems to be designed for wandering. Small, narrow cobbles streets and grand plazas filled the city, making it a great place to get a little lost. We tried our first REAL Belgian Waffles, I got Nutella and bananas and Erik had strawberries and cream. We had dinner in our room: a bottle of wine, bagget, cheese, and salami, watched a movie and called it an early night.

20130508-180456.jpgThe following day I went down for breakfast and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. We have had very standard continental breakfasts: toast, jam, cereal, and instant coffee. This however was a whole new world of travel breakfast: hard boiled egg, croissant, toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, REAL coffee, REAL orange juice, and a variety of Belgian spreads. Now when you have been traveling for 3-weeks without consistent access to a kitchen and a tendency to sleep through breakfast it is the small things like orange juice and a hard boiled egg that make your day. It really was an excellent breakfast and I got to try a bunch of Belgian spreads: a variation on Nutella, a fruit spread (which was excellent), and Spekuloos which I think was made of graham crackers. We explored the city again, saw the royal palace, visited a church, wandered through the streets, and put my limited knowledge of french to the test when we sat down for lunch. I managed without too many heart palpitations to communicate and we had lunch and tried Belgian beer. Again we had a relatively early night as our feet were bothering us and again had dinner in the room: waffles, wine, and chocolate!

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

The next morning after a second wonderful breakfast we set off for Bruges. This is another beautiful Belgian city with very evident German influence. Whereas French was the primarily language in Brussels, German was spoken almost exclusively in Bruges. We got a weird hotel and wound up spending most of the afternoon there as it was raining rather heavily. It was here in Bruges shortly after we arrived, that we discovered we would not be able to take a train from Belgium to Italy as we had planned. So we were not too disappointed by the wet weather, as we had a new plan to hatch, research, and figure out.

The Bruges waterways

The Bruges waterways

Unfortunately for our budgets we were forced to cut our time in Belgium short and book a flight to Rome. We spent our last day in Bruges exploring the area and wandering the streets as the weather was beautiful! We had a nice morning in historic Bruges before getting on a train back to Brussels and starting our travel day from hell.

Everything worked itself out and we arrived in Italy after not too much trouble where we met up with my friend Rachel.

Edinburgh, Leeds, & Cardiff

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English Breakfast

English Breakfast

Our last morning in Scotland we got up an out relatively early and went to have a true English breakfast, that we decided to do this while in Scotland makes no sense I know but that’s what happened and it was really good. After breakfasting we went back to the hostel and joined the walking tour that was going out from the hostel and learned a lot about the history of the city. A few facts: Edinburgh is the most haunted city in the world, the expression “shitfaced” originated here because before indoor plumbing you threw your chamber pot into the street a 7am and 10pm daily and if you were too drunk to remember the time and were out on the street you got covered in human waste, and J. K. Rowling got a lot of her inspiration and wrote the first book in Old Town Edinburgh.

Matching curtains & sheets

Matching curtains & sheets

Both of us a bit sleepy (one of the guys in our room at the hostel sounded like a fog horn all night snoring!) we hopped on a train and a few hours of rolling hills, sheep, and small towns later, arrived in Leeds. I have been priding myself on my excellent hostel choices up until now. I don’t know what happened but I wound up booking us a hostel in a suburb of Leeds rather than in the city and it was in the middle of nowhere! We had really bad directions and barely a map, got lost I can’t tell you how many times, got lost in not so nice areas, and walked several miles with our backpacks to our hotel, all of the cheap places were already booked including all of the hostels, so this was our only affordable choice but still. Now this wasn’t just any hotel this hotel was ancient! Please see the photo of the curtains that match the bedspread for proof. I must say the place was kind of hilarious and we laughed for quite a while about the whole ordeal.

Europeanized Chili Dog

Europeanized Chili Dog

Since this was one of the few times we had a room to ourselves with no random strangers snoring in the bunk over or waking up at 4am we slept in before heading into Leeds to go to the Royal Armory which I had heard was a must see and free, which is always nice. It was a very impressive museum and we had a good time although as hour 3 of looking at guns came and went my attention span began to wane but that’s what I get for going to an armory with a guy.

