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Travel

No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn

New York, NEW YORKKKK!

I have ALWAYS wanted to live in NYC even though I’ve only been a few times. When I was in college and working at the J. Crew call center I dreamed of working at 770 (the headquarters for J. Crew) and meeting Jenna Lyons and living a fabulous life. Life didn’t pan out that way (shocker) and instead I moved back to Dallas even though I applied for about 2500 jobs in NYC.

Fast forward, now I have a ton of friends from high school, college, and birthright that live in NYC so now I can just go visit them and experience all of the greatness that New York has to offer, without having to pay the taxes 😉 #winning

My sister and I were really wanting to go on a trip to NYC and it also happened to be one of our friend’s birthdays the weekend that we were interested in going. A college friend that lives close to the city also just had a baby and is moving out of the country so I wanted to see her before she moves away. There were just a lot of good reasons to go and I had the vacation time, so we decided to hit it upppp.

We left Dallas on a Friday afternoon and got in kinda late to a veryyyyy chilly New York. We dropped our stuff off at our AirBnB in LES (Lower East Side) and found a sushi place for a quick bite. The next day we went over to pick up my Cronut order (Julia gave me the insider tip to order ahead and not have to wait in line like a PEASANT). I had pre-ordered two cronuts two weeks in advance. The flavor for November was Banana Hazelnut, which to me didn’t sound suuuuper amazing, but lemme tell ya it was DELICIOUS. Believe the hype, get yourself a cronut from Dominique Ansel’s bakery next time you’re in town. You will not be disappointed!

After the cronuts we were in search of a warmer winter coat for Tara since homegirl only brought a light jacket to NYC when the temperature was going to be in the 40s…. We then made our way to get some knishes at Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery. Several of them were vegan so Tara went to town and even got a bagel to-go as a snick snack for later. We walked all over the city just exploring and made our way to the Chelsea Market to meet my friend Patty and her husband, Michael. I hadn’t seen Patty since I was in college so it was really nice to catch up and we served as a great distraction since they were on their way to a surprise party for Michael. After hanging out with them we got MORE sushi before heading back to the AirBnB.

 

 

Saturday night was our friend Natalie’s birthday. We hadn’t seen her since the summer on birthright and one of our other birthright friends, Ben, was also in town so we were pumped for our mini-reunion. Before the party we pre-gamed at Ben’s parent’s apartment on the Upper East Side and met his sister Alex who came along with us to the party. We had such a good time catching up, drinking, and dancing the night away. Tara and I got a little turned around at the end of the night and instead of just walking across the street to our AirBnB from the last club we went to, we got a cab to it and the guy never told us it was LITERALLY right across the street. He drove us around the block AND then charged us $10!… We figured it out the next morning. #fail 

The next day we met our other college friend, Brently, for brunch at this suuuuper nice vegan place near Chealsea. We then walked the High Line and saw tons of cool buildings while chatting. He had some stuff to do so Tara and I decided to walk around Central Park. She REALLY wanted to climb a rock and got her opportunity. We enjoyed people watching for a good portion of the afternoon and looked forward to the next day.

Monday came and we had more food adventures to attend. First stop was Russ and Daughters for bagels, lox, and latkas. Then we trekked our way to Brooklyn for RAINBOW bagels from The Bagel Store and prime thrift store shopping. We took a mixture of cabs, Ubers, the subway, and our own two feet the entire trip. I was nervous about which subway stops to take, but my friend recommended using the Citymapper app to tell us EXACTLY which stops to take. It was awesome for subway stops, less awesome for walking directions, but we made it wherever we needed to go.

After Brooklyn we made our way back to Midtown to the Empire State Building! Our friend, Sahara, from high school works at a PR agency in the building and was able to get us the VIP tour past all of the lines FO FREEEEE! She really hooked it up and we were so happy to see her, even if for a short while.

After seeing the building and getting a drink with her, we headed to dinner with another college friend, Nathan! The three of us hung out a ton in college and it’s been several years since we have all been together at the same time. He filled us in on his life and job and his love for New York, all the while convincing me even more than it is my destiny to live there. He was battling a cold and had to work the next day so we didn’t stay out late, but I was really glad he took the time to see us.

The next day we were very sad as we prepared to leave and go back to our normal lives. We tried another vegan place down the street for breakfast and then found another donut place on our walk back. We headed out to the airport pretty early since we needed to vacate our AirBnB and just hung out in the American Airlines lounge for a few hours. They had a guacamole bar at this one and Tara was pretty pleased with the selection of vegan-friendly snacks. Our flight home was pretty chill and the next day we were back in the grind of normalcy. It was a short trip, but very fun and full of friends and food.

Here’s to hopefully visiting again in the near future!

-Savvy

Travel

Chicago for the Weekend

Chicago is a city with which I have an interesting past…. 

I’ve attempted to explore it multiple times always with my plans being foiled. If you’re a long time reader then you probably remember when I got stuck there for three days a few years ago on my way to Ireland. There are a handful of other times where I happened to skirt the city, never staying more than a few hours and NEVER exploring anything. Adventure in Chicago needed to happen and Julia was just the one to make that happen.

Julia and I met the summer before eleventh grade in high school. She was new to the school that I had been attending almost my whole academic career at that point and we were fast friends. She is originally from the Chicago area and attended a college not too far from the city (even though I tried to get her to join me at LU). She goes back periodically to visit friends and family and it was going to be on her birthday weekend so she invited me to go along.

We left Dallas on a Friday night and got into Chicago a little later than expected due to at delayed flight. After getting our super sweet rental car we headed to a suburb of the city where her Aunt and Uncle live with two of their three children. Their house was so cute and they also had a basement! Coming from states that can’t have basements (Texas and California) I ALWAYS forget that this is basically a staple of east coast and midwestern homes. I really wish my house had this feature, so I was pumped to stay down there. Since we got in so late we basically just went right to bed.

The next day we got up and went to Julia’s favorite apple orchard with her aunt and one cousin. I LOVE apple orchards and this one did not disappoint! They had plenty of apples ripe for the picking (and taking cute IG pics). After apples we made sure to indulge in some cider AND cider donuts. I made my own little tasting tray of hot and cold cider. Conclusion: both delicious. 🙂

After apples we headed back home with a 40 pound basket as well as some other little treats from their cash-only store at the orchard. We packed up our stuff, said goodbye to her family, and headed into the city! We had unknowingly booked the weekend of the Chicago Marathon so when I was looking for hotels the cheapest one was actually The Ritz Carlton. Julia and I were splitting it and it was only one night so we said #TreatYoSelf2017 and made that reservation.

The Ritz Carlton Chicago did not disappoint. The lobby smelled amazing, the staff was friendly and attentive, and the room was immaculate. They had robes and slippers for us, a huge bathtub along with a separate shower, a huge bed, and Netflix on TV. We could see Navy Pier from our window too which was really cool.

We checked in, hung out in the room for a little bit, then headed down to the lobby to get a snack before dinner. We had basically only eaten a lot of sugar that day so we shared some meatballs at the hotel bar. Julia doesn’t drink so she got a Cherry Coke and the bartender made sure to give her extra cherries. I got a Moscow Mule and wasn’t disappointed. We stayed there actually for quite some time since it was pouring outside and we weren’t meeting her friend for awhile.

We eventually started making our way towards Giordano’s and put our name on the list. The wait was rather lengthy so you are also able to order your pizza before you get seated which is super efficient. Her friend showed up and we had a very nice time chatting and after dinner he and Julia continued to show me the city. We were still calling this #TreatYoSelf2017 so after deep dish pizza (and salads!) we walked down the street to get ice cream at Ghirardelli’s.

We wanted to attempt to burn off dinner and the rain had subsided so we walked along the river and looked at all of the skyscrapers. I found it humerus that Trump tower had so many empty stores underneath it since no one wants to be associated with him even though that is prime retail space. I am fairly certain that I had a stress fracture in my foot from my solo hike in Dublin. It flared up so I was dragging along for a good chunk of the walk, but I still had a good time.

Eventually her friend had to leave so Julia and I went back to the room thinking we were going to stay up and watch Parks and Rec (in honor of #TreatYoSelf2017). I think I made it through one episode while Julia was getting ready for bed before I was totally knocked out. In my defense, it had been a very eventful day and was already fairly late. I usually wake up pretty early though and managed to take a lengthy bubble bath in the morning as well as get fully ready before Julia awoke.

