travel: Krakow, Poland

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Our trip to Krakow came at the perfect time.

Ryan was studying and living in Tübingen, Germany and I was holding down the fort in Edinburgh. As happy as we were that Ryan received a scholarship to do some research in Germany, the time apart (105 days…) was not our favorite.

Krakow, Poland was one of the trips that we planned to break up the 100+ days. It was one of the best ideas we have ever had. Krakow has a bit of a reputation for attracting crowds of soon-to-be-tied-down grooms on stag weekends. But, it deserves better. Krakow is one of the most beautiful European cities we have been to and the perfect place for us to reunite.

Day one. 3am wake up call. Taxi to the airport. Cried happy tears seeing Ryan at the airport. Train to city centre. Walk through the Botanic Gardens. Path lined with 400 year old trees. Lillypads on ponds. Rose garden. Snacks on a park bench. Settled into our Airbnb. Wander to the main square. Hearty Polish food: meat + sauerkraut stew served in a huge bread bowl. Beet and kefir soup with hardboiled egg. Pickled vegetables. Polish beer. Wales v. Iceland Euro football match on. Drinking chilled white wine on the square. Reunited. Best feeling ever.

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Day two. Sleeping in. Walking back to the main square. Breakfast date at Bistro Charlotte Fresh baked pasties. Omelets. Lattes. Wandering with a paper map. Pristine cathedrals. Nuns + Priests out on their walks. Hot weather, had to stop for something cold. Huge vat of iced tea- green tea with mint, lemongrass and chunks of frozen strawberry, kiwi, oranges, lime and fresh preserves at the base. Delicious!

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Lovely old book stores. Reading biographies of Holocaust survivors. Walking up to the castle mount. Views of the Vistula river. Street food vendors, kielbasa sausage. Canadian burger shop Antler Poutine & Burger. Walked. And walked. And walked.  Ice cream from Lody na Starowislnej– scoops of vegan hazelnut and a cup of lavender. Had to beat the heat.

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Walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. Street art. Synagogues. Jewish cemetery. Euro Cup football finals. Dinner at a traditional Polish Inn: Grilled goat cheese wrapped in bacon with a side of pickled beets. Sour oatmeal soup with white sausage + hardboiled egg. Perogi, Polish dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables. Baked turkey breast and creamed carrots. Charming hidden cafe. Went for their signature drink ‘apple coffee’ – ice, apple juice, + espresso! Owner had the sweetest Golden Retriever. Puppy cuddles.

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Day three. Bus tour picked us up early. Drive to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Pouring rain. Dark feeling. Reverent. Deeply sorrowful place. Silent. No birds, no sounds. Walking through the gate, ‘Arbeit macht frei‘ in German – ‘Work Means Free’. The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of this site and other Nazi concentration camps. No one was ever released for working hard. Suitcases with victims names. Piles of shoes. Brushes. Cookery. Women’s hair. Empty beds. Ruins of gas chambers. The execution wall.

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The separation point on the railway track. Our tour guide told us that families stood at the tracks and were told to go to the left or right. To the left, work camp. To the right, showers. 900,000+ people were murdered in the gas chambers here. I stood near the spot where families were separated and was overwhelmed with grief and heartache.

It was important to see. Very heavy-feeling. Obviously, very sad. It feels indescribable unless you are there to experience it.  The memorial here says, ‘Let this forever be a place of torment and suffering. A reminder and a warning to humanity.’  The tour here is a way to better understand post-war Europe. To understand our world. It forces you to deeply confront our idea of humanity and what remains at Auschwitz. To never forget.

On our way out, I overheard a tour guide talking about twin sisters, Eva and Mariam. They were only tiny girls during the war, they were split at Auschwitz for genetic testing, both survived and were reunited after the Allies liberated the camps. I needed to hear that story of hope before getting back on the bus- I felt heavy-hearted this day.

Day four. Woke up early. Still a bit overwhelmed by the tour. We went for a walk, nearly empty sidewalks, quiet. Bought some local apricots and plums from a vendor. Sat in main square. Headed over to Bistro Charlotte… again! Then over to Moja Cafe for breakfast #2. Avocado toast. Ham + egg scramble. Coffees. Park walk. Train station to airport. Waiting at border control. Hugs + kisses. Holding Ryan so tight before we go our separate ways. Such a special weekend with him.

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We rank Krakow high on our list of European cities that we have visited. It has a rich and vibrant history, super friendly people, beautiful buildings, affordable food + drinks, without a ton of tourists. A perfect city for a long weekend escape and it got us through one of the toughest times of this PhD season.  It was an experience and gave me a deeper appreciate for the people of Poland and their resilience, Krakow is a rose growing through concrete.

