Amanda Takes the PNW: Part 1

It’s been a dream of mine for years to venture west and explore the great pacific north west! Pictures of wild untouched coast lines, snowcapped mountains and deep rain forests captured my adventures heart. However, the prices of flights and lodging squashed that dream quickly and I put this trip on the back burner for years. When I got an email in September for a rt flight out of Charlotte to Vancouver for under $300, I didn’t even hesitate! I booked that flight for my birthday before I even asked my boss! (thanks Scotts Cheap Flights!)

 

First Stop: Vancouver, British Columbia

I flew into Vancouver on Friday around noon, after a delayed flight then a nearly missed connection, thanks American airlines. I always do my research on public transportation before I land in a new city, so if nothing else I can at least make my way from the airport to my hotel. Vancouver has a pretty nice public transportation system however it was sort of confusing to figure out the payment part. SOOO let me save you some confusion and $. A fare is $2.95 and grants you travel on busses for 90 mins, I was paying each time I switched busses before I saw someone reuse a ticket. I had gotten a Compass card to use but after my initial trip from the airport had yet to find anywhere to actually load it and their website doesn’t support US bank cards to reload online. I finally stumbled upon a load station on day two and got a day pass that allows you to travel all day for about $11.

 

I stayed at Coast Coal Harbor Hotel, nothing spectacular but great service, comfy bed and a nice deep tub which is always a plus after walking all day. After checking in and settling in for a little bit it was time to get started.

 

I had spent so much time planning for Seattle that I had barely given any thoughts as to what I would be doing in Vancouver. But thanks to Pinterest I quickly mapped out my weekend plans. A lot of what I really wanted to was outside of the city and just not feasible for a 2-day trip and in Jan due to weather conditions. It’s amazing how Vancouver has a temperate pretty warm winter with temps in the 40’s and just 30 mins outside of the city is a winter wonderland with several different ski resorts and 2hrs north is Whistler, a top ski resort and where the winter Olympics were held.

 

I started my first day super early with a trip on the bus into North Vancouver. Capilano suspension bridge and park is one of the top tourist attractions of the city and you will see it on every blog and tour website. Since it is so super popular its always busy and costs about $50 for an adult ticket. A much cheaper and way less congested version and more of a local hiking spot is Lynn Canyon. The paid option does offer some other attractions besides the bridge but I much prefer less crowded and more organic experience and Lynn Canyon delivered!!

 

This place is becoming more and more known so the trick is to get to the park as soon as it opens to enjoy the bridge and trails to yourself. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and didn’t think anything could top the beautiful mountains, waterfalls and forests of the Blue ridge mountains but this place takes a very close second to my top hiking adventures so far. Of course, the highlight of the park is the suspension bridge, I don’t mind heights or bridges but this was a little sketchy and it moves with every step!

 

I had gotten there early enough to be one of the first few people and was lucky enough to get some shots of an empty bridge which is not easy to do. I really wanted a picture of myself on an empty bridge but I couldn’t find a safe spot for my tripod for a self-portrait and when I did ask someone it was already getting kind busy.

After the bridge experience, I did a little hiking and all I could think about was Jurassic park and being in a jungle. It was so lush and green for being mid-January! Being form the south I’ve always loved the Spanish moss hanging from the oak trees but the moss hanging from the tress was so lovely and made my imagination run wild with stories of hobbits and adventures.

 

I made my way back into town and grabbed a bus to Granville Island, another highly rated Vancouver must see. Granville Island is a unique mix of restaurants, little shops, a children’s market as well as the main attraction, Granville Island Public Market. If you’ve followed me long enough you know my love of markets and their endless aisles and stalls full of local produce and trinkets. I actually stopped by here both days, mainly because it was so busy Saturday it was hard to enjoy and shop and I fell in love with Lees Donuts and needed a second helping ha-ha

I grabbed lunch from a Chinese spot the first time and found a nice spot on the water to enjoy until a seagull attacked me!! I didn’t even see him coming until he was on my head trying to grab my food! Not cool and I was not happy about my $15 of delicious food being wasted. On Sunday I grabbed and amazing bratwurst from the German food stall and it was so good and uncontaminated by a bird. Overall, I think the island itself is over hyped and too busy to really enjoy at least on a weekend.

 

I took a stroll down to China Town, it was super sketchy and passed quite a few homeless and being alone was a little uncomfortable at times. But I really enjoyed seeing the arch and enjoyed the Chinese Garden that was free and open to the public. I also spotted the world record holder for skinniest building in the world. It’s not marked or has any signs so you just have to look it up on apple maps, it just said “world’s smallest building” but I think the building sign says it’s a lawyer’s office.

