Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Traveling during the Holidays!

In Europe, traveling during the Holidays can lead to stress and confusion. Here are a few tips to help your trip go smoothly!

Plan ahead: This one seems self-explanatory, but I have been guilty of this! When my family came to visit during Christmas and New Year, I relied on everywhere I wanted to take them to be open. Unfortunately, many restaurants close early certain days or even for the whole week of Christmas. So if possible, get in contact with the places you want to go to see if they will have Holiday hours. There are definitely many restaurants still open; they just may not be the most authentic local choices, since most of them go to be with their families. But don’t let this deter you, keep a good attitude, and you can create a wonderful unique memory, like eating Asian fusion with local German beer for Christmas dinner!

Always have a backup plan: Even if you are prepared and did your research, you may stroll up to a restaurant that said they would be open, only to find they left early since they were not busy. This is where it is important to have a backup plan. No one likes to be hangry and stressed with family, so trust me, always have a plan b, and maybe even c just in case.


Go to Christmas mass: You may not understand the language they are singing, and you may not be overly religious, but I still recommend stopping into a Christmas mass. Most churches and Cathedrals in Europe get ornately decorated and this is when all the parishioners will turn out, so it makes for a beautiful experience.

Find a Christmas market: There are so many wonderful Christmas markets around Europe! They are full of booths selling food, drinks and gifts. Usually located in the city center or town square, they are a great place to grab a delicious fresh meal and glass of gluhwein, warm spiced wine. It is served in mugs usually decorated in custom scenes for each city. You can return it and get your deposit back for the glass, or keep it as a souvenir!

(the family out in Leuven for NYE)
Go out for New Year’s Eve: Whichever country you are in, you are sure to find some sort of celebration. If you are unsure of where to go, ask a local. They are most likely going to know a few things going on, and for big celebrations like New Year’s Eve, they believe the more the merrier! Just make sure you are familiar with your surroundings, when in doubt, keep a map on you! Lots of bigger cities will still have cabs available, but prices will be exorbitant due to demand; and be mindful that some public transport will not be open normal hours.


Overall, the holidays are a great time to travel with loved ones, just make sure you are prepared and always keep an open mind! 

Germany: the land of my forefathers!

Germany is a HUGE country, with so much to offer! It is laced with beautiful cities with rich history and amazing sites to see.

Domestic trains get you there for cheap, but they take a bit longer. If you want to get their quickly, and willing to spend a bit more, book a ticket for a high speed train, like the ICE. When my family came for Christmas, we got EuroRail passes including the high speed trains. They are usually more comfortable and offer private compartments for groups and even reclining seats. Another option is always to fly, RyanAir flies into multiple cities in Germany, including Berlin and Hamburg. As always when traveling between countries don’t forget your passport and allow plenty of time just in case, you never know when the shuttle will be down or the train running late.

So now that you know how to get there, the question is where to go?

Koln (Cologne):  Located on the Rhine River, Koln has a few great stops to see. The Dom Cathedral of Cologne is spectacular and provides the opportunity to climb up one of the spires for a breathtaking view of the city! If you are a student or EU resident you get a reduced fare, and the ticket includes the tour of the catacombs and the jewels of the Cathedral. Next, the chain bridge spans the Rhine River, and is covered in love locks. Couples travel from all over the world to seal the commitment and secure their lock on this bridge. Make sure you drop the key into the water though, as a testament of your devotion! Then for a panoramic view from the other side of the river, stop in the KolnTriangle, where you can pay a few euros to ride the elevator to the top for a great view!

(View of Freiburg city)
Freiburg: This city is not a main tourist city, but it is where my father’s family is from. We did not do as many touristy things here since we had the chance to meet up with distant relatives who still reside in the area. The city streets are covered in cobblestones, with mosaic symbols outside of restaurants and shops, and on the side of the roads there are drainage channels called “Bachle”. According to locals, if you accidentally step in one, you will marry a person from Freiberg. While in this area, make sure to try a Flammkuchen, a regional dish, similar to a very thin pizza covered in cream, with onion and bacon. Walking through the city was one of my favorite highlights, there are clock towers on the edge of the town that very unique, and you can also hike into the forest in the city park for a great view of the city.
(A few well deserved pints at the Hofbrauhaus Munich- Prost!)
Munich: Start in Marienplatz, the center plaza of the city. Here you see the beautiful cityscape of church towers and the main city buildings. Stop and see the New Town Hall, or Rathaus, which faces the historic town hall. Every day at 11am and 12pm there is a Glockenspiel, where mechanical puppets are built into the façade of the building and they perform scenes and history of the city. It is free and an interesting sight to behold. Walk around the city taking in the sights, and head towards the English Gardens, a wonderful public park inside the side. There are many trails to choose from, and many stops where you can eat or watch the locals. If you get thirsty, head to the Hofbrauhaus, which is the original, for traditional German food and beer. Since my family loves beer, we mainly went to all the different brew houses and tried their house beers, which snacking on pretzels and cheeses!

