Greek Island hopping at its finest!

Jenny here!

I left Switzerland on a train, or should I say 4 trains and a bus ride, headed for Amsterdam to stay with Jackie, where we would spend a few days relaxing and prepping for our 3 week island hopping trip to Greece!

We first arrived to a major city in Greece called Thessaloniki, which is the 2nd largest city but also was the cheapest one to fly into at the time. We were here for 2 days until we could get a boat to our first island. We spent those days walking the old city, wandering the streets shopping, stopping for glasses of house wine, which we learned to embrace throughout Greece – it’s tasty and cheap, eating the delicious food that this city is known for and just being tourists in general.

We boarded a ferry headed for our first island, called Alonissos. We didn’t know much about this island when we initially booked it, just that it was cute, and a way to work our way south to the other islands. We had no idea that we would actually enjoy the island so much!

 

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The view from our hotel room balcony – so beautiful!

 On our first morning here, we decided to actually go scuba diving, as that is how I actually met Jackie – on a liveaboard boat in Thailand scuba diving 4 times a day for 4 days, and Jackie was wanting to get more dives in before she heads back to Thailand in January to get her divemaster certification. When we arrived at the dive shop that morning, which was conveniently located beneath our hotel room, the craziest thing happened. We saw a couple sitting on the patio next door and the guy yells out “Jackie”! We looked at each other and thought, that’s strange, someone else nearby shares your name…then we heard it again, and the guy said “it’s Chris and Verana from Thailand”, and our jaws dropped! This Austrian couple were also in Jackie’s dive group on our liveaboard in the Similan Islands in Thailand. What a SMALL WORLD! We had all met 6 months prior, and here we are finding ourselves on the same Greek island at the same dive center heading out to dive together once again! So wild!IMG_20170902_113127.jpg Similan Islands, Thailand liveaboard buddies! So wild to run into each other 6 months later!

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 Our dive instructor, Panos, was a super friendly local guy who helped us to decide where to have dinners (in old town) and he and his lovely wife even joined us for dinner and drinks the night of the day we went diving. He also helped us to secure a motorbike which we would use to cruise around the island to find all of the scenic view points and locate the prettiest beach to hang on our second day on the island. I’m so lucky that Jackie drives a scooter at home in Amsterdam, so she had a license for it which made it so much easier for us to get around the islands over the next several weeks!

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 We found a lovely beach and had a few nice meals, then our time on this island was over. We headed out on a ferry bound for a city on the coast, from where we would grab a bus to Athens. We learned that the port in Athens is really the largest one and one that we needed to make our way to in order to get to the islands that we were hoping to visit.IMG_20170904_140156.jpg Goodbye Alonissos!

 We spent a lovely evening in the Plaka area of Athens, which is super cute with cobblestone streets lined with restaurants and tables of people eating outside, lights, music and dancing!

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The next morning we headed for the Acropolis and put our tourists hats on for a few hours, wandering about and taking in the wonder that is the Parthenon and surrounding buildings making up the old city. I’ve been before, but its just as amazing as it was years ago when I was there last.

IMG_20170905_112827.jpgIMG_20170905_114505.jpg Gorgeous views of Athens from the Acropolis

 That evening we boarded another ferry that took us to an island called Syros. Now, this island, well, we have no idea how we ended up here. It wasn’t very exciting and it was quite small and there wasn’t a lot to do here. I think we ended up here because all of the accommodations on the more popular islands were fully booked when we went to book a place to stay the night before. We completely were winging it on this trip and thought that because it wasn’t high season anymore, we could book things the day before. We thought wrong. It was a shoulder season but happened to still be packed everywhere! We spent our 2 days on this island on a beach making plans for the remainder of our 2.5 weeks so we didn’t have to stress about it anymore!

IMG_20170907_105720.jpg Enjoying our new breakfast staple, Greek yogurt with local Greek honey…while on a beach in Greece. This is the life!

