I made it!

What a long day it has been! But an incredible day at that!

I’ll start from where I left off in my last post:

I made it to New York by 5:45 p.m. as anticipated. But since the Bolt bus dropped us off at a different place than from where I had planned on being dropped off by Megabus, I had to recalculate how I was getting to the airport. I got two different sets of directions from the Bolt bus driver and from a friendly NYC local (I know, a friendly New Yorker seems like an oxymoron, right?), and took the advice from the latter to take the A train on the New York subway to JFK airport.

The line at customs was frightening.
The line at customs was frightening.

I arrived at the airport an hour later, just to find that my flight was delayed from a 9:45 p.m. departure to 11:15 p.m. So all that panic for nothing! I sat around in the airport for about three hours after going through customs, charging my phone and iPad. I flew Kuwait Airlines because when I was purchasing tickets for this trip in November, Kuwait Airlines had the cheapest tickets. I soon found out why. When we finally boarded the plane, I saw it was lacking, uh, modern comforts. The seats were outdated and the inflight entertainment needed some major TLC. But the staff was friendly, the food was fine, and the ride was really not uncomfortable, so I wasn’t disappointed with the flight. I got what I paid for.

Breakfast on the flight was an omelette, beans, yogurt, roll, orange juice and coffee.
Breakfast on the flight was an omelette, beans, yogurt, roll, orange juice and coffee.

I had a new cultural experience with the airline being based in Kuwait, however. All passengers were given moist towels to wash their faces and hands after boarding the flight. Later on, we were given another set of warm, wet clothes to wipe our faces and hands before landing. The flight attendants also gave specific directions as to when to close and open our window shades. No exceptions. I have not looked into why this is the routine with this airline, but I am very curious as to why! I didn’t mind having to shut and open my window at specific times, though I did wish I could have kept it open longer to be able to enjoy the view — but I did like feeling fresh and clean after wiping my face and hands!

We touched down in London at 11:30 a.m., an hour and a half later than scheduled, because of the delayed departure. Luckily my friend Sarah was patiently waiting for me at the gate. After a long, long day of traveling, it was awesome to see a friendly face!

I made it London!
I made it London!

 

London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Zurich: The ultimate itinerary for my trip to Europe

Euro Trip 2014 MapIs this real life? Am I seriously heading to Europe in less than one week? I’m so excited, I can’t even see straight, and I really hope I haven’t scared away any strangers as I randomly gaze off into the distance as I daydream about the trip. I’ve been planning to go back to Europe since the day I stepped foot back in the U.S. last summer after returning from Spain. I just can’t believe it’s now one week away.

I’m finally taking the time to jot down the entire itinerary of my 24-day trip through 11 cities in six countries. Primarily, I’m making the list for personal reference, but I hope my friends and family can use it track where I am along the adventure. And of course, I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to plan a fast-paced Euro trip of their own. I’m sure it will be the experience of a lifetime.

June 10th – Washington, to New York, to London

I live in D.C., but my flight to London leaves from JFK airport in New York City. So I’ll be using Megabus to get to New York (have I written my ode to Megabus yet? I’m practically married to the company at this point), where I’ll then have four hours to make it to the airport and get myself through customs. This will be my first time flying internationally alone and I’m, like, crazy nervous. But I’m so excited for this trip that I know I’ll combat my nerves with thoughts of beautiful England, enchanting Ireland, feisty Spain, alluring Italy, majestic France, intriguing Monaco… wait, what was I talking about again?

June 11th – London Calling

I’ll arrive around 10 a.m. where my lovely, lovely travel pal Sarah will pick me up from Heathrow airport and help me get acquainted to the city. She and I will be staying with her aunt in Wimbledon, and Sarah will have arrived a few days before I do, so she’ll be ready to hit the town as soon as I get there.  Sarah’s been to London more times than I have fingers, so she’ll be my personal tour guide and take me around the London bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey road, Platform 9  and 3/4, etc. She and her aunt are being so awesome about letting me stay with them and showing me around, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

June 12th – Explore London

Sarah and I will do more sightseeing and souvenir shopping early in the day. We bought tickets to Once, the musical, and will have to make our way over to the theater midday. Afterward, there will be time do more exploring after the show before we retire early to get a good start the next day for Dublin.

