Embracing British Culture

I’m just over a month into my life in London and feel like I’m finally settled in. I’ve found my favorite coffee spots, cafes for lunch and my favorite pub in town. Over the past month, I’ve embraced the little nook of London I call home and immersed myself into as many British activities as possible. If you’re planning a trip or study abroad to the UK, these are things I recommend you take notice of while you’re here.

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– TEA –

I’m a coffee drinker, always have been. I prefer my days to start with an almond milk latte, followed by two more if I’m tired. In college, everyday started with at least two cups of coffee. My tea drinking was limited to the occasional green tea when I wasn’t feeling great. When I first arrived to London, I went to afternoon tea with my mother, which forever changed my life. From the little sandwiches to the warm scones topped with clotted cream and jam, I was hooked instantly. If you’re only in the UK for a short trip, this is my absolute must do.

I loved the tea so much that I went out and bought loose leaf tea, a steeper, and little sugar cubes. Prior to my move, my diet consisted of coffee in the morning, lunch around noon followed by starving until it was socially acceptable to eat dinner. Aside from my elementary school days when I required an after school snack, I really never considered having tea – let alone a biscuit or scone – as an afternoon pick me up. Maybe its the gray English weather, maybe its the superb quality of tea, either way, I find myself craving a cuppa each afternoon. Is there anything more British than having a cup of tea while complaining about the weather? I don’t think so.

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– COUNTRY WALKS –

The idea of walking – for fun – in America is fairly restricted to the middle aged parents and grandparents trying to stay in shape. I grew up with a massive hundred acre field behind my house and only ever ventured into it to take my dog for an occasional walk. Even then, those walks maybe lasted an hour at the most. More recently, I started going on hour long walks with my father on a paved trail as he joined the “middle aged staying in shape club” that I mentioned above. Aside from those two instances, I drove everywhere I needed to go in the US and fulfilled my daily exercise at a gym.

Country walks are an important part of British culture, and something I was a tad skeptical about. Why are you walking in the muddy country for fun? For those who don’t know, there are absolutely stunning parks in Southwest London (where I’m located) where one second you’re watching the sun over the River Thames, another you’re surrounded by a herd of deer, and suddenly you’ve stumbled upon King Henry VIII’s castle with each view more beautiful than the last. I find myself spending any rain-free moment wandering down a new path and any moment where there is rain, looking for hiking boots that can handle the muddy walks.

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– PUBS –

If you know me, you probably thought that pubs would be at the top of this post. At home, I’ve always appreciated a bar where you could sit, eat and actually talk to the people you’re with. Pubs provide all of this wrapped in the coziest of environments. Let me tell you that there is no better feeling that sitting down at a pub with a pint and warm meal after a long chilly walk. To make matters better, pubs typically serve the comfort food that you’re craving, think America’s version of Southern cooking but British. The food always comes out rather quickly and you’re welcome to sit and relax as long as you want. Most pubs also have a pub quiz night (read: trivia night) where teams gather to compete for prizes (usually cash or bar tab). If you have been to a trivia night in the States, then I can assure you that you will love the weekly quiz.

– CIDER –

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever had an Angry Orchard, other than just tasting. Personally, I always thought they were too sweet for my tastes. Locally-sourced cider has become my drink of choice as there’s a wonderful cider house just five minutes from my house. It’s hard to compare the quality of cider here to the mass-produced Angry Orchards at home, so I recommend thinking of the love you have for your favorite microbrewery and then imagine having a bud light (no offense bud light). My love for cider has grown to such proportions that I’ve planned a trip to go cider tasting in Somerset.

– SPECIALTY SHOPS –

This is something that isn’t necessarily ‘English,’ but it is something that has become integral to my life since my move here. At home, I can buy 95% of the things I need at Wal*Mart/Target. They have everything from groceries to medicine to homewares to clothing. Theoretically, I could buy everything I need at one store, and often due to the convenience factor, I buy a lot of my everyday items there. With the emergence of Amazon, the same idea applies.  Now, I buy my tea from a tea store, my bread from the local bread guy, my medicine at a pharmacy, and my notebooks from a stationary store. This may seem like a hassle to those at home: why go to four stores when you can buy everything at one? You try the rosemary loaf from the bread guy and tell me that you’re going to continue buying Wonder brand from Walmart. When you buy from a specialty store, you’re buying a higher quality product made with a lot more love than the mass-produced things you buy at a supermarket. I know that this is just a minor change, and not attributed solely to England (I’d say more European in general), but give it a go at home and let me know how shopping like this changes you’re day-to-day.

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Looking for the best afternoon teas, coziest pubs or most scenic walks around London? I’m happy to give recommendations!

Three Days in Edinburgh

After finding myself with a bit of time to spare before my graduate classes begin, I booked an overnight bus, a hostel and was on my way to Edinburgh! I had previously visited Scotland’s charming capital back in 2012, but was dying to go back as a more experienced traveler. With two trips under my belt, I’ve created the perfect three day itinerary. Let’s get started!

Having visited in both July and January, I can definitively  say that Scotland in January is bitterly cold and windy. While July was still chilly, I would not recommend going in January despite cheaper prices and less crowds. With that said, Scotland is often rainy so feel free to switch the order of the days based on weather forecasts.

Day 1

As my hostel was right along the Royal Mile, I started my first day by walking down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood Palace. First thing in the morning, the Royal Mile is quiet, peaceful, and incredibly beautiful.  On my trip to Edinburgh back in 2012, I did not have the time to fit in Arthur’s Seat, so this was my first destination this time around. Having only brought a pair of rain boots with me, I figured that they would be a sufficient choice for the 2 hour trek…. I was wrong. It was quite muddy on the morning I chose to visit, making it nearly impossible to make it to the top with so little traction. Obviously, the weather played a factor, as well as my choice of route. After my hike, I heard that there is an entirely paved option that could have been easier. Either way, I recommend a good pair of shoes and maybe taking a better look at the map before starting your journey.

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Following your climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse (i.e. the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence) where you’ll find state rooms, Crown Jewels, and exhibits on Mary, Queen of Scots. Your ticket into the Palace will run you £16.50 which includes a multimedia tour. Next, head up to Calton Hill to catch the some of the best views of Edinburgh. I was lucky enough to time my visit in the morning, therefore capturing the above picture of Arthur’s Seat (and the very top photo of Edinburgh). Calton Hill is a bit of a hike itself, but it was one of my favorite parts of the trip as it offers views of both Arthur’s Seat and the city of Edinburgh. On the hill, you’ll find the National Monument of Scotland, the Monument to Scottish Parliament, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Steward Monument, and an observatory.