(Heidelberg Schloss)

Heidelberg: We took a day trip to Heidelberg, where we strolled through the streets and made our way to the Heidelberg Castle or Schloss. It was a bit of a hike up, since it is located on the highest part of the city, but the view from the top was well worth it. The grounds around the ruins of the castle are lovely, and when looking to the city you can see the Old Bridge and the Neckar River.

(Romer in Frankfort old town)
Frankfurt: The juxtaposition of the industrial and historic structures lead to an interesting time exploring the city. The Romer is in the historic sector, it is a beautiful square with images of what comes to mind when you think of Germany. There are great souvenir shops and traditional food nearby.

No matter where you go, the beer will be cheaper than water in the restaurants, and traditional sausages and stews will never be in short supply! So put on your walking shoes and grab your camera and start your adventure in Germany!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Quest for the Holy Beer


Trappist monks are known to have a knack for brewing beer, and when it comes to the monks at the Abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren, they take the crown. The beer is exclusive to the monastery, and can only be bought there. We decided to take the journey to try this world renowned beer, which was no small feat. 

To begin our journey, we had to get there. You have to take a train to Poperinge, Blegium, a tiny city, with two platforms at the train station. You may have to make a connection or two to get there, but with your Go Pass, it will only be 5 euros. Once you get to Poperinge, you can get to the monastery in a few different ways. You can take a cab, or if it is a nice day you can rent a bike. If you go on a Sunday, many bike rental shops are closed, so you may need to have the number for a cab ready. 

Once you reach Westvleteren, you cannot visit the actual abbey or brewery, but you can visit the claustrum to see how the beer is made. Make sure to check in advance to see if they are open when you want to go, since they have season hours. 

Then, the best part, trying the beer. Beside the abbey, there is a visitor center and restaurant and brew house, called "In de Vrede" or "In the shadow of St. Sixtus Abbey". This is the only cafe in the world that serves Westvleteren beer. Fancy huh? There are three beers made by the monks, the Westvleteren Blond 6, Westvleteren 8, and the Westvleteren 12. The 12 is the real show stopper, it is a delicious beer that has won the title of "Best beer in the World" multiple times. They are very strong beers, starting at 5.8%, then 8%, ending with 10.2% alcohol. Even if you are not a beer drinker, I suggest trying a little of each. If you are with a group, order one of each and share if you are not wanting to get too tipsy. Or if you are up for anything, do what we did, and try one of each, plus an extra 12 just for good measure. When you get peckish, try the abbey cheese or pate, both are made at the abbey too, and are delicious! 


While you are there, visit the gift shop, where you can buy 6 packs of the beer to take home or share with friends, or glasses and other souvenirs. 

It is a journey, and does add up, but if you are a beer drinker, it is definitely worth it! It is a once in a lifetime adventure, just make sure you have some good friends with you to enjoy the good drinks, and you can never go wrong!

Belgium

Leuven, Belgium was my home while studying abroad, and while there I found many ways to get the most of my time and money. Here are some of my tips for Belgium. 


To travel, take advantage of the public transportation. You can get a "Go Pass" for the trains, which costs $50 euros, and is good for 10 one way train rides anywhere in Belgium. This was a deal, since most one way train rides were in between 5 and 10 euros, so you could take a day trip for just 10 euros! And if you are traveling to one of the countries on Belgium's boarder, you can use a pass to get to a boarder city, then buy a ticket to the city you want, which sometimes can be cheaper. This can come in handy when visiting Luxembourg, Germany and France! Also, if you have enough time, buy your ticket at the train station, instead of on the train. You will get stuck having a higher costing ticket if you buy on the train, since you don't have any option but to buy it! And buses are an affordable way to traverse the city once you get there. 


You absolutely must try Belgian fries while you are there; there are double fried for unhealthy goodness and then topped with sauce! I recommend the samurai sauce for a spicy kick! Another must eat: Belgian waffles. Most sugar waffles are just 1 euro, and the perfect snack or dessert. They are made with pearl sugar, which adds a caramelized sugary crunch on the outside of the waffle.  If you like seafood, try the mussels in white wine. Usually served with fries, this is a traditional Belgian meal! Many Belgians get sandwiches for lunch, and there are plenty of sandwich shops to chose from!