June 13th – Off to Ireland!

For more details, see my post: How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

Rising early, Sarah and I will take a train to the coast of England and then ride a ferry across the water to Dublin Port. The 8-hour journey will take up most of our day, but we’ll arrive with just enough time to hang out in Temple Bar and take a nighttime sigh-seeing tour of Dublin.

14th – Irish Overload

This will be an incredibly fast-paced day, with a morning 3-hour walking tour and then back-to-back visits to the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. At night, we’ll go out like true Irish lassies and hit up a bar crawl with our fellow hostel visitors.

June 15th – Back to London for a Bit

A ferry and a train will take Sarah and I back to London, and spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Sarah will be preparing to head back to the States, and I’ll get ready to start my Contiki tour the next day. But we must get one last scone together before we part.

June 16th – Head to the hotel in London to start my Contiki tour

I’ll have to check in to the hotel by 2 p.m. and then spend the evening getting ready for the tour. There will be orientation for the trip where I will meet the tour manager, chef and my fellow travelers. The checked-in travelers have a chance to go out to dinner, but we can’t get cray cray since we have to get up early the next day to head to Paris.

June 17th – Depart London for Paris

Off to Paris! We’ll begin our voyage on a ferry to France, where we’ll pass the White Cliffs of Dover. Then we’ll hop on the Contiki coach bus and travel through World War I battlefields in the Valley of the Somme to Paris.

Once we arrive at our campsite, we get to set up camp – which I’m super excited about because apparently, we’re sleeping in pairs in these cute little blue tents. I’m sure tight quarters will force us to become very close with our fellow travelers – literally. Once we have set up camp, our bus will leave for the Tour of Illuminations, which will take us around the beautiful, lamp-lit streets of Paris, passing the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Champs-Élysées.

June 18th – 19th  Explore Paris

The city of love will bring us plenty of sightseeeing to do over these two days: Left Bank, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre and more. I know the enchanting smell of French baguettes will draw me in and I’m so looking forward to chowing down on some French cuisine. Plus, shopping!! I know everything will be way expensive, but I will do my best to find a few Parisian gems to ring back to the states. Our tour also includes a trip to Versailles, France’s most well-known château, where we will explore the impressive exterior of the extravagant palace. I’ll have to make sure I bring extra memories for my camera!

On the last night in Paris, we get to experience a Parisian night out, starting with an optional dinner in an atmospheric restaurant and authentic cabaret experience, complete with can-can girls and champagne. I’m so ready to live the high life.

June 20th – Depart Paris and drive through Bordeaux

Surely tired from the previous night’s festivities, we’ll pack up our campsites and head through Loire Valley, traveling past rolling vineyards and chateaus. On our way to Spain, we’ll stop in Bordeaux and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed St. Emilion, with its fortified medieval city.

June 21st – Biarritz and Pamplona

Leaving Bordeaux and heading south, the bus will stop at the beach resort of Biarritz, known for some of the best beaches and surf in Europe. Since I’m not a huge sun-bathing person, I’ll probably spend most of my time in Biarritz hitting up the coastal shops and boutiques. Apparently, Biarritz has great beach fashion and locally made linens and regional produce like hams and salamis.

Leaving Biarritz, we cross the border to Spain and spend the evening in Pamplona, the city know for the Running of the Bulls. Pamplona has an awesome Gothic cathedral that I’m sure I’ll obsess over, and amazing Basque restaurants that serve traditional foods like barbecued lamb, fresh trout and red peppers.

June 22nd – Off to Barcelona!!!

Lately, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Barcelona. Already suffering from an obsession with Spanish language and culture, I can only image how I’ll soak in the incredible, vibrant colors and beachy vibe of one of Spain’s best-known cities.

So on the way to Barcelona from Pamplona, the bus will head through the Baroque city of Zaragoza, set on the banks of the Rio Ebro. We’ll stop for lunch and engorge in Spanish tapas, and get a chance to check out another amazing Spanish cathedral. Once we arrive in Barcelona and set up camp, we depart for the city just in time to hit up Montjuic, a hilltop with full vistas of the city and location of the 1992 Olympic Games complex. Then we will check out the Sagrada Família!!!! I can’t wait!