 

My final stop in Vancouver almost didn’t happen because I was tired and the four-hr. time difference was kicking my butt! But I motivated myself and hopped on a bus towards Stanley park. Another highly recommended Vancouver sight but this one is truly a gem and a 100% must see spot. I regret not spending more time here and hopefully I will be back soon to explore the 1000+ acres.

 

There is sooo much to do within the park and I barely touched the surface of its beauty. I walked about 2.5 maybe 3 miles of its seawall and took about a million photos. Around every turn and switchback was something even more beautiful. I wish I had stared earlier in the day because while beautiful the fog started rolling in and you couldn’t see the bay or watch the entire sunset. I unfortunately didn’t have time or daylight to see the totem poles or all of the beaches but I’ll be back!

A first time trip to the Emerald Isle

Last March I booked a super last min trip to Dublin for St Patrick’s day. It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the emerald isle and I just couldn’t pass up a under $400 round trip flight! I flew in the Monday before the holiday so I would have time to explore before all the other tourists flooded the city.

Being that it was a holiday week and it was last min posed a big problem when it came to booking accommodations. Thankfully my friend I was meeting with at the end of the week found a great Airbnb ahead of time so I just needed to find something for the days leading up. I was stressed out because everything in my budget was booked and while I’m frugal, I’m not one for backpacker hotels and hostels. It took a ton of digging and website/app surfing but I found a great deal for a little hotel named Staughtons on the green. I lucked out big time, they had a cancellation and This place was a dream! I plan on staying here again next trip. The hotel was easy to find and right next to an adorable park called st Stephens green. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through it each day, there was a fountain and a pond with ducks and some beautiful swans. While it was still pretty chilly out the park always had children playing, students reading and older couples on a stroll.The hotel was really in a perfect location, right off the green train line and next to some great shopping and restaurant options, like I said I will def be staying here again. I booked a queen bed room and it was the cutest room, tiny but being a solo traveler, it was a perfect size. I had a great view of the park and the bed was cozy.

 

I had landed mid-day on Monday and I normally don’t get affected by jetlag but this flight killed me so I got some tgi Fridays since it was close to the hotel and slept. I highly recommend before any international flight preparing your body for the time difference, I usually start changing up my sleep schedule a few days before. I also book flights for my sleeping hours to help. This will ensure you’re ready to explore and spend as much time out and about as possible!

 

Tuesday was my first full day in Dublin, I didn’t plan anything major and just let the day happen organically. I explored little alley ways and shops and also stopped in to see an Instagram favorite, The long room at Trinity College. The exhibit features the book of Kells and the old library. For about $12 you can walk through the museum and see the book of kells, which is a 9th century copy of the four gospels beautifully decorated and is considered Irelands greatest cultural treasure and one of the most famous medieval books. Its forbidden to take pictures of the book for preservation reasons kinda like the declaration of independence in DC. However, the end of the tour leads you right into an amazing photo opportunity. The Long Room, I love books and library’s and this is probably the most beautiful library I’ve ever been in! absolutely stunning and a must see when in Dublin. The architecture and smell of all those old books is amazing and I just could stop taking photos, it was beautiful.

One thing I love to do in a new city is the hop on/off busses. They are a great way to get a feel for the city and also easy transpiration from place to place. Dublin’s train system is a tad confusing and doesn’t exactly make since so it was easier for me to go from place to place on the bus, this is usually pretty cheap and I always enjoy the commentary/history lessons from the drivers.

 

One my second and third days, I did two tours with Paddy wagon tour company. I booked through Viatour.com and got a little bit of a discount. There are all sorts of tours and companies but Paddy wagon had fantastic reviews and I liked their itineraries compared to the others.

I choose the Cliffs of Moher day tour and the Giants causeway tour. Being it my first trip I decided to be a basic tourist and check out the two most iconic Ireland landmarks. They picked us up bright and early down town just a short walk from my hotel at the Molly Malone statue and off we went in a super comfy and warm bus. I really enjoyed both drivers I had and they both did a great job at history lessons, facts and entertainment. My second driver loved to sing and it was awesome plus who doesn’t love a true Irish brogue?!