 

Happy travels!

 

x

 

[*more on Eva + Mariam’s stories here].

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travel: Prague, Czech Republic

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

People have a lot to say about Prague and turns out after writing this post, I do too.

Prague has earned several nicknames throughout history – The city of 100 Spires. The Eastern Paris. Rome of the North. The Golden City. Heart of Europe. The Mother City. And my favorite, a Symphony of Stone.

With its skyline of spires and red-terracotta rooftops, beautiful Prague is one of the most picturesque cities we have ever been.

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It is hard to think my pictures will do this trip any justice, but here we go. The city is scattered with points and peaks in every direction. The Vltava river is lined with beautiful bridges that link the Old Town with the Castle District. Any rooftop view in the city will lead your eyes up to Prague Castle at the top of a hill.

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Simply walking around Prague and getting a bit lost is a good way to appreciate a variety of breathtaking architecture. Most of the buildings you see today are hundreds of years old. There are some scars and remnants of war in parts of the city that experienced Nazi occupation, but most of it remained in tact and it was one of the few cities that was not destroyed during WWII’s bombings.

Prague is beautiful. Seriously. Just go walk around without a plan and you are guaranteed to have a great time.  For the size of Prague we found it to be very walkable and you can easily come across many of the cities top sights without much effort.

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We spent our days walking around the city with eyes up, because every inch of Prague is pure European eye-candy. The question I kept asking myself during our stay in Prague, was, “How can it be this stunning, this magical, and this affordable, all at the same time?”

Dining, hotels, transportation, and tours all cost a fraction of what they do in other major cities we have visited. There are an abundance of things to do in Prague on a budget – here are some of our favourites.

See + Do

 

Old Town Quarters

Old Town is full to the brim of elaborate towering buildings that would make any architect teary-eyed. The Old Town Square is a historic square in Prague’s Old Town (did you guess that?) and where you can see a handful of Prague’s most famous sights — including Astronomical Clock Tower, Old Town Hall and Church of Our Lady before Týn. There are also a number of souvenir shops, food vendors, cafes and restaurants, but beware of overpriced items! Get out a snack or drink, sit down and enjoy this great spot to people watch and take in the vibes of city centre.

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A highlight for us was the walk up to the viewing area at top of the Old Town Hall. You can get to the top by either walking up the ramps or by lift. There is a fascinating exhibit up the ramps that provides an in-depth history of Town Hall with pictures from when it was Nazi-occupied. The reward for your efforts at the top are great panoramic views of the city. Definitely a place for a wide angle lens camera.

I love this view of Church of Our Lady before Týn from the top of Town Hall. The church is a gothic-style church and a dominant feature of the Old Town.  It has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church towers over the area and is topped by four small spires. It is also home to the the oldest pipe organ in Prague.

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Charles Bridge : This bridge, built in 1357, is said to be one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. It is a must-visit — and the best way to cross the river from the Castle District and the Old Town. It has 30 statues of saints, 15 on each side. Unbelievably, this bridge still had a tram line running across it up until 1976. Take in all the street artists, religious statues, souvenir vendors and great spots for pictures. Next time, we will try visiting at sunset.

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Castle Quarter

The Castle District is of course home to… you guessed it, Prague Castle. This side of the river has a different vibe to the Old Town Quarters. Winding cobblestone streets, loads of cute antique stores to rummage through, cafe’s with gardens and a part of town called ‘Little Venice’. Packed with history and charm around every corner. From winding staircases and corridors, to intriguing shops and cafes, getting lost with our friends and their little girls was a total pleasure.

Prague Castle : Dominating the Castle Quarter is Prague Castle. Czech leaders have ruled from here for more than a thousand years. The castle is hailed as being the biggest anywhere, with a 1,500-foot-long series of courtyards, churches, and palaces.

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St. Vitus Cathedral: Located within the Prague Castle complex, St. Vitus Cathedral is an architectural masterpiece that took over 600 years to finish. Admission is free with the cost of the Prague Castle ticket but you can pay a little more to visit special parts of the cathedral.

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Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter in Prague, known as Josefov, is located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. Its history dates from the 13th century, when Jewish people were ordered to vacate their homes and settle in one area.

Over the centuries, with Jews banned from living anywhere else in Prague, and with new arrivals expelled from Moravia, Germany, Austria and Spain joining them, more and more people were crowded in.

