Budapest, Hungary [Travel Guide]

My adventure to Hungary began like most others. Back in August, I asked my travel buddy, Michael, if he was up for a trip. He said yes, so I told him to choose a destination. He had his heart set on going to Budapest, so we started looking at plane tickets. They were pretty cheap for the beginning of September, which was only a few weeks away! #YOLO. We booked our tickets, found some great Airbnb options, and started planning.

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Visiting Budapest was my first experience in Eastern Europe. Did you know that Buda and Pest were originally separate cities on opposite sides of the Danube River? They united about 150 years ago to form the “Pearl of the Danube”. Over on the Pest side of the city, our Airbnb was located near parliament buildings, cafes, ruin bars, and a riverside promenade. The area was buzzing and lively with young people. We spent most of our time in that area. The Buda side, on the other hand, had a feeling of settled wealth and sophistication. It was filled with medieval streets and houses, castles, thermal baths, and incredible views. The saying goes, “When Buda goes to sleep, Pest wakes up.” No matter your preferences while traveling, Budapest truly has something for everyone. Famous for its monuments and rich culture, the “Paris of the East” offers a variety of museums, galleries, flea markets, churches and synagogues, palaces, and historic buildings to explore.

Was there anything I didn’t particularly like about Budapest? Well, the food was pretty hard on my stomach. Traditional Hungarian cuisine is rich, heavy, and revolves around meat. Many dishes include dairy, are deep-fried, and are accompanied by dumplings, egg noodles, or bread. Since I have to avoid dairy, gluten, and red meat (due to longstanding health issues), this posed a slight problem. Luckily, I found a few vegan-friendly restaurants that I frequented for the duration of my trip. The downside, though, is that I don’t have a ton of food recommendations. If you have an iron stomach, you’ll definitely get to enjoy more of the traditional Hungarian dishes that I had to skip.

One more thing: The cost of living in Budapest is 52% lower than the cost of living in the United States. Pretty freakin' awesome. We used Airbnb to book our lodging, and for only $30 to $50 per night, we had a variety of modern, clean, gorgeous apartments to choose from. Even luxury hotels are affordable in Budapest, compared to luxury hotels in the United States. Food was also super inexpensive. You won’t have to stretch your budget to enjoy all the flavors that Hungary has to offer, that’s for sure. In fact, you’ll probably spend much less than you anticipated.

FOOD

Napfényes Étterem és Cukrászda: Located in the heart of Budapest, this was my go-to restaurant during my trip. The majority of their ingredients are grown organically, and they cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans. Their menu is enormous, and everything we tried was incredible. The best part? It was extremely cheap. During our meals, we always ordered multiple dishes, and we never spent more than $30 total. I’m still dreaming of the raw chocolate cake slice we brought back to our Airbnb.

ZONA: Michael and I ate lunch here before exploring Fisherman’s Bastion. The polished atmosphere on the bank of the Danube was perfect, and our meal was heavenly. I can’t remember what kind of fish was served (pictured below), but it was exquisite. That was one thing I actually really enjoyed about Hungarian cuisine…the unique selection of fish. The chefs at ZONA pride themselves on using simple ingredients to achieve “natural flavor harmonies”…and they’re excellent at their craft.

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Hummusbar: If you know me, you know I love hummus. When I saw there was a Hummusbar near our Airbnb, I was SO excited. The mission of Hummusbar revolves around freshly prepared, authentic, handmade food. There’s more than a dozen dishes to choose from, but I went with hummus mushrooms (which is literally just hummus topped with sautéed mushrooms and grilled onions). I also love masabacha, which is a spread made of hummus, boiled chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon sauce.

KARAVÁN: Situated on Budapest’s chaotic Kazinczy Street, KARAVÁN is home to several food kiosks that house unique, mouthwatering meals. This cozy outdoor space offers nachos, sausages, french fries (with half a dozen flavorful dipping sauces), vegan burgers, deep-fried cheese, noodle dishes, soup, and more. They’re open quite late, which makes it the perfect stop for a midnight snack (especially after partying at Szimpla Kert…more on that later!).

