Category: Destinations

A Quick Los Angeles, California Itinerary

California Destinations North America United States of America

A Quick Los Angeles, California Itinerary

Early this March I took a quick trip to Los Angeles in honor of my 21st birthday! California is a place that I had been wanting to go to for such a long time because although I’ve been out of the country multiple times, I had never been to the West Coast. Because of work and college classes I couldn’t stay for very long, but during my four days in Los Angeles I was able to do some of the things I had wanted to the most. I would definitely recommend them for anyone who only has a few days to see the iconic city that is LA for the first time!

hollywood walk of fame

 

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I’m one of those travelers that loves seeing famous landmarks, so I was super excited to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame in person! While I wasn’t looking for any celebrity’s star in particular, it was fun to see stars belonging to icons like Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Will Smith, Madonna, etc. Initially, I was under the impression that the Walk of Fame was its own isolated street that was only used to walk along and look at the stars, so it surprised me to see that it was actually all over the streets of Sunset Boulevard. I can’t guarantee you’ll find any particular star that you’re searching for because they’re scattered so much that it was impossible to see every single one. As we looked at the stars, we passed tons of different stores, restaurants, bars/clubs, theaters, and just lots of various entertainment. If you have extra time to spare, then you’ll definitely find a lot to do in the Sunset Boulevard/Sunset Strip/Walk of Fame area. I highly suggest going while the sun is still out if you want good pictures, since the stars are harder to see at night. Definitely stay for the evening though, because the sunset was so stunning here (maybe why the area is called the Sunset Strip?). I think that visiting the Walk of Fame really captured the cinematic feeling that Hollywood is so well-known for.

Where I ate: I ate at Los Burritos, a Mexican restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. If I’m being honest, I’ve had better Mexican food before. This place wasn’t bad, but it was very mediocre. I ordered a few chicken tacos, but the tacos literally just had chicken and waaay too much cabbage. For authentic Mexican food, there wasn’t much flavor to them, but I did like the rice and beans. The people I traveled with agreed that the food wasn’t anything great. I’m sure there were better places to eat in the area though, but we ate there on a whim instead of doing any research and that doesn’t always work out.

 

Disneyland & California Adventure

 

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Disneyland and California Adventure aren’t technically in Los Angeles, they’re located in Anaheim which is located right outside of it. Still, these theme parks are definitely something to check out if you’re in the LA area, especially if you have children or just haven’t been to Disneyland before. Being from Florida, I’ve been to Disney World plenty of times, but I still wanted to see what Disneyland would be like and I’d actually like to check every Disney park in the world off of my list someday.

California Adventure was more of a fun experience to me personally because it felt like I was visiting somewhere new, while Disneyland was extremely similar to Disney World, just much smaller (I’ll be writing a detailed post explaining Disneyland vs Disney World soon!). However, if you’ve never been to any Disney park then you should definitely make it a point to visit both. Disneyland is actually the only Disney park in the world that was built directly under Walt Disney’s supervision, making it not only a theme park, but a huge piece of history.

Museum of death

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The Museum of Death isn’t for everyone, but if you have a bit of a morbid side then it’s one of those experiences you can’t really get anywhere else. In this museum you can read letters written by serial killers and look at art they created, watch autopsy videos (these are a little hard to watch) and photos including those of JFK and Marilyn Monroe, see exclusive crime scene photos from famous murders like the Black Dhalia and Manson murders, see a severed head, lots of taxidermy, a section all about Heaven’s Gate, and much more. It’s a self guided walking tour, so you have plenty of time to really soak in what you’re seeing because there’s a lot to look at and read about and you’ll definitely learn something new. The way I see it, you’ll either think “What kind of sick person would enjoy going to this?” or you’ll be extremely fascinated or maybe a combination of both. Unfortunately, pictures and videos of any kind are not allowed inside of the museum, so it’s something that you’d really have to go and see for yourself. I personally really enjoyed going here and if you’re into crime shows, horror movies, or anything of that kind of nature then I highly recommend this as something a little different to do is LA.

venice beach

 

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Venice Beach is another one of those iconic places that you just have to go to during your first visit in LA. Admittedly, the actual beach itself is nothing special. It’s definitely not ugly, but it’s not a beautiful, brightly colored tropical beach either. However, the Venice Beach boardwalk is a place that really captures the culture of Southern California and that’s what really won me over. From getting something to eat and shopping around to getting a tattoo to even seeing if you qualify for a marijuana card (I’m not sure how genuine these booths are by the way), there’s plenty to do just walking along the boardwalk. You’ll also see plenty of people on skateboards, street performers, fortune tellers, musicians, and just all around interesting Californians. This is a place I’d love to go back to.

santa monica pier

 

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The world famous Santa Monica Pier made me kind of wish that I had grown up in California. The Santa Monica Pier is similar to a year-round fair, with its rides, games, and food. Despite being a very touristy area, I found it to actually be a charming place and you can’t beat the beautiful seaside view during the day (at night it gets extremely foggy, though). The only ride I actually got on was the ferris wheel, which gave a perfect view of the whole pier and the beaches surrounding it. Besides food and entertainment, the Santa Monica Pier is also a great place to buy souvenirs. I found the souvenir shops in downtown LA to be a little cliche, but you can get all kinds of cool, vintage California things from stands on the pier. Overall, I’d suggest this place as something to do right after going to Venice beach. The whole area has a really fun, carefree vibe to it!