Erik with his Robot picture

Erik with his Robot picture

When the museum closed we went into Leeds to explore the Arcades and grab some dinner. Now I have not touched on food too much thus far, but today’s eating deserves mentioning. I had a very American day food wise. I had essentially a chili cheese dog (with a European twist) for lunch and Gumbo for dinner. Both of these are American foods I had never tried before and I must say I REALLY liked them! So my European twist was a bratwurst with chili, monetary jack cheese, jalapeños, and bacon. Also on the food note I tried grape/edelberry sparkling water today, another major success.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

We almost had a big problem on Saturday as we were about 3 minutes away from missing our train to Cardiff and we would have missed it if the train hadn’t been late which luckily it was. After several hours on the train during which we entertained ourselves with an INTENSE game of Dots, several heated rounds of Hang Man, before finally resorting to doodling we finally arrived in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales and fun fact the birthplace of Roald Dahl. We arrived in the late afternoon and after checking into our hostel (I only saw one other female in the place the two days we were there, weird) went out to explore in the first truly warm day we have seen. We wound up hanging out in a park enjoying the sun for quite a while before looking for a supermarket to buy dinner and had a nice lazy night of chess and board games.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

Sunday morning we set out for the Cardiff Castle where we took a guided tour, explored the original keep, and the grounds. We spent the morning and early afternoon there before taking a boat down the river to Cardiff Bay. While I am glad we came to Wales I must admit (much like Leeds) there is not much to do here.

Now we are back in London for 2 nights before heading out of the UK.

Cardiff Castle library

Cardiff Castle library

The original Cardiff Castle

The original Cardiff Castle

Drinking tea in the park and looking smug

Drinking tea in the park and looking smug

Cambridge, York, & Edinburgh

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Cambridge

Cambridge

With 14+ hours of sleep behind us we made our way into the BEAUTIFUL town of Cambridge–a town in which I hope to one day live or at the very least spend a bit more time. The town besides the many colleges is home to countless beautiful old buildings, churches, cobblestone streets, squares, alleyways, and arcades. A river divides the historic portion of town and punts are available for hire. Although we decided to skip the punt tour, we walked along the river for quite a while and it was truly magnificent. Boats were moored along the edges and flowers blanketed the banks. It was one of the more beautiful places I have ever been!

TRAINS

TRAINS

The following day we set off further north for York and arrived 3 trains later in the walled city of York just before dinner. We checked into our hostel, The Fort Boutique Hostel, which was the nicest and most affordable hostel that I have ever seen! We were on the top floor in a mini apartment. There were 2 rooms each with 2 bunk beds and a TV, a full kitchen, and a bathroom. It was really nice and the first opportunity we have had to really cook since we arrived. Erik’s foot was bothering him so he had a rest while I went out to explore and pick up dinner. I am a weak soul and wound up coming back with Fish and Chips and beer, but it was a good meal and probably one of the cheaper dinners we had had up to that point so oh well. We were still in “Yay we are on vacation” mode and haven’t started counting pennies but we are trying when we have the chance and went out to the grocery later that night to pick up breakfast and lunch foods.

York

York ruins

We met a really nice girl, Olivia, an 18-year-old from Melbourne, Australia and shared a bottle of wine while we chatted about our trips and shared the information we had each researched/discovered thus far. She was a great help and gave us some great advice on what to do in York as well as on how to save money on our train trips.

York Minster

York Minster

We spent the next day exploring the town, walking atop the city wall, taking a tour of the Minster, exploring the city parks, window shopping, and walking along the river. Both of us agree that the York Minster was our favorite part of our stay and the highlight of the trip thus far. It is an amazing and breathtaking building that took over 250 years to built and was constructed in 3 different architectural styles. I am not a religious person but walking around in the York Minster made me wish that I was, as I said at the time I have never seen a building that made me want to cry as much as this one did. It was an incredible experience and not one that either of us are soon to forget!

York Wall

York Wall

We had a slight complication with our train and realized that it would be dramatically cheaper to stay in York another night, so we did. Travelers Note: in the UK ALWAYS book trains at least 24 hrs ahead or the price doubles! We spent the next day walking the remaining 2 portions on the city wall, and we went on a tour of the York Brewery. Having worked this past harvest in a winery and growing up in a wine family It is safe to say that I know a fair amount about wine, but embarrassingly little about beer. It was very informative and I was surprised to see just how similar the wine and beer making processes are. We went grocery shopping again, made dinner, drank a bit of wine and relaxed a bit so we were ready to head off to Edinburgh, Scotland (a change in the original plan) in the morning.