As you’ll likely be tried from a big day of walking, I recommend spending the rest of the evening with more leisure. A stop into St. Giles Cathedral (costing £5) before either a tour of the Real Mary King’s close, a visit to the Scotch Whisky experience or even one of the infamous Edinburgh ghost tours. The only way to visit Mary King’s close is with a tour costing £16.50 per person. Having done the tour myself, I can say that it is very interesting and great for those not looking for a full-on ghost tour. There are about six different whisky tasting options at Scotch Whiskey Experience ranging in price and time. Check out all the different tours here. If you are looking to be more *spooked*, then I recommend checking out Mercat tours which offer a variety of different ghost tours each night, more information on their website.

Day 2

My second day in Edinburgh was a bit rainy and windy, leading me to check out the various museums the city had to offer. After checking out the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland, I would recommend the National Portrait Gallery as being the one most worth a visit (all are free to enter). The National Gallery, while centrally located, was rather underwhelming for a ~national~ gallery. I found the National Museum to be large, but very diverse. I was hoping to learn about the history of Scotland and its leaders, and instead found half a natural history museum and half science and technology museum connected by grand hallway (shown below). Finally, my visit to the National Portrait Gallery proved to fulfill my wishlist of classical art with some more modern exhibits as well.

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However you chose to hide from the rain, I suggest heading to the Edinburgh Castle next. On my first visit to Edinburgh, it was the beautiful castle on the hill that captured my heart (which says a lot as we visited roughly 14 castles on the trip). Buying tickets online ahead of your visit will save you £2 and potentially time waiting in a line. Purchasing the ticket includes a guided tour, which I highly recommend doing as it was very informative, fun and made the whole experience more enlightening. After educating yourself on Scotland’s past, venture down Victoria Street, dubbed the “prettiest street in Edinburgh.” Victoria Street is lined with charming little specialty shops that demand to be visited. At the bottom of Victoria Street, you’ll run into Grassmarket where the charming pubs and shops continue. As the vibrant cultural hub of old Edinburgh, I found  myself venturing back to these areas for food and shopping each day. (There are adorable little bookstores towards the end of Grassmarket so naturally, I kept coming back.)

Just around the corner, you’ll find Greyfriars Kirkyard and Greyfriars Bobby. JK Rowling took inspiration from the names on the graves at Greyfriars Kirkyard when writing Harry Potter, so it is here where you’ll find a grave for Thomas Riddell. The Greyfriars Bobby statue is that of an infamously loyal Skye Terrier, heart-warming story linked here. It is said that rubbing the dog’s nose will bring good luck. The Elephant House cafe is just up the block from Greyfriars. JK Rowling notably wrote her Harry Potter books (after getting her inspo from the Greyfriars Kirkyard) at this very cafe over coffee and cakes. I’ve eaten there myself, and while it wasn’t a masterful culinary experience, it is quite the cool lunch spot. Finish your day at Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, and while this isn’t typically a spot that I would put on my list, it offers 360° views of Edinburgh and a lot of fun. Booking online is currently unavailable, but tickets at their admission desk run £16.50 per (adult) person. One great thing about their admission is that its valid the entire day, so you can come and go as you please, i.e. come back to see the views once the weather has cleared up.

Day 3

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After booking my very last-minute hostel and bus, I did a quick google search of the “must-sees” in Edinburgh as it had been a long time since my last visit. Upon rummaging through all the spots that I had already been to, I found Dean’s Village and a picture similar to my own shown above. I was sold. The picture captured everything I was looking for in my trip to Scotland and reminded me of all the reasons that I was so taken by the country in 2012. First thing in the morning on my third day, I made my way over to see if the village was really that charming – I wasn’t disappointed. While the picturesque Dean’s Village is quite a small neighborhood, it definitely warrants a stroll. If you continue up the Water of Leith, you’ll find St. Bernard’s Well. I will note that this whole excursion will not take long, maybe an hour total, but was my favorite of the trip. Once your photo-op is complete, make you way to George St, Rose St and Princes St where you’ll find bustling shops and restaurants. Was I so cold that I went shopping for more sweaters and gloves? Absolutely and Princes St had every store you can imagine.

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Across from Princes Street, you’ll find Princes Street Garden with great views of the castle. In addition to the gardens, there is the Ross Fountain (pictured above) and the Scott Monument. The Scott Monument, while free to visit, has stairs you can climb inside for £8. The views are said to be incredible, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see them for myself as it was closed due to construction (tearing down the Bavarian Christmas Market that had filled Princes St Garden during the holiday season). Before you say goodbye to Edinburgh, I recommend taking either a free city walking tour or a free Harry Potter walking tour. Tours usually last about two to three hours and are the best way to learn more than you ever could through a guidebook. If you have more time on your hands, the area of Leith, where the Royal Britannia calls home, is the most buzzing neighborhood in the entire city – full of shops, bistros, microbreweries, picture-perfect views and art centers.

Thanks for reading!

Must-Have Apps for Traveling

The world of traveling has vastly changed with the advancements in technology. Flights, hotels, good restaurants and navigation are all at your fingertips, if you know how to make technology work for you. Over my travels, I’ve learned strategies for using your phone both with cellular and without. I’ve also tried *many* phone applications and found a few that I cannot take a trip without. These apps will -without a doubt- make everything about your travels more convenient and stress-free. Let’s get started!

TripIt

TripIt is my holy grail of travel apps. It organizes everything in the most genius and well-thought way. As you book your hotels, flights, and activities, you received a zillion emails confirming the separate bookings. When it comes time to check in, you have to dig through all of your emails and hopefully find the one you’re looking for, that’s if you haven’t accidentally deleted it. The other option is to print out each confirmation email and lug a folder around in 2020, thus receiving weird looks from everyone around you. TripIt is the solution. As you receive your multitude of confirmation emails, you forward the email to plans@tripit.com (once you’ve downloaded the app and created your account). The next time you open your application, all of your bookings are there (confirmation and reference numbers included) in a digital itinerary. When its time to check in, simply pull up the app and all of your information is there. One of my favorite features is that the appropriate airport maps from your flight are listed under your flight details. This is a lifesaver if you have a close connection because you can see what terminals you are coming into and departing from and plan your route accordingly.

Google Maps

I could not navigate anything if it wasn’t for Google Maps. For each trip, I create two lists: one of attractions and where I’m staying and one of restaurants I’ve been recommended. Pulling up the app, you can see all of these places on the map in relation to where you are. I use the app to give me public transit directions, suggestions for pharmacies in the area, and plan my days around the smartest route. Another great feature, for those running on wifi-only travels, is that you can still see your location on the map and use it navigate like a new world compass (best analogy I could think of). Believe me, trying to navigate Rome with a paper map was *much* more difficult than I anticipated, use Google Maps.

Expedia

I tend to book things through Expedia (given that the price is lower or equivalent to booking direct) because it allows me to accrue points that can be redeemed on other Expedia purchases. My account is set to use my Expedia points first, having me pay the remaining balance. With the Expedia app, I can book last minute hotels, flights and excursions in seconds. It’s nice to have this option ready on my phone in emergency situations as sometimes the Safari app doesn’t always cooperate.

