Germany has no shortage of castles. In fact, there are about 20,00 of them throughout the country. One of my favorites is Burg (castle) Eltz, located in Wierschem in western Germany.
At 850 years old, the castle has been a staple in Germany for some time. Located not far from the Moselle River, Burg Eltz has been standing in Germany since before the Middle (Medieval) Ages. Since then, the country has seen many battles. With much luck and an isolated position, it is one of the only castles not to be destroyed or harmed during any wars or battles.
The castle hosts incredible architecture, with the current design dating back to the 1600s. It looks like a real-life gingerbread castle. The details of the interior and exterior are prime examples of the craftsmanship we do not see much in today’s world. The exterior features copper dragon gutter covers, red and white painted turrets, as well as other intricate details. The interior has a few rooms staged as they were in the 16th and 17th centuries. The rooms included bedrooms, a kitchen, a hunting room, and others.
Right exterior side
The castle owners offer tours of the facility. I highly recommend taking the tour, which will allow you inside access to the castle and highly informative tour guides. Tours are available from April to November, from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm every day. The guided tours are available in multiple languages (English, German, French, and Dutch). Tours cost 10€ per adult and 6.50€ per child.
In addition to an inside tour, a ticket includes access to the Treasury room, which houses treasures from all over Europe – including many gold pieces, ivory, and old weapons. I was seriously amazed to see so many treasures in one place. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see all of the items in the Treasury, but we did get to walk through each of the multiple floors. It was absolutely a sight to see.
Some further info for visiting is:
Parking costs 2€ per car
Can use a footpath or a shuttle to get to the castle from the parking lot
The footpath takes you through the woods; the shuttle will take you on a road. You can walk on the road and get beautiful views
Two restaurants in the castle; both looked nice, with many food options and ample seating
Extensive gift shop with many souvenirs for purchase
The area in and around Burg Eltz is very picturesque. The castle is beautiful in all seasons, whether you can see the entire castle or only the exterior. If you get the chance, make sure you take a tour if they’re available. The guides are incredible and provide much more information than you can gather from online research. And honestly, having the opportunity to visit the rooms and Treasury are so worth it!
If you’re itching for a second quick dose of castles, visit Burg Thurant, only a short drive from Burg Eltz. For a quick and delicious bite to eat, stop at Turmgasthaus Burg Thurant, a hotel and restaurant located on the Moselle River. Less than 15 minutes from Burg Eltz, the restaurant offered a limited but scrumptious menu. I went with a Zander fish filet with Reisling sauce, with cabbage and potatoes. Jake, my husband, had deer steak for his dinner. The employees of the restaurant were great, as well. They could tell that we were struggling with translating the menu and were quick to offer help. We would definitely eat there again.
Fun Fact: A bed in the castle is from the Middle Ages and has several steps leading to the mattress. The guide told us that the saying “climbing into bed” came from this period.
Extra Fun Fact: The same family, the Eltz family, has owned the castle since its construction.
Mallorca, or Majorca, as the locals spell it, is a small island off the west coast of Spain. Part of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Mallorca is a common vacation spot for many Europeans. Locals told us that they hardly have Americans visiting there. Many times we were mistaken for British vacationers because we spoke English. It made us laugh. Even though we visited in late September, there were still plenty of people enjoying the sandy beaches and the last bit of summer. Cala Millor, the specific area we stayed in, was a hot spot for many Germans. Our Ryanair flight from Frankfurt-Hahn was packed full!
Location, location, location!
When I was searching for places to vacation, I did a quick Google search of the “best beaches in Mallorca,” since we already knew we wanted to go to the island. Cala Millor, on the east side of the island, was one of the highest on the list. I was even more set on this location after finding a cost-effective hotel, thanks to Booking.com
Home away from home
We stayed at Hotel Morito, about a 5-minute walk to the beach. By car, the hotel is nearly an hour from the Palma de Mallorca airport, on the west coast. The three-star hotel was good for the price. We paid approximately 600€ for 6 nights. The water pressure was strong (super important to us!), it was close to the beach, and the room was clean. The hotel offered theme nights, an Elvis impersonator concert one night, classical piano music another, and Taco Tuesday including both food and entertainment. There was something almost every night we were there. The hotel also had a gym and pool (kiddie and adult) available for those looking to get their tan on, without getting sand between their toes. The view from our balcony was incredible. We had an ocean-view room and I’m so glad we did.