I have an entire blog dedicated to the cliff of Moher and in the process of writing one for the Causeway, But both spots were breathtaking and a must see. I was there in mid-March which for a southern girl like myself means spring and the start to warmer weather but in Ireland March is still very much winter. I was prepared for wet but not wet and intense winds which unfortunately effected part of my tour to the Giants causeway. Weather can change at the blink of an eye and usually does according to the locals, so just be prepared for weather extremes and grab some wool socks and mittens in town like I did!

Unfortunately the wind caused us not to be able to visit Carrick-a-rede bridge on the second tour ☹️ while The Giants causeway is the main attraction of the second tour I took, I really enjoyed some of the littler quick stops. I’m a huge Game of Thrones Fan and as you may or may not know, most of the show is filmed in Northern Ireland! This tour took us by many filming locations and was so awesome! We stopped at the dark hedges, saw where Renly’s camp was, the inspiration of a few of the castles, where the Iron islands is filmed as well as the main filming location in downtown Belfast. All in All, I really enjoyed my day tours with paddy wagon and highly recommend!

I will say that the tours while amazing will leaving you wanting more and I plan on next trip renting a car and just exploring the country, it’s absolutely stunning.

 

This brings us to the start of the holiday weekend. This is the part of my trip that was actually my least favorite. You kinda have this grand idea of St Patrick’s day in the land of St Patrick and then reality hits you haha So Dublin its self looks super cool with all the building lit up in green but beyond that its mostly Americans/other Europeans being overly obnoxious. The locals celebrate and there is a parade but other than that it’s a day with family not the huge party that we Americans have turned it into. I was told that the festival in Chicago is actually the biggest in the world with Savannah coming in second. I’m not a party girl at all, I don’t even drink but I was still expecting to be a little more exciting than it was! the parade even though it was snowing and Sir Davos from GOT was there was lackluster. Don’t get me wrong, in the temple bar part of town the party was happening with loads of super drunk college kids but for my friend and I we decided to skip out on that and went shopping for souvenirs and saw a movie. My suggestion is if you really want to celebrate and party for St Patrick’s day staying in the States is going to give you more of an experience!

My friend and I also did the Guinness storehouse tour, neither of us drink but we decided this was a must do while in Dublin. We enjoyed the self-lead tour through the factory and they do a really fantastic job at showing how their iconic drink is made. At the end you have a quick lesson on pouring the perfect pint and then you get to enjoy that pint. I took a sip and honestly, I don’t know how anyone drinks it but it was a fun experience. I highly recommend you book a tour ahead of time or show up early. We were able to skip the enormous line thanks to booking with the hop on/off buss company. Otherwise you will be standing outside in the mile-long lines.

Ireland is known for many famous drinks including whiskey especially Jameson, I was told by many locals and tour operators that those are some of the top attractions within the city and you need to book pretty far in advance for those places.

 

On my final day I spent hunting down some local markets and little shops. If you have followed me long enough you know I love love love a market! They are the best way to enjoy local life and meet great people. I didn’t find the kind of markets I usually do but I saw some cute shops, cafes and some great photo opportunities. I’m a huge fan of just wandering around with no real plans and seeing where each street leads me. I felt extremely safe in Dublin, never did I feel uncomfortable or scared even late at night. The locals were the most friendly and funniest people I have ever encountered, always willing to talk, give advice and their opinion on things to see or do or just about their country in general.

 

I really enjoyed my week in Ireland and its one of the few places I was immediately thinking of what I should plan for the next trip! I think this would be a great country for a first-time traveler as there isn’t a Lang barrier unless you’re out in the country and the people are super awesome. I also think that when planning a trip to the emerald isle that time of year should come into play. I was there in march which was still very much winter, it even snowed! I plan on next time going in much warmer weather. Also, when they say it always rains, they aren’t lying it didn’t end up that green because of sunshine lol so plan your outfit’s accordingly! My north face rain jacket was my best friend while there!

Hope you all enjoyed this and happy travels!! I planning a trip back hopefully soon if anyone wants to join!!

3 days in Nashville!

I’ve been wanting to make a trip to Nashville for a couple months so when my boss said they needed someone to cover a class for two weeks in Nashville I jumped at the opportunity!! My schedule ended up being pretty full but I did get three full days in the city!

My company provided lodging and I was actually in Hendersonville, TN about 25 mins outside of downtown Nashville but it wasn’t that bad of a commute. However I have decided that if I had a choice or plan my own trip to Music City its best to stay as close to downtown as possible. Parking was absolutely overpriced, more so than any other city I have spent time in! On my last night there I parked for 45mins to catch the sunset off the pedestrian bridge and it cost me $15, I did find that parking in a few of the parking garages in the Gulch are free for the first hour and then not to expensive after that. So I would highly recommend staying downtown or close enough to grab and uber or lyft which there is no shortage of throughout. The whole area is very walkable as well.