Free! Gluten Free Bakery: The pastries at this place were AMAZING, and they were also soy and lactose-free. They had flaky croissants, bread, and cinnamon/chocolate pinwheels on display when we popped in for breakfast. I came back for lunch near the end of our trip and ordered a sandwich loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, hummus, and vegan cheese. YUM.

Michael ordered goulash soup at a random bar near our Airbnb, and it was delightful. Imagine a warm, hearty stew, seasoned with paprika and filled with meat, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and onions…so, so good. Speaking of paprika, some of you might know it’s an extremely popular and commonly used spice in Hungary. They even have paprika potato chips at gas stations. Yes, we purchased more than one bag. Some brands were sweet, and others were spicy. It was fun trying different kinds.

Something else you have to eat in Budapest is kürtőskalács (chimney cake), a sweet, spiral-shaped pastry that originated in Transylvania. It’s basically dough covered in sugar that’s cooked in the oven until the sugar caramelizes. The finished product is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. You can eat it plain, but cinnamon is a popular topping. Many street vendors sell this delicious creation.

Lastly, sour cherry is a popular flavor in Hungary, and it’s amazing. If you see sour cherry pie on a menu, order it. I found mine in a small cafe near the Parliament Building.

THINGS TO DO

Soak in a thermal bath. Budapest has many nicknames, one being “The City of Baths”. There’s a good reason for this! The city sits on a patchwork of 120+ natural warm springs, which are believed to contain healing minerals and properties. Because of this, bath culture in Budapest is wildly popular. Széchenyi is the largest thermal bath in Budapest. Built in 1913, Széchenyi contains almost 20 indoor and outdoor pools. You can also find saunas, steam rooms, and whirlpools inside the complex. Michael and I explored Széchenyi on our last day in Budapest, but there are several other thermal baths in Budapest to choose from. The water is warm and toasty, so you can visit year round.

Walk across the Chain Bridge. Connecting Buda and Pest is the Chain Bridge, a permanent crossing that was constructed over the Danube River in 1849. The Chain Bridge is one of the most popular landmarks in Budapest, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Both the view of the bridge and from the bridge is stunning, especially after sunset. If you plan to take a stroll across, make sure to leave some time for a walk around the Danube Promenade. There, you’ll find 60 pairs of iron shoes. This monument stands as a haunting tribute to the 20,000 Hungarian Jews who were brutally shot along the Danube River during World War II.

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Explore Fisherman’s Bastion. If you’re curious about my favorite place in Budapest, this is it. Located on the bank of the Danube, this neo-Gothic/neo-Romanesque terrace was built to celebrate the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian state. It truly looks like a fairytale castle, and the panoramic views of Pest and the Danube are spectacular. You can clearly see the Parliament Building in the distance, along with St. Stephen’s Basilica.

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Party at a ruin bar. Have you ever heard of a ruin bar? If not, you’re in for a treat. Imagine transforming an unused outdoor space or a dilapidated building into a lively, stylish, quirky bar. Now, imagine sipping dirt cheap drinks and cocktails while gawking at the eclectic interior. Ruin bars are often seen with mismatched furniture, strange art, unique antiques, and colorful wall murals. They’re trendy and edgy, but they also have a relaxed, all-inclusive atmosphere. The most iconic ruin bar in Budapest is Szimpla Kert. It was originally an old factory, and now it’s an enormous open-air cinema/pub. They host concerts, theatre shows, farmers markets, and dozens of cultural events. This is a place you absolutely don’t want to miss.

Go on a road trip. Budapest’s location in Eastern Europe is perfect, especially if you rent a car. It’s only 2.5 hours from Vienna, Austria; 5.5 hours from Krakow, Poland; 3.5 hours from Zagreb, Croatia; and 5.5 hours from Prague. Your options are practically endless. Michael and I decided to drive to Slovenia in the middle of our trip, and it was an excellent decision. We spent one night outside Lake Bled and one night in Ljubljana. It was so nice to escape the big city for a few days and bask in the fresh mountain air. I considered writing a separate post about Slovenia, but I know my two day visit wouldn’t do the country justice. Suffice it to say, Lake Bled was arguably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I definitely plan to dedicate an entire week or two to Slovenia in the future.