Most of the quarter was demolished between 1893 and 1913 as part of an initiative to model the city on Paris. What was left were only six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall.

Jewish Cemetery : The Old Jewish Cemetery was the only burial place for Prague Jews from 1439 to 1787. Prague Jews were not allowed to be buried outside the ghetto, and the Jewish faith does not permit moving the dead, so the deceased were buried in as many as 12 layers. Sometimes visitors leave pebbles or prayers written on small pieces of paper on the tombstones.

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Some food history. During communist rule, all restaurants in Prague were required to serve a standardized menu from government approved recipes, for the same price as every other restaurant.  We learned that that ingredient variation was scarce in stores and many traditional recipes were nearly lost over decades of laying dormant. This meant there was little to no chance to pass recipes down to the next generation. Because of this, there are questions as to what real Czech cuisine is. The Czech Republic has been free from communism for less than 30 years and Chefs are pulling out old recipes as a statement of what they have overcome.

Many of the popular dishes in Prague have roots in Germany, Hungary, and Poland. Czech food is hardy and delicious (lots of meat, potatoes and bread). There is no shortage of goulash, dumplings, roasted pork and potato-based dishes in Prague. Prior to traveling to Prague, I did not know much about Czech cuisine but I did bring my gluten-free travel card and that was a huge help.

 

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As you can imagine, this charming city attracts its fair share of visitors, which means plenty of overpriced tourist traps. I was bamboozled into buying ‘Prague Ham’… but what I did not realise was that it was price per 100g! Yikes! The vendor handed me a plate that he said was ‘one portion size’ and lemme tell you, it took three adults to finish it off and cost… well, I am too embarrassed to say, but too much.

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And saving the best for last, Trdelníks!  Also known as chimney cakes or, as we were calling them, ‘turtlenecks’. 
Let me set this up. Trdelniks are pastries, coated in butter, rolled in cinnamon-sugar and then cooked over hot spinning cylinders over a charcoal pit. Everywhere you go, you see vendors making these funnel pastries by hand—sometimes on the street, sometimes in a shop window. Ryan and our friends were on a mission- to find the best. Try ’em all, chocolate lined, almond covered, ice-cream filled, Nutella coated… genius. 
 

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Well, sorry not sorry if you started to drool a little over the Trdelnik.

I guess this is all to say that Prague can be done on a budget, in 72-hours and that you might want to put it high on your list!

We are so grateful for the time we got to spend with our friends in Prague. It is always fun to have people to explore, adventure, and be tourists with. Especially when their daughter celebrates her birthday and you get to celebrate with a trip the biggest toy store ever! 

Anywhere in the world that you have traveled with friends or believe should be one everyone’s list?

 

Traveling mercies and lots of love

x

travel: Copenhagen, Denmark

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Copenhagen is the epitome of cool.

The design. The lifestyle. The simplicity. The stylish black wardrobes. The cool cafes. The world-class restaurants. The coffee roasters.  I think this city probably invented the genre ‘hipster’.

I have lost track of the number of my our friends, bloggers and Insta-grammers who have recently headed for Scandinavian cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is famous for a lot of things. Being a budget destination is not one of them.

Scandinavia has some of the world’s highest prices, but Denmark’s were not as expensive as Ryan’s trips to Stockholm or Finland. Who knew it was possible to get a taste of Copenhagen on a budget without draining the bank account? Here are the budget-friendly reasons that made this trip one of our best ever!

 

STAY

1. Airbnb: cool Scandi design on a budget  

We traveled to Copenhagen over the Easter holiday. It was our first time in Scandinavia and our first trip to ever using Airbnb! By now you will know we are hooked, and Airbnb has been a total travel-game-changer for us.  We chose this charming apartment in the Østerbro neighbourhood.

Østerbro is also known as Copenhagen Ø. It is somewhat posh and at the same time completely down to earth. Østerbro is located on the north side of Copenhagen city centre. It is one of Copenhagen’s most attractive residential areas, especially for families with kids – or dogs, or a couple like us that doesn’t want to be in the thick of it.

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Every morning we walked along the Søerne Lakes to grab a coffee or sit on a bench and people watch. The lakes are man-made and stretch over a large part north-west of city centre. You can’t miss them on a map and it’s a great spot to escape the city hustle and bustle.

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Our flat was the perfect retreat. This was the beginning of my adoration for all things minimalist and Scandi design. We made use of our kitchen as most cafe’s and restaurants were closed over the Easter holiday. Big brunches and cozy dinners were the best way to make use of our accommodation and the perfect way to start and end our days.