Later, we get to enjoy a night out in Barcelona, which I’m sure will be one we won’t want to tell the kids.

June 23rd – Explore Barcelona

After a morning walking tour of the city, we’ll have free time to visit shops on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, Parc Güell, or hang out on the beach. That night, there will be a family dinner and optional Flamenco show, then we head out for a night out in Barcelona – part two.

June 24th – Off to the French Riviera

The rugged coast line of the stunning Côte d’Azur will capture our attention as we roll along on the coach bus, stopping for lunch in Arles.  The beautiful city of Cannes will great us as we roll along the Riviera on our way to Antibes.

June 25th – Explore the French Riviera and Monaco 

On this sunny Wednesday, we’ll stop at the Fragonard perfumery, the home of the French perfume industry. We’ll have some free time to explore the area and try some French wine and, at night, get to explore Monaco and maybe even blow some cash at the Monte Carlo casino.

June 26th – Off to Florence

Leaving France, the tour crosses over the border to Italy. First stop: the Leaning Tower of Pizza (hehehe had to do it 🙂 ). We next drive to our campsite, have a family dinner, take a tour along the river and unwind with a glass of Tuscan wine.

June 27th – Explore Florence 

We’ll hit the museum and the city centre, take a guided tour through crowded streets, and watch a demonstration of Florentine leather making. At night, we’ll have an optional group dinner  (an authentic Tuscan feast, which there’s no way I’m missing), and then head out to experience Florentine nightlife.

June 28th – Head to our last stop: Rome!

Traveling through Tuscany, we’ll leave Florence and head to Rome where we’ll set up our last campsite on the tour.  A coach tour if the city will guide us through the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, where we’ll then then step off the bus to see the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. With our free time later, we get to check out the Trevi Fountain or see the Spanish Steps. And at some point, obvi, we’ll  be stopping for pizza and gelato.

June 29th —  When in Rome…

In the morning, a tour guide will take us through the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, of course, the tour leads to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Free time later in the day will give us a chance to explore the city, eat more pizza, go shopping, and, knowing me, take lots of pictures. I just really want to know what it means to “do as the Romans do.” Ha.

Then, it’s our last night out! I know that I’ll have made some awesome friends during this crazy Euro adventure, and the group will want to go out with a bang. And if that predication is wrong, I’ll just go out by myself. Whatevs.

June 30th – Ciao for now Rome!

On this day, everyone packs up and rolls out. The tour ends midday Monday and we’re all on our own to transport ourselves back home. But Europe won’t be able to get rid of me that quickly. I’ll have a few more days before I head back to the States.

July 1st – 2nd – ?????

Still not quite sure what I’ll be doing these two days before heading back to London. My friend Rachel, who is studying abroad in France, and I planned to meet up in Switzerland, but that might not be possible anymore. So I will probably just be spontaneous and pick up a one-way ticket to some place I’ll want to explore before heading back to the Heathrow airport the night of the June 2.

July 3rd – GOODBYE EUROPE

Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I fly out from London that morning, expecting to be back in Washington, D.C. later that evening. With the next day being July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), I can’t think of any better way to feel welcomed back to my home country than with firework, hot dogs, and everything stars and stripes.

Gracias, Merci, Grazie

Guest Post: How to Spend 6 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast and See it All!

close upThis week, hear from an awesome blogger who took three months off from work to travel throughout Australia. Jessica from Turquoise Compass is a teacher at heart, but her true passion is traveling (especially to turquoise beaches), adventure, and trying new things. She has been to 17 countries and she is ready to see more. She has completed more than a hundred items on her bucket and encourages others to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of every opportunity that comes. As you can tell, this hyperactive traveler loves visiting beautiful turquoise destinations.

How to Spend 6 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast and See it All!
Queensland
Coolangatta, Gold Coast

It is hard to believe that I have been in Australia for over two months now. The time is flying by. With only two more weeks, my time in Australia is quickly coming to an end. My first 6 weeks were spent on the spectacular East Coast. I traveled from New South Whales, through the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and all the way up to Northern Queensland. How can I sum up my first 6 weeks in Australia in just one blog post? I am not sure that I can, but I will try. The East Coast gave me my first impressions of Australia, while allowing me countless opportunities to check off items on my bucket list. The East Coast was a dream come true. Continue reading Guest Post: How to Spend 6 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast and See it All!

