While exploring Germany, my friend and I hopped from one village to the next on a scenic Rhine River cruise for only 10 euro. This River Cruise could really be utilized for a good 2-3 days, exploring castles and roaming each riverside village. In this blog I’ll explain why the KD Rhine River cruise is something that should be experienced while staying in Western Germany.
KD is a company that runs several cruising boats that float up and down the Rhine River all day long. The cruise ticket, found at the ticket booth near the river in each village, is only 10 euro and includes access to every KD boat on the river for one whole day. For example, a boat makes several stops at different villages throughout the day. You can get off of one boat, explore the village, and board another KD cruise to get back to your hotel. This cruise sells food and drink,which is most likely the only way that they make a profit. We just enjoyed the cheap ride. This cruise has an audio system that is your own personal tour guide, explaining the history behind each castle that you pass. My favorite history lesson was about the famous Lorelei cliff- known for its mythical sirens supposedly enticed sailors with their beauty and caused numerous shipwrecks.
Why is KD Such a Good Deal?
Well, let me tell you! I’m not sponsored by them, I just thought this was an awesome experience. KD cruising is easy, relaxing, educational, and cheap. A train ticket to the next village along the Rhine would be about 10 euro, but it wouldn’t be near as fun as cruising! We took all our belongings from our hotel in Boppard, Germany and used the cruise to get to our next stay in Bacharach. While that’s one way to do it, booking a stay for one day in each village, you could also take the cruise a few days in a row, exploring different villages during the day, and taking the cruise back to your hotel in the evening. While many villages are similar along the Rhine, they each have distinct characteristics that are fun to experience. First, each village has its own elaborate church, no two are the same. Second, unique castles tower over several villages, creating the fairy tale reputation that the Rhine River is so famous for. In Boppard, ancient Roman and Medieval walls still stand throughout the town. And in Bacharach, old castle ruins sit at the peak of a hill and have been recreated into a youth hostel with incredible views. When we climbed to the castle, a middle school group was staying at the hostel for a historical and fun field trip.
The beautiful, quiet villages along the Rhine River are worth visiting for the castles alone, but add the beautiful scenic views and a sunny boat ride, and you have an unforgettable German vacation.
On our tour of Western Europe, my friends and I spent three days in Paris, exploring as much of the city as we could. Surprisingly, we got several highlights of this magical city done in a small amount of time- I’ll explain how in this blog. The best part about Paris is the Metro, which will get you anywhere in no time at all. We didn’t get a metro pass for this short trip, but chose to just buy about twenty tickets at a time and split the cost. Our days in Paris were May 16-May 18, 2017. This was still pre-tourist season, but it was getting busier as summer was quickly approaching.
Here is a recap of our Paris adventure, followed by suggestions and total costs of each day:
Monmarte, Sacre Ceour, Café Le Consulat, Eiffle Tower, & Arc de Triomphe
Our starting point to Paris was in Mons, Belgium, where my friend’s family lives. We picked up our friend from the Brussels airport on May 14th and headed to the Mons train station at 7:20 am on May 16th. We bought our train tickets about 2 months before our trip to Paris because prices were quickly rising. We took the high-speed Thalys train, made a few connections, and arrived in the Paris-Nord train station around lunch-time.
The train station is about 10-15 minutes from Monmarte, a very scenic area, famous for its beautiful Sacre Ceour church and artists. We locked our belongings in a giant locker at the train station and took a bus to Monmarte. This was the only time we would be close to Monmarte as it is further away from the heart of Paris. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the lengthy stairs, which led to the incredible Sacre Ceour church. At the top, we could see the entire city as well as the beautiful inside of this enormous church. Surrounding this church are multiple artists who paint their favorite views of their beloved city. Paintings ranged from 20 euro to hundreds, and they were well worth every penny. I just did not have it in my budget to buy one though I really did want to take them all home with me. Next, we had lunch at the famous café, Le Consulat, which is the most photographed and posted café in all of Paris. We had omelets and tap water. Thankfully, Paris will serve you tap water for free, unlike any other place that we visited in Germany or the Netherlands. After lunch, we took a bus back to the station, retrieved our belongings from the lockers, and took the metro to our Airbnb apartment.
Our Airbnb in Paris was not as great as all the other ones we stayed in throughout this trip. We made it to the entrance of the apartment, but it was locked with a key pad. We checked the rule book on our Airbnb booking online and could not find the code so we were locked out. When we called the host she said, “The code is online,” and hung up! Luckily, another apartment resident arrived and let us in. I looked just now, and this apartment is no longer available on Airbnb, so that’s good. This was the only bad experience we had out of our 6 Airbnb stays during our Europe travels. I still think Airbnb is the best way to travel affordably, just read all the reviews before booking. Once we retrieved the passcode, we got our key, dropped our stuff off, and headed to the Eiffel Tower.
