Dublin

Dublin

I went to Dublin with very little time and a lot of things I wanted to accomplish.  I planned on doing the Guinness Factory and then a day at the Cliffs of Moher. I got one of those two things done.  The bus from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher leaves extremely early in the morning, myself and my son were way too tired and jet lagged to wake up for that bus.  In the near future my plan is to fly into Shannon and take a look at the more scenic sights Ireland has to offer.  For now, let’s get started on the details of my trip to Dublin.

I arrived in Dublin on Tuesday morning.  I purchased the Dublin Pass for the first day as this included transportation from the airport via motor coach to the city of Dublin, hop on hop off bus, and entrance to the main attractions in Dublin.  I paid $55 USD for the Dublin pass. After arriving to the airport I walked to the bus station and boarded the bus, the ride was about 30 minutes from the main city.  Once at the main city my son and I transferred directly to a hop on hop off bus and started our day in Dublin.

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On our first day in Dublin we started with Trinity College.  Once there we walked around campus a little bit and then headed to Books of Kells.  I didn’t know the Book of Kells was not included in the Dublin Pass, it was actually one of the only activities we went to that wasn’t included.  For this exhibit buy your passes ONLINE, in advance.  The line to get into this exhibit is about an hour long for those who didn’t purchase online passes.

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After exploring Trinity College for a bit we were both very hungry and ready to eat some food.  We got back on the hop on hop off bus and headed to Temple Bar.  Now, Temple Bar isn’t just a bar (the name can be confusing), it is a little area of Dublin with cobblestone streets, pubs, street entertainment, and shops.  There is “The Temple Bar” though which is in Temple Bar and is a bar, confusing? Sorry.  Anyway we grabbed lunch at a pub in Temple Bar called Bad Bob’s Temple Bar.  We ordered the ribs, and it came with sweet potato fries, corn, and coleslaw.  There was enough to share between the two of us and came out to 17 euros.

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Once we were finished with our tasty lunch we headed off to do another exhibit.  We went back on the bus and waited to see where else it would take us.  We got off at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral stop and did a bit of exploring.  The inside of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral is massive and filled with beautiful stained glass, just like you’d find inside most Cathedrals.  St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest, and the tallest church in Ireland. If you’re into history, you can spend hours here just reading the walls. Absolutely beautiful structure, make sure to stop here and marvel in it’s glory.

 

Once we finished St. Patrick’s it was about 4:30pm. Unbeknownst to us, most of everything in Dublin closes at 6pm.  By the time we were back on the bus it was 5:00pm and we didn’t have time to get much else done with the little time we had left.  We decided it was time to pick up our keys for our Airbnb, shower, and call it quits for the night. Our Airbnb was in the most perfect location.  I got off the hop on hop off bus, and walked about 30 seconds to the front door of our apartment.

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It was my first time using Airbnb so I was a bit nervous about the check in process, cleanliness, and ease.  I was pleasantly surprised as my host was very communicative, informative, and pleasant. Although I never met my host in person, I was able to access everything just fine.  The apartment was spacious and included everything I could possibly need, and the location was central enough, and safe enough to walk around and get to where I wanted to go.  Only a short 10 minute walk away was Temple Bar, a 5 minute walk away was the Jameson Distillery, and a 30 second walk to the hop on hop off bus stop.  I couldn’t have asked for better, especially because the price was less expensive than the hotels in the area.  (I have included the link for those of you who are interested in checking out Stephen’s Airbnb ).

Day Number 2.  On this day I had planned to go to Cliffs of Moher, but the bus for this location leaves Dublin at 6am, and as you see the previous day we got absolutely no rest. We went straight from the plane to exploring Dublin, it was too much to put onto my 3 year old.  We woke up around 9am, ate some breakfast, and then I bought another Dublin Pass to explore the beautiful city for another day.  After breakfast we walked down the block to our hop on hop off bus and started our tour.

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Our first stop was the Dublin Castle.  The Dublin Castle, in the past, was the seat of British rule in Ireland; but today the castle is used by the Irish Government for events like state banquets for foreign dignitaries, and the inauguration of the Irish President. If you opt for the self guided tour the Dublin Castle offers a mobile app so you can get the most out of it.  I myself did the self guided tour as I felt my 3 year old would be quickly uninterested with the tour guide.  I have read many reviews online though which recommend using the tour guide as they will show you the underground remains and tunnels.  So if you don’t have younger children I would recommend taking a guided tour of the castle.

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Second stop was another visit to Temple Bar.  We visited a different restaurant, The Shack, and ordered another plate to share.  This restaurant was located directly across the street from The Temple Bar. For lunch we ordered the Steak & Guinness, which is tender steak chunks cooked to perfection, mixed with onions and mushrooms, in a Guinness sauce.  This was also served with brown bread and butter.  This meal was more than enough for the two of us.  My son ate more than I did and we still didn’t finish the whole plate.  The picture above really doesn’t do the meal justice. I didn’t feel like taking my camera out of its bag, so I snapped a quick shot with my phone before digging in. We both ate lunch for a total of 18 euros.