How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Did I mention how excited I am that we’re going to Ireland? Mid-June is possibly the best time to travel to the Emerald Isle, and we’ll be in Dublin June 13-15.  The average temperatures for those days are in the 60s, and according to TimeAndDate.com, the average sunrise for those days 5 a.m. and sunset is just before 10 p.m. Talk about getting the most out of our day!

Because we will be so lucky with our timing, we’ll be able to pack our days with sightseeing. After doing a lot of research, I’ve come up with a rough itinerary for the weekend that will maximize our time in Dublin without running us into the ground. Here’s what I have so far:

oconnell-street-bridge-at-night-in-dublin

DAY 1: Friday, June 13th  
  1. Arrive at Dublin Port by Irish Ferries
  2. Taxi to Abigail’s Hostel – 10 mins
  3. Get settled in the hostel
5:30 p.m.
  1. Dinner at The Temple Bar
  2. Meander around town
  3. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral to take pictures at sunset. The cathedral will be closed but we can view from the outside.
6:30ish
  1. Dublin by Night Open-Top Bus Tour:
  • O’Connell Street
  • Georgian Dublin
  • Docklands District
  • Dublin City Centre
9:00 p.m.
  1. Night Out (Maybe at Fitzsimmons)
10:00 p.m.

guinness

DAY 2: Saturday, June 14th  
  1. George St. Arcade (if we can squeeze it in)
9:30 a.m.
  1. Walking Tour from City Hall: We’re using New Dublin Tours for a free 3-hour walking tour!
  • Dublin Castle
  • Dubh Linn
  • Dublin’s Medieval Walls
  • Viking Remains
  • Norman Dublin
  • Georgian Dublin
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Adam and Eve Church
  • The National Library
  • Famous Writers
  • Temple Bar
  • U2 – Origins of the rock legend
  • Trinity College
  • Leinster House
  • Chester Beatty Library
  • St. Stephen’s Green
  • 1916 Easter Rising
11:00 a.m.
  1. Guinness  Storehouse Tour
  2. To Jameson: Walk 16 mins, Taxi 4 mins
3:00 p.m.
  1. Jameson Distillery Tour
5:00 p.m.
  1. Pub Crawl leaving from Wellington Club: we’re using New Dublin Tours again – but this time, the adult version.
  2. We may also want to do a free Irish dancing show at 9 p.m. Arlington Hotel across the way from our hostel!
7:30 – All Night

maxresdefault (1)

DAY 3: Sunday, June 15th
  1. Wake up and check out
  2. Taxi to Dublin Port – 10 mins
7:00 a.m.
  1. Depart to Holyhead
8:45 a.m.

Of course, we’ll still miss out on a few must-sees in Dublin, such as Kilmainham Gaol, but I am convinced this itinerary will provide us with a great balanced experience of Dublin. With just more than one month to go, we also have plenty of time the make alterations. I know we will have an incredible time in Ireland, regardless. I mean, c’mon. It’s Ireland.

For more, see my post about our transportation and accommodations: How we’re squeezing in a weekend trip to Dublin

*All photos from Google

 Have you been to Dublin? How long did you stay and what did you do? Do you think we can squeeze all of this in?

How we’re squeezing in a weekend trip to Dublin

The-Temple-Bar-Dublin

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry about the exclamation — I’m just really, really excited! This summer, I’ll be spending a week in London with my travel pal, Sarah. And in our planning, we figured that we might as well plan a trip to Dublin while we’re in the U.K. We both have a love for pubs and Irish jigs and figured we could spare a couple of days stepping away from England and exploring the Emerald Isle. And going to Ireland means I get to check something off my bucket list!

When we’re going

While Sarah will be in London for nine days, I will only have six days there before I leave for my Contiki tour. So we’re taking a short weekend trip to Dublin — leaving Friday morning and returning Sunday afternoon. Yes, we know we should avoid weekend travel when we’re on a budget, but a weekend trip was the only option that worked for our schedule.