Where I Ate: I ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp, which is a seafood restaurant inspired by the Forrest Gump movie. This isn’t exclusive to California, but I don’t think there’s really a better way to enjoy a plate of shrimp and a cocktail than with an ocean view at the Santa Monica Pier.

griffith observatory

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Last but not least, a first time trip to LA is not complete without a visit to the Griffith Observatory! I personally chose to go to the Griffith Observatory to get a good view and pictures of the Hollywood Sign, since this seems to be the easiest way to do it if you’re not a fan of hiking (I’m definitely not). Along with an easy place to get a look at the Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Observatory is also the perfect spot to take in an amazing view of the city of Los Angeles. If you actually go inside of the building, you can look at different exhibits and look through telescopes. Depending when you go, you can even see a live show at the planetarium. Admission to the building and the grounds is completely free, so there’s really no reason not to add this educational and sight seeing experience to your Los Angeles itinerary!

 

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The perfect way to describe Southern California in my opinion is a perfect cross of Florida and New York City, so having lived in both of these states, it almost felt as if I had been there before. Despite this, I was left wanting more, the way I am with nearly every place I’ve visited. There’s still so much of California and even Los Angeles that I haven’t seen (which just means I’ll have to go back someday), but I think that if, like me, you only have a few days to spend in the city of angels, you’ll get a decent taste of it and great memories from visiting everywhere on my list!

Have you been to Los Angeles? How did you spend your time there? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Disney’s International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot

Destinations Florida United States of America

Disney’s International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot

Every year my family and I go to Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival at Disney World and it’s always a lot of fun! During this festival stands are set up all over Epcot, each representing its own country. There are over 30 stands to choose from! At these stands, you can buy authentic food and drinks from the country, made and served by people who are actually from there. Every year some of the countries are changed out for new ones, while some of the more popular ones stay. While you eat, you can also enjoy live music from various cultures. It’s the perfect festival for travelers who love to eat (like me)!

At Epcot, you can get your own free festival passport to keep and place a sticker by the name of each place you “visited”, as well as check off what you had there. It makes a cute keepsake!

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Here’s all the places I got to visit:


Hawaii

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The Hawaii stand has been at the food and wine festival every year that I’ve gone and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. I highly recommend getting the Kalua pork slider, it’s a very popular choice and for a good reason! The savory meat and sweet pineapple along with some spicy mayonnaise make an amazing flavor combination. I’m just barely under the drinking age in the United States, so I couldn’t buy any drinks myself, but the beer pictured is my dad’s Kona Brewing Company Big Wave Golden Ale.


Patagonia

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I’ll be honest, I had never heard of Patagonia before seeing it on this year’s passport. After a little research, I discovered that it’s located at the southern end of South America and is shared by Argentina and Chile. The food from this stand was delicious, especially the beef skewer. In fact, the beef skewer topped with Chimichurri sauce was my favorite food out of the whole festival this year. Hopefully Patagonia is back again next year because I’d love to have their food again!


Islands of the Caribbean

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  I was born in an island of the Caribbean (Puerto Rico), so seeing my part of the world being represented is always exciting. Maybe I’m biased, but Caribbean food is some of the best food there is and this section did not disappoint! I had the pescado con coco (I forgot to mark it off, oops) and the Jamaican beef patty to the right. Both are an accurate taste of the Caribbean, even if the beef patties were pretty tiny.


Morocco

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Morocco is on my bucket list for sure, but until that happens, the Morocco stand at the food and wine festival will have to do. I’m not a fan of onions, which this pita pocket had a lot of, but the seasoned pork inside definitely made up for it. There was also live Moroccan music being performed near the stand, which was fun to listen to and watch.


Mexico

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I love flan and I love chocolate, so imagine my excitement when discovering that Mexico had chocolate flan! The line for Mexico was incredibly long, but the chocolate flan was worth the wait. I wish the serving size was bigger, but maybe next year I’ll get two.