We couldn’t have expected much else for the cost, but we did wish the room had more amenities available, like better WiFi and shower products. The food at Morito was good, too. Breakfast and dinner buffets were available, as well as a limited lunch menu. The hotel employees were friendly, and many spoke English or knew enough English to fill in the blanks of our broken Spanish. We would stay there again.
Where to, sir?
Taxis were readily available, but we used mostly our legs to get around! Cala Millor is the type of location where having a car is more of a hinder than a help. The roads are small and filled with lots of walkers and bikers. Taxis were not only easy to find but relatively cheap, too. For many destinations, there is a flat-rate that the drivers charge. PRO TIP: tips tend to be included in the final charge, under the name “supplements.” Of course, you can always give an additional tip. We did and I’m sure the taxi drivers appreciated it.
The majority of our time was spent walking to places. Cala Millor is a very accessible walking town. If you happen to get hungry or thirsty, there are plenty of restaurants on each street.
If you prefer a mode of transportation a little more strenuous, rent a bike. We rented bikes two days we were there. Again, the cost was so affordable. For about 3.50€ a bike, per hour, we were able to take bikes out on the town. We used Rent a Bike Cala Millor, which had three different types of bikes (city, cross-trek, and mountain) to choose from. My husband rode the cross-trek bike which allowed him to ride along the sand better than I, who rode the city bike. I was a tad too short to fit on the cross-trek! The rides were exhausting at times, but we got to see some pretty incredible things along the way.
Gotta stay busy!
We didn’t just soak up the sun on the gorgeous beaches of Cala Millor; we took advantage of some of the activities and sights the area had to offer.
To the southern end of our coast, there was an old watchtower named Castell de n’Amer. The watchtower originated from the 17th century and was used as a way to protect the island. You can tour the tower for free and get a glimpse of what it may have been like for 17th century Spaniards.
Take caution, however, the stairwells are very narrow and windy, and the doorways are low. My husband, at 6feet tall, was barely able to go under them without hitting his head! The location also has a small restaurant, with a full menu, drink options, and seats overlooking the cliff. From the Castell, we could see across to the other side of the coast, making for an incredible view. We found the best way to get there was to ride our bikes, but many people also walked to the area.
Another day, we visited Cuevas del Drach. Located in Porto Cristo, about 15 minutes south of Cala Millor, the caves make for a cool, figuratively and literally, event. Tickets are available online, for 15€ per adult. If you purchase online, you’ll save some moneyyyy. Who doesn’t love that?
The ticket includes a tour of the extensive underground caves, as well as an underground concert and a boat ride in one of the world’s largest underground lakes. We enjoyed touring the cave, however, it would have been more enjoyable if the number of people at one time was decreased. Many people were stopping in the walkways to take photos, which is totally fine, but not when there are close to 100 people behind you! At the end of the tour, a classical music concert is performed on boats in the lake. The experience is one to remember, especially when the lights go out and your eyes are guided only by a few lights in the water and the music. Again, the number of people in the cave drove us crazy! It took close to 15 minutes for everyone to be seated and for the concert to begin. The old people sitting in front of us literally fell asleep waiting for the show to start. We enjoyed the experience, but would probably not visit again.
Blue water in the caves
More blue water
Jake standing near an ancient bath near the caves
Exploring after our tour
The most exciting thing we did in Cala Millor was ride jet skis! I had not ridden jet skis before and was nervous. Jake likes to drive fast and is pretty fearless, so I didn’t know what to expect. The experience turned out to be fantastic! Jake and I shared a jet ski and rode along Mallorca’s west coast. I never in a million years thought that I would ever be riding a jet ski, or anything for that matter, in the Mediterranean Sea. We rented the jet skis through Jet Ski Balaer, at a rate of 124€ for an hour. This price included the jet ski, a guided tour, and photos of our time on the water. Phones were not allowed so we solely relied on the guides from the company.
*Unfortunately, we are still waiting for our photos. I’m dying to see them!*
It’s fueling time!
Last, but not least, my favorite part of every trip. During our time, we became regulars at a local café called Bar Café San Francisco. We chose it initially as a cheap alternative to the hotel restaurant and were pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere was inviting, service was exceptional, and the food was even better. My favorite dish was a salad with feta cheese and eggplant, along with their sangria and frozen coffee (café helado). Jake enjoyed their pasta, sandwiches, and draft beer (cerveza).
