After a bus for a few hours, we arrived in Prague. Budapest and Vienna had both surprised us, and Prague was destined to do the same. We all knew very little about Prague. I had learned a little through a class about dictatorships, reading a biography in class that had an impact on me. (If you’re into history, it is called Under a Cruel Star by Heda Margolius Kovaly. Her story is extremely moving.)
Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect from Prague. It surprised me and quickly topped my list of favourite cities.
The first day, we got in to Prague in the afternoon. We checked into our amazing hostel. It was a 17th century palace that had been converted into a hostel, and is a UNESCO protected site. It was great – the bathroom was huge, and the room was comfortable! Zach wanted to rest, but Kirstin and I decided to explore.
We walked down close to the river and found the Lennon Wall. It was really interesting to see the artwork and graffiti that covers the wall, with most of it relating to the Beatles. There are quotes, song lyrics, drawings and more. It was fun to take pictures in front of! We then stopped at a little market area for some amazing local food. It was a fun area to wander!
After dropping off some food for Zach, we ventured up the large hill to get amazing views of the city. We then tried to find the castle – only to find a lot of construction across the entire front of it. We wandered the grounds, and got to see the outside of the beautiful cathedral. And of course, the views of Prague below were spectacular. We knew that this would be yet another city that we would love.
The next day, we got up to go on a walking tour of the city. We overheard some other people in our hostel discussing how they were all going on the tour as well. We all started talking and went to the tour together. Hector and Sofia were cousins from Mexico, and Denise was studying abroad from Hong Kong.
The walking tour was great – we saw so many different parts of the city! The astronomical clock, the Jewish museum and cemetery, the castle (from afar), statues and buildings. There is so much history within the city. It was made even better by our hilarious Czech guide. We also made another friend on the tour – Jamie from England. We now had a large group of us, and we all decided to hang out after the tour as well.
We all went to the Jewish museum and cemetery. It was extremely interesting. Within one of the buildings, there are all of the names of the Jews who were persecuted in the Holocaust, including their homes, families, and any dates known. Like the multitude of tombstones within the enormous cemetery, it was overwhelming, yet moving. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to walk through and take in all of it.
Being hungry, we ended up at the market that Kirstin and I had eaten at the previous night. We all grabbed various foods, before walking to a park around the corner. We sat in the grass, relaxing and chatting. It was great fun to just hang out with new people, getting to know each other. We decided to keep hanging out.
We found a restaurant to eat at after a lot of indecision. The food was delicious, and the company was great. We had fun hanging out and chatting. After dinner, we decided to venture into a well-known club in Prague – Karlovy Lazne Club. Basically, it is a five-story club with each level being a different kind of music. It was definitely an adventure! We all had a great night, dancing and shouting out old and new songs at the top of our lungs.
We had a little bit of a late start the next morning. We all ended up meeting again to explore more of Prague together. Our first stop was the castle, to see the grounds and the amazing views. We took a ton of pictures and marvelled at the amazing cathedral. Kirstin and I led the others to the Lennon Wall, where we took some amazing pictures and goofed off for a while. We then crossed the river for gelato and exploration of the city. We found a cool candy shop, and stopped in multiple souvenir stores. We just had fun exploring.
Another site we found was the metronome on the edge of the river. It is a massive metronome. I’m not sure if there is really a point to it. But, from the top of the hill it stands on, there is also an amazing view of the city. We had so many great views and pictures in one day, so many memories and moments captured. It was such a great day.
After splitting up for a bit, we reconnected to find the “dancing building” that Kirstin had wanted to see. It is an abstract building that is supposed to look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing. I think we saw it? I’m not too great with the abstract – haha! It started to rain on us, so we decided to take the metro a little more than before. We were going to go out for dinner, but decided instead to make dinner at the hostel. It was fun to relax and hang out before saying goodbye to some great new friends.
The following day, we boarded a train to Berlin. I was very excited for Berlin! There are so many sights to see for someone who loves history. But, our very first day we arrived late. After checking into our hostel and having a short siesta, we had to do some laundry – last laundry stop for the final stretch home! We then turned in early that night.
For our first day in Berlin, I was somehow given the task of picking which sights would be our first stops in Berlin. I was so excited. I decided that we should head to the main area of history. So, we took the S-Bahn train to Brandenburg Gate, where we saw the gate and the Reichstag itself. I wish we could have gone into the Reichstag! But it was great to see it from the outside even, as I was able to see something I had studied and heard about for so long. If you do not know, the top of the Reichstag is a glass dome, symbolizing the openness of the past and current government – that there are no secrets, everything is out in the open. It basically represents the opposite of the past regimes of Germany.
Our next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Personally, pictures had never done this monument justice, and I do not believe they can. The feeling of standing within these variously sized cement blocks is indescribable – to go from blocks that look like benches to being dwarfed by the height of your surroundings, feeling trapped. It is truly amazing and humbling.
We also found the memorial to the murdered homosexuals and gypsies. It is so important to remember that Jews were not the only people persecuted in the Holocaust, there were so many others who were singled out because of one aspect of who they were. We walked to the site of the Fuhrerbunker, and wandered Tiergarten to find the monument to the Russian soldiers. We found a mall and ended up in a square where a small section of the wall remains as a memory.
I then was able to visit the Topography of Terror, an outdoor museum that I had heard of from a history professor. Along a piece of the wall and remains of buildings used by the Gestapo and SS (secret police forces), history, pictures, and propaganda are displayed for people to learn the truth of the events which occurred with the city of Berlin and all of Germany itself. We also saw Checkpoint Charlie, one of the remaining checkpoints for crossing between East and West Berlin. Before turning in, after a long day of exploring, we stopped for “currywurst” and walked to the TV Tower.
