Baths, Bars, and Bastions: Budapest

Sara Sees (4)

I did not know what to expect from Budapest, but I was presently surprised by the Hungarian capital. What I found was a hip city filled with breathtaking sights, relaxing thermal baths, and kick-butt street food. Pretty sure I’ll return one day, even if only to chill at the Fisherman’s Bastion for a while.

We started off Budapest with a free walking tour of the city, which included a bit of the Pest side and some of the castle on the Buda side. I wasn’t as impressed with the tour as I was with my tour of Prague, but it was good to get an insight into the city and learn some Hungarian history.

Budapest is actually made up of two formerly separate cities, Buda and Pest. Our accommodation was on the Pest side right next to the Hungarian Parliament, where most of the liveliness of the city is, but I thought the Buda side was absolutely beautiful. It was a complete contrast to Pest; it was hilly, with some wooded area and winding, confusing streets, whereas Pest was flat as can be with straight streets coming together at right angles.

On our tour we learned that not many of Budapest’s buildings are really that old. A lot has been rebuilt after wars. Even the Fisherman’s Bastion didn’t start construction until 1895, and the fairytale-esque Vajdahunyad Castle began construction a year later. Hence why everything in the city is neo-something: neo-gothic, neo-romanesque, neo-classical, you get the idea.

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Old or not, however, the Fisherman’s Bastion was hands-down my favorite site of Budapest. The seven towers of the Bastion represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896 AD. From the Bastion you can get a beautiful view of Budapest across the Danube, framed by the beautiful stone towers.

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Also at the top of Castle Hill is, you guessed it, the Buda Castle. The weekend we were in the city the castle was hosting a beer festival! Sadly we didn’t get a chance to go…

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By the way, did you know Katy Perry filmed her “Firework” music video on the castle lawn there?! Super cool.

We also got to watch the changing of the guards in front of the president’s house, which has been a longstanding tradition since…… 2003. It was still cool to see though!

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Later that night Hannah and I met up with our new friends from the walking tour, Hannah and Natasha. We went to Szimpla Kert, the most popular ruin pub in Budapest and for good reason. Everything was so perfectly mismatched and random, the atmosphere was great, and we even went back the next morning to check out the farmer’s market there every Sunday.

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We then went to a Jewish street food bar and tried shots of palinka, a Hungarian fruit brandy – surprisingly good!

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On our next day in Budapest Hannah and I took it easy. In other words, we took a spa day at the famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

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The thermal baths were just what we needed after two long weeks of travel. We tried out each of the 18 different pools, settling on the two main pools outside. It felt great to have nothing to do but sit by a water jet, relax, and let my fingers get all prune-y.

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In the same park as the Széchenyi baths you can find Heroes’ Square, which holds statues of the leaders of the seven Magyar tribes, statues of other important leaders, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Right behind Heroes’ Square is the Vajdahunyad Castle, which looks misleadingly old but was, in fact, built at the turn of the 20th century. It was still beautiful to walk through, though. Even if we did find the creepiest statue ever: Anonymous. Shudders.

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On our way back to our apartment we stumbled upon what might be the greatest street food in the world: lángos. It’s deep fried heaven with cheese and garlic on top. My mouth is watering just writing this. It was just that good.

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Hannah and I decided to take a nighttime stroll across the Chain Bridge and up Castle Hill on our last night in the city to take in some of the sights at night. It was marvelous and a perfect way to end our time in the city.

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Budapest was cool. It was trendy, friendly, and cheap: three things I really, really like. Three days isn’t enough to cover the whole city, so I’ll be back someday to see what I missed🙂

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Bratislava: Slovakia’s Quirky Capital

Sara Sees (3)

Bratislava’s Old Town is quaint and charming, a huge contrast to the rest of the bustling capital city. It’s not crowded with tourists like the other Old Towns of European cities. It’s pretty refreshing, actually. Food prices are generally low, the restaurants are locally owned, and the dining options are aplenty. There was a small open-air souvenir market right outside of our accommodation, Wild Elephants Hostel. While we were eating our potato pancakes a band played ska music from an apartment balcony for a small audience. The fountain in the main square would turn off and on, occasionally spraying the surprised tourist. Quirky statues can be found all around, whether popping out of a manhole or leaning over a bench.