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Admire the scenery. If you want some jaw-dropping views of Budapest, you MUST visit Castle Hill and Gellért Hill. Both areas crown the banks of Buda overlooking the Danube River. Castle Hill, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated towards the West. This is where Fisherman’s Bastion can be found, along with Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and various other historic sites. Gellért Hill, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated towards the East. This is where you can find the Gellért Baths, the Liberty Statue, and the Citadella. If you want to see Budapest from the Danube River, consider booking a Legenda sightseeing cruise. They offer daytime, evening, and dinner cruises year-round, and their tours get fantastic reviews.

Visit Margaret Island. Right smack dab in the middle of the Danube River, Margaret Island is the green heart of Budapest. The majority of the island is a park. It’s a great location for a stroll or a picnic, but that’s not all there is to do. You can admire lilies in the Japanese Garden, soak in the Palatinus Baths, watch a musical fountain show, explore medieval ruins, climb to the top of the ancient water tower to capture a panoramic view of the area, or visit the petting zoo. If you want to get out of the city for a bit, Margaret Island is a great escape.

If you have any additional Budapest recommendations, comment below!

Barcelona, Spain [Travel Guide]

Back in February, Michael and I spent a week in Barcelona. When I saw that Delta was having an awesome flight sale around Thanksgiving ($400 RT out of Richmond!), I texted my travel pal and told him, "SURPRISE! We're going to Spain in a few months. Buy your tickets immediately, plz & thx." I was in the middle of moving to a new apartment, and Michael had just started a new job, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Both of us had never been to Spain before, but we quickly fell in love with the delicious tapas, friendly locals, and charming culture. If you're planning your first trip to Barcelona, here are some things you should check out.

FOOD

El Museu De L'Embotit: This local tapas bar was right across the street from our AirBnB, so we ate there several times (and had one too many glasses of sangria...). The bartender was really friendly and ordered for us during our first visit, since we were overwhelmed by the giant selection of tapas. Most of our meals consisted of a queso platter, pan con tomato, ensalada de atún, and jamón y patatas. Can we just talk about how amazing tapas are? They're cheap, delicious, and allow you to try a little bit of everything, since the portions are small.

Tapa Tapa Xiringuito: We had a quick lunch at Tapa Tapa Xiringuito while biking around Barcelona's coastline. I ordered a Spanish omelette (made with egg and potato), and Michael indulged in seared tuna and jamón ibérico on toasted bread. We were advised to stay away from boardwalk restaurants during our trip, but this meal was fantastic. My only disappointment was not being able to order gazpacho because it wasn't in season.

Taperia Ordesa: Our dinner at Taperia Ordesa was INSANE. I wish I took more pictures! I ordered a savory plate of grilled veggies, topped with goat cheese and honey. Michael ordered chicken skewers and red wine sausage, and we split crispy, fried potatoes topped with an egg over-easy, jamón ibérico, and caramelized onions. The bottom of our sangria glass was filled with sugar, which was amazing. I'm still dreaming of this meal.

Restaurante Casa Casares: After spending a few hours in La Sagrada Familia, we picked a random restaurant for lunch. Restaurante Casa Casares turned out to be a wonderful choice. Michael and I split a dish of boiled cod with potatoes and onions in a garlic paprika sauce. It was a light, refreshing meal, and we had a lovely conversation with the restaurant owner.

Restaurant Cheriff: This was my first time eating paella, a Spanish dish of rice, saffron, and a variety of seafood served in a large, shallow pan. I don't think words can accurately describe how fantastic this meal was. The dish was rich and creamy, and the seafood tasted so fresh. After our meal, the waiter gave us two shots of vodka to "cleanse our palette".