Mobile Passport

While not everyone has Global Entry, everyone can have Mobile Passport. Have you ever noticed the Mobile Passport line while waiting to clear Passport Control? You probably thought that line -with not a single person in it- was for special preferred travelers. Nope. Downloading Mobile Passport on your phone allows you to use this line. When you land and turn your phone off airplane mode, simply input all your information on the app and head to that line. The app basically has you answer all the questions that you normally answer on the little screens (that scan your passport and take your picture) on your phone instead, so no need to wait in line! This could be a major time saver and help you make that connecting flight!

WhatsApp

Depending on your phone plan, it can be very expensive (or inexpensive) to use your phone abroad. No matter which side your plan falls on, the best way to stay in touch with those back home is through WhatsApp. The application (once downloaded) allows you to message, call and FaceTime your friends back home through wifi or cellular data if you are not connected to wifi. Where this application really comes in handy is if you are communicating with people without iPhones – or are using android yourself. While iPhone to iPhone texts via iMessage are able to be sent without cellular, any messages sent between android requires an SMS message which depending on your phone plan, could be minute or costly. Utilizing WhatsApp is the best solution to securing that your phone bill doesn’t skyrocket, especially if you’re only using it while connected to wireless internet.

Thanks for reading!

xx

ONE DAY IN DUBAI

With just about a zillion things to do, how does one spend a single day or prolonged layover in Dubai? Well, I’m here to recap the things that I enjoyed in Dubai and offer suggestions on things that I wish I would have included. Before diving into the best spots of Dubai, I’d like to mention the geographic challenges of only ~one~ day in Dubai. Downtown Dubai, where the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa are located, is quite far from the Jumeirah Palm area of Dubai.

The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

I spent a majority of my time in Dubai wandering around the Dubai Mall complex, which includes the second largest shopping mall in the world, the worlds tallest building, the infamous Dubai fountain, an ice rink, an aquarium and much more. The Mall itself has just about every store you could imagine, as well as a plethora of big name restaurants. Aside from retail therapy, my favorite part of my time in Dubai was dining outside with my friends enjoying the water display from the fountain. At night, the display is equipped with music, a lit Burj Khalifa and lasers – truly incredible. I chose to skip the trip up to the top of  the Burj Khalifa due to time constraints, but there are a few different ticket packages available. Online there are three ticket packages available from 149 AED to 608 AED. Be cautious when booking to see which observation decks your ticket takes you to as some packages take you to level 125, while others take you to all the way up to level 154. At the mall itself, there are Burj Khalifa and Aquarium dual ticket packages, however, booking online will likely save you a few dollars.

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Dubai Miracle Gardens

This may be a more “off the wall” stop on a Tour de Dubai, but it was inspired by a instagram shot of Leonie Hanne in the very spot shown at the top of the post. I saw the picture and immediately decided that I had to stop and snag my own picture. Upon entering, the garden is loud, colorful, and full of massive flower displays. It’s something between Alice and Wonderland and (what I imagine would be) an acid trip. There was a ton of people there, kids and adults alike. Though most of the displays were either confusing or beautiful, my friends and I had a wonderful time wandering through the park. Entrance will cost you 55 AED, but to check out more details, visit their website here.

The Palm Jumeirah

The beautiful Palm Jumeirah, arguably the second most iconic landmark of Dubai, is lined with magnificent resorts, beautiful beaches, and great views of Dubai and the Persian Gulf. (Side note: Did you know that there’s another palm in Dubai? The Palm Jebel Ali began construction in 2002 with the intention of being a bigger and better Palm Jumeirah, but construction is on hold at the moment.) Aside from beautiful resorts at the Palm, two things caught my eye. First, the Atlantis Dubai has to be one of the coolest hotels on the planet equipped with everyone’s dream waterpark. An Adult One Day “Super Pass” will run you 275 AED. The hotel is also home to Nobu Dubai, Gordon Ramsey’s Bread Street Kitchen and Bar, and a wonderful spa. If you looking for more of an adventure than Holiday in the Sun (I had to), Skydive Dubai is located just off the palm and offers the most legendary skydive experience on the planet. A tandem skydive over the Palm 1,499 AED without photos or insurance. For all the information and different experiences, head over to their website.

Jumeirah Beach / Umm Suqeim Beach

If you’re looking to spend some time at the beach, head over to Jumeriah Public Beach or Umm Suqeim Beach (also referred to as Sunset Beach). These public beaches will offer the best views of the Burj Al Arab and make for a perfect instagram shot. Jumeriah Beach is also ranked as one of the best things to do in Dubai and as one of Dubai’s best beaches.

Indoor Skiing at the Mall of the Emirates

Indoor Skiing at Ski Dubai, located inside the Mall of the Emirates, has to be one of the coolest things to do in Dubai. The indoor “snow resort” features skiing, snowboarding, penguin encounters, and a full snow park. The snow park is full of activities like bobsledding, tubing, snow bumpers, a climbing wall, playground and ice cave. A two-hour slope pass, including gear rentals,  will run you 210 dirhams, while the full-day slope pass totals 310 dirhams. A Basic Snow Park ticket, again with winter gear included, costs 190 dirhams. A 40-minute penguin encounter (!!!) comes to 230 dirham. The best route, if time permits, is to purchase the Snow Premium Package at 490 dirhams, which includes all of the above. To book in advance, which is recommended, visit their website linked here.

Boat Tour

One of my ‘bucket list’ items while in Dubai, that I unfortunately couldn’t squeeze in, is a boat tour. With a bunch of different companies operating tours, there is sure to be one for everyone! Most tours will take you around the Dubai Marina to see the city skyline and to the Palm lagoon to take in the beautiful resorts. The Yellow Boats tour company is the self-proclaimed best tour boat company in the UAE, but has the TripAdvisor reviews to prove it. Personally, I recommend a sunset cruise, as it is the BEST way to enjoy a sunset in Dubai.

Visit the Souks

It wouldn’t be a trip to Dubai without taking in some Middle Eastern culture. One of the best ways to do so is to visit the Souks. Four classics are the Textile Souk, the Gold Souk, the Spice Souk and the Perfume Souk. The gold, spice and perfume souks are all within walking distance and are located on the Deira side of Dubai Creek. The textile souk is just a short taxi ride away in Bur Dubai. Fun fact: The gold souk (the most famous) is the largest gold bazaar in Arabia, making it one of the best places in the ~world~ to shop for gold. Who wouldn’t want to spend hours wandering the souks having personalized perfumes made and perfectly tailored dresses constructed?

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For reference, 1 UAE dirham ≈ 0.27 US dollar. I always just divided by 3 for simpler math.