The first restaurant we ate at in Cala Millor was Cafe del Sol, located on the water. If you’re trying to stick a budget, this spot may not be for you. It’s not overly expensive but is a little pricier than Bar Café San Francisco. The sangria here was so delicious! We got a liter of it for 13.50€. The seafood dishes were delicious, too. I tried pasta with tuna and pesto, pasta with salmon, and a house salad that included smoked salmon, avocado, and other greens. All of the dishes were enjoyable. Jake had a cuttlefish dish and later a salmon sandwich.
Pasta & pesto
Cuttlefish pa amb oli
Each night Cafe del Sol featured live music, which you could enjoy while watching the waves crash against the moonlight.
Buffalo Steakhouse allowed us to enjoy a little piece of home in Mallorca. With dishes ranging from t-bone steaks to loaded nachos, this restaurant featured many dishes you would find at Texas Roadhouse or Longhorn Steakhouse, with a side of Chipotle. Jake had a burger with fries, which he enjoyed lots. I dove into a veggie tortilla with a side of fries and guac. LOVE. My tortilla was so delish and left me full for hours. The sangria there was to-die-for.
Cafeteria Gayma wasn’t located on the water, but on the busy road near our hotel. They offered a 7-tapa (appetizer) selection for about 25€. We honestly had no idea what we were eating but they were delicious!
Delish sangria w/ extra sparkle
We surmised that the tapas included lamb, chicken, cheese, and seafood. I enjoyed yet another sangria there. Service was good at Cafeteria Gayma. We would visit again.
One thing I especially wanted to try while in Mallorca (other than sangria) was paella. A traditional Spanish dish of saffron rice mixed with anything from seafood to pork to plain ol’ veggies. We decided to stop at Sa Caleta, another restaurant by the water, to indulge in some paella. *drool* We ate seafood paella and I devoured my portion so quickly, it was gone before I knew it! Yet again, the sangria was scrumptious.
I like sangria. Can you tell?
Our visit to Cala Millor was memorable and very enjoyable! Next time we visit we hope to explore the east side of the island with attractions such as the Palma Cathedral; Royal Palace of La Almudaina; Sant Francesc Church; and Bellver Castle, home to Mallorca’s history museum. A snorkeling excursion is on the list, too!
Fun fact: Take bike ride north of Cala Millor and stop at Cala Bona. The site has beautiful views where the edge of the Cala Millor inlet is visible. There are also plenty of places to stop for a quick dip or bite to eat!
Nestled above Landstuhl, Germany, are castle ruins that have a history dating back nearly a millennium. Today, only a few pieces of the once immense Castle remain. Castle Nanstein, or Burg Nanstein if you want to say it with its native name, was first mentioned in 1253. The castle originates from around some time in the 12th century AD. During the 13th to 15th centuries, it was an Imperial castle. The castle’s primary purpose was to protect the Palatinate, a region of Germany.
Castle Nanstein is the former home of Franz von Sickingen. von Sickingen was a German knight and leading force of the Reformation. After the Castle was passed down to him from his father, von Sickingen refortified the castle to protect himself from potential enemies (i.e. catapults, knights with swords, cannonballs), around 1518 AD.
In 1523, von Sickingen lead the Knight’s Revolt, a revolution created by the Protestant Reformation against the Roman Catholic Church. Part of the Revolt lead fighting to Nanstein, creating a bloody battle at the site. It was during this battle that von Sickingen was shot and later died on May 7, 1523.
After the battle that killed von Sickingen, the castle needed to be repaired. It would take nearly twenty years for the reconstruction to begin. After 1543, von Sickingen’s sons began rebuilding the Castle in a Renaissance style. Unfortunately, the Castle was not safe from further destruction. Between 1668 and 1869, parts of the Castle were destroyed by the Germans and later the French. Today, only one part of the Castle remains.
Since 1869, the Castle ruins have been restored and preserved for visitors from near and far to experience the once great Burg Nanstein.
In early September 2018, my husband and I visited the Castle. It was just a short drive for us. Beware, the road leading to the Castle is narrow and windy. When you arrive at the Castle, there is a restaurant where you can enjoy a beer or traditional German meal overlooking Landstuhl.
