Discovering Dublin

Dublin was wonderful, simple as that. While it was a place I have always wanted to visit, it wasn’t wonderful for the reasons I thought it would be. Usually, when I visit a new city in Europe I like to go for the historical sites and then a few of the touristy sites as well but, in Dublin, the only historical place I visited was the Trinity College Library and even then I was in and out in under 10 minutes. I think the reason that I had such a wonderful couple of days was that I met some really interesting people to share the adventure with.

I stayed at Abigails Hostel (http://abigailshostel.com) which was in the best location I could have asked for, right in the middle of Temple Bar. Temple Bar is one of the famous and extremely touristy bars and the area around it is named after it. I never had to walk for longer than 10 minutes to get to anything I wanted to see in the city which was amazing. I met some really interesting people in my hostel too and it was great to have other people to tour the city with. It was such an interesting mix of people too. I met people who had just moved to Dublin and were staying a hostel while they found an apartment, I met people like myself who had been abroad all summer and this was one of their last stops and there were people who were in Dublin for only two nights. One of the things that I love about hostels is how open and friendly most people are, especially other solo travelers. Almost everyone is looking to meet new people and share adventures along the way. Just sitting in the lobby of a hostel, you can make a handful of new friends in no time and I think its just such an interesting experience to have. I mean sure, a lot of the people I met I will follow their lives at a distance on Instagram or Facebook, but there are others who I can see myself staying in touch with and going to visit wherever they might end up in the world.

I arrived in Dublin around 6pm from Toulouse airport and went right to my hostel to check in. I made my bed and then headed down to the nearest pub I could find to grab a bite to eat and my first Guinness (of many). I found a great little place a couple doors down from my hostel and sat listening to live music for a couple of hours and, of course, found myself sitting next to two other Canadians who were there on their honeymoon. I swear that Canadians are subconsciously drawn to each other when traveling because they seem to pop up whenever I am introducing myself to new people. The next day I was up bright and early, and I mean bolt upright and ready to go. The time difference between France and Ireland was only one hour but when you’re used to waking up at 6am in France, that means you’re up at 5am in Ireland. Despite my best effort, I wasn’t able to fall back asleep so I ended up lying around the room until I could finally go down for breakfast at 7:30am. By 8am I was out of the hostel walking around a VERY empty looking city. I was fully prepared to be the first person at all of the sites I wanted to see and had a long list of places to check off, but it turns out it was a holiday in Ireland so almost everything I wanted to see was closed. I ended up heading back to the hostel to change my plan for the day. I signed up to do a free walking tour at 11am and then booked tickets to see the book of Kells and the Trinity College Library later in the day.  I honestly have to say that free walking tours are one of the best ways to see a city, especially when you’re on a budget! The tour guides are all freelancers who work on tips so they have the incentive to give you a better tour because a better tour means more tips. Then you just need to tip them what you think the tour is worth! I have been using Sandemans New Europe Tours (http://www.neweuropetours.eu) and haven’t been disappointed with them yet. I even did 4 different tours with them in Berlin and all the guides were fantastic. But anyway, after that I went around the Book of Kells exhibit which was alright. I know that as a history major I should have been much more excited about it, but it was packed with tourists and the exhibit wasn’t of particular interest to me. I ended up just walking straight past the exhibit to see the books, which are very very beautiful, medieval manuscripts, and then headed right up to the library. The library is stunning and was very much worth the money I paid to get into it, but again it was absolutely packed with tourists so after taking a couple pictures there wasn’t much else I could do in there.

After that, I completely hit a wall. I don’t know if I was coming down from working so much in France this summer or if being back in a city was too much for me but I could hardly keep my eyes open and I started to feel super guilty about not continuing to tour around Dublin. I ended up just sitting in the lobby of the hostel for 2 hours, video chatting with my boyfriend while he tried to talk me out of feeling guilty for not walking around more. I was super close to just going to bed at 6pm but he suggested that I find someone to go for a drink with for an hour and honestly if he hadn’t convinced me to do that, I would have missed out on meeting some really awesome girls who I ended up spending the rest of my trip with. After I hung up the call with Xav, I ended up introducing myself to a girl who had also been sitting in the lobby for two hours. Basically, we totally hit it off and went out for drinks with another girl in her room. That one hour out for a drink turned into 8 hours of drinks, dinner, laughter, and dancing and I am so thankful that I didn’t just go to bed like I planned to. I think that I had my all-time best travel moment that night too when I dragged an Irishman onto the dance floor to dance. Let me tell you, we absolutely cleared the dance floor with the way he was spinning me to the Irish jig the band was playing.