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2. Soak in the lifestyle+ find the free things

It was a quiet Easter weekend in the city which made this trip less about touristy attractions.

Some of Copenhagen’s major museums are free to enter – like the National Museum, the National Gallery, the Brede Works (museum of industrialisation), the Post and Telegraph Museum, the Danish Music Museum and the Open Air Museum. Though some may charge extra for special exhibitions.

One of the best things to do in Copenhagen… walk and take it in. There is a lot to see in Copenhagen, but there was not a lot of pressure to try and squeeze everything in like some of the other major cities in Europe. We just tried to soak in the Danish lifestyle and enjoy a slower paced holiday.

 

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Cyclist everywhere! Year round, it is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world

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A walk through to Assistens Cemetery to see where Søren Kierkegaard is buried

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Easter Sunday service at St. Albans Church

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The Little Mermaid sculpture, inspired by Hans Christians Anderson’s fairytale. (Get there early to avoid crowds!)

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On a clear day, you can see all the way to Sweden from Copenhagen’s highest viewpoints. Head to the top of the Rundetårn or Round Tower instead. It was easier than stairs as it has a spiral ramp (stroller friendly!) and we learned it was designed for horses to ride up.

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Nyhavn

The colourful waterside townhouses and the boats along Nyhavn are iconic – you know, the images you see on all the postcards. It is beautiful. Historic. Docks and boats. 17th century townhouses. Bright colours. It is a busy part of town, with lots of touristy places to eat (mind the overpriced food…) but makes the perfect place to people watch.

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EAT + DRINK

One of our budget-hacks is grocery shopping and doing our own cooking at the Airbnb. There were lots of supermarkets but limited hours over the holiday weekend.  For a quick snack there are plenty of stalls selling hotdogs topped with crunchy onions, or for something a bit more Danish grab a Smørrebrød, an open sandwich that’s piled high with fillings. We were warned to steer clear of touristy and expensive places in Nyhavn and headed to student-friendly areas like Nørrebro or Vesterbro for lower prices.

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On Papirøen (Paper Island), Copenhagen Street Food has lots of international street food stalls, with everything from Brazilian BBQ to artisan cheesecake, and English pancakes to a falafel bar. I really loved all the coffee stalls and seeing the variety of things- a must see for foodies.

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3. Indulging in Copenhagen’s coffee + pastry scene 

Copenhagen has a reputation for outstanding food, proven by it’s 15 Michelin star (yep, 15!) restaurants. A visit to Noma would have been cool, but our budget was happy with all the amazing coffee spots to get our caffeine fix.

We visited The Coffee Collective more than a couple of times… and now we can find their coffee at Baba Budan in Edinburgh! The Coffee Collective is a micro-roaster with two coffee shops and a coffee school. In order to achieve their goal of making the best coffee, they are cooperating with farmers to develop a sustainable production and to improve the quality of the coffee, we can get behind that!

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Central Hotel og Café is the world’s smallest hotel and Copenhagen’s smallest coffee shop, with just five seats. Cozy up.

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After giving up sugar for Lent, Easter weekend was a glorious time in Denmark. This part of the world is known for their baking and beautiful pastries and it exceeded all expectations. We made it our mission to try as many of the infamous Danish pastries as possible. A visit to any bakery here will leave you with a big decision on your hands as the selection is amazing. They are light and crumbly, sweet and delicious.

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The best part…. I wasn’t overcome with gluten envy! We found the best local gluten-free bakery called Naturbageriet. I have never seen such a variety of GF breads + pastries in one place. Let’s just say we were went every day of our trip. I found Copenhagen to be really friendly gluten-free city.

A great foodie neighborhood is Nørrebro. It is known for its hip, multicultural feel and is a great district to spend an afternoon (or more, if you have the time). Here you will find designer shops and trendy restaurants right next door to cheap kebab joints and dive bars. Nørrebro also boasts one of Copenhagen’s hippest streets: Jaegersborggade. We had the BEST lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant called Ma’ed. There are days that I still think about it….

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We also made it over to Sweden but I will save that adventure for another post. We adored our long weekend in the Danish capital and it was so refreshing. It is easy to see how time and time again, international surveys celebrate Denmark as the happiest country in the world. How grateful we are that we got to experience it!

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What places make you happiest in the world?

Happy travels and Happy Easter, friends!

x

travel: Dublin, Ireland

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Our plane took off from the Edinburgh airport, I listened to half of a podcast and we were already preparing for landing in Dublin. Crazy fast.