Ok I must confess I’m not exactly a fan of country music and defiantly not anything from the last decade. I grew up with Tim McGraw and the Dixie chicks but outside of that it all sounds kinda silly to me, Hopefully I don’t offend anyone! So my trip to Nashville is everything you can see/do besides the Honky Tonk bar scene.

I’m a huge fan wandering off the beaten path and finding all the neat untouristy things a city has to offer. Of course I like to see the main attractions and what all the people are talking about but I feel you really get to know a city by picking one or two main attractions to see then letting the rest of the day happen organically. One thing I couldn’t pass up was the Nashville wings located in the Gultch. It’s a beautiful pair of intricately painted wings on the side of a building that people line down the street to get a picture of. I thankfully was one of only three people to visit this on a Thursday evening! I kinda wish I had a different outfit on and did a different pose but I’m thankful that I was able to find a stranger that would at least take my picture since I was rolling solo. One of my favorite things about my time n Nashville was all the awesome street art, it was everywhere and so neat! I would plan a trip back just to seek out all the murals!

Of course I can’t leave a city without visiting the local farmers market, they are my absolute favorite thing to do and see everywhere I go. The Nashville farmers market so far is my favorite market stateside, I made three visits and saw new things each time. I loved all the fresh produce and the smell of fresh strawberries filled the air, there were fresh flowers, meats and cheeses and pastries. At the end of the market was a greenhouse with all sorts of plants and trees and I hated that I couldn’t take them all home! In true Nashville fashion there was live music, fresh lemonade and a coffee truck. as well as an amazing food truck that you can read about in my Nashville food post! The market is located within the bicentennial park and capital mall, its a lovely park with great views of the state capital and the walkway is lined with a great timeline of Tennessee’s history. Parking is limited though and I had a hard time finding a spot on Saturday due to it being their busiest day.

I had fun exploring all the little areas and neighborhoods outside of downtown, Hillsborough Village is a hip little area with some great shops such as Pangaea and Posh. There is also the very popular Pancake Pantry and Jeni’s ice cream. I also enjoyed an area a little south of downtown, there is some great street art including the “make music not war” mural, a great floral war as well as the “I believe in Nashville” and the great stripped wall outside of Reese Witherspoon’s boutique DraperJames. I also stopped at five daughter bakery and just enjoyed walking the streets here.

On my Sunday I enjoyed a great service at The belonging Co, very spirit filled, great worship and the staff/volunteers were very inviting. I enjoyed the sermon greatly and loved how they seemed to really care for their community. After church I found myself in Greece, well I was in Centennial park but a life size replica of the Parthenon resides there. For $6 you can go inside to the art gallery and also see the massive gold statue of Athena. The Park boasts a lovely duck pond, walkways an open field for picnics and playground for the kids. There was also a food truck on the afternoon I was there.

I’m a big fan on supporting local business owners and small businesses that give back to their communities. I happened to follow a few Nashville owned businesses on Instagram so of course I had to stop by their shops and pick up a few goodies and Two of them happened to be on the exact same street. The Shine Project employees local teens and also helps with college funds as well as being a great Girl power and self love influencer. I follow Ashely on both her @theshineproject page and her clothing page and she is just overall an amazing woman that changes lives and encourages other through her testimony, you should defiantly check her out! they had all sorts of handmade jewelry, tshirts, banners and a few cute bags. Another great shop I stopped at is Project 615, they sell all sorts of tshirts and tanks with fun sayings and Nashville sites printed on them. They donate 100% of their profits to the community and help with housing and other needs. I also follow them on the gram and they do have some great sales on things each week!

In my short stay I was able to cover pretty much everything outside of the honky tonk that Nashville has to offer. I really enjoyed my time in Music city and I hope to venture back sometime soon and explore some of the other hidden gems it has to offer! Hopefully this helps you plan your adventure and feel free to ask for any other tips or anything!

Nashville Eats!

I had some pretty amazing food on this trip, I always use TripAdvisor and Pinterest to make a list of the top rated food stops before any trip and then also check out whatever looks neat on my wandering.