I have to say as much as I enjoy travelling on my own, it was really nice to have company in Dublin. Our group did a little bit of shopping, because why not, and did the Guinness Storehouse together which was absolutely worth the money. It was packed but the view from the bar at the top was well worth it. We spent a good chunk of our afternoon up there meeting new people and looking out over the city. But as wonderful as all of that was, my absolute favourite part of the trip was the ride I did just outside of the city. I booked a private two-hour ride because let’s face it, after riding for three hours every day for three months, I figured I would be missing riding a little bit by then. By coincidence, the girl who took me out on the ride was from the same part of France that I had just come from and was the same age as me. We had a fantastic ride together galloping through the paths that overlooked the city. At the very top, you could look down and see the entire city of Dublin which was stunning. We even saw it when the sun was shining (believe it or not)! I really enjoyed the relaxing pace that I had in Dublin. Usually, I pack in as much as I can see and this time I didn’t, I just enjoyed the city and the new company and it was really refreshing.

My final day in Dublin was really chilled out and I went out for a goodbye breakfast with the girls before heading to the airport to fly to Manchester. I have just spent the last two weeks visiting with my family in the UK which is something I don’t get to do as often as I would like. My cousin Emily picked me up from Manchester airport and drove me up to her Uni house in Wales, and let me stay with her and her boyfriend for 5 days. We filled our days with cooking, history and a lot of laughing together. It was really nice to have someone to nerd out with over the stone outline of an Iron Age farm that we visited and even better to be with someone who was as in awe as I was over a neolithic burial chamber!! She’s also majoring in history, so she just gets it.  After spending time with her, she put me on the train to my aunts house in Crewe. I spent nearly a week with her, my uncle and two more of my cousins and had a wonderful time there as well. It was a huge change to be able to spend time one on one with all my family, because usually when I see them it is at Christmas time and it’s always a bit chaotic trying to see everyone in my very large family, in a very short period of time. My aunt has just bought a new horse so I spent an hour or so every day up at the stables with her. On my last day we went out on a hack together and honestly, just galloped around a country park for the best part of two hours. She and I had the most fantastic time and we even get the same silly smile when we’re riding. I also had the new experience of having a day trip out on my uncle’s motorbike. We drove around the English country-side up to a beautiful peak view (which of course we couldn’t see because of the rain) and then down to a place called Matlock Bath which is where all the bikes meet up for food and a drink. I also got to see where my mom and dad used to live in England which was really cool since I have never been there before. It was a jam-packed few days which also included visiting Alton Towers with my cousin and his girlfriend and having a night out with my other cousin. I think that this trip was probably the most time I have ever got to spend with my cousins, ever so we absolutely made the most of it. On Wednesday, my aunt dropped me off at the airport and I travelled to Amsterdam Airport before taking the train down to Rotterdam. And here I am, settling into the city that I will be calling home for the next 10 months.

 

 

Travail and Travel

I really don’t understand how summer flies by so quickly every year. It feels like just yesterday I was packing up all my clothes and heading to the airport to begin my year abroad and fly to Berlin. And now, all of a sudden I have been away for three months and I am only away for another eleven months? I do have to say that I think that I think this entire year is going to absolutely fly by, especially once school starts. I have had a wonderful and unique summer full of meeting new people and experiencing new places and parts of the world. I started off in Berlin which I absolutely loved and am going back there again for New Years this year with my friend Reilly. She is the one who I travelled with for New Years last year as well and since Berlin is so well known for its nightlife, we figured we would go back there to celebrate the New Year this year. I met some really interesting people in Berlin and everyone was so friendly and there was so much to see both culturally and historically that I was totally in my element. I Couchsurfed for the first time and it was a great experience. I really lucked out with that, since I didn’t get an offer to stay until literally the morning I left Canada. But I ended up getting an entire Berlin apartment to myself for free and the landlady was lovely, showing me around the city and telling me things to do whenever she was around. She also rented out her other apartment to two Dutch girls, so I am now in contact with them for when I’m in the Netherlands for school this year. The only downside to Berlin was the fact that I had to lug around a suitcase that probably weighed as much as I do. It was absolutely massive and let me tell you, the Berlin subway does not have elevators that are easy to find. So I had to carry one case up/down the stairs, leave it on the landing and then carry the other one, crossing my fingers that my first bag hadn’t been stolen. It is really rare that I travel with anything bigger than a carry-on bag so this really just confirmed why I do that.

I left Berlin on the 20th of May to fly into Toulouse airport to start my summer job. I was working at a French Château which ran riding holidays. They were located just outside of a little town called Promilhanes which was picturesque. It was exactly what you would imagine a small French town looking like; no restaurants, a church which was the center of the town and A LOT of farms. The Château itself was over 600 years old and still decorated in a traditional style. I got to live out the stereotypical princess dream of a 6-year-old girl, 14 years too late but nonetheless, it was wonderful. I lived in the tower of a Château in France, it doesn’t get much better than that for student accommodation. It was actually a really good arrangement in terms of housing for me for the summer because I was working for room and board which meant I had no expenses for the summer other than my phone bill, and in Europe, phone bills are about 1/4th of the cost as in Canada. I mean seriously, I had a better plan in France than I did in Canada and only paid €14 a month for it when in Canada I paid over $100. But anyway, working in France actually meant that I ended up saving on rent and food costs, all while working abroad which is something I have always wanted to do. Plus, I was able to work with horses every day which, as my friends and family know, is something I have loved for as long as I can remember. I was super fortunate because the family running the Château was unbelievably kind to me and treated me like a member of the family. I think that really helped me not to feel too homesick. It was also fantastic because my mother, niece, and step-father came down to see me for 3 days while they were in between traveling from London to Paris. I was able to show them all the fantastic areas near me which they completely fell in love with just like I had.