Ireland is an extremely quick and affordable trip from Scotland. Flights are easy, but if you have more time, a combination of ferry and land travel through England and Scotland would provide so many opportunities for some good ‘ol sightseeing at various budgets.

Visiting Dublin was a dream come true for my sweet mother-in-law. Being here for her was almost as good as Christmas morning and we are so glad that we got to share the city with them.

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Stay

We stayed at the Castle Hotel, located just off O’Connell Street and only a 15-minute walk to many of Dublin’s top tourist attractions.
 
Recently renovated, the Castle Hotel maintains old Georgian features + charm.  A grand staircase, fireplaces and comfortable lounges make it easy to sit back, relax and unwind. What made this hotel really special was the 19th century wine vault restaurant that hosts live Irish music every night.  If there had been some dancing… perhaps Irish jigging going on, my mother-in-law and I would have been even more over the moon! I loved listening to her sing along.

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See + Do

Dublin has emerged as a prime budget trip destination. It is a hub for cheap flights, inexpensive food, fun pubs and lively locals. Dublin is also full of literary + cultural history.

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Temple Bar District

Temple Bar is a lively area on the bank of the River Liffey. If you want to party, this is your place, full of pubs and clubs. Not really our scene, but there were also loads of talented street musicians and great for people watching. More than a party district, many of Dublin’s cultural institutions (film, art and theatres) have set up shop here.

 

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Live Irish Music

Irish traditional music (also known as Irish trad or Irish folk music) is a unique sound which is at the core of the Irish culture and history.
 
Traditional Irish instruments include the fiddle + banjo and combined with the flute, whistle and accordion you cannot help but clap your hands and tap your feet!  Like I said, we spent our evenings in the hotel vault and could not get enough of the music.
 
St. Stephen’s Green
 

Spending part of an afternoon in St. Stephen’s Green is a good way to relax and watch the city go by. This stretch of greenery in the centre of town is a welcome retreat . We all grabbed coffee from a coffee shop round the corner called The Beanhive (great gluten-free muffin selection by the way) and scored some benches. Again, great people watching, happy duck ponds, and lots of flowers and greenery everywhere you look. Best of all… it is free!

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Trinity College + Book of Kells 

Ireland’s oldest university makes for a beautiful stroll. The historic buildings, gardens and monuments are worth a visit. It is most famous for its library housing the Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells was written in 800 AD by a group of monks and was buried in the ground for safe keeping against the Vikings. In the 1600’s it was rediscovered and sent to Trinity College where it has been ever since.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Built between 1220 and 1260, St Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the few buildings left from the medieval city of Dublin. Today, St Patrick’s is the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland and still the largest cathedral in Ireland.

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Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest building, a leading visitor attraction and a place of pilgrimage for almost 1,000 years. Renowned for its beauty, architecture and exquisite floor tiles, it is home to the famous 12th Century crypt, one of the oldest and largest in Britain and Ireland.

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Ha’penny Bridge

The Ha’Penny Bridge is a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the River Liffey. When it was originally built, it cost  half a pence to cross, hence the name Ha’penny Bridge. Before this bridge was built, people used to cross the river using ferries. Today there are many bridges crossing to each side, but this was the original and most significant one to see.

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Eat + Drink

The scene is changing in Dublin. Irish food is simple and hearty and lots of bloggers say it is an up and coming foodie scene and becoming quite the gastro haven on Instagram. A lot of menus I saw hosted a variety of seasonal cuisine; lamb in spring, to fish in summer, stews and soups in the winter and, of course, potatoes any time of the year. We enjoyed the huge breakfast spread at our hotel and were able to enjoy some local food throughout the day. Pubs seemed to have good, hearty local Irish food that was easy on the budget.  We had lots of fresh seafood, vegetable stews and Dad liked the soda bread.

The Rolling Donut 

Wowzer. Handmade. Baked fresh every day. The Rolling Donut specialise in unique, filled gourmet donuts created using a sourdough starter.

Check out some of these flavour bombs: Peanut Berry Delight, a rich peanut butter filling topped with a sweet mixed berry compote and finished with a sprinkle of toasted peanuts Baileys Bliss, a Baileys-infused cream filling paired with a rich vanilla glaze Molly Malone, a sumptuous apple and cinnamon combination topped with vanilla glaze and biscuit crumble!

No gluten free options, so a bit of gluten envy going on… but the coffee was delicious and I was genuinely happy that Ryan got to eat so many donuts. They are his favourite food group.

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Guinness Storehouse

Some would say that one of the best things to do in Dublin is to have a pint of Guinness. I am allergic and it is a bit too heavy for Ryan’s liking, but if you are into it, seems like having an authentic ale from the storehouse would be a highlight. People say that it really does taste better in Ireland!