How would you spend a visit to Dubai?

xx

The Perfect 4 Day London Itinerary

Having just returned from a week-long excursion to the United Kingdom, I thought I’d share my four day London itinerary. This was my first proper trip to London in years and as a future Londoner, I figured it would be nice to hit all the sites before my move. A lot of planning went into this trip, trying to plan each day geographically while hitting the places my instagram feed desperately needed. Naturally, there will be many future London posts regarding restaurants, day trips, etc., but as for now, we will cover all the must-sees of London. Let’s begin!

– Day 1 –

Start the morning, after coffee and breakfast, with the Tate Modern – home to international modern and contemporary art. The Tate Modern is free to enter (as are all national museums in London) and opens daily at 10:00. Mind you, I’m a fan of modern art so if you’re looking for more classical art, I suggest the Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery or the Victoria and Albert Museum. After soaking in beautiful art, walk next door (tours available) to see Shakespeare’s Globe theater, which is a replica of Shakespeare’s original. There are shows nightly and a wonderful restaurant next door, the Swan, to grab dinner and drinks beforehand. Following a morning of culture, head to Borough Market for lunch. With so many stalls to choose from, I recommend grabbing a bit of everything to try (Bread Ahead has great donuts). When planning your trip, take notice of which day you head to Borough Market, as the market is closed Sundays and open limitedly Monday and Tuesday.  Head across the river via the Millennium Bridge (Harry Potter fans rejoice) to check out St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s Cathedral is open daily from 8:30 – 16:30 with the exception of Sundays. Tickets and tours can be purchased online in advance to save £3. Next, walk over to Leadenhall Market for a bit of shopping in a beautiful covered mall. For a great view of the city, stop at the Sky Garden around the corner. It is a gorgeous indoor garden with spectacular views and cool restaurants. Tickets are free, but it is important to book your visit in advance as lines wrap around the building. To finish off your day, venture to the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. The Tower of London is home to the Royal Family’s Crown Jewels (my favorite), an infamous prison, and a lot of history. For more information on ticketing and hours of operation, check out their website here. Naturally, after a long day of touristing, it’s time for dinner. I recommend the Coppa Club Tower Bridge location as its right next door AND gives you the opportunity to dine in the most instagram-worthy igloo outside of the north pole.

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– Day 2 –

I suggest kicking off day two at Trafalgar Square and maybe popping into the National Gallery while your coffee (or tea as you are in Britain) soaks in. As I’ve dubbed day two a shopping day, head to Piccadilly Circus and window shop your way up Regent Street towards Oxford Circus. After shopping or window shopping your heart out, take a walk through Chinatown. Not only is Chinatown beautiful, but it has a lot to offer in the restaurant and and bar area. Next up, make your way to Covent Garden – a personal favorite of mine. Covent Garden is magical and I’m not just saying that because of the twinkling lights everywhere. When we found ourselves with extra time on our last night, we went back to Covent Garden: its that wonderful. If you need break from walking or just fancy a drink, I recommend heading into the Ivy Market Grill. Its a new location of an iconic London restaurant that just may be the coolest place I’ve ever had a Jack and Diet in. While you may be tempted to never leave the Ivy, hop off your barstool and head to Neal’s Yard. Neal’s Yard is like Covent Garden’s cool little sister and was dubbed one of London’s prettiest streets. If you find yourself hungry, I was recommended ‘Homeslice’ which specializes in pizza with diverse flavors. While this day was a little lighter on the “tourist stops,” I think there’s so much to see and experience by simply walking through neighborhoods, stopping for a pint or cup of tea, and embracing the country/culture around you.

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– Day 3 –

Begin day three at Buckingham Palace, take your photos and position yourself nicely for the changing of the guards at 10:45. Following the ceremony, walk through St. James Park towards 10 Downing St. Unfortunately, there’s not much to see at 10 Downing Street except a quick peak through the gate. After visiting the Prime Minister, head to Westminster Abbey to see the stunning location of royal coronations and weddings alike. The church is the final resting place of many monarchs and many other famous figures: Jane Austen, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin. Tickets inside run £21 in advance or £23 at the door. For full operating hours (they vary on season), see the website here. Big Ben, or the Houses of Parliament, is currently under reconstruction and is covered in scaffolding. The project is set to last through 2020, so photo-ops in front of infamous tower will be back soon. The Houses of Parliament are not open for visitors, however, I’ve read that UK citizens are able to contact their local official to schedule a visit. By now, it’s time for afternoon tea. We were able to find a Groupon for afternoon tea for two at the Royal Horseguards Hotel. The hotel is beautiful and the entire experience was our favorite of the whole week. Arriving nearly an hour early for our reservation, they seated us right away and asked if there were any dietary restrictions. I, a vegetarian, said yes and they brought me a personal plate of vegetarian sandwiches.  I *highly* recommend sitting down and enjoying afternoon tea during your time in London, and I suggest the Royal Horseguards Hotel be at the top of your list. Post-tea, we rolled ourselves over to the London Eye and enjoyed the 30-minute Ferris wheel ride over London. Because we had different time restraints, we were unable to do the River Thames cruise, but I recommend booking the dual ticket to save a few dollars. It is also convenient that the River Cruise launches nearby, so you can hop from the Eye straight to the cruise. We were lucky that we visited on a slow day and did not have any lines or waiting, but the queues can grow very long during busier summer months. As we traveled in November, the Southbank Centre Winter Market was open! We finished our day there wandering through the market, drinking mulled wine and enjoying the festive shops. Naturally, this market is only open during the holiday season, but the Southbank Centre usually has a lot going on, so be sure to check before your visit.

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– Day 4 –

To start off your final day, head to Gail’s Bakery in Nottinghill for breakfast and coffee. Conveniently located on the corner of Portobello Road, it offers a great starting point. After breakfast, walk to the Portobello Rd Market to search for good vintage finds (I saw sooo many vintage Burberry coats reasonably priced). If you’re looking for a great instagram shot of Nottinghill, I recommend Colville Houses (shown below) as its a dead end street with minimal traffic, people and noise. After thoroughly shopping at the market, turn back and walk down Portobello Road towards Kensington. We practically shopped the entire way to The Churchill Arms – a beautiful pub decorated seasonally. After quick pint in The Churchill Arms, we walked to Kensington Palace via the Kensington Palace Gardens (beautiful street full of massive homes and embassies). You can purchase tickets to Kensington Palace online, but be wary of operating hours and closures. Hyde Park is right around the corner and worth a visit. Post-park, we took an uber to Harrods. Harrods is magnificent, and even more so during the holiday season. It was quite hectic in there as we visited on a busy Saturday. We had lunch at the Pasta Bar in the dining hall and it was one of the best meals of the trip (I’m a sucker for cacio e pepe). As the holiday season has already begun in London, we left lunch and went to the National History Museum to check out it’s ice rink. The rink and little winter wonderland is something out of a Hallmark movie, a must-see if in London during winter!

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Have you been to London? What were your favorite things to see?

Cheers!