She got ready and we lamented the fact that we only stayed one night in this super nice hotel. We vowed to be back as well as visit other Ritz Carlton locations in the future to compare them. The hotel was nice enough to hold our luggage for us after we checked out while we continued our exploration of the city. Fortunately the rain was gone and the sun was out. Unfortunately… the weather turned from a slightly chilly autumn to a fairly toasty early fall. I was ill prepared for this, but we trekked on through the city!

We got breakfast/brunch at the Nutella Cafe and while there noticed that there was a Noodles and Co across the street! Unfortunately, Texas has not jumped on this midwestern treasure so Julia graciously said we could go there for a late lunch before heading to the airport. We got our breakfast and coffee then headed to The Bean for some pics and to see the Chicago location for Julia’s company. I also saw the Chicago location for mine in a fairly prime spot and gave relocating some consideration as well. 🙂

I love being in the city and while Dallas has been very good to me, I have been plagued with car problems for several years now and dream about living in a location with reliable public transportation.  Chicago is very clean, people still have that midwestern charm, there is tons to do, lots of great restaurants, and it’s not quite as expensive as New York. If I was to get transferred/find a new job in Chi town then I wouldn’t be too upset. #JustSaying

After The Bean we made our way to Navy Pier to ride the Ferris Wheel, get some souvineers, and see the water. I was very content to sit in the sunshine on these wooden lounge chairs near the water and just relax after walking so much, but alas, we were on a time schedule.

We made our way back to the car, picked up our luggage, and started heading to O’Hare. We returned the car, got through security fairly quickly, then made sure to pick up some Garrett’s Popcorn to bring back to our respective families. We got split up on the plane ride home and I got stuck in the front of coach so I didn’t have a tray table. FORTUNATLY I had my trusty neck pillow so I tried to check out for a little bit on that. When that failed I listened in on Julia’s conversation with her seat mate and read over the shoulder of the guy next to me on his iPad. He was not as fast as me and for whatever reason after EVERY page he would flip back like two or three pages then back to his previous spot before moving forward to the new page. It was driving me a little crazy, butttt I also was being a super creeper and co-reading a stranger’s book so obviously I can’t say anything like GET IT TOGETHER AND PAY ATTENTION!

We have an uneventful landing and just like that our weekend was over. I had taken that next day off in preparation for the Texas Star Fair, but it was also the day that all schools were scheduled to go so my mom and I made the trek to Waco for her first time at The Magnolia Silos. It was a nice day and nice way to end the weekend before having to go back to work and my continuing car issues.

Side note: if anyone wants to gift me a new car I would seriously be eternally grateful. My 2007 Rav 4 apparently hates me just about as much as I hate it and refuses to cooperate no matter how much money I throw at it. When your car has almost 200k miles on it and you don’t know how to fix anything it shows that you need to make a change in your life (and that doesn’t mean learning the fine art of auto mechanics).

Happy Reading!

-Savvy 

Travel

I Belize in a Thing Called Love: Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of my Belize adventure! For a Part 1 recap head here…..

The next day we packed up and started heading back to the capital to turn in our rental cars and so some people could get in some scuba diving before going home. Three people couldn’t stay the whole trip and about half the group was really into scuba diving so they broke off to go do that, but since we took care of the car situation we got to head to our next place early and get the first pick of the rooms. I had to pretend to be Danielle to turn in the rental cars since they were under her name, but she was off scuba diving. Thanks to my extensive theatre background it went off without a hitch 😉

The car rental people were nice enough to take us to the water taxi station where we got a QUICK breakfast and then headed to our next destination: Caye Caulker. The water taxi was about 45 minutes and very efficient. We got to the island and Blair let our new host know we were there. Caye Caulker is one island, but has two parts. There was a hurricane a long time ago that split off a little bit of the end which is where our house was located. Our new host, Cody, was coming to get us with a small boat to take us to our own dock. The boat was only big enough for two people and the luggage so Carly and Blair took the first ride while the rest of us headed to the bar.

We had some drinks and they gave us free shots before we had to make our way for our own boat ride. The new house was super awesome and the air conditioning worked very well. We had like a sea of hammocks on the first floor of the house. The second level had some rooms and the living room with the kitchen. The third floor had the rest of the rooms and bathrooms. The fourth floor was just a sun deck with some chairs, a hammock, and the best view of the whole island. Carly and I immediately made use of this for an impromptu photo shoot before the rest of the group joined us. 😉

We immediately change into our swim suits and head to the nearest beach: Koko Key. It’s a future site of a new resort so they’ve already fixed up the Beach section with inflatable water toys, an awesome bar, and an infinity pool. We spend essentially the entire afternoon here drinking, eating, and having a wonderful time.

After probably four or five hours, we notice the infinity pool and want to get in to take a picture. We gather all of the girls and get Hector to take our picture. We aren’t even in the pool two minutes before a member of staff comes rushing over YELLING at us to get out. Apparently this is a VIP section and you need a $35 wristband to enter. We hadn’t seen the signs (honestly) and immediately got out with our apologizes. The staff continues to yell and Hector interjects on our behalf. Blair is also super upset that someone yelled at us and tries to reason with the manager about the misunderstanding. The manager doesn’t care and charges us each $35 for the wrist bands that we never even use… We close out our tab and vow to not return. On our way back to the house we run into the rest of our group back from scuba diving. They are hungry so some still head to Koko Key despite our protests. The rest of us get Chinese food and hang out back at the house the rest of the night.

 

The next day most of the scuba crew goes back out for another day of diving. The rest of us head over to the main part of the island for breakfast and to explore. We decide to take up residence at The Lazy Lizard which is right on the split between the main part of the island and where our house is. There is this cool little section where you can wade and snorkel as well as sit on bar stools in the water. The few that have to leave early hang with me for the morning so they can get a little more beach time in before having to go back to reality.

Becca and I decide to explore a little bit and I find a little stand on the beach that has massages. Obviously a massage on the beach is a dream so I indulge and it’s amazing as I hoped. I head back to group and get some snacks at the bar. We meet some interesting people and have a great time watching other bar goers jump off this tall platform into the ocean. I jumped in earlier and it was super fun, but you basically are jumping into open water and my fear of sharks takes over so I only do that a few times before I’ve thoroughly freaked myself out and can no longer continue.

 

Eventually the scuba people catch up with us and share what they have seen that day. I hear about more sharks and feel very confident in my decision to avoid scuba diving for the rest of my life. We consider snorkeling for another day and continue to enjoy the afternoon. We have lunch at this amazing place with like every seafood option you can imagine. Drinks included it ended up being like $15 a person… crazy right?? So delicious.

Becca and I spotted an ice cream place earlier so we grab Ben and indulge before meeting back up with the group. We stay at The Lazy Lizard the rest of the day and then head back to the house. We have this app on the tv called Kodi that basically can stream any movie ever so we pick something, play Cards Against Humanity, and eat dinner. Now that three of our people are gone I get a whole room to myself for the rest of the trip! We turn in and look forward to another day in paradise.

The next day is more of the same. Becca and I discover this amazing iced coffee place and we get Fry Jack from another vendor. Both are delicious, per usual. Today is snorkel day and I am told that we might spot manatees! Unfortunately it is manatee mating season so we try, but no luck. I do get to see a few little baby sea horses and these huge fish that scare me.

We get to the first snorkel site and it’s really cool to see the coral and fish. There also happen to be two sharks in a little coral cave so as soon as I discover this is swim as fast as my little fins will let me to safety.

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The next stop is specifically for sharks and sting rays. I choose to sit this one out and observe from above the water. The boat guide keeps trying to get me into the water, but I will not be swayed by peer pressure. Everyone I think also gets a little freaked out by the sheer amount of sharks and we don’t stay at this stop very long (to my relief). The next stop is just more coral and fish which is nice and calming. A few people have brought their Go-Pro cameras we got tons of good videos and pictures from the day. We also saw an Eel swimming around which was exciting since I’ve only ever seen one just chilling in a cave.

