Real Talk: Starting & Sharing My Blog

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Recently I heard from an old friend who is starting their own blog and wanted to know about my experience with sharing it publicly. I realized that a lot of new bloggers probably struggle with this, and it may even be the reason that some are too scared to create a blog. My advice may not be the cookie cutter, everything is butterflies response that you might want, but it is the truth.

Photo via Pinterest
 Without further ado, here is the story of how I started and ultimately shared my blog...

My Grateful Heart: Thanksgiving Edition

Thursday, November 27, 2014

This special edition of My Grateful Heart is dedicated to all of my fellow Americans on this lovely holiday! Most years, I have been lucky enough to sit around a dining table with a giant, carved turkey, a beautiful place setting and my close family and friends. This year, I have to spend it across the ocean from it all, which has really put things into perspective for me. I have always been close with my family, and we have had some amazing memories because of it, but it truly hit me how much I value family in my life when I realized I wouldn't be home to celebrate with them. My first Thanksgiving away, back in 2011 during my exchange year, was one of the toughest points of my year abroad. It hurt that I couldn't go home to my cinnamon-scented home and help my parents prepare the feast. But mostly, it hurt that I couldn't convey what Thanksgiving meant to my foreign family. It is such a unique holiday to North America, and it was such a unique realization for me.

Now, I understand better its meaning, but that doesn't make it any less important to reflect on all of the blessings I am able to count presently and during the past year!

Photo via Saveur
  • Two loving, generous parents who I can also call my friends & biggest fans
  • A father that does what he loves and loves what he does, and encourages me to never settle
  • A mother who listens to my every thought, worry and whim, and teaches me to love
  • An amazing inspiration of a brother, who shows me every day that hard work pays off
  • A gorgeous, lively sister-in-law that loves me despite my flaws
  • A wonderful best friend that has been there for me through thick and thin
  • Incredible roommates that have become like family
  • A great support network and sorority at my university
  • The best Big, Littles and GrandLittles I could have hoped for
  • My good health and physical being
  • Access to clean water
  • The ability to travel and experience the world while I am young
  • The opportunity to learn from great teachers with students from all walks of life
  • A heart open to adventure
  • My ambition to keep moving forward
  • Shelter and food, no matter where I am
  • Clothing that fits and keeps me warm during the chilly winter months
  • The mental and fiscal means to take classes I enjoy
  • Expanding this blog and growing in my writing
  • Being able to capture great moments in photos and videos
  • Music, in all of its glory
  • Keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones along this journey
  • Knowing that I am never alone
  • My beautiful guardian angel, who follows me in all my travels

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?
 
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Real Talk: Why I Travel

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I tend to talk about the lighter, fluffier things on this blog, especially when it comes to travel. I write about my adventures - where I went, what I did, food I ate, etc - but I don't really delve into the nitty gritty about why I travel. Today, I decided to change that.

Photo via Pinterest

Foodie Review: Cafe Savoy

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'll admit I haven't been keeping up with regular restaurant reviews over here...there's something about taking photos in restaurants in Europe that makes me feel like such an outsider, so I try to refrain. I also usually eat the food I get before I even think to take a photo. Oops.

Anyway, I was so impressed by this brunch spot in Prague that I had to share it with you all! And don't worry, I'll start sharing my favorite Parisian eats very soon.

Cafe Savoy was just a short walk from where we stayed near the castle in Prague, on the other side of the river from Old Town Square, and it was more than worth the small hike.


Weekend Travels: Prague

Monday, November 17, 2014

This is the third and final part of my Fall Break adventures, and absolutely the toughest one for me to write...because I just want to go back so badly!


State of the Union: November 14, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

My, oh my, these past months have been such a whirlwind for me. Between arriving in France, getting adjusted to classes, making new friends, traveling with my roomies for fall break and now cramming in everything we can until we leave (plus dealing with finals), there has been hardly enough time for me to breathe. But, because I love my readers (YOU!) so much, I'm taking a moment to update you on the state of affairs in my life:



 on a few last-minute weekend trips before I leave - stay tuned to my Facebook page & Instagram for where I end up!

 well, I lost my headphones, so nothing at the moment, but I would be listening to my latest favorite 8tracks playlist, featuring Hozier, Bastille & Kodaline

 out my life for next year & beyond; I keep bouncing between wanting an internship in diplomacy, an internship in travel/writing and now I've added international law to the mix...oy vey

about where I'm going to live this January - apartment hunt, here I come!

more time to travel around Europe, although I'm sure I'll be back someday soon. Oh! And a new planner (like this KSNY one) for the coming academic year


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Weekend Travels: Budapest

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If the first thing that came to mind when you saw this post is about Budapest is the song by George Ezra, then you’re not alone. We may have even listened to it several times while in the city. Turns out, it’s not really about Budapest, but everything you’re about to read is, so consider us even!

