Ireland, Part 2: Galway, Republic of Ireland

Galway, Galway, Galway…where do I start? One thing’s for certain: I left a piece of my heart in this little city. From the moment we hopped off of our train from Dublin to Galway, I knew it was something special. The sun was beaming and the streets were lively. Further, the raw talent of its street performers blew me away. Percussive dancing is a thing in Ireland, and it’s freaking awesome. I particularly loved Bianco Sporco and regret not supporting them by purchasing some of their music. Anyway, let’s dive into the nitty gritty, shall we?

Day 4

We kicked off our stay in Galway by roaming its charming, cobblestone streets. After that, a quick bite to eat and a nap were in order. We stayed at a boutique hotel called the Residence Hotel, situated on Quay Street in the heart of Galway. It was modern and amazingly located, allowing us to walk everywhere.

After refreshing ourselves, we met Brian, our guide from Galway City Walking Tours, at the Spanish Arch. He’s a local whose pride for his city is undeniable. He filled us in on Galway’s interesting history as we walked from one site to the next. We ultimately ended our tour at O’Connell’s, a fantastic pub and beer garden on Eyre Square.

Then, per the recommendation of Brian, we headed to Martine’s for dinner. This was hands down one of my favorite meals in Ireland. As Galway is a coastal city, fresh fish is the name of the game. If you’re an oyster lover such as myself, go here! They were divine. Because we couldn’t get enough of the live entertainment that Galway had to offer, we headed to Tig Coili, also recommended by Brian. It’s known for its traditional music, so we enjoyed a night cap while we listened to the sweet sounds of local musicians.

Day 5

The following morning, we hopped onto a bus for a day trip to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher. We booked our tour with Galway Tour Company. Quite simply, I can’t recommend this tour enough! While its winding roads and rough ferry rides are not for the faint of heart (er – stomach?), those unpleasantries are completely worth it…promise!

In order to get to our final destinations, we drove along the infamous Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland’s exquisite Burren region. Our first stop was in the quaint fishing village of Doolin. It was there that we took a ferry to Inisheer, the smallest of the three Aran Islands. When we first arrived to the island, we beelined it to Aran Café as it was quite cool and rainy at the time. We filled our bellies with delicious garden-to-table food and warmed up with some hot tea.

Before we knew it, the sun was out and we took the opportunity to explore. Between ancient churches and castles, lighthouses, beautiful beaches, and shipwrecks, this tiny island (population: 249) has so much to offer. As we only experienced a fraction of its offerings in the short two hours that we were there, we agreed that, in retrospect, we would have loved to stay there for a night. If you visit Inisheer and are lucky enough to have sunny weather from start to finish, be sure to rent a bike as you will experience so much more that way.

After our short stop on Inisheer, we took the ferry back to Doolin. Instead of staying inside the ferry like we did on the way to the island, we opted to sit outside and it was a complete game changer! The sea-sickness that we experienced on the way to the island became virtually nonexistent by simply taking in the fresh air and admiring the vast waves of the Atlantic. The icing on the cake? Our route back to Doolin allowed for incredible views of the Cliffs of Moher from the sea.

Next, we got back onto the bus and headed to the top of the Cliffs. While photos of them are absolutely stunning, no photo that I’ve seen to this day do these beauties justice. They are truly majestic. After taking them in from various vantage points, we headed back to Galway. On the way back, we made a pit stop at the “Baby Cliffs” in Ballyreen, and I jumped on the opportunity (literally) to frolic atop the Burren.

When we returned to Galway, I took a solo walk along Galway Bay, also known as “The Long Walk.” Between countless swans, fishing boats, and colorful rowhomes, it couldn’t be more picturesque. After the introvert in me got the alone time that she needed, I met back up with the fam for dinner. We decided to eat Indian at Kumar’s Taste of Asia. Never did I ever think that I would eat Indian food in Ireland, but let me tell ya: it was some of the best Indian food that I’ve ever had. Soon after, we dozed off in anticipation of an early train ride the next morning.

…Next stop, Belfast!

Ireland, Part 1: Dublin, Republic of Ireland

If you missed the into to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 2

As the first day of our trip consisted of a red eye flight, the exciting portion of our journey did not begin until day two. Although we were jet-lagged, we wasted no time getting into travel mode. When we first arrived, it was too early to check into our Airbnb, so we went to a nearby café called SLICE. Although it was a teeny tiny establishment, they welcomed us and our giant suitcases with open arms. We had a lovely brunch, and before we knew it, it was time to check into our Airbnb.