How we’re getting there

Sarah discovered a transportation company that is perfect for our schedule and budget. Called RailEasy, the company lets us find and book a train ride from London to the west coast of England and a ferry from England to Ireland. We booked a train ride from Euston to Holyhead, where we will then hop on a ferry to Dublin Port. The journey takes about eight hours — six by train and two by ferry.Though the ride will be long, it’ll be totally worth it because of the stunning views of the countryside we’ll see along the way.

Here’s a short video of the highlight of the London-to-Dublin journey:

Where we’re staying

We used Hostelworld (as usual) to search for places to stay in Dublin. There are other accommodation options featured on the site than hostels — such as budget hotels and bed and breakfasts — but Sarah and I prefer hostels because they allow us to meet and hang out with other travelers. And we love making friends. We searched Dublin hostels based on price, ratings and location and found several that fit our criteria, such as Isaac’s Hostel and Backpacker’s Citi Hostel.

But the one that caught our attention most was Abigail’s Budget Accommodation. With an 98 percent location rating and a Hostelworld recommendation, Abigail’s stood out as the best place to stay if we want to be centrally located to Dublin’s main attractions. It’s located on Aston Quay overlooking the River Liffey with Temple Bar only footsteps away from the doorstep.

abigails

Since we’ll be tight on time, we need somewhere that is within walking distance of most sites we want to visit, and a few minutes’ car ride away from the rest. Not only is Abigail’s centrally located to all the historical sites we want to see, but the hostel offers free 3-hour walking tours every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. This bonus means we’ll have to do way less planning for where to go and what to see.

Nightly bar crawls are another prized feature for the hostel, one that we will happily take advantage of. Have I mentioned that I’m obsessed with Irish pubs? We’ll be visiting the Guinness Brewery and the Jameson Distillery while we’re there, of course, we’ll be sure to salute the local spirits on our night(s) out.

In my next post, I’ll share our tentative itinerary for the trip!

Have you been to Dublin? How did you get there and where did you stay? Comment below!

Toronto in 30 Hours — How I Did it and You Can Do It Too

Toronto_skyline_tommythompsonpark_cropped

TORONTO, CANADA spans 2,751 square miles and has a population of more than 5,580,000. It boasts more than 100 attractions, from museums and historic sites to restaurants and markets. With so much going on, it seems nearly impossible to truly explore the city in 30 hours. But my friend Sarah and I managed to do it — and here’s how:

OVERVIEW:

DAY 1
Getting Acquainted to the City (1 HR)
Checking into the Hostel (.5 HRS)
Buying a CityPASS (.5 HRS)
Climbing to the Top of the CN Tower (3 HRS)
Exploring Downtown Toronto (2 HRS)
Getting Dinner in Greektown (2 HRS)
Going Out at the Hostel (4 HRS)
Sleep (5 HRS)

DAY 2
Going to Casa Loma (4 HRS)
Stopping for Lunch (2 HRS)
Exploring the Royal Ontario Museum (3 HRS)
Grabbing a Quick Sushi Dinner (1 HR)
Picking up our bags at the Hostel and Heading to the Bus Terminal (2 HRS)

_________________________________________________________________________

1. GETTING TO TORONTO (16 HRS)
Sarah and I both live in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so we took the Megabus from Union Station to Toronto. We left at 8 p.m. Thursday night, anticipating our arrival in Toronto at 10 .m. Friday. We passed through Philadelphia, Penn. and Buffalo, N.Y., making stops at both before finally crossing the border. Once in Canada, we of course had to go through customs, but that was quick and painless. By that point, getting off the bus and stretching our legs was extremely welcome. Two hours after we left customs, we were in Toronto. ($73/each, round trip)

 

2. GETTING ACQUAINTED TO THE CITY (1 HR)
Having some bus troubles along the way, we finally arrived at the Toronto Bus Terminal at 12 p.m. on Friday. Famished, we first stopped to grab a bite at Druxy’s Deli. Then we headed to the ATM to take out some Canadian money and found a subway station. The Toronto subway, officially known as the Toronto Transit Commission, is refreshingly easy to navigate; there are only three lines and the stops are clearly labeled, both on the maps and at the stations. It took us about 15 minutes to get from St. Patrick’s Station to Donlands Station, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hostel. ($11/day for a 2-person subway pass)

