Thursday, August 18, 2016

Meeting the Friendliest People in the World: Group Tour Part Two



Part two of my trip was around Ireland, probably one of the top two countries I’ve ever wanted to visit and, let me tell you, it didn’t let me down. From having the friendliest people in the world to the seemingly never-ending beautiful green scenery to presence of live music around nearly every corner, my expectations were more than exceeded. For this tour, we started and ended in Dublin enjoying some lovely Guinness both times (one of my personal all time favorite drinks), so that was a major selling point as well.

Taking the ferry over was a beautiful sight, though it was a bit rainy. If you experience motion sickness at all, or think you might, it would be a good idea to bring some medicine just in case.

Our nightly stops were in Dublin, Cork, and Galway (2 nights) before heading to Northern Ireland and back to Dublin. Here’s a quick review of each place we stopped and the places we visited in between. If you were planning a tour around Ireland, I’d definitely recommend stopping at these places!

Dublin
//Temple Bar
The Temple Bar District is a definite point of interest in Dublin for anyone who’s looking for a drink, food, or sheer entertainment. It’s a lively area pretty much all the time and is usually insanely busy on the weekends. Both weekends that I visited, there were large concerts happening so I lucked out. I was able to find seats in bars and enjoy myself, and then head back to the hotel before the concerts were over and the large masses of people flooded Temple Bar. There are plenty of places to go in this area if you’re looking for a night out!

//The Guinness Storehouse
Be sure to enjoy some Guinness, even if you’re not a huge fan, this is where you’ll find the best pint. Here you can experience how Guinness was intended. It’s even better in Ireland than it is anywhere else and at the Guinness Storehouse, you can actually learn and get certified on how to pour the perfect pint. Believe me, it makes a huge difference. Trying pours done by a couple different people helped me realize how much the taste of this stout can be affected by the pour. So don’t let some other place that didn’t pour it properly ruin your opinion of this fantastic drink. If nothing else, head up to the bar on the top level to enjoy a 360 degree view of Dublin.

//Trinity College
This is Ireland’s oldest University and is beautiful to walk around. A great deal of famous people attended school there, so it’s fun to walk around and just imagine attending school with them. On campus, there is the Library of Trinity College which houses many ancient books, including the Book of Kells. It really is a great stop while in Dublin.

//The Merry Ploughboy
If you go to The Merry Ploughboy, you can enjoy a nice meal with traditional entertainment. It is a super fun evening filled with laughter, dancing, and music. It’s truly a great show and really helps to remind you that you’re in Ireland!

Kilkenny
//Kilkenny Castle
While we were in Kilkenny, everyone took a bike tour around the city. I heard plenty of people say they enjoyed it but I actually opted out so I could save a little money and just explore on my own. One of the places I visited during my explorations was the Kilkenny Castle. It was incredibly beautiful. Check it out!

Midleton
//Jameson Distillery
The Jameson Distillery was something I’ve had on my bucket list for a while. My two favorite drinks are Guinness and Jameson so I’m sure you can imagine my excitement in Ireland. We had a personal tour guide through the distillery who gave a lot of insight into the process of distilling Irish whiskey and what makes it the best! It was also a great opportunity to learn a little history as well. I’d definitely recommend this tour.

Cork
//Wander, eat, drink, and listen to live music.
We didn’t do any major sight seeing in Cork. We just went out for dinner, a drink, and watched a football match. Cork is really easy to get around and is super cute. For dinner we ate at a place called Clancy’s, which was delicious. A bit of advice: some bars in Cork are 21 and up so bring your ID if you don’t look much older than that just in case! Also, drink Murphy’s instead of Guinness or else they’ll easily be able to tell you’re not from Cork. In Dublin and a lot of areas in Ireland, they will drink Guinness as their stout of choice, but in Cork they drink Murphy’s. Keep that in mind!

//Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone
Be sure to visit the Blarney Castle. I’d get there early in the morning if you have any intensions of kissing the Blarney Stone. You lay down and have to arch you back and hang upside down a little bit to kiss it, but there is someone there to guide you so don’t worry! They disinfect it after every kiss as well, but I would still go in the morning before everyone has put their lips on it for the day! It’s said that kissing the Blarney Stone will give a person the gift of gab, as if I needed help talking anymore than I already do. Haha.

Clare County
//Cliffs of Moher
These cliffs are absolutely amazing to see, a truly breath-taking experience. These also appeared in a bit of Harry Potter so that’s a super fun fact for all you HP fans out there! I’d also recommend wearing comfy shoes, or maybe even hiking boots. It can get a little muddy up there. Be prepared for the wind and cross and fences at your own risk! I saw a dog running around near the edge of the cliffs and nearly had a heart attack because I feared he would fall to his death. Just be careful if you go near the edge at all!