Germany

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My most recent trip was actually to Germany, so going to this stand was super nostalgic for me. If you’ve ever listened to me talk about Germany, you know that I can rave about their sausages forever, so obviously that’s what I ended up getting. While they aren’t crispy on the outside like the ones I had in Berlin, they do taste very close to them, even down to the bread they were in. Also, European beer is the only kind of beer that I sort of like, so it was nice to try some of it again (the beer was my dad’s once again, so I didn’t mark it off, but it was the first one on the beverage list).


Scotland

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Smoked salmon is one of my favorite kinds of fish, so I had to get the potato pancake with smoked salmon. I wasn’t really sure how to eat it since I couldn’t cut the potato pancake with a fork, so I ended up rolling it up and eating it like a taco. Close enough, I guess? The pancake itself didn’t have a lot of flavor, but smoked salmon and sour cream is surprisingly good together, so I enjoyed it.


Ireland

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Ireland is a place I’ve been to quite a few times (both the actual country and the stand) and one of my favorite stands at the festival every year. One thing they always have is the fisherman’s pie, which is made up of mashed potatoes, melted cheddar cheese, and pieces of seafood, like clam and lobster. It’s a must-have if you’re a sea food lover, I promise! Two new things featured in Ireland were the warm chocolate pudding and the pumpkin chai tea and caramel shake. Everything the Ireland stand has is always delicious and this whole meal was perfect for fall (if only it was chillier in Florida). I’ll definitely be looking for a recipe for that pumpkin chai tea shake.


What I had at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival was just a small taste of what they have to offer, since my stomach and wallet can only afford so much food. There are still so many other countries to check out (from Australia to China to even more), so there’s something for everyone! If you’re ever going to Orlando in the fall, I highly encourage you to discover all of the countries and their delicacies for yourself!

My Favorite Places to Eat in Berlin

Destinations Europe Germany

My Favorite Places to Eat in Berlin

One thing about Berlin that pleasantly surprised me was all of the incredible food! I had never known Berlin to be a “foodie” capital, but I think it definitely should be. You can get anything there and no matter what it is, it’s going to be delicious. Here are a few of my favorite places to eat in Berlin, Germany:

Fraticelli

Fraticelli is an Italian restaurant located near Alexanderplatz. You can eat inside or outside and since it was a beautiful, breezy September morning, I decided to eat breakfast at one of the tables outside. One thing to keep in mind though, if you’re not already aware, is that Berlin is full of bees! This makes it a little difficult to enjoy eating outside, since they’ll constantly try to fly into your food and drinks, so next time I think I would eat inside. The service at Fraticelli is pretty slow (they seemed seriously understaffed), so this isn’t the place to grab a meal if you’re in a rush, but if you have some time to spare then the food is totally worth the wait. They even have blankets to put over yourself if you get cold!

I had a cappuccino with cream and a glass of prosecco to drink. To eat, I had the brunch plate for two (obviously I shared it, it was a lot of food). The brunch plate had all kinds of yummy breakfast foods, like fresh fruits, various sliced meats and cheeses, scrambled eggs, sausages, grilled chicken, salmon, granola, nutella, butter, jam, and a basket of bread rolls. It was really a breakfast to remember. This meal was so filling, but in a healthy way instead of the “I’m about to explode” fullness you feel when you eat a lot of fried or greasy foods.

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Il Buco Di Heidi

Il Buco Di Heidi is a little French cafe and another breakfast stop during my stay in Berlin. Once again, you can eat inside or outside and I chose to eat outside, which led to the same problem: bees everywhere. If you’re not a fan of bees, don’t eat outside in Berlin (obviously, something I kept forgetting). The service here was very quick, so it’s very easy to spend only about half an hour here and be on your way. The atmosphere is very much what a French cafe should be, cute and cozy.

To drink, I had a an elder and rhubarb German spritz drink. It was so refreshing and tasted amazing. Please don’t make the mistake of just getting a small glass like I did because it actually is really small! To eat, I had an omelette with smoked salmon. The portions here are generally not very big, but the food is healthy, fresh, and delicious while looking pretty, too!

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Alexanderplatz Sausage Cart

Okay this isn’t a restaurant, but if you eat anything in Berlin, please eat a sausage from one of the carts in Alexanderplatz! They’re always there, day and night (I would know because I had a sausage for dinner once and then again for breakfast another day, I couldn’t help myself). I’ve never really liked sausages, but German sausages are really the best ones in the world, by far. It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but trust me, you need to try a sausage in Berlin. They’re crispy and full of flavor, even the bread they’re served on is soft and tastes great. If I could get on a plane and go get one right now, I would.

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Burger Vision

Who doesn’t love a good burger? Burger Vision is the place to go if you’re craving a burger in Berlin. They have all kinds of burgers, from your classic double cheeseburger, to Hawaiian burgers, chicken burgers, veggie burgers, and more. The staff was super friendly, they even took the time to explain what some of the German words around the restaurant mean in English.