Next, beer. When in Belgium, you MUST try beer. How can you not when it is so cheap! And I'm not talking Natty Light cheap, I mean affordable and delicious! If you stop in Leuven, go to the Oude Markt, a square filled with bars, all with open air tables to enjoy your drink and the weather. There are also Drink Centers, which offer a wide selection of beers from all over the Country. There are also breweries all over the country that you can tour and do tastings, many offer student discounts. 

In Brussels, make sure to see the Manneken pis, the statue of a little boy peeing. It's a strange concept, but it's still fun to see! Depending on the time of the year, he is dressed up for any occasion! And the best part, it's free!  Also, The Town square and city hall, beautiful and historic buildings in the center of the city. Delirium Cafe is a famous bar with a long beer list and interesting atmosphere, try their beer while you are there! Finally, Cantillon Brewery: famous for its lambic beer and spontaneous fementation. It's an acquired taste, but definitely worth a try. When you get hungry, try the side streets off the Grand Palace, where there are many traditional restaurants where you can get a good deal!

In Ghent, hike up the narrow spiral steps to the to of the bell tower revealing a spectacular view of the city! Then stop in St. Bavo's Cathedral, an ornate Cathedral that is the seat of the diocese of Ghent. See the city from the water, and take a boat ride along the river! Try a nose of Ghent, a chocolate treat famous for the city. 

The country may be small, but it has a lot to offer! Visit Belgium for a wonderful time!
           


Ireland

Ireland is a beautiful country, and full of many adventures just waiting to be had! You won’t need the luck of the Irish to guarantee you have a great time in Ireland, just these tips to help your Euro go further!
When booking your hostel, make sure you look into the location. Many buses and trolleys only go through the main part of the city, so if you are outside that radius, you will need to lace up your walking shoes! We stayed at a nice hostel, but it was about a 20 minute walk from down town, so we got our workout every day!

On the menu while in Ireland, fish and chips, Irish coffee, and of course a Guinness beer. If you go to Dublin, check out the Guinness Storehouse, where you can pour your own perfect pint, or enjoy your pint at the Gravity Bar on the top floor of the factory overlooking a lovely panoramic view of the city! Although tickets are rather pricey since it is a very touristy thing to do, it is still a fun stop for friends! The Jameson Whiskey distillery is also in Dublin, and another fun attraction to get a taste of Irish life. Your student ID will get you a discount at both. 

Also in Dublin, a great sight is Trinity College where you can see the beautiful historic buildings and the magnificent library. You can take a guided tour that ends in seeing the Book of Kells, which is housed in the library, at the end. The Book of Kells is a spectacular sight; it is the four Gospels written in Latin and ornately illustrated, dating back to 800 AD.  

A great way to see more of the country is to take a bus tour. There are many different routes that go all over Ireland. The one we took went to castles, a Neolithic tomb, a fairy ring, Celtic crosses and the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs were one of my favorite sights in Europe; I would definitely recommend seeing them! The tour was a great way to cover a lot of distance in just one day. We traveled with the Galway Tour Company, where you get a student discount. 

So grab your camera and make your way to Ireland for an adventure of a lifetime!

Budapest

Known for its party hostels, thermal baths,and historic statues, Budapest is a
must see in Europe! Here are some tips for getting hungry, and thirsty, in Hungary. 

First, when you arrive and stop at an ATM, don't faint when you see the conversion amount. That would lead to someone stealing you Debit card and your passport to adventure! Just kidding, but one hundred USD= 27,383.50 Hungarian Forint, so when I made my first cash withdraw I was a bit shell shocked. But luckily, forint goes a long way in Budapest! 

We decided to stay in a party hostel. You know, when in Rome, or this case Budapest. Retox was the name of our chosen hostel. It was very affordable, since it was a 16 bed mixed gender room. We were a little concerned going into it, but the facilities were very nice, providing linens and towels for our stay in the price. When staying in a hostel, always travel with friends, and bring a lock. Most hostels have lockers for your backpack and valuables, not that I suggest leaving anything too valuable in the room. Rotate who brings toiletries, like shampoo and soap, to leave more room to share with your travel mates. And don't be afraid to book the cheaper rooms with more beds, a penny saved is a penny you can put toward something fun! After all, you will just be sleeping in your room!