The south of France is an amazing area for history and is completely full of Châteaus. I mean honestly, it felt like every town you passed through had their own Château. There is also an abundance of Mediaeval Villages which have been more or less kept up to their original appearance. My favourite was Saint-Cirq-Lapopie which is a 13th-16th-century village which is built with a (now destroyed) Château on top of the hill with the rest of the village coming down the side of the hill. It makes for one hell of a walk when you have to come back up from the bottom of the village to the car park but it is completely worth it. I love this village the most because of the history behind the destroyed Château. Essentially what happened was whenever the lord of the area made a decree that the peasants didn’t like, they would lock themselves in the Château, but it was so well built that the lord couldn’t get them out unless he agreed to drop the decree. He ended up getting so sick of this that he just thought it was easier to destroy the Château so he did! Since I was staying in such a small area I was able to experience the village fête which is basically the big party that is put on in the village every year. They serve drinks, bring in a band and have food (yes that included snails and frogs legs). The one in our village was especially fun and the band played a mix of French songs which made me stand out as a foreigner and super English songs like from ‘Grease’ which I think made me stand out even more. I never thought that I would be singing ‘Greased Lighting’ in a town of 150 French people where maybe 1/5 know more than 10 English words, but I sure as hell was.  I also ate frogs legs, because well, when in France. They were surprisingly delicious and I was actually able to eat the entire plate of them.

I originally planned to stay at the Château for all of August as well, but they actually close for the entire month because the heat and the bugs are too bad to be taking the horses out on rides. So even though I was told I could stay, I decided to take advantage of the time off and travel for a month. I flew from Toulouse to Dublin on the 5th of August after a bittersweet goodbye to my ‘family’ and spent four fantastic days in Dublin before heading down to see my cousin in Wales for six days. There will be a post on Dublin up within the next week, this time I actually promise it will be, but since there was so much that I did in Dublin I don’t want to squish it all into this post. So right now, I am in Bangor, Wales and then I will be travelling down on the train to my aunt’s house in England for another few days. After that, I am off to the Netherlands to try and figure out housing and university things but after that, I am off to Croatia! One of my friends from Canada is visiting her Grandparents near the Hague (which is really close to Rotterdam) and so we decided to pop down to Croatia for a few days. We really aren’t sure what we want to do or see there yet, all we know is that we are flying into Dubrovnik and out of Split, and we’ll figure out the rest closer to the time. After Croatia, I am heading back to Rotterdam and actually settling into school and a regular schedule. I have a few more adventures planned though, from now until after New Years. My boyfriend is coming over to see me in October and we’ll be travelling around France together for 10 days, and then my dad is coming down in November to see ‘my’ city. In December, Reilly and I are off to do New Years in Europe 2.0 through Paris, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen and Venice!

Here’s hoping that I will be better at blogging now that I’m visiting so many new places, and have so much to write about. Anyway, if you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading!

 

First Day in Berlin

Guys, I am very excited. I woke up this morning in the cutest little apartment in Berlin with the sun shining in through the big windows, and I just smiled; this is it, I’m finally here! I was up bright an early at 5:45am Berlin time, early enough that my friends back home hadn’t even fallen asleep yet, but I can tell you there’s a very small chance that I will fall back asleep. There is so much that I have planned today and I just want to get a jump on it!

This isn’t going to be a long post but rather an overview of my arrival here and my first couple hours in the city. I left from Toronto airport at 9pm last night, after quite a tearful goodbye at the airport with friends and family. I flew with IcelandAir (as I always do) so I had almost a 2-hour layover in the Icelandic Airport. I really love that airport. Its small but they have the cutest little restaurants and THE BEST sandwiches I have ever come across at an airport. It’s the little things right guys? I managed to sleep for about an hour on the flight to Iceland and then I absolutely passed out on the flight from Iceland to Berlin. And when I say passed out I mean 95% chance I was snoring, flight attendants had to wake me up for landing, groggy to the point I didn’t know where I was, type sleeping. Anyway, the airport was a breeze and my bag was the third one out, which is the fastest I have ever had a bag come out.

I am trying something a little different for accomodation this trip which is Couchsurfing. I’m not sure if anyone has heard of it, but its an online platform based on the idea that travelers are willing to host other travelers for free. When I got out of the airport I followed the instructions that my host gave to me, lugging my bags (very big bags) onto the public bus and then onto the subway. Let’s just say that there were no elevators so I woke up with very sore arms this morning from carrying my bags up what seemed like an endless number of stairs. I arrived at my host’s apartment without a problem, to find that they have given me an entire apartment to myself! Yup thats right, private kitchen, bathroom, my own set of keys and everything. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who are willing to host me in this incredible apartment for my 5 days in Berlin. I got to meet and chat with the host and got to speak French with her (YAY) and she told me all the places that I should see and left brochures for me which was extrememly helpful.