We head back to shore and grab some lunch at the cafe where Becca and I have been getting our iced coffees. After lunch we head back to hang out at the house and get ready for the night. We go to a seafood place for dinner and the ocean nearly takes my phone as captive. Fortunately I have the iPhone 7 Plus which is waterprooffffff. Saved my life!! We continue to dinner and the rest of our evening. Dinner is delicious and I got octopus! We then head out to the bars for some drinks and karaoke. We get there before karaoke is in full swing so my song is quickly picked and I get Hector to help me sing “I Love Rock and Roll” a la Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Becca puts her song in, but it doesn’t get picked until we are about to leave. I help her sing the Shaggy classic “It Wasn’t Me”.

 

The next bar is playing a really good mix of top 40 hits and I am having a great time dancing with my friends. We go outside to catch our breath and then Cody suggests we go to this other bar. We follow the DJ to the other bar and stay there max 20 minutes before we start to see the storms rolling in. We quickly head back to the boat and make it home in time before he rain hits.

The next day the wind has changed so the bugs are out in full force. We try to avoid them at The Lazy Lizard and then after a great day there we head home to hang at the house. The house also has a saltwater pool that we get in to avoid the bugs. Most of the group decides to make our own music videos while the rest of the group cooks this amazing seafood feast for us. It’s a great night and a perfect end to our trip.

The next day rudely comes in the form of a monsoon where I even question our ability to get off of the island. We manage to get everyone to the dock for the water taxi on time and we say our goodbyes to Cody. After our water taxi ride we get breakfast at the station and then head towards the airport.

Several people are flying to other places or on different airlines so we say our goodbyes and make our respective pilgrimages. We get through security at Houston fairly quickly mainly because most of us have Global Entry (again this is amazing and if you travel internationally semi regularly it’s a great investment).

We make another Bucc-ee’s stop on our way back up to Dallas and arrive without an issue. I end up having some car problems shortly after coming back to Dallas thus prompting me to consider just staying on vacation permanently.

Conclusion: Belize is an awesome tropical destination that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The people are great, the food is tasty, the alcohol flows freely. Get yourself there and don’t look back!

Happy Reading!

-Savannah 

Travel

You’d Better Belize It! Part 1

Where to even begin??

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Let me just say that when the group first told me that we had picked Belize as our yearly travel destination I was VERY unsure. I hadn’t heard too many things about it and my desire to go to Central/South America over Asia or Europe was low. However I decided to “lean in” and book my ticket moments after seeing the flight deal information. $300 round trip the day that United has a major debacle?? Awesome. 🙂

We booked the trip in early April, but didn’t actually go until the end of September (narrowly missing rainy season). Months of excitement from the group worked its way to me to pump me up for this new adventure. I had ample time to research everything about this little known (to me) country.

Some quick stats about Belize: 

  • Most people speak English, Spanish, or an Indian dialect.
  • They use the American Dollar as well as the Belizean Dollar interchangeably. The American dollar is worth two Belizean.
  • Most places prefer cash to cards
  • There are A LOT of bugs in the jungle as well as near the ocean
  • People are super friendly!!
  • The food is incredibly tasty!!!!!!!!

We all met early one Saturday morning to caravan down to the Houston International airport to fly out. I got to ride with Travis, Danielle, and her boyfriend Blake. We of course had to make a Buc-ee’s stop because what Texas road trip is complete without one?

We get to the airport, get through security, and then Ben and I try to get into the United Lounge with everyone else but our attempt is foiled. We instead head down the way to another restaurant where we had some drinks and food to pass the time. I updated Ben’s online dating profile and he watched the A&M game with another diner who was rooting for the rival team.

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We made our way to the plane and friends just in time to board the plane. A very short two hours later we land in Belize City and meet up with the rest of our group. We get our rental cars situated and head out to our first location. I love Air Bnb so when Blair announced we were doing Belize I came across this super awesome nature resort and sent him the info. He agreed that it not only was cool, but it was a super great deal too and booked it for all of us. We spent the first half of our trip being so chill, listening to monkey noises, and eating the most delicious food I’ve ever had. We were the only ones staying at this nature resort save for this one other guy and his wife for part of our stay. The resort only recently had listen themselves on Air Bnb so we had really gotten there at a great time.

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The first night we really just got there, figured out the room situation, and ate dinner. My roommate for our little cabin was Rachel since we were the only single girls in the group. Couldn’t have asked for a better roommate! We cranked our air conditioning, read our books, and had a very chill time. Each cabin had a hammock so we would all jump around to other cabins to hang out, swing, and chat. There were some dogs and horses on the property too that we hung out with and named.

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The next day we awoke for THE BEST COFFEE and breakfast before heading out to go Zip Lining and Cave Tubing in the jungle! That was Carly’s one request when we booked the trip and it was such a fun suggestion. I had never done zip lining for more than one run at my childhood summer camp so this was awesome to be able to just zip through the forest so high off of the ground. Some had fears, but we worked through them and had a great time. After the zip lining we traded our cables for tubes and made our way to the water. Our guides were awesome and hilarious as they led us through the river and into the caves. We had little head lamps that also would blink like you were at a rave. The tubing was so soothing and I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep on the tour.

After the tour we climbed back into the van and picked up some snacks since it was still going to be awhile before dinner. After getting back to the cabins we all just took a very long nap and then had another delicious meal prepared by our new favorite person, Marcilena. Originally we were only going to eat like two meals at the resort and find food elsewhere. After scoping out our options we asked if instead she could just cook for us the rest of the time and fortunately she agreed. It was consistently amazing and we were a very happy group.

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The next day we got coffee, but before breakfast we went on a short nature walk through the jungle that was across the street from the resort. Our guide showed us how you can use different plants from the jungle to heal a variety of medical conditions or illnesses. We got to finally see a few monkeys and I even got to feed one!

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After the monkeys we went back to the resort for breakfast and to get ready for our trek out to the Mayan Ruins. Hector almost got left at the resort, but fortunately Rachel remembered him and we all made it there without a hitch. I got to sit shotgun in the car so I asked our guide a million different questions and also tried to get him to let me drive. #nodice.

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The Mayan ruins were much cooler than I thought they were going to be. There were hardly any other tourists there so we basically had the place to ourselves. I also got to hold three baby crocodiles that some random guys were showing tourists. I also saw part of a tarantula which was freaky! I wouldn’t say that I’m scared of spiders, but I totally would never want one crawling all over me especially one that huge.

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After the ruins we got to visit a “winery“. Belize grows currants as well as cashews so the locals have started making wine out of them. It was super cheap so I bought a little bottle of each, but I wouldn’t say that I am a fan. I don’t like cashews anyway so it just tastes exactly how you think cashew wine would sound.

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We headed back to the resort to hang out, have dinner, then hang out and drink. We watched Ben and Travis dance to throwback rap and we tried to make Melissa twerk. Some ants crashed the party and we were momentarily distracted by treating our bites but it was still a great night.

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That wraps up Part 1 of the adventure. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Happy Reading!

Savvy

Ireland Travel

April Recap

 

This is me being a diligent blogger for once in my life and actually starting on a post on time! You can thank the fact that I needed to deep condition my hair, which means I actually am very productive around the house for those few hours a month. Settle in because this is going to be a long one and it’s not even covering the full month 🙂

I wanted April to be different than March or February. I was going to proactively do things around Ireland even if it meant doing them alone. First step: get a piercing. Right after that I think the surrounding pedestrians noticed my realized confidence and someone asked me for directions #localstatus

My high school friend, Ruthie, was coming to visit so I had that to look forward to, but when I went to pick her up from the airport she surprised me and brought along our other friend from high school, Alicia – FROM ALASKA! I was very surprised (it was also 6AM on a Sunday) so I’m not really sure what my reaction looked like other than confused lol. I don’t get surprised like that very often and I was only half-awake so I think I just hugged everyone and then got back into the car. We immediately left Dublin for the Cliffs of Moher.

I had already been (if you’ve been reading since the origination of my blog then you already know this), but this was the first time in Ireland for both Ruthie and Alicia and that is one of the #1 sites to see so off we went. Because we had such an early start we managed to beat most of the tour busses/tourists to the Cliffs. It was a GORGEOUS day as you will be able to tell from the pictures below. They have updated the visitor center since the last time I went and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. I will probably end up doing another photo post at the end of the trip with updated pictures since everyone else took a bunch and haven’t uploaded them yet.