 

3. CHECKING IN TO THE HOSTEL (.5 HRS)
We had a fantastic experience at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, which is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto. We stayed in a six-person mixed dorm (I could have sworn I booked an all-female dorm! It wasn’t too bad though, we didn’t see the guys much, and we kept our valuables locked in a safe). The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating and they made us feel right at home. We stayed long enough to get our bags settled in and freshen up, and then we were off on our adventure. ($25/each for one night)


 
4. BUYING A CITYPASS (.5 HRS)
In doing our pre-trip research, Sarah found that it was highly recommended to buy a  $61 CityPASS for Toronto. The Toronto CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to 5 must-see tourist attractions in Toronto that saved us 43% compared to combined regular box office prices:

  1.  CN Tower: A Wonder of the Modern World (Reg. $32/each)
  2. Royal Ontario Museum: Engage the World (Reg. $12.50/each)
  3. Casa Loma: Toronto’s Majestic Castle (Reg. $24/each)
  4. Toronto Zoo: Canada’s Premier Zoo (Reg. $23/each)
  5. Ontario Science Centre: Canada’s Leading Science Center (Reg. $22/each)

The passes were valid for nine consecutive days and allowed us to skip ticket lines. We bought ours at the Royal Ontario Museum, but decided to wait until the next day to explore the museum. Instead, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and headed to the CN Tower. ($61/each)

 

5. CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE CN TOWER (3 HRS)
I still get chills thinking about it – what a thrill. According to the tower’s website, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified the CN Tower as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (the others being the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel, the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast and the Empire State Building).

After skipping the ticket lines, Sarah and I went through a brief security check and got in line for the evaluator. We queued for an hour and finally rode the glass elevator up 1,136 ft (346 m) to the LookOut Level. The views of the cityscape, the Toronto Islands and the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Lake Ontario were breathtaking. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a light lunch and some red rosé at Horizon’s Restaurant.  We ended our visit with a stop at the CN Tower gift shop. (Tower cost covered by CityPass, $15/each for lunch, $15/each at the gift shop)

 
6. EXPLORING DOWNTOWN TORONTO (2 HRS)
After the tower, we had some spectacular maple lattés at Second Cup Café. With our fresh energy boost, we walked around for a while taking pictures and searching for souvenirs. Finally we made our trek back to the hostel. (About $30/each)

 

7. SITTING DOWN FOR DINNER IN GREEKTOWN (2 HRS)
Our hostel was in a part of Toronto called Greektown. The streets were lined with Greek restaurants and shops, and naturally, Greek people. We stumbled upon Pan, a magnificent, candle-lit restaurant featuring authentic, gourmet Greek food and walls lined with wine bottles. The food was exquisite and there was even a live band and a belly dancer. I have to say it was one of the best meals I’ve had. ($35/each)

 
8. GOING OUT AT THE HOSTEL (4 HRS)
Back at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, we relaxed a bit and hung out in the common area with the other young, broke travelers. Then we all went downstairs to The Only Cafe, an awesome local bar on the below the hostel with over 200 beers from around the world. I’ll spare the details of the night, but let’s just say we had a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Cheers to the Maple Leaf.

 

9. SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP (6 HRS)



10. GOING TO CASA LOMA (4 HRS)
We had an incredible breakfast at the hostel, then headed north via the subway to Casa Loma, Toronto’s majestic castle. The castle allows you to “step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendour.” As Canada’s foremost castle, it is the former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt and complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and a garden that we weren’t able to see because it is winter. Both the inside and outside we simply stunning and, as a princess in training, I felt right at home. (Cost covered by CityPass)

 
11. STOPPING FOR LUNCH (2 HRS)
When in Canada, one must eat at least once at Tim Horton’s. So we did. Then we went to Starbucks for some more maple coffee and to charge our iPhones.