The 24 Places on my Bucket List

In honor of my 24th birthday last week, I decided to do some reflection on my past year. With that reflection came new goals, aspirations, and hopes for not only year 24, but beyond. After looking back on my previous travels and what I have learned from those experiences, I’ve created a new “bucket list” of places that I intend on visiting as soon as possible. Call it a mid-twenties crisis or call it not wanting to get old and boring, but here it goes:

  1. A tour de Japan with visits to Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka
  2. A hike to end all hikes in Chilean Patagonia
  3. A meeting with the Magellanic penguins of Argentina
  4. A flight over the Victoria Falls to test my fear of heights
  5. A ride on the alpine coaster in Grindelwald, Switzerland
  6. A cozy trip to Banff, Alberta to give poutine a chance
  7. A train ride on the Hogwarts Express in the Scottish Highlands
  8. A cruise through the Norwegian Fords
  9. An extensive search for the best wine in Madeira, Portugal
  10. A few days at the beautiful beaches of Kos, Greece
  11. A reenactment of “The Holiday” in the Cotswolds
  12. A proper road trip around the South Island of New Zealand
  13. A sailing trip around Malta to feed my love of the Mediterranean 
  14. A ~float~ in the Dead Sea off the Israeli coast
  15. A hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
  16. A visit to the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat in Cambodia 
  17. A history lesson in the beautiful Petra, Jordan
  18. A mother-daughter trip to Hallstatt and Salzburg, Austria because the hills are alive
  19. A cruise around the great state of Alaska to see the “Last Frontier”
  20. A getaway to the island of Mauritius to disconnect from everything
  21. A hike along the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland because Greenland deserves the same glow-up that Iceland received
  22. An attempt at learning to ski (but then giving up and drinking hot chocolate) in Vail, Colorado 
  23. A “basic” fall photoshoot in Vermont when the leaves are justtt right
  24. A full-blown vespa tour along the French Rivera from Cannes to Monaco (inspired by World of Wanderlust)

Have you been to any of these places? What’s on your bucket list?

A First Timer’s Guide to Europe

So you’ve finally decided that its time to hop across the pond, well, congrats! Europe, or any international travel, can be quite daunting the first go-around. I’ve decided to make a comprehensive guide that will answer you’re questions all in one place. Let’s get to it!

Where do you plan on going and for how long?

The first decision you need to make is what countries/cities you want to see and how long you plan to stay in those. For most European cities, three days will allow you to see the big attractions at a reasonable pace. Another thing to consider is travel between cities, are you flying to various locations or opting for a scenic train ride? Geographically, your route should make sense, while also taking roundtrip flights into consideration. For my trip to Belgium, we had a flight deal in/out of Brussels. While staying in a hotel in the center of Brussels, we were able to travel via train to various cities in Belgium and cover serious ground.

If you’re choosing to more of a “tour de Europe” and hit multiple cities/countries, I recommend checking out Rome2Rio. Rome2Rio is an incredible travel search engine that shows you the various routes, methods and prices of how to get from Point A to Point B. For example, say I want to start in London, make my way to Munich, and end in Amsterdam, simply search those routes and the quickest, cheapest, and most effective routes will populate. The site even connects to Expedia for easy bookings. If you plan on doing a lot of rail travel, I also recommend checking out the Eurail passes to try and save some $$$$. More on flight and hotel bookings later…

Is your passport up-to-date?

Currently, US citizens with a valid passport can stay in the Schengen Area of Europe (26 countries including Spain, France, Germany, etc) for up to 90 days without a visa. In 2021, this policy is set to change through the installation of the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System). After some research, ETIAS will  require “pre-travel screening for security and migration risks of travellers benefiting from visa-free access to the Schengen area.” You can apply for this wavier online (here) for a small fee. The wavier lasts three years and allows multiply entry. Another thing to note is that most travel requires you to have a passport valid for three to six months after you intended trip.

Planning the trip

Now that you’ve decided where you want to go and confirmed that you have a valid passport, its time to begin planning! I like to start with flights when I begin any trip itinerary. By following Scott’s Cheap Flights and the Points Guy, I receive notifications for cheap flight deals. Often times, the flights are out of bigger airports like Chicago, New York, or Boston, but sometimes highlight smaller airports as well. The deals usually last a couple days and if you act fast, you can be headed to Europe for less than $300 (the key here is flexibility – being able to book and travel more last minute). Once I’ve found my deal, I head to Rakuten to snag cash back on my trip. If you have an account, and click onto Expedia through Rakuten, you can earn up to 8% back on your purchase via check in the mail. On Expedia, I search the dates/routes suggested by Scott’s/Points Guy, find the deal, and check hotel availability.

In recent trips, I’ve found great hotel deals through Expedia when booking in combination with my roundtrip flight. If you’re opting for a more local experience, check out AirBnBs in the area. If you’re looking to meet fellow travelers, hostels are a great cheap way to do so (future post on AirBnBs/Hostels/Hotels to come). When booking a place to stay, the KEY is to look at the map of the city. You are likely going to want to stay as close to the center of town as possible, so that you will be in walking distance to everything. It is 100% worth a couple extra dollars to be centrally located than it is to be hiking a mile just to grab lunch.

Making an itinerary

With my flights and hotels booked, I start researching the attractions, museums, and must-see spots. I like to make a rough long list of all the things that I would potentially like to do along with entrance fee details. With the list made, I head over good old Google Maps and create two lists: one for attractions and one for restaurants. I save each of the attractions onto the list and do the same for any restaurants that I have been recommended (or spotted on instagram). With the two lists, I am able to see where everything is located in relation to each other and can plan my days out strategically. For many cities, it is unrealistic to spend your day hopping all over the place. If you don’t opt to look at the map, you will likely end up spending more time walking or in a taxi or on the subway than you do enjoying your time. It also allows you to plan some meals at specific restaurants and how you’ll travel between places (metro, taxi, or walking). Lastly, once you’ve planned you days out, it is important to look at when things are opened/closed. Some markets are closed on Sundays, some things close at 6 PM. You have your day organized, so all you have to do is appropriately assign that day to a day of the week where you’ll get the most out of the experience.

Side note: While it may be tempting to taxi or Uber everywhere you go out of convenience, I recommend giving the local buses and trains a try. Google Maps will tell you the route you need to take, and locals are most always willing to help a tourist out if you ask politely. This will save you a ton of money in the long run.

I like to book most of my excursions, day trips, etc in advance. Basically any tour or entrance fee that can be paid online, I do in advance for a few reasons. One, it adds structure to the itinerary having specific things at specific times. Two, it usually says money. I tend to book my things through Expedia using points (accessing Expedia through my Rakuten link of course) and using my Venture card. With my Venture card, I can cover my purchases with credit card points, making most things free! Then, the only expenses I have on the trip is food, shopping and incidentals.