After the Cliffs, we went to Galway for a bit for some lunch. The drive between the Cliffs and Galway is so beautiful and green. It was staying a nice day, which was awesome since I had to drive on some very tiny roads! We hung out in Galway for a few hours and then made our way to Limerick for the night.

I had the next day off of work so we visited King John’s Castle before heading back to Dublin. I showed them a little bit of Dublin and found out their plans for the week. Ruthie had originally just given me some basic plans because she didn’t want to let on that Alicia was also coming. Alicia also is super handy and helped me air up my tires because I’m basically helpless with car issues.

 

Alicia’s dad is originally from Ireland and was adopted as a young child. The rest of the family is very interested in learning more about his heritage, but since most of the records from that time were only recently released, you generally have to actually come to Ireland to learn anything. The girls spent two days doing some of that research and were actually able to come away with a lot more information than I thought that they would. They also went to the Book of Kells at Trinity College, did a walking tour of North Dublin, and had high tea at a hotel. It was a short visit, but they made the most of their time.

On their last night we went to Murray’s over on O’Connell Street where they have Traditional (Trad) music and Irish dancing. They pulled Alicia up on stage to dance and she was presented with a certificate that we made the bartender sign. He also shared with me that you can add Black Currant juice to Guinness and now I can finally finish a whole pint. #proudmoment  

In between the guests I needed to attend to my roots. At home I generally go see Sydney, my hairdresser, every 6-10 weeks (depending upon upcoming events). Three months without at least one touch up was not going to cut it for me. It took us a long time to get my hair to where we are and I was really nervous about anyone else touching it. Fortunately I found a salon really close to my apartment that uses Olaplex (if you don’t know what it is SEE the magic) and seemed to really know their way around blonde hair so I felt like I was in good hands. Five hours later I am pleased to say that my hair is still a gloriously silver blonde through and through. If you are ever in Dublin and need a salon I can now highly recommend Angels and Cowboys in City Centre.

(not a sponsored post)

The next day was still lovely so I finally made the trip out to Howth. I was supposed to go multiple times on different occasions, but plans always fell apart. You need nice weather when you go too and you never know when that is going to be so make the most of it! #carpediem.

I really enjoyed seeing a part of Dublin that I hadn’t visited yet and am now totally contemplating getting a vacation home in Howth when I am rich and famous. Howth is a small, seaside town with a Marina and hiking trails. I visited Howth Castle then made my way down the road to the coast. I indulged in some fresh seafood, walked around the town and the little market, then took a hike on Howth Head. I managed to get out of there before it started raining again, but I am hoping to go back once more before leaving.

 

A few days later Melissa and Brian came to visit. They have frequently been featured in the blog and always have a couch for me to crash on at home so now I get to return the favor. They were staying for a whole week and I took a day off of work so we shoved as much into those days as humanly possible.

They also took advantage of this service I had discovered on my last trip: Flytographer. Basically, the idea is that pictures are one of your best mementos from a trip, but either you’re traveling alone and relying on the compassion of other travelers to capture that moment for you or you are a couple and can never be in the same picture together. Flytographer has photographers based in cities all over the world who are there to capture that trip for you in a photo session. Melissa’s birthday happened while she was here and it was also their 10 year dating anniversary (they have been married for three). The day after they got here they had a photo session with Vanessa and absolutely loved it. By the time they left their pictures were ready so I was able to see them and account for their awesomeness. I am now super jealous that I didn’t also book a session for myself, but there will hopefully be more trips in the year to come. #fingerscrossed 

After their photography session, we went for Melissa’s birthday dinner at the hotel where I stayed last time, The Shelbourne, at The Saddle Room. It was delicious, but because we were not guests of the hotel and it was Good Friday, we were not allowed to drink. Randomly, Ireland takes Good Friday VERY seriously and no pubs or restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol (so a lot of places are closed). Hotels can, but only to their residents. Curiously though, on actual Easter you are allowed to drink and most business are open. I had prepared by buying some wine before they arrived so we partook once back at the apartment and there was rejoicing in the land!

The next day we went to Kilkenny and Waterford. We left Dublin super early in the morning on the train (which was a new experience for me in Ireland). We stopped first in Kilkenny, which is apparently a big party town that I will need to re-vist next time I come. The town had a huge castle that we toured and had tons of cute, little shops and very friendly people. We discovered that Brian had an inner-photographer in him that had been lying dormant until this moment. Once they upload all of their pictures I’ll nab some for my photo recap post once my trip is over.

After Kilkenny, we hopped back on the train and headed to Waterford for some lunch (shoutout to Brian for overcoming his salmon allergy before eating ALL the seafood chowder in Ireland) and then we visited the Waterford Crystal Factory. I don’t know why, but I have been obsessed with seeing the factory ever since I found out it was in Ireland. It was honestly really cool, but it was totally different in my mind (as was Waterford). I wanted to buy everything, per usual, but settled on a package of 4 wine goblets that are currently being shipped back to my house. I’ve got my eye on a peacock carved crystal bowl though (also available at Macy’s) in case anyone wanted to get me a birthday present (on the 25th!).

 

 

We were supposed to take the train from Waterford all the way back to Dublin, but something was going on with the line we had to use so we took the train as far as we could go then they put us on a bus for an hour to get back to Dublin. While at the train station in Waterford, Melissa discovered that she had lost her phone… which was also holding her credit card and driver’s license.

Fortunately it was safely in the cab we had just left that was still nearby and we were able to avoid disaster once retrieved! The rest of the group we were with consistently asked her at each of the next stops if she had her phone as did Brian and I the rest of the trip. She will never live that down 😉

The next day was another early one as we set off for Blarney and Cork. On the way to Blarney we stopped at the Rock of Cashel. I had never heard of it, but honestly it was really beautiful and I would love to do a photoshoot here. Melissa and I just kept marveling over how Dublin always seems to have the best lighting for pictures (i.e. overcast). The Rock of Cashel is an ancient church in ruins complete with a graveyard. I was really impressed with this seemingly commonplace ruin (there are just so many of them).

After that little stop we hopped back on the bus and were soon in Blarney to visit the very famous Blarney Stone. Our tour guide warned us that if that was our major goal for the day then we needed to hop to it before the rest of the tourists did. I didn’t think we were that excited initially by it, but Melissa and Brian took off RUNNING for it so I followed. We did manage to beat most people to the stone and as I am always competitive that did give me a sense of accomplishment. We got our pictures with the stone (I fake kissed it since I heard rumor that drunk teenagers sneak up there to pee on it) and headed back down to enjoy the grounds.

Clearly, I had not done enough research because I totally didn’t realize that there was an actual castle and grounds in Blarney. We spent several hours wandering through the forest, taking about a billion pictures (Brian), and enjoying the beautiful day. We finished the site with some Irish coffees to-go and headed back to the bus to visit Cork.

 

We were in Cork just long enough to finish a pint before heading back to the bus to get back to Dublin. The wonderful thing about tours is that even though most things are several hours away YOU don’t have to drive! You are free to nap, read, write, daydream, eat some snick-snacks, do whatever you please. I have generally had great experiences with using tour guide services and still continue to recommend them. They are generally incredibly knowledgeable about the locations and sometimes even have their own funny stories.

As we were leaving Dublin that morning our bus driver/tour guide drove us by this huge open field that Braveheart had used when filming. Apparently back in the day, when they were filming it cause a lot of traffic issues for the people living in the area. To alleviate some of the grievances the movie crew told the village that they could all be extras in the movie and would even get paid. If you have seen the movie (which I have not…. yet) then you may remember a scene where several men lift up their kilts and moon some people. My bus driver was proudly one of the mooners and remembers that time fondly. #culture

I had that next day off so we slept in a bit and then tried to go see Bram Stoker’s grave at Christchurch Cathedral right by my apartment. It was like 6 euro to go in and we didn’t really feel like it at the time so we skipped out and bought some carrots to feed the deer. We drove over the park and fortunately found a small group of the deer fairly quickly. They LOVED the carrots and let us pet them before the park ranger came over to break up the party. We then walked closer to the front of the park to see this huge statue then left to go visit the Tullamore Dew Distillery.