 

After lunch I planned on making 2 more stops, the Guinness Storehouse, and the Dublin Zoo.  I didn’t know the Guinness Storehouse would take as long as it did and by the time we were finished there it was 5:30pm and no time to visit the Dublin Zoo.  The Guinness Factory is definitely a cool stop, even my son enjoyed watching the videos and seeing all the Storehouse had to offer.  Although he couldn’t have a Guinness at the Gravity Bar they offered him a fountain soda, and he enjoyed drinking it with the beautiful view the Gravity Bar offers.

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After exploring Guinness Factory it was “closing time” in Dublin.  We went to a McDonald’s, about a 10 minute walk away from our apartment, grabbed a quick bite for dinner, and then walked around the explore the area.  We ended up in the Temple Bar area which has a completely different atmosphere at night. We walked a couple of the bridges in the area, and then headed to our apartment.  We made a pit stop at a convenience store on the way back, grabbed some popcorn and chips, and had ourselves a movie night.

Day three, we journeyed home. Stepped outside of our apartment at 9:30am, hailed a cab, and reached the airport at 10:00am.  If you are traveling to the US you will clear customs in Ireland rather than when you reach the US, so arrive AT LEAST 2 hours prior to your departure time.  I didn’t know Ireland was a “pre-clear” country and I almost missed my flight because of it (I know I should’ve done better homework).

That was our short little adventure to Dublin, and as I stated in the beginning I plan on going back to Ireland in the near future and exploring the “country side”.  I would also plan on at least 3 days in Dublin if I were to visit again as everything does close early and you need more time to get everything done.

Until next time,

-Ela

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Prague

Prague

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Hey Y’all,  I know some of you have been patiently waiting for this post and I’ve been delaying this.  Once I landed back home I had so many things I had to take care of, including buying my dress for my best friend’s wedding that’s coming up in 2 months (Congratulations Samantha).  Alas I finally found some time to sit down and get started on this post.

So Prague. Quick Overview:  Absolutely beautiful city, filled with friendly people and Gothic Architecture. For those of you who are foodies, there’s plenty of things here for you too.  They are known for their amazing beer and heavy food to pair with the beer.

The customs line in Prague was refreshing,  although I wasn’t the first off the aircraft I got through customs in less than 10 minutes.  Once through customs I pulled out my phone to go to Google Maps.  I could’ve taken the tram system to Old Town and walk about 10 minutes to the hotel, or take a 30 minute Uber ride.  I wound up taking an Uber because I didn’t know my way around yet.  The ride only cost about $20.

Upon arriving in the hotel I was immediately impressed.  I stayed at Hotel Yasmin in Nova Town.  (click here for their website). The hotel room was very large, and for a European hotel that’s a rare find.  I was even more impressed being as this hotel wasn’t even priced high (only about $100/night).  This hotel even included a free buffet breakfast with a LARGE selection and an Omelet station. The hotel was also very close to all the tourist spots with only about a 10 minute walk to Old Town Square – very convenient.

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First day in Prague I ate at the Mona Lisa . This restaurant was about a block away from my hotel, and I stumbled upon it while exploring the area. My favorite thing about this restaurant is they had a separate room that no one sat in, so I decided to eat in there in case my 2 year old decided to follow his toddler instincts and be rambunctious, haha. This restaurant had a vast variety of foods on their menu.  I ordered the Steak with mushrooms, and my son had the Chicken with “smiley fries”.  Each of these meals were of good quality and filling.

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For the next day in Prague I booked a tour through Expedia, with Gray Line Tours.  This tour was $66 and included bus ride to the Prague Castle, lunch, and a boat ride (which included your choice of beverage and ice cream/cake).

After a very informative bus ride around this city, the walking tour began at the Prague Castle.  According to some records it is stated that the Prague Castle is the largest castle area in the world.  All together with its courtyards and buildings this castle covers 18 acres of land.

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At 12pm the changing of guards occurs in the main courtyard.  This event gets packed and FAST.  Its a very interesting ceremony and if you’re not one of the first against the fence you won’t be able to see it (since you aren’t allowed in to the courtyard).  I recommend getting to the main courtyard at around 11:50 and get a spot against the fence that way you have a good view of the changing of guards.  The ceremony lasts about 5 minutes and was very cool to see.

My favorite sight inside the Prague  Castle was St. Vidus Cathedral.  This Cathedral had large, beautiful stain glass windows lining the walls and highlighting mosaics.  The Gothic architecture was beautiful and breathtaking.  There is a section of this church which holds the tombs of many Bohemian Kings and Holy Royal Emperors.  The history on this church is nice to learn about and I’m glad I had a tour guide to help shed light on so much I would’ve missed had I ventured off by myself.

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After touring the castle I had lunch in the restaurant on the castle grounds.  I don’t remember the exact name of this restaurant. First course of lunch was salad, main course was Chicken (the plate you see in the above picture was the main course), and the desert was a lovely honey cake, it was absolutely delicious.