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Bratislava was wicked cool.

One thing we knew we needed to see in our short time there was the Bratislava Castle. We didn’t use a map to find the castle; we saw it up on a hill a short distance away and started climbing up. Most castles/important buildings in Europe seem to be on hills, so if you’re castle hunting, just walk uphill. The hill that the castle is on has been inhabited for thousands of years. From the top you can even see land belonging to Austria and Hungary.

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Like in the Old Town, there are a few interesting statues in and around the castle. King Svatopluk I protects the city on his horse and an unknown (to me) woman with flowing hair sits with birds perched all over her.

The castle was nearly empty when we go there at 7pm. We almost had it all to ourselves, which is super rare for any place in a European capital.

DSC_0583 DSC_0601 DSC_0598We only had 24 hours in the city, but with that short amount of time I feel like we saw what we needed to. We didn’t venture far outside of the Old Town, though, besides walking from the train station and to the bus station. Bratislava is small for a capital, with only about 414,000 residents. But I enjoyed it. Thanks for the good time, Slovakia!

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The Magical, Mystical City of Prague

Sara Sees (2)I just want to shout it from the rooftops: I LOVE PRAGUE! I do though. I really, really do.

My time in Prague was surprisingly magical despite the chilly weather my first full day there. We started off with taking a free walking tour with our hilarious and witty guide, Kieren. This was one of the best decisions we could have made – we learned SO much about Prague’s history and legends (and the czech habit of defenestration), I plan on writing a whole separate post about them.

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Our first stop was the Astronomical Clock, notorious for being one of Europe’s “most disappointing tourist attractions.” However, I found it pretty cool! After learning the history (and legend) behind the clock, I was excited to go back and watch it chime on the hour, seeing the figures shake their heads as the skeleton nods its head. It’s amazing that someone could build a clock with that much detail and preciseness in 1410. It is now the oldest working astronomical clock in the world! It tells the time, sun and moon positions, moon phases, and even what zodiac sign we are in!

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In the Old Town Square we learned a lot about the religious history of the Czech Republic. Our guide told us that today, 80% of czechs are atheist! The country, like many others, has had a rocky religious history. An elaborate statue of Jan Hus stands in the middle of the Old Town Square, representing the religious reform he brought to the country. He’s actually believed to be the first Church reformer, and a model for what Martin Luther later did.

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We also got to walk near the Jewish cemetery, where the Jews were denied more land so were forced to just add more soil. There are about 12 layers of bodies now – 12,000 tombstones but about 100,000 burials in all!

DSC_0447It was in Prague that I realized I like gruesome legends. Our guide told us a story about a severed arm hanging in a church, so the next day Hannah and I set out to find it. Because apparently I like that sorta stuff!

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As the castle district was not a part of our tour, we crossed the Vltava river the next day to see what it had to offer. It was beautiful! Although hillier than the Old and New Towns, it felt even more like I was stepping back in time to medieval days.
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DSC_0518Although I would’ve loved to take a guided tour of the castle district, we did fine just wandering around it. Up high in the hills offers the best free view of the city!

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Another thing I loved about Prague was its shopping. Tons of thrift stores and a cute market in the Old Town Square! I thrifted a scarf and a tiny globe as souvenirs, and bought some fresh fruit from the open air market as a snack.

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While in Prague I had to try some trdelnik, a traditional czechoslovakian pastry grilled on a stick on the streets and covered in sugar. I tried Nutella with mine – it was delicious!

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I was sad to leave Prague. The city has charm, history, culture, and fried cheese. What’s not to love?

DSC_0449I know I’ll be back here one day, though. Whether just visiting again, or living as an expat, or maybe even trying my hand at being a tour guide (who knows!), I’ll see you soon Prague. Czech ya later! (bad pun, sorry, couldn’t help it!)