Galway
//Great place to purchase Claddagh rings
There are several nice shops in Galway were you can purchase a Claddagh ring. These rings are traditional worn with the heart facing you if you are taken, and the heart facing away from you if you are single. They come in a few different designs and are a nice souvenir to purchase.

//Visit the Aran Islands
Be sure to rent a bike to tour the island. It might be really exhausting but it’s worth it. If you’re really not feeling up to biking, then I recommend getting a small group together to split a horse drawn carriage. You can ride your bike up and take pictures hanging off some cliffs and be really cool. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone to take pictures, which I will get into in the next bullet. The Aran Islands are also known for their sweaters, which symbolize their Irish clan heritage based on the stitching, so make sure you head to the Aran Sweater Market and purchase some sweaters!

//Seriously the friendliest people in the world
So here’s a story. We had two nights in Galway and the first night was intended to be a big party night for most people on the tour. I had one drink too many and ended up losing my purse and jacket. I couldn’t remember where I took them off at and since we had spent part of the night walking around outside, my things literally could have been anywhere in the city. I hopped in a cab with a friend and searched for hours, stopping in all the places we remembered going to. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding anything so we went to the police station and made a report. At the station they told me that someone would probably turn it in because Galway is filled with kind-hearted people, and several times the day before I had seen signs and heard people talking about how Galway is known for being the friendliest city in the world. These things gave me hope but I was still worried. The following day we went to the Aran Islands, which is why I couldn’t take any pictures that entire day. I was still worried about my phone and my credit cards being in the wrong hands and how I was going to replace everything before going back to China for another year. When we returned from the islands, I grabbed a couple friends and went out searching while it was still daylight. We still had no luck so we walked back to the hotel. When we got there, we had several messages from different people saying my things had been found. A nice man found my purse outside and sent me a Facebook message, as well as my friend Chris who I had been travelling with. He wanted to make sure I got my things so he even contacted someone else and told us that he had dropped it off at the police station. I’m still sort of amazed by this man. He even messaged me to say that he hopes this didn’t ruin my vacation and that I’d be willing to return to Galway someday. If anything, his actions reassured me that Galway is an amazing city filled with amazing people and that anyone would be lucky to visit.


After touring the island (not including North Ireland, here’s that post), my favorite cities were probably Dublin and Galway, but honestly I loved all of them. I could see myself living pretty much anywhere in Ireland and I would go back to each of these places in a heartbeat. What an amazing country!
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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Becoming a Unicorn in Scotland: Group Tour Part One

I’ve been traveling a lot in the past year, but recently I decided to do something a little differently. I decided to do a group tour of the UK and Ireland. I spent two days in London with my friend Chris before we hopped on a train to Edinburgh to begin our tour of Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.

Fun fact about Scotland: Their national animal is a unicorn! As if I needed more reason to love this country. Here are a few highlights from my Scotland adventures!

Our first night we went to dinner for some traditional Scottish food and had a personal bagpiper performance. Truly a great welcome into the country! This was one of the perks of being a part of a group tour, a very nice touch.

This dish is called haggis. Some love it, some hate it, and some just can’t stand to think about it. I’ll let you look it up and decide on your own, but I will say that I’m usually quite picky and I ate half of it. I’ll admit I didn’t finish it because I couldn’t wrap my head around it mentally, but truthfully it’s not bad! I recommend trying it!

The following day we did a tour of the Edinburgh castle giving us an opportunity to learn about Scottish history in the form of typical Scottish humor and enjoy a wonderful view of the city.

Later on I chose to do the Scotch Whisky Experience, a tour that makes you feel like you’re on a ride at Disney! No joke. Here you can learn about the four different regions that Scotch whisky comes from, taste some, and sit in awe for a minute at one man’s personal collection of whisky, which he sold for an unknown amount. None of these were ever opened!

Our next adventure was on our way to the Highlands. We stopped at St. Andrews, Pitlochry, and finally at Loch Ness to get in a nice, refreshing swim in the 6 degree water. Needless to say, we were freezing. But who cares!? We swam with Nessie! Totally worth it.

Picture from St. Andrews – the birthplace of golf, which apparently was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.
Super quaint city of Pitlochry

Swimming in Loch Ness. No big deal.

Next we were off to the West Highlands with an amazingly scenic drive. We stayed in a cute city on the water called Oban. We learned some Ceiligh dancing, which turned out to be super fun but incredibly hot. I got a little closer to some people than I wanted to but it was great!

Lastly we were off to Glasgow with a few stops along the way.