The Guinness factory is a major part of Dublin and its history. Guinness provided housing and jobs for much of the residents of Dublin. You can tour the storehouse and have a sample on the rooftop patio. 

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Day Trip: Malahide Village

Before the trip ended, we decided to take a break from the busy sightseeing in the city and opted for a quiet day trip with some medieval history  in the beautiful seaside village of Malahide. Only 35 minutes by train, this quaint and charming village feels much further from the hustle and bustle of Dublin.

We started with a nice wander down main street, grabbed a coffee and strolled along the seaside path as we worked our way to Malahide Castle.  Surrounded by lush parks and tall trees, the walk up to the castle makes for a lovely stroll. Weeping willows, bright flowers – and even the odd peacock! – can be found within this secret garden’s walls.

Sharing grounds with the castle is a fab cafe called The Garden House. It was the perfect spot to grab a to-go bag and picnic on the castle grounds. I was really impressed with their healthy selection of sandwiches, salads and wraps – all locally sourced and loads of home baking.

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Not bad for a quick trip to Dublin. I feel like we covered a lot of ground and really took advantage of all the city had to offer. What are some of your favourite cities to visit with a long weekend?

 

Happy travels!

x

 

 

travel: Lisbon, Portugal

budget trips, holidays, lifestyle, travel

For my husband’s birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

Lucky for us, our wedding anniversary, birthdays and Christmas are within weeks of one another. So, taking a trip is a good way to pack in all of the celebrating.

We thought that anywhere in the world might be dryer, a little brighter and warmer than Edinburgh in December. We were kind of right… Portugal in the winter is still a little brisk

We had some rainy days, soaked socks, but we absolutely made the most of it. We had to buy umbrellas one day, funny joke to us visiting from the UK, but a little rain did not ruin our party!

Traveling to Europe in the summer is wonderful but we have learned that winter also has perks. Fewer tourists. Affordable airfare. Available accommodation. Quieter low seasons. And my favorite part, seeing what Christmas looks like in other countries!

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Our adventure started the moment we left the Lisbon airport. We were instructed by our Airbnb host to 1. board the tram to a bus stop 2. walk from the bus stop to the flat.

Directions were a bit vague and by tram we had no idea that she meant super-awesome and rickety-old-trolley. It was dark out, we could not see the street signs, so we got off where it “felt right” and got out our city map. Yep, looking like true tourists, no shame and totally embracing the paper map.

We eventually found our flat and were clueless about the view we would wake up to the next morning. The silver lining of arriving at night… we got a surprise the next morning.

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We stayed in the Alfalma neighborhood. All you need is a short wander to realize how WOW it is.  There are several quaint spots for a romantic sit on a bench. These viewpoints, called miravistas, give you stunning views of the water and buildings stacked on the hills. It is easy to be out on foot for long days and nights exploring the many street-side cafes, live music at hidden bars and beautiful little squares with fairy lights and blankets.

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If you plan on walking and wandering around, plan on bringing a comfortable pair of shoes. Those travel books are not lying when they say there are some good inclines. If you need a break, hop on the trolley system!

We spent our days wandering different neighborhoods, a walk down to the coast, popping into café’s for a coffee and baked good. The Pois Café was our favourite spot, books covering every nook and cranny and a healthy, organic range of food and snacks.

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Eat + Drink

Seafood. Custard tarts. Cheese. Wine. That is all you really need to know.

Portugal has a rich tradition of cheese-making and different regions have their own types, much like Portuguese wine. Portuguese food combines a variety of fresh seafood with the flavours from the hillside. There is a lot to discover in both food and wine.

Frango Piri Piri  (Chicken Piri Piri)

Grilled to perfection with a secret blend of spices, this is one of the most popular dishes for visitors and has to be tried at least once. Served with a fresh salad and home-made chips, affordable dinner winner!

Bacalhau (Salted Cod Fish)

Cod is a staple of Portuguese cuisine and they say there is a different cod recipe for every day of the year. Cod is a very versatile fish and is usually the star of the show on Portugese Christmas dinner tables.

Caldeirada  (Fish Stew)

A mixed fish stew usually containing some shellfish and white fish with potato, tomatoes, peppers and onions as the base. White wine and lots of herbs completes the recipe. They say that the secret to a good Caldeirada, apart from the fish, is the correct layering of the various ingredients so that the flavours mix properly. I would love to make a version of this at home.