Wrocław: Pierogies, Bargains, and Gnomes

Sara Sees Wroclaw

I can pinpoint one specific reason (out of many) why I loved Wrocław (pronounced vroetz-wav), Poland so much. Pierogies are the best. They’re just the best food in the world! But actually, I grew up eating my grammy’s homemade pierogies, so I was super psyched to try some in Poland. And I wasn’t disappointed! Unfortunately I didn’t venture out of my comfort zone and stuck with pierogi ruskie, cheese and potato stuffed pierogies topped with fried onions. If I had more wifi access to be able to translate the ingredients of the other variations, I might’ve tried more. But the plain pierogies were just fine with me.

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Another thing I loved about Poland were the prices. The conversion rate between the USD and Polish złoty is amazing. In the market square I could get a big plate of pierogies for 14 złoty ($4) and out of the city center I could find them for 8 złoty ($2). I had a little bit too much ice cream there because of how cheap it was. Like… at least two cones a day. Oops. But for $1.50 for two scoops? What a deal!

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The Polish people seemed pretty chill, too. I didn’t meet one rude person, and they just let their dogs splash around in the fountains. I saw this multiple times and it made me really miss my dogs!

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DSC_0406DSC_0392Wrocław’s Market Square was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. The square (one of the largest town squares in Europe) is lined with pastel-colored buildings, cute Polish restaurants, and along the ground, gnomes. Little gnome statues are scattered amongst the entire city, each with a story that you can look up here.

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Our first night there was the championship football game between FC Barcelona and Juventus, so in our attempt to get as much of the European experience possible, we tried to find a bar to watch the game at. Everywhere was packed, so after standing near a TV to watch a few minutes of the game we decided to head back to our hostel.

The next morning I saved directions to get across town to a Sunday flea market, but on our way we actually found a HUGE flea market happening just near our hostel! SCORE! I picked up a few items for a great bargain: a blouse for less than $5, a necklace for less than $2, a tiny elephant for about 30 cents, a change purse for $1, and a gift for my grammy for just a few bucks too. The beginning of the flea market was mostly vendors selling their new products, almost like a pop-up shop, but once we dug deeper into the market we found the real gems laid out on blankets along an abandoned railroad track. A lot of it was junk, but I always love to dig through it to find the real treasures.

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Wrocław was the first place we’d been to where there was a bit of a language problem. On the bus there I looked up some phrases and how to pronounce some of the Polish letters (the “ł” actually makes a “y” sound and “w” makes a “v” sound), but I was still unprepared for bargaining with flea market vendors. Most of my communication with them was with fingers, which was confusing at first because Europeans start counting with their thumb, not their pointer finger. So a three looks like a two to Americans. The workers in tourist area by the market square mostly spoke English, but the older flea market vendors did not, at all. They even tried to speak to me in German, seeing if that was my language, but nope, not even close. I did try to use my few Polish words whenever possible though, mostly “dziękuję” (jen-koo-ya), or “thank you.”

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Poland is cool. I hope to see more of it someday, especially because I have heritage there. I’d also like to try some more of their pierogies, although in the end they are no match for my grammy’s homemade ones.

Dziękuję, Polska.

A Beat in Berlin

Sara Sees (1)

Our time in Berlin started out rough (but don’t worry, it got MUCH better!). We had almost missed our bus the night before and arrived at the bus station in Berlin with what we thought were clear directions to get to the city center… but we couldn’t find the right U-Bahn stop for the life of us. After a while a few nice Berliners tried to help us out, one telling us the line we needed was cancelled, but that we could still take a certain line and we might end up close. Well, that’s what we did, and we eventually got to where we needed to be. What we really figured out was this: Berlin’s public transportation is CONFUSING! Luckily we had one of my best friends from childhood to show us around. Caitlin’s interning in Berlin for the summer and we were able to visit her on her second weekend in the city! We honestly would’ve been completely lost there without her.DSC_0347

Our first stop was the Holocaust Memorial. The 4.7-acre area contains contains 2,711 concrete slabs at varying heights, almost resembling a cemetery. Once you enter into the grid you disappear from the rest of Berlin as the path waves vertically up and down.

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Next we headed to the Brandenburg Gate to meet up with Caitlin. We didn’t realize it would be complete chaos there – there was a soccer (I guess I should call it football since I’m in Europe now!) event going on for the championship game. Fans were sporting their favorite players’ jerseys (mostly Barcelona) and chanting those songs you hear when you watch a European game on TV. My dad would’ve been in heaven there. You could even wait in line to take a picture with the championship trophy!