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Our adorable hotel in Syros

 After Syros, we headed for Paros, and island that we heard was lovely but didn’t know too much about. We ended up having an amazing time here and truly loving all of the scenery that this island provided. Each day we took our motorbike around, and stopped off in the cute villages to wander about, having lovely lunches on the water, then making our way to the nicer beaches on the perimeter of the island. Paros island has the houses like everyone thinks of when they think of Greece, white painted homes with blue shutters. It must be a requirement on the island because its covered with them, and that makes it particularly stunning!

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We left Paros on yet another ferry headed for Mykonos. We were staying just outside of Mykonos City, close enough to all of the action, but far enough out to be on an actual beach. We absolutely loved our location here, where we stayed at a small family run hotel on the water, a 10 minute walk to Mykonos town, and the owners helped us out in any way they could. We got a motorbike our first afternoon there, and took off exploring. The next few days would be spent on the motorbike, driving up and down and around the huge hills/mountain that are prevalent on Mykonos. We also hit up several beaches, including some real stunning ones with insane views.

 IMG_20170912_133630.jpg My favorite picture of the harbor and Mykonos town, taken from the motorbike while exploring!

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Views from above our favorite beach on Mykonos island

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 We really embraced the Greek way of eating late dinners, with one even beginning as late as 1am…craziness! Mykonos is known to be quite expensive, so we saved by having our now traditional breakfast of Greek yogurt with honey and some fruit, then typically had lunch on a beach consisting of random veggies and dips. This allowed us to have a couple of lovely meals out on the town and even some partying at the clubs. I highly enjoyed my time on this incredibly gorgeous island!

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Out on the town in Mykonos City

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Picnic lunch on the beach suits us just fine!

 From Mykonos, we headed to Santorini, and island that I was secretly the most excited about. I’d heard that it is supposed to be the most beautiful of the Greek islands and boy, it did not disappoint! We first arrived into the port on the caldera side, or the side that is nothing but huge cliffs with villages stacked on top of each other above the cliffs. It’s simply stunning. We stayed in Fira, which is one of the 2 main cities to stay in, and we felt like we made the best choice in that location. We got a motorbike once again and cruised the entire island over the next couple of days, taking in the red sand beaches and black lava rock beaches and more incredible views.IMG_20170917_130333.jpg Santorini Caldera views from Fira

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 We also happened to be there for Volcano Day, which is an annual holiday remembering the volcanic eruption that occurred and created the Santorini that we know today. We found out that they were going to be setting off fireworks over the actual volcano that Saturday night, so we thought ahead and got reservations at a restaurant on the caldera overlooking the volcano and the sunset. It was an amazing dinner and even better views for the evening!IMG_20170916_191528.jpg Dinner views picture on Volcano Day!

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Cheers to traveling Greece with a great friend!

IMG_20170916_201327.jpgIMG_20170916_195135.jpg Incredible sunset before the fireworks show over the volcano! 

We really enjoyed the black sand, or black volcanic rock beaches. The sun was hot and the water was cold. We found a restaurant that offered free lounge chairs and umbrellas for customers, and ended up enjoying the best seafood feast of our trip on a beach there!

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YUM!!!

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Lunch with a view!

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We made this Greek specialty, Strapatsada for breakfast every day in Santorini since our apartment had a kitchen! Delicious!

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Fresh seafood lunch on our last afternoon in Santorini

 We also really enjoyed checking out the other town on Santorini that is quite famous for its caldera views, called Oia. It truly is picturesque, and supposedly when you see pictures of Santorini, its usually pictures from this town. I absolutely loved Santorini and if there is one Greek island that I’d go back to in a heartbeat, it would be this one.

Our last Greek island was Crete, where we spent a few relaxing days in Chania, a town on the north west side of the large island. The old town is so adorable, with an area called Little Venice, reminiscent of the actual Italian city. We also went scuba diving again here, and it was actually incredible. The diving Chania is known for is cave diving, which neither Jackie nor myself had ever done. It was so neat to scuba down into underwater caves, seeing the sunlight streaming in, going through many swim-throughs where sometimes you just barely fit! What a fun experience!