The burgers are excellent, made fresh right in front of you and they’re huge, juicy, and full of flavor! The fries and onion rings are just as delicious as the burgers. I had a Hawaii burger, which is a cheeseburger with pineapple. I’d never had a burger with pineapple, but it actually tastes really good  and I’ve even started adding pineapples to burgers I have at home sometimes.

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Seven Places You Should Visit in Berlin, Germany

Destinations Europe Germany

Seven Places You Should Visit in Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany’s capital city, merges a rich history with a modern, artistic edge and has an endless amount of things to do. I never once felt bored during my stay here, far from it in fact. Here are seven places I went to in Berlin that you should definitely check out during your visit!

 

Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz is a major square and and transportation hub in Berlin, as well as one of its most famous sights. If you’re in Berlin, you’ll probably end up at Alexanderplatz whether you planned to or not, since its a convenient central place for shopping and getting around. I was there every day during my time in Berlin, whether it was to exchange currency, shop for new clothes (the H&M there is amazing), transfer trains, or even grab one of those delicious German sausages. It may not seem like it, since Alexanderplatz appears very commercial now, but it is also a place that holds a lot of history. Alexanderplatz was actually a market during the Middle Ages and most of it was destroyed as a result of a bombing in World War 2. The square was rebuilt and Berlin’s famous TV-tower, Fernsehturm, was one of the results.

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Berlin Zoological Garden

I’m an animal lover, so of course I was excited to check out the Berlin Zoological Garden and I highly recommend it! It’s the oldest zoo in Germany and like many buildings in Berlin, had been destroyed during World War 2, but completely rebuilt again. It’s a unique zoo because of its wide open spaces, beautiful scenery, and an impressive variety of animals. They probably have your favorite animal at this zoo since they have nearly everything, from elephants and lions to penguins and pandas, a petting zoo and even an aquarium. So many baby animals too! I couldn’t get enough of watching all of these amazing animals, many of which had huge habitats that were an accurate replica of their natural habitats. If you love animals, this zoo a must.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

I actually went here out of curiosity without knowing exactly what it was and I’m glad I did. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church has been preserved as an anti-war memorial representing peace. It has a damaged appearance as a result of being heavily bombed in World War 2. Inside is a mini museum, taking you through the church’s history. I didn’t know anything about this place before going inside and was in awe that I was standing in yet another piece of history. Right next to the ruins is the new church where services take place. It’s a modern style building with blue shimmering light coming from the inside. A service was going to take place shortly after we stumbled upon the church, so we decided it wouldn’t hurt to experience it. Everyone is welcome to join in. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s just one of those experiences that make you feel like you’re witnessing something meaningful. The service took place completely in German and since I know very little of it, I didn’t stay for the entire thing, but it’s worth at least a peek inside.

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Berlin Wall East Side Gallery

How can you go to Berlin without seeing the Berlin Wall? This was one of the places I had looked forward to seeing most and it did not disappoint. Art has always fascinated me and the street art on the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery is incredible. So many ideas are represented on these walls, from pop culture inspired pieces to political statements. The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery is much more than an art gallery though, it’s an important piece of history (can you tell that this is the case with pretty much everything in Berlin?). The Berlin Wall once served as a barrier that divided the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Federal Republic (West Germany) from 1961 to 1989. Its purpose was to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Berlin, but more than 5,000 people were able to cross anyway. About 3,200 were arrested at the border and more than 160 were killed. The wall was taken down in 1989 to symbolize Germany’s unification and the East Side Gallery is what has been preserved from it.

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Museum Island

This was one of my favorite places in all of Berlin! Museum Island is what it sounds like; the northern part of an island in the Spree river located in central Berlin, home to five world famous museums, plus the Berlin Cathedral and a gigantic bookstore. The five museums are the Pergamon Museum, Bode Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, and Altes Museum. The Berlin Cathedral is a stunning church building both inside and out. If you pay to go inside (don’t forget your student ID for a discount), you can walk all the way up to the top for a stunning view of Berlin. Also in Museum Island is Buchhandlung Walther Konig, a bookstore that’s much bigger than it looks on the surface. You can’t tell as soon as you walk in, but if you simply keep walking further and further into the store you’ll realize that it’s actually huge with an overwhelming amount of books. Many are in German, but there are plenty in English and even some in other languages like Japanese. They cover a vast amount of topics such as art, photography, politics, different countries, and even just life advice. Museum Island is a breath of fresh air for any artist or art lover.

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Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of Berlin. From gift shops to designs shaped like the Brandenburg Gate decorating the trains, it’s pretty obvious that this is an important part of what makes up Berlin. The gate was erected between 1788 and 1791 as a masterpiece inspired by the Propylaea in Athens. The gate has taken on many meanings from when it was originally commissioned as a symbol of peace to being used as a political party symbol to today being used as one of Berlin’s symbols of unification. Of course, like all great landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate is usually incredibly crowded. Tourists from all over the world come to see it, so odds are you’ll end up with either a crowd of people in any pictures you take or you’ll have to wait around for a long time for the crowds to start dissipating. Regardless, this is a must-see in Berlin.