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After leaving that hectic area Caitlin took us to her apartment in the Friederichshain neighborhood. Two subway changes and a tram later we were at her place, dropping our bags off and ready to head out for the night.

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First up was the East Side Gallery to walk along the best preserved section of the Berlin Wall. I was amazed by some of the artwork. To walk along the actual wall that once divided the city and represents so much history was incredible. We went around 7pm, when the sun was starting to set and the tourists were scarce.

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After walking the length of the wall and back, we crossed the bridge and searched for a place to eat. We settled on a little corner restaurant and we all got falafel. Apparently Berlin is known for its great falafel, I had no clue!

Next up: the cutest (and first) biergarten I’d ever been to. I’m not a beer drinker, or much of an alcohol drinker really, but this place had the best atmosphere and was a highlight of Berlin for me. The twinkling hanging lights, the fresh evening air, and the German duo playing their music made the night perfect. The three of us split a glass of Prosecco and laughed about childhood memories. It was awesome.

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We then made our way across town to a rooftop bar some coworkers had told Caitlin about. Their directions were to go to this mall, go all the way up to the top of the parking garage, take a left at the vegetable stand, and there should be a bar there. Well, after a few trials and tribulations we found the bar, and the super long line that went along with it. We decided to wait in line since we had come all that way, and hey, it was a rooftop bar in Berlin! How cool would that be to see?

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The hour or so in line passed pretty quickly as we chatted away, but we were excited when it was finally our turn to get in. The bar was cool, it had sort of a garden theme, but we didn’t stay long. Just long enough to get in a breathtaking view of the city skyline and see a few mice running back and forth on the ground. That was enough to freak Hannah out (they were cute though!!).

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The next morning before we left for the ZOB bus station we stopped by a café for some traditional German cake and coffee. I’m bummed we didn’t get much more time in Berlin; I loved the areas Caitlin showed us, with their rough edges and down-to-earth feel. I was there long enough to learn a new word: scheisse (sh*t), which once Caitlin taught us we heard a lot on the street. Maybe I’ll visit Berlin again to see what more it has to offer. Because a city of that size and diversity definitely has more than can be seen in just two days.

An Adventure in Amsterdam

SARA SEESAmsterdam surprised me. I didn’t expect it to be so charming and welcoming. But when I arrived in this beautiful capital city it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the locals’ warm welcomes and all-round helpfulness. The canals were so lovely, it was hard to keep my eyes from wandering to all the beautiful buildings and waterways in order to avoid being hit by one of the many bicyclists.

Without further ado, this is how I spent my 48 hours in the lovely Amsterdam…

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Day One

Hannah and I arrived in Amsterdam around 6am on an overnight bus (more on those in a later post…) from Paris. After finally figuring out how to buy a ticket for the tram to take us to Centraal Station and then our hostel (the machine didn’t accept cash or our cards, so we had to pay the conductor himself), we settled in at a Starbucks for some free Wi-fi and planning time. We dropped our heavy backpacks off at our hostel and set out to explore the city. After finding that the Anne Frank Huis had quite the line, we spotted a cheese museum right across the canal. Jackpot!!! There were free samples of every kind of cheese imaginable… Red cheese, blue cheese, green cheese, aged cheese, cheese I’d never heard of… You name it, it was there. And with samples. Hannah and I perused the “museum” (sample heaven) and ended up buying a smoked goat cheese for a future picnic.

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DSC_0222-001The rest of the evening Hannah and I simply explored the canals and tried our best to orientate ourselves to the city. We called it a night early, exhausted from getting no sleep on our overnight bus, and headed back to the hostel around 9 (lame, I know!).

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Day Two

We had planned to wake up in time to get in line for the Anne Frank Huis before it opened…..but slept in a little. Oops. We went straight there from our hostel, though, and waited about 2 hours in line to get in. Truly worth it though. The museum/house was touching and actually made me pretty emotional. I was stunned when I realized that once we got into the museum, nobody was talking. I could feel the respect and emotions from all the other visitors, it was amazing. You know it has to be powerful when it stuns a group of tourists silent. At the end of the tour through the house, we got to see her actual diary. For me, that was the most powerful part of it all.