When I landed on Sunday I was so hangry and then took a wrong turn after trying to find a specific restaurant and ended up in the Gulch. I hadn’t pre planned anything in this area of town so I just picked the fist place I found and ended up at Burger Republic. I not a fan of being sat at the bar but that always seems to happen when I travel alone. The service was really great, the bar tender was super helpful in explaining how the menu works as well as suggesting a great burger called the Tennessee and some garlic bacon fries! But the real treat was the amazing chocolate peanut butter milkshake, it was truly in the top 3 of the best milkshakes I’ve ever had! I was also told by multiple people that their adult milkshakes are on point!

On my first day off I had fried pickles and an amazing baked Mac & cheese with Hot chicken at the Stillery. Up stairs they have a first come first serve seat yourself deal going on and while service wasn’t the greatest the atmosphere was fun and I did enjoy the live music. They do have a more formal dinning area downstairs.

Another highly recommended food stop is Edleys Bar B Que. they have several locations and I stopped for lunch at the one in Edgefield. I ordered the Brisket plate a sweet tea and it was mouth watering! SOOOO good! I got there right before lunch hr. and thankfully because the people were lined out the door soon after I arrived.

I have a major sugar tooth and I found some great places to satisfy it!

First stop was five Daughters bakery and their 100 layer doughnuts are more like a cronut which I love! They have a couple locations in the Nashville area as well as one in Atlanta. I loved the adorable design of the shop, fun bright colors and a great outdoor space to enjoy in the sweetness. They offer a wide variety of flavors including some gluten free and vegan options!

A very highly recommended spot was Jeni’s splendid ice cream. I drove by the Hillsboro village one night and saw the enormous line out the door and down the street and decided to pass.  But I happened upon them again at the farmers market with no line, they do have several locations and a brand new one in Charlotte! They have all sorts of flavors including frose and some rather interesting ones like sweet corn. I opted for a fresh in house made waffle cone filled with The darkest chocolate and butter cake and despite the fact that I think more melted and dripped on me then I actually ate, it was decadent!

I visited the Nashville farmers market several times and on Saturday the grilled cheeserie was parked and serving lunch. I had several friends recommend this food truck and it did not disappoint! I actually tried hunting it down again before I flew home! I ordered the grilled pimento Mac and cheese and Oh my goodness it was soooo sooo tasty! I highly recommend them and you. An find out their daily locations on the website!

My last stop on the way to the airport was another doughnut shop because I do love me some doughnuts! This place was called the donut den, I had seen pictures of red velvet doughnuts and I couldn’t pass that up. Unfortunely they didn’t have red velvet when I stopped but they did have an amazing apple fritter!

This is just a taste of what Nashville has to offer, hopefully I can come back soon and continue the music cities culinary experience!

New month, New Goals!

Happy August my peeps!

As we start the 8th month of 2018, I am taking some time to reflect and reestablish what my purpose is. I’ve been trying to keep going big, travelling more and trying to see how much I can grow my Instagram but then becoming more and more frustrated that I don’t have followers. I was listening to the podcasts  and reading the blogs and it just seems like I sit at my same 460ish friends(thanks to all my loyal amigos!)

I think it hit me most on my last trip I just took to Nashville, It was actually a business trip but I had a three day weekend to myself in the city. I found myself just doing things that the Instagram world would like! I did all this research as to what was most popular in Nashville and what was getting the most “likes”. While I did enjoy the trip I kinda had an eye opening moment when I was editing photos, “why am I doing this?” well I talk to myself like I’m my own home girl so it was more like “Gurrrrrrl what are you doing? what is the end goal here?”

I started this whole thing with the goal of being sponsered to travel………… I think? I’ve relized that I never exactly had a final goal, Which isn’t all that rare for me. I’m extremely ADD so when I look back at all my life, Im all over place but that is truly who I am Just Me. But since aprilish I’ve lost that part of me and have tried to conform to the world blahhhhhh I hate saying that but I can’t lie. I follow some amazing people and I look forward to seeing what thay are up to each day, they seem to have it all figured out, they get paid to do all this stuff and go to amazing events. In my head I was like “thats what I want” I mean who doesnt want to not have a boring 9-5 career?

So I decided I needed to up my fashion choices, get into makeup and stop buying store brand items, adios great value! I mean thats how you get a brand deal right? You gotta spend money to start making money? But even after all the prepwork and stuff it takes some people years and thousads of followers before they get a paid deal! Sorry its not that I’m not patient, I just relized thats not me!