A glimpse of an underwater cave!

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Little Venice in old town Chania

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Our favorite salad that we had twice while in Chania – so fresh and simple and tasty!

 After 3 full weeks, our time in Greece had to end. Jackie and I had the best time together, with many hours put in on the motorbikes, exploring and in search of the best scenic views, beaches and most amazing Greek food!

~Jenny

 

 

 

Reunion with my Swiss girls in beautiful Switzerland!

Jenny here!

While traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia in April and May, I made some great friends from Switzerland whom I was traveling with for nearly a month. When we eventually had to part, we had plans to meet back up in mid August, where I would join them in the Swiss Alps for a huge music festival. Fast forward to mid August, I flew into Zurich late on a Wednesday night, Mile picked me up from the airport and we got a quick sleep in before Patty and her brother, Dominik picked us up early Thursday morning to head for the mountains! It was an insanely gorgeous 4 hour drive up and into the mountains to a town called Gampel, Switzerland, which is the nearest town to the festival called Open Air Gampel.

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A stunning bright blue lake we passed on the drive to Gampel

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Patty and me

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Mile, myself and Patty on one of the stops we made on the drive up….just gorgeous!

When the 4 of us arrived, we met up with 2 other girls that were friends of Patty’s boyfriend, who we joined forces with to lug tons of camping gear and backpacks and essentials for 4 days camping out in the mountains! We waited in what was apparently the longest crowd ever in the history of the festival, but finally got in and set up our not so little tent city.

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Madness trying to enter the festival!

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Our section of tents…including 7 sleeping tents and 2 pavilions….which both managed to fly away during an intense wind and rain storm Friday night!

More people would join our group, including Nico, Patty’s boyfriend, and Mile’s other two sisters Kreni and Tipsy. All in all we had about 15 or more people in our group for the next few days. We spent our mornings sitting around laughing about the night before, catching up, snacking, me reminding people to speak in English at least part of the time, deciding when to have our first adult beverage again, going to the main areas for food,  then eventually making our way to the main stage to watch the performances of the many Swiss and German bands that were performing at the festival. All of this, set in the most incredible scenery….in a valley among the monstrous Swiss mountains!

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My Swiss girls!! The 4 of us traveled throughout Vietnam and Cambodia together with our buddy Imran…forever friends!!

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Mile and me

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Toten Hosen – a super popular German band that the entire festival was waiting to see…I somehow ended up in the front for the concert…swaying away on the sappy songs and jumping on the pop ones….not having a clue what they were singing…but enjoying it anyways!

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Such a fun crew!

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Stunning scenic views around one of the stages!

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More pics of the mountains surrounding us for 4 fun days!

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Most of our crew for the long weekend!

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The girls!

At last on Sunday it was time to make our way back to Zurich, after taking in one last concert that afternoon. The next night, after a lazy day for me of doing laundry while the girls were already back at work, we enjoyed a beautiful Swiss cheese fondue dinner on the patio of the apartment that the 3 sisters, Mile, Kreni and Tipsy share. I am so spoiled by the friends that I’ve made on this journey!

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Swiss cheese fondue with veggies, bread and wine! YUM!!!

The next evening when Mile and Kreni got off work, we took the train to a nearby town called Baden, for Badenfahrt, a festival that only happens every 10 years, and with my good luck, I happened to be around for it! Bars, stages and market stalls line the streets and it’s incredibly lively and festive. Many people take time off work to come to this even, and we were lucky enough to head to it just for the evening. Fun times!

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The girls and I at Badenfahrt

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Mile, myself and Kreni…I’ll miss these girls so much!

After quite a few action packed days, I had to say goodbye again to my Swiss friends. We have the best time together and are always planning on when we can meet up again in the future. I had an incredible time catching up with them and seeing parts of their mystical and stunning Switzerland that I’d not yet seen in my prior travels. I’ll treasure our time together and be looking forward to the next time!