Being in Europe, in the places WWII and the Holocaust happened, makes it all the more real to me. My heart hurts that this could have ever happened. But the best way to build a future is to learn about the past. Thank you, Anne, for your beautiful and witty recount of your life in such a difficult time.

Okay, on to less emotional topics. After the Huis we needed a little pick-me-up, so we did what always makes us feel better: retail therapy. The Waterloopein Flea Market was exactly what I was looking for. There was a good mix of touristy souvenirs, vintage items, and random junk. I love random junk. I bought a compass and a small present for my dad, but could have walked out with a lot more souvenirs if I had more room in my backpack. However, I still have 17 countries to go and a lot more souvenirs and gifts to purchase. I have to keep some room in there. What I really wanted were Dutch clog slippers, but those would never fit in my bag. So sad.

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Hannah and I sat on the edge of a canal right by Waterloopein for almost an hour after we finished shopping. It was such a beautiful day out and it was nice to watch the boats pass by and reflect on our time in Amsterdam. DSC_0303 DSC_0292

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We then bought supplies at the supermarket (Marqt) and had ourselves a picnic in Vondelpark, a surprisingly large and beautiful park just outside city center, and right near our hostel. My favorite part of the picnic was also one of my favorite parts about Amsterdam: Stroopwaffels. YUM. I don’t even know exactly what they are, but I think they have some sort of molasses in between the two thin waffles. Either way, they’re just delicious. I need to find this in the US…somewhere…anywhere…

Hundreds of young locals were sprawled out on the lawns, having their own picnics, guitar jams, and ….hookah sessions. In Amsterdam you can pretty much do anything, at least compared to the US. The one thing I really didn’t like about the city was the frequent whiff of a certain smoke I’d smell while walking down the streets. To each his own, however I choose not to do it. I really don’t have an opinion on Amsterdam’s law, but as far as I could tell the city was extremely peaceful and had no obvious problems. Maybe the legalization had something to do with this? Who knows.

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We then found the famous IAmsterdam sign behind the Rijksmuseum. There were tourists climbing all over it, trying to get the best shot possible. I just had to take my turn.

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After taking some touristy pictures with the letters we went for a quick glance at the notorious Red Light District.

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It was still pretty light out so it probably wasn’t as bad as it gets at dark, but I was still stunned by what goes on there. Needless to say, it wasn’t my favorite part of the city, but it is still an important part to at least see in order to get the full picture of Amsterdam. A lot of people there were doing what one of the cows in this Ben & Jerry’s sign I saw is doing…

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It was getting late, so we ran back to our hostel to grab our backpacks and catch the tram to our bus station for Berlin. Of course I read my email ticket confirmation wrong and thought we were departing from Amstel Station. So we get there, look around, can’t find any buses, ask the people at the Burger King, and realize we’re at the completely wrong station. We also then realize that our bus leaves at 11:15, not 11:30. Being that it was already 10:45, we were panicked. The kind people at Burger King told us which metro line to get on in order to get to our new station at Duivendrecht. We hurry up and buy tickets, at which point I realize I don’t have my phone. I run back to the seat in the station where we were sitting earlier… no phone. I run back to Hannah right as a girl is giving Hannah my phone. I guess she saw me leave it there. Thank goodness for nice, honest people!!!

So, we get on the metro at 10:58. Our tickets say that check-in closes 15 minutes before departure. Nuts!!! When we get to our stop a few minutes later we run down the stairs, following all signs that say “Bus.” I really don’t know how I did it, running down stairs with a bad knee and a super heavy backpack. Adrenaline is my guess. We got to our bus just in time. Thank goodness. Now I know to always double check everything. That was way too much stress for me.

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Overall though, I loved Amsterdam. I felt like two days was a perfect amount of time in the city. We didn’t get bored, but we still had time to relax in Vondelpark and wander aimlessly to our pleasing. We got in all the sights we wanted to see. I was worried about the language barrier but unlike Paris (where almost everything was still in French!), Amsterdam’s restaurants and people all had/spoke English. Which is great because the Dutch language looks crazy to me! It sounds cool but, at least at first glance, I found no similarities to English. I found the city pretty easy to navigate using GoogleMaps and just delightful overall.