Just a few left turns took us to the Metro, which got us to the most famous street in the world in just a few minutes. Packed with locals and tourist alike, Avenue des Champs-Élysées runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle and is home to the famous Arch de Triomphe. Guards and rails blocked underneath this massive structure as a ceremony was being conducted at the time. However, there were plenty of available spots for great pictures. We continued down the street, seeing the beautiful architecture of uniform buildings with iron terraces. The famous bridge, covered in gold statues and carvings was incredibly busy. We decided to enjoy it from afar and make our way to the Eiffel Tower. This large structure that is the epitome of Paris beauty is far bigger than I ever imagined and is just as romantic as I pictured it to be. Vendors selling roses stopped couples nearby, convincing men to buy the love of their life a red flower to express their feelings. The Chainsmoker’s recent single, Paris, was literally playing everywhere, and cheap key chains and souvenirs were laid out, begging for tourists to pick them up. We splurged this evening and ate at a nice restaurant as nothing is cheap around the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, I got sick off of seared tuna steak and we had to turn in before night-time approached and the tower lights lit up the sky.
Total Cost of Day 1:
Train to Paris- $60, Metro 5 euro, Dinner 20 euro, Post Card .20 euro, Airbnb Stay: 50 euro. Total: 135.20 euro = $161.69
Louvre, Lunch in La Marais, Galeries Lafayette, Laduree Macarons, Rue Montorgueil Market Street, & Train Railroad Park (Pramenade Plantee) Picnic
I felt much better the next day, which was good because we had no time to spare. After eating a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and yogurt, which we grabbed the day before in a grocery store, we headed off for more adventures in Paris. This day was filled with admiring famous paintings, window shopping, and lots of eating! We left about 8 am to beat the crowd to the Louvre. Only waiting about 30 minutes in line, we spent about 2 hours in a museum that could take weeks to completely accomplish. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa resides inside this massive structure, but don’t have high hopes. I found all the other paintings much more beautiful. Why she is so famous is still beside me.
After exiting the museum, we enjoyed the view as we strolled the sidewalk that was lining the Seine River. Unfortunately, the bridge that was once famous for its love locks had been stripped of the massive amount of metal that had been weighing it down. A few locks remained on the light posts, but the bridge was mostly bare. My favorite part of this walk was the green boxes atop the river guard walls, which looked like nothing early in the morning while they were closed. However, when their owners came to open them, the boxes proved to be filled with old French novels, souvenirs, and paintings of the city. For lunch, we headed to Le Marais, which is located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris, consisting of lovely cafés and secret passages that open up into gorgeous boutiques. We went inside Galerie Vivienne.
Next we headed to the part of Paris that was way out of our league, but we didn’t care. The first stop was at Galeries Lafayette- the very first department store ever built. Filled with Gucci, Prada, and 300 euro sundresses, we breezed through each level admiring the exquisiteness of it all. The real reason we came to this store was for the view. Galeries Lafayette has a terrace at the very top that displayed the most spectacular view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Palais Garnier.
The department store was surrounded by other high end shops so we window shopped until we reached the famous Laduree macarons. Some visitors bought dozens of flavors, but we each just bought one each as we were still full from lunch. Heads up, the salted caramel macaroon is a great choice! We got some chuckles from the employees as we took several pictures in the adorable shop, but hey, it was our first time in Paris!
Next on the list was to buy some food for a picnic that evening. We took the Metro to Rue Montorgueil Market Street, where bakeries, cheese and wine shops, and rotisseries line the streets and fill it with mouth-watering aromas. We each grabbed the dinner of our choice and took the Metro again to Promenade Plantee, an old railroad bridge that has been transformed into a park. I had never seen anything like this. We climbed up the stairs and entered into a narrow pathway surrounded by trees and flowers with benches for stopping to enjoy the nature.
Our last stop for the day was the famous Rue Cremenieux. Each house on this street is painted a different, pastel color. No one knows why, but the residents have maintained this tradition, making this neighborhood a fun little walk to enjoy when sightseeing nearby.
La Chappelle, Notre Dame, Museum D’Orsay, Latin Quarter
We left at 9:15 on our last day and walked to Saint Chappelle, the famous church. The stained glass windows were very ornate, but other than that it was not really worth 11 euro. The Sacre Ceour and all the other churches in Germany and the Netherlands were way more impressive and free. I don’t regret seeing it as it was beautiful, I just wouldn’t go again. However, I could have marveled at the Notre Dame all day long, and it was free. The detail in every inch of its architecture explains vividly why the Notre Dame took 200 years to complete. A story unfolds in the carvings that completely cover the solid stone walls of this church. On the inside, a herd of people uniformly circled around the outside of the pews, reading the history behind such a masterpiece as a choir was beautifully singing American hymns.