~Jenny

 

 

Always a good time in London Town!

Jenny here….still trying to get caught up on the blogging…was in London, England mid-August…

I took a train down from Edinburgh into London and found my way to my hostel via the Underground. It’s pretty cool when you get out of the train station, go straight to the Tube, and your first sight above ground is this:

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First views of London – Tower of London at the tube closest to my hostel!

Once in my hostel room, I immediately met a guy and a girl in my room who were heading down to the hostel bar for a few drinks before dinner and heading out for a nice little Saturday night. I agreed to meet them down there, and told my friend Christina, whom I had met on my tour of the Scottish Highlands, to also meet up with us, since we had taken the train down together.

We had a nice little evening out, with some Asian food for dinner, and found some cute pubs to have some cocktails in before realizing that we were completely exhausted and heading back home for some rest.

The next morning, I had plans to meet up with my buddy Prahlad that I met in El Nido back in May when I was in the Philippines. We met up in Camden, where he lived before he left for Australia and traveling, and its an area he considers home with much nostalgia. We set out to wander about the Camden Market, which on a Sunday is insanely crowded and buzzing with people eating, drinking and shopping. We had a pint by the water, ate a burrito from an amazing food truck setup there, then headed off on a walk to Primrose Hill Park, which was nearby and boasts stunning views of the city.

We had another pint or 2 after the park, then Prahlad had to head out to watch some sporting event, and I made some friends and spent a while roaming Camden enjoying meeting new people and the gorgeous weather we had been blessed with that day.

The next day was spent with Christina, doing mostly touristy things, most of which I’d seen on prior trips to London, but there’s something about this city that seems brand new each time you’re there. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, for many reasons, but mostly because there is always something going on there and there is always something new to do!

We toured for a few hours through the Tower of London…listening to the adorable Beefeaters and seeing the Crowned Jewels never gets old!

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Christina and I with the beautiful Tower Bridge

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Ugly London Bridge

Christina and I headed to a new-to-me market called Borough Market, where there are TONS of vendors selling food and drinks from all over the world. After walking around the market a few times, we finally settled on our choices and were both content with the food decisions we had made!

We were debating calling it an early night, when I suggested we make our way to the Theatre district and see if there was a chance if we could catch a show for cheap. We hopped on the tube and learned at the first box office we found, that all the shows on that day were around 7:30, and seeing as it was 7pm already, we had a very short amount of time to make a decision. We landed on Yank, the Musical, which was heart-wrenching, captivating and hysterical at times!

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The next day was my last full day in the city, and since I’d been to London a couple of times before, I didn’t feel the need to run around sight-seeing like a crazy person, as I’d seen all of the sights multiple times. I decided that day that I’d just walk, but first, I enjoyed an amazing Indian meal for lunch. I love Indian food, and certain parts of London are known for their amazing Indian cuisine, as there is a large Indian population in the city. The meal was all I’d hoped for, then I set off walking towards the main parks of the city.

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I started at Westminster Abbey, which also has amazing sights of Big Ben. From there I set off for St. James Park which leads right to Buckingham Palace. From there I walked through Green Park, then Hyde Park on to the Kensington Gardens. For a day of non-sightseeing, I certainly ended up seeing a lot!

That evening, I had setup drinks with an old DB coworker of mine, Pete. I met him in the financial district near the bank he currently works at, and settled in for an evening of pints, whiskeys and a great catchup.

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Pete was thrilled to pose for a quick pic for our old coworkers

My time in London was actually a nice break from what it felt like lots of scenic sightseeing in Ireland and Scotland, and was really lovely to meet up with a few friends that are lucky enough to call London home.

Until next time, London!