WARNING: This post is a bit long because anything shorter wouldn't be doing it justice.


We flew from Dublin to Budapest late on Sunday night - I’m talking 1AM arrival…not fun. Our AirBNB host was amazing and met us in the early hours of the morning at the apartment we rented.

[HINT: make sure you notify your AirBNB host of your travel timing when you request the place, there’s nothing worse than having a place & then realizing it won’t work because of schedules! It’s also just common courtesy - they are letting you crash at their place, after all]

After sleeping off our late night, we woke up with one thing on our minds: thermal baths.
Traveling has a way of making you tense, even if you’re having the best time, you can’t avoid kinks in your neck from falling asleep on trains/planes/buses or the strain on your muscles from dragging your luggage around. Needless to say, a day at the baths sounded absolutely perfect.
We researched a bit and found that the best baths were just outside the city center, called the Szchenyi baths. We tried to call ahead and make sure they would have room for a couple of massages, but were met with the language barrier and decided instead to just wing it.

And oh my, was it perfect!



 My roommate, Cassie, and I splurged on massages before hopping into the warm, outdoor pools. It was so refreshing and relaxing. We spent quite a few hours just wading in and out of pools, taking spins around a whirlpool that was surprisingly strong, snapping pictures with our phones (thank you, LifeProof case) and making new friends.


When we had finally water logged ourselves - and our towels - enough, we packed up and went back to the apartment to shower & nap. Hot tubbing is tough work, okay?

By the time we all recovered from our intense state of relaxation, it was time for dinner. Usually our resident foodie, Cass, finds the restaurants we go to, but this time Emily (the other one) found a suggestion for Café Kör, and thank goodness because this might have been the best part of the trip! Except that we were so wrapped up in the moment that we forgot to take any pictures…

So let me set the scene: We arrive in downtown Budapest, in front of the Basilica, where everything is lit up in that backyard-party kind of way. Around the corner, on a side street, this little restaurant is tucked away, with a small outdoor seating area and an awning boasting its name. When we told the maître’d that we didn’t have a reservation, he looked around frantically at the full tables and then, settling down a bit, told us that if we waited fifteen minutes, he’d seat us. At this point, we’re used to waiting, and have spent quite some time in queues for restaurants. We happily passed the time scouring the menu and commenting on dishes. Then, lo and behold, our maître’d strutted up to us with a tray of four glasses of champagne! He announced that it had been more than fifteen minutes and he wanted to make up for breaking his promise. Totally unexpected, totally pleasant, and totally a reason why this place is the best.

Inside, the restaurant was cute, cozy and very lively. We immediately ordered a few appetizers: a half portion of the goulash (Hungarian comfort food) and a plate of the café’s specialties (salmon carpaccio, foie gras, dumplings, cheeses and vegetables). Then, after much debate, we settle on our main dishes and a nice white wine.
The food absolutely blew us away. It was a delicious mixture between homemade and five-star material, and our empty stomachs happily took it all in! The meal lingered on over another bottle of wine, and then a complimentary tasting of Hungarian sour cherry liquor - definitely a must-try, but maybe not more than once!
How can this get any better? The entire meal cost each of us about 15 euro. This is absolutely unheard of. At the moment, I am sadly looking at a cup of coffee that cost half of that...

So, if you need to ask, I wholeheartedly recommend stopping by this magical establishment if you’re ever in Budapest.

[Fun fact: Budapest is pronounced “buda-pesht”]

After our feast, we went straight to the ruins bars to check out this grungy locale that we’d been told about numerous times: Szimplakert. It's basically a giant bar that looks like a bombed out stone building re-done by a street artist. Bike wheels, posters, chairs, broken paraphernalia and graffiti adorned the walls, with dim string lights and tall tables dotting the various sections. There was a main, indoor area, several side rooms, an upstairs balcony with couches, and an outside garden terrace. It’s impossible to see all of this place. We found an empty table in the garden area and got an orange-flavored hookah pipe to share. Everyone around us was drinking, laughing or smoking and we indulged in all three activities.