We stayed in Dublin’s charming Stoneybatter neighborhood. It was a pleasant, 30-minute walk to the city center. I particularly loved it because I felt like I was transported to 4 Privet Drive. That’s a Harry Potter reference for those of you unfortunate enough to not know what I’m talking about. ;)

Anyway, we settled into our Airbnb and slowly made our way to the city center for a tour. Personally, I love doing city tours on the day that I arrive to a new city. They typically hit all of the highlights of a given city, allowing me to form my own opinion about what I feel compelled to revisit within the following days. Further, they allow me to get my bearings from the very start.

We chose to take the Dublin Historical Walking Tour. Our guide, Tim, was fantastic! He had recently received his PhD in history from Trinity College, so his knowledge was unparalleled. Furthermore, his ability to deliver his knowledge in an entertaining, comical way was impressive, to say the least. Highlights of the tour include the following: Trinity College, Old Parliament, Temple Bar, Four Courts, Christ Church Cathedral, City Hall, Dublin Castle, Grafton Street, and Mansion House.

After our tour, we hopped into a taxi and went to the Guinness Storehouse. Although we were concerned that it might be a tourist trap, we felt compelled to go after hearing so many great things about it prior to our trip. Well, we are so happy that we went! The building is exquisite, and Guinness’s unique brewing process is delivered in an unique way. With every ticket comes a free pint of Guinness, and how you choose to enjoy your pint is up to you. We chose to enjoy ours at the Gravity Bar on the top floor of the building. While it was only seven floors up, Dublin is a built-out rather than built-up city, so we were able to take in stunning, 360° views of Dublin while sipping on a fresh pint. Although I am a Guinness fan whether playing tourist or not, I must admit that Guinness straight from the source is significantly more tasty than the imported version.

Before we settled into our Airbnb for the night, we grabbed a bite to eat at L. Mulligan. Grocer, a pub that we stumbled upon on our walk back. I’ll be straight up with you guys from the get-go: Ireland’s food is nothing to write home about. However, one of the better meals of our trip was eaten here. After refueling, we hit the hay as we were in need of a good night’s sleep.

Day 3

Knowing that we’d most likely want to sleep in, we left our morning open. I had the most blissful night’s sleep, so I headed out relatively early for a run and drug Chris along with me. Phoenix Park was only a five-minute run away from where we were staying, so we headed there and got a solid three miles in. I absolutely love running as a means of exploring a new city as I’m able to take in a lot in a short period of time. Phoenix Park is certainly worth checking out as it is absolutely beautiful!

We headed back to our Airbnb, got ready, and then took a leisurely walk toward the city center. Only three days in, I was seriously craving some greens. We actively sought out a grab-and-go establishment that served salads, and KC Peaches ended up being our best bet.

Afterward, we returned to Trinity College. While we were able to explore the grounds on our city tour the day prior, the tour did not include admission to the college’s infamous Long Room in the Trinity College Library. The room is well-preserved and absolutely magnificent to the point that no photo can do it justice. In my opinion, the admission price is well worth it!

After viewing the Long Room, my mom stuck around the campus grounds to take some more photos. Meanwhile, Chris and I headed to the Irish Whiskey Museum for a whiskey tasting. While I’m the exact opposite of a whiskey gal, when in Rome! I’m so happy that I gave this tasting a go because it really and truly provided me with a new appreciation for whiskey. Spoiler alert: not all whiskeys make your throat feel like it’s on fire! In fact, many are silky smooth and easy on the palate. As it turns out, there are countless nuances that can be altered throughout the whiskey distillation process that greatly affects the characteristics of the final product. Again, our guide (whose name I regretfully forget) was incredible! Similar to the guide on our city tour, he was both knowledgable and funny.

After our tasting, we met back up with momma dukes and headed to dinner at The Church. Leave it to the Irish to turn a historic church into a booming restaurant! While there is no denying that the atmosphere and live entertainment were awesome, the food was mediocre at best given the price point. While it is certainly worth checking out, I recommend grabbing a drink or two at the bar and eating dinner elsewhere.

We briefly walked through the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre during our city tour and loved it so much that we decided to return. It is an exquisite, historic, Georgian-style townhouse that has been transformed into a centre full of beautiful shops and eateries. After dinner, we enjoyed incredible craft cocktails at Farrier & Draper, a stunning bar located in the townhouse’s former horse and carriage entrance.