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What to bring

So what do your bring on your epic European getaway? First, let’s talk fashion. Athleisure and baseball caps are less accepted across the pond and for good reason. Opt for layers, depending on the season. Of course, comfortable shoes is the most important part of any trip abroad. Be prepared to walk upwards of 15,000 steps any given day. I’ve had days in Rome and Croatia where I walked 12+ miles a day.

Next up, bring proper currency. While most countries in the EU are on the Euro, not all are (ex: Croatia and England). I like to take a couple hundred US dollars with me each trip and warn my bank of my travels incase I need to use an ATM. Depending on the country and city, they may be a more cash-based society (Germany is a good example of this). Be warned, you usually face foreign fees from your bank when you withdrawal internationally, so keep your ATM trips to a minimum. I like to instead use my credit card where excepted (restaurants, tourist attractions, and shopping). Other option that my father likes to use, is sending himself Western Unions of money while in the US and then picks it up when he arrives in that country. I haven’t done this myself, but its a good way to avoid those pesky exchange fees.

Lastly, make sure that you have the right travel adaptor for the country (or countries) that you are traveling to. The United Kingdom is different than the rest of Europe, a fact that I learned the hard way. Another thing to check is that your hair tools are able to function at the different voltage, otherwise, you may end up with a fried hair straightener and frizzy fair. Laptops and phone chargers are almost always dual voltage so there’s less to worry about there.

Another side note: Nearly every time I’m in Europe, I end up having to carry my suitcase up stairs, or far distances on cobblestone. Just make sure that you are able to carry your suitcase if you come across these scenarios (because you 100% will) and you will definitely regret over packing.

Fitting in

You’ve made it to Europe and its time to navigate a whole new culture. I think the biggest thing people discuss is the tipping culture. While each country varies, for the most part, tipping is closer to 10% at most restaurants. Why? Because the wait staff is paid a fair wage where they do not have to rely on tips to make a living. Some countries even venture towards less than 10%, example: in Germany, we often just left coins. In general, I find Europe to be a more relaxed environment. Many places take a “siesta” or time to relax with friends and family over small plates and alcohol around mid-afternoon. Join in on this, sit at the beer garden, snack on the peanuts, and simply reconnect/relax with your travel partner. Dinner is often much later at night and is enjoyed for hours – no 5 PM half an hour rush here!

Lastly, let’s talk about coffee. “Americano” is likely what you’ll order because you well it must be like coffee in America! Nope. Americano is watered down espresso that originated when American soldiers wanted something to remotely resemble our beloved drip coffee here. While its tempting to order, I recommend branching out. Try an espresso shot in Rome, drink a cuppa white tea in England, put the whiskey in your coffee in Ireland. I promise you that drinking whatever the local beside you is drinking will be better than ordering an Americano and it just not hitting the same as Starbucks back home.

Hopefully, this little guide helps you in your planning or encourages you to take the leap of faith and book the flight! If you have any questions, leave them below and I’ll see how I can help.

Interested in my Google Maps lists of great attractions and my favorite restaurants in various European cities? Let me know and I can find a way to share them!

Happy planning!

How to Score Cheap Flights

I can’t count how many times I am asked how I afford to travel so much. My usual response is that international travel is not as expensive as many think. For instance, in the past year, I’ve planned trips to Belgium, Ireland, and the United Kingdom for all less than $750 (hotel/airfare). How? It’s all in the art of finding a cheap flight.

Step 1: Subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights and The Points Guy

Scott’s Cheap Flights and The Points Guy are wonderful as they spend the time searching for the flight deals and then email you what they are. Scott’s Cheap Flights has two different subscription options: a free addition to the email list and a yearly membership for more/better deals in your inbox. The email consists of flight details such as what airline, where the flights leave from, where they land, the dates that are on sale, the price, and how long the deal with last (like any sale, it ends and usually rather quickly). I use these emails as a starting point. For instance, I see that there’s a flight from Boston to London from October to March for $300. While Boston isn’t my home airport, that doesn’t mean that this deal won’t work for me. I can use airline miles from previous trips or credit card miles to book a quick (& free!) flight to Boston.

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Step 2: Google Flights

The next step is to hop on over to Google Flights. Here, I search the flight route to find the dates with the cheapest fare. After you select the number of days you want to go for, you can look at the price graph to see the different fares for various dates.

Step 3: Rakuten

After I’ve picked my travel dates based on my Google Flights search, it’s time to head to Rakuten. This step isn’t necessary, but it will score you some cash on your flights! With my Rakuten account, I earn cashback by entering websites through their links, rather than entering the website in my address bar. The percentage I earn on my spendings depends on what site I’m shopping on and what deal they have going on. This step is so easy and can earn some serious cash (in the form of a check delivered to your mailbox). Plus, you can use this for shopping on other commonly visited sites!

Step 4: Expedia

I enter Expedia through the Rakuten link, thus earning cashback. On Expedia, where I have an account, I search the dates/route I found via Google Flights. You should see the same price you found on Google Flights here. Next, I look at potentially adding a hotel to bundle with the airfare. Depending on the location and dates, you can often find a great hotel at a great price. If the hotels seem unreasonable (bad location, pricing, etc), then I would skip the hotel bundle and opt for an AirBnB. I like to book my airfare through Expedia so that I earn points through my Expedia account. When it comes time to book excursions, tours, or even rental cars, I can use my Expedia points as cash towards the booking. A free tour for just having an Expedia account is 100% worth it. Also, if you book your hotel through Expedia, you can earn free nights.

Step 5: Using my Capital One Venture Card

I use my Capital One Venture Card when booking anything travel related. I earn 2x miles on every dollar I spend, have zero foreign transaction fees, and can use my miles to book flights (like the one to Boston), hotels, and more.

Step 6: Airline Reward Programs

Lastly, I make sure that my reservations on ALL my flights have my frequent flyer number attached. I maintain airline reward accounts for all the major airlines, and while I do not strictly fly one airline (as my flights are chosen based on who has the deal, not who I like flying with best), the points still add up. A few flights here and there can give you the miles for the free flight you may need!

There are currently major sales on European routes October – March.

Happy Travels!

Croatia: Split to Dubrovnik

I have just returned from an incredible week in Croatia, having spent half my time in Split and half in Dubrovnik- its time to recap!

Day 1: Arriving in Split

We fly New York – London – Split and landed around mid-day. The taxi ride from Split Airport into town cost 360 Kuna (roughly $54). Our AirBnB was roughly a 10 minute walk from the main drag of town. The host spent time explaining different restaurants and attractions over a map before leaving us to a very clean studio apartment. We had scheduled spa appointments for fish pedicures, massages, and facials for 6 PM. The fish pedicure is exactly what it sounds like: you submerge your feet in a fish tank allowing fish to eat the dead skin off of your feet (I chickened out as I have extremely ticklish feet, but my friend really enjoyed it)! After our spa trip, we made our way into the old town for dinner. When I travel to a new place, I have two approaches towards finding restaurants: going to restaurants that come highly recommended or wandering the streets until I see something that looks good. Tonight, we wandered and ended up having the best meal of the entire trip (Restoran – Konoba Favola). Post dinner called for a bottle of wine drank sitting along the Riva people-watching. A quick gelato stop on the walk home ended our first night in Croatia!