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Last Cathedral Horror Rock Bar

Last but certainly not least is a much more local place to go to in Berlin, The Last Cathedral Horror Rock Bar. I noticed it because it just happened to be right next to the apartment I was staying in during my visit (which was super exciting for me). Loud rock and heavy metal music blasts from the bar every night until about four in the morning and all types of alternative fashioned (leather jackets, piercings, dyed hair and all) Berliners spend their time there, dancing and drinking. The inside of the bar is full of skulls, creepy old fashioned art, and even tables shaped like coffins. Even the bathrooms are edgy and filled with graffiti. All of the drinks are horror themed, like the one pictured below called The Zombie. I never thought that a rock horror bar was a real thing, but it’s the coolest bar I’ve been to and if I lived in Berlin, this would be my number one hangout spot. This isn’t a typical tourist stop though, so don’t expect the people going to the bar or the bartenders to understand you unless you speak German!

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How I Spent a 6 Hour Layover in Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark Destinations Europe

How I Spent a 6 Hour Layover in Copenhagen, Denmark

Before having a layover in Copenhagen on my way to Germany, Denmark was a place that had never really crossed my mind. Now I can easily say that I fell in love with this adorable city and would return for a longer stay with no hesitation.

The first thing I did upon arrival was exchange 150 USD to about 1000 DKK (this was for me and the two other people I was traveling with). At the currency exchange area of the airport, we asked one of the workers for directions on how exactly to get to the main area of Copenhagen. The Danish are easily the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever met, all the people we spoke to were so eager to help us during our whole trip! This meant finding out how to get around was no problem. The worker even took the time to mark a map with the directions in case we forgot anything. We took a train straight from the airport to Nyhavn, a waterfront district in Copenhagen, with no problems and began exploring.

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I’ll never forget stepping out from the train station and seeing the city for the first time. My first impression was that it was such a charming and beautiful place. I had to stop and take a moment to take it all in.The colors and general architecture of the buildings were so picturesque, exactly how Europe looks in paintings and movies. Copenhagen was one of those places that was “love at first sight” for me and I couldn’t believe that I may have never visited it if not for having a layover there.

 

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Of course, after flying for about 7 hours without much to eat I was starving, so our first stop was a cafe called Espresso House. This is a popular Scandinavian chain originating in Sweden, with super quick service and a cozy, comfortable vibe. I would describe it as a cuter, less crowded version of Starbucks. The menu was all in Danish, but it’s easy to tell what the items would be in English because the words look similar. Even if you can’t figure it out, most Danish people speak English (something I didn’t know before visiting, but easily figured out) so you can always ask. I ordered an iced caramel latte and a banana nut muffin, both of which were fresh and delicious.

 

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A really cool thing that I stumbled upon in Copenhagen was an interactive art installation called the Oases in Copenhagen. It’s a huge spinning wheel that has the names and brief descriptions of different attractions around the city on it. Whatever you land on when you spin it is your suggested attraction to check out, which is perfect if you’re a tourist figuring out your next move. Great idea, right? I spun it and ended up landing “CHR. HAUNS CANAL: Enjoy a walk along the canal” and that’s exactly what I did next.

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I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; Copenhagen is so adorable, especially by the canal. There’s nothing like being in a peaceful city where everyone is sitting down in the grass drinking beer or riding by on their bikes, walking along the water and forgetting all of your problems. It’s really therapeutic. After walking around, I was especially excited to take a canal boat tour around the city. It was the first time I had ever been on a canal boat ride and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done while traveling anywhere. The boat tour was an hour long, taking you all around the area while talking about the history of Copenhagen in Danish, English, and Italian. You could even have a beer while taking in the view of colorful buildings, palaces, sculptures, and more. It was such a relaxing and unique experience and I wouldn’t recommend visit Copenhagen for the first time without taking a boat ride along the canal. You should especially check this out if, like me, you don’t have much time in Copenhagen, but still want to get a glimpse at the whole city. Plus, you have the option to buy both the boat ride ticket and a discounted admission pass to an amusement park called Tivoli Gardens at the same booth, which was great because that happened to be my next activity.