The restaurant only accepted cash, like most places in Germany, and we only had enough cash for the Castle tour. Next time we visit we will be sure to bring enough. The tour of the Castle was cost-effective, being around 4-5€ per person. If you are U.S. military personnel, you receive a discounted ticket price. There are audio and self-guided tour options. I wish we had chosen to do the audio tour because there are not many signs throughout the Castle to provide additional information about what you are looking at. Inside one part, however, there is a video detailing the history of the Castle, a bust of von Sickingen, and more information about the man who gave his life protecting his Castle.
The grounds offer insights into how life in the Middle Ages was. Ruins from bedrooms, kitchens, even a stage, are visible. If you’re lucky you might spot some stones with writing dating back to 1347 or earlier!
REALLY OLD block
Doorway with now weather-worn man
Blocks that most likely once made up the Castle walls
I recommend visiting Castle Nanstein if you are in the area. Germany, like much of Europe, is filled with castle ruins. Thankfully, these are located right in my backyard! The grounds are more extensive than you might think and there are plenty of great spots for photographs. If you are not interested in the history of the location, it is also a local hiking, biking, and eating spot. There’s something for everyone at Burg Nanstein.
*Information gathered from Wikipedia and Castle Nanstein’s informational brochure.
Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea has always been a dream of mine. Who wouldn’t want to swim in the clear, blue waters? Bask in the hot Italian sun? Eat all of the mouth-watering Italian food possible? A very, very silly person, that’s who.
This August my dream came true. I was given the opportunity to travel to Calabria, Italy, and live a life some only dream of.
Incredibly, I was not only blessed with family abroad, but with friends who have family abroad. This made my time in Calabria much easier since I did not have to worry about accommodations or transportation for most of the days.
My bestie, Elisa (follow her on Instagram at @cuginetta_), and her famiglia hosted me during my stay there. I couldn’t have asked for a better time or better company. I hadn’t seen Elisa since I moved to Germany in May. Being away from my best friend for three months was DIFFICULT, so I was beyond happy to be reunited with her. *cue waterworks*
Ok, so here are the deets of my trip:
Calabria, a region of Southwest Italy, is located on the “toe” part of the Italian boot. We spent the majority of our time in Cropani Marina, at Elisa’s family home, a 10-minute walk from the beach.
I traveled via Ryanair from Frankfurt-Hahn airport to Lamezia Terme, the small airport located in Calabria. The flight was smooth and uneventful, other than the screaming child next to me. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food in the airport. I was able to give the croissants (cornetti) and pizza a try. I didn’t waste any time participating in my favorite part of any trip – eating.
Even though I spent the length of my trip only in the region of Calabria, I was able to still hit up many spots.
As I said, the majority of my time was spent in Cropani. It was there where I was introduced to the incredibly clear blue waters. Much to my surprise, there weren’t any waves in the sea. Growing up on the East Coast of the USA, beach = waves. Once the initial shock wore off, I was content to float around in the Mediterranean Sea.
Some points of interest in this area are:
Primaopoi – a restaurant with a delicious menu, filled with seafood and fresh pizza options. Also has a great crew of workers that will take care of you well!
Seafood & Linguine
Bar Aiello – technically in the neighboring town of Botricello, this spot has some of the most amazing pastries I’ve ever tasted. We had breakfast our final full day in Italy here and I couldn’t have been happier. The fasçade of the building is almost as breathtaking as the abundance of deliciousness inside. If you get the chance, make sure to give their pistachio cannoli a try. I promise you won’t regret it.
My delicious breakfast
Huge array of pastries!
This town sits above Cropani in the mountains. The roads getting there are incredibly windy and may remind you of the Wild Mouse ride you may have ridden as a child. Basically, the roads are windy af and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The views from the top of the mountain are well worth the drive. The area kind of takes you back to Old Italy, with narrow, winding streets and small, adorable homes.
Pizzo is a small town we stopped at on the way to Tropea. The town is located on a cliff, allowing it to have magnificent views of the Sea. This made for some great photo ops. While there, we made a visit to the Chiesetta di Piedgrotta, a 17th-century church built into the side of the cliff. The legend goes that the church was built by shipwrecked sailors as a way to show their appreciation for their survival. The church does not look like one from a traditional sense as it is filled with various hand-carved stone statues. It did have an altar, however. Many of the statues are covered with sediment from the cave, making them look like true pieces of it. Tours of the church are available and cost about 3€ each. Tickets can be purchased at the church, located down a staircase along the cliffside.