CAFES

Nomad: This hip little cafe was a dream. Nestled in a secluded corridor in central Barcelona, Nomad serves artisanal, high quality coffee. This is where Michael and I got a much needed caffeine fix after our red eye flight.

Babelia: I loved the atmosphere of this cafe! It was packed when we stopped in for a cafe con leche to pair with our churros from Churreria San Roman, and the right wall was filled top to bottom and front to back with books, books, and more books. Books and coffee are two of my favorite things, so I was in heaven.

Jansana Gluten Free Bakery: I was thrilled to find a dedicated gluten-free bakery in Barcelona. We loaded up on croissants, donuts, cookies, and a bunch of other pastries during our first visit, and they lasted us the entire trip. Everything was so. freaking. good. 

PLACES TO SEE

The Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic): The Gothic Quarter is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Barcelona, recognized by its narrow corridors and labyrinthine street pattern. Many of the buildings in this area date back to medieval times. Most of the quarter is open to taxis but closed to regular traffic. This is a really neat area to explore, but it's easy to get lost at night. (Yup, that happened to us.)

Las Ramblas: Las Ramblas is one of the most popular streets in Central Barcelona, both to tourists and locals. It's almost a mile long, and it connects Placa de Catalunya with the Christopher Columbus monument at Port Vell. Las Ramblas gets crowded during tourist season because of its many souvenir kiosks and gift shops, but it was pleasant to explore in February. 

Columbus Monument: At the lower end of Las Ramblas, you'll find the Christopher Columbus monument. It was constructed in 1888 in honor of Columbus's first voyage to North America. There are eight majestic bronze lions at the base of the monument, so naturally, I had to climb on top of one. (I did the same exact thing in London at Trafalgar Square, except I got yelled at by a policeman that time.)

Arc de Triomf: This is one of Barcelona's iconic landmarks. It was built in 1888 as the entrance to the Universal Exhibition Fair, which took place in Parc de la Ciutadella. The intricate detail of the Arc de Triomf is pretty astounding.

Barceloneta Beach: Located in the fishing district, Barceloneta beach is one of the oldest and most popular beaches in Barcelona. We visited several times before leaving Spain, both to leisurely explore the boardwalk and collect sea glass from the Mediterranean Sea. It was in the 50s and 60s during our trip, so we didn't catch many sunbathers, but the coast was still pretty crowded.

THINGS TO DO

Browse La Boqueria Market. This colorful market offers everything from seafood to fresh juices and vegetables to candied nuts and sweet pastries. There are also a few tapas bars inside, so you can satisfy your appetite before or after you shop for local goods.

Attend a futbol match at Camp Nou Stadium. This is, by far, one of the coolest things I've ever done. We were lucky enough to score tickets to a Barcelona vs. Atlético Madrid match on the first day of our trip, and it was an awesome experience. The stadium was HUGE, and the spirit of the game was infectious. 

Visit La Sagrada Familia. La Sagrada Familia is a huge Roman Catholic church that was designed by Antoni Gaudi. It's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Barcelona, and it's quite a spectacle. The intricate exterior of the church is only rivaled by the gorgeous, colorful interior. You can see the basilica looming over the city from basically any rooftop in Barcelona. It's truly breathtaking.

Ride bikes around the city. We spontaneously decided to rent bicycles and explore Barcelona on two wheels, and it was such a great decision! We had a lot of fun biking around the city streets, and we had great weather to cruise up and down the boardwalk at Barceloneta Beach. 

Experience Barcelona's legendary nightlife. Our trip happened to fall during the week of Michael's 26th birthday, so what better excuse to party like a European? ;) After buying Michael a huge chocolate cake from Escribà (and playing him this ridiculous song....which still makes me laugh so hard) and taking a quick nap, we left our AirBnB around 12:30am and headed for Razzmatazz. The club was pretty empty when we first got there, but within an hour, it was packed. We danced until 4am, and it was so much fun. (Not pictured: The flaming shot Michael took at Chupito's Shot Bar. You MUST go there, and you MUST order the Monica Lewinsky. I apologize in advance.)