Long story short, While I love seeing what Noelle and Rachel do every single day on the gram(they are two of my fave people that I havent ever meet lol) I am much more comfortable and happy chillin in my Old Navy, MAYBE some mascara and my nikes from the outlets! I’m me, I’m no size 2 or 4 or even 12, my hair stays in a bun 90% of the time, I’m too loud somedays and silent on others, I’m team save yourself for marriage, I dance like there is no tommorow and I love serving and hanging out with God above all! From this day forward I’m going to be unpologetically me, I may not not have thousands of followers but Jesus had 12 and look what he was able to acomplish! I may have to pay for my own groceries but thats life and just like they say in “he’s just not into you”  Those instagramers are the exception, they rest us are the rule.

Am I going to stop travelling? Absolutly not! But I’m going to do it my way and take pictures of what I want, eat where I want and maybe not document every second and actually be present in the moment! While it would be super awesome for someone to pay me to travel, I also love the fact that I can say “hey i worked hard for that getaway, I earned it!”

What I am planning on doing and my new goals include spending more time following what God wants me doing. I’ve been feeling him pull me towards a specific group or season of life and I whole heartedly want to persure him and that project. I trust his timing, his word and his promise more than anything else in this world. Ive always said I was a world changer but didnt know how I’d do it but that season is fast approuching and I am so very excited to start working and hopefully have something to share with you all soon!

The Cliffs of Moher

After all my research and planning I kinda became overwhelmed by all the things I wanted to see and do in Ireland. I had a few days alone before my friend arrived for the holiday so I chose two day trips, both through Paddy Wagon tours. My first day was an amazing trip to the famed cliffs of Moher. We started out pretty early but the bus was super comfy and the driver John was entertaining. Our first stop was a bar at maybe 9am haha welcome to Ireland! I must admit, though I am over 50% Irish I don’t drink 🤦🏻‍♀️ and to my surprise they served only “Irish” coffee and hot chocolate, regular coffee but with a shot of Baileys lol

Our journey took us down the wild Atlantic way, a super beautiful but insanely curvy rd down the western coast of the Emerald Isle. It was raining the entire time but it was still so mesmerizing!

Before lunch we stopped at what they call the baby cliffs for a quick photo opportunity.

We stopped for lunch in a cute little town before heading to the main attraction of the day.

After half a day of talking about “the cliffs” we finally made it there. The weather was terrible!! The wind was so intense I had to hold on to the railing at times, the temperature was below freezing and the rain was miserable. But I can’t even begin to explain the beauty I saw that day, I had no doubt even in the most terrible weather why this is Ireland’s most visited sites.

There is about 5km of trails along the edge of the cliffs and I hope to return soon and in better weather to explore!

There is an entrance fee but through paddy wagon it was included in the tour price. They have a little museum and cafe as well as a gift shop and a little chapel.

It was so muddy and I was absolutely soaked to the bone but it was an amazing experience!

We made a few quick photo stops including a stop at a castle before heading home to Dublin.

I highly recommend if you are in Ireland to use Paddy Wagon for all your tours. They have very comfortable busses most including WiFi, the drivers are super entertaining and very knowledgeable and it was just a great time with great people!

One day in Paris

So unlike most peeps Paris has never been a huge bucket list must visit, it wasn’t evening my top 10! But since I was heading to London I decided to go at least see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Booked a $50 flight with Vueling though Expedia and a random hotel with Hotels.com. I didn’t plan anything in advance and I honestly wasn’t even that excited about going. Plus I know absolutely no French and I just knew that would cause issues.

I landed at 10am and caught the train into the city, thankfully my hotel was able to store my bags so I could head out and explore, I had about 5hrs of sunlight left and had a super early flight the next morning so i hadn’t planned on being out all night.

I decided to skip the metro and walk the city, I didn’t have a plan so I just walked and happened to run right into Notre Dame! The bells were ringing and there was hardly a line to go inside, it’s actually free to tour the cathedral. They were actually having mass so I hit pause on tourist mode for that, how many people can say they had communion in Notre Dame? The cathedral it’s self was gorgeous, huge ceilings and beautiful stained windows. It was pouring rain and it’s free to enter so unfortunately it was slam packed with people just trying to stay dry.

I wandered my way randomly though adorable little Parisian streets and along the not so pretty river seine. I next happened upon the louvre museum, I of course had to get a picture of the glass pyramid. I’ve never been into art and I was on a budget so touring the museum wasn’t a “must do” I have also heard for many travelers that they were disappointed with all the hype around the louvre and the Mona Lisa.