 

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The only place that I had actually planned ahead of time to go to in Copenhagen was Tivoli Gardens. This is the world’s 2nd oldest amusement park, opened in 1843. It was about a 30 minute walk from where we were in Nyhavn, probably shorter if we hadn’t gotten lost. Luckily, a few friendly Danish people saved the day  and we ended up finding our way there. By this time, we were pretty close to having to go back to the airport, but decided to have a look around and get on one ride. Tivoli, like the rest of the city, was such a cute amusement park with an old-time feel. It combined the feelings of a nice stroll in the park with the excitement of a carnival. There were all kinds of rides, from roller coasters to giant swings to carousels. The costs of the rides wasn’t included in the admission though and each one cost a different amount of tickets or you could get a wrist band to get on all of them. Since we were pressed for time, we just walked around the amusement park and went on the carousel, which cost one ticket. One interesting thing we learned from this experience is that Merry-Go-Round and carousel don’t seem to translate over to Danish. We asked two different employees where to find the ride and were met with confused expressions until we described it as “the thing that spins around with the horses on it”. Despite the fact that we didn’t get to do a lot in Tivoli, I still had an amazing time even seeing it and have even more of a reason to come back to Denmark now.

After Tivoli, we had to head back to the airport to make sure we wouldn’t miss our flight and I was genuinely so sad to leave, but so glad to have experienced such a wonderful place, even in such a short amount of time. I’ve now gone from trying to get direct flights whenever possible in order to avoid layovers to hoping for long layovers in new places because I had such a great time. Denmark, I will be seeing you again!

Mini Travel Guide: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Destinations Europe Northern Ireland

Mini Travel Guide: Belfast, Northern Ireland

    Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and birthplace of the Titanic, is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Europe. With its affordable prices (from flights to food) and plenty of easy to reach attractions, Belfast is definitely a place worth exploring! I’ve stayed in this city multiple times and would certainly go back.

What is the weather like?

Like the rest of the UK, Belfast is generally a rainy city throughout the year. The winters are cold and rainy, bringing frost and often snow. The temperature often ranges from about negative 8 degrees Celsius to 1.2 Celsius (18 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit). Spring brings warmer temperatures, although it still isn’t very warm in the spring yet. Like most countries, Spring also tends to bring a lot of rain. Temperatures can range from 0.1 Celsius to 10.7 Celsius (32 to 51 degrees Fahrenheit). Summer gets much warmer and less rainy (although you can still expect it start pouring on random days). The temperature ranges from 10.5 degrees Celsius to 24.6 degrees Celsius (51 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit). Autumn mostly consists of chilly weather, rain and wind with temperatures ranging from -1 degrees Celsius to 20.3 degrees Celsius (30 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit).

How much will you spend?

Accommodation: Hotel costs range from about 30 GBP (British pounds) to 100 GBP per night depending on the quality of the hotel. Hostels can range from about 10 GBP per night to 30 GBP per night.

Transportation Fares: The typical train fare in Belfast is 4 GBP. The bus fare is about 2.80 GBP and taxis are 3 GBP for the first 3 miles then an extra GBP per mile. Tips: Use buses and trains rather than taxis because most places are within walking distance from train or bus stops. If you must use a taxi, the most affordable company is 24/7 cabs. Avoid black taxis because they tend to overcharge.

Cost of Food: A meal from a pub or cafe would typically cost you about 10 GBP. Purchasing a fast food meal would cost around 5 GBP. A meal from the average Belfast restaurant can cost about 20-30 GBP and purchasing week’s worth of groceries would typically cost 50-60 GBP.

Main Attractions

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 Belfast City Hall

City Hall

The Belfast City Hall is one of the most iconic buildings in Belfast and the city’s civic building. This is a place that holds a lot of history for Northern Ireland. It was first opened in 1906. This is a must see attraction if you’re visiting Belfast and the best part is that you can tour the inside of the building for free!  The tours are available weekdays from 10 am to 4 pm and weekends from 12 pm to 4 pm.

Botanic Gardens

Another popular tourist destination is Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. Established in 1828, this park is a perfect place to simply walk around and enjoy the day looking at beautiful flowers and plants of all kinds. There’s even greenhouses located in the park that contain unusual and tropical plant species. It’s a great spot to soak up the sun on warm days, have a picnic or just sit on a bench and relax. With the exception of any special events, access to the Botanic Gardens is free.

Ulster Museum

This museum is located in the Botanic Gardens and is the largest museum in Northern Ireland. This is another free attraction for all visitors! Here you can find exhibits displaying the animals of Northern Ireland, botany, fine and applied art, archaeology, geology and even an Egyptian mummy.

Queen’s University Belfast

Located just a short walk away from the Botanic Gardens is Queen’s University. Open in 1849, Queen’s University Belfast is in the top 1% of Global Universities and has a reputation for being a great place to study in the UK. The campus is absolutely beautiful, with classic old-fashioned British buildings and lush green landscaping. Guided tours of the university are provided and plenty of information is given at the Welcome Center. This is an especially must see spot if you’re a student looking into studying abroad, since many students from all over the world study abroad at this university.