Lounge at Parc de Ciutadella. Parc de Ciutadella is a refreshing, green oasis in the middle of Barcelona. It's a great place to take a relaxing stroll, ride bikes, or even have a picnic after purchasing some goodies at La Boqueria. The Barcelona Zoo and Museu d'Art Modern border the park, so after lounging for awhile, you can easily check out these other popular attractions.

Watch the sunset at Placa de Carlos Ibanez. During the day, this is just your average park with a great view of Barcelona. But at sunset, the park transforms into a mesmerizing, golden landscape worthy of a postcard. We actually ended up here after taking a taxi to the funicular at Montjuic and realizing it had already closed for the evening, but we weren't disappointed.

Get your fill of Gaudi. Barcelona is filled with several unique buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi, an architect that generated some of the most creative buildings in Cataluña. Even if art isn't your thing, you'll quickly be able to identify Gaudi's creations. La Sagrada Familia is arguably one of Gaudi's most famous works, but you can spot many of his other gems around the city. Parc Güell (pictured below), one of the largest architectural works in South Europe, was my favorite Gaudi masterpiece. You can also view his work at Torre Bellesguard, Casa Milá, Casa Batlló, Palau Güell, Colonia Güell, and the Cascada Fountain at Parc de Ciutadella.

Check out a jazz club. The city of Barcelona enthusiastically supports the evolution of jazz. There are several bars and concert halls around town that provide live music, but since we only had a week in Barcelona, we decided to check out Harlem Jazz Club. Located in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, Harlem Jazz Club is the oldest concert hall in Barcelona. You can find all genres of music, from reggae to latin to blues, any day of the week. The environment is intimate and friendly, and Michael and I really enjoyed grabbing a few drinks and grooving to the music.

There's so much to do in Barcelona, and I feel like we only scratched the surface of the city during our trip! Have you been to Barcelona? Do you have any additional recommendations?

Dublin, Ireland (Round Two!)

Back in August 2013, I spent a week in Dublin with my travel buddy, Michael. We poured pints at the Guinness Storehouse, walked on the Liffey Bridge, visited Trinity College, took bus tours to Howth and Wicklow Mountain National Park, saw St. Patrick's Cathedral, and ate a lot of great food. When Kyle and I started planning our backpacking trip, I figured we'd skip Ireland. It felt repetitive to travel there a second time. However, I realized it would be awesome to show Kyle around one of my favorite cities, so I spontaneously added it to our itinerary. That's the great thing about Europe. When you're already there, travel is so affordable!

We spent the entire drive from Galway trying to outrun a storm, but we weren't successful. It rained the entire time, and our windshield wipers were swishing back and forth like mad. We were so relieved when we reached Dublin.

Our first full day was for exploring and sightseeing. After breakfast at our flat, we walked to the Jameson Distillery and bought tickets for a guided tour. Our guide was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about whiskey, and we really enjoyed learning about the history of the distillery, which is now a museum. At the end of the tour, we sampled and compared Jameson, Jack Daniels, and Johnny Walker Black Label. After that, the bartender gave us each a whiskey ginger ale with lime, which was so refreshing. I highly recommend the Jameson Distillery if you're visiting Dublin! (I also recommend the Guinness Storehouse, but we skipped that one since I had already been.)

Our next stop was Christ Church Cathedral. I didn't get a chance to go inside during my first visit to Dublin, so I was really excited. The interior was absolutely stunning, with high ceilings and stained glass windows. We also went inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, which had very similar and beautiful architecture.

Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, and the Liffey Bridge were next on our list, and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Dublin and soaking up the city's warm, cozy vibe.

Dinner was the highlight of our day. We walked to The Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub. It was crazy crowded, but we got lucky and snagged a table quickly. The rooms were dim, the ceilings were low, and traditional Irish music crooned around the restaurant. We ordered the Irish lamb stew (and a Guinness, of course), and it was delicious.