From there I walked down though the mini arch, the gardens and to the Paris version of the London eye. It was pretty cheap so I decided to jump on. I lucked out being alone, none of the couples wanted me as their third wheel in the little cabins so I scored a cabin to myself even though it clearly said no single riders! It was a spectacular view of the city and I could finally see the tower! Up until then I had yet to catch a glimpse of it and was beginning to think it didn’t exist lol

Since this was my only day in Paris I broke my no tourist attraction spending and jumped on a hop on/off bus. I really like these tours, it’s normally a great form of transportation and fun facts along the way. I would suggest booking online ahead of time, they normally offer a little discount. Just remember to print the tickets before you leave, they don’t accept email receipts and while in NYC last year I had to find a copy place so that I could print them out.

I hopped off at the tower, I unfortunately had only grabbed my rain jacket before I left the hotel since it had been so warm compared to London but apparently a cold front had arrived and it was windy and freezing! I stood shivering in line and went though security to only find out that due to wind they had closed the top of the tower. Talk about major let down! It was still pretty neat to stand under it and I got some great tower pictures but I decided to add “going up in the Eiffel Tower” to my bucket list. I did however grab a tasty doughnut while there.

Not doing any planning or research lead me to being surprised on how many things are in Paris, I totally forgot about the arch de triumph and many other neat shops and museums.

I did leave for Paris with a list of foods to eat, #1 being macaroons!! They have been my favorite little treat to indulge in recently and I had this dream of walking down a Paris street munching on macaroons lol I found a little shop that happened to be one of the most famous places bakeries to make them. They had so many flavors and colors and huge ones to the typical size. I wanted to try them all but these little things can be so pricey! I thought they were a rip-off till I made some myself this summer. They are a pain to make and take forever so I can sort of justify the price now. I won’t about €19 on 6 regular and one giant macaroons. I went with vanilla, coffee, strawberry, passion fruit and chocolate! They wrapped them all up and put them in a fancy little bag! I also stopped at a bakery to grab some croissants that were melt in your mouth delicious!

I made my way back to my hotel to check in and I was pleasantly surprised. I had booked it very last minute and I liked the price so I grabbed it. The receptionist was so great, he had held my luggage all day while I explored plus given me a larger room then I had originally booked. The room it’s self though small was perfect! It was cozy yet elegant, clean and had those huge European windows I live so much! I finally did some research and found out the hotel was named after Louis, price of Condé. Most people would be like “ummmm ok” but this was super exciting because I loved the show reign that while not historically correct at most times followed the story of Mary queen of Scotts. Condé was one of my favorite characters from that show so it was neat to stay in a hotel named after the real Condé. The hotel was even on the rue of Condé.

I was silly to think that one day would be enough in Paris, I totally fell under the cities spell and can’t wait to book a flight to come back and dive deeper into its alleyways and history! I do plan on learning a little French though, while most people spoke English it was obvious that they were not a fan of speaking it. It did help to start with “bonjour” then ask if they spoke English and always end with “merci” the locals seemed more willing to help that way. I also ended up with an uber driver on the way to the airport that didn’t speak a single word of English and was very new to France as well which made it very difficult to communicate but I made it safe and on time to the airport so all good!!

2 days in London

I bought a flight to Rome in August and had a whole entire trip planned. But my sister gave me one of those scratch off maps for Christmas and in reality she gifted me the biggest travel challenge ever!

So two weeks before my flight I switched the whole thing up and booked a flight from Rome to London for a couple days! Crazy and spontaneous but I’m so happy I did it, I love London! I had forgotten how much of a history buff I am and re-sparked my interest in kings, queens and all things medieval.

I flew into Gatewick late Monday and made my way through the tube to my hotel right beside Waterloo station in the Southbank area of London. I was in a budget trip so I knew staying directly in the city center was not an option. But I actually liked being I. The Southbank and having a tube/train station across the street from my hotel was fantastic. I stayed at the Wellington hotel, it was a pub with rooms upstairs. It wasn’t exactly what I expected but for a solo traveler who was only in the room to sleep it worked for me! The only complaint I have is that since it was a pub that closed so did the front desk(it was really just the bar) so when I had to checkout early to catch my flight there was no way to check out so I had to just leave. They did offer a decent breakfast and WiFi though.

I highly recommend to get a Oyster card for all your transportation while here. It was $10 for the initial card but that gets refunded when you return it, Having the card cuts all rides in half so it’s a huge help. The Metro or tube as they call it is quite expensive and I have to say I spent more on transportation than anything else the entire trip. But I hadn’t planned anything and that was a huge mistake, I found myself going from one side of town to the other and with some simple planning the tube trips could have been avoided. Weather also played a huge factor, I usually prefer to walk cities but it was sooo dang cold that even I a cold weather lover had to seek shelter!