For lunch, we walked to the lively Latin Quarter, which is filled with cheap, delicious food and souvenirs. Crêperie Chez Suzette on Rue de Huchette caught our attention as it served savory crepes that were perfect for lunch or dinner, and were only 5 euro if ordered to-go at the window. I got one filled with Mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, onions, and red bell pepper… best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, no lie. We crossed the street and got the cutest gelato dessert at Amorino. The server sculpted my frozen treat into a rose on top of a small cone.
Down the street was the famous, Museum D’Orsay, where we got through the line fairly quickly and received a student discount of 2 euro off our ticket. Though the Louvre displayed all types of art, this museum contained mostly paintings, but they were amazing. At the top of this museum was a giant clock that was perfect for silhouette pictures so be sure not to miss it.
That evening, we headed back to the Latin Quarter to eat a cheap dinner and grab souvenirs. I’m a coffee addict so, of course, I NEEDED a Paris mug and my friend got her sister a book from a small bookstore that would be every bookworm’s dream come true. Shakespeare & Co. is a small store with books that reach up to the ceiling. Outside, there was a guitarist playing and singing for visitor’s enjoyment, and tips.
Our last day in Paris ended with a light rain just as we finished walking back to our apartment. We opened the window, brewed some coffee, and relaxed to the pitter-patter of the rain as we prepared for a train ride to Germany the next morning.
Just before the rush of tourist season, Europe’s crisp spring breeze begs for an afternoon espresso while touring its finest sights. Here are some places that stood out as my favorite stays this past May when travelling across Europe. In my opinion, all of these cities are bucket list quality, each having their own unique look and activities.
This quaint little town, situated along the Rhine River, is filled with rich history. An old, large post office hides tucked away in the back near the church, now serving delicious cuisine to its outdoor guests seated underneath cozy overhead heat lamps. Half-timbered houses adorn the sides of the cobblestone streets, some serving their local wines while others still housing families. After school, children flood the restaurants enjoying soda and snacks after a long day of learning. The nicest elderly lady ever known opens up her centrally-located home to weary travelers of all kinds as she runs an incomparable Bed n’ Breakfast. At the top of this fairy tale sits medieval castle ruins that have been recreated into a youth hostel with an envious view.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days):
Altes Hausfor delicious white wine and apple strudel// Stahleck Castle Hostel// Wernerkapelle Church ruins built in 1287// 200 year old post office (posthof)// Well-preserved town wall and tower (best seen at castle)// KD Rhine Day Cruise//Haus Irmgard Orth(BnB we stayed in).
Espresso is everywhere
The views, the music, the arts, and the romance combine to make this city as fabulous as everyone claims it to be. Seated below the Monmarte Sacre Ceour are artists of every kind expressing their love for their home with each brush stroke. Tall buildings with ironwork and matching stone make for a uniform, yet dreamy style throughout the entire city. The Eiffel tower is surrounded by lovers, giving a red rose to their significant other in exchange for a kiss under the magnificent structure. The largest museum in the world is at the end of a bridge famous for its “love locks.” Many lock their initials to Pont des Arts Bridge and thrown away the key, symbolizing their love for Paris and for another. Along the streets outside the Louvre are curious green boxes that seem like nothing when closed. However, when their contents are unlocked, the boxes showcase paintings, old French novels, and trinkets that grab the eyes of every passerby. A lively area, the Latin Quarter, is filled with souvenir shops, tourists, and an enormous amount of food. The most divine crepes are sold in this quarter for the small price of 5 euro from the window. Savory and sweet aromas flood the streets and invite people to stop for a taste. On the other side of the street is the famous gelato shop, which makes beautiful flower designs out of a decadent frozen treat. The beautiful architecture throughout this city is incomparable, especially the Notre Dame. With cafes and bakeries at every corner, sitting with a coffee and admiring the view is just as amusing as traipsing through every tourist must-see. Around many of the city’s landmarks, tour guides tell interesting stories that explain the significance behind the building. This city steals the heart of many who choose to replace their goodbyes with, “until next time.”