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After lunch it was time to make my way down the hill to go on my way to the next big sight.  On my way I passed many interesting sights, including the US embassy (and many other embassies), a graffiti wall with many inspirational sayings and notes to loved ones, and my favorite the John Lennon Pub.  The John Lennon Pub was my favorite because I found it odd that they created a pub for this man, but would never invite him to come to the pub due to the fact that he has long hair, and that’s a big “no-no” for them.

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After a little exploring I made it to the Charles Bridge.  This bridge is absolutely beautiful, filled with many statues and other magnificent pieces.   Although this one was small it was my favorite.  Touching the cross on this piece granted you one wish, and also many loved ones put locks with their initials and threw the keys into the water signifying that they would remain together forever.

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After walking across the Charles Bridge I got to see it from a whole new perspective, the water.  I took a boat tour which showed me a new beautiful view of this magnificent bridge.  On the boat they gave us a beverage (I chose beer) and a snack (ice cream or cake).  This boat tour was very informative and a nice way to relax and sight see at the same time.

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After the boat tour ended I walked a little bit more and ended the tour in Old Town Square. This is the oldest square in the historic section with origins dating back to the 10th century. This is the sight of many Gothic buildings. The Old Town Square has many restaurants and even offers street food.  I always like to stop at street food stands in other countries because I feel the food is more authentic.  Even though the square is not large you can spend all day there sight seeing, eating, and shopping.
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I went back to the Old Town Square during the night to gain a totally new perspective of this beautiful little gem.  The night time view to me is just magical, but maybe that’s because I love when buildings are all lit up.

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My son and I grabbed a bite to eat at Oliva Verde, which is right across from the Astronomical Clock (which you can see in the background of the picture of my son).  This restaurant offered traditional Czech food, a large beer/wine menu, and pizza (which Elijah was begging me for all day).

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After dinner we grabbed some ice cream.  I smelt the sweet cinnamon rolls all day and was dying to try some.  I’m not sure if it was the way this place made it, or maybe that’s just how it is, but I wasn’t impressed at all, I would have preferred a regular ice cream cone over the dough with cinnamon, it was very hard, and the dough had a cardboard flavor.

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All in all,  I absolutely loved Prague, I love a quaint city with Gothic architecture and good food and this definitely hit all those requirements for me.  If you’re thinking of visiting Prague I would make sure to add it to your “must visit” list.

If you have any questions, or if you have a suggestion to make for future travelers, leave it in the comments below.

Until Our Next Adventure,

-Ela

Stockholm

Stockholm

I’ve traveled to Sweden before but never actually made it a priority to visit Stockholm.  I know right, how does one visit Sweden but never visit Stockholm!?  This trip to Sweden I made it a priority to visit Stockholm after visiting my family in Vanersborg, and boy I’m happy I did.

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The first two days I was in Stockholm I stayed in the Scandic Malmen.  This hotel was located in Sodermalm, Stockholm. This part of Stockholm is filled with shops which include vintage stores, Swedish fashion, and many hipster food and drink spots.  I was very surprised by how many Middle Eastern restaurants I came across in the Sodermalm district.

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I was very pleased with the Scandic Malmen.  This hotel had spacious rooms for what I’m used to in Europe.  This hotel is very trendy, the hotel staff was very friendly, and the check in/check out process was quick and easy.  My favorite part of this hotel was it was located right above a Metro station making getting around Stockholm very easy.  While I stayed in this hotel the weather was very bad, it was pouring rain both days making it hard to explore with a toddler.

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The other hotel I stayed at while in Stockholm was called the Stockholm Inn.  This hotel is a cafe on ground level, and the hotel rooms are located below street level – the rooms do not have windows. This hotel was located in the Norrmalm district of Stockholm.  Although this hotel wasn’t nearly as nice as the Scandic Malmen I was much happier with the area.  I recommend the Norrmalm district for anyone visiting Stockholm (for tourist reasons).  With this hotel I was able to walk 5 minutes from my hotel to the Central Station.  Also, it was only about a 10 minute walk from my hotel to Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm).

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I purchased the Stockholm City Pass, this included transportation on the hop on hop off bus (and hop on hop off boat), and also included entrance to many places of interest in Stockholm.  I only got the pass for one day and it cost me $63 USD.  I went on the hop on hop off bus, visited the Royal Palace, Grona Lund Tivoli, Vasa Museum, and the Fotografsika.  Without the Stockholm Pass this day would’ve cost be $100, but the entry to all of these places was included in the pass.  You can learn more about the pass and purchase it by clicking THIS LINK.  (Also keep in mind children under the age of 6 are free).

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My favorite part of Stockholm was Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm).  This area features small colorful alleyways and tons of cute shops.  This area also had so many interesting restaurants and bars.  The whole time I was in Stockholm I had a craving for Swedish Meatballs and I chose a restaurant in Gamla Stan to help me fulfill it.