The next (and last) two days of our trip were filled with bangers and mash at The Church, a visit to Trinity College Library, a quick visit to the Irish Whiskey Museum (in search of Irish whiskey dark chocolate), drinks at the infamous and rowdy Temple Bar Pub, Nutella crepes at Lemon Jelly, coffee with Baileys, and lots of walking around Dublin's spirited cobblestone streets. 

The highlight of our last day, my 25th birthday, was afternoon tea at The Westbury. Our reservation was for 1pm, and I felt extremely underdressed. The downside of packing super light for a five-week trip? Outfit options are realllllllly limited! I tried to look somewhat put together, but my hair was bigger than Hermoine Granger a la The Sorcerer's Stone. I was dreaming of my hair dryer and straightener by that point. ANYWAYS. Afternoon tea. It was delightful. We sat on plush, velvet couches, and started off with a kettle of sweet, tangy lemon tea. Soon after, our server came out with a three tier platter that held small sandwiches on the bottom, buttermilk scones with clotted cream in the middle, and miniature desserts on the top. Everything looked and tasted amazing. When we finished eating, Kyle ordered a Nutella hot chocolate that literally had Nutella dripping over the edges of the mug. I'm obsessed with Nutella, so you can imagine my glee. I was really grateful that Kyle planned such an awesome birthday for me, especially since it was our last day in Europe.

That night, we stuffed our belongings in our packs for the very last time (and it was a miracle everything fit, considering the souvenirs we accumulated along the way). The next morning, we flew back to Virginia.

Our backpacking trip was an incredible experience. Last summer, I would have never predicted that in the spring, Kyle and I would catch a flight to Paris and explore Europe and the United Kingdom for five weeks. Our trip taught me that anything is possible. Where there's a will, there's a way. Last July, I was fighting for my life. And today, a year later, I'm writing about countries and cities I never thought I'd be able to see. I used to doubt my strength and determination, but ever so slowly, I've learned to silence that little voice in my head and embrace my courage. And if I can do it, anyone can do it. Seriously.

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Ireland's West Coast

On Tuesday morning, we waved goodbye to England while soaring over the sparkling Irish Sea, courtesy of Aer Lingus. We landed in Cork around noon, rented a car (a bright red, two door, automatic Skoda Citigo), and headed to Blarney Castle.

Our rental car was hilarious. We sort of regretted not asking for a different vehicle, but its quirky features were endearing. It didn't have a "park" gear, so whenever we stopped, we had to use the emergency brake. In addition, its engine was laughably lackluster. Kyle would forcefully press his foot on the gas to shoot us up a hill, but nothing would happen...still nothing would happen...and all of a sudden, we'd blast forward. I think I got whiplash a few times. On top of all that, Kyle was learning how to drive on the left side of the road. He adjusted to the different traffic patterns quickly, though. I was impressed! (And grateful, because I probably would've gotten us into an accident.) 

After driving for half an hour through rolling green hills, we reached Blarney Castle. The ruins and surrounding gardens were remarkable. Kyle and I couldn't believe how rich and green everything was.

After grabbing some hot chocolate, we made our way up the steep steps of Blarney Castle in search of the Blarney Stone. It's been a tradition to kiss the Blarney Stone in exchange for the gift of eloquence for ages. I wasn't sure what to expect. I guess I imagined there'd be a stone at the top of the castle, waiting patiently for tourists to pucker up. It wasn't exactly that easy, though! We actually had to hang upside down over a sheer drop to reach the stone. As you can imagine, this act was really dangerous back in the day. Luckily for us, a castle employee helped us down safely. I was still freaking out a little bit, though.

Our next destination was the Cliffs of Moher. It took us 2.5 hours to get there, so we passed the time by listening to an Irish talk show. The radio hosts were playing trivia with callers from around the country, so it was really entertaining. Our drive to the West Coast was lovely. We drove on small, winding roads that twisted and turned around green fields abundant with sheep and cows. We even had to stop a few times to let tractors pass.