Pastel de Nata (Custard pastry)

Portugal’s favorite sweet treat. Small open pastries with a sweet custard filling and a caramelised sugar topping, you can find Pastel de Nata is every coffee shop in the city. They say the pastry should be flakey and light, the filling creamy, eggy and sweet. This was our birthday cake abroad.

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Do + See

Lisbon, Portugal is a cool city.  Artsy. Quaint. Windy roads. Hills. White buildings. Red roofs. Colorful tiles. Cobblestone. Churches. Street art. Seafood. Produce. Vintage markets. Trollies. Cathedrals. Tuk-Tuks. Alleyways. Motorbikes. Street artists and antique vendors. Like I said, cool.

Campo de Santa. Be sure to visit Campo de Santa, a lovely flea market in the old city. Take good carrier bags to stock up on amazing vintage Portuguese kitchenware, decor, and ceramics on sale in little shops for great prices.

Trollies. The trams that trundle up and down the streets are charming. Tram 28 is said to be the best. Begin at Largo Martim Moniz to get a seat in the wood panelled carriage.

Souvenir. One thing everyone will notice about Lisbon are the beautiful ceramic tiles that cover literally every wall, café’s, flats, storefronts, park benches and city fountains. There are brand new varieties you can pick up in a tourist shops but even more charming are the antique and funky varieties you can find in flea markets and vendors. We chose a green and white one from the 1950s, easy to get back home and a totally memorable part about Lisbon.

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The waterfront and Praça do Comércio square was home to the Royal Ribeira Palace before it was destroyed in 1755. Lots of locals like come out for a stroll, especially in the early evening and lots of Christmas decorations and a small Christmas market to enjoy.

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Day Trip to Sintra. We decided to spend one day on a train going outside of the city. A friend recommended that we visit the nearby village of Sintra. I am so glad we took her advice. Sintra is normally buzzing with tourists, but thanks to the rain, we were two of ten people up there that day. We were soaked but it was well worth it. We visitied the grotto gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira Palace, a 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most elaborate gardens we have ever seen.

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Have you taken a special birthday trip? And what has your experience been traveling in the winter months?

Have a lovely weekend, friends!

peace + grace

travel: Paris, France

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

When your best friend/soul sister asks you to go see Beyonce and Jay Z, you do it.

After we moved to Scotland, I needed a familiar face and some much needed girl time. Megan was in England studying abroad for university.  I was job searching and adjusting to new life in Scotland. Beyonce and Jay Z were on tour in Europe. So, we made it happen, obviously.

It was the ultimate girls trip and every time I think of it, my grin goes ear to ear.

If I were a scrap-booker this trip would have its very own album. It would have a bright pink cover with a little leopard print, covered with glittery stickers and have all our tickets, receipts, and random momentos tucked inside the pages.

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Paris is a magical place.

Paris, France was on my travel ‘bucket list’. Like the movies, I pictured myself strolling the streets, gawking over the Eiffel Tower, getting sick from too many macaroons and trying my best to pronounce “merci” and “bonjour”. 

As first time visitors, we were super touristy and not ashamed. I definitely had the camera out all day (may or may not have hung around my neck), I probably clogged up the sidewalk as we marvelled at all the famous landmarks, and of course, we did not hold back with the food, indulging in all of the Parisian cuisine possible.

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What we did: We hit all the tourist spots. A walk through Notre Dame Cathedral, The Louvre Museum, walked to Pont Alexandre III bridge, viewed the Arc de Triomphe, the home of Victor Hugo, a picnic in Jardin de Luxembourg, a morning at The Eiffel Tower and … danced the night away at Beyonce! [crepes + coffee weaving throughout]

 

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Where we stayed: We chose to stay in an Airbnb in the Bastille neighborhood. Bastille represents Parisian romance—a very stylish + historical neighbourhood. Its streets are lined with with theatres, cafes, antiques, green spaces + gardens. A great location and easy to navigate.

What we ate: Most people know that France puts out more Michelin starred restaurants and chefs than anywhere in the world. Although we were not able to wine and dine on the five-star cuisine we did have some delicious grub. I was over the moon, taste-buds dancing, the entire trip. No gluten-free croissants, but we DID find the most glorious crepe shop. The BEST red wines, and Megan was thrilled to have a fresh baked baguette and traditional French onion soup. A stop (or two) in LADURÉE proved to be a good choice with their wild selection of macaroons. And we routinely picked up fresh fruit + cheese from outdoor markets and followed the example of Parisians around us: picnic time!

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Trip of a lifetime and September proved to be a lovely time to visit Paris. Have you ever visited? Where have you spent time with your dearest friends?