For our second day in Berlin, we ended up splitting up. Zach and I headed out of the center of Berlin to a surrounding area while Kirstin stayed in the city. Zach and I wanted to have the full history experience, so we left the main city center to visit the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. It was a moving experience that I am grateful for. We saw the barracks where the people were held, the memorial to those who died, the remains of the buildings, and the pit where many were executed. This camp was also used during the Communist regime, as a ‘special camp’ for prisoners of the SS. It was an incredible experience for someone who has studied these events and places for so long.
For our final day, we walked the entirety of the East Side Gallery – the longest section of the Berlin Wall that remains. The artwork was amazing. I wondered how old some of it was, and I was sad to see that others had put graffiti overtop of it. The history was amazing. We also wandered across a bridge to see the Molecule Man. I’m still not entirely sure what it is or what the point was, but apparently it was on a list of things we should see in Berlin.
We basically just wandered the city after that before doing a little shopping and meeting some friends for drinks. We had made some friends in Prague – two French girls and Josue from the USA. We had a night out at the Hard Rock Cafe, after finding it in so many cities for Zach to collect souvenirs. We had a great night!
The next morning was the start of a long day. I think I will leave that for the next post though, as it will probably be a long story.
Ich ben ein Berliner! 😉
So, with one last flight for a little while, we left the beautiful land of Italy and headed to Budapest, Hungary! We were all super excited to begin our explorations of some of the countries that we didn’t know as much about. And as I mentioned in my last post, I was extremely excited to meet my friend Kitty!
We caught a bus and then a metro into the city from the airport, and I was overwhelmed with excitement when I got off the metro and spotted Kitty! It was great to see her again after a month. She came with us to check into our hostel, we all settled our stuff in, and then we set out to explore with our very own Hungarian guide.
First stop: a tradition of the youth of Budapest – to drink in the park at Daag Square! We grabbed some beers and champagne, and found a spot on the grass. It was crazy to be drinking in public, but it is legal there. It was kind of fun to have that experience, as the only other place I had done that was in Belgium. We walked through the city to the beautiful Danube River, or Duma in Hungarian. It was beautiful, and it was just turning to dusk, so the sun was low on the horizon and the sky looked amazing.
We walked across Chain Bridge – the English translation of a Hungarian name that I cannot spell or pronounce – and headed up a very large hill to the palace grounds above. From there, we had an amazing view of the Danube and the city of Budapest beyond. I was overwhelmed and fell in love with the city immediately. It quickly continued to climb the charts as one of my favourite cities that we visited!
Continuing along, Kitty led us to a beautiful church on the hill, and the famous Fisherman’s Tower that also overlooked the city. We went onto the walls connecting to the tower, and got to see the city come to life at night. It was stunning. Budapest lit up at night would rival Paris in my books, as the bridges along the Danube are lit up and look amazing!
After walking back down the hill, Kitty had to catch a train home – but not before she dropped us off at an amazing restaurant! We got to have a great, traditional Hungarian meal for our first night in Budapest. The food was delicious and we all got to try something different. I ate a bean soup, some salad and a pork dish before having a coffee.
The next day, June 20th, we took Kitty’s advice and checked out some places in Budapest that had to do with Hungarian history. I was quite interested, as I honestly did not know a lot about Budapest’s history. Our education started the previous night, with Kitty showing us around and explaining some of the history of the kings and important people. It continued when we visited the House of Terror. The museum explained Hungarian history in reference to the Communist influence. Terrible events happened within Budapest, specifically within the building of the museum. It was humbling to read through the various tragedies that had taken place, learning how greatly Hungary had been affected by the atrocities as well.
Our next step was to visit Heroes Square, where countless statues had been erected to commemorate various kings and leaders in Hungary. We honestly didn’t know who any of them were, and so we decided to have a little fun by posing like some of the statues. Later, Kitty told us who they were and why they were important to the Hungarian people. It was very interesting! We wandered a park, and even found a castle.
We went back to our hostel to relax for a little bit before catching a train out to one of the islands of Budapest. In short, Kitty’s dad owns a restaurant, and we were invited to go there for dinner. It was amazing! We got to experience true Hungarian culture through traditional music, folk dancing, and a traditional 3-course meal. And we got to experience it all with Kitty and her boyfriend, Attila. It was a lot of fun, and we all had a great time. The food was amazing and the show was brilliant! Thank you to the Ronyais for the amazing experience – we are very grateful and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, learning more about your culture!
The following day, we decided to first explore a market that was very close to our hostel. We had been to markets in a few other cities, but this one was very different. It was indoors, two floors, and was massive. We couldn’t believe how much was inside this building, and we took our time looking through and buying a few souvenirs. The food was delicious as well, whether dessert or savory.
We walked along the Danube, as it was a beautiful day. The views across the river were stunning, and we were slightly jealous of the many people on boats. We decided to walk down to the Parliament buildings, and stumbled on the memorial for Jews along the river. On the edge of the river, there are various sculpted shoes which are a reminder and memorial to the Jews who were shot into the Danube during the Holocaust. It was humbling to see, specifically the little baby shoes. There is something unsettling about abandoned shoes sometimes, especially in this scenario.
We made it to the Parliament buildings and took pictures of them in the daylight. They were quite beautiful. We hopped on a random tram to take us into the city, and got off at a random stop. We found a street food which Kitty had stressed that we must try – called Kurtoskalacs. There are many accents that are supposed to be on that word, and I would never attempt to try to say it, but the food itself was delicious! Basically, it is a spiral breaded dessert covered in cinnamon or other things.