When we reached the Cliffs of Moher, it was swarming with tour groups. It was also extremely cold, windy, and overcast. I was so happy to be there, sharing such a neat experience with Kyle, but I had also reached a precarious level of exhaustion. The previous four weeks of plane rides, train rides, car rides, uncomfortable lodging, language barriers, inconsistent food options, and on top of it all, working full-time, totally wiped me out. Hiking up the cliffs against powerful gusts of icy wind certainly didn't help the situation. We tried to take a few pictures, but the wind was so strong that every single photo had my scarf, hood, and hair whipping wildly around my face. We admired the view for a few moments, and after that, we took shelter in the Visitor Centre. 

Next, we headed to Corofin to find our AirBnB for the night. Luckily, it was only half an hour away.

Corofin turned out to be a teeny tiny town in County Clare. We stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast with a lovely couple, Patricia and Mario. They were so kind and accommodating. As soon as we woke up, Patricia prepared a traditional Irish breakfast for us. The spread included fresh fruit, scrambled eggs (that were laid that morning by chickens in their backyard), sausage, toast, white and black pudding, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, tea, orange juice, and coffee. We ate slowly and had a great conversation with Patricia and Mario. They were wonderful hosts.

Shortly afterwards, we packed up the car and headed to Doolin, a small coastal village (also known as the music capital of Ireland). We drove through the town pretty quickly, but we were charmed by the colorful buildings that lined the Atlantic ocean and countless pubs that littered the street. 

Our final destination on the West Coast of Ireland was Galway. I was instantly overcome with love for this thriving, seaside city. The labyrinthine cobblestone streets, colorful shops, spirited pubs, small fishing boats, and beautiful beaches were enchanting. Both the residents and visitors were so diverse and interesting, and it was fun to walk around and soak up the Irish culture.

I had a long list of things I wanted to do and see in Galway (like Kylemore Abbey), but my weariness from the previous day persisted, so we decided to take it easy. We threw our packs on the floor and headed straight for bed at the Galway Bay Hotel. Our room offered a gorgeous view of Galway Bay from our window. We ate a roast at the hotel's restaurant, and after that, we went right to sleep.

The next morning, we embarked on the last leg of our backpacking trip with a four hour drive to Dublin. 

London, England

Kyle couldn't wait to visit London. He's a loyal Chelsea fan, so we stayed with an AirBnB host in Fulham, a short walk from Stamford Bridge. We planned on watching a Chelsea game at a pub that week, but after running around from pub to pub, we learned the game wasn't on television. We were so disappointed! But we still had a great time in London.

We arrived to King's Cross after a four hour train ride from Edinburgh. I was thrilled to see the infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 from Harry Potter while leaving the station.

We waited in line in the pouring rain for a black cab, and it took us just under an hour to get to our AirBnB. While driving through the bustling streets of London, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Our trip was flying by so quickly, and I couldn't believe we were halfway through our five-week schedule. I had trouble contacting our AirBnB host, so we walked to Stamford Bridge and had a few pints at a nearby pub. Eventually, we got into our flat. We were both burnt out from yet another day of travel, so we grabbed a quick dinner from Whole Foods and relaxed the rest of the night.

The next day, we made up for lost time. Our day began with an Uber ride to Buckingham Palace, where we witnessed the Change of the Guards. This takes place every morning at 11:30, and it was really neat to watch. After that, we walked to Westminster Abbey. The line to get inside was really long, so we skipped the tour and kept walking. Big Ben eventually appeared in the distance, along with the Houses of Parliament. We took some quick photos before continuing our journey. The icy wind was frigid that day, so we tried to stay warm with constant movement. Despite having hand warmers in both jacket pockets and my shoes, I was freezing. The cold, combined with the travel exhaustion that was slowly taking over my brain, made me feel like a zombie. I couldn't stop shivering, and I wasn't in the best mood. The London Eye turned out to be the perfect remedy! When we saw the giant ferris wheel towering over the River Thames, we immediately joined the ticket line. With fast track tickets in hand, we hurried into our passenger capsule and slowly inched higher and higher until we were soaring above London. The view was incredible, and the warm capsule gave me sweet relief from the wintry weather.