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This meal was absolutely delicious and offered other traditional Swedish meals as well.  Some of the other meals included an Elk Burger, and Salmon prepared in a traditional Swedish manner.

 

After I was done with my visit to Stockholm I took the Arlanda Express back to the airport.  This was about a 20 minute train ride from Central Stockholm to the Stockholm Airport (Arlanda).  This was the quickest and easiest way to get back and forth from the airport to the city center, although if you have a lot of adults in your party taking an Uber might be cheaper.  For one adult the Arlanda Express ticket was $34 USD.  I took an Uber from the airport to my hotel when I first arrived and it was $65.  So if you have 3 or more adults an Uber would be less expensive, it just takes a little bit longer.

 

*Side Note:  As usual I also visited my family in Gothenburg (about a 3 hour train ride from Stockholm).  Gothenburg is another beautiful city in Stockholm and if you have the time I suggest that you visit.  This time while I was there we visited Liseberg, this is a very cute amusement park with about 5 big rides for adults, and about 6 rides for kids (also tons of fun games for adults/children and a HUGE play ground for the kids).  A lot of famous artist book shows there and their shows are included in the price of admission. I had tons of fun at this amusement park and would recommend it to people of all ages.  If you’re looking for other things to do in Sweden you can check out my older blog post from my last visit to Sweden ” It’s a Graduation Celebration in Sweden “.

 

If you’re looking for advice on things to do or places to stay in Stockholm/Gothenburg you can leave a comment below and I’ll answer you questions within 24 hours.

 

As always thank you for “Traveling with Ela”, leave your feedback, questions, and comments below, I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Until My Next Adventure

-Ela

Rome

Rome


     The hotel I chose in Rome was the Arpinelli Relias. I chose this residence based on location (right up the road from the Trevi Fountain).  I booked this place thinking it was a hotel, but it has a distinct Bed and Breakfast feel.  Please don’t book this place if you are looking for a Hotel, this is a “Guest House”.  Although I was set on booking a hotel I was pleasantly surprised with this property. There are two common areas at this residence and about 8 rooms.  The room wasn’t big (like most rooms in Europe) but had enough room to rest my head and also had free WiFi.  This property boasted beautiful high ceilings and a balcony that wrapped around the room giving a great view of the markets below. The owners of this residence live on the top floor which is extremely convenient, if you need anything they are on-sight to help. I was very pleased that when I came back to the property after being a tourist, I was greeted by fresh sheets every time (which is more than you could say for a hotel).


  
   The flight I took into Rome was 5 hours delayed, so by the time I landed and cleared customs there wasn’t time to take  an in-depth tour of Rome.  I wandered around in the area surrounding our hotel to see what hidden wonders there were to be discovered. This blog post is going to contain a lot of historical information because words don’t do justice to the beauty Rome has to offer.


 The first night in Rome I got pizza from a cute little restaurant by my hotel “Al Picchio”. I figured that you can’t go to Italy and not try real Italian pizza. The crust is different than I’m used to but really good, they make the crust thin and crispy! Also Italians love their garlic and it was made very clear when I bit into my first slice of pizza.

A quick side note before I get started on the monuments – If you’re trying to get around Rome and visit the big monuments (the Colloseum, Paletine Hill, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, etc) the hop-on hop-off bus is perfect. This bus will bring you to the biggest monuments and you can go on and off at your pleasure. Most of the large companies make a round every 20 minutes. You can by a 24 hour pass (which I purchased at a bus stop for 18 Euros). Make sure that you explore around the monuments as well (don’t just walk to the monument and back to the bus- wander around). If you don’t wander you will miss a lot of hidden gems (restaurants, cute shops, statues etc). Also I can not stress this enough BUY YOUR TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME. The lines at these places to buy tickets are very long, and you will thank me later if you buy your tickets in advance.

 The Trevi Fountain, believe it or not, is my favorite site that I had the opportunity to visit. This fountain is breath taking. I recommend visiting this fountain very early in the morning or very late at night to avoid crowds – and if you have the time  to visit it at both times, do it. This fountain is absolutely marvelous at night and offers a completely different experience than during the day time. The Trevi Fountain was designed by the Italian architect Nicola Salvi, and it was completed by Pietro Bracci.  This fountain opened in 1762 and was restored in 2014 (reopened November 2015).  I can attest that the restoration was a great success, the fountain is absolutely stunning and remarkably clean.

The Piazza Venezia is the located in the center of Rome, Italy. The Piazza Venezia was named after the man who ordered the construction of his own palace, Cardinal Venezia. Many people like to hang out on the stairs (on the southern side of the piazza) that lead up to the monument.  There are many statues on this property. One statue is of Victor Emanuel II, this statue was built to celebrate the Italian unification. An easy way to get to the Piazza Venezia is by taking bus number 40, get off at the Piazza Venezia stop.
 