Staircase leading to Church. Church is on the right
Tropea was the most breathtaking location I visited in Calabria. One person we met there said it was the “poor person’s Sardinia,” a very scenic (but pricey) part of Italy. When driving to the beach area of Tropea, you go down more windy roads (no surprise there), where you may eventually be caught in the shadow of the homes on the above cliffside. It sure made for a cool ride. That being said, the cliff was no match for the water!
The clearest water I’ve ever swum in, again lacking waves. The only downside to the beach was the lack of sand – pebbles took its place. Definitely, purchase some water shoes if you’re going to Tropea. Your feet will thank you.
My favorite parts of our night in Tropea were: eating a delicious kebab (thanks to the urging of Elisa); walking at sunset with her to see the light reflecting off the water (serious photo op!); pistachio Tartufo gelato; eating lots of onions (they’re known for them); visiting The Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola (Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea); and most importantly, embracing my mermaid self in the Sea.
Pistachio Tartufo Gelato
Calabria is not just a region filled with beaches, it has mountains (i.e. Andali), and vast national parks. Sila National Park is known as the national park of Calabria. It is a great place to hike, and that’s exactly what we did. A welcome relief to me, who was suffering from an insatiable sun rash/burn/poisoning?, the hike took us some couple miles into the park. Walking through the woods reminded me greatly of my home in Pennsylvania, something I’ll always be happy about.
After our hike, we stopped for lunch at a small shop/restaurant in Aprigliano. I honestly cannot remember the name of the place, but for the size of it, it was PACKED. No wonder, because the food was great. We all had made-to-order sandwiches, which is my favorite kind of sandwich. I loaded on so many things to my sandwich that the ladies making it literally stopped and took pictures of it! I guess they never had an American as hungry as I in their shop.
I ate it all, by the way. 🙂
The legendary sandwich
La Castella is a town named for its main attraction, the castle fort, named Fortezza Aragonese di Le Castella, that sits on its coast. It was amazing to have the chance to see first-hand the ancient fortress. The area is so old it said to have been referred to as the island of Calypso by Homer. The area is mentioned several other times throughout history, enhancing its rich ancestry.
The first night we went to the castle, we were pleasantly surprised to see a live tarantella concert was happening. Elisaloves the tarantella, and was overjoyed to experience it! I love making a fool of myself, so I joined her in dancing to the music on the beach. It actually turned out to be a great, fun moment.
My second time at the castle was when I took a tour. Tours are about 4€ and you can either be self-guided, like me, or listen to an audio tour. I did the tour at night, so the castle was lit up. The fortress is dated to be from between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, making it pretty friggin’ old. A must-see, for sure.
Time to say “Good-bye”
Our final dinner was at Lido Faro Blu, a restaurant located in Sellia Marina’s waterfront. I had an incredible eggplant pizza. It might have been THE BEST pizza I’ve ever had. Thin crust, fresh mozzarella cheese, and thinly-sliced eggplant. *drool* This restaurant was moderately priced. The atmosphere was slightly more formal than your average place, but the prices don’t necessarily reflect that.
And with that, it was time to say goodbye to the extended family and friends I had made while in Calabria. *cue the waterworks, again* Of course, the hardest goodbye was not the scrumptious food or blue waters, but the goodbye to my bestie Elisa. Serious waterworks, basically waterfalls, fell from our eyes as we hugged at the departure gate.
Having such an incredible trip and being able to have a little piece of home with me for 10 days was awesome. An experience I will never forget. The amount of pure bliss I felt while in Calabria is more than evident in many of my photos. The sun was not only glowing – I was, too.
I cannot wait to return to Calabria, with my bestie in tow, to soak up the Mediterranean sun. Maybe next time I’ll bring my husband if he’s a good boy. *hint, hint.* I know you’re reading.