Since I have my own kitchen, I decided that I should go out and get groceries so that I can cut back on the cost of meals while I am here because, let’s face it, eating out for every meal in very expensive. I ventured out in the pouring rain to find a grocery store last night and luckily there was one quite close. I stocked up on some snacks, breakfast food and bread before heading back to ‘my’ apartment to make myself dinner.

I decided against trying to go out and do sight seeing yesterday since I was very tired and the weather wasn’t great. It was nice to just relax and have the place to myself since I will have a very very busy day today. Today, I have a free Berlin walking tour at 11am which I am really looking forward to. After Reilly and I did the free walking tour in Amsterdam, I have decided that it’s one of the best ways to see a city on a budget! I will update this post later today with more information on the tour and the company I am going with, once I have done it.

Tomorrow, I will be going on a day tour with the same company to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which is on the outskirts of Berlin. That is bound to be a very emotional day, so I will write a post about that experience in the coming days.

Well that is about all the update I have for you all so far! I am really looking forward to exploring the city today and if anyone has tips for things that I should see or do, please let me know!

Update: I ended up doing four different tours with the company out of Berlin. They are called Sandeman’s tours and they were fantastic! I did one free walking tour, a tour about the Third Reich, a tour of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and a Pub Crawl as well. Here is the link to their website if anyone is interested, and they have tours in all the major cities in Europe!

http://www.neweuropetours.eu

Two Days in Amsterdam

Yeah, so I am procrastinating again. Isn’t it just so much easier to get blogging done when you have a million other deadlines looming over your head? I should be practising my French presentation or reviewing for my Zombie Apocalypse midterm (yes, that is a real University course). But, I’m not going to study I am going to write about my second favourite country on our trip at Christmas; Amsterdam!

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, if people made it that far, I am going to be attending Erasmus University Rotterdam in September for a full year exchange. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time I visited Amsterdam so it’s just as well that I thought the Netherlands was absolutely fantastic. I really can’t put my finger on it, maybe it was that by the time we reached Amsterdam Reilly and I had caught up on our sleep or maybe we were just wiser to the way of travelling on our own, but it felt very comfortable and relaxing being there.

Instead of taking the plane and dealing with all the hustle and bustle of yet another airport, we decided to take the train from Gard de Nord in Paris to Amsterdam Centraal. I have to admit, even though it took much longer than taking the plane, it was so relaxing and nice to have the three hours to switch off. This was the only train that we booked for this trip because, believe it or not, for all our other destinations it was much cheaper to fly. We arrived after dark on the evening of the 8th, so we really just hung out at our hostel and went out for dinner. We stayed in the Shelter City Christian Hostel for a very reasonable price, which included breakfast.

http://www.shelterhostelamsterdam.com

Our first full day there we booked a free walking tour. Most major European cities have a variety of free walking tours to chose from, which is a great way to get an overview of the city and find out what sights are worth going back to see. We chose to go with FreeDam Tours and I cannot rave about them enough! If anyone is going to Amsterdam soon and wants to get a tour of the city, this tour company is the way to go. You meet them outside of the Old Church for a three-hour walking tour which takes you through the history of Amsterdam, the Red-Light District, drug use in Amsterdam and the Second World War. Our guide was incredible and engaging and knew so much about every single topic. The only downside was that Reilly and I absolutely froze since Amsterdam was a good 10 degrees colder than Paris. I have included the link to the FreeDam website in case anyone is interested.

https://www.freedamtours.com

After the tour was done, we went for lunch and made our way towards the Iamsterdam sign which seems to appear in just about every Instagram post about Amsterdam. Much to our delight, there was an outdoor skating rink which had been set up for tourists so of course, we had to skate. We ended up skating for four hours taking it upon ourselves, as Canadians, to try and help those tourists who had clearly never stepped foot on ice before. Needless to say, after four hours of skating, and not having skated for quite some time myself, we were exhausted and headed back to a restaurant near our hostel. It was this cute little Italian restaurant. No, it wasn’t as good as the real deal in Italy but we couldn’t get enough of Italian food by this point in the trip. While it was a lovely restaurant, Reilly is extremely allergic to cats. Why does this matter you say, they wouldn’t have a cat in a restaurant…well they did! So we didn’t spend as much time in there as other restaurants throughout the trip.

On our final full day in Amsterdam we had a decision to make; did we want to go to the art museums? I feel like going to the art museums in Amsterdam is an obligatory part of being a tourist but neither Rielly nor I really wanted to go, so we didn’t. Instead, we went to the Anne Frank house. We had booked our tickets in advance online so that we made sure we were going in at a time that worked best for us, and it was just as well that we did. They were redoing the tourist area outside of the Frank house, so their entire system was down and you couldn’t purchase tickets in person even if you wanted to. I am very happy that we went to the house because I think it is a very important part of history, but emotionally, it was pretty tough. Everything inside the house is how it was left after the Nazi’s took the Frank family away, including the drawings and pictures that were on the wall. If we hadn’t gone during renovations, we would have been able to see the diary of Anne Frank as well but they had it put away in safe keeping until the renovations were complete. I will admit, I cried and not over something that most people would cry over. One of the pictures that was still on the wall was of the French coast by the English Channel. Now for my non-History buff readers that is where the allied forces invaded Occupied France during D-Day. So this piece of paper made me sob because the father had been tracking the movement of the allied troops as they made their way through Europe. But they didn’t make it to Amsterdam in time to save the Frank family, which really got to me. The way the Anne Frank Museum is laid out is very tactful and respectful. They have kept everything the way it was left by the Nazi’s, at the request of Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Every guest must use an audio headset for the guided tour which allows the museum itself to remain in total silence while the guests can learn all the information about the house and the people who once lived there.