Inside Edinburgh Castle

Inside Edinburgh Castle

We spent a few hours in the morning the following day in York before heading off. We didn’t get to Edinburgh until later in the night and decided to grab dinner at a pub and then head back to the hostel for a drink and a little pool before joining the Pub Crawl the hostel had going that night. We had a great night, met a few Brazilian girls and a guy from Malaysia while playing pool and then a few Americans, Australians, and an English guy and Canadian girl on the Pub Crawl. It was a really fun and really late night and Erik had a bit of trouble getting up in the morning. I wasn’t in much better shape but we had made plans to meet up with an American Madelyn and the Canadian girl Allegra in the morning to go sightseeing so I got up and struggled through.

Allegra with a princess crown inside the castle

Allegra with a princess crown inside the castle

Edinburgh is another beautiful city and after I got a little coffee in me, we set off for the Edinburgh Castle–a must see when in the area. We spent several hours exploring the interior of the castle, saw the Crown Jewels of Scotland, visited a number of museums about the Scottish military, went through a Prisoners of War exhibit, witnessed the cannon sounding ceremony, and walked through the royal chambers. It was all very impressive and while pricey definitely worth the cost! We the left the castle and found Erik wandering the Royal Mile (the main historic part of town) in search of us. We all went to Oink for lunch and then to The Real Mary Kings Close, a tour of the underground city that was built beneath the Royal Mile. Now I am a bit claustrophobic but it was an amazing experience and truly astounding that people lived in the terrible cramped, disease ridden conditions under the city of Edinburgh. After that it was off to the Scotch Whiskey Experience where Madelyn, Erik, and I learned how whiskey was made viewed the largest collection of Scottish Whiskey in the world, and had a tasking. I am not a big whiskey drinker but it was so interesting to now be able to compare whiskey, beer, and wine production. We met up with Allegra again for a pub dinner before heading back to the hostel.

Edinburgh Castle Church

Edinburgh Castle Church

Tomorrow we have a few hours in the morning before our train to Leeds and are hoping to see Tom Riddles grave (the grave that inspired Lord Voldemort’s name), the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the Harry Potter books, and the maybe anotherScottish historic site–pictures to come soon!

Erik at the Scotch Whisky Experience

Erik at the Scotch Whisky Experience

London

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London

Welcome to London

Welcome to London

Well it is Day 4 of my Europe Adventure and apart from being terribly tired and perpetually sore we are doing alright. We have had quite a few missteps but nothing that can’t be expected. It is going to be a good and interesting (I’m sure) next few weeks!

20130413-195042.jpgWe left on Tuesday for what was supposed to be a very long wait in the airport that managed to keep getting longer. However after about 7 hours of camping out on the floors of JFK we made it onto our flight and away we went. Unfortunately for me my chair was broken and resulted in a total lack of sleep during the flight, and for anyone who has ever seen me running on 1-2 hours of sleep you know what a truly terrible thing that is, but we survived, made it to London, got some coffee, found our hostel, and began to explore.

20130413-195048.jpgI am a big fan of wandering particularly in a travel situation, so that is primarily what we have been doing. The first day we had a little trouble with directions and wound up doing quite a bit of wandering on the way from the airport to the hostel. I really wish I had clocked the distance, by the end of this trip I have a feeling I will have waked more than I ever have before! We walked pretty much all the way across London with our packs on, a nice gradual ease into the life of a backpacker don’t you think?

Rachel & Erik at the Pub

Rachel & Erik at the Pub

We spent the next few days seeing the sights: Big Ben, The London Eye, St. Paul’s, Camden, Picadilly Circus, Hyde Park, Kensington, Chelsea, the South Bank, the Tower Bridge, etc. On Thursday night we met up with a friend from home, Rachel, for dinner at a pub, and again the following day for a tour of the Globe Theatre, a walk through Borough Markets, and dinner and drinks back at her place with a few of her friends. We had a really nice time with her and seeing the sights and decided to end our stay in London with a Drum and Base concert/club thing that Erik found online. It was definitely out of my comfort zone but I’m on vacation so I thought I would give it a try and it was a lot of fun! We met up with some locals who work at the hostel and all went together. It was a very interesting way to end our stay in London and a different side of London life to see.