 Of course, anyone who thinks of Rome thinks of the Colloseum. Remember I was talking about long lines for tickets ? The Colloseum has the worst lines, you must buy your tickets ahead of time for this or you will be very angry that you didn’t listen to me, haha. You can also buy your tickets for the Colloseum at the Palatine Hill (there are virtually no lines compared to the ones at the Colloseum). The Colloseum of Rome is the biggest amphitheater ever built. When you think of the Colloseum, gladiators is what comes to mind (well at least for me). The Colloseum was built for gladiator shows and wild animal hunts.  The construction for the Colloseum started in 70 A.D and was completed in 80 A.D. Any easy way to get to the Colloseum is by taking the metro. You can take the “B” line to the Colosseo metro station. The Pantheon is about a 8 minute walk away from the Trevi Fountain. This building is absolutely magnificent. It’s not a huge building so you can visit fairly quick. The Pantheon is known as the best preserved building for Ancient Rome.

After dark a local band set up between the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, they call themselves FMD LIVE (included the link for their Facebook profile). This band did covers for many rock songs and they drew quite a crowd.  This is a very talented bunch, and if passing by you will be drawn into giving them a listen.  This music filled the streets and made my walk back from the Pantheon very enjoyable.  People sat for hours and watched them play their music (without moving).



After journeying to the Pantheon, I worked up a bit of an appetite. I stopped by the Habana which offered a dinner deal for 12 Euros.  Their dinner deal included a pasta, a meat, and a drink (they also threw in a complimentary glass of champagne).  They had other dinner deals as well but I chose the one for 12 Euros (I included a picture of the menu for that deal above). I ordered the lasagna, pork with mushrooms, and salad. Usually I refuse to eat any lasagna that’s not cooked by my grandmother, because honestly no one could beat it, this lasagna was so good and I was happy I ordered it. The pork was cooked and seasoned to perfection. I would recommend this restaurant to any one who wants really good food at an awesome price!

Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the Vatican City (due to Jubilee the hop-on hop-off bus did not stop there). Also I was unable to see the Spanish Steps (they are currently baracaded and covered due to renovations). Whenever I get the chance to make it back to Rome those will be my first priorities.

Overall Rome is a beautiful city and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. This is one of those cities I would be happy to visit multiple times.

Any questions or comments? Leave them below!

Until next time.

-Ela


Brussels

Brussels


On approach to Brussels Airport I was taken in by the beauty of the landscape. The colors intrigued me, and just like that the mood of the trip was set. I was excited to get off the plane and discover the city. I only had one day there, so I had to discover as much as I could in those 24 hours (maybe 23 hours haha).


The best thing about most airports in Europe, is that they also have a train, which could get you to your destination easily without having to pay high taxi fares. The city of Brussels happened to be the 2nd stop on the train from the airport. The train ride itself took about 15-20 minutes from the airport to the city center.  Once off the train, I walked about 5 minutes (through a safe area I may add), until I arrived at my hotel.


  
  
The hotel I stayed at was “The Dominican“.  I would recommend this hotel to anyone who wishes to visit the city of Brussels. The hotel is clean, the staff is courteous, and the location is great!  The hotel is located right on the outskirts of La Grand Place.  What I really liked about the hotel (other than location) : it was safe and secure. After dark you had to buzz into the hotel, this prevented stragglers from just walking in; also in order to use the elevator you had to have a room key. These tiny details really make a tourist feel more comfortable.


  
 After ditching the bags in the room it was time to discover the city. I loved the gothic feel of the buildings in La Grand Place main square. The architecture was captivating, and while I usually don’t like gold on buildings, I felt the gold really fit well in this setting. After marveling at the fabulous architecture of these buildings I noticed a sign over in the corner of the square that said “beer museum”, I ventured over and decided to see what it had to offer.

  
  
The price of the “Beer Museum” was 5 euros per person. While the price seems inexpensive the Museum was only two rooms. At first I thought the price was a bit steep for what was offered, but at the end of walking through the rooms they offered you a sample of beer. You could either choose a lager or a fruity beer; that in itself made up for the steep price. I had the fruity beer, it was very sweet, almost like a wine cooler, but it was good.

 After leaving the Beer Museum I was hungry and it was time to have lunch.  I decided to grab a bite at a local Brasserie called Nuetnugenough. I was referred to this restaurant by a coworker who had been to Brussels before. The menu offered local cuisine and a long list of local beers. I decided to get the beef stew in beer sauce and I wasn’t disappointed. The beef was so tender, easily ripped apart with my fork. The sauce (gravy) was perfection with just the right hint of beer.  I loved my meal, and the people who sat next to me had some delicious looking food as well. I would recommend stopping by this restaurant if you’re in Brussels.

 After lunch it was time for something sweet, the sight that haunted me as I walked through the city. Waffles!

