Each summer, my husband Brandon and I travel to Europe to serve as staff members with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. Before or after our summer spent with 50+ university students, we like to enjoy some personal travel in other cities/countries in Europe. For years I have been dreaming about traveling to Portugal, and this summer my dream finally became a reality! We spent 6 nights split between Lisbon and Porto, and we absolutely loved the colorful tiled buildings, friendly people, and laid-back vibes. I already can't wait to go back to these cities and discover even more of Portugal someday.
Read on for our 6-day itinerary, with details about day trips, transportation, where we stayed, and more!
Day 1 - Arrival and Exploring Lisbon
I always count the first day of any international trip a 50% type of day. You're tired, jet-lagged, and just getting adjusted to your new environment. I never try to pack in a lot on an arrival day, but rather explore my local neighborhood on foot and take in all of the new sights and sounds (and languages!).
We flew on Air Canada from Pittsburgh to Lisbon with a stop in Toronto. Upon arrival, we made our way via taxi to our hotel, the My Story Hotel Tejo. There are several My Story hotels in Lisbon, but we found this one to offer a good price on Hotels.com (my favorite site for booking accommodations - not sponsored!) and this hotel was in a nice location that is not too far from the action but not too close to it, either. The next most important thing? FOOD. We walked around the corner to what became our favorite spot in Lisbon - Eight, the Health Lounge.
After lunch, we wandered around to see some of the main parts of the city:
Remember the 50% part? We ordered dinner in to our room that night and fell asleep early!
Eat: Lunch at Eight - The Health Lounge, dinner from Vegana Burgers
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: Our own two feet!
Travel Advice: Invest in a hot spot and snag a data SIM card upon arrival to Europe. Providers like Vodafone offer cards that work across the EU, so you can stay connected as you travel from country to country.
Day 2 - Self-Guided Lisbon Art and Architecture Tour
There is SO MUCH to see in Lisbon in the way of art and architecture. We opted to put together our own sort of tour based on what interests us most. Our self-guided tour consisted of the following:
The Pink Street - exactly what it sounds like!
Belém Tower (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument (Monument to the Discoveries)
Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge)
Banksy: Genius or Vandal? exhibit at the Cordoaria Nacional (open through 27 October 2019)
Lunch at Buzz Lisboeta, found in Village Underground
LX Factory (checking out the murals and street art around this area)
Livraria Ler Devagar bookstore
The Castelo de São Jorge
Eat: Breakfast at Eight, lunch at Buzz Lisboeta, Princesa do Castelo for an early dinner and vegan pastel de nata (!!), sunset drinks at Portas do Sol
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: On foot, Uber, + Lime scooter
Travel Advice: Make a list of 10 things you want to see/do in Lisbon and designate your top 5. Work out a plan to ensure you check your top 5 off of your list, but fit in the additional 5 if you can. We didn't end up taking public transportation on this day because it just made the most sense to Uber or walk (the scooters were a last-minute choice!) based on where we wanted to go. Your top 10/5 will be different, so you may use different methods of transportation and build your day differently. No matter what, you can't go wrong with things to do and enjoy in Lisboa!
Day 3 - Day Trip from Lisbon to Sintra, Portugal
An extremely popular day trip from Lisbon is Sintra, Portugal. Less than an hour away via train, Sintra is a colorful resort town known for being a vacation getaway for the royal families of Portugal's past.
I'm planning to share my Sintra trip in more detail in a different post, but here I'll share the highlights.
Chalet of the Countess of Edla - being here felt like being in a storybook! #SnowWhiteVibes and we basically had the chalet to ourselves to explore, a stark contrast to the crowds at Pena Palace.
Parque da Pena - we walked about 30 minutes from the chalet through the park to get to the palace. Not as many people choose this option, and while it was a little more strenuous than we expected at times, it was really lovely and added a nature element to our day. On this walk we saw the Abegoaria and Quinta da Pena, the Little Birds Fountain, and the Temple of Columns before reaching the palace.