At that point, we agreed that we wanted to hear some live music. Although there is plenty of live music in the Temple Bar neighborhood, it isn’t very traditional. We’re talking Billy Joel covers, people! As The Cobblestone came highly recommend by our Airbnb host and was en route to Stoneybatter anyway, we made it a point to stop there on our walk home. Thank goodness we did! It was full of locals and was a truly authentic experience. We were even lucky enough to snag seats right next to the musicians who were jamming in the front of the pub! We stayed until closing and then headed back to our Airbnb as we had an early train to catch the next morning.

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I think it goes without saying that Dublin is an incredible capital city with so much to offer. Unfortunately, we did not get to squeeze in everything that we wanted to see during our short stay. When I return to Dublin one day, St. Stephen’s Green and boutique shopping in the South Inner City neighborhood will be at the top of the list!

…Next stop, Galway!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 4: Budapest, Hungary

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Day 7

The majority of our day was spent en route to Budapest via train. The ride was roughy 10 hours long. However, with endless countryside views and a stockpile of snacks, we agreed that the ride flew by. When we arrived, we headed to our Airbnb and were greeted by our host’s lovely friend. She took the time sit down and review a map with us, which was extremely helpful. As taxis do not have the best reputation in Budapest, she recommended the Hop On, Hop Off pass and we were so happy that she did. For roughly $25, you are granted 48 hours of access to two bus lines, a boat tour, and a walking tour. As the name suggests, you can hop on and hop off at your leisure, and the buses pass by all of the major attractions that Budapest has to offer.

Although we were tired and it was getting late, we weren’t going to let our first night in Budapest go to waste. We decided to check out Szimpla Kert, which is Budapest’s most well-known ruin pub. After visiting, it was no wonder why. Szimpla Kert was even more amazing than we expected it to be. Picture a huge warehouse, divided into themed rooms and open air gardens. Ruin pubs are a huge part of Budapest’s identity. Mostly located in District VII (the old Jewish quarter), ruin pubs are established in abandoned buildings or lots and are artfully decorated with vintage items, making for a ridiculously cool vibe. Anyway, after a few rounds, we called it a night.

Day 8

We woke up bright and early for a walking tour with Free Budapest Tours. Of note, we had booked this tour prior to purchasing our Hop On, Hop Off pass, so unfortunately, I can’t speak for the walking tour offered by them. Anyway, the highlights of our tour included the following: Danube Promenade, Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Presidential Palace, Chain Bridge, Fishermen’s Bastion, Origin of the Magyars, Royal Palace, and St. Stephen’s Basilica. The tour was excellent! It started on the Pest side of the city and, by walking across beautiful Chain Bridge, ended on the Buda side of the city. I loved experiencing the bustling, city vibes of Pest and the hilly, historic feel of Buda within only a couple hours.

After our walking tour, we headed back to Pest for the Hop On, Hop Off boat tour along the Danube River. This may seem excessive after partaking in a walking tour, but being that it offered incredible views of many sights that the walking tour did not, I still recommend it.

Afterwards, we headed to Great Market Hall. As the name implies, Great Market Hall is a huge, two-story market which offers goods such as groceries and souvenirs. This a great place to grab some quick and delicious grub. Be sure to pick up some paprika – a spice largely associated with Hungarian cuisine – while you are there. It makes for an excellent souvenir!

We ended our action-packed day by indulging in the Essentials of Hungarian Wine Class at Tasting Table Budapest. Being that this class was one of my favorite things that we did on our trip, it comes highly recommended! It also provides an opportunity to pick up some impressive souvenirs. The sommelier that guided our tasting was lovely and shared an absundance of knowledge regarding Hungarian wine. Do yourself a favor and add the hidegtál (a platter of local, artisan cheese and charcuterie) to your tasting. It was divine!

Day 9

First, we headed to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Although we had seen the basilica from the outside the day prior, Lopko wanted to check it out from the inside. It was truly breathtaking.

After, we headed to the nearby Budapest Christmas Market in Vorosmarty Square. I’m not what you’d call The Grinch, but I’m not one to go nuts over Christmas markets either. So, believe me when I say that the Budapest Christmas Market is magical. If you are fortunate enough to be in Budapest while the market is in full swing, stopping by is a must! With countless vendors offering gorgeous, handcrafted items at unbeatable prices, it’s hard to resist going on a shopping spree. The market offers indulgent, yet delcious food. I highly recommend trying lángos, chimney cake, and mulled wine. (Yes, I pigged out, thank you for asking.)

Next, we headed to Széchenyi, which is one of many thermal baths in Budapest. Being that our time was limited, we opted to check out the most famous bath of them all. Think pools upon pools upon pools of hot-spring water that you can unwind in. I’m relaxed just thinking about it! Tip: spend the extra money to rent a cabin as opposed to a locker. The privacy is a plus and an extremely secure place to store your things allows for peace of mind.