After leaving the museum, we went and shopped in the gift store for the Van Gogh Museum, so at least we could pretend that we went to one of the art museums. We then arrived at the Heineken Museum, which we were a little hesitant about paying for but we did not regret for a minute. Not only was free beer included in the price of admission, but they also had games and other activities that you could do, including tacky tourist photos, YAY! I will try and phrase this tactfully for my family members who read my blog; we left the Heineken museum after rapidly consuming our free beers and headed to our next cultured and high-class stop; McDonalds Amsterdam. I know it sounds really weird but I love going to McDonalds in other countries. I think its so interesting to see what ethnic food is put on the menu in other countries like, for example, McDonalds in Italy has McSpaghetti! After that pit stop we walked back to our hostel in the pouring rain, but in all fairness, the weather had been almost perfect up to this point in the trip.

We took a quick nap and then headed to the Red-Light District. This is obviously one of the top tourist places to visit in Amsterdam and our tour guide with FreeDam Tours gave us a rundown on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour as a tourist. I mean, it’s a really cool area. If you don’t know what the Red-Light District is, just google it. I think that the Netherlands is just a great place in terms of letting people go about their business and not caring what they do. It is the same way with their Coffee Shops. Coffee Shops are where you can go and smoke Marijuana in a public place, with friends, on your own, literally however you want, because it is allowed in Amsterdam. Just to clarify, it isn’t actually legal but it has been decriminalized. Amsterdam is just a great carefree place to go which is SO different from North America.

I feel like in terms of things to see, there wasn’t much more to do unless you went to the art museums. If I was to go back to Amsterdam, I would want to stay for a month or so and really immerse myself in the culture. On January 11th we flew home after the most incredible two weeks in Europe.  We flew with WowAir which was quite good for a discount airline. The seats are somewhat cramped and they don’t offer free meals on board, but it is more than doable. The Amsterdam airport is lovely, very modern and a lot of fresh and healthy food for sale so we were able to grab some yummy food to take on the plane with us. We had another brief layover in Iceland and landed on the evening of the 11th back in Canada.

P.S. You guys NEED to try Stroopwafels. They are the most delicious and sugary Dutch treat which I just feel the need to share with the world.

Rome in Five Days

I am starting with Rome because it was probably my favourite part of my trip at Christmas. Five days is a little bit of a lie because once you take out travel time,  we ended up with only three full days to cram everything we wanted into our time there. Since I haven’t talked about this trip yet and will talk about it a lot more in other posts, I feel like some background information is in order. My friend Reilly met me in London after I travelled to see my family for a week in England. We set off together for two weeks to see as much of Europe as possible on our Christmas break. We hit five different countries, spent way too much time in airports and celebrated New Years before our friends and family had even eaten dinner.

So why was Rome my favourite city? It’s hard for me to say. I think it was a combination of so many amazing historical sights, INCREDIBLE food and the fact that we went horseback riding, which always makes a trip more special. We stayed in a very nice hostel called Hostel Alessandro Downtown where we stayed in an eight-person dorm room right by the main Termini station. We had the most fantastic restaurant across from our hostel which had the best pizza of the many, many pizzas that we tried during our time in Rome. Honestly, Reilly and I lived entirely off of pizza and pasta, just alternating which one we had for lunch and which we had for dinner.

Our real struggle in Rome was finding enough time to fit in everything that we wanted to do, and I know that I could easily go back and find other things which I have yet to do. For example, we went to Vatican City but didn’t get a chance to go into St. Peter’s Bascillica because the line up was so long and we didn’t get to the Pantheon either. However, we did do quite a good job, if I do say so myself, on fitting in everything that was a must-see on our list.

The day that we arrived was hell. Honestly, hell. Neither of us had ever been so tired because, in an effort to save money, we booked a 6:30am flight on New Years Day. That meant being at the airport 2-3 hours before the flight, so we left our hostel at 3:30am. Now, when I say we left our hostel, I don’t mean left the comfort of our beds, I mean left the lobby of the hostel where we had been squatting for the night. It seemed silly to book a room in the hostel where, after New Years Eve festivities, we would only stay for three hours before leaving for the airport. Needless to say, neither of us were able to sleep in the lobby, so we were boarding our flight with zero hours of sleep, plus three days of bads sleeps before that. So that is why our first day was hell, but we did save a lot of money. Once we arrived at our hostel, we weren’t able to check in so we, along with 6 other people, slept in the lobby until the rooms were ready for us.