Brian’s #1 request for the trip was to visit the distillery. This is a fairly small one and no tours leave from Dublin to see it. Fortunately, I have a car this time so I was able to accommodate this request fairly easily. What I didn’t realize was that to get here you have to get on the M50 Motorway and pay a toll, but not at the tollbooth. For whatever reason you have to remember to call or visit a website to pay you toll by 8pm the next day…. guess who forgot and paid it a few days later. I’ll have to update you when my rental car gets turned in about the outcome of that delay.

The distillery is actually really cool. It was recently updated in 2014 after being out of commission for a long period of time and all of the floors are original. We got there pretty early so we ate lunch in their restaurant and started peeking at the gift shop. The legal limit in Ireland is .01 as opposed to America’s .08 so I was not going to be imbibing. They gave me a little take home bottle as compensation for my abstinence. I was also REALLY tired so I found a comfy seat and promptly slept through the entire tasting session so it turned out to be a win-win. We bought way too much at the gift stop (I’m an enabler – what can I say?) then headed back to Dublin for a Skype session with some of our friends in Africa.

We got dinner at Boxty and it was delicious per usual and Melissa even got some of the Boxty mix to bring back home. I may have to pick some up as well before I leave. We did some souvenir shopping and then got one last drink for the night at a pub just outside of Temple Bar.

I had to go back to work, but Melissa and Brian ended up going to Giant’s Causeway and The Cliffs of Moher the next two days so I would meet them back in Dublin at night for dinner to hear about their adventures. We also visited the oldest bar in Dublin – The Brazen Head. It was a good way to end their trip and I was really sad to see them go. I always have a great time with them and am very fortunate to call them friends. 🙂

Side story: My friend Blair is super into finding flight deals and had made plans for our friend group to take an adventure in September. He was going to look in May for something and we would knowingly only have a small window of oppotunity to say yes before the deal closed. I happened to get a text from him in April the day of the United Airlines catastrophe about a deal at the end of September for Belize. I’ve never been to South America and I trust his trip-planning skills so I whipped out my credit card and confirmed my excitement for yet another adventure! I’ve only heard good things from several other Irish people who’ve gone and I am looking forward to a beach vacation SO BAD. I also discovered that there are sharks there so I’ll be diligent about my water activities since I think that a shark attack is probably one of the worst ways to die/have to live the rest of your life remembering. Even if the sharks don’t get me I’ll be on the lookout since I’m flying United now 😉

April isn’t over, but this post is getting ridiculously long and we haven’t even hit my birthday yet so I’ll just make the next post at least for the end of April or potentially combine it with part of May. Stay tuned and see what happens 🙂

Happy Reading

-Savvy

Ireland Personal Travel

February + March Recap

Remember that time that I really thought I had updated this more than I actually had?

Yeah…. sorry about that (again).

Since we last spoke two months have FLOWN by and I am literally one month away from leaving Ireland. I have a funny feeling I’ll be back at some point in the future, but plans can change as we all know. I really should have kept up with this more because I know I am going to be missing some things so let’s just go by the highlights of February and March:

February:

  • Landed in Dublin without any issues with my flights or luggage #praise
  • Settled into my apartment: cannot be more grateful for my location/accommodation/situation
  • Got my car and a driving lesson: obviously asked for an automatic. Only minor mishaps have occurred thus far *knocks on wood*
  • Working lots (but it’s what I’m here to do so obviously)
  • Work night out with the girls and lads
  • Hanging out with friends from past visits
  • Joined an Expat Networking Group that I should probably interact with more…

 

March:

  • Pancake Tuesday: instead of Fat Tuesday they have Pancake Tuesday and they eat pancakes and crepes all day! It’s wonderful and I think this should happen on a monthly basis 🙂

  • St. Patrick’s Day: I sadly had to work that day so by the time I got home all of the parades were over and most people had already been day drinking enough to pass out so that night was actually pretty quiet. Totally did see piles of vomit everywhere #typicalIrishday

  • Nights out with the girls

 

  • Got my first Thai massage: very different than the normal Swedish massage of which I am accustomed. Instead of the normal rubbing movement in circles they just like push the area in one direction. It was less relaxing during the actual massage, but the after affects were better than my normal Swedish one. Also – you can’t beat 40 euro for an hour.

  • Ate ALL the Indian food: My apartment happens to be right around the corner from one of my favorite Indian places from my previous visits: Diwali. UGH SO GOOD. I seriously went 3x one week…. twice. Please refrain from judgement.
  • Hung out with friends
  • Went shopping: Hello, VAT Tax 😉
  • Hiked on Dublin Mountain the first good weather day I had (somehow subsequently got lost while still following the trail)

  • Hurt my foot out dancing (or potentially from the hike)
  • Saw Beauty and the Beast, 50 Shades Darker, and Logan.

April will be a little more coherent because all of those events happened not too long ago so I can still remember them.

These past two months have been amazing and I relish getting out of my comfort zone, but at the same time that is not without growing pains. I am an extrovert and I love being around people (not to say that I don’t enjoy alone time, but I digress). It is very difficult for me to try to be a tourist without also having someone here for activities. I probably would have utilized my weekends better in the beginning had I realized that was going to be such a big challenge for me. I am starting to accept it and force myself to still try new things even though I am alone. In April I did have some friends come see me and I easily packed more into those weeks that the rest of the time exponentially. There have been many #solobrunching experiences and lots of lonely walks around Dublin. When I am at home in Texas I am also usually alone, but I don’t really need to explore things there so I generally don’t think about the loneliness. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t travel well alone. You would think that I should know this by now, but it is still a weekly challenge for me during this period of time. Now that the weather is finally nice on weekends I am really trying to get it together to go do the rest of the activities on my list.

 

Side note: I think all of my family have been lying about our non-Irish heritage this whole time.

Look at the names on these pubs! BOTH SIDES REPRESENTED

 

I promise the April update won’t take as long to reach you as this post has 🙂

Happy Reading!

-Savvy

Ireland Travel

Dublin for 3 MONTHS!

Yes, you read that correctly.

My dream of living in another country (if only for a short while) has finally come true! I get to be in Dublin, Ireland for THREE WHOLE MONTHS! This time I have an apartment and a car like a real city dweller. I am incredibly nervous to drive! I got my car today, but my driving lesson got moved to tomorrow. I had to drive the car around the block to park it in my garage and I thought I was going to have a panic attack. The driver’s side is on the opposite side AND they drive on the left hand side of the road instead of the right. #firstworldproblems

 

This time I flew to London before getting on a short flight to Dublin. I made some nice friends in the DFW airport in the American Airlines lounge and one at the MAC makeup counter. Everyone was so nice and chatty that day! Since I left on Valentine’s Day there really weren’t that many people at the airport, which made getting through TSA a breeze. There are still no direct flights to Dublin directly from Dallas, but I think I prefer to fly to NYC and then to Dublin rather than London first. If I go to London first then I have to do customs there AND in Dublin. The Heathrow airport is HUGE too, so if you are ever using it for a connecting flight make sure that you allow plenty of time for your layover. I had three hours, which may have been a tad generous, but I could see where on a busier day (it was the 15th by then) where you would need all 3 hours. Also, remind me to not look like a total slob if I ever fly into London again. You should have seen the drastic difference from everyone in the lounge vs me after an 8 hour flight. I was frightening.

After I landed in Dublin I was greeted by Brian from the relocation company who was to collect me from the airport and help me get adjusted. He normally collects people who have never been here before, but I was super easy since I’ve already been here twice. If you’ve never had someone holding a sign for you at an airport, it’s fairly exciting. I’m sure you all know by now how much I like to feel like I’m famous so that only helped my ego, which is totally unnecessary according to some. Brian was super great and didn’t even act phased when I totally tried to get into the driver’s side because I forgot that it wasn’t the passenger side in my jet-lagged haze; not the first time I’ve done that and it probably won’t be the last. Brian had picked up some groceries for me prior to the collection and helped me take them up to my new apartment along with my luggage. He did question my need for 4 suitcases for a 3 month stay… and after unpacking I also have questioned my decisions. I asked for more hangers… I will still need more. #sorrynotsorry

Brian took me on a drive to the office since I generally don’t really pay attention when my cab drives me there at 6:30am. Coffee might have to start becoming part of my daily routine again… I normally don’t have to be at work until 8, but here they start at 7 since traffic can get so bad. We drove all around just getting acquainted with the route and then we walked around city centre getting used to this new location. His son works at Lush, which happens to be one of my major stops every time I’m in town. It’s way cheaper here than in the States and the dollar is almost flat with the Euro (aka I need to shop more). My skin is going to look ah-maze-ing after all of this salmon and skincare.