For more photos from my trip, check out my Instagram @robstraveldiaries and you can see me “dancing” to the tarantella on Elisa’s Instagram @cuginetta_
One final tip: If possible, learn some Italian before your Calabrian getaway. It will make your life a lot easier and it will help you communicate with the locals, making for a more well-rounded experience. I added a few vocab words to my repertoire while in Italy. It sure helps a lot when your friend is fluent. If that’s not the case, do yourself a favor and head to Duolingo before you hop on that plane!
Until my next adventure,
THANK YOU TO ALL OF ELISA’S FRIENDS AND FAMILY. TI AMO.
First, a quick anecdote- When I was going through security to fly to London, my contact solution was taken since the bottle was too big. No biggie, but I did need to get some ASAP. My cousin took me to a local pharmacy to pick some up. The only issue was I only had dollars and Euros on me, neither of which would help me in the UK. So, I said, “Thank you, but I don’t have any shillings on me,” to which everyone in the car began laughing at. Completely oblivious to how stupid what I had just said was, my cousin handed me some British pounds and said, “Here, Robyn, here are some shillings for you!” Needless to say, I will NEVER forget what currency is used in the UK. Funny enough (if this could get funnier), shillings haven’t been circulating since 1970 — 25 years before I was born!
By the way, the pharmacy was closed. LOL.
My trip in London was short-lived. I spent most of the time with family, seeing many that I hadn’t seen in over a decade and meeting some I had actually never met (or remember meeting). Can you believe that? Big family probs.
The highlight of my time in London (and the main purpose of being there) was my cousin Kelly’s wedding.
The ceremony was beautiful. The sun shown down on the happy couple. They beamed with as much happiness as the sun. The reception was just as great! Full of more love, dancing, and good ol’ family time.
There, I found my love of Peroni Italian lager. Also, champagne, and white wine, and red wine. Honestly, all the alcohol. #TurnUp
Wondering when I visited downtown? Look no further!
My final day in London was spent exploring many of the hotspots.
Below is a list of some of the things I did and saw:
Ferry along the River Thames
My cousin, who hosted me (THANK YOU, JOHN & FAMILY!) during my time in London, lives on the outskirts of the city, so we needed to take the ferry. This was super awesome! You know the London Bridge? Well, thankfully it wasn’t falling down anymore because I went under it! The ferry was a great way to get quickly get the essence of London.
Sure, the River Thames was a cool way to see London. The London Eye was even cooler. Basically, it’s a huge Ferris wheel with standing room and a clear enclosure. By the time you reach the top, you can see all of London.
Big Ben and Palace of Westminster
I was most excited to see Big Ben when I visited London. Besides Buckingham Palace, the clock tower was what my mind’s eye pictured when I thought of London. I did not go inside the tower, as international visitors are not allowed. UK residents and British citizens must get written permission to inside. The Palace of Westminster is the home of the English Parliament. It is also known as the Houses of Parliament.
I was able to get good views of the clock tower from the London Eye, across the river, and I even got to stand in front of it! Unfortunately, if you visit London now, the view of Big Ben will be skewed because of ongoing restoration of the tower. According to the UK Parliament’s website, the restoration is scheduled to be completed in 2021. Even with the scaffolding present, I’m sure it’s still a sight to see.
Quick fact: Big Ben is the name of the bell. The tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower, after Queen Elizabeth II (Parliament UK).
The National Gallery
I love me a museum, especially in a different country than my own. While in London, we stopped in to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (fourth edition). It was interesting to see this piece, as my parents have a print hanging in our house! Never did I think that I would see the real thing.
Fish & Chips.
We stopped to get lunch during my mini-tour of London. I chose to go with the traditional “Fish & Chips,” which came with, the also-traditional, mushy peas (delish, even if they sound gross!). Sadly, no pictures of this meal survive, most likely because it was eaten so quickly! YUM
I found my summer home while in London. It’s this quaint little place. Maybe you’ve heard of it – Buckingham Palace?
Ok, so maybe The Queen won’t want to share her palace with me, but no one stopped me from taking pictures in front or watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony. It’s amazing to see how serious those men stay during the ceremony, even with people making faces at them. I was unable to go inside the Palace because I had a flight to catch, but it is possible. Visit the Royal Trust Collection’s website to find out when you can visit. P.S. If the flag is up when you visit, The Queen IS IN THE HOUSE! She was when I was there…score.
There are many more things than what I was able to do when I visited in 2015. Luckily, I was able to see Big Ben without scaffolding, it WAS NOT raining (surprise), and The Queen was at her Palace when I visited.