 

Traveling mercies, friends!

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travel: Salzburg, Austria

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

The Sound of Music soundtrack was stuck in my head.  🎶   On repeat.

Our first morning in Salzburg, started with a huge Austrian breakfast – hardboiled eggs, picked carrots, cabbage and pickles, a variety of traditional meats and cheeses, coffee cake, yogurt and of course, muesli! Stuffed to the brim, we made our way to the Salzburg Castle and rode a funicular rail up the castle mount. Again, we were greeted with some unseasonably cool temperatures and scattered rain, but it was no match for our sunny dispositions. We were in Salzburg!

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From the top of castle mount,  there were lovely views of old town and the foggy Alps in the distance. The castle was surrounded by a grand wall, it housed a collection of ancient gold coins and included a very unique (and quite hilarious) marionette exhibit. We wandered back down to the main market square where Ryan found more huge pretzels (gluten envy!) and we had fun checking out the different vendors and listening to live music in the market.
The city of Salzburg is very whimsical. The buildings are a clean white or some beautiful shade of pastel pink, green or yellow. Most of our time was spent walking narrow streets, admiring the pretty cafes and top-of-the-line clothing stores that line every alleyway.
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Our night in Salzburg was a rainy one but we have been properly trained living in Scotland to handle such a situation. Our Airbnb host from Belgium told us to always see a city by day and night – that most cities are a different place when the lights are on, the streets are quiet and most shops are closed. We think of his advice often and always end up staying out late and getting up early on our trips. We were determined to be out and enjoy Salzburg at night, rain or shine, it was lovely.

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Our next stretch of the train trip was one to remember. We traveled from Salzburg (top, northwestern region of Austria) through the entire country to the Slovenian (southeastern region of Austria) border.

 

Wow.

 

These were a few of my favourite things… 🎶  (theres the song again…) Forests. Every shade of green. Pines with soft tips. Every village had a church steeple. Our train pod was just for the three of us and had floor to ceiling panoramic windows. The look on Oma’s face as she got a fright every time we would pass an oncoming train was classic. And I am sure the faces I made as we crossed old bridges and emerged from tunnels to magical scenes was also classic. I loved the pockets of fog that lingered around the snow capped Alps. Like I said, it was The Sound of Music everywhere we looked.

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If you have been through Austria, I’d love to hear where you visited and some of your favourite things? What a charming charming country.
Up next:  Ljubljana, Slovenia
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travel: Munich, Germany

budget trips, lifestyle, travel
Our taxi picked us up for the airport at 4.30am.

I would usually need some caffeine pumped straight into my veins at this hour, but the adrenaline, the excitement of meeting up with Ryan and this train trip in Europe with Oma had me well jazzed.

It was Oma’s maiden voyage in a British black cabbie and the driver tried every pick up line that he could muster up (she is a thing of beauty though, let’s be honest). We laughed and quickly grabbed a coffee before the terminal. The last time we were on a plane together, I was in high-school. I was filled with giddy excitement reminiscent of my teenager years as we walked the tarmac to our plane.

We kept ourselves entertained on the flight with Rick Steve’s guide to Croatia and playing  21 Questions. Her answers made me laugh, tear up, and see her a little differently as she shared her heart and told me stories of her childhood and past. Things I had to note down that I just don’t want to forget. Side note: She once dreamed of joining a traveling circus from Peru, Indiana. It’s never too late, Oma.

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After landing in Stuttgart, Germany we met up with Ryan. Being happy to see him is an understatement. We could not stop holding hands. I held him tight. Kissed him every 3 minutes. Talked his ear off. And my joy meter was off the charts. My normal was back.

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The first train leg of our big adventure was Munich but the Scottish weather followed us. We were shocked to get off the train and be hit with wind and rain , 42F / 5C.
Munich is chic and elegant even in crummy weather. I will remember: copper and turquoise rooftops. Rathaus tower views in Munich city centre.  Strolling the main street with wind in our faces. Oma warming my hand in her pocket.  Devouring sausage + sauerkraut rolls. And of course, Ryan’s pretzel, the size of his face.

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We definitely enjoyed our unseasonably cold time in Munich but found ourselves daydreaming of our final destination along the Adriatic Sea. I would love to see more of Germany, but this quick layover was a nice connection option before boarding our next train.

We found the Eurail passes easy to order and train timetables easy to navigate with their smart app for iPhone and Android. Have you ever planned a trip with Eurail? I would love to hear your stories or suggestions for smooth train travel in Europe.

Up next: Salzburg, Austria

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