First we got to meet these adorable hairy coos!

Later we visited the Stirling Castle and climbed the William Wallace Monument for the ultimate view of Stirling.

We ended our Scotland trip in Glasgow with a night out to an American bar called Campus. This was quite the entertaining night because the upstairs had areas to play beer pong, flip cup, etc. My favorite was when the Scots would turn to us to ask if they were playing correctly.

Overall, I had an amazing time in Scotland and went to some really great places. My biggest recommendations would be to try some haggis, eat a deep fried Mars Bar, maybe a deep fried slice of pizza if you’re feeling up to it, enjoy the sound of some bagpipes, and visit the castles. I never learned much about Scottish history so this trip was a great chance to do exactly that. The people are great but the accent can be a little difficult to understand, especially after some alcohol! Haha.

Have you ever been to Scotland? What’s your favorite city? I would love to go back some day so if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!


Happy adventuring! xxx
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Monday, July 4, 2016

Two Days in London


London has been on my list of places to go for a really long time now and I can finally say I’ve been there. These past two days have been truly wonderful and I already want to go back.

London is a huge city with so much to see, but if you do it right, you can get quite a bit done in 48 hours. And if you have longer than that, then awesome for you because there are still some things I didn’t get to see that I wanted to! 

MY TOP PICKS
//Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (for all you Harry Potter fans out there)
//London Eye for the ultimate view of the city (I recommend doing this at night)
//Big Ben, House of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey (even if you just view from the outside)
//Dinner at a pub 
//Abbey Road to see the famous crosswalk in the Beatles picture (if you’re a Beatles fan)
//St. Paul’s Cathedral
//Find a TARDIS (for the Doctor Who fans - This one is outside of Earl’s Court station)
//Enjoy a cup of tea

OTHER MUST-SEES
//Tower of London (the tour is an hour long and quite funny, do this before Westminster Abbey, they tell you something to look out for when you go)
//White Tower, the Crown Jewels, and the torture chamber (all at the Tower of London, not part of the tour)
//Tower Bridge (walk across it, there’s an amazing pub on the other side — see my review below)
//Go inside Westminster Abbey
//Buckingham Palace (if you’re lucky -and tall- you may get to see the changing of the guard. My view of it was from my phone…)
//The British Museum
//Covent Garden (especially if you’re a My Fair Lady fan)
//Hyde Park

IF WE HAD MORE TIME
//View London atop of St. Paul’s Cathedral
//Stonehenge (at least a half day trip — it’s quite far from the city)
//Victoria and Albert Museum
//Harry Potter Studio Tour
//Camden Market (I’ve heard it’s nice at night, but we couldn’t get the hours right so we missed the best of it)
//See a Shakespeare play at The Globe
//Primrose Hill

RESTAURANT REVIEWS
//Fortnum & Mason: a store near Piccadilly Circus, one floor was like a grocery store, one floor was all tea related ♡, and one floor was a restaurant. The prices weren’t exactly cheap but the food was scrumptious. I had chicken and couscous.
 
//Bill’s: a fancy pub near Piccadilly Circus with friendly staff and great food. I had chicken skewers, more couscous, and some bruschetta.
//The Draft House: a pub near Tower Bridge. We found a recommendation for this place on Apple Maps from Trip Advisor. Someone said the nachos were the best they’ve ever had. You may not know this about me, but I try nachos almost anywhere I can. I should really blog about it someday. Anyway, we went and ordered the nachos and beer-battered pickles for appetizers. Chris ordered a burger and I ordered chili-chicken tacos. The nachos were decent but didn’t live up to the review we read. The tacos, however, were one of the best things I’ve ever had. I highly recommend them! For a place called The Draft House, the food was far superior than the beer.
//Q: a grill in Camden Town that served us food later than they should have. We walked in and asked if the kitchen was still open, the server said yes but was then informed she had made a mistake. Lucky for us, they let us stay. We order a macaroni and cheese pie with smoked broccoli. Let me tell you, that broccoli made the dish. Loved it!

LAST BIT OF ADVICE
//Use a map to plan out your days. You can get so much done when you don’t have to travel back and forth. 
//Get up early, of course. Beat the lines.
//Take the Tube. For the most part, it’s really easy to navigate and if you buy a day pas for 13 pounds, you can save yourself a lot of money. Plus the stops are in very convenient locations!
//Bring an extra charging pack for your phone or camera. My phone died both days because I couldn’t charge it at the hostel at night.
//Carry change on you. Public bathrooms sometimes cost money!
//Be patient because, like any touristy place, there will be lines.
//Enjoy the journey! A short trip can be busy, but it doesn’t have to be stressful.
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