After our ferris wheel ride, we walked to the Leake St. Graffiti Tunnel, otherwise known as the Banksy Tunnel. Graffiti is authorized here, and the colorful art on the walls was pretty mind-blowing. We even witnessed a few artists in the middle of spray painting.

For lunch, we took an Uber to Borough Market to stand in line for raclette at Kappacasein. (We ended up using Uber frequently in London because everything was so spread out!) Originally, I saw raclette featured on a Buzzfeed video that went viral on Facebook, highlighting a restaurant in New York City. I didn't realize it was already a popular European meal, so when a friend told me about the infamous Kappacasein dish, I was excited to try it. After we got in line, an employee approached us, took our order, gave us a ticket, and collected our cash. We had to wait for about thirty minutes, but it was totally worth it. As we inched forward in line, surrounded by British accents, busy vendors, and stylish men and women, I saw a giant wheel of cheese slowly spinning and bubbling under a flame. When we got to the front, an employee filled a paper plate with boiled potatoes and baby gherkins and scraped a generous amount of gooey, hot ogleshield cheese over everything. After sprinkling a bit of salt and pepper over the dish, we dug in. It was delicious. Kyle isn't even the biggest fan of cheese (which is slightly offensive to me), but he loved it.

We simultaneously ate and walked to the iconic Tower Bridge, where we took some photos and admired the view. We also took some photos with the infamous red telephone boxes, because how can you visit London and not do that?

The next day, Sunday, Kyle and I had one goal in mind, and that was to visit Harrod's. That place is seriously magical. If you haven't heard of it before, it's basically a department store on steroids. There are individual sections for everything -- seafood, clothing, wine, stationary, chocolate, and so on. There are also restaurants, champagne bars, and bakeries. The very best part of Harrod's was the ice cream parlour on the second floor. Their sundaes and decadent desserts all looked and sounded incredible. Kyle and I split the Banoffee Basket Signature Sundae, which contained vanilla and caramel ice cream, caramel sauce, sliced banana, whipped cream, and sugar wafers. It was delicious! And rightfully so, since it cost £19.50! We spent most of our time browsing, and I bought half a dozen gourmet chocolate truffles and a Moleskine planner. That afternoon, I was in a sugar coma.

For dinner, we indulged in a traditional British Sunday roast at The Rose Pub. Our meal included Angus sirloin with horseradish, Yorkshire pudding, cheesy cauliflower, carrot and sweet potato mash, beets, and steamed broccoli. I loved the diverse variety of food. You can basically visit any pub in London on a Sunday night, and a hearty roast will be featured on the menu.

On Monday, our last day, we decided to Uber to Trafalgar Square in Central London. I really wanted a picture with a bronze lion, so I hoisted myself up and scaled the giant statue until I was right in front of it. I told Kyle to snap a picture quickly, because I was pretty certain I wasn't allowed to be up there. Sure enough, as Kyle was fumbling with my camera, I heard a loud whistle, and a policeman started jogging over to us. By this point, it was lightly drizzling, and the surface was wet and slippery. I was scared to jump down because I thought I might fall, so I basically catapulted into Kyle's arms. It's a wonder I didn't hurt myself/him, haha! We didn't get in trouble (the policeman just waved us off and walked away), but my heart was hammering in my chest the entire time.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Piccadilly Circus (which is very similar to Times Square in NYC), admiring the colorful walls and shops in Neal's Yard, and browsing a cozy bookstore that caught my eye. While walking down the street in search of coffee, we got stuck in a massive downpour. We tried to seek shelter in a doorway, but we eventually admitted defeat and frolicked in the rain, enjoying the gray London weather.

The next morning, we woke up early and hopped on a flight to Cork, Ireland.