My next trip I hope to visit the Tower of London, tour Buckingham Palace, see more of the art in the National Gallery, and maybe (if I’m lucky!) spot a royal.
Have you ever been to London? Do you have any other recommendations of where to go?
Thankfully, I have a large family, which means that I hardly ever have to book hotels when traveling. I rarely have to book transportation either, as was the case with this trip. My aunt retrieved me from the airport and put me up in her spare bedroom for the first couple days of my trip.
My first day in Ireland consisted of only sleeping. Jet lag can be killer.
I knew I couldn’t sleep away my whole second day in Dublin, but I sure could spend it drinking beer. My aunt and I went to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate in Dublin. Beware of parking if you visit: it is limited. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there, both as an educational time and a family bonding moment.
What did I do at the Guinness Storehouse? you may ask.
Drank Guinness, of course! Sláinte!
We toured the first level where old Guinness artifacts were displayed for visitors’ enjoyment. My most favorite part was the Guinness Academy, where I learned how to pour the perfect pint. For about $20 USD, you can learn how to pour your own. It’s absolutely worth waiting in line! BTW, at the end you get a certificate that you can rub in your friends’ faces. Not everyone can pour the perfect pint of Guinness. It is a science, after all.
Other things to check out at the Guinness Storehouse are: the Gravity Bar with a panoramic view of Dublin, the restaurant with Guinness-infused dishes (give the stew a try), and the extensive gift shop.
Donegal was my next destination. My cousin, who lives in Dublin, was kind enough to take me back to her parents’ home with her in Donegal. On the way, we made a pit stop for her to vote in the Referendum vote happening that day. Ireland was voting on whether to legalize gay marriage or not. I did not realize how big of a deal it was for the Irish to vote for this, but it is a majority Catholic country, so it did make sense. The referendum was approved, and it was cool to witness such a historic event.
The drive to Donegal was incredibly scenic (cue Benbulbin, Atlantic Ocean). Driving along the coast was picturesque and a great introduction to the area. The area is much different than Dublin, which is a busy metro area. The rural roads can be quite intimidating: windy, rocky, narrow, you name it. Farms galore.
My family’s hospitality was heartwarming. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty at any point of my time in Donegal. My cousins took me to see the beach, which was so cold!!! Even though it was May, it was frigid compared to what I was used to.
They also took me to visit Glenveagh Castle, part of Glenveagh National Park. Located on Lough Veagh, the castle dates back to the late 19th century, and featured beautiful gardens, tearooms, and a restaurant. I would definitely visit the Castle again and be sure to visit the restaurant.
I spent a few nights in Sligo, my mom’s hometown. It was great to return to the place of many fond childhood memories of my grandparents’ and aunt’s houses. I also got an opportunity to explore downtown Sligo’s nightlife with my cousin. We went to several bars and clubs, including the Garavogue Bar, which is situated along the Garavogue River. It was a great night, filled with laughter and enjoyment. The only drawback was wearing high heels in both the rain AND on cobblestone roads. Just don’t… don’t do it.
Baby Guinness, Smithwick’s & cider. THE LIFE
Castleisland, Co. Kerry
After driving about 4 hours south with my cousins, we arrived in Castleisland, located in the southwest of Ireland. The sightseeing for this destination was done during the drive, not when there. This trip was just to see family I hadn’t seen since 2003. It was great to see my cousins, my uncle and my now-late aunt. I’m grateful I was able to see her when I did, not knowing it would be the last time I would ever see her. We spent the night doing what the Irish are best known for: drinking and having the craic (fun).
Back to Co. Donegal
After Sligo, I had another quick overnight in Donegal, while waiting to leave for London. After some drinks, we went to the pitch (Gaelic football field) and celebrated the win of the local Ardara team! It was very cool to see the community rally around the team and be immersed in the Irish football sensations.
An all-nighter at the pitch ensued, which was well worth it. The long hours and (freezing) cold were easily ignored amidst the experience and chance to spend more time with my family.
Back to Co. Dublin
After returning from London, I had a few days left in Ireland before my trip home. There wasn’t much more I had wanted to do, except for one thing.