Afterward, we hopped onto the Hop On, Hop Off bus for one of its night tours. For the stop at Gellért Hill alone, this tour is well worth it. It allows for stunning panoramic views of both Buda and Pest, and it is particularly mesmerizing at night. Although I am pleased with how my photos turned out, they don’t do the views justice.

We spent the final hours of our trip by – you guessed it – going out to dinner. Unfortunately, I completely forget the name of the restaurant where we ate. It’s unfortunate because the food was both authentic and delicious. Nevertheless, it was a great way to end an incredible journey. A huge shout out Lopko, Zekany, and Verost for making this trip of a lifetime so memorable. Cheers to many more adventures!

…Next stop, home sweet home!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 3: Sibiu, Romania

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Day 6

We arrived into Sibiu on a blustery, snowy morning. Everything was snow-capped and it looked absolutely stunning. Yet again, our Airbnb hosts were gracious enough to let us check in early. We ditched our bags and promptly headed to the main area of town. Before we knew it, we were on an impromptu bar tour of Sibiu. We got so lost in the moment that, quite honestly, I didn’t take note of the pubs and cafes that we visited.

Later in the afternoon, we met our guide, Florin (also known as Sibiu Tour Guide), for a private tour. He’s a sweet man who is extremely passionate about both his city and his country. Highlights of the tour included the following: Orthodox Cathedral, Lutheran Cathedral, Bridge of Lies, Little Square, Greater Square, National Archives Street, Thick Tower, and Council Tower. During our visit, Greater Square was being set up for its annual Christmas market. While we were bummed that we didn’t get to experience the market in full swing, the festive lights were magical given the snowfall earlier that morning.

After our tour, we invited Florin to dinner and went to Crama Sibiana per his recommendation. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere was even better! It is located in Little Square and is situated underground, providing the feel of a wine cellar. We ended our day in Sibiu by heading to a local grocery store to stock up on Romanian wine, as well as snacks for our long train ride to Budapest the following day.

…Next stop, Budapest!

Backpacking Transylvania and Budapest, Part 2: Sighisoara, Romania

If you missed the into post to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.

Sighisoara is easily one of the most picturesque places that I’ve ever been. Being that it is considered to be the most well-preserved inhabited citadels in Europe, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is no surprise why. As evidenced in the photos, roaming the streets of Sighisoara feels like taking a step back in time.

Day 5

We arrived into Sighisora by train bright and early. The innkeeper of the accommodations that we booked through Airbnb, Casa Mador, was kind enough to pick us up at the train station and allow us check in early. We quickly dropped off our belongings and headed to Citadel Square (Piata Cetati) to grab some coffee and sandwiches. We ended up at International Cafe, which is completely adorable.

Next, we met up with Emmanuel, also known as Your Guide in Transylvania, for a private tour. Emmanuel was born and raised in Sighisoara, so it was fun to learn about the citadel from a local perspective. Highlights of the tour included the Clock Tower, the Church on the Hill, and the house in which Vlad the Impaler was born. Personally, the Church on the Hill was my favorite part of the tour. For starters, it provided fantastic views of the citadel. Further, the church has one of the most beautiful graveyards that I’ve ever seen. Call me morbid, but there is something about old graveyards that I absolutely love.

After our tour, Emmanuel and his wife, Klara, hosted us for traditional Romanian food and drinks. Klara sources everything locally and ensures that just about everything is prepared from scratch. My favorite thing that she prepared was a delicious ham and tarragon soup. In fact, I now regret not asking her for the recipe, which was passed down to her from her grandmother. We also enjoyed stew, bread, a variety of pickles, and apple pastries. Throughout our meal, Emmanuel kept the drinks flowing. We got to sample Klara’s grandfather’s homemade palinka, as well as various syrups. I particularly loved the elderflower syrup, which was made using wild elderflowers from the land around them. It was diluted with club soda, making for a tasty, fizzy beverage.

We then said our goodbyes to Emmanuel and Klara, extremely grateful for a truly authentic experience, and headed back to the citadel. Verost and I decided to walk off some of the food that we had just eaten and took it as an opportunity to snap some more photos. During our walk, we found some great souvenirs in Hotel Sighisoara’s gift shop. Rather than being mass-produced tchotchkes, they were both handmade and beautiful. Afterward, we headed back to our accomodations. Our jet lag must have finally caught up to us because we were sound asleep by 5:30 pm, making us completely refreshed for the day ahead.

…Next stop, Sibiu!