Amsterdam gets an A+ from me!

Bonjour Paris!

DSC_0054 copyEarly Monday morning Hannah and I stepped off our overnight plane in our first destination: Paris. By early, I mean like 6am Paris time (midnight US East Coast time). I tried so hard to sleep on the plane but I just couldn’t. Too much excitement/people bumping my arm while making their way to the bathroom (darn you, aisle seat). But when we finally arrived in Paris I felt great for getting no sleep!

We quickly had to figure out how to get to the city center. After frantically googling and getting frustrated with the ticket machine, we finally got onto the RER B train that would take us near Notre Dame. Close enough to city center for us! When we walked up the stairs from the metro and saw Paris for the first time, I was in so much awe. It looks just like the pictures, but even more magical in person. So incredibly picturesque. I couldn’t stop gushing about the beautiful buildings and little patisseries we passed.

Our first stop was breakfast. We were starving after our long flight so we were happy to stumble upon a delightful little crèperie called Mamy Crèpes. I got a salted caramel crèpe and it was one of the best decisions of my life (not even kidding!). I even ordered in French for the first time and didn’t screw up completely!

DSC_0019After breakfast we headed straight for the Eiffel Tower, of course. Seeing it in person for the first time gave me chills. The whole city did that to me, actually. All throughout high school I learned about France, its culture, the arrondissements of Paris… and now I was finally here! It was pretty surreal.

DSC_0025We also found the Pont des Arts, which was sadly being taken down the day we got to Paris. Figures! The bridge kept getting too heavy with all the locks on it and it was an “eyesore” to some locals, so city officials decided to take the chain link fence down for good and replace it with plexiglass.

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DSC_0115I was really sad to see it go. I actually bought my boyfriend a padlock to put on it when I visit again with him in July… I guess we’ll have to find another bridge for it now!

I did find a favorite lock though, featuring the one and only Hannah Montana.

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For lunch we ate more crèpes. This time I tried trois fromages (three cheese). Mmmmm.

Our hostel was all the way in Montmartre, and we had the idea that we could walk there comfortably with our backpacks. That was pretty awful. I definitely regret not taking the metro. But with our backpacks dropped off and adrenaline still kicking in, we headed back to the city center to see the Arc de Triomphe. After circling it we finally figured out that to get to the center you had to go underground. That definitely beats running for your life across the traffic circle!

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At dinnertime we stopped by the supermarché for some bread and cheese. We set up our picnic on the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower, probably the most perfect picnic location in the world.

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DSC_0047We headed back to our hostel earlier than most would due to complete exhaustion and wanting to rest up for a sightseeing-packed next day.

The next day we saw some more of the big sights. First up was the Louvre! Another iconic Parisian sight. Excuse the blurry picture.

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Next we headed down the Seine to Notre Dame. I was disappointed I couldn’t find Quasimodo but I was still in awe of the BEAUTIFUL architecture! The gargoyles were just awesome.

DSC_0134 DSC_0141 DSC_0150 DSC_0154We visited the Jardin du Luxembourg on our way back to the Eiffel Tower (we just love staring at it so much!). The gardens were smaller than I thought they would be but just as elegant as I’d imagined.

DSC_0175After checking in multiple patisseries I finally found an éclair! My childhood favorite dessert was even more delicious in Paris. I could’ve eaten 10. (Next time.)

DSC_0181After seeing how long the line for the elevator was and determining that we were up for the challenge, we decided to climb the Eiffel Tower. 600+ stairs. My knees and calves regret that now. But the view from the top and the check off of my bucket list were totally worth it.

DSC_0192 DSC_0188 DSC_0187DSC_0196We wandered around a bit before our last dinner/picnic in Paris. I’m now a firm believer that there’s always more to see in Paris… you could spend years here and never see it all. There’s beauty and class at every corner.