Every time I visit this city I learn new things. I will be here during several major holidays to include Easter. Back in the states we have Fat Tuesday before Lent, but here they have Pancake Tuesday! All day they eat pancakes! People have tried to pull jokes on me with things like this before (like feeding Leprechauns) so I totally didn’t believe my coworker when she told me about this wonderful day. It is in fact a thing and work is bringing a Crepe truck for lunch that day! (Also, they pronounce them creps, not like grapes with a c instead of a g)

I have just spent the past few days getting used to the time change, arranging my apartment, and getting back into the swing of the city. I still get American holidays so I don’t have to work on Monday for President’s Day, but obviously that’s not a normal holiday here in Ireland. I also have cable TV here, which is a very nice treat since I only use Amazon Prime or Netflix at home.

I do miss little Karma and my friends. I am hoping that people come to visit since I managed to bring a queen sized air mattress with me. Brian and Melissa are coming in mid-April and I am so thrilled to have them! Tara potentially will come for her Spring Break, but has lost her passport… so she’s got to straighten that out. I haven’t planned any weekend trips here yet, but my friends are all very exited to do some little road trips. I am fortunate that I’ve made friends in previous visits who are excited to hang out while I’m in town. Last night I went out with Marie and one of her friends. Last time I was here Marie posted a picture with me and all of her friends were like “Who is your new friend? Why don’t we know her?” which sounds to me like a slew of new friends to be made 🙂

Stay tuned for the rest of the adventures!

-Savvy

Travel

Leg Four of Europe 2016 – Berlin

Guten tag from Berlin!

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On Sunday I left Amsterdam for Berlin, Germany. The nice thing about my Air Bnb in Amsterdam was that it was fairly close to the airport. Schipol is apparently the fourth busiest airport in all of Europe. It was rather large, but everything was run very efficiently. I flew KLM, which is very popular here, but not as popular in Texas. My flight was only just over an hour, but they gave out free sandwiches! It was a full flight and I had the middle seat, but no one came for the window so I just scooted right on over 🙂 The flight was uneventful other than that, which is exactly what you want to hear; traveling with only a carry-on has greatly helped in that regard. I think I am a converted traveler after not checking a bag this entire trip (except for the very first leg to Dublin and on the way home in a few days).

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I took a taxi from the Berlin airport to my Air Bnb here in Berlin, which is in Marlene Dietrich‘s old apartment building! I thought that was pretty cool in itself, but my apartment is also super awesome. It’s really artsy and well thought out for a flat. It’s basically one medium-sized room broken up into sections. The bathroom is right next to kitchen, which is a little odd, but works for this space. The bed is on a platform with a closet and underneath the platform is another bed as well as a printer. I could totally see myself living in a place like this if I could bring myself to purge about 80% of my belongings 🙂 My host is also suuuuper awesome. Even though there is a printer it wasn’t working with my laptop and if you fly Ryanair you have to print your own boarding pass or pay a $50 fee… I asked him if he knew a internet cafe nearby so I could print my boarding pass back to Dublin and he just had me email the boarding pass PDF to him and brought it over to me! He is totally going to get a glowing recommendation for sure. 🙂

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I got here on a Sunday and fortunately the weather was very lovely. My Airbnb host also told me about this cool bar that is on top the 25 Hours Hotel near the Berlin Mall called The Monkey Bar. The bar overlooks the Berlin Zoo’s monkey enclosure. Due to the language barrier, my understanding was that you could drink with monkeys so I was off! I was sadly mistaken that you could only view the monkeys, not actually drink with them, so after a quick self-guided tour, I moved on down the block. I walked so much that first day and ended up seeing a few sights that were actually going to be on my tour the next day (that seems to be a theme with me). I’m glad I did a ton of walking to orient myself that day with the nice weather though since the next two days proved to be fairly miserable with rain.

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I was also very excited to get my hands on some authentic German food since I had such fond memories of being in Mannheim 10 years ago and eating so much good food. Apparently, Berlin German food is very different than Mannheim/Frankfurt/Heidelberg German food  AKA no spatzel! 🙁 You don’t even know my level of disappointment. I had to drown in in making up for it with schnitzel and strudel, which were both still very tasty, yet not spatzel…

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The next day I had booked a walking tour throughout many famous Berlin sites from World War II and The Cold War. Everyone always tells me how FUN Berlin is…. not going to lie, this portion of the trip was rather depressing. I totally have to come back and only do fun things because I definitely got all of the sad parts out of the way right off the bat. I do feel that I learned so much though in these past two days and from really knowledgable sources. My tour guide through the actual city was a lady named Merren from Australia, but is of German descent. She has her master’s in history and came to Berlin four years ago. She had some great insights and managed to walk us briskly through the cold all while being several months pregnant! Fortunately the rain stayed away until right after the tour was over, but it was significantly colder than the day prior.

Sights Seen in Berlin:

  1. A portion of the Berlin Wall

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2. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: a very controversial memorial since there is no set meaning to the art piece, there are no descriptions on the slabs identifying that this is for the Jewish people, and the company who produced the chemical that is coating the concrete slabs to protect them from graffiti is the same company that provided concentration camps with the chemicals for the gas chambers. Here is the wikipedia article to give you some more information. It was very erie to walk through and actually experience.

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  1. Checkpoint Charlie

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  1. Museum Island

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  1. The Brandenburg Gate (in the daytime and I had accidentally already visited the previous night)

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  1. The site of the Berlin German book burning in front of the Bebelplatz. There is a clear window into the ground into a room with enough blank bookcases to hold the amount of books burned that night.

  2. The statue of “Mother Holding Her Dead Son

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8. Topography of Terror: a museum where the SS offices used to be.

  1. The car parking lot over where Hitler’s bunker used to be. Only a small signs marks this spot so as not to make it a memorial for Nazi sympathizers. The sign is a recent addition from the last time the World Cup was held in Germany (2006).

  2. The hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his infant son, Blanket, out of the window. (not WW2 related, just interesting and happens to be right next to the Brandenburg gate)

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Germany has made many of these sites free to the public as part of their “penance” for so much of the wrong that was done to so many different people groups. They want everyone to be able to view these sites without having to worry about cost since it is such an important part of all of our histories.

After this very intense day of sight seeing I went back to a biergarden with some others from the tour. Although I do not like the taste of beer (they didn’t have cider) I had to take a picture with one of the traditional glasses.

As if one day of intense images wasn’t enough, the next day I went to a concentration camp just outside Berlin called Sachsenhausen. Ironically, it was also my half birthday; what a way to celebrate…. If you are a new reader to this blog let me just let you know now that I am Jewish.

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Fortunately, most of my relatives (to my knowledge) managed to escape the majority of WW2 terrors. My great-grandfather actually escaped from a concentration camp and made his way to America. It was incredibly sobering to be in a place that was dedicated to the cause of wiping out entire people groups: Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc… Even though I am not full-blooded Jew, just being partial would have been enough for the Gestapo to arrest me and send me to die in a place like Sachsenhausen.

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My guide today also had his master’s in history: specifically in how Germany treated public school history textbooks post-WW2. Apparently, they initially basically cut out everything after the 1860s. Up until 1960 this was happening until the young adults realized what had happened and started the movement to add it back into the textbooks so future generations would know so it would not be repeated. During this time period that age group felt a tremendous amount of guilt for what had happened, even though they had not even been born during that time period. Now the country is trying to reach a medium where they are not racked with guilt for something they personally did not do, but are not having “amnesia” about the events since it did in fact happen in their country.

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The concentration camp was eventually taken over by the Red Army who tore down parts of the camp in an attempt to show this as a victory for the Soviets and a place to come revel in that victory. Portions of the buildings still exist and most have had to go through major restorations. In the 1990s a small group of Ne0-Nazis tried to burn down some of the buildings; you can still see their efforts in one of the barracks where the ceilings and walls are charred from the fire. Several buildings remain as well as part of the gas chambers and the crematoriums. There are several marked sites over the grounds to show where the ashes of the burned prisoners were dumped once the trays were full.