That night we were meeting up with Kitty and Attila one last time, to go out for another Hungarian dinner. Unfortunately, the place that we had wanted to go to was full, so we found another place called the Trofea Grill. It is a genius place – you pay the equivalent of 20 euros (except in the Hungarian currency of Forent) and you can eat and drink as much as you like! We got to have traditional Hungarian foods again, plus we could pick and choose other things as well. We had a lot of fun, all getting to talk and know each other better. It was a great night – and I was super sad to say goodbye to Kitty at the end. Thank you so much for everything! You were an amazing tour guide, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you and Attila. Again, thank you!
Our last day in Budapest turned a little odd. Zach really wasn’t feeling well, so he decided to stay in for the day. We had planned to go to an exit game, what we call an escape room at home. They are extremely popular in Hungary (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think they originated there?). But, with him not feeling well, we didn’t want to chance it. Kirstin met some people in the hostel that she wanted to hang out with, while I wanted to explore a little on my own.
I went to Margaret Island, looking at the park and walking along the Danube from a different angle. It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed the walk! I met up with Kirstin after, and we decided to walk around the city for a while. We went to the basilica and the Jewish synagogue. The basilica was beautiful both inside and out, but we didn’t want to pay to go inside the synagogue. It has been very interesting to me, travelling through Europe, that to enter some churches you must pay.
We went back to the hostel and made an odd dinner for ourselves. Somehow we were able to cook a breakfast-for-dinner with merely a pot and microwave. So, we had eggs, beans, and toast. And palinka – an alcohol made only in Hungary. It was definitely not a good combination, but it was our last night and we were not going to leave Hungary without trying it.
The next day, we rushed to the bus to get to Vienna, scared that we were about to miss it. It was extremely hard to find where we were meant to catch it. After finally finding the area, we were told that our bus had broken down before it got to us, and we wouldn’t be leaving until 3pm. So, left with an extra 4 hours in Budapest, we shed our heavy backpacks and headed back into the city.
We ended up wandering a mall for a while, and then going back to the market because we had enjoyed it so much. We bought some last minute souvenirs for ourselves and friends before catching our bus. The bus was honestly the nicest one I have ever been on in my life – there were tv screens in the seats which let you watch movies, and free tea and coffee were offered…! The time passed quickly with me finishing two movies. Honestly, that night we didn’t really do anything.
We got up the next morning ready to explore Vienna. We headed out and ended up at some church simply because we had seen a dome rising above the other buildings. We were pointed to the concert hall and Opera buildings. Vienna is a center in Europe for classical music, so it was very interesting seeing all the buildings and areas that incorporated it.
We got lost a few times in Vienna, even though we had maps. Streets were just difficult to find or were not on our map and it got frustrating at times – but never as bad as Venice! Cafes of Vienna are famous and a large part of the culture. Certain cafes even have history. We eventually found Café Central, reported to have been visited by Lenin and Trotsky. We couldn’t even get in the door because it was so crowded and packed with tourists.
Kirstin wanted to go to a museum, so we split up. Zach and I went exploring through the city, shopping and looking at various things. We also found Café Hawelka, a place my friend had recommended. It was rumoured to have been visited by Hitler himself. We didn’t actually venture inside, as we didn’t have time, but it was interesting to see. That night we all met up and had dinner close to our hostel, in the Nasch Markt. It wasn’t typical Viennese food, but it was delicious!
Our last day in Vienna, June 24th, was probably my favourite day. We met up with a friend of Zach’s, Johanna, and her roommate, Claudia. They both live just outside of Vienna and were nice enough to come into the city to show us around! The first place we went to was the Haus of Meeres – it was an aquarium! It was so cool, with it being 11 stories! I had never been in an aquarium like that before. We saw so many different kinds of fish, monkeys and birds, and had a great time. It was nice to do something that was just fun! And we got a great view of Vienna from the top of the building.
We stopped for lunch in Nasch Markt, and Zach and I got to try bratwurst. The girls said it wasn’t the best, but we enjoyed it, not really knowing different! We bought a few things in the market, and then hopped on the metro to head out of the city.
Just outside of the city is the amazing Schloss Shoenbrunn, a beautiful palace. We arrived and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the grounds and building. The inside was just as grand. We wandered around inside using an audio guide to tell us the history. It was a lot at once and honestly I don’t remember most of it. There were very rich and important people who lived there, and the rooms had names that told you exactly how they looked: the mirror room, the red room, etc.
Back in the heart of Vienna, we went shopping! My shoes had broken in the back, and I was in a lot of pain wearing them. So, long story short, I ended up buying a new pair of shoes. We spent some time trying to find a souvenir shop, and then couldn’t find somewhere to eat. We ended up finding a good place for traditional food, getting to try schnitzel and a drink called hugo. It was all delicious!
We said goodbye to Johanna and Claudia, and headed back to our hostel, as we had an early train the next morning. Thank you so much girls for coming to meet us and showing us around the city. We had such a great time and are very thankful for the experience!
Thank you to everyone who has met us on our travels! You made our experiences so much better.
Next stop: Prague! But this post is long now, so I’ll save some stories for later.
Bye for now
After saying goodbye to a great friend and an amazing city, we moved on to our next adventure in another country: Italy!
Our first stop after a flight was the city of Pisa. We knew that there wasn’t a ton to do in Pisa, other than take tourist photos with the tower. Basically, it was just going to be a stopover for us to get to Cinque Terre the next day. However, Pisa turned out to be pretty fun – if only for an evening.
After we checked into our hostel, we headed out into the streets of Pisa. Wandering was pretty cool actually – we found street vendors with very unique items for sale, and we even ran into a street procession with a band and everything. It was a ton of fun! And of course, we got gelato for our first evening in Italy.