  All the waffles looked so delicious. How is a person supposed to choose just one? Eventually I settled on a waffles with strawberries, bananas, and chocolate sauce. The waffle was so delicious. The outside of the waffle was crispy but the inside was fluffy, pair that with the toppings and you have yourself a little bit of heaven in every bite.  While eating my waffle I ventured around and landed at the famous statue “Manneken Pis”. This statue is of a little boy peeing, and they like the dress him up to match whatever event is going on in the city. When I went they were having a “marathon event” so they had him dressed up as a runner. From the statue in every gift shop I expected him to be so much bigger, but in reality the statue is very small. I would’ve missed it if there wasn’t a crowd taking pictures in front of him.

 I had one more place I wanted to visit before I went back to the hotel for a nap. Les Galeries Royales Saint Hubert. This was an enclosed shopping center filled with all kinds of neat shops. Once again, I found myself intrigued with the architecture of the building. The light from the shops created an orange glow, pair that with the structure of the building and it felt like you took a time machine to the past. I absolutely loved the old time vibe this place gave off.

    

Once I awoke from my nap I ventured back to La Grand Place. It was a whole new experience at night. They had the square decorated for Christmas and they sure went all out. Each building was equipped with color lighting. They had all the lights synchronized to dance with the music that was playing in the square. The lights danced for about 5 minutes once every 30 minutes. It was a beautiful sight to see.

Also for Christmas time Brussels had the “Christmas Market” this gave me a lot to do at night. There were a bunch of booths set up selling all kinds of merchandise. The items ranged from beer and chocolate to items to decorate your house. I’m not sure what there normally is to do at night in Brussels (besides the pubs) but I was was very busy exploring the Christmas Market.

  
 For dinner I decided not to stop at a restaurant but instead order from a local street vendor. The sausage they served tasted like Polish Kielbasa and was so delicious. The grill also offered burgers and ribs. Once you received your food they had all different kinds of sauces that you could put on your food. I don’t remember all the names but I’ve never seen so many different sauces to put on a sausage.

  After I finished my sausage I journeyed to “Fritland” for some fries. Yes that’s right people, fries are a big deal in Brussels. The bigger deal is all the sauces they have to offer to dip your fries in. Fritland had about 12 different sauces to choose from to dip your fries into. The sauces in the above picture are “Samurai” and “Brazil”.

There was one more stop I had to make before leaving this beautiful city of Brussels. That stop was Leonidas. This shop is famous for their Fresh Belgian Chocolates. I was overwhelmed by how much chocolate they had to offer that I just wound up buying two pre made boxes. They do allow you to “build your own” box though.

All in all Brussels was an outstanding trip. Next time I visit Belgium I would like to visit Bruges and Ghent. Please leave feedback and questions below I’ll be happy to respond to any inquiries you may have.
Until Next Time,

Ela ✈️

 

Feeling inspired?  I always book my trips through Expedia.com (even more of a bargain when you have their credit card).  You could get exclusive deals by using my Expedia links to book your trips, like the one below.


Greece

Greece

With the economy crisis that was happening in Greece I figured it would be a less expensive time to travel there.  Little did I know the economy crisis didn’t change much for tourists (at the time I went the ATM limits were even lifted for tourists).

The trip started in Athens.  When I arrived in Athens the customs line moved very fast, right after customs was the tourist center.  The people there were friendly and explained how to get to my hotel (with a map).  I walked to the metro station and was quickly confused.  They said to take the red line, but all the trains were the same color – they weren’t color coded so you had to get on one and hope you were going the right way (which thank goodness, I went onto the right train after speaking with other tourists there).  After getting out of the train station the hotel was only a short walk away.

On the streets of Athens there were many kids out on the street playing instruments and asking for money, the police of Athens would shoo them away and ask them not to play there.  The streets were lined with restaurants (a representative from each restaurant stood on the street and invited tourists to come eat with them, and briefly explained their menu).IMG_0215IMG_0214

The first stop in Athens was Acropolis.  I went to go visit the Parthenon.  The Parthenon was in close proximity to my hotel (Divani Palace Acropolis), so it was about a 10 minute walk away (no taxi required).  The Parthenon was a decent uphill walk.  If the ground was slippery I don’t think I would’ve made it.  (When you purchased tickets for the Parthenon, the tickets were also good for Zeus’ Temple.) The Parthenon was beautiful, it really made you wonder how beautiful it looked when it was first built.  During that time period, having architecture that grand, is amazing.

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Zeus’ Temple (The Parthenon in the background)

After The Parthenon it was time to visit Zeus’ Temple.  Zeus’ Temple was about a 10 minute walk away from The Parthenon. It was a small area, and you could see all of Zeus’ Temple in about a 5 minute walk around the courtyard, but it was beautiful scenery none-the-less.

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I only stayed in Athens for one night, and I’m glad I did.  There wasn’t much to do or see in Athens.  The Parthenon and Zeus’ Temple took about 3 hours all together.  The only other thing that was recommended there was the bus tour (although I didn’t do that, it could be a nice way to extend the day in Athens).