Restoran – Konoba Favola: Trg Braće Radić 1, 21000, Split, Croatia

Day 2: Full day on the Adriatic

Every trip to Europe must begin with a good croissant, and this trip was no different. On our walk from our AirBnB to the ferry dock, we stopped at Bobis Bakery (SO GOOD) to load up on croissants before our long day at sea. We had booked our catamaran trip through Viator prior to coming. After researching many tours, we went with Summers Blues (about $100/person) because it involved three swim stops, a tour/leisure time in the quaint island of Hvar, food (sandwiches, salads & apple pie) and alcohol (beer and wine) for the entire day. Our boat left the dock around 9:30 AM and returned around 7:15 PM. Some excursions also went to the Blue Lagoon or Golden Horn, we ultimately decided that Hvar was more our speed. I highly recommend this sailing company as the entire crew was kind, attentive and, most of all, fun! After our day at sea, we quickly changed at our AirBnB and headed out to make our 8 PM reservation at Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar. Zinfandel consisted of an incredible cheese board, a bottle of wine, and a great live musician (10/10). We ended our first official day with by strolling through the streets shopping.

Bobis Dobar Tek: Zagrebačka ul. 23, 21000, Split, Croatia

Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar: Marulićeva ul. 2, 21000, Split, Croatia

Day 3: Chasing Waterfalls

To start our third day in Croatia, we went to a fresh juice stand along the Riva for acai bowls. Post acai bliss, it was time to catch our bus to Krka National Park. We had prebooked this excursion on Trip Advisor for $34.60/person. The “excursion” was just transportation to and from the park (over an hour each way) and did not include entrance into the park (~$22.50). The walk to the waterfalls from the bus takes around 20-30 minutes, but is an easy trek. The waterfalls themselves are breathtaking. At the waterfalls, there lacks an organized place to keep your things (few lockers exist and can be rented from restaurants), so we decided to leave our clothes and shoes on a bench and take all our valuables in the water with us in the neatest waterproof fanny packs. Neither one of us chose to bring water shoes, so let’s discuss this dilemma: we wanted to carry as few things as possible, but the rocks were VERY slippery. I’m not sure water shoes would have helped with the slippery-ness, but they would have protected my feet from cuts (which hurt), would have kept my feet clean from dirt, and potentially (if they had grips) could have saved me from a few falls. There were loads of little food stands by the falls to grab lunch, a beer, or ice cream. Our bus picked us up four hours after dropping us off, which was a perfect amount of time to spend at the falls.

After our excursion, we regrouped in our AirBnB before setting out for a sunset picture over Split. The best view of Split is located up the mountain and takes many a stair to reach. After we were properly sweating, we heading directly back down the mountain for dinner, again wandering until we found a spot we liked. Post-dinner called for a visit to Grgur Ninski Statue (Gregory of Nin) to rub his big toe to bring good luck! As it was our last night in Split, we decided to sit at a cocktail bar and people watch. The night ended with another gelato for the walk home.

Prva Vidilica Na Marjanu – Šetalište Luke Botića 3, 21000, Split, Croatia (viewpoint)

Day 4: Off to Dubrovnik

And on our fourth day- we were off to Dubrovnik! There are two ways to get to Dubrovnik from Split: bus or ferry. I have heard that the bus option is rather beautiful (& cheap), but during busy season, it is likely that the bus will end up stuck in traffic for potentially hours on end. For this reason, we opted for the 7:40 AM ferry to land us in Dubrovnik around 12 PM. The ferry ride stopped multiple times, but allowed us to eye-up some islands we didn’t have time to visit and cost $32/person for a one-way ticket. There were a ton of taxis waiting at the dock when we arrived, so we hopped in one and were off to our second AirBnB. Our AirBnB was situated just above town offering both views and convenience. After dropping off our bags, we scurried down the steps to Old Town. A pizza split at lunch was followed by hours of wandering through the very charming (and crowded) streets of old Dubrovnik. Our favorite place in the old town was the Old Port (shown below), where there were restaurants, views, ferries to Lockrum, and swimming around the corner. When the heat had begun to exhaust us, we decided to hop into the Franciscan Monastery (100 kuna or $15) for some air-conditioned education on the history of Dubrovnik. Rejuvenated, we spent the rest of the day exploring (& looking for gelato).

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Day 5: A day on the water

There’s a quaint little swim spot right around the corner from the old port, hidden from tourists thus making it the perfect place for locals to take a morning dip. We decided to start our day by doing just this. It is much calmer and less crowded here than at the city beach, so much so, that we didn’t even venture to check out the city beach. This spot also offers cliffs to jump off that aren’t scary high, but will still fill the veins with adrenaline. After our swim, we walked over to the dock to catch the ferry over to Lokrum (150 kuna or $22.50 for a roundtrip ticket/island entry). The ferry makes the 15 minute trip every half an hour with the last ferry back to Dubrovnik at 7 PM during peak season. On the uninhabited island of Lokrum, you’ll find a nude beach, peacocks and rabbits roaming freely, a monastery, a “dead sea”, restaurants and an actual Iron Throne used in the GoT series. The island of Lokrum was once occupied by the Benedictines, who left in 1808 leaving a curse on the island that anyone who dares to take the island as their own will be damned. No one has successfully occupied the island since, however, in recent years, the island has become Qarth in the Game of Thrones world. The island is also home to the incredible photo location from the picture below, though it is not easy to find/climb to.

We spent a few hours at the island before heading back to Dubrovnik, grabbing lunch, and ultimately, taking a quick nap before our next adventure. Upon arriving in Dubrovnik, we hadn’t made any tour/excursion bookings like we had with Split. Once we prioritized everything we wanted to do, we decided to book a sunset kayak tour for this evening. The tour, through World of Kayaks, lasted roughly three hours and cost approximately $29/person. Our guide Blaze offered two different options for the route depending on how strong of a group we were. We collectively opted for the shorter trek that had us kayaking across to the island of Lokrum before heading to the big cave. At the big cave, we were given time to swim, cliff jump, and more importantly, catch our breath after an exhausting journey. As two fit 23 year-olds, this tour was quite difficult kayak-wise as the sea was very rough (but very worth the sore shoulders the next day). The tour also included sandwiches and wine! Our guide took a special liking to us and gave us a full bottle of wine which we quickly smuggled out of the scene of the crime. Post-kayaking called for dinner and a trip to the Irish Pub Karaka. I have this weird thing where I visit an Irish Pub absolutely everywhere I go and it never disappoints.