Demonstrating my obo-playing skills
The next day we dedicated to sight-seeing. Our first stop was the House of Terror, which was an in-depth museum on the Nazi/Soviet ruling of Budapest during and after World War II. It was quite intense, and even though I had to speed past the last part because I didn’t have the heart for it, I would definitely recommend going. The curation of the museum might be the best I have ever encountered, and it was so interesting to learn about that part of history from a different point of view than I am used to. Sidenote: why don't we learn more about Eastern Europe in school? Such a shame!

Next up was St. Stephen’s Basilica to lighten our moods a bit. The architecture in the cathedral was breath-taking, everything was dipped in gold. But the best treat was the view from the top - even though we huffed & puffed our way to the top by way of stairs (thanks, Isabella). The city was sprawling and gorgeous, especially in the light of dusk.

Gold on gold on gold!
Mesmerizing ceiling

Then we wandered along the Danube river and stumbled upon the sculpture of shoes dedicated to those who lost their lives from the minutemen attack at the start of Nazi rule. It was an incredibly sombering day, but entirely necessary.

Shoe sculpture along the Danube
House of Parliament
We ate at another fancy restaurant (yet again only paying about a quarter of what it would cost in France..) and went back to Szimplekert - I told you, there is so much to explore there! - before coming home and packing for our train the next day.


Overall, Budapest turned out to be much more deep than I expected. It gave me the most to think about, as the whole city was drenched in history. But it was also surprisingly friendly and the most hospitable place I've encountered thus far.

Tips for Traveling to Budapest:
  • Bring a swimsuit so you can go to the thermal baths - they will change your life
  • Buy tickets online for sights/activities in advance (this isn't just for Budapest, but in general) 
  • Go to Café Kör <-- This is mandatory
  • Eat as much goulash as possible and worry about the calories later
  • Learn a few phrases in Hungarian (hello, goodbye, thank you, please, etc.) 
  • Make the hike up the Basilica 
  • Stay in a hostel or hotel close to downtown, unless you know the city/language well
  • If you can handle the intensity, give the dark history of Budapest a shot - it's intriguing
  • Go to the nice restaurant, you can afford it
  • Plan out your visit in advance - there are plenty of sights we didn't visit because we didn't budget our time there very well 
  • Discuss prices with cab drivers before taking them 
  • Follow along on Maps when you're in a cab to make sure they're not taking you a roundabout way - they like to do this to foreigners and charge them up the wall 
  • Don't expect the latest & greatest technology
  • Do expect trams that look like they're from Soviet rule 
  • Go to a grocery store (this is just one of my personal favorite things to do in foreign places) 
  • Buy a few metro tickets when you get there, so you're not buying one every time 
  • Try anything & everything considered a Hungarian specialty! 
Have you ever traveled to Budapest? Does Eastern Europe interest you? What's on your travel bucket list? 

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Weekend Travels: Dublin & Cliffs of Moher

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Disclaimer: I've been to Ireland before, and fell in love with it, so this post might be a bit biased.

I've been working on these fall break posts for a while now, and honestly, procrastination has been a huge part of that time spent. A part of me is excited to share all of my adventures with you, while another part of me is sad to press publish and be done with all the new places I was lucky enough to visit. But you guys trump my nostalgia, so here goes nothing!


First of all, Ireland is magical. Literally. We arrived late at night (early morning?) on a Thursday and were greeted by the cheeriest taxi driver. Let it be known that his only advice to us was to go to pubs. And so we checked into our hostel, which to our pleasant surprise was right downtown, and went out to the Temple Bar district that evening. I cannot begin to describe how delicious that first sip of real Guinness tasted. Live music + good beer + good company, is there anything better?

View from the plane as we landed!
Pubs are not known for their lighting...
The next morning, we woke up ready to drink for a day full of Irish culture. Starting with a traditional Irish breakfast (the pudding is actually blood sausage, in case you were wondering) at Bewley's, we made our first stop the Old Trinity Library.  It was a book lover's dream, with bindings up to the ceiling and the giant, old Book of Kells. The Trinity campus was as green as ever and the leaves on the trees were at the perfect fall color peak, so we sauntered around the grounds for a while until we decided to start on our Irish drinking tour.

The grand hall
You should just know there will be a selfie by this point
Stacks on stacks on stacks
It's like Hogwarts!