Our first day in Rome, January 1st was a total write off, but we rested and got up early for our second day in Rome. On the 2nd we travelled to Vatican City, which we left an entire day to do since it can get so busy. We waited in line the see the Sistine Chapel for two hours and when we finally got in we had to walk through the entire Vatican museum before getting the ‘main attraction’. It seemed a little bit pointless to me but I am sure there were some people who came to see the museum as well. By the time we were done and ate lunch, the line of for St. Peter’s was so long that it wrapped all the way around the courtyard of Vatican City, and neither of us felt the need to wait in line for another three hours.

From there, we headed to Castel St. Angelo which was one of the most interesting and underrated sights that we went to. Interesting fact; it was originally the mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family but it was turned into a fortress for the Pope when Vatican City was under attack. It is also over 1500 years old, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me.

On January 3rd, we headed to the Apian Way, a road that the Romans built to connect Rome with one of their ports. We got to travel quite a ways down the road on horseback, veering off into fields to let the horses run. The road is dead straight and made of cobblestones, with mausoleums and other Roman buildings lining the way. From there, we were told that the Colosseum was just a thirty-minute walk, so we headed down the winding roads in the Italian countryside. We reached the Colosseum two hours later, only to find that it was closed.

On January 4th, the Colosseum was at the top of the list, considering we didn’t make it inside on the first try. But believe me, it did not disappoint. It was very crowded, as one would expect, but we were able to see everything that we wanted to see before heading over to the Roman Forum. The forum was incredible, to see all the buildings and the society that was still intact so many years later. From there, we went to find the Trevi Fountain. The most amazing part to me was that you find yourself walking through very narrow and unimpressive streets when all of a sudden you turn and see the astounding spectacle which is the fountain right in front of you. Of course, we tossed coins into the fountain which is supposed to mean that we will return to Rome one day.

We left for Paris the next day, leaving at a much more reasonable hour than when we arrived. I loved  Rome and I really hope that I will be able to return one day, but I think that I will have to see Venice first as that is near the top of my bucket list.

I will try and write another blog soon about the rest of our travels in Europe but for now, I will end with the exciting news I mentioned at the end of my other post. I have accepted a job in France this summer where I will be working from the middle of May until the end of August. I have planned a five-day trip to Berlin, Germany before I got to France since I won’t be able to travel much this summer because of work.  Following that, I will be travelling to the Netherlands to attend Erasmus University Rotterdam for a years exchange program. I am very excited about these opportunities that I have and am very fortunate to have family and friends who support me wholeheartedly in my next adventures.

 

 

Normandy

Normandy was one of my all time favourite trips…

I am actually really excited about writing this blog post, even though I should be writing essays, because this was probably one of my all-time favourite trips.  Normandy is a beautiful and unspoiled part of France where the largest allied military offensive took place during the Second World War. I’m sure there a few of you out there really hoping that I don’t start talking about the history of the D-Day invasions, so I will try and keep it short. Essentially the allies landed on the beaches on June 6th, 1944 where they took the beaches and eventually won the war. Okay obviously it was a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea.

I am assuming that most of the people who read my blog are family and friends, in which case you already know that I am a huge history nerd and am majoring in History at University. So of course, this was a dream trip for me. Europe is so full of history and Normandy doesn’t disappoint, plus it really is a gorgeous area of the world which always helps.  My dad and I planned the trip purposely to be in Normandy for the 73rd Anniversary of the landings which meant that there were celebrations and events going on all around the region. The coast of Normandy is basically spotted with small French towns which meant they all had their own celebration according to what their liberation looked like 73 years ago. For example, Sainte-Mère-Église is famous for paratrooper John Steele getting stuck in their church tower, where he stayed until he was taken as a POW. This town had a paratrooper dummy on their church tower in honour of him, along with bands and military representation.

One of the really cool things was that after the war was over, many people bought up the old military vehicles and refurbished them. Everywhere we went, and I honestly mean everywhere, there were people camped out in fields with their WW2 jeeps and motorcycles in honour of the anniversary. You were able to walk around their camps as well and see all of the equipment they had been able to maintain, even authentic WW2 sleeping bags! (Okay, after typing that I realize that sounds super lame, but at the time I thought it was really cool)

We definitely spent most of our time doing the beaches as there are 5 to see, each with their own museums and events that were taking place. If we hadn’t gone so near the anniversary it wouldn’t have taken us as long to do everything, but when you are surrounded by live music and military fly by’s you don’t really want to rush. All of the beaches were amazing but honestly, if I write about all of them this post will go on way too long. Each beach had their own history of D-Day and of course, were extremely interesting but, even before I got there, I knew what beach would be my favourite.

I’m sure most people know that one of the landing beaches was ‘Juno’ and that is where the Canadians landed. Being Canadian, Juno Beach was the key point of the trip for me and we spent A LOT of time there. We had dinner our first night there overlooking the beach and found our way back there at least 3 times again during the trip. We decided to spend the actual anniversary on Juno beach, our way of honouring the fallen countrymen I suppose. Sadly, the event was completely full so we didn’t get to see the actual ceremony but knowing that we were on Juno Beach for the anniversary was worth it all the same. The tour that we were given around the old German bunkers was amazing too, we actually got to go down into them and see what they were like.