DSC_0203 DSC_0202 DSC_0182 DSC_0120 DSC_0011Our last picnic was the best: we bought two baguettes, a carton of orange juice, an apple for me, a carrot for Hannah, boursin cheese, and a 4-pack of yogurt to celebrate Paris with. The only thing off about the picnic was the constant “beer, beer, wine, cigarettes, beer” being repeated over and over from annoying (probably illegal) vendors. They walked around to every group on the Champ de Mars (each one approached us multiple times) chanting the same thing, all selling wine, beer, cigarettes, and souvenirs. At one point they all set their buckets of liquor down, each by a different group, put their hoodies over them and walked away. The police was probably close. Other than that minor nuisance, our time in Paris was perfect. Yeah, my legs are killing me now from walking more than I ever had before in just two days, but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat. And I will! I can’t wait to visit again with Stephen in July. Paris has my heart.

As we walked towards the Porte Maillot bus station to catch our 11:30pm bus to Amsterdam, the Eiffel Tower started twinkling. It was just like a movie, so perfect!

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Paris, je t’aime beaucoup.

A Pitstop in Iceland

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I’m writing this from Iceland (!!!!!!!) and I still can’t believe I’m here. An entire year of planning, spreadsheeting, budgeting, and booking and my journey is finally starting. The last few days have been a roller coaster of emotions. I did cry when I left my dogs, but other than that I think I did well with goodbyes. It’s only for two months, anyway. I left JFK at 2pm and am now in Iceland, where I’m wide awake at midnight local time. I tried so hard to sleep on the plane but I was distracted by the million thoughts in my head (and the interactive map on the back of the seat in front of me, it showed exactly where we were flying and I got really giddy that we flew so close to Greenland and over Newfoundland!).

By the way, the sun is still setting here. This country already amazes me.

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Sadly I’ll only be here for another half hour… My flight leaves for Paris pretty soon. I already know that I’m coming back soon though, most likely next year! Landing in Iceland was so cool though. Some of the landscape seriously looked like I was on Mars. In the distance there were snowcapped mountains and tiny spread-out houses. When we got close enough to the water I looked frantically to see if I could spot a whale… I didn’t, but the water still looked cool (because it’s Icelandic water, duh). I’m already obsessed with this country I haven’t even seen much (or any) of yet. I can’t wait to come back someday soon.

My Eurotrip Plans

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In exactly two weeks I’m leaving for Europe for the first time (ahhhhh!!!!). I have such mixed feelings… I don’t want to leave my dogs for this long! I feel so unprepared even though I’ve planned my trip down to the second (we’ll see if this proves to be a good or bad thing). But I know I’ll have an amazing time, because it’s wonderful, magical Europe! I’ll spend the first three weeks with my best friend since age 8 and then my boyfriend will join for the remainder of the trip. I even threw in a surprise destination for him that he (hopefully) won’t know about until we get to the airport!

So without further ado, this is how the next two months will look for me:

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Paris, France

Oh, Paris… how long I’ve wanted to visit you! I can’t wait to wander the streets, see all the sights I’ve learned about every year in my French classes and try out the language with locals!

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

I’m really looking forward to exploring the canals and biking in this beautiful capital city.

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Berlin, Germany

My friend is interning in Berlin this summer, so hopefully we’ll get to meet up while I’m there! I can’t wait to see all the history this city has to offer, touch the Berlin Wall and visit the Holocaust Memorial.

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Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw is pretty much on the way to Prague, so why not stop there?! I’m super excited to eat all the pierogies I possibly can (although I don’t think anything could beat my Grammy’s homemade pierogies!) and explore my Polish heritage.

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Prague, Czech Republic

I’ve heard so many stories of travelers falling in love with Prague – I hope I end up being one of them.

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Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava is a city I don’t know much about yet, but I’m excited to explore. It’s conveniently located on my way to Budapest, so it’s a perfect pit stop.

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Budapest, Hungary

I’ve heard so many great things about Budapest that I’m getting beyond excited to visit. I’m even going to take a language class there!!

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Athens, Greece

Ancient Greek ruins, galore. I can’t wait!

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Paphos, Cyprus

Beautiful, pristine beaches and turquoise water. Even more Greek ruins and Aphrodite’s rock. This island nation is one of the countries I’m most excited for.

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Tirana, Albania

I still don’t know much about Tirana but I’m excited to explore it a bit! I’ll just be passing through for a day on my way to Montenegro, but I’m glad I’ll get at least a short opportunity to see this country and its capital city!

