4 Bucket List Cities in Europe

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.

Bacharach, Germany

Altes Haus

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 Haus for 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).

Paris, France

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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

Brugge, Belgium

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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 an Airbnb

Haarlem, Netherlands

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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!

Happy Travels!

-Katie

 

Feliz Navidad! A Christmas in Mexico

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.

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Our friends’ beautiful wedding celebration

Mexican Culture:

Unlike Cozumel or Cancun, Guadalajara is more than just a tourist area. We stayed in a “colonia” in Zapopan that 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?

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Neighborhood torta shop and owners

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.


The city of Guadalajara:

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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 on Forbes that 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 Cathedral was 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.


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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.

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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.

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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 at Hotel 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 that Airbnb had some great homes to rent for a Christmas vacation to Boca de Iguanas. Here is my 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!

The Basic Packing Guide: USA in early spring & Europe in early summer

titleToday 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!

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Wardrobe overview:

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)

3 layering items (olive short-sleeved knit, striped active-wear hoodie, army jacket)

3 shoes (booties, Nikes, Toms)

2 necklaces

2 earrings

2 bracelets and bangles

Budget shopping:

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.

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Layering items

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!

Lovely Travels!

-Katie

 

 

 

A Brilliant Date in Soulful Macon, Georgia [photos] 

Everyone knows that a large number of locals live in their hometown for several years, never visiting their community attractions. This summer, I picked a few locations in Macon, Georgia and explored with my boyfriend. To my surprise, we had an amazing day, finding some hidden gems just thirty minutes from home.

1. Museum of Arts and Sciences (Student ID discount)

4182 Forsyth Rd, Macon, GA 31210 (478) 477-3232

 

 


Although mostly for children, this museum has several activities that simply make it fun to act like a kid again. My favorite exhibit was the outer space room, containing interactive video games, outer space experiments, and a trivia game show. The best part was sitting in a huge asteroid that housed a spaceship video game inside. We were astronauts on a mission to collect data about different asteroids. The two most exciting museum activities that we participated in were the planetarium and wildlife shows. The planetarium show lasted about fifteen minutes. It displayed the beautifully starry Macon sky that is not visible with the existing light pollution. The narrator took us on a trip through space to see far away planets and galaxies along with all the constellations that are visible right in Macon, Georgia.

2. The Rookery

543 Cherry St, Macon, GA 31201 (478) 746-8658

 

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Downtown Macon now has my vote for the best burger around. Famous for their Allman Burger and so much more, the Rookery was packed when we stopped for lunch. The atmosphere was extremely casual with dimmed lights, writing all over the walls, and a loft that made eating their incredible burgers even cooler. A burger and fries was about $10, which was reasonably priced for the quantity and quality that I got.

3. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (Student ID discount)

301 Cherry St, Macon, GA 31201 (478) 752-1585

 

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Our visit began with a fifteen minute video in their movie theater about the history of Georgia sports. While I’m more interested in playing sports than learning about them, this was still a nice museum to explore. Upstairs, there was a large area to play basketball, soccer, and football, which was my favorite part. A life-sized race car with a racing game sat in the middle of the play area and made a great photo-op. Since this museum does not take long to go through, I would recommend going to one of their free movie showings, which is once a month and advertised on their website. Dorie plays November 22nd and the Polar Express is showing December 5th.

4. Taste and See Coffee Shop & Gallery

546 Poplar St, Macon, GA 31201 (478) 238-5191

 

We almost missed the green accented coffee shop while driving down Poplar Street, but I’m so glad that we didn’t. Taste and See is one of my favorite coffee shops in town now. I told my boyfriend it has a sophisticate log cabin feel to it. I got black coffee, which was rich and delicious and my boyfriend got a sweet iced coffee. They also had freshly made pastries that looked amazing. I refrained from the decadent cake staring at me on the counter, but it took willpower.

5. Washington Memorial Library

1180 Washington Ave, Macon, GA 31201 (478) 744-0800

On our way home, we stopped by this huge library downtown. We didn’t stay inside long, but the building was beautiful. I would love to go back again and just spend the day reading.

 

It was a day well spent visiting Macon’s hidden treasures.