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It was a very serious day and sort of a sad way to basically end my trip. I am very glad I went and thankful I was afforded the opportunity to pay my respects in this way. I am not sure how many of my other family members have visited other concentration camps, if any. My mother came to Berlin back in the late 70s/early 80s when the Wall was still up. She was able to visit East Berlin on a bus, but was not allowed to get off of the bus to walk around and explore. The answer when people ask how old Berlin is is basically “26” since that’s when the Wall came down. Berlin is still in a huge state of change and will probably be totally different by the next time I visit. There are construction cranes everywhere you look trying to build more apartments and bring in more tourism so the city can continue to rebuild and have a positive future.

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Tomorrow I head back to Dublin for a night then it’s back to the good ol’ USA after being gone for almost an entire month. As much as I love traveling/being on vacation, I do enjoy my routines and am eager to see my sweet little puppy. I am getting back right in time for a birthday party, Halloween, and a wedding shower so there is still no slowing down for awhile, but that’s the way my life always goes and I enjoy it.

Stick around!

-Savvy

Personal Travel Uncategorized

Leg Three of Europe 2016 – Amsterdam

Hello from Amsterdam! 

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Leaving Paris was bittersweet for me since I never want to leave, but at the same time I was so excited to go into the unknown once again. Dublin, London, and Paris, while not quite home, are familiar. It’s been several years since I’ve truly been immersed in another totally foreign culture. I have never been to Amsterdam, I don’t speak the language, know the transit system, etc. so it was a new and exciting challenge.

This brings up a few tips for next time:

  1. Try to book your accommodations as close to the city centre as possible. This will generally save you transit money (and confusion) even if it costs a little bit more per night. Trust me, when you don’t remember if your train stop is Waterlooplein, Weesperplin, or Wilbaustrautt and it’s getting late you will thank me.
  2. Learn a few key phrases in the local language
  3. Have the address of your hotel/hostel/Air BnB saved into your phone where it doesn’t require wifi or data to access it
  4. Download/Screenshot a map of the area
  5. Try to rely on wifi/data as few times as possible. Even if a country is in the EU that doesn’t mean that your data will transfer from one country to another. If you have a US data plan be prepared to pay a huge fee when you get home too…. #DreadingThatSprintBill

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The people in Amsterdam are very friendly, super chill (probably from the weed), and generally have a great grasp on English so this isn’t an incredible culture shock. The worst part was just remembering the train/bus stops. There are easily more bicycles here than cars (at least near the canals), but unless your GPS is working incredibly well I probably wouldn’t try to get in the fast lane with the more experienced cyclists. After breaking my tailbone in sixth grade, I generally avoid riding bicycles if at all possible so I was not eager to hop on for this trip. If I had a guide to show me where I was going then I would be more apt to rent one for the weekend. Side note: how they remember where they “parked” their bicycle is a mystery to me. There will be MASSIVE racks of bicycles that basically all look the same. There must be some trade secret that I am just not privy to to explain this situation.

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Marijuana and prostitutes are legal here and don’t have the same stigma as they do in the states. I did have to walk through the famous Red Light District just to see it for myself. It really is as easy as walking up to the door where the girl or guy is and hopping into the rented room. One prostitute thought I was there with someone else as a couple and I quickly managed to get myself out of that situation. There are tons of “cafes” where you can purchase all manner of weed varieties as well as edibles and mushrooms, but in most of them you cannot also get liquor, only beer or wine. However, Stoopwaffles are available everywhere and only contain fat and sugar 🙂 Illegal on my real life diet, but totally legal on my vacation diet!

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I also finally got to cross something off my bucket list: visiting the Anne Frank Museum. Unfortunately, they do not allow you to take pictures of the inside, but I got the see the actual red-checkered diary in which she started writing down her novel. If you do go, I suggest booking your tickets online in advance through the museum website. It’s around $12, but you also pick your time slot for the museum so you are guaranteed entrance. I am visiting in off-season and it was still packed. Make sure you do carve out at least an hour for it since there is a lot of reading involved and people in front of you may move slowly. Everything is in Dutch as well as English and you get to see the real rooms and the bookcase that covered the secret entrance to their annex.

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On Day 2 of the trip I went on another Viator tour to Zaanse Schans, which is about 30 minutes away from central Amsterdam. It is a historic town with a ton of old, restored windmills that are actually working to this day. Each windmill works for a specific purpose: one mills wood, another grinds the pigment for the paint used in the town, another made mustard! It was really cool to walk through them and see the people who are so dedicated to preserving their heritage. (again, not sponsored)

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After the windmills we were then transported to another village where we watched a cheese making demonstration. I have a great love of cheese and I was excited to find out that:

A.) They were making Gouda

B.) I CAN TAKE IT IN MY CARRY ON!!

I bought a regular wheel as well as an Italian herb one so invite me to ALL the cocktail parties! 🙂

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After the cheese demonstration we got lunch at a local restaurant. I got fried mussels, which were very tasty. I had previously mistakenly gotten the wrong type of waffle recommended to me by my friend Julia, but the correct type of waffle was being made right next door so I managed to snag one for dessert. True to form, they were tasty, but how can you go wrong with dough and nutella??

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Once the time in that village was complete we were herded onto this river cruise, which normally I would think would be delightful, but it was FREEZING. Of course by the time I got onto the boat all of the inside seats were taken so I froze outside about 80% of the time until I couldn’t handle it anymore and just stood inside to thaw out. Once the ice boat ride was complete we finally got to go to another little village that makes the traditional wooden shoes you always associate with Holland. Back in the day it would take 3 hours to make one shoe; now with “modern” machinery it takes 5 minutes per shoe. I succumbed to my inner tourist and bought a pair…. they are supposed to be water proof so maybe I’ll wear them around in the garden? Orrrrr just put them in a place of honor on my travel wall…..

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It was an action-packed day and a great way to end my time in Amsterdam. Next time I come I’m definitely staying closer to the city centre to take more advantage of the nightlife. Living so far away kinda put a damper on that idea for this go around. Not a problem though since I will most definitely be back and I really could use the down time in a very comfy bed 🙂

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I am now back in my Air BnB taking advantage of the fact that there is a washer and dryer available for my use since all I brought was a carry-on and we are now 7 days into the trip. I am fairly proud of the choices I made in my small carry-on, but I will make a mental note to bring fewer leggings, fewer shoes, and more shirts next time. I feel like traveling by carry-on would have been much easier in warmer weather. It is steadily getting colder and I know that I am going to probably need to buy a scarf in Berlin if this keeps up. #moresouvenirs 

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Tomorrow I head to Berlin for my last real stop on my European tour! After Berlin I’m back in Dublin for a night to pick up the rest of my luggage and then head on back to Dallas. There are still no direct flights to Dallas from Dublin (weird, I know) so I will have to make the journey back through… dun dun dunnnn CHICAGO. I swear to God, if I get stuck there again for another three days it will NOT be good. (if you are confused about to what I am referring, please read this post for context.)

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Leave me some love in the comments and stay posted for the rest of my trip!

Savvy

Personal Travel

Leg Two of Europe 2016 – Paris/Normandy

As sad as I was to leave London, the upcoming rest of the trip was still very exciting. Paris is a city I have visited twice previously. Once on that same London trip when I was 13 and once for a day on a Germany trip when I was 15. I’ve always have a love for Paris and even decorated my childhood bedroom in all of my souvenirs (i.e. useful postcards because I don’t do trinkets) from my first trip. I’ve never bothered to change it so when I visit my room at my parent’s house I get to relive that trip over and over again. Both of my previous trips were in July so it was really cool to see how the city changes in the autumn weather.

Instead of flying to Paris it was significantly easier to just take the train. Previously, on my first trip my family and I also took the train so this wasn’t my first rodeo. However again… that was 12 years ago and I wasn’t in charge that time. I managed to get from the train station to my Air BnB unscathed and was pleasantly surprised to find that the location was as close to the Eiffel Tower as previously described. I was literally across the bridge from the tower and could see it from around the corner of my apartment. This was super convenient especially giving that my grasp of the French language was way stronger in my head than in real life. My French Rosetta Stone computer program is still collecting dust on my bookshelf…. #goals

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I managed to avoid the Metro by being this close to all of the major sites, which from my memory, saved me from some smells I would rather not ever smell again if I can help it. I did notice that in the past 10-12 years Paris does seem a lot cleaner. Maybe that’s just my memory or maybe it was because both previous times were during the height of tourist season and the city just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the people. I really enjoyed exploring the city without the previous hustle and bustle that can occur during the summer months. Either way I wasn’t about to chance it for the smell and for the fact that I most likely was going to get myself lost. If I was here for a week or so, not a problem. Three days is not enough time to salvage time from being lost. I know, I know, “getting lost is part of the adventure“! I’ll save that adventure for my fourth trip to Paris, thank you very much.