Victoria Square

Victoria Square is the biggest shopping center in all of Belfast and Northern Ireland. There are over 70 stores, cafes and restaurants located in the shopping center, as well as a cinema, making this place a great entertainment spot. What makes Victoria Square unique is its glass dome, which is also a viewing spot where you can see Belfast’s skyline.

Peace Walls

The first peace walls were built in 1969 to divide the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles” (a national conflict between those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, who were mostly Protestants, and those who wanted Northern Ireland to leave and become a united Ireland, who were mostly Catholic). They are a huge part of Irish history and today they are covered in all kinds of unique street art. You have to hurry if you want to see the peace walls though, as all of them are set to be demolished by 2023.

Titanic Museum

The Titanic Belfast is a museum dedicated to the famous RMS Titanic ship, which had been built in Belfast. In this museum, you can take a self guided tour or a walking tour with a guide (the tour with the guide does not include the interactive galleries). This museum gives you an inside look at the making of the Titanic, the tragic story of the night it sank, and real artifacts from the ship. It’s a fascinating and very educational experience.

Titanic Quarter

The Titanic quarter is a waterfront quarter full of things to see and do. Not only is it home to the Titanic museum, but it is also where the SSE arena (Northern Ireland’s biggest indoor arena), SS Nomadic (a steamship of the White Star Line), HMS Carolina (a World War I light battle cruiser), different hotels, and restaurants are located. You can easily spend one of your days in Belfast here by taking a museum tour, getting dinner, and seeing a show.

St. George’s Market

St. George’s market is the last remaining Victorian market in Belfast and considered to be one of the best in the UK. It is only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Here you can find meat, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, books, clothes, pottery, and handmade crafts made by locals. Local artists and bands also perform live music at the market. This is really a unique experience that gives you a glimpse of what it was like in Victorian age United Kingdom.

Cathedral Quarter

This is the oldest part of Belfast, named after St. Anne’s Cathedral. The Cathedral Quarter is where Belfast’s art scene is. From Writer’s Square, engraved with quotations from Belfast’s famous writers, to the Black Box, where local performers show off their talent, to the MAC, a multi-arts venue, there’s no doubt that this part of Belfast is full of culture. If you love history and the arts, this is the place for you.

Where to Eat

IMG_6332Chicken and bacon burger and chips from City Picnic, located on Castle Street

Castle Street: Castle Street has plenty of places to eat, from breakfast to burgers to cafes and fish and chip shops.

Victoria Square: In Victoria Square, you can find a variety of chain restaurants including Mexican, American, Italian, and Asian cuisine.

Cathedral quarter: In Cathedral Quarter, you can find various bars, pubs, and restaurants. A local favorite here is The Northern Whig, a designer bar that offers a menu of delicious food and cocktails.

Lisburn Road: Lisburn Road is another place full of restaurants and bars. A local favorite here is Ryan’s, a casual restaurant and bar with an international and grill menu.

Bars and Clubs

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Madden’s Bar

This is a very traditional Irish pub with live Irish music, dancing, and plenty of Guinness. If you want an authentic Irish pub experience where you can meet friendly locals and drink to your heart’s content, this is the right place to come to.

The Crown Liquor Saloon

This is an 1820’s style pub and one of Northern Ireland’s most famous, known for its old-fashioned interior. This pub has booths made of mahogany, mosaic tiles, gas lamps built by Italian artisan builders. Even if you don’t drink, you should definitely stop by and take a look at what has been called one of the most beautiful bars in the world.

Lavery’s

Lavery’s is a traditional style sports bar, complete with a roof terrace and pool table room. This is the ideal place for a casual night out of enjoying good food and drinks, watching a game, and playing a few rounds of pool.

Box Nightclub

Located in the SSE arena, Box Nightclub is 2 floor club with 6 bars. This is one of Belfast’s more prestigious clubs and is largely popular with young people. It features LED screens, plasma screens, DJ booths, and sometimes live music.

Limelight 

Limelight, a favorite among locals, is a multi-genre club venue. It also hosts live music acts from various artists and bands, both popular and local. This venue is made of two clubs, features a bar with a large selection of drinks and has a rooftop terrace.

 

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How to Spend a Weekend in London, England

Destinations England Europe

How to Spend a Weekend in London, England

I’ve only been to London once for not much more than 48 hours, but it was easily one of my favorite places that I’ve traveled to so far. There’s a reason it’s such a popular destination spot for people from all over the world, whether for business, study, or leisure. London combines being a huge, modern fashion capital with being full of culture, history, royalty, and charm. Of course, not everyone has the time or the money to experience this place for an extended amount of time, but no need to worry! You can easily get to know what the city has to offer in just two days if you do it right. (Keep in mind that such a big place will be divided up into different areas. The area I stayed in was Westminster.)