We headed straight for the Piazza dei Miercoli to see the church and the torre, or ‘leaning tower.’ Many people had told us not to take the ‘typical leaning poses,’ so we went for other poses instead… and making subtle fun of some other people taking the photos as well. We had a lot of laughs and fun. Then we went for pizza at a local restaurant after – and it was probably one of the best pizzas I have ever had before. It was massive and delicious.
The next morning, we hopped on a train to La Spezia, where we transferred to another train to get to the town we would stay in Cinque Terre, Corniglia. The weather looked gross, as we knew a storm was blowing in. We had actually seen rain and lightning on our train ride to La Spezia. But we crossed our fingers for better weather.
Which didn’t happen. We got to Corniglia and had to wait to check in. We went to a little restaurant for a great lunch and coffee (yes, I have taken to drinking espresso for some reason. This was the first of a few through Eastern Europe), and the woman told us to move inside because the sky looked so dark. Well, that’s what we got from the broken English and hand gestures as we all tried to communicate. But it was a good thing that we did move – as soon as we got inside, it started to absolutely pour buckets down. Needless to say, we took our time eating lunch.
That afternoon, it cleared up, so we decided that we would take the shorter hike along the hills to one of the other towns. So, we took a train one town over, to Manarola, and we hiked to Riomaggiore. Matt, a guy staying in the same room as Zach, had done the hikes earlier that day. But, being that he had just met us and we all got along well, he decided to come to do the hike with us! We all had a great time, even with the hike being almost an eighty degree angle for the whole hour and a half. And the towns and views were so amazing!!! Of course, we got some gelato again, because Italy. We went back to shower and hang out for a bit, before we all went out for dinner together in Corniglia. It was a great day and start to our time in Cinque Terre.
The next day was the serious hiking day! We were going to do the coastal hikes from our town, Corniglia, to Vernazza and then Monterosso. It was going to take basically the whole day, a good chunk of hours. And it was definitely hot out. Matt accompanied us on the first leg, to Vernazza, and then we went our separate ways. It was tough going at a few points – there are a lot of stairs, ups and downs, and the heat is impeccable – but the views were amazing and the towns were worth it alone. Vernazza was so pretty, with the harbor and the boats. I think I enjoyed Vernazza and Manarola the most. We hung out in Monterosso before heading back to Corniglia.
After taking the wrong train (we somehow ended up on an express that went straight to La Spezia), and showering, we met up with Matt to head out for a night of dinner. We met a few other girls staying in our room, and invited them along. Annie was from the US, while Megan was from Australia. They were really nice, and again, everyone got along great! We took the train to Monterosso, had a great dinner (after we finally found a place to eat), and then ate gelato by the beach. It was an amazing evening with some great people.
We had another panicky night when we found out that the next morning, there was going to be a rail strike in the area. No one could tell us if it would merely be a regional strike or a country-wide one. We wouldn’t find out until morning. So, we had to attempt to get out of Cinque Terre at least before the strike began at 9. Flash forward to a 5:30am morning, catching a train, and then paying a lot to be able to take 2 trains to Venice.
Once in Venice, we were utterly exhausted. We found our bus to the area we would be staying – a campground outside of the city where we were staying in a cabin. We got on the bus, got to the cabin, were slightly disappointed, ate pizza, and then just hung out in the cabin before crashing. It was an odd day. We didn’t even want to attempt to explore the city yet.
The next day, June 17, was our day to explore the entirety of Venice. And it was our only day. So, we planned to make the best of it! We planned to head out early – but ended up running late and almost missing our bus. This somehow turned into a regular thing for buses, which became sort of annoying…
None of us really knew any of the places that we were supposed to visit in Venice, and maps cost money, so we just set out exploring on foot and following signs. We made our way to Piazza San Marco, the one place Kirstin had knew of. It was cool, but there was scaffolding and tons of pigeons! It was also very crowded, which made it difficult to maneuver and slightly claustrophobic. BUT – it was pretty and super Italian. We wandered along and went to the Grand Canal, a place that we definitely had heard of. The water was gorgeous and there were boats everywhere!
We walked a lot, found some gelato, got into some arguments about what we wanted to do, and decided that it would be best to split up. Kirstin wanted to go and explore more of Venice. Zach and I really wanted to ride a boat. We didn’t want to pay the insane amount of money to ride a gondola, so we decided to catch a vaporetto, a ferry-type boat, to the other island of Murano.
Murano is the glass-blowing island, so there were multiple shops with beautiful glass-blown artwork. The island itself, or at least the area we ended up in, was quiet and quaint. It was a nice break from the crowded and busy streets of Venice. There was room to breathe and relax, with walking space. So we tried to spend a little extra time there. We stopped at a little café to grab a drink. I tried an Aperol Spritzer – basically sparkling water mixed with an alcohol called Aperol. We believe that you can only get it in Europe. It was pretty good! We caught the boat back to Venice, and ended up getting very lost trying to find Kirstin again. I definitely suggest getting a map on your phone or buying one if you can. Venice is quite confusing.
We got some dinner at a little restaurant along one of the main streets. The waiters were hilarious, offering pizza to random people walking by or asking them to pay someone’s bill. We had some good laughs with them. We wandered a little more to see the canal at night, and grabbed some dessert. I had a great chocolate mousse! We caught the bus back to our accommodations.
The next day would be a travel day to yet another city and country – Budapest, Hungary. I was very excited to see my friend, Kitty. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time. But that’s for the next post.
Bye for now
P.S. – sorry I am a little behind on the blog posts. I actually just wrote and uploaded this post from Prague, basically a week after I had left Italy. However, I am trying to keep everyone updated through my other social media when I have wifi, with pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
My last post had us on a bus through the night from London to Paris. Well, that was an adventure in itself.