The first day was basically just getting to my apartment and walking around the neighborhood a bit. I of course had to visit the Tower several times and Day 1 was no exception. Traveling as an adult who needs to actually be in charge in a new place is way more exhausting than I remember as a teenager who just needed to follow a group. Couple that with anxiety and just getting to my next destination is already enough struggle for most of the day. I managed to get to my destinations and that was basically all I could handle for that day. I have consistently been going to bed super early mainly due from exhaustion and from the paranoia of going out at night in a new city where I don’t know where things are. My love for adventure sometimes takes a back seat to my personal fears and capacities, but that is probably what has kept me safe many a time. If you’re reading this looking for wild stories, then this is probably not the trip for you (but stay posted for other trips with more people and when I’m not in charge). 😉

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The next day was some more low-key sightseeing, which totally needed to include a trip to the Champs-Élysées! Since I had already done my major purchase in Dublin for LV, I just needed a quick run-through of the flagship store in Paris. If I hadn’t already looked at my credit card statement I might have been tempted to buy another addition to my now growing collection. I reigned it in for a few more stores, but then I ran across Longchamp. In my extensive research of what to buy in Paris I discovered than not only LV, but also Longchamp bags were significantly cheaper. They are also a great travel bag since they fold up fairly small and are made from nylon which is more water resistant than the calf-hair MK crossover I had been carrying. Yet another useful souvenir was purchased 🙂 Between the two bags I have probably saved over $500 dollars that I would have spent at some point. I already have been wanting them for a long time so it just makes logical sense to buy them both now at the cheapest I’ll ever get them rather than waiting until I’m back in the states. If I ever get the opportunity, there is also a Burberry outlet in London I discovered for the next trip! I may like to shop, but I am not into paying more than I have to for anything.

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After Longchamp the Ladurée macaron store was calling my name. I would have brought back some for others, but as I am not checking a bag that would prove difficult and they do not travel well. Let me just tell you that they were every bit as delicious as I imagined. Dublin and Harrod’s in London actually have their stores as well, but I decided to wait until Paris to get some for the real experience. I only got 4 for a little snick-snack. Coconut, pistachio, coffee, and salted caramel; all of them delicious. This one also had a little cafe inside, which I probably should have visited, but alas, there were sights to see! Someday when I am rich and famous I will spend more time on this street and the cafe will be my headquarters.

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I walked down the entire district and ended up at the Louvre glass pyramids. I had been previously had spent the better part of four hours in there the last time so I decided to skip it for this trip. However, it did remind me of the time when I went with my parents and sister. My parents left me in charge of 10-year-old Tara (who looked 7) while they went to figure out tickets for our next attraction. All around the glass pyramids there are ponds with ducks. Anyone who has met or knows of my sister probably knows about her love of animals. There are ducks everywhere on the ponds so she was just minding her own business looking at the ducks when all of a sudden an Asian family swooped in a scooped her up and started walking away with my baby sister! Thirteen year old, gothic Savannah was not as assertive as you might think and I was stumped on what to do. I sort of followed them at a concerned pace until I realized they thought she was a cute, french child that would be perfect for their family portrait. They sat her in their family picture, put her down, and walked away without a word. I was never more scared/amused in my life. Fortunately, Marc and Sarah soon returned and I did not get into trouble (my main concern). Tara and I have laughed about that for years. I can just imagine a gigantic blow up of this picture on some random family’s wall hanging there for the past 12 years.

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I like to book tours especially when I’ve already seen most main sites and want a different perspective from an insider. They also take the pressure off of me trying to figure out where I am going for the day/driving. God knows I avoid driving in foreign countries at all costs. I just get flashbacks to watching my parent’s honeymoon video of my dad driving around the Arc de Triumph, videotaping with one of those gigantic 80’s film cameras, narrating, and my mom screaming bloody murder. You need dramamine just to watch the tape. I will not be a part of any driving accident abroad if I can help it. It also doesn’t help that my manual transmission driving skills leave a lot to be desired. Marc took it upon himself to teach me in his Z06 Corvette around the North Texas Motor Speedway a few years ago… let’s just say it didn’t end with flying colors on my part.

My tour for that random site-seeing day was dinner at the Eiffel Tower followed by a show at the Moulin Rouge! I was pretty hyped since this was my first “adult” thing to do in Paris since both previous trips I was barely in high school. Let me save you the trip: it’s basically a dated Vegas show with nothing you haven’t already seen. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be really cool to say I went, actually going is a different story. Save your money. Dinner at the Eiffel Tower was also pretty cool, but I think I would rather book it on my own next time now that I’ve done it. I had read a lot of travel blogs who hyped it up a lot so I had one image in my mind, but it was actually very different. Because it was a tour and we are on a time schedule there was just a set menu that everyone got (which was good, don’t get me wrong), but probably wasn’t what I would order if I was there as just a normal patron. I will put it on my list to return next time, but it will most likely be for lunch and not on a tour.  The tour was fun though and it was nice being taken all of these places on a comfortable coach bus and skipping lines. You know how much I love living the VIP life.

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The next morning came very early for my Normandy tour. Fortunately, the meet-up spot was right down the street from my apartment, which made my early morning, anxiety-ridden walk that much easier. Our tour guide, Felix, was a very friendly and knowledgable former history teacher from Croatia. I enjoy having tour guides who aren’t from the actual city since they are most of the time not biased the way nationals would be. That being said nationals/locals should know the area really well in their own way and can offer different insights. I have been very fortunate to have really awesome tour guides most of the time so I could myself lucky. I usually book all of my tours through Viator. They have the best deals and always a wide selection to chose from. I’ve had issues with tours not being available on the dates that I want, but that’s usually my fault for looking last minute. (again: not sponsored)

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We left Paris for Normandy around 7am. I am pretty good about sleeping anywhere and everywhere so I slept the majority of the way to our first site, which was the farthest away. The bus was fairly small and didn’t have Wi-Fi (my major complaint) so sleeping was my best alternative. I do have data for some reason in all of these places, which I am sure my cell phone company is going to remind me about on my next bill even though I am on an international plan. I tried to get a portable Wi-Fi device, but even if a country is in the EU that doesn’t mean that their data plans transfer from country to country. That makes no sense to me and in this day and age with international travel being so prevalent this needs to change steps off soap box.

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Our first stop was a gas (petrol) station for breakfast and a leg stretch. We hopped back on and pretty soon were at our first site, Utah Beach. Not going to lie, I am not the biggest history buff. All of my family, that I know of, survived WW2 and no one was stationed in France so I have no personal ties to these historical sites in that way even though I did have several serve in other capacities. We did have one veteran on the trip (he hates Trump) so that was interesting especially since Felix was a history professor so he had his own personal questions, which made for a lively discussion on the bus during our “down time”. After Utah Beach we drove past a German cemetery where all of the graves were buried vertically to save space since it was such a small cemetery. After this we went to a Cidery (my favorite part) and learned about the history of the Cidery and the plans for the future. The owner just got FDA approval to sell in the US so I didn’t feel too bad that I couldn’t buy any at the moment #carryonproblems 

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After the Cidery we went to lunch in a nearby fishing village at a Michelin starred restaurant. I had probably the best Haddock I’ve ever had in my life and I am so glad I took a picture of the restaurant. I sat next to a father/son duo from Minnesota so we chatted about that for a bit since I had visited briefly in college at the Mall of America. I also discovered that there were two other Texan groups on the trip: one from Houston and the other from Forney (near Dallas)! Again, such a small world.

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After lunch we went to Pont du Hoc, which was not that far away, then to an American cemetery for their closing ceremonies where Teddy Roosevelt was buried, and then Omaha beach. We had a long drive back, but managed to stop back just in time for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle at 10pm. It was a great way to end the last night in Paris. 🙂

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Stay tuned for the rest of Europe!

-Savvy