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Kotor, Montenegro

I’m a small town girl, so I’m beyond excited to relax on the Bay of Kotor. I want to walk the city walls at sunrise and sunset to see the beautiful views this town has to offer!

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Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

I can’t wait to walk across the Old Bridge and visit the markets and see the unique dynamic of this previously war-torn city for myself.

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Vis, Croatia

I’m debating between visiting the small island of Vis or the more touristed Hvar. Either way, I’m really looking forward to some downtime on a beautiful island off the Dalmatian coast.

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Split, Croatia

A city that’s basically completely in a palace? Yes, please!

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Venice, Italy

I really want to take a gondola ride and aimlessly wander the paths along the canals. I could not be more excited!

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Cinque Terre, Italy

I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS HIKE!!!! It looks so beautiful in pictures, I can’t even imagine how amazing it must be in person.

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Pisa, Italy

I’m stopping in Pisa on the way to Rome to see what the town has to offer, and of course, take one of those infamous pictures with the Leaning Tower.

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Rome, Italy

When in Rome… eat lots of pizza and pasta! I’m excited for the food and history that lies there.

8086701017_475923c57c_zGmunden, Austria

I’m visiting my high school foreign exchange student who I haven’t seen in 4 years in her hometown! I’m so excited for her to show me the Austrian way of life.

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Salzburg, Austria

I might be a little obsessed with the Sound of Music. How could I possibly not stop in Salzburg when in Austria?

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Barcelona, Spain

Vamos a la playa!

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Lisbon, Portugal

Ever since I discovered the beautiful castles of Sintra on Pinterest I knew I had to stop in Lisbon.

Surprise location!

I’m surprising my boyfriend with this location. He won’t find out until we’re at the airport to get there. I’m stoked!!!

Paris, France (again)

My flight leaves from Paris, so I’ll be coming full circle on my Europe trip.


So there it is. My first big trip. I’m thrilled, nervous, excited, and maybe a little bit queezy. But it’s all good. Because I leave in 14 days!!!!!

Any suggestions on what to do and things to see?! I’ll take ’em!

What to do in Baños, Ecuador

Oh Baños… how I love you so! In just three days I feel like I did so much in this tiny jungle town. Here are some of my top picks from the endless possibilities you can fill your days with in Baños!

Visit the Casa del Árbol

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A $15 taxi ride will take you from the town center, up the mountain and back. On the side of the mountain you’ll find a rickety tee house with two swings hanging off of either side. With just a loose rope around you, there’s basically nothing holding you onto the swing. But that’s the fun of it! Try to go early in the day to avoid the hoards of tourists and tour groups who have, too, discovered this gem.

Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

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TLC had it all wrong – Biking the Ruta de Cascadas is a must-do for any adventure-lover in Ecuador. You can rent a bike from any tour company in town for as little as $6 a day. Such a steal! Just don’t get hit by any cars on the road. The route is on the main road between Baños and Puyo, a.k.a. it’s pretty busy. Make sure you go all the way to the Pailon del Diablo, the most impressive waterfall on the route!

Take a Spa Day

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Need a break from all your adventuring? No problem at all. It’s not hard to find a cheap massage here, in a town known for its spa treatments! Check out and relax in the hot springs the town was named after, too!

Check out the Eco Zoologico San Martín

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Be prepared for lots of stairs, but also lots of Ecuadorian animals that you might not get to see otherwise! My favorites were the monkeys, of course. It wasn’t the biggest zoo, but it certainly had character. Buses run there from the town center every 20 or so minutes and they aren’t hard to find!

Go zip-lining!

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My dad told me he’d pay for me to go zip-lining on my trip. Lucky for him my zip-lining stint ended up a grand total of $5! Baños is full of cheap adventures, perfect for thrill seekers everywhere.

Go canyoning, canopying, rafting, bridge jumping, or whatever floats your adventure-seeking boat!

There are tour companies lining the streets of Baños, so it isn’t hard to find a good quote on one of these activities. Have some fun in the adventure capital of Ecuador!


As you can see, there is so much to do in this tiny town tucked between the Andes and the rainforest. Which activity would be on the top of your to-do list?!