Jenny

 

Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands 

Jenny here! I’ve been so crazy busy going from here and there and sometimes with very little wifi, and recently I’ve not been alone much, so I’m a couple of months behind on this post…

It felt only natural to head to Scotland to take in more history and incredible landscapes after my trip to Ireland, so off on a plane I went, bound for Edinburgh. I arrived in the evening and got settled into my hostel, which was at a perfectly central location close to High Street. What I realized when I arrived, was that I was there (unknowingly) during the most popular event of the year in Edinburgh, the Fringe Festival. This is the largest Arts festival in the world and it lasts about month, starting in early August. More on this later…

On my first full day in Edinburgh, my plan was to sightsee. I showed up on High Street for a 3 hour walking tour of the city and had a wonderful guide who told many stories and pointed out important landmarks along the way.

We started up the Royal Mile, which is the street that leads up to the Edinburgh Castle, which isn’t quite a mile long but is named that anyways.

We learned the story of Greyfriers Bobby, a dog who is quite famous in Edinburgh.

We walked through Greyfriers Cementary, where some famous people are buried, but more interestingly this is where the phrase “working the graveyard shift” came from. Long ago, families had to guard their recently deceased and buried loved ones bodies to protect them from people robbing the graves of their bodies to sell to the local medical school for research. The family members would have to stay by the graves until the bodies started decomposing, and were no longer of value to the thieves and school. Hence, working the graveyard shift. Another fun tidbit about Greyfriers Cementary is this is where J.K. Rowling got inspiration for characters in her book series that you may have heard of….Harry Potter. That’s right, she apparently spent lots of time brainstorming and writing in this very cemetary and you can find names of people here such as Riddle and Mcgonagall. This cemetery is also located next to a school and overlooking a castle with a large stadium next to it….inspiration for Hogwarts and the quidditch pitch?! I have only recently read the entire book series (yes, for the first time) and was quite giddy to learn this information.

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The street that inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter book series

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 We ended the tour in the Grassmarket, which is a lovely area now full of pubs and places to eat, but in the old days it was a much more gruesome place. This is where they held all of their public executions, of which there were many.

After this tour, I grabbed some lunch and headed off to the meeting point for my next tour. This time, I was taking a guided tour of the Edinburgh Castle. There is so much history here, and the views from the castle are also spectacular. I spent close to 4 hours wandering the grounds and immersing myself in Scottish history.

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The next day I decided to immerse myself in the madness that is the Fringe Festival. I walked the streets watching free street performances and sat down for some lunch and a glass or 2 of wine on the Royal Mile. Then I decided to find a Fringe ticket office and selected 3 performances to attend throughout the remainder of the day.

I attended 3 incredibly unique shows, including a cirque show, an improv type show where it felt like you were in a regular old bar, but the people at the tables sitting amongst the crowd were actually a part of the show, and lastly, a standup comedy show by a hilarious blind Scottish man who had me in tears laughing so hard. The festival was such a wonderful surprise and I feel so lucky to have found myself in Edinburgh to see what it was all about!

The following morning, I packed up and headed out of my hostel in search for the Haggis Adventure Tour office, where I was heading out on a 3 day tour of the Scottish Highlands. I met some super sweet girls immediately, and knew it would be a great time. Our guide/bus driver, Duncan, was a hoot and I knew we were in good hands with him at the wheel and leading the entertainment. We took out on the bus heading for the Isle of Skye, where we would eventually stay the night in Portree.

Our first stop on the tour was at the ancient capital, Sterling, where there is a huge William Wallace monument. We got out and walked around and up to the monument, to stretch our legs a bit after a few hours on the bus already.

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Winter Fell Castle

Once back on the bus, Duncan pointed out a castle that we would drive by…which may mean something to those who watch the tv series Game of Thrones…we cruised right by the Winter Fell castle.

The scenic views from the bus were simply incredible. Along the way, Duncan told us old Scottish tales and facts, otherwise had dramatic music playing that seemed to match the scenery.

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A famous Highlands cow…long haired to protect itself from the harsh weather!

IMG_20170809_131755IMG_20170809_133323IMG_20170809_163000IMG_20170809_165623IMG_20170809_134959 We stopped here for a picnic lunch in Glencoe – incredible scenery for a meal!