Speaking of weather, it was ridiculously cold, down right frigid! I had been monitoring weather for a week and it looked like it would be in the 30’s but sunny. I’m from the Asheville NC area and had been dealing with temps in the single digits so I was looking forward to warmer weather haha I almost didn’t bring my snow jacket but I’m so happy I grabbed it at the last min it was a life saver. While it was sunny the wind was killer, even with gloves and scarf it was unbearable at times. The wind was part of a major storm that hit the UK and Western Europe killing 6 people, I had to hold on to a pole at one point the wind was so fierce!

I had two full days in the city. My goal was to spend as little money as possible, knowing this was one of the most expensive cities to visit I considered this a fun challenge. The only thing I planned and booked ahead of time was the sky Garden, it’s free but you have to book a time slot to visit a week ahead. I also had a list of a few things I wanted to see and do but really just wanted to wander around and see the city in a not so touristy way.

My first stop was the Sky Garden and that’s exactly what it was, a Garden 30ish floors up! The best free 360 degree view of the city. The Shard has another great view but that will set you back about 25£. The gardens have a cafe and restaurant to sit while you enjoy the view. Thankfully it was a beautiful day and I was able to get some great pics!

I left the Garden and walked to the Tower of London. I did pay for this tour £24 but come on it’s the Tower of London, how could I not! I’m a huge nerd for Ann Boleyn, the tudors and anything medieval really. It was just amazing to walk the grounds where so many great people walked and great scandals occurred. I prefer to do tours myself so I skipped the guided tours and just wandered though the towers and hallways imagining how life would have been there. It was neat to see traitors gate and all the carvings from the hundreds of people who were locked away. It’s the off season so it want busy at all just some school groups visiting. It was also great to see the tower Bridge, you can go up into the bridge for a small fee.

It was mid afternoon and my stomach was demanding some food and no better place to find amazing but cheap food is a market! I had read about two markets that were on list of must sees in London. For day one I decide to visit the Camden Market in Camden town. Whoa! Talk about sensory overload, it was a never ending journey meandering though little passage ways of little shops and food stalls. I found a fantastic little Mac and cheese stall and also some fried plantains to munch on by the docks. I also found the ceral killer cafe and ChinChin labs that serves nitrogen ice cream and some amazing hot chocolate.

Day two started a little later due to the time difference really messing with me but I headed over to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards. If you visit make sure you check the website, they don’t do the ceremony everyday so you may have to adjust your schedule. You also want to get there super early to be be in a spot where you can actually see, I wasn’t able to see any of the ceremony but did watch them march in and heard the band which was neat.

I jumped in the tube and headed across the river to the famed borough market. This market is a foodies paradise! Food stalls offering food from around the globe and local favorites. I’m a sweet addict so I hit up a French pastry booth for some apple tarts and chocolates that were to die for. I’m actually a pretty picky eater but I did branch out and got a traditional hot pie and mash for lunch, I really wanted to enjoy it but I’m honestly not sure what I even consumed lol the mashed potatoes and meat itself had great flavor but I have no clue what it was mixed with inside the pie and it freaked me out! I bought some delicious herbal lavender honey from Spain and sampled some yummy breads before leaving. I’d definitely recommend this spot for all who visit London!

I walked across THE London bridge to a little secret spot to hangout. St dunsten in the east is what remains of a church built in the Saxon times and has endured both the great London fire and the blitz. It was turned into a Garden and opted to the public in 1967. It’s a beautiful little sanctuary right in the middle of a busy city, it was so peaceful and a great place to sit and enjoy a coffee and cinnamon bun. I can imagine it would be amazing to have wedding pictures and even reception here.

Like I said earlier I prefer to walk a city and even with the cold I walked over 21 miles and just explores little ally’s throughout the city. I walked to St. Paul’s cathedral and along the river themes. I explored the British library and saw the Kings book collection. Unfortunately the Elizabeth tower or what everyone likes to call “Big Ben” (only one click face is named Big Ben) was under renovation. Heads up it is forbidden to take pictures in Westminster Abby so for me it was kinda pointless to pay to enter, instead go to an actual service! I attended the 5pm Wednesday prayer service and while I didn’t get to see the entire place I was able to sit and take in the main cathedral room for free!

It was a pretty quick and budget trip but I had a blast and accomplished quite a bit in my opinion. I cant wait to begin planning my trip back, I’m really hoping to be able to get out of the city and into the countryside next time!