Pena Palace - This colorful gold, red, and blue palace is a national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The variety of styles in the architecture and design of the palace represents Romanticism. We paid to enter into the palace, however you can access outside parts for free, and the outside really was the best!
Quinta de Regaleira - One more heritage site on our list in Sintra! This property includes a palace, chapel, and a huge park with fountains, wells, and lakes. It had many owners over the years, and has a few quirks about it too, such as the "Initiation Wells," which never actually served as water sources.
After a long but amazing day in Sintra, we headed back to Lisbon to relax and pack for the next section of our Portuguese holiday.
Eat: Breakfast at Rossio Station, lunch on the rooftop cafe in Pena Palace, dinner at daTerra
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: Train, tuk tuk, on foot, and local car service
Travel Advice: Because of the popularity of Sintra, tourists are greeted by a swarm of tuk tuk and taxi drivers upon exiting the train station. Even with a few hired rides throughout the day, we did A TON of walking - so be prepared for that if you add Sintra into your Portugal itinerary!
Day 4 - Travel Day: Lisbon to Porto by Train
Though our time in Lisbon had come to an end, it still felt like we had gotten a nice sense of the city and had a variety of experiences. We checked out of our room in the morning and left our bags with reception while we snagged a last lunch at Eight before making our way to the main train station.
Upon arrival to Porto, we hopped in an Uber to get to our hotel - Selina Porto. This was our FIRST hostel experience, y'all. And it was great! Granted, we opted for a private room with a private bathroom, but it was so fun to be amongst other young people in a social environment. Selina was styled BEAUTIFULLY - very hippie chic - and our room had only what we needed, nothing extra. You can find a Selina in other cities, mostly in South America, but there are a few in Europe!
But let's get to the highlight of our day - having an incredible meal at O Oriente no Porto, including a traditional francesinha - but vegan! A francesinha is basically a sandwich packed with a lot of meats and cheese, covered in a tomato and beer sauce. The vegan version had tofu, tempeh, vegan cheese, and a tomato sauce blanket that was so delicious. We had the sweetest waitress and sat alone outside watching the sun set as we enjoyed our meal and complimentary hot mint tea, sourced locally from their garden.
Eat: Breakfast at Eight, lunch in the train station, dinner at O Oriente no Porto, drinks at Selina
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: Uber, train, on foot
Travel Advice: While my job consists of precise planning and organization, this personal trip did not - as in we didn't have train tickets for Porto ahead of time. We had traveled to and from nearby cities in other European countries and it was always easy to get a ticket day-of. Lesson learned on this day, as we had to wait for a later train in order to get two regular tix. No problem though - we explored the massive train station and got caught up on some work to-do's in the downtime. But for future trips, I'd plan my train travel farther in advance to avoid any time wasted.
Day 5 - Discovering Porto + Port Wine Tasting
I found Porto to have so much charm. It was lively and loud, but also quiet and relaxed. We spent our first full day just exploring - not assigning ourselves a strict itinerary or schedule. After brunch we literally just started walking around with no particular direction in mind. We wandered through an artisan market, and we eventually made our way over to Gaia - the town across the Douro River accessible via the Dom Luiz I bridge. Keep scrolling for the highlights!
Admiring the azulejos (handpainted blue tiles) of the Igreja do Carmo
Exploring the Ribeira neighborhood, right along the Douro River
Walking across the Dom Luís I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia
Cálem port wine tasting
Eat: Brunch at Zenith, snack at the Mercado Beira-Rio market, dinner at O Oriente no Porto (yep - we loved it so much we went back for a second meal)
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: On foot, all day!
Travel Advice: Give yourself one day to explore with no official plans. Remember that traveling is NOT about the photos - it's about experiencing the incredible things that different places offer to us.
Day 6 - Local Gems and Tourist Attractions in Porto
Today was all about checking two major attractions off of our list: the São Bento Railway Station and the Livraria Lello bookstore.
The São Bento station houses an incredible 20,000 azulejos tiles telling the stories of Portugal's past.