I suggest only taking out the amount of money that you will think you will need for a few days, and keeping it on you, in a safe location. Most tourist cities are packed with pickpockets, so just be careful when you are out and about! If you can separate your money into an inner pocket and your purse, so if something does happen, you will not lose it all. A money belt or passport holder that goes under your clothes is a great investment when traveling the world!

Take advantage of the delicious street food vendors! Some Hungarian specialties include lángos, fried flat bread topped with anything from cheese, sour cream, or sausage; goulash, a stew made with potatoes, veggies and meat; kurtoskalacs or chimney cakes, sweet spiral bread cooked rotisserie style and coated in sugar and cinnamon; and let's not forget sausages! Another one of my favorite meals we had were gyros, which are not traditionally Hungarian, but where we stopped made their own pita and sauces, and would fill yours however you wanted it! With so many affordable good eats, it is easy to eat well on a budget!

Traveling the world can be stressful, so take some time for yourself and visit one of Budapest's thermal baths. We went to Szechenyi, which has large indoor and outdoor pools ranging in temperatures, as well as steam rooms, saunas and full spa services. We went in the winter, so it was a delightful sensation to retreat from the cold air by slipping into the heated water!

Budapest had a wide selection of free walking tours. The city is large so bring your walking shoes and make sure to give your guide a tip! The city has statues sprinkled all over it, and many have stories and traditions connected to them, such as rubbing or patting them for luck. Another sight you must see is the Chain Bridge, which crossed the Danube River and connects Buda and Pest, the two parts of the city.


If you are in the city for the party atmosphere, make sure to stop in Instant, the club/bar that spans multiple floors and themed rooms. It feels like traveling through decades and countries based off the décor and music; it definitely makes for a good time! Just watch out for people who have indulged too much, as the city is known for a lifestyle of debauchery! Or take a nighttime river cruise, where you can have a beautiful view of the light up buildings from the Danube, and the price of the ticket includes a battle of champagne!

No matter why you go to Budapest, you will be glad you did! Make the most of your money, and don’t forget your camera and your walking shoes!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Italy

Art. Architecture. Food. More food. Here are some tips for doing and eating as much as you can for as little as you can!

As always, Ryan Air has discount flights to multiple destinations in Italy. Look into flying into one city, then taking a train ride to another city where you can fly out of. We flew into Rome, took a TrenItalia trip to Venice, and then flew back from there. Book your flights online at RyanAir.com, and your train tickets at TrenItalia.com.

In Rome, there are so many cultural hotspots to check out! Use your student ID to get a discount at the Vatican Museum, where you can take a tour and see the Sistine Chapel. After, you can visit St. Peter’s Basilica, which is free to enter. The huge cathedral is full of ornate statues and tapestries. Make sure to stop by the Pieta, sculpted by Michelangelo. The Coliseum also has a discount for students, although it is still pricey to get in, but definitely worth it! A few more cost effective sites in Rome include the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and of course the Trevi Fountain, just make sure you have a few coins to make a wish!

Book a place to stay at AirBnB.com; if you are traveling in a group it is the best way to get a private apartment right smack dab in the city! A group of five of us stayed in an apartment in Rome, right by the metro and within walking distance of the Coliseum.

If you get peckish, stop for some gelato, a cannoli, or a tiramisu. A great and very affordable place is Pompi, which is famous for their desserts!



In Venice, the very city itself is something to see! The first thing you need to do is get a map! The city has canals for roads, and certain walkways dead end in a canal, so a map is very important for getting around, and can save you from spending money on water taxis to get around! Head to San Marco’s square, where you can see beautiful buildings like Saint Mark’s Basilica. If you want to go inside the church, make sure you leave your backpack at your hostel, or else you can rent a locker for an hour. Also check out the Rialto Bridge, which is lined with shops! Don’t miss the intricate and sometimes bizarre masks!

For food, stay off the main canals, restaurants there are overpriced for mediocre food! If you get off the beaten path you can find some hidden gems, like The Taverna del Campiello Remer, a 20 euro buffet. It sounds expensive, but it included all you can eat meats, cheeses, veggies and desserts, as well as a plate of pasta and a ½ liter of wine! It was well worth the cost, since we were full for the rest of the day! Another tip for eating is to stay in a hostel or apartment, where you can cook your own meals! Markets are affordable, and groups can pitch in to make a delicious and authentic meal for a low cost!

So make sure to check out Italy while you are abroad, and with these tips you can get a great experience for a great price!