Day 6: Winter is Coming

For our final full day, it was time for a Game of Thrones walking tour. Our tour was through Dubrovnik Walks, lasted a little over two hours and cost about $22/person. We were able to book this last-minute through Trip Advisor. This particular tour started with the fortress followed by the streets of the Old Town. The fortress is an additional entry fee (50 kuna or $7.50), but it was free if you had already purchased a city wall ticket and could show it. On the flip side, we showed our fortress entrance ticket to the booth at the city wall and were able to have our ticket price reduced. Our guide Branko was incredibly knowledgable and gave a wonderful tour. I will warn you that there are plenty of stairs involved in the tour as it is the only way to access the fortress. The tour ended with a photo-op on the Iron Throne (not a real one used during filming), and we were off to lunch.

After lunch, we headed to walk the City Wall, which is approximately 2 kilometers, a lot of stairs, and bloody miserable in the midday August heat. Entry to the wall will set you back around 200 kuna ($30). Along the wall, there are little stands selling water, gelato, etc., but as you continue walking, the price of water increases (just when you need it most)…. lovely. The walk is quite beautiful and offers wonderful views, however, I highly recommend doing this activity first thing in the morning. Gelato was next on the agenda, as we were both exhausted, hot, and tired. Naturally, a nap and shower followed the gelato.  Our final activity was taking the cable car up to the top of the mountain for the best view over Dubrovnik. The cable car was a pretty smooth ride and held around 30 people (a roundtrip adult ticket costs 170 kuna/$25) The ride itself was very pretty, and the view at the top was even better. At the top of the mountain, there is a restaurant, a few shops, countless photo spots, and buggy rides. There is an option to hike the mountain, but I think that it would take a few hours to complete (also not the best idea in the heat). We ended our final night as we did most other nights, a nice dinner, wine, and shopping through the charming streets of old Dubrovnik.

Thanks for reading!

THE BEST OF ABU DHABI

 

As part of my job, I was recently sent to Abu Dhabi to complete a rather long training program. During this stay, I was able to see and do all of the things that Abu Dhabi (& Dubai!) has to offer. I’ve finally taken the time to compile my favorite spots in and around the city! Yes, this post is rather long, but I’ve spent months there!!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is absolutely magnificent. As the largest (& grandest) mosque in the UAE, it is an absolute must-see when in the Emirates. It is free to enter and proper dress for women is available upon arrival. Also, an underground ~air conditioned~ tunnel takes visitors from the entrance building to the mosque and back. When to visit? I recommend visiting during both day and night for two different experiences.

Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed St – Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates

The Lourve

The Lourve Abu Dhabi is both a museum and an architectural masterpiece. The building itself is stunning, sits right on the water, and offers up views of the city. Its a bit out of the way as far as getting there is concerned, but it was one of my absolute favorite days spent in Abu Dhabi. The museum is closed on Mondays, but open otherwise from 10 am – 8 pm. Fun fact: I went on Christmas Day, as the country doesn’t celebrate. Admission costs 63 AED (roughly $17) or 31.5 AED (roughly $8.50) for students/military (The workers at the ticket desk didn’t even glance at my student ID long enough to realize it was out of date). While the museum is filled with wonderful exhibits, the main attraction  is Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronniere. Even those who aren’t major art critics can appreciate this masterpiece. The museum also has a cafe, wifi, and countless incredible photo opportunities.

Saadiyat – Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates

Yas Marina and Mall

Yas Marina and Mall became my second home throughout my stay in the Middle East. The Mall is massive, with floors upon floors of name brand designers, chain restaurants, and movie theaters. The Marina, located close by, is where all of the expensive yachts are kept. Along the marina, there are lots of restaurants, bars and clubs with both indoor and outdoor seating. My favorite spots in the Marina became Stars ‘n’ Bars (lame name, but good food and fun trivia nights) and Casa de Cuba (very fun Cuban theme club/bar). The Marina also is home to the Yas Marina Circuit where the infamous Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place. When they aren’t racing there however, you can take a spin on the track (quite expensive) or go for a run on the open track days (Tuesdays and Sundays I believe).

Ferrari World/Yas Waterpark

Yas Island is home to three theme parks: Ferrari World, Yas Waterpark and Warner Bros World. Ferrari World is a car-themed indoor park most noted for the world’s fastest roller coaster – Formula Rossa. Formula Rossa accelerates from 0 to 239 km/h in 4 seconds. The park is also home to a few more roller coasters and attractions. I left this park quite nauseous from the two big coasters. Adrenaline junkies will love the World’s Fastest Coaster, but if you get motion sickness easily, I don’t recommend trying these attractions. A one-day pass costs 295 dirhams if you buy online in advance. However, if you want to also visit the Yas Waterpark or Warner Bros World, you can do so on the same day with the one-day/two-parks pass costing an additional 100 dirhams. I chose to opt out of the Waterpark/Warner Bros option, but my friends who visited the Waterpark had a great time! (I was told by friends that the Warner Bros World is not nearly as good as the other two parks) Also, I visited during the ~winter~ season (still 80°F during the day) and did not wait in line for a single ride.

Marina Mall/Emirates Palace

Marina Mall is right along the water and has more high-end stores than Yas Mall despite looking a little more run down. Right beside the mall is a ferris wheel with great views of  the water and city. Emirates Palace is right next door and beautiful, however, because it is a luxury five-star hotel, they wouldn’t let my friends and I explore it as we were not meeting dress code (my guy friend was wearing shorts rather than pants). The area in general is very fun to explore, with beaches, views, and very cool buildings (beep below). It is also within walking distance of the best beach in Abu Dhabi – Corniche Beach. Corniche Beach is a great place to swim, or maybe just dip your toes in the Arabian Gulf (Yes, the country is very conservative, but you can still wear a normal swimsuit). The beach has a cute little board walk with a ton of restaurants and little shops. I was also lucky enough to catch the world’s largest fireworks displays there to ring in 2019.

Desert Safari

Every once in a while, I’ll have a moment with traveling where I pinch myself. That being said, the desert safari was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life. It was rather sketchy to book, as were given a phone number of the “desert safari guy” and called him up. We were able to book quite late, late as in the day before. We paid per van,  which meant is was more cost effective to have eight people splitting the fee versus four. The two vans (old toyotas without seatbelts) picked us up at the hotel and we were off. First, we stopped to see a few camels, which again was a little weird/sketchy. After a short visit with the camels, we set out over the dunes – truly and incredible sight and experience. Yes, the driver handed me the aux cord, and it was awesome. We stopped for some pictures on the dunes before heading to the desert “camp.” At the camp, there was traditional gear to try on, henna tattoos, arabic coffee, sand boarding, camel riding, and four wheeling. Once everyone had done their activies, it was dinner and a show. There was a massive buffet of very unexpectedly good food and a belly dancing show that went on into the night. It did become rather cold towards the end of the night, so I recommend bringing a jacket of some sort. After the show, we piled back into our vans and headed home. 10000/10 experience

Thanks for reading!