I would say, the most amazing part of Juno Beach was that there are Canadian flags everywhere. I mean I had shivers about how, 73 years after the fact, this array of small town surrounding the beach was still so thankful for the Canadian soldiers who liberated them. In Bernieres-sur-Mer, ‘Canada House’ still stands, one of the first areas liberated on  June 6th. They had pictures taken, then and now of the house and it even shows up in pictures that were taken during the D-Day landing.

I know that my posts usually talk about travelling on a budget but Normandy was so incredible to me that it was more important than a budget. I wanted this post to talk about the trip itself and less about the money because to me, it would be worth spending the money. There is so much to see in Normandy outside of the D-Day beaches like Bayeux and their namesake tapestry, but that will be for another post. If I could, I would go back to Normandy on the anniversary every year. I really don’t think that I can put into words how much this trip meant to me and how thankful I am to have had the experience.

In case anyone is interested in the history of the landings, this link sums it up really well:
http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/sites-and-attractions/the-d-day-landing-beaches-5-2.html

 

The Golden Circle

So I had originally planned on splitting my trip to Iceland up into two posts but after I started writing this second piece, I realized that it would be best to split the trip up into 3 separate posts. It seems fitting, three posts for three days.

Since we flew into Iceland in Keflavik, which is realistically the only place where you would be flying in Internationally, that was the starting point for the beginning of the adventure. One of the main attractions near Keflavik and the airport in the Blue Lagoon. Probably one of the best-advertised excursions throughout Iceland, it is a geothermal pool turned spa. First of all, it is very enticing from all the pictures and there are bus transfers right from the airport and Reykjavik (the capital) every hour which is super convenient. However, it is really expensive to go; like $70 cad just for entrance into the hot pools. So for that reason, the Blue Lagoon did not make the list of things to do in 3 days. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to hang out in a geothermal spa all day but it just wasn’t realistic in terms of price. Also, there are geothermal springs all over Iceland that are way less crowded, in the middle of beautiful forests AND FREE!! The goal was to spend our last day hiking down to one of these free pools but the weather didn’t cooperate. In retrospect, it was probably something that should have been planned for the first day to allow for the unpredictable Icelandic weather. Oh well, I guess it means that I will have to visit Iceland again just to visit the hot springs.

The first full day in Iceland was spent doing the ‘Golden Circle’. I have attached a link below to the Lonely Planet explanation of what exactly that is. Now, the tricky thing about the Golden Circle is that it really does need to be driven in order to see it in a short period of time. I’m sure people have walked/biked it but that would require a lot more time than we had to spare. The issue with this is that realistically, as a student, you aren’t old enough to rent a car but the whole time we drove around the circle there were buses going around with enthusiastic tour guides leading the way. A tour bus with under 15 people per tour would cost around $100 per person which, yes is on the steeper end but totally worth it for all the sites you get to see along the way.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland/reykjavik/the-golden-circle

The first stop on the circle was Þingvellir National Park which is where the National Parliment of Iceland was founded in 930AD (the super nerdy history buff inside me was really excited about this).  The cover photo of this blog is of Þingvellir, but the park itself is so much bigger than this. There are waterfalls, walking trails, hills, lakes. It was truly so stunning and it was such a peaceful and serene environment that was, for the most part, filled with outdoorsy folk from all over the world.

The next stop on the circle was to Geysir which is an area where there are many geysers,  big and small. I didn’t know this until I was doing some extra research for this post but apparently, Geysir (the place) is where geyser (the name) originated. If I am being honest, it was really smelly. All the geothermal water in Iceland is full of sulphur so basically, the entire site reeked like rotten eggs. But once we got past that it was still very entertaining to try and guess when the next ‘eruption’ was going to happen. We really lucked out because it started raining right as we got there so a massive crowd of tourists was clearing out but we brought rain coats so got to enjoy it regardless of the weather. Just a P.S. about Iceland weather, it rains a lot and it can be very warm and very cool on the same day so layering is key and bring rain jackets and pants and you will be fine AND you will get to stay at sites even when it rains like we did.

The third and final stop on the circle was Gullfoss waterfall. This waterfall is nowhere near as big as Niagra Falls but I personally thought that it was so much nicer. You go up and down a long winding path with all the other tourists, right by the side of the waterfall but it never felt as packed as Niagra Falls. The entire area surrounding the waterfall was simply nature, there was only one gift shop which I felt made it such a better experience than the over commercialised experience at Niagara Falls. Yet again it started raining while we were going down to the falls which, combined with the immense spray of the water, made for quite an uncomfortable experience. I mean honestly though my dad and I were both exhausted already and cold so it wasn’t the waterfall that was the problem but the fact that we were super jet lagged and had thrown ourselves into the first day of activities on very little sleep.