The tour took us next to the most famous castle in all of Scotland, or at least the most visited, the Eileen Donan castle. We all got out and wandered about getting pictures from all sides.

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Eileen Donan castle

IMG_20170810_152009 Eventually, we made it to the Isle of Skye, where we checked into our hostel for the evening. Some of us went for fish and chips by the water, then headed to a pub nearby where quite the crew ended up having pints for the rest of the night.

Day two the tour started with what Duncan called a “walk” up a mountain, but what the rest of the world would call a hike, up to the incredible rock formation known as the “Old Man of Storr”. The views were oh so worth the effort put in to the hike!

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Old Man of Storr

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Louisa and me at the top of the hike

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The whole Haggis tour crew at the top!

On this tour, I made good friends with the girl that sat in the seat next to me on the bus, Louisa, who happened to be from Boston! We kept saying the entire time that we knew at some point while in Scotland we HAD to try the specialty known as haggis. It was now dwindling down to just a couple of days left in the country for the both of us, so we figured that lunch was as good a time as ever to give it a shot. We placed one order of “haggis with neeps and tatties” i.e. ground up meat and who knows what other kinds of body parts with turnips and potatoes…and hoped for the best. One bite in, and we had a winner! It was actually super tasty….similar to a form of meatloaf is the best way to describe it.

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We were soon back on the road and making stops along the way to hear more Scottish stories which were always super intriguing and sometimes unbelievable.

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A famous river where supposedly the water is the fountain of youth!

Our second night would be spent in Loch Ness, or Fort Augustus. We got checked into our hostel there, had dinner, then headed out for a Loch Ness cruise in hopes for a Nessie sighting!

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NESSIE!! haha

By day three we were all exhausted but still excited for more dramatic and beautiful scenery that we would encounter on the bus tour. We drove through Inverness and ended up at Tomatin Whiskey distillery where we had a private tour and got to sample some Scottish bourbon whiskies….which surprisingly didn’t make me cringe!

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The last stop on the tour later that afternoon was at the Dunkeld Cathedral. We wandered about the grounds and soaked up our final hours in the Highlands before heading back into the city of Edinburgh.

I had the most amazing and magical time in Scotland. From the ages old gothic-style buildings and history of Edinburgh, to the craziness and hectic streets during the Fringe Festival, to the incredible beauty that is the Scottish Highlands, my time in Scotland was unforgettable!

~Jenny

 

My First Visit to the Charming “Emerald Isle” 

Jenny here!

I was fortunate enough to spend nearly 2 weeks exploring the stunning countryside and coasts of picturesque Ireland, with a couple of days at the end spent in the city of Dublin. (This means this will be a long post.)

When I left on this journey, I had definitely planned to visit Ireland and Scotland at some point, because these were 2 countries that I hadn’t been to yet, and because I knew that I’d fall in love with the lush landscapes, scenic views and friendly and genuine people that are widespread in both places. I was especially lucky in the case of sightseeing in Ireland, as I had a personal, local tour guide in Derek.

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Prague, Czech Republic

Holy wow. Prague is mind boggling in such an amazing way. The city is littered, covered in graffiti in a lot of places, quirky with it’s random sculptures and absolutely beautiful. The buildings, the parks, the general landscape of it all… it is so wonderful. When I originally booked Prague, I had nine days scheduled in the city. Then I decided it was too much, so I looked for cheap flights to another location for a few days and eventually settled on a total of five days in Prague. This gave me more than enough time to see the city, do some research, settle in with a few books and whatever else I wanted to do. I arrived in Prague mid-day on a Saturday and immediately said “wow”.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

I had a quick visit to The Netherlands after Stockholm. I had visited before, so I wanted to take this trip to see a lot of the great museums in the city and spend some time out of the city center. In my two full days I did my best to squeeze in as much as I could while also trying to catch up on sleep at my Airbnb. What did I do? Here’s a quick rundown…

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