Shakespears Globe Theatre

Shakespears Globe Theatre

It was literally an all night event and we made our way back to the hostel just in time for breakfast, packed up our bags, and with both of us literally feeling like the walking dead we made our way to the train and on to Cambridge. Well things were going a little too smoothly and given our full state of exhaustion we fell asleep and missed the stop resulting in an hour of sitting around waiting for another train to take us back to Cambridge but we made it, made it to our B&B and fell asleep at 11am. We should be nice and recovered in the morning and ready for a day in Cambridge before we head off to York.

Travelers Note: ALWAYS have a backup cash option when traveling because you never know when your bank is going to do something stupid and close your debit card! That has been a nice little bit of added excitement but with the help of my sister harassing the bank by phone back home it should all be sorted in the morning. Thanks again Kylie!

Goodbye Skiing, Hello Europe!

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ImageOnce again time has gotten away from me and it has been too long since by last post, but things are about to get very exciting around here!

Yesterday marked the end of my ski season and the completion of Part Two of my year of adulthood denial. I clocked about 60 days on skis this winter and think I have had my fill for a while. Hopefully 60 days was enough to tie me over until the next time I can get on skis, probably not until Winter 2015 unfortunately, but that is life.

My season ended out strong with cold nights keeping the conditions together so we didn’t get too much melt damage and the mountain is staying open for a few more weekends which is great. It is sad to be leaving Gore Mountain after 5 years of teaching in their Ski School and 10 years of skiing at the mountain, but all good things must come to an end and I am just glad that I was able to spend as much time at the mountain as I did this winter.

Last day of skiing Winter 2012/2013Now I am back on Long Island (for the moment). I packed up the house upstate and drove home yesterday after working the morning and saying goodbye. But now that I am back at my parents house the countdown to Europe has officially begun–7 days until this girl boards a plane and heads off on what I am sure is going to be the trip of a lifetime! And while I am very excited for next week, I have quite a bit to get done before I can say goodbye to the US for 6-weeks, starting with the pile of boxes that is currently staring me down from across the room! Yesterday I packed up one house and moved into another and while I thought my packing system was very well thought out, having spent the morning unpacking and organizing I am doubting my methods. I tried to separate the things that I will be taking with me to Chicago in August but not using until then, from the things that I need for the summer, which was all well and good except for one tiny detail–I forgot to label the boxes. My time-saving plan didn’t work out quite the way I had hoped.

Note: When moving ALWAYS remember to label what is in each box! It will save you a lot of headache. 

Oh well, once the boxes are finished I can at least cross that off my to-do list which seems to never stop growing. This time next week I will be in another packing nightmare, packing and re-packing my backpacking trying to decide of I really need an extra sweater or not. Until then . . .

Let the European Adventure Planning Begin!

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As part of my 12-month dive into the world of want and separation from the world of reality  I am planning a 45 day trip to Europe. A trip which I will do my best to document and capture on here for you all to enjoy. However, as my travelling buddy and I are struggling through the terribly difficult task of deciding between all of the places that we want to go I thought I would share our tentative plans with you and welcome any and all suggestions, opinions, thoughts, words of wisdom, and other brain waves that you might send my way.

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Tentative Travel Plans

Day 1: Fly into London

Day 2-4: Explore London

Day 5-14: England and Wales Loop

Day 15-16: Brussels/Brugge, Belgium

Day 17-18: Cologne, Germany

Day 19-20: Small Villages in Italy

Day 21-25: Rome and Florence, Italy

Day 26-27: Verona, Italy

Day 28-30: Munich, Germany

Day 31-33: Budapest, Hungary

Day 34-36: Vienna, Austria

Day 37-40: Prague, Czech Republic

Day 41-45: Berlin, Germany

If anyone has any suggestions of places to see, things to do, and things not to miss, or to skip, I would be forever grateful because we leave in a little over a month and so many things are still yet to be decided. While our indecision in a lot of ways in a good thing–I don’t like to travel with a minute-by-minute plan–I would like to have a few things that we plan of seeing in each location decided before we get on the plane.

There will be more regular posts coming at you in the near future, but the last few weeks my life has been consumed with the planning of this trip, an important interview, and settling into a new relationship (yay boyfriends!) which have kept me far away from my social media sources, but I am back and ready to post with a vengeance before setting off to jet around Europe for a month and a half. So Happy March and I will be talking to you again soon!