 

The view from my hotel room

Next stop – Santorini. My hotel was in Imerovigli. Imerovigli was a 5 minute walk from one of the main towns in Santorini. On every block there was a shop to rent mopeds, ATVs, and cars from. I wound up renting an ATV ($25 for the day). The ATV was such a good investment. I was able to ride around the town with ease, and also took the ATV to Oia. Oia is mostly known for its amazing view of the caldera and breath-taking sunsets. The ride to get to Oia was a scenic route. I was happy that I was on the ATV to really experience the scenery.

 
 I couldn’t have asked for a better hotel in Imerovigli if I tried. Dreams Luxury Suites was in a beautiful location, private, and had the best views. The hotel only has 6 rooms, therefore they treat every guest like royalty. My room was the Lokai Suite. My suite had a patio with an amazing view, a pool, and a jacuzzi. I booked this hotel through Expedia (in order to get points), but they have a direct site you can book through as well. Click here for Dreams Luxury Suites official website.


The next day I journeyed off to Akrotiri, Santorini. This location was on the opposite end of the island, with a lot less tourism. I stayed at the Neptune Luxury Spa & Suites (another boutique hotel). This hotel was located near many vineyards, in a quiet area of town.  I was told by locals that I must go to a restaurant called “The Cave of Nikolas” so that’s where I decided to have lunch.  The location of the restaurant was right on the water, and they had many fish to choose from on the menu. (The menu was all fish – so if seafood is not your forte I wouldn’t recommend going here).  After I finished lunch I noticed a sign pointing right for the “Red Beach” – so I decided to wander off and see what all the hype was about. When walking to the Red Beach you have to scale the side of a mountain and walk up and down many rocky edges.  If I were to ever go back again, I would take the water taxi (a lot less dangerous and drops you off right on the beach). For the Neptune Luxury Spa & Suites official website click here.

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From Santorini I took the high speed water jet to Mykonos.  Upon arriving at the hotel (Palladium Hotel) I was immediately treated like royalty.  They welcomed me with a glass of champagne and then told me everything there was to do in the area, and explained how I’d be able to get around.  After they welcomed me, they showed me to my room, while carrying my bags.  Once in my room they showed me the features of my room, and where everything was placed.  It was by far my favorite hotel experience of the trip (just the way they treated their guests was absolutely amazing, worth every penny).  I went during the down season at Mykonos, but during the summer it is the party island.  After getting my stuff settled in the room I decided to journey off to the main town.  I took the local bus there (which picked up right in front of the hotel and dropped off right at the beginning of the town).  I was immediately taken back by how beautiful this little town way.  The paths were painted (white paint made the ground look like cobblestone), all the houses were white, and the shutters & railings were bright colors.  It was a photographers heaven.  I loved the scenery.IMG_0119IMG_0185

When you reached the outskirts of the town there were the Windmills of Mykonos.  At this location you had the bet view of the town of Mykonos.  Watching the Windmills during sunset was a spectacular sight.

IMG_0167-0The next day I ventured off to Delos (which is only accessible by ferry from Mykonos).  Delos is one of the most sacred places of ancient Greece, the city is almost all destroyed but is still such a beautiful sight to see.  The ferry departed Mykonos at 10am and returned back at 1am (believe it or not this was plenty of time to walk to island and get a good look at everything).IMG_0173-0IMG_0168-0IMG_0179

Even with everything destroyed you can tell how beautiful this island once was.

 

All and all Greece was an amazing experience, I would love to go back and visit the rest of the Greek Islands.  I would also be interested in visiting Sparta.

Please feel free to leave questions and comments about Greece, I will respond to every one in a timely manner.  If you have ever been to the other Greek Islands or Sparta, leave me some things that I must do when visiting.

Until next time.

-Ela



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It’s a Graduation Celebration in Sweden

It’s a Graduation Celebration in Sweden

Let me start by explaining the backstory… my family (my mom, my sister, and myself) signed up to host an exchange student in our home.  We never knew that one day we would become family with not only him, but his entire family.  Anton was the foreign exchange student (who is now my brother); his brother Gustaf came to stay with us for some of the year (he is also my brother); and we have Arvid (the littlest of the brothers); and of course the wonderful Swedish Parents (Eva-Karin and Sven).

When it was time for Anton to graduate High School back in Sweden we took no time in jumping on a plane and heading to Gothenburg, Sweden.  A great excuse to travel, and catch up with loved ones.   Oh and I was 6 months pregnant at the time, but I was not missing a chance to travel.

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Anton (left) ; Ela (right)

When we arrived at Gothenburg Airport we were greeted by an airport full of passengers, because my brother (Anton), like usual, was late. HAHA. When he finally arrived he had a huge Swedish flag held up and screamed “WELCOME TO SWEDEN”.

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Eventually, we made it to the beautiful town of Vänersborg.  As many other European towns the buildings were painted in bright colors, it was a beautiful sight.  They held all their ceremonies in the town square, which we later learned included prom and graduation.

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It was prom night and my brothers looked so spiffy.  We arrived in the town square and saw everyone from the neighborhood was there.  This is where everyone met up to take pictures before the prom.  The prom-goers families (and even some neighbors) showed up to see the students dressed up.  After they were done taking pictures in the town square they entered the building – in parade formation – down the red carpet.