Things to do (recommend as long as you can stay): Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame// Le Bon Marche (1st Dpt. Store)// The Louvre// Musée d’Orsay// Latin Quarter food// Love Locks// Green Box shopping// Palais Garnier performances// Saint Chapelle// Sacre-Coeur// Grand Palais// Place de l’Hôtel de Ville// Lauduree (macaron specialist)// Find elegant wedding and ball gowns for cheap near Gare Du Nord train station on Blvd. de Rochechouart// We stayed in an Airbnb in a great location
The quiet town of Brugge seems like it came right out of a storybook. Different colored, connected brick houses show off their various eves and architecture. This city is known to be frozen in time as it was built up in the 1500s with wealth from its lace industry and has remained dormant ever since. Though now a popular tourist town, the city still remains quite peaceful, allowing the chimes of the Belfry to be heard from blocks away. The scents of Belgian fries and famous, home-made chocolates fill the streets, inviting pedestrians to stop for a taste. Ivy covered houses hanging on the edge of canals create gorgeous scenes and backdrops for pictures. A steep climb to the top of the Belfry is challenging, but rewards every climber with an incomparable view of the beautiful city below.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days): Climb the Belfry// St. Salvator’s Cathedral// The Old Chocolate House hot chocolate// Historium Bruges// Provinciaal Hof// Loppem Castle// The Markt (the square)// Church of Our Lady// Basilica of the Holy Blood// Homemade chocolate stores// Famous Belgian fries in front of the Belfry// Groenerei Canal// Several museums that I did not experience (beer, lace, chocolate)// We stayed in anAirbnb
Often described as a “mini-Amsterdam,” Haarlem has the lively activities and architecture of Amsterdam, but is much smaller and easier to get around by foot. The Grote Markt in the center of town is filled with visitors and locals alike who grab a drink, take a seat, and people watch the day away. To the right of the Markt towers a massive cathedral that is impressive both in size and design. The cobblestone road, Grote Houtstraat, makes shoppers’ dreams come true, offering every type of store imaginable with some stores like H & M reappearing two and three times. On Mondays and Saturdays, locals set up a supply of food trucks, tulips, clothes, shoes, and other goodies that fill up the entire square, catching the eyes of visitors and filling their noses with delicious aromas. This market offers what the regular shops offer, but for 5 to 10 euros less. Tucked away, but not forgotten, is the historic house of Corrie ten Boom, where tourists line up to see the Jewish hiding place during World War II. Her life is dignified throughout the tour of her home. Her faith in God is believed to be the very reason she lived the life that she did, helping the poor and protecting the weak.
Things to do (recommend 3-5 days): Shop until you drop// Ten Boom tour (available in English)// Tour by foot (tour map and explanations at visitor’s centers)// St. Bavokerk Church (Mozart played on the organ)// Molen de Adriaan Windmill// Bike the city// Eat and people watch at one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt// We stayed in an Airbnb.
I hope this helps you while planning your next exploration!
This past Winter Break, my boyfriend and I were invited to spend Christmas in Guadalajara, Mexico with our friends and their family for 8 days. The family was so kind, taking us in and treating us as their own. This was a packed trip as we celebrated Christmas, our friends’ wedding, and my 20th birthday! Our friends’ father even took us to the beach a few days. Meeting so many awesome people was by far my favorite part of the trip, but other aspects that I’ll always remember concern the Mexican culture, downtown Gaudalajara, and Melaque Beach.
Unlike Cozumel or Cancun, Guadalajara is more than just a tourist area. We stayed in a “colonia” inZapopanthat was so neat to experience. “Colonia” is the Hispanic equivalent of a neighborhood, but way bigger. There are neighborhood stores, restaurants, and food stands created by the residents. One home would sell bakery goods and another would sell tacos. My favorite food stand sold bionicos, which are fruit desserts that are basically all the good toppings from froyo, minus the froyo. We went there so often that the man knew our order. Although, that could be because we were clearly the only Americans in the colonia- but who knows?
Christmas was celebrated much differently than in my home and was a joy to experience! Aunts, uncles, and cousins lived right down the road so they came over and cooked all Christmas Eve, preparing a feast. That night, we played bingo and opened presents from family members. My favorite part about Christmas in this home was that the family made a huge deal about every present. It made the fun last longer, the person giving the gift feel appreciated, and the person opening the gift feel important. That is something I will use in my home one day with my kids. There may not be one-hundred presents under the tree, but talking up each present can make everyone just as excited.