 

12. EXPLORING THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM (3 HRS)
Last stop on the trip was the Royal Ontario Museum. Again, we got to skip the lines and go straight to the entrance. The museum has four floors of world history and cultural exhibits, divided into eight categories: fashion and textiles, Earth and space, ancient cultures, biodiversity, fossils and evolution, contemporary culture, Canada, and world art and culture. Tired from the previous day’s events, we only stayed a few hours, though I’m sure anyone could spend the entire day there. We still had a chance to see hundreds of ancient artifacts, fossils and works of art from around the world.

 

13. GRABBING A QUICK SUSHI DINNER (1HR)
We seriously ate well during this trip. After we left the museum, we headed back to Greektown for our last meal in Toronto. Craving sushi, we stopped at Casa Sushi, a nifty sushi place with more than 100 items on the menu. Sarah got several different rolls, and I got a huge vegetarian platter and a mojito for less than $16. The food was fantastic, the service was eh, but overall great bang for our buck. (about $20/each)


 

14. PICKING UP OUR BAGS AT THE HOSTEL AND HEADING TO THE BUS TERMINAL (2 HRS)
We headed back to the hostel after dinner to pick up our bags and be on our way. Having about an hour to spare, though, we decided to grab one last drink at The Only Cafe. It was the best possible way the end our amazing trip. Afterward, we headed to the terminal and were (kind of) first ones in line, destined for the front seats of the double-decker bus. The ride home went a little more smoothly since we were too exhausted to care about the tight space, and after 14 hours, we were back in D.C.

REVIEW

There ya have it: Toronto in 30 hours, excluding travel time to and from the City. Though we didn’t hit all of the attractions covered by the CityPASS, we still saved a few bucks with it.  If I could have done anything differently, I would have tried to squeeze in the Science Center on the second day, but we were just too tired for that. Oh well, it’s just an incentive to go back.

*Updated 3/35/2014

My Best Friend and I are going to Switzerland!

I just found out some incredible news. My best friend Rachel will be studying abroad on a vineyard in the south of France while I’m in on my tour of Europe! Unfortunately, the tour will not go through the town where she is staying, but we will both have free time during the same week. So, we’ve devised a master plan to meet in Switzerland and go on a train ride through the alps together!

Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?
Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?

After my tour ends in Rome, I’ll have three days to make it back to London for my flight home to the U.S. Switzerland lies exactly between Rome and the London Heathrow Airport, and it is an optimal place for us to meet. Plus, I have always wanted to go there — it’s on my bucket list!

We looked into train rides through the Alps, and the best we have a found is the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe ride from Rail Europe, an 8-hour train ride through the Alps. According to Rail Europe’s description, we will leave from Grindelwald in Switzerland, and take a modern cogwheel railway 6762 feet up to Kleine Scheidegg. After that, we’ll head toward Eiger Glacier station, where there will be a mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. The railways continues through the Eiger tunnel, stopping for sightseeing on the way to the highest railway station in Europe: the Jungfraujoch. It’s more than 11,000 feet up and rightfully called the Top of Europe. Apparently, this trip covers Switzerland’s most breathtaking scenery, including a 13.6 mile ice stream and an Ice Palace.

Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.
Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.

The ride includes:

  • Round trip travel to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe from Grindelwald
  • Scenic trip to Eiger Glacier Station and through the Eiger tunnel to the Eigerwand and Eismeer stations.
  • Sightseeing at the Great Aletsch Glacier, Ice Palace, Ice Gateway, Sphinx observation terrace, high alpine research exhibitions and more.

Cost: $107/person for young adults.

While that’s not necessarily cheap for someone traveling on a minuscule budget,  the price is pretty reasonable compared to most other train rides we found. Many are several days long, include meals and have first-class accommodations. Psh. I have no problems with second class, as long I have a big enough window to see the Alps.

I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.
I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.

We are going to wait until closer to the date to finalize our plans and book our train ride, but everything looks like it will pan out so far. Hopefully we’ll even have time to pick up some Swiss chocolate. Yum.

Planning my weekend trip to Toronto

Toronto-Branch

So I have a confession: I am teensy bit obsessed with Canada. When I was a kid, I visited Nova Scotia with my parents and fell in love with the adorable, quaint town and the alarmingly polite people. My trip to Niagara Falls two years later left me with the same impression. Fast-forward 10 years, and I’m ready to experience it again. I think it was the Winter Olympics and rooting for the Canadian hockey team (don’t hate me!) that finally reignited my love for the country. I finally told myself enough is enough — I’m going. 