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Gustaf (left); Ela (center); Anton (right)

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The way they celebrate their graduation is so unique.  After the usual ceremony where they hand out diplomas and hear their graduation speech, they all venture out into the town square.  In the town square each parent creates a huge poster for their graduate.  The poster has a baby picture of the graduate, and the class that they graduated in.  Once the graduates make the way to their posters the fun begins.

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Gustaf (left) ; Ela (right)
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Simon and Alicia

The graduates hold their posters up high, while the people of the town, their families, and their fellow graduates walk around and place necklaces over their heads.  Each necklace is a blue and yellow fabric (the colors of Sweden) with something attached to the bottom – many people put flowers and notes, while others put beer, and other funny objects.  It was very fun to watch, and made me wish we did something so fun where I grew up.

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After they collected all their necklaces they rode away in their floats.  On these floats they celebrated their graduation, as they rode around the town square.  It was such a unique and fun experience.

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Just a short walk from the house was a beautiful lake.  This is where we spent a lot of our free time.  My Swedish family has a boat so we put it to good use (tubing and water skiing).  Pregnant people like me stuck to riding in the boat and swimming in the lake haha.  We would spend hours on the lake trying to master tricks on the water skis (I was the coach, they were the performers)

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We honestly couldn’t of found a better location in Sweden to stay if we tried.  Our Swedish family packed everyday with a new adventure for us.  They wanted to show us all of Sweden in the 2 weeks we were there.

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The first adventure we went on was to the Läckö Castle.  They gave tours in English which was nice, and then they let us explore freely.  The property is absolutely stunning.  Inside the castle they had beautiful murals on the ceilings, and they really kept the castle in amazing shape. My favorite part of this castle was the castle gardens.  So many flowers, so beautifully landscaped.  (When I visited they wouldn’t let us take pictures inside the castle, so I only have pictures from the outside.)  I would highly recommend this castle to any visitor of Sweden.  There is something to do for all age groups and they even hold special events. Click here for their official website.

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Our next adventure was Trollhättan.  We came here to visit Anton’s uncle (he wanted to make us real Swedish meatballs – can’t say “no” there).  But before it was time to eat dinner we took a journey to visit the Trollhättan Lock and waterfalls.  This was such a beautiful place to visit.

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The waterfalls were lined by beautiful, blooming flowers.  The lock system had such a neat design.  I have never seen a lock in person before, so learning how it worked was so interesting to me.

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After we were done exploring it was time to head back for some REAL Swedish meatballs. Oh my goodness, when I tell you they were amazing, it is an understatement.  Actually, thinking about them right now is making me very hungry.  I need to take a trip back to Sweden soon.  The ones you get in America (at Ikea), don’t come close to having them made for you by a family in Sweden. You might be saying “obviously”, but I just needed to make that clear.

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After dinner it was time for some action, and by action I mean Go-Karts.  The Go-Kart track here was HUGE. ((Forgive me I don’t remember the exact name of this place but I will try to find out and then update you guys)).

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Our next adventure was taking a ferry to Marstrand, Sweden.  In Marstrand we visited a couple of cute shops and restaurants.  There’s so much exploring that can be done in this little city, unfortunately the weather wasn’t very cooperative.  I couldn’t get many pictures because the rain was horrible but we eventually made our way up to the Carlsten Fortress.  This Fortress was HUGE and so beautiful.  I definitely recommend a trip to the Fortress on a trip to Sweden.  If you don’t go to the Fortress at least visit Marstrand.  When we went they didn’t have an English speaking tour-guide available, so we took advantage that we had some bilingual Swedes with us. You can visit the official Carlsten website by clicking here.

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(From left to right – Anton, Ela, Jimmy, Arvid (in front), Gustaf, Doreen, Alicia)

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Our next adventure was the city of Gothenburg.  The main part of this city was absolutely beautiful.  It was surrounded by water and parks.  We took a tour on a boat (Paddan Tours) which brought us around the city of Gothenburg.  I would do the boat tour again in a heartbeat, it was very informative and a lot of fun for all ages. Trip Advisor link for the exact tour we did.

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Last but not least, my absolute favorite destination we visited – Smögen, Sweden.   This little town very visually appealing.  All the houses on the dock were bright colors, the water was crystal clear.  If you like to take pictures, this is the place for you.  A photographer can spend all day immersed in the town of Smögen, snapping away.  Also, Smögen has some amazing seafood restaurants.  If you walk all the way to the end of the dock you will be in seafood heaven.

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(Look at my nails, I painted them the same as the flag of Sweden)

As you can see there’s so much to do in Sweden, we didn’t even have the chance to get to Stockholm – don’t worry, I’ll be going back and I’ll be sure to visit Stockholm.  When I do go back you guys will be the first to hear all about it.

What are you waiting for? Book your trip today!! 

Leave any questions you have about my visit in the comments below and I will answer them 🙂