We had thought that the bus would just take us straight there through the night. Unbeknownst to us, we actually had to get up twice on the bus ride. Apparently, you cannot just “sleep” straight through. You have to have a passport check, and then get off the bus for the two hour ferry ride. Needless to say, there were some tired faces and exhausted bodies wandering off the bus the next morning to say ‘bonjour’ to Paris.
We had booked an apartment outside of Paris through AirBNB, and so after walking for quite some time, we found the quaint apartment. The woman was so nice, and the place was adorable. After a long siesta, we went into the city and wandered the Louvre for the night. Because it was Friday night, youth could enter for free! And it being Europe, twenty-somethings are still considered youth…
It was interesting to wander the Louvre again. This time, I tried to see some new things. Zach immediately led us to see the Venus de Milo, something I had somehow overlooked last time. And we of course ventured to find the Mona Lisa. I feel like you could go through the Louvre for hours and still not see everything. I’ve been there twice now, and I still haven’t seen a large amount of the enormous collection. I mean, that’s probably because I often get side-tracked looking at the architecture, beautiful ceilings, or amazing views out the windows. All of it is just as good as the artwork, in my opinion.
After the Louvre, we walked around Paris for a little bit. We crossed what used to be the Love Lock Bridge. Now, it is no more. There are merely boards with artwork depicting locks and keys in various and creative ways. It is crazy to think that merely two months before, I walked the same bridge – yet it looked completely different. It scared me a little, as it showed how much can change in such a short period of time.
We wandered along the Seine and ended up in front of Notre Dame. It was pretty late, so the cathedral was closed. But it looked beautiful. We were all pretty tired, so we took the metro back to our little apartment to get some sleep for the next day.
The next morning, it was really hard to get up. But when we did, Kirstin had made eggs for all of us mixed with some peppers. It was delicious. We set out on the metro to see some more sights of Paris. We got some food and ate sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower, feeling pretty cool and like typical tourists with our baguette. Then we stood in line to go up the tower.
We climbed a lot of steps. And I mean a lot. I can’t tell you how many exactly, but it was a lot. Basically, we walked up the steps to the first floor, where we looked around at the amazing views of all of Paris. Then we climbed more stairs to the second level. The view was spectacular! You could even see Sacre Coeur in the distance. It was a little smoggy, but the city looked amazing from up that high. I took a lot of pictures.
It turned into a really touristy day when we went to the Arc de Triomphe next. We walked underneath it to see the memorial, and then wandered along the Champs Elysees. Last time I walked it, it was late at night and I was crazy tired. It was nice to actually look around and see it this time. We hopped back on the metro and headed to see Sacre Coeur. We didn’t really think it through – to get up to Sacre Coeur, there are a lot of stairs. So we climbed more stairs. Needless to say, our legs were pretty tired by the end and a little sore the next day. Word to the wise: don’t do both the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur in one day…
We were again the typical tourists when we wandered the painter’s market and then grabbed some amazing crepes. Last time Zach came to Paris a few years ago, they actually stayed at Sacre Coeur – so, basically, he knew some great crepe places! I definitely ate a banana and Nutella crepe. We bought some groceries and headed back for a relaxing night of cooking and hanging out in our cozy apartment.
On June 7, we got up, caught the metro, and then went to the train station to head to Versailles. I had not gotten to see it last time, so I was quite excited to visit it now. We had to wait in an extremely long line-up to be able to buy tickets to go. We opted for the cheaper version: only going through the gardens and not the palace.
The gardens were beautiful! The palace is ornate with gold trimmings, and the garden reflected the elegance in a more natural realm. There were a lot of trees and some flowers. Most of it was set up as a maze. We had been told that we should see the fountain show that would come on at 3pm. We were a little disappointed when this “show” turned out to be just the fountains being turned on. It was great to see them on, but it should not be called a show.
We had dinner at a cute restaurant in Paris, Le Petit Cler. The food and wine was delicious! We went to a patisserie after for some sweets before wandering Paris at dusk. We waited until it got a little darker so that Kirstin could see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Unfortunately, we were all really tired after a long day, and the wind was blowing colder, so we didn’t stay out late to see it sparkle.
Our last day in Paris was a ‘do-what-you-want’ kind of day. Basically, Zach and I ventured to find a café from a movie I had recently watched, a movie that Carlos had recommended to me. There are three movies: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. It’s about a man and woman who meet on a train and spend one night wandering a city. I actually loved the movies. In the second one, they are in Paris. I couldn’t find the café, but I was able to find somewhere I had wanted to see anyways: Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It was amazing! I was so excited to finally see a place I had always wanted to visit.
We went to meet Kirstin at a tea shop, one that my friend’s parents own. My friend, Emilie, couldn’t make it to meet us, but her parents were so kind! They were very welcoming and told us about many things we should see in Paris for our last day. I bought some tea from their shop that I cannot wait to try. We wandered some shops, went to the top of a department store for an amazing view of Paris, and headed back to our apartment for some dinner. Paris was definitely different for me this time, giving me a completely different view.
We ended up having a stressful evening when we realized we had no way to get to the airport. Basically, we had to call a cab to take us to the bus station since the metro wasn’t running early enough. So flash forward to a 5am wake-up call, a taxi ride, bus ride, and a flight later until we were finally in Barcelona! We had to take a train and the metro to be able to get to our hostel – basically we took almost all kinds of transportation in one day. I was very excited to be surrounded by Spanish and to start using my minimal knowledge of the language.