Livraria Lello has been named "one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world," and for good reason. The architecture is stunning - most notably the staircase and the ceiling - so much so that it's said J.K. Rowling got a little inspo for Hogwarts from the bookshop when she was living in Porto and a regular patron.
Eat: Brunch at Nola Kitchen, coffee break at Selina, dinner at Hand Go pizza!
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: On foot
Travel Advice: A lot of travel bloggers wake up before the sun to get the perfect shot or to access a place before the rest of the crowds. This is not my move, boo. But I find that visiting places at normal times is totally okay. Sure, the train station and bookstore were both crowded as hell, but that's really how they are. I think it's better to have an authentic experience than a staged one!
Whew! You made it all the way to the end of this article. Thank you for reading! I had such a sweet time recounting my experiences in Portugal, and I hope you have the chance to get there someday. Please feel free to contact me with any questions about anything that I mentioned here!
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.
Anxiety is something that I have been struggling with for a long time. This time last year, I hit my breaking point. Just a few days before I was due to travel across the country from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit one of my best friends for her birthday, I found myself at the hospital, hopeful that someone would finally tell me what was wrong with me - with my heart, my lungs, or some organ that was making me feel this way. I felt like I wanted to rip out of my own body. Like I was going to pass out at any moment. Like I couldn't shake the feeling. It was a feeling I felt every day. But it wasn't until that day that I finally accepted that the problem was in my brain. It was, quite literally, all in my head.
I went back to my apartment and I went to work the next day like nothing happened. I resumed the role of the upbeat, smart, attentive, savvy young woman I had been playing my entire life. I embraced a new realization to cope with behind the scenes. And the day after that, I got dropped off at the airport and I went on that trip.
If you're like me, you have this kind of internal battle with yourself every day. You constantly put things into perspective. But you know that no matter what, you won't let your anxiety run the show, or keep you from doing the things you love. When there is an opportunity to see and experience this world, ain't nobody got time for it. As I approach the anniversary of a low point in my life, I thought it might be cathartic for me and for you if I shared my travel anxiety tips and the ways in which I cope. Whether this is a daily challenge for you, or just one when you go to a new place, I hope my perspective will help.
I'm currently living in the same city as that best friend, and we're taking a trip together for her birthday this weekend. Time is a funny thing.
How to Cope with Airplane Anxiety
I get it. Whether I'm by myself or with a group of people, all the same thoughts go through my head on an airplane. What if the engine stops working? What was that sound? Why did the lights flicker like that? What if we crash into another plane in the sky? Did I pay enough attention to the safety video?
When I find myself thinking those thoughts, I turned to my dear old friend, probability. You know, I used to be really good at math. I like to remind myself about the very, extremely low probability that anything bad will actually happen. I take a moment to appreciate all of the flights that occur successfully every single day all around the world. I trust the technology, and the people. I think about if I were a flight attendant or a pilot, how casual a flight would be, and I try to adopt that attitude. And I basically try to fall asleep as quickly as possible to pass the time. No matter what, I know that statistics are on my side, and I'm on my way to a wonderful destination.
Try out this perspective the next time you're on a plane and that uneasy feeling starts to creep up. It may not go away completely, but "debunking" your anxious arguments to yourself can really help. And if the person next to you seems like the type, strike up a conversation with them. I remember totally random people and our conversations on airplanes more than I remember any of the anxiety I ever felt. Don't underestimate how powerful human connection is.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Traveling to New Places
When you really think about it, every place was new at some point. But you could find yourself going to a really different place from the places you've been used to. Maybe the people there speak a different language, or dress differently, or behave differently. If I find myself feeling anxious about something, I turn to my other old friend, research. Learning about a new culture or country in advance is the best way to calm any uneasy feeling you may be having. If you know the important things, you can't be taken off guard. You can still embrace new experiences and be surprised at how wonderful it is when you get there, all the while knowing left from right in your new environment. Learn the basics of the language. Study a city map to get your bearings. Your brain is racing through the "what if?"s and highlighting all the potential downfalls - a little research can go a long way in setting your mind at ease. