16 Days Interrailing: Zagreb and Ljubljana

We left Budapest in the around 3pm in the afternoon on a quick 6 hour direct train to Zagreb, Croatia…or so we thought. After settling into our seats, we started talking to our neighbors, two British guys, Richard and Harry, who were also spending their summer Interrailing. Shortly into the journey, a conductor came around to check our tickets. He didn’t speak any english, but was passing around a sheet of paper with the same message written on it in 4 languages–part of the train tracks up ahead were closed due to work on the tracks, so we would have to get off at one station and switch to a bus for a portion of the journey before getting on another train. Everyone on the train was in the same boat, so we followed everyone when it was time to switch to a bus and enjoyed a scenic route through the Hungarian countryside. We had no idea how long we were supposed to be on the bus for and we almost got off at the wrong station, but after 2.5 hours finally arrived at the correct station–right in the middle of a torrential downpour. Huddling with the rest of travelers under cover at a teeny tiny station in the middle of nowhere in Hungary, we waited for our next train. But, the rain had flooded the tracks so it was a good hour before a train could get there.

Once we boarded and found a seat on the new train, we were hungry, tired, and finally on our way to Zagreb. We arrived Zagreb around 11pm, 3 hours later than expected. Luckily one of the other passengers in our train car was Croatian and very kindly showed us where we could find food and an ATM. Our hostel staff was also wonderful–they stayed open late so that we were able to check in when we arrived around 11:30pm. Needless to say, we had a very eventful start to our 36 hours in Croatia.

The next day, we got up early and caught a bus to take us to Plitvice Lake National Park. Plitvice is the largest national park in Croatia and is only a 2 hour drive from Zagreb. We had a blast exploring the park and seeing the gorgeous lakes and waterfalls. Exploring the national park was a change of pace from the other stops on our trip. Words and pictures do not do the beauty of Plitvice justice. But, here are a few images to give you an idea of how amazing it is.

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After getting back from our day in the national park, we briefly visited Accordion Fest in downtown and enjoyed some traditional Croatian food for dinner.

The next day, we were leaving around noon to catch our next train to take us to Ljubljana, Slovenia. We got to the train station early and were waiting on the platform for our train to come. It showed up earlier than we expected but we got on and were putting our bags up when the train started moving and we realized that the train was not early, we were on the wrong train. Whoops. We got off that train at the next stop, just a few miles down the road. There were two couples who were also rushing to catch the same train and, luckily, we all were able to get taxis and make it to the original train station just in time for our train.

Our woes of the day did not end there. After arriving in Ljubljana and finding our hostel, we discovered that it was full of mold and spiders. So, we didn’t stay long and moved to a new hostel down the street that fortunately had available beds.

Once we got settled, we set off to make the most of our few hours in the city. We took the funicular to visit the castle, found delicious ice cream, and wandered around the city streets. While exploring the city, we ran into both of the couples we grabbed the taxis with that morning in Zagreb–what a small world! Our evening ended by listening to wonderful music outside a wine bar. It was the perfect way to end our not so perfect day :).

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16 Days Interrailing: Bratislava & Budapest

After arriving in Bratislava and finding our hostel, we set off to explore the city and to make the most of our 24 hours there. We started off right with a delicious traditional Slovakian meal before heading out to take a free walking tour of the city…that we ended up missing by a few minutes. We ended up walking around ourselves to see the old town part of the city and took a little train tour up to the Bratislava castle, where we were greeted with fantastic views.

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Afterwards we wandered around trying to get to the cathedral in the center of town, only to find that it was closing for the day. So, we decided to head back to our hostel to drop off some bags and figure out what we wanted to do that evening. Our wanderings took us right by the Grand Cru Wine Club. We were debating going inside when a Scotsman who was sitting outside started talking to us, convincing us that it was worth the stop. We were definitely not disappointed. The shop only serves local wines and owner, Martin, gave us great recommendation.

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Next, we went back to the hostel to drop off our things and befriended a Brazilian guy who was staying the room next to us. After a delicious pizza dinner, we headed back to Martin’s for another glass of wine, before calling it a night. The following morning, we grabbed breakfast and wandered around a bit more before it was time to catch our next train, destination Budapest.

Budapest was the city that we had the most time in, giving us time to rest and relax partway through our world wind trip. And rest and relax we did. The first afternoon there, we got a map and headed to the river…and ended up sitting and talking outside the Parlement building for 1.5 hours. Unknowingly to us, they take the flag outside the Parlement down everyday at 6:30pm, which was an interesting event to watch.

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The next day, we thought that we should see a bit more of the city than what’s right by the riverside, so we visited the castle on the island, the Vajdahunyad Castle, that looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. Next up was a free walking tour of the city which helped us learn more about the history of Budapest and how the cities Buda and Pest merged to create the city we know today. A delicious ice cream, dinner, a spilled beer, and a taste of pálinka later, we called our day a success and turned in for the night.

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Our last full day in the city started with a trip to Starbucks and another walking tour, this time one of the Jewish quarter.  A trip to Budapest cannot be complete without visiting the traditional Turkish baths, so we spent an afternoon in the city relaxing in the one of the largest bath houses in the city. We finished off our full day with an evening river cruise along the Danube River, which gave us an new perspective of the city.

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With a few hours to kill in the morning before our “direct” train to Zagreb, we grabbed coffee at The Little Melbourne coffee shop. Our hostel recommended this coffee shop and I have to say, the recommendation was spot on. It was the best coffee I’ve ever had. Coffee was followed by a visit to the Roman Catholic church and another amazing view of the city from the church towers. After stopping for a quick bit to eat, it was time to say goodbye to Budapest and the European Union and make our way to Croatia.

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16 Days Interrailing: Itinerary

Before heading back to the states at the end of this month, I am setting off on my last, and most ambitious, European adventure so far this weekend. It’s an Interrail trip, covering 8 countries in 16 days. I have two friends from the states who are making the journey across the Atlantic to travel with me. Our post-graduation Europe trip looks like this:

  • Days 1 & 2: Paris, France
  • Day 3: Zurich, Switzerland
  • Days 4 & 5: Vienna, Austria
  • Day 6: Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Days 7-9: Budapest, Hungary
  • Days 10 & 11: Zagreb, Croatia
  • Day 12: Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Day 13 & 14: Venice, Italy
  • Day 15: Milan, Italy
  • Day 16: Travel day –> Milan, Italy back to Reims, France

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I am so excited for this trip and cannot wait for all of the adventures that happen along the way!

12 Days in Europe: Amsterdam

After another very early 6am train, we made it safely to Amsterdam. If I had to choose my favorite city on this trip, I would pick Amsterdam. It’s one thing to hear about and see pictures of the canals and the rows of houses, and another to see them in person. The city is gorgeous and around every corner is another cute side street or another beautiful view of a canal.

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There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. However, since it was February when we visited, we opted not to ride bikes due to the cold weather. But, even if the weather was warmer, I’m not sure I would have had the guts to ride. The traffic is crazy and my sense of direction isn’t great when walking around, let alone while on a bike trying to navigate unfamiliar the streets. I was very proud that we managed to avoid getting hit by the bikes, trams, and cars during our time there.

Our first day there, we took a free walking tour to help us get oriented before getting settled in our hostel and taking a late afternoon canal tour. I am a huge fan of boat tours – they are a great way to see a city from a new perspective while getting off your feet for a bit.

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After a relaxing evening and a good nights sleep, we were off to tackle our last day in Amsterdam. First stop: the Anne Frank House. We planned on getting there a little bit before it opened at 9 because we heard that the line to get in can be long. We had a slow start to the morning and got there right around 9 and ended up having to wait in line for 1.5 hours to get in. The Anne Frank House is a must see Amsterdam for a reason and is definitely worth the long wait to get into. Our last few hours were filled with a trip to the Heineken Experience, another fun thing to do in the city, followed some shopping to pick up a few more souvenirs. We definitely had a fun 2 days in Amsterdam!

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12 Days in Europe: Brussels

Next up on our travels was Brussels. It was here that Ben first learned that I am not great with directions. I can get around, it just takes some trial and error first. He was lulled into a false sense of security in Paris, where I already knew my way around, so I think that the 45 minutes it took us to find our hotel (instead of the 10-15 minutes) was a bit of a shock. But, in my defense, I had not had any coffee yet and we had woken up super early to catch our 6am train

After dropping our bags off at the hotel, finding breakfast, and fueling up on coffee, we headed out to explore the city. And, after wandering for a while and just following the steeple in the distance, we made it to downtown and were greeted with the spectacular view that is the Grand Palace. First up on our agenda was a walking tour of the city with Sandeman’s New Europe Tours. Sandeman’s has tours all over Europe and I’ve always had great experiences with them. It’s a great way to get oriented with a town and learn about it’s history, all while sticking to your budget.

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During the rest of our time in Brussels, we stuffed our faces with waffles, tasted Belgian beers, saw the European Parliament building, visited an instrument museum (which I highly recommend), and got lost wandering the winding streets. I loved stumbling comic murals through the town. Brussels is known for it’s comics and has created comic book route to celebrate this history. The last day we were there, we splurged on a fancy meal at a restaurant with the best view in the city. It was a great way to relax before moving on to our next stop: Amsterdam.

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12 Days in Europe: Paris

After a long flight, Ben arrived safely in Paris. I met him at the airport and after dropping our bags off at the hotel, we wandered off to see the city. Paris was a great place for us to start our trip because I already know the city well. It easy for us to get around and see the major sites in our limited time and gave Ben some rest time to get over jet lag. Also, since there is so much to do in Paris, there were new things for me to do and explore as well. We went up the l’arc de triomphe.  I had visited it multiple times in the past, but had never taken the time to climb the stairs and see the view before.

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And, if you’re looking for inspiration for your next trip to Paris, here are some of my favorite things to do:

  • Le Marais, the jewish quater. This quarter is filled with cute little coffee shops and the best falafel of your life. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Visit museums! You could easily spend your whole Paris trip in museums (there are 100+ museums in the city). My favorites are the musée Rodin and the musée Marmottan Monet.
  • Shakespeare and Company, my favorite bookstore, conveniently located right by the Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Eat traditional French food without breaking the bank at the Bouillon Chartier
  • Get a birds-eye view of the city! You can choose to go up the Eiffel Tower, L’arc de triomphe, Montparnasse, or  look out from outside the Sacre Coeur.
  • Take a boat tour. It’s a great way to relax and sit down after a long day of walking, all while getting a new perspective of the city.

Happy travels!

6 Packing Tips for Traveling Lighter

I am a notorious over packer. The worst thing is, when I’m packing, I know that I will not use a lot of the things I’m packing. But, I like to be fully prepared for every situation that may come my way. It’s ridiculously easy for me to justify packing extra items, just in case I’ll need them on my trip. I’ve been known to pack a week’s work of clothes for a weekend away. At the start of this journey, I struggled to pack my life into 2 suitcases to move to France. I spent hours of packing as much I could into my bags, and then repacking when I weighed my bag and discovered that they were too heavy. And, after all of that, I had to do some last-minute rearranging in the airport to get my bag underweight…

Since moving to France and traveling around Europe, I’ve started to appreciate traveling light. While I still love to pack everything but the kitchen sink, lugging around heavy bags is not fun and very tiring. Between that and the small carry on limits and baggage fees that budget airlines have, I’ve started limiting what I pack. Over fall break, I spent a week traveling around the UK with just a small book bag–quite an accomplishment for someone who was used to packing more than that for a simple weekend away.

So, without further ado, here are my top 6 packing tips to help you travel lighter:

  1. Roll, don’t fold your clothes. This saves a lot of space in your suitcase so you can bring more clothes without need a bigger bag, a win-win.
  2. Pack clothes that do double duty. Clothes that can be easily washed, layered, and mixed and matched are perfect for traveling.
  3. Plan: Make a list and check it twice. Make a list of what you need to pack and then check it to make sure that you’re going to get more than one use out of everything you’re bringing. If you didn’t use the item on your last trip, changes are you won’t need it on this one. Don’t forget sure to stick to your list when packing!
  4. Pack travel sized toiletries. Packing smaller versions of everyday products (hair brush, tooth paste, face wash, makeup, deodorant…) will save you precious space in your bag.
  5. Take a smaller bag. By limiting the size of your luggage, you automatically limit what you can bring. Use your packing list to help you optimize the space you have available.
  6. Don’t forget to leave space for the souvenirs you’ll pick up along the way !

Let me know what packing tips you use to help you travel light!