We hung out at the hostel, checked in, found some free food in the kitchen, and then I took a siesta. It had been a long day, and I ended up starting properly in Spain. We then decided that we would walk around for a little while, get a feel of the city. We saw our first glimpse of Gaudi with Palau Guell, walked part of La Rambla, and then strolled along the harbor before grabbing some food.
June 10 was the first of a few great days in Spain. We got up and went straight to La Sagrada Familia. I was super excited, as it was the one place I really wanted to visit in Barcelona. The church was like nothing I had ever seen before – the towers and architecture are so unique, with intricate details and special designs. We wandered the outside and sat inside, marveling at the beauty. And waiting until our time to go up the tower.
Yes, we climbed up one of the towers of La Sagrada Familia. We rode in an elevator to the top of the Nativity Tower, and stopped to take in the amazing views as we climbed the stairs down. You could see all of Barcelona, from the hills to the sea. And I was in love with it already.
We decided to head to Parc Guell next, making it a Gaudi day. It was also one of the only other things that was far outside the city. After a lot of escalators and stairs, we finally made it to the top. Again, we had amazing views of the entire city. We didn’t want to pay to enter the other parts of the park, so we wandered around the free areas and died in the afternoon sun. We had lunch before climbing all the stairs to the bottom of the hill.
On our way back through Barcelona to the hostel, we decided to stop at a Gaudi House, La Pedrera, as we would pass right by it anyways. We walked the rest of the way back to the hostel, even seeing another Gaudi work along the way, and we got to walk all of La Rambla. We relaxed at the hostel for a bit, with Kirstin and I drinking sangria and all of us making new friends. We went for tapas, a Spanish food. Basically, it is small-ish foods that you eat while drinking late at night. It works slightly different in the various regions of Spain, but it was delicious!
The next day was the one I had most been looking forward to. I headed down to breakfast, and even though I had been expecting him, Carlos was able to surprise me. It was so great to see him again, and I was super thankful that he had made the long train ride to hang out with us in Barcelona! We got some groceries, Carlos dropped off all of his stuff, and then we headed out.
A friend we had met at the hostel, Shane, was coming with us on our adventure as well. He was from Ireland (Cork), and we had all had great craic (fun) talking about Ireland and my experiences there the previous night in the hostel. So, we headed out for our day: we were going to take a train out of Barcelona to Montserrat.
After taking a gondola up the mountain, we wandered the basilica and then ventured up the mountain. None of us were super prepared for hiking, but we decided to do it anyways. Again, it turned out to be the hottest part of the day, and there were so many stairs! Needless to say, we ended up turning back before we made it the entire way. But before we did, we got to see some amazing views, and I even saw some climbers.
We went back into Barcelona and parted ways with Shane. The four of us headed into the city, finding ourselves at Barceloneta beach – only for a storm to blow in! I put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, the guys got their shorts soaked from a giant wave, and then it started to pour buckets of rain on us. We ran from the beach to find a metro, but it didn’t really help, as we were completely soaked through. We also saw a man get hit by a car when he slipped on the road. It was quite scary and we were all pretty cautious for a while after that. We grabbed some tapas and beers, and headed to bed after a great day.
Our last day was probably my favourite day. Essentially, we spent the entire day just wandering the city with Carlos playing tour guide. We went to St. Joseph’s Market off of La Rambla. It was so cool! There was delicious-looking food everywhere you turned, and we all ended up buying something to do with fruit. We headed farther into the city and ended up at the Picasso Museum. Now, as I’ve already said, I am not the biggest fan of art. But the museum was really interesting! Carlos knew a lot about many of the pieces of art, and we even got to see an exhibition that showed the relationship between Dali and Picasso. I actually enjoyed it – even if I couldn’t tell what any of the paintings were of at some points, or why someone would paint a picture with twenty pigeons in it.
We stopped at the beautiful Catedral Del Mar. Carlos told us that the cathedral had been built by sailors, as they could not afford to enter the other church in the city. It took them eighty years to build the church, carrying the stones from Montjuic hill across the city. I loved the story and the church was stunning. (I didn’t double check the story, I trust Carlos – he’s an engineer, after all.) We went out for lunch at a tapas place – I tried seafood paella (with a shrimp that I had to take apart and cooked rabbit), some kind of fish, and then a cooked apple for dessert. We also drank wine with carbonated water – it was all delicious, the wine almost made better!
We wandered the city some more, seeing the Spanish version of the Arc de Triomph, walking through a few parks, and seeing a beautiful fountain. It was so cool to have Carlos tell us about everything that we saw, or order food for us in Spanish. We went back to the beach, hoping that the weather would be nicer. Kirstin was the only one who went in the water, and Carlos and I laughed from the shore as she got knocked over by a wave and was given back her flip-flop by some kind woman. It’s okay, she wasn’t hurt.
We went back to the hostel and hung out for a bit, trying wine mixed with Coke. Apparently this is something that they do in Spain and some other parts of Europe. It was actually quite good! We met up with Shane and Adam, from San Diego, and we all went to see the Magic Fountain. It was pretty cool! It is basically a fountain that is lit up and does different motions set to music. We ate churros and all hung out together. The top of the hill gave a great view of the city at night, and we had another great panoramic position when we went to the top of a shopping center.
All of us went for drinks and tapas after, staying out late and just having fun. It was such a great day. It was so great of Carlos to come and meet us to show us an amazing city. Barcelona is probably one of my favourite cities thus far, definitely making the top three. Carlos – you were an amazing tour guide, even though we got lost a few times, and you are an even better friend. Thanks so much for making the journey out to show us around an amazing city that I know you love. I’m gonna miss you a ton, but we will all see each other again soon.