Buckingham Palace

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The very first thing I did (besides almost getting lost on the way to check into our hotel) was see the Buckingham Palace. This is where the king and queen of the United Kingdom live, as well as the place where you can see London’s famous royal guards. I didn’t actually go on a tour of the inside, but if that’s something you’re interested in I strongly suggest looking into this before you go, as it is only open for tours at certain times of the year. However, seeing it from the outside is a must have experience in itself…and it’s free! I also recommend going into the gift shop, even if you don’t buy anything. They have everything from fragrances for your home to corgi plushies (I didn’t know the Queen’s dogs were such a big deal until I visited London…they’re everywhere). One thing I didn’t know beforehand and ended up figuring out myself is that you don’t actually meet the royal guards outside the Buckingham Palace, since there’s a massive gate between you and the entrance of the palace. If you’re interested in taking pictures with them, you should go to Horse Guards Parade, which I wrote more about later in this post.

St. James Park

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Just a 10 minute walk from Buckingham Palace is one of my favorite spots in London, the beautiful St. James Park, which is the oldest royal park in the capital. St. James Park is the perfect place for a peaceful stroll, solo or with company. From the park you can see two of London’s most famous landmarks; Big Ben and the London Eye. It also has a small lake full of different types of birds, from pelicans to geese to several types of ducks, to the swans owned by the Queen herself. You can feed them (I bought a bag of nuts from a corner shop a few blocks away), just keep in mind that geese and swans are pretty aggressive. You can also feed and pet the squirrels, they’re extremely friendly here if you have food for them. (Side note: Make sure you’re just feeding the animals nuts or bread, as other things may be bad for them). This is definitely a great place for an animal and nature lover like myself. Besides that, the park is a great photography spot and just generally a very pleasant place to be. I wouldn’t go to London without checking this place out.

Big Ben

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Obviously, seeing Big Ben up close is a must (by the way, Big Ben is actually the name of the clock inside the tower. The tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower, but everyone calls it Big Ben anyway). I don’t believe you can go inside the tower, but everyone who visits London needs a picture with it! You can see Big Ben from all over the city, although one the best spots is on the way to and standing on the Westminster Bridge.

London Eye

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A ticket to ride the London Eye costs about 20 pound, which is a little expensive for a Ferris wheel, but this is one of the biggest and most famous Ferris wheels there is. I rode it at night, which is probably more impressive than during the day because Big Ben is lit up down below and you can see city lights all around you. Pictures are probably better quality during the day though, so that’s something to take into consideration. The London Eye is 443 feet high, but it goes up slowly and has seats in each car, so even if you’re afraid of heights you don’t have to back out on this opportunity.

London Aquarium

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There are a few attractions right by the London Eye (London Dungeon, wax museum, Shrek adventure, aquarium) and they all cost about 20 pound each so I chose the one I thought I would enjoy the most, which was the London Aquarium. While this isn’t the biggest aquarium I’ve been to, I had a great time here. They have sharks, tropical fish, penguins, and even crocodiles. There were a few educational lectures going on about different species of fish and an exhibit where I got to touch starfish and an anemone. I wouldn’t put this as a first priority of things to do in London, simply because you can have a similar experience in a lot of cities, but if you want to kill some time before getting on the Eye, this is a great way to do it.

Horse Guards Parade

You can watch the guards change (switch places with a new guard while marching) every morning at the Horse Guards Parade. Another interesting thing to do there is “meet” the guards. As many people know, you won’t actually get to speak with them because the guards on duty aren’t allowed to speak to you, smile, or interact with you in anyway unless it’s to yell at you for doing something you aren’t supposed to. A lot of people like to try to make them break this rule by telling them jokes or making faces at them, but almost no one succeeds. It doesn’t hurt to try, though! Plus, how often do you get to pose with a royal guard?

Westminster Abbey

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Westminster Abbey, a cathedral that is over 700 years old, holds so much British history. It has been the home of many coronations and royal weddings since it was built. It really blew my mind to be standing in front of such a physically breathtaking piece of architecture that had so much take place in it. It is possible to go inside, but it costs 20 pound (that seems to be the average cost of the big attractions in London). You can actually get in for free on Sundays if you say you’re going for worship, although keep in mind it will be very crowded, so it’s probably not the most enjoyable way to experience the cathedral.

Walk Around!

These things are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to London, but they’ll make for a weekend you’ll never forget. One thing I don’t regret, however, is walking everywhere! Even though my feet were absolutely killing me by the end of the trip, I got to see a lot of London in between walking from one main attraction to another. There are plenty of pubs, places to eat, statues, and red telephone booths to see on the way to pretty much anywhere in Westminster, so I highly recommend saving some extra money and getting some exercise by spending your two days walking as much as you possibly can (Google maps and Starbucks wifi will be your best friends while doing this).