Since I last wrote about my weekend adventures (a couple of blog posts ago, back in October), I haven’t mentioned all of the recent places that I have been fortunate enough to travel to. Nearly every weekend in November and so far in December I have been traveling somewhere new. From foggy cliffs to sunny parks, tiny canals to enormous museums, I have absolutely loved every single place. So, without further ado, I present my accounts of the last four countries that I have visited!
First up: Ireland. The first item on my agenda here was the Cliffs of Moher, so I signed up for an all-day bus tour from Dublin to the beautiful countryside. The three hour drive began before the sun came up, and included a stop in a tiny, colorful fishing village. As we sipped on some Irish coffee, our driver described the history of Ireland and taught us a few Gaelic phrases. Castles, stone walls, and lush fields flew by as our too-big bus bumped along too-small roads. After a stop for some seafood chowder, we arrived at the breathtaking cliffs that tower over 700 feet. We had perfect weather. The sun shone through the cliffs and the salt permeated my nostrils as my friends and I traipsed through the mud and past the fences. The cliffs were absolutely amazing! If you want a sneak-peek for yourself, just watch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. After arriving back in Dublin that night, a visit to the infamous Temple Bar was a must.
The next morning, my friends and I began our day bright and early with a visit to the Teeling Whiskey Distillery right when they opened at 10 am. After touring there, we moved onto Guinness. Drinking a pint at the top of the tower while overlooking the city is something I will never forget! After visiting a few churches and then riding on a bus around Dublin to see some major sights, we arrived at the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street. That experience was amazing, and multiple people back home made sure to tell me just how jealous they were. Fish and chips were a must for dinner. Our last night in Dublin was spent at an amazing Irish pub with great live music. The country definitely captured my heart with their plethora of beer, cute accents, and scenery. I absolutely can not wait to go back to Ireland again, perhaps for St. Patrick’s Day.
The next country I visited? Austria. My Dad actually had to travel to the UK for work in November, and so he came over to visit me when he was done. We flew to Vienna together, and spent the weekend eating lots of wienerschnitzel and strolling around museums. Saturday, we began our day by drinking coffee and eating croissants at a typical Viennese coffeehouse. After visiting the Naschmarkt, we walked around the city center, saw some beautiful palaces, checked out St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and stopped at the Wiener Prater amusement park. The highlight of our afternoon was the Danube Tower, which overlooks the entire city and serves delicious tartes. After watching the sunset from the rotating restaurant, we headed towards an adorable Christmas market, where we wandered in and out of the stalls that were located up and down alleyways.
Sunday morning we began our day at the Natural History Museum of Vienna. In fact, we spent quite a few hours there – it was stuffed full with a ton of amazing rocks, dinosaur bones, human history exhibits, hundreds of species of birds, showcases stuffed with beetles, and lots more sciencey things. In the afternoon, we took a tour of the very expansive Schonbrunn Palace. Then, we looked at all of the Christmas decorations and lights that were hanging above the streets by the Opera House. Of course, we also ate wienerschnitzel for dinner. And, before we left Vienna on Monday, it even snowed – a light dusting that sparkled in our Uber’s headlights! Our weekend spent in Austria was very classy and we loved the history, architecture, and museums that we got to explore.
My dad and I flew to Italy next. Venice, to be precise. You would think that a bunch of small, connected islands would be pretty easy to get around on, right? Wrong. It proved to be a bit more difficult than we had imagined, with tiny walkways winding around canals and over 400 bridges. But oh my gosh, was it BEAUTIFUL. Our Airbnb had a balcony overlooking the canal, so the first view every morning was of the turquoise water and the gondolas effortlessly gliding along. The highlights of our first day included St. Mark’s Square, pasta and wine for lunch, and then a boat ride. We went to the island of Murano and watched them blow glass, which they are famous for. Then we stopped at the island of Torcello in order to see the enormous mosaics. We ended our day at the island of Burano, where my Dad and I ate gelato while wandering up and down canals lined with houses of every color (seriously, just Google ‘Burano’, it’s amazing).
The next day, we woke up to a taste of Venice’s flooded streets. It had rained during the night, and so the water spilled over the top of the canals and pooled up to our ankles. We spent the morning in the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum, which was an impressive combination of art, engineering, science, and technology. Pasta and wine (again) were on the menu for lunch, which my Dad and I ate on the terrace alongside the Grand Canal with water lapping against our feet. In the afternoon we took a boat to Lido, an 11-mile sandbar island. We picked up seashells and wandered up and down the beach before returning back to Venice just in time for a pink sunset. Our dinner was, again, pizza. What can I say? Italy had delicious pasta, pizza, and wine. Overall, Venice was just as breathtaking as the pictures. Once I win the lottery, I’ll be back. After we returned from Venice, my Dad had to fly back home. I am so glad he came to visit, though!
The first week of December, one of my best friends from back in Wisconsin, Kali, came to visit. Besides our time in the Netherlands, we also traveled to Spain. The first city we spent time in was Madrid. At night we explored the nightlife with another Wisconsin friend studying there, who we met up with. All I can say is that beer is a lot cheaper in Spain than here! Kali and I spent our waking hours in Madrid checking out landmarks like the Plaza de Cibeles, but mostly we were at Buen Retiro Park. We literally spent hours basking in the sun at that park. Couples rented paddle boats to row across the lake, families had picnics in the grass, and we relaxed on some benches (all with beautiful fall colors still splattered in the trees). Madrid also has this amazing restaurant called Takos al Pastor, where we had the BEST tacos ever. And, they were only one euro each! One of the last memories that Kali and I have in Madrid is eating churros dipped in chocolate, at a place open twenty-four days a day.
Then, Kali and I took a train from Madrid to our second city, Barcelona. Taking a train was nice because it presented us with the opportunity to see some of Spain’s countryside. As soon as we arrived in Barcelona, we were greeted with palm trees and sangria. We walked along La Rambla, and ended up getting coffee as we sat along Barcelona’s port and stared longingly at all of the yachts. Later on, Kali and I hung out at our hostel because I had a Skype interview for an internship back home (which I was just offered and accepted the position for, YAY!). But our main goal in Barcelona was to see the Christmas market. So, we spent hours wandering the crowded market, weaving in and out between stalls containing everything from homemade jewelry to Nativity sets. There was even live music. And of course, we couldn’t go to Spain without eating tapas. Therefore, the meals that Kali and I had in Barcelona weren’t really meals, but instead mostly consisted of lots of pitchers of sangria and a variety of different tapas. The night before we flew out of Barcelona, we even found a cute tropical-themed bar with the best sangria. It turned out that the bartender was from Milwaukee! What a small world. After landing back in Amsterdam, it was back to the real world. Kali had to fly back to Wisconsin for finals, and I had to get back to University for my last day of classes. I’m so blessed that she was able to come over and visit me in Europe, though!
Clearly, the past couple of weeks and months have been a whirlwind. Of course, all of my travels have been predominantly on the weekends. So, what this post fails to mention is my additional time here in the Netherlands during the week – going to class, studying, spending time with friends, working on group projects, etc. But these things have been equally important, just not quite as exciting as exploring various European countries. I have made so many wonderful memories in Ireland, Austria, Italy, and Spain, and for that I will be forever thankful. But with my last day of class behind me, it is time to focus on preparing for final exams. Fortunately, I do have one more trip planned before Christmas, so I am looking forward to that. Once you start traveling, it is hard to stop! I hope you’ve somewhat enjoyed my (long and rambling) account of checking more countries off of my list.