“Life is about moments: don’t wait for them, create them.” [Pinterest]
With the end of one adventure, comes the beginning of another. My brother, Zach, and friend, Kirstin, arrived from Canada for us to set out on an epic adventure of travelling Europe as best we can. First stop: I want to show them a little bit of Ireland. So, after having shown them around Waterford for a day, we headed on a bus to Galway.
We wandered the city, exploring the various spots that I knew of but had not seen. We went inside of Galway Cathedral, marveling at its beauty and learning a little history. The cathedral was built on the grounds of the old jail, bought for a minimal amount even for that time. We also walked through the Spanish Arch and into the Galway Museum. If you don’t know already, I absolutely love museums! So I was excited to check this one out.
Walking through the museum was interesting – the beginnings of Ireland are highlighted, and there are artifacts from thousands of years ago found by archaeologists around Galway and in the River Corrib. It was really interesting to look at the artifacts and see if they had come from places I knew. One part talked about Dun Aengus, the fort that I had been to on Inis Mor of the Aran Islands. For me, though, the most interesting was the exhibit on Ireland and Galway’s part in World War I. I had not realized that they had played such a large part in it, from thousands of volunteers going to the front to their deaths, to a very brave leader who died in a gruesome battle. The exhibit was done extremely well, with stories of people on one side corresponding to an outline of events on the opposite side of the room. I really liked it. We couldn’t finish the museum though, as it closed. So we quickly took some shots out the third floor window of the River Corrib and the views beyond.
We wandered and found a small place to eat for an Irish dinner. The rest of the night was just walking around or relaxing at the hostel. I think we are all a little tired, which does not bode well for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, some nights we will hopefully sleep better than others.
On Zach’s birthday, we had booked a day at the Cliffs on a tour, even though the weather did not look too promising. We were hopeful that it might turn into a better day. The tour was different from the one I took last time – including the weather. It rained and the wind was insane! It was so foggy that we couldn’t even see the cliffs. But, despite the wind blowing us over, it did afford us a view of the cliffs for a short time.
May 28 – after a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Dublin. After Zach and I grabbed a quick burrito, we headed to Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced ‘jail’). There was so much history, it was really interesting! We then learned to pour our own Guinness at the Storehouse, my second time through. It was super cool to get to pour my own though, especially having lived in Ireland and drinking it on tap. 😉 We hung out at the hostel before heading to The Porterhouse, a pub I knew from St. Patrick’s Day. We enjoyed some beers and live music before turning in for the night.
The next morning, we took a walking tour of Dublin to see some of the sights. It was a ton of history packed into a short session. I had already heard a lot of it over the months, but was still overwhelmed by the enormity of everything Ireland had gone through.
After the tour, we headed to the Museum of History and Archaeology- mostly because they had the bog bodies that I had been hearing about for months. Basically, Ireland is known for its bog lands, and years ago, archaeologists began to find things in these bogs from centuries ago. With the acidity of the bogs, many things are well preserved. We got ice cream, and then wandered around St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin. We had some problems finding transport out to the hotel we were switching to for the night.
The next day, May 30, we left Ireland. It was super bittersweet for me, leaving a country that I had loved to call home for 5 months but embarking on an exciting adventure around Europe with awesome people. I took in the sights from the airplane window as we flew to Bristol. We were staying with Kirstin’s friend, Bailey. Bailey was really awesome, and we were very appreciative of her letting us stay in her tiny, British flat. It was a lot of people in a small flat, but it was so nice to be right in the city. We wandered the city that afternoon, cooked dinner together, and went out for the evening.
We ventured to take a train the following day to Cardiff. It was cool to add one more country to our list of many, and it was possible with only a day trip. Kirstin and Bailey went to the Doctor Who museum, the main reason that we had headed to Cardiff. Zach and I decided to tag along to the city, but we decided to explore instead. It was a great day!
Zach and I found Cardiff Castle and Bute Park, where we walked and sat, just chatting and enjoying our time catching up. We wandered the streets of Cardiff, down cute passageways called galleries. These galleries had really cute cafes and shops, and were all over. I absolutely loved them and took far too many pictures! We met up with the girls after, grabbed some dinner, and then headed back for a night in flat.
Our last day in Bristol was specifically for exploring the city itself. Bailey had an exam, so we ventured to explore on our own. We went to St. Nicholas’ Market, where we wandered through the little stalls and we found Zac’s Café where we had a full English breakfast – it was delicious. We tried to find some street art, but ended up in an area that we didn’t feel entirely comfortable in, so we went back. Kirstin and I went into Bristol Cathedral – it was beautiful! We went to the Boston Tea Party café for some hot drinks on a cold day before meeting Bailey.
Bailey took us up a tower in Brandon Hill Park, and despite the wind being like that at the Cliffs of Moher, the views were spectacular. You could see all of Bristol, including Clifton Suspension Bridge. With the weather, we had decided not to walk all the way there. That evening, we went out for traditional fish ‘n chips, and tried to organize the next parts of our trip.
An early morning the next day had us on a bus to London. Our hostel was quite far from the main area of the city, but we made it work! We settled our stuff in and headed out, making our first stop at Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and then walking along the Thames. We took a ton of silly pictures with the lions and telephone boxes before seeing Big Ben and the London Eye.
I think the funniest part of the day was when we ended up at The Maple Leaf, a Canadian bar in Covent Garden, for dinner. It was great! We wandered Covent Market before heading back to the hostel for an earlier night.
June 3, the next day, was pretty grand. We ended up going through the British Museum after we eventually found it. I ended up seeing a lot of the same things, but museums never get old for me. I loved exploring the centuries of history stored within its walls.