Eating at Tok’s for my 20th Bday
La familia cooking up a Christmas feast
The city of Guadalajara:
Our friends had twin brothers our age who were so generous to drive us around town and translate. They took us to their favorite pizza, ice cream, and taco shops. They even took us on triple dates with their girlfriends to the markets downtown. I got my niece a handmade bow and myself a woven bag. We went to the biggest market I’ve ever been to. It was actually somewhat of a warehouse, but once inside, the market seemed never ending. It had everything from souvenirs to knock off soccer jerseys and Coach purses. I got a cute mug that says “Recuerdo la Guadalajara Jal.” because I’m a coffee addict. I found a cool article onForbesthat explains the city markets in more detail. As far as food in the city, my favorite meal was tacos because they were delicious and cheap. I’m talking 25 cents a taco! Plain water was not available to order with food. Instead, restaurants offered sodas, horchata,and my favorite, agua fresca. Depending on the restaurant, most places offered a variety of different fruit juice, all of which were referred to as “agua fresca.” My favorite flavor was Jamaica, which is made with hibiscus flower.
Guadalajara is a city with impressive, old churches and buildings. When the Spanish came across the Atlantic, they built spectacular Catholic churches and prayer centers. We toured inside the large stone building, Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento,and were in awe at the intricate woodwork that adorned each door. The Guadalajara Cathedralwas the focal point of downtown and was impossible to miss. Around the Cathedral was probably the most scenic area. Filled with ironwork benches and a giant city sign, the surroundings were basically screaming for a photo-op.
One weekend, the family decided to go on a three-day vacation to the beach. Little did I know that they were taking us to one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been to! I just remember passing miles and miles of palm trees. I’d never seen so many in my life! I quickly decided that Melaque beach is a hidden gem for people looking for the perfect place to soak up the sun at any time of year. The family told me that several people retire and buy homes in Melaque for two reasons: 1. It’s cheap, and 2. Most people speak English. Melaque, although still a tourist area, was far different from my experience in Cozumel because the shops and restaurants dealt in pesos, at the Mexican price. For example, we ate at a place twice that served quesadillas larger than our heads. With the exchange rate, the quesadillas cost us no more than $5, including drinks.
Melaque had a lively town center,Plaza Navideña San Patricio,perfect for shopping, eating, and enjoying a night on the town. Market tents were set up with interesting merchandise and, for Christmas, there was a huge Christmas tree and Nativity scene.
The Pacific Ocean water was perfect, even in December. The warm sun and beach breeze combined to make the winter in Mexico feel like July in the states. The next day, we drove to the beach atHotel Boca de Iguanas. This was my favorite area as it was less crowded and had a cliff with a beautiful view at the top. The pool was cold, but still bearable. There were both tourists and locals at the beaches in Melaque, creating both a new yet comfortable atmosphere at the same time.
As I was writing this blog, I began to reminisce on what an amazing experience Mexico truly was. The family we stayed with was the sweetest, most loving group of people that I’ve ever met and they became lifelong friends of mine. I also started thinking about going back to Melaque this Christmas to enjoy its natural beauty once again. I started browsing and found thatAirbnbhad some great homes to rent for a Christmas vacation to Boca de Iguanas. Here ismy link if you would like to check out the beachfront homes they offer in this area. Melaque and Boca de Iguanas were two beaches that I’ll never forget and I can’t wait to step foot on that warm sand once again!
Today I packed for a Spring Break trip to Williamsburg, Virginia and a day trip to Washington D.C. I soon realized that this will be the majority of my packing list for Europe in May as well. The weather in Virginia is supposed to be in the 60’s during the day and closer to the 30’s at night. I incorporated layers so that I don’t have to use two outfits in one day. Let’s check it out!
3 sleeved, looser/flowy shirts (light grey, dark grey, black&white)
1 white T-shirt
2 loose tank tops
3 skinny pant (cropped black, full-length jean and rust)
My wardrobe comes from various, budget-friendly locations. My dark grey and black and white shirts come from Sam’s Club, crazy, I know. But the brand is Philosophy and they were on sale for $10. I got my tank tops from Walmart for $3 a piece. They are my favorite purchase, and I wear them all year long. My cropped, black pants are Nine West and were also purchased at Sam’s Club for $20, and my army jacket and rust pants are from Ross and cost me $20 each. My favorite, white T-shirt actually came from Goodwill for about $3; however, finding a clean, white shirt at Goodwill is a rare occasion. The knit sweater is from Old Navy and my jewelry is a combination of Target, Kohl’s, and Belk.
Next week’s Williamsburg trip will let me know how much I need to add to my Europe packing list. Spring Break lasts only seven days while Europe will be 18 to 20 days. Hopefully, I will have two opportunities to stop back at home base to wash and head on my way again. In addition to what is shown, I packed pajamas, three workout outfits, yoga pants, and necessities. All my clothes fit in a medium suitcase, but I will have to use a separate bag for toiletries and hair items.
I hope this helps while planning for your next adventure! As you can see, I picked basic colored items so that I can mix-n-match, creating several different outfits. No one will ever suspect it!