I gathered a handful of souvenirs during my three weeks in Ireland and England. The major souvenir I had yet to get was a shamrock tattoo, which I had been formulating since before I even left the States. My cousins in London had joked around with me about getting tatted when I was there, but I ultimately decided to wait until I was back in Dublin.
Two days before I was to return home, I talked with my aunt and we arranged to go downtown. I Googled some tattoo parlors nearby and called around about who was available for walk-ins. Thankfully, one parlor, Reinkarnated, had both great reviews and an opening. Located in the Temple Bar, a bustling area of downtown Dublin, provided me with a great first tattoo experience and my favorite souvenir to date. If you’re ever in Dublin and want to get a tattoo, be sure to give them a call! Kim, @kimdoodles on Instagram, was my artist. She made me feel incredibly comfortable and created a unique piece just for me.
The (bloody) aftermath…
Healed, finished product!
Did I mention that this was a secret tattoo? Yeah, I didn’t tell my parents (who are not very supportive of body modifications) that I planned on getting inked when I was away. The middle image is what my foot looked like when I arrived back in New York. My mother completely unaware that my Godmother (her sister!) had taken me to get a tattoo. She said I was lucky that it was a shamrock LOL. My dad could hardly believe what I had done. But, there was no reason to stay mad because the tattoo was here to stay.
Getting a tattoo wasn’t the only thing I did on my last day in Dublin. My aunt took me to Trinity College, just a short walk from Reinkarnated. I won’t lie and say that my foot was pain-free after just getting stabbed with many needles over the previous hour, but it was bearable enough to see one last attraction in Ireland.
Trinity College, a research university in central Dublin, might be best known for having an original manuscript of the Book of Kells, a book containing the Four Gospels, written in Latin and originating from around 800 A.D. The college is grand and definitely a sight to see when visiting Dublin. We were able to book a tour of the campus with a student worker, for less than €10 per person. It was cool to see where the students currently study and to understand part of the history of the school and city.
A courtyard of Trinity College
My final tour of downtown Dublin concluded my first adult trip abroad. But I have a few more highlights to share with you:
Booking a flight for the first time can be intimidating. There are so many travel search engines (only 508mil Google results), which can make the experience both easier and more difficult. The last time I flew internationally I was six years old. I didn’t book my flights at that age, did you? Honestly, it didn’t matter if I was six years old trying to navigate how to book a flight or 19 years old. It can be confusing just the same.
I used Kayak.com to search for and book my flight. I found the site easy to use. All I had to input were my travel dates (May 20-June 10) the departure and arrival airports (JFK > DUB), and that just one passenger was flying. This is the routine for most travel sites. Once the data was entered, a list of applicable flights were listed, which I could then filter to accommodate more of my preferences. Kayak‘s search results also displayed that their advice was to “Buy” the ticket when I did, based on their data analysis. This can be a helpful tool for someone who does not travel much or is unsure of how to choose a flight.
Some filter options
After not much deliberation at all, I chose to fly with Aer Lingus, again out of familiarity. I had flown with them when I was younger. I knew the airline was safe (major concern!) and that I would be comfortable (as comfy as possible on an airplane). I also chose this particular flight because it was non-stop because, seriously, who wants to deal with a layover? I feel like I scored a great deal, too! I love deals. Total flight for the cost being around $600 USD for 2 non-stop, round-trip flights… Basically, I got my flight for a steal.
A key thing to do when searching for ticket prices (of any sort), clear the cookies from your internet browser. Websites are able to see if you are continuously searching and make the prices increase. It’s a totally sneaky way to make you pay more for a ticket, so do yourself a favor and delete the cookies and browser history. Save that money!
Now, drum roll, please…
*insert drum roll noise*
The MOST important lesson I learned!
The flight times are ALWAYS in local time!
Listen to me, I learned the hard way. The days before I left I talked with my parents about my departure time and thought I knew what time my flight was. Keyword: thought. In my mind, I created some wacky timeline subtracting 6 hours (the length of the flight) from my arrival time in Ireland. Long story short, I missed my flight BUT learned a valuable lesson. I ended up getting on the next flight and sat next to a nice man from Boston, who actually had missed the same flight I did. Small world.
Sometimes it’s better to learn the hard way aka $200 poorer but one grain of intelligence smarter.
Did you have a similar experience to me when flying solo the first time? Have any tips for first-time travelers? Comment them below!