The Golden Circle does end back in Rejkyavik area but we ended up travelling down to Vik which I will talk about in my next post. I think that the Golden Circle is an absolute must see and really gives you a great idea of all the sites to see in Iceland.

 

Iceland on a Budget

So this past May, my dad and I went to Iceland together and this was my first trip to Iceland or any of the Norse countries to be fair. I was a little apprehensive as I assumed that any country with ‘ice’ in the name must not have a very exciting landscape or much to do. I honestly couldn’t have been more wrong! Iceland is absolutely stunning. I have never seen such magnificent waterfalls, and I live an hour away from Niagara Falls. I think that what made it even more exciting for me was that I really didn’t know anything about Iceland so I was always pleasantly surprised with the scenery and the history.

I wish that we had been able to spend more time there but we were on our way to France, so had a very limited time window. I am going to split my travels in Iceland up into two separate blog posts, this first one will be dedicated to travelling Iceland on a budget. Admittedly, this was a challenge as Iceland is, generally, an expensive place to visit but we found many ways to save money where we could. I have put together a list below of the main areas where you can save money.

Flights:
One of the amazing parts about visiting Iceland as a student is that IcelandAir has started offering a ‘stopover’ in Iceland for up to 7 nights while en-route to your final destination. This comes at no extra fee to you, except food and accommodation in Iceland, and is a GREAT way to see two countries for the price of one.

https://www.icelandair.ca/flights/stopover/?pos=CA&lang=ez

We found that most of the people who were touring Iceland were doing the stopover, the same as us. IcelandAir offered the cheapest flights to Europe anyway so it was an added bonus that we got to see two countries instead of one.

Food:
One of the most expensive things in Iceland was the food. We heard that Iceland has 20% taxes which is what makes it so expensive to eat out at restaurants (if this is incorrect please let me know!). The simplest way that we saved money was by getting food from grocery stores. It seems like an oversimplified solution but seriously, it is very often overlooked. My Dad and I didn’t have a fridge to keep stuff in but we could always find cheap pre-made sandwiches at the grocery store that we would buy before heading out for the day. Combine that with a few snacks and you’re all set for the day! The grocery stores were basically the same price as they are in Canada so we really never felt like we were out-of-pocket.

Accommodation:
The one place that we found we couldn’t cut corners to save money was for hotels and hostels. Basically, any ‘hotel’ was out of the question in terms of what we wanted to be spending. It seemed pointless for that to be the area where we splurged because we spent so little time in the room anyway! My dad found a lot of great places for us to stay and none of them were ‘primitive’ by any means, well sure they weren’t a Hilton but they were great for what we needed. I added the link for one of the places we stayed, the Alex Guesthouse, because they also offer a free shuttle to and from the airport which was super helpful for us.

http://alex.is/home/

If I had gone on my own or with a few of my friends I would have looked seriously into camping out. Iceland has over 170 places that you can camp and we saw so many people who just carried a tent with them and camped out as they travelled around. It seemed that Iceland is the perfect place to backpack and hitch-hiking is very much a thing. I was talking to a man who is from Europe but lives and works in Iceland, he told me that most of the time he just hitch-hikes to work because it’s cheaper than filling his car with gas!

I am really excited to share the rest of my trip to Iceland with you all, but I figured it was better to start off with how to travel on a budget as I needed another week to put all my thoughts together before writing about everything that we did and saw during our trip.

I should be posting the second part of my Iceland blog next week but in the mean time press the follow button at the very bottom of the page. That way you’ll get a notification when the new blog goes up!

Let Me Introduce Myself

It seems a little strange to me to be writing an entire page about myself, but I think that it plays an important part in understanding me and why I am writing this blog…so here goes.

Fun fact, I went on my first transatlantic flight when I was 4 months old. Ever since then I have been so unbelievably fortunate to have spent my childhood travelling with my mom and dad. Now that I am older, I find my self constantly craving adventure and, honestly, my browser history reflects it; flight sales, best places to visit in 2017, cheap hotels in Rome, need I go on?

Half of my family still lives in England so it makes a lot of sense that travelling has been such a major part of my life, I mean, if I ever want to go visit my family I have to travel across the Atlantic Ocean! I think that since starting University last year, at the University of Western Ontario, I have been even more inclined to travel. Perhaps it’s that completing a degree in History means that I have a desire to go see the old cities in Europe or that I want to walk in the footsteps of great leaders from the past. I seriously doubt it is either of those but rather that travelling gives you a sense of excitement and intrigue that I haven’t found anywhere else.

I decided to start this site as I have found that there is a stereotype around travelling, that it is ALWAYS expensive. No one could argue that, yes, some travelling is expensive but there are so many ways of visiting amazing countries without having to spend a small fortune. More importantly, travelling as a student can seem overwhelming, paying for tuition as well as flights all over the world. My hope is that by sharing this page I will be able to show how possible it really is to travel on a student budget and have an incredible time doing so. I truly believe that travelling in itself is a learning experience.Travelling has been such an important part of my life that I hope to share the excitement of new places with each and every one of you.

My name is Rosemary and I am a Wanderful Student.