My parents had arrived in London that day, so while we waited to hear from them, we wandered through the city. After getting a phone call from them, we went to Hyde Park to kill a little time. Except we couldn’t exactly find it. We ended up in a really ‘posh’ part of London, and accidentally found Churchill’s old house! We walked through Hyde Park and saw Kensington Palace from afar, before walking a long ways to see Buckingham Palace.
We had walked almost to Trafalgar Square, a long trek, before we heard from my parents. Without wifi everywhere, it is very hard when you don’t have international phone plans. We ended up meeting them near their hotel at the other end of London, and going out for a nice dinner. It was really great to see them for the first time in 5 months.
We had to check out of our hostel the next morning, so we completely packed up and brought our giant bags with us into London. We stored them for the day at the train station before heading out to meet my parents for a day around London. We sort of went separate ways for part of the day: Kirstin and I would explore while Zach went on the London Eye with mom and dad.
Kirstin and I headed across London via tube to Tower Hill. We wandered around and crossed Tower Bridge to the other side of the Thames, where we had a great view for some lunch. We walked along to the Globe Theatre, where we both decided to recite our best attempts at Shakespeare monologues. It was quite fun. We did a lot more walking when we headed down to the London Eye and made our way towards the Imperial War Museum, the meeting point with my family.
This museum was somewhere that I really wanted to go. It was actually on my bucket list to see it – and I wasn’t able to last time I was in London. I had enough time to wander through two exhibits: the First World War and the Holocaust. The exhibitions were absolutely brilliant! They had so many primary texts, quotes, footage and so much more. It was amazing. I was in museum-heaven.
We hopped on a double-decker bus into the city, and had dinner at Nando’s. I had wanted to try it, as they were everywhere in London. We then went to see the Thames and views lit up at night. It was beautiful and I seriously love London.
The next part of the trip got a little bumpy when we took our bus to Paris. It was an overnight bus and involved us taking a ferry – meaning we were woken up to provide our passports and board the ferry itself. Needless to say, we did not get a lot of sleep, and Paris started off very interesting.
But I’ll save that for another post.
With wifi being difficult sometimes, it’s hard to say how often I’ll be able to update my blog posts. However, I am posting short summaries with pictures on Instagram each day. Those are being shared on Twitter and Facebook as well.
Signing off for now,
Goodbyes are always hard. But a place is only as good as the people in it.
Well, my time in Waterford has come to an end. I won’t be living in Ireland anymore, within walking distance of all my friends and everything else. No more Irish wind or crazy Irish weather. (Except for when it follows me to other cities and countries.)
These months have flown by, but I think that’s a good thing. Talking to some friends, we agreed that we were busy and (almost) always having a great time. I had so many amazing experiences and I now have memories to last me a lifetime. Not only have I lived halfway across the world from my home, but I have travelled a country as best I could and have even ventured into Europe for my first time.
I have seen castles, cliffs, ancient forts, big and small cities, towns, national parks, amazing coastlines, and famous views and areas. I experienced Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, and the sea of green which consumes it in madness. I’ve tried typical Irish food and have now come to love beer. I spent my birthday away from home for the first time, surrounded by new friends. I travelled to cities in Ireland with people I had known for merely a few weeks.
I experienced the actual European continent for the first time with great friends. I couldn’t have asked for better trip mates or a better trip. We have so many great laughs and memories from that trip, even with the ups and downs of travelling. But, in my opinion, we really grew closer from that adventure and the experiences. I hope to stay in contact and see all of you again very soon.
Of course, my roommate and friend from home definitely helped make things smoother and easier. I can’t imagine how either of us would have survived without the other. There’s always that worry when you are going to be living or travelling with someone you don’t know very well – but we clicked right from the beginning. And I’m so grateful for all of our laughs and talks and walks and trips and 1am too-tired-to-think-so-it-just-becomes-laughing nights. I’m excited for more trips and memories.
Already, I happily look back through my journal and pictures to see the many memories and friends I have made. I am the luckiest person to have met these wonderful people, and to have had such amazing experiences. I cannot even begin to describe in words the positive effects this has had on my life. I learned to live on my own, and deal with whatever comes. It was definitely a learning and growing experience not having any kind of safety net nearby. I was able to discover who I truly am and who I want to be. It was a necessary step towards figuring out what I truly want from life – happiness.
I know it might sound odd to some people, but these past 5 months were truly some of the happiest and most memorable of my life. I was able to gain so much from the experience. I was surrounded by different people and cultures who truly affected me, and people who inspired me to examine myself and my life. I had some serious conversations with some people, sharing life stories in a non-judgmental atmosphere, while the majority of time was just experiencing life, new things, and having fun.
So many people asked me “Why Ireland?” and I never had an easy answer. I think after this experience, I can easily say the cheesiest thing that comes to mind: Ireland actually picked me. Ireland and its quirky ways seemed to be exactly what I needed in my life. I didn’t feel stressed at school, I was going out and doing new things constantly – it was a contrast from my life at home. And I loved it. I really hope I don’t lose any of the things Ireland gave me, but I guess it’s an excuse to visit Ireland frequently to maintain them.
To all my fellow international/ERASMUS students from Waterford, it was a pleasure getting to know you and living this adventure with you! I am thankful for the laughs, the parties, the crazy adventures, and the amazing friendships which have formed from this experience. I wish all of you luck in your futures, and cannot wait to see you again – weather it’s in Canada or your home countries, or maybe even Ireland again!
I honestly don’t think there is anything else I can say, but a certain quote comes to mind that completely sums up my mindset at the close of this adventure:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
May the road rise up to meet ya
P.S. – sorry for the very late posts – wifi while travelling Europe can be a tricky situation sometimes.