1.) Picking the Date

After begging a friend to go with me, I started making a plan. First item on the agenda: pick a date. It honestly stinks that I am still in school and my only time to travel is on weekends. I could go during spring break, but I need that time to work so I can continue to save up for my trip to Europe this summer. Given this, I chose the first weekend of spring break as the optimal time to go — I won’t be missing work, and I won’t have homework to worry about.

2.) Choosing the City

Some may argue that this should be the first step, but I’m a spontaneous gal. I’ll go wherever the wind — and my budget — takes me. My decision really came down to Toronto versus Montreal. I wish I could say I conducted extensive research, carefully weighing the pros and cons of each city and making an educated decision, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I asked a few friends who have visited both places and reached out to some Twitter followers for advice. Essentially, this is what I collected:

  1. Montreal is a vast, dynamic city that demands much longer than a weekend’s visit.
  2. Toronto is bustling and enticing, but is doable in a weekend.

So, off to Toronto it is.

3.) Finding Transportation

Okay, maybe the greatest factor in selecting the city really was the accessibility. Being based in Washington, D.C., I felt like I could find cheaper transportation to Canada than flying. I looked at trains and bus services in the area, but none had direct routes from D.C. to Montreal. A trip there would require transfers and possible delays, which I would not have time for in a short weekend trip. Luckily, my go-to bus service, Megabus, offers direct routes to Toronto at exponentially cheaper rates than airfare: $75 round-trip. This was a huge selling point for Toronto.

I relayed this information to my friend and she and I booked Megabus tickets for that Thursday night. Because it’s a 14-hour drive, we’ll get to Toronto Friday morning.  Then, to be back at work on Monday, we had to choose the return bus that leaves Saturday night in order to be home by Sunday. This gives us the greater portions of two days and one night in Toronto. I mean, it’s something, right?

4.) Hostel, Hostel, Hostel!

I think it was all of the great experiences in European hostels that made me actually prefer to stay in them rather than budget hotels. Naturally, I went to my favorite hostel-finding site, Hostel World, to find a place to stay in Toronto. Since $75 on transportation is already taking away from my Europe fund, I could not spare much more money on accomodations. Using the site, I found a high-rated hostel that will only cost us $25 each for a Saturday night. The Only Backpacker’s Inn is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto, and is central to all of the attractions we want to visit. The bonus is that it’s built ontop of The Only Cafe, a supposedly awesome bar with over 200 beers from around the world. As it stands, I’m 20 years old, but the drinking age in Toronto is 19. When in Rome…

5.) Figuring Out What to Do

Ah where to begin. Like I said, Toronto is bustling. I checked out the city’s official tourism website for ideas for what to do, but I was pretty overwhelmed by the possibilities. I wanted to know what are the top must-see attraction in the city than my friend and I could knock out in one day. That’s when I stumbled upon Tripomatic. It’s most likely not the first site of its kind, but it is the first I have found, and I am quite jazzed about it. This website is the ultimate trip-planning helper. It swiftly guides you through its operations making it superbly easy to use. Once I entered my destination and dates,  Tripomatic presented me a map of Toronto with all of the major attractions, restaurants, hotels and public transportation routes pinpointed. All I had to do was choose a spot and a day and Tripomatic would add the attraction to my itinerary as well as show me the travel time from one spot to the next. The site even has filtering options for most popular attractions. I used this positioning software to determine what was sights and activities are nearby our hostel and our bus terminal. After adding a few items to our itinerary, such as the CN Tower and Casa Loma, I think I have devised a plan to get the most out of Toronto in 36 hours.  After I saved the itinerary, Tripomatic generated a personalized travel guide with maps and travel tips, including currency information, where to eat and how to get around, all available online and in a printable PDF form.  Visit my itinerary here.

Tripomatic

6.) Waiting

Somehow, I managed to plan all of this in literally a few hours, and now, I think I am all set. With the trip only two weeks away, all I have left to do is pack and try not to spend money in the meantime. One of those things will be more difficult than the other.