 First stop: Jameson Distillery 
I honestly learned the most from this place - definitely worth the trek outside of downtown Dublin! I can rattle off some impressive facts about the whiskey distillery process, as well as differences between Irish whiskey, scotch & American whiskey. But if I told you, what fun would that be?
After the tour, we hung out in the bar area near the entrance, which was over glass flooring that showed the original stone wash backs used to make Whiskey and was adorned with Jameson bottle chandeliers (a beauty all in their own), for the best mug of Irish coffee I think I've ever tasted! Once again, the lighting was not so great, so my apologies for the poor quality. I guess that just means you'll have to go see it for yourself ;)

Complimentary whiskey neat at the end of the tour
With our stomachs full of whiskey and still warm from the hot coffee, we ventured out into the chilly rain (yes, it does rain A LOT) back toward downtown and across the river.

Second stop: Guinness Brewery
This place is just enormous. I still can't get over it. We bought tickets online in advance so we breezed right past the entrance (highly recommend!) and started on the winding self-tour that Guinness has set up. There are no guides. Just you, your hopefully-good sense of direction and some informative signs about the brewery's history. I also picked up some pamphlets, but that's mostly because I'm a pamphlet hoarder...
In other news, we finished the history lesson and then took the glass elevator in the middle of the building (we're talking Willy Wonka-type stuff here) up to the Gravity Bar to turn in our own kind of golden ticket: the free beer voucher. Yes, please!
The views from the 360-degree glass window hangout were incredible. And maybe it was just my imagination, but the Guinness tasted a little better than before.
Our crew in front of the famous gate
Sometimes the information was painted onto the brick
I'm not even sure what this is but it's giant & impressive
Huge vats...of beer?
Cheers to you, Arthur!



Roomie pic above Dublin
 We napped off our exhausting day, as most twenty-somethings would do, and then headed out to our favorite nightlife locale for some of that beloved live, cover music that Ireland does so well!

At 7AM the next morning, we rolled out of bed and onto a tour bus for the Cliffs of Moher - don't worry, we caught a little shut-eye during the long ride from Dublin to West Ireland. We saw the mini cliffs first, which were just as breath-takingingly beautiful as the actual cliffs. But you can be the judge of that.

(sorry, I had to)



 And now for the real Cliffs of Moher...

I just love the incredible colors!



The farm land leading up to the Cliffs
 We walked, hiked, climbed, traversed and shuffled so much that day. Aside from editing our Instagrams on the bus ride home, the only thing we had on our minds was food and sleep. As soon as we got back to Dublin, we stuffed our faces with gourmet burgers from Bobo's Burgers and then mustered up the energy to take advantage of our last night with live music, Guinness and Magner's cider (much to my dismay, this doesn't exist in the USA).

On Sunday, we woke up, pulled our things together and headed out for a stroll around Dublin to kill time before our flight that afternoon. We stopped for breakfast at San Lorenzo's - best huevos rancheros of my life - and then walked to St. Patrick's Cathedral, which ended up not being free like we had planned so we admired its external beauty only. I took a quick jog over to the Temple Bar district to snap some pictures and grab a few souvenirs.

#BrunchOfChampions
The famous red Temple Bar
Last Irish fish & chips for a while




We found ourselves with a lot of extra time on Sunday and, in retrospect, we probably could have done a short day-trip or something of the like. Instead, we trekked to outer Dublin to a coffee shop called 3FE Coffee that had been recommended by a friend of Cassie's. The coffee was roasted all in-house and my latte was much-needed. After that, we rounded up our suitcases and taxied to the airport for our next leg of the adventure: Budapest (coming soon!) 

I was overall very impressed with Dublin's lively energy and friendly people. It honestly does feel like home for me in more ways than one, and I can see myself coming back here several times in the future!

Tips for Traveling to Dublin: 
  • Stay downtown - the convenience is everything 
  • Eat at pubs (advice from the taxi driver himself), it's cheaper and often better food 
  • Absolutely go to the Jameson Distillery
  • If you have time, fit in Guinness 
  • If not, drink as much Guinness on tap as possible 
  • Take advantage of the Temple Bar atmosphere 
  • Bring an umbrella AND rain coat AND boots
  • Make sure you have a UK adapter - we only had one for 6 people & it was not pleasant
  • Go to the Cliffs of Moher and stray off the path (it's worth it)
  • On that note, that place is extremely windy, so expect to have some windblown hair
  • You will eat lots of hearty food, don't think about being healthy 
  • Order a Magner's at least once, you can't get it often elsewhere 
  • If you have one, use a DSLR camera - iPhone photos didn't do any of this justice!

Have you ever been to Ireland? If so, what was your favorite part? If not, is it on your travel bucket list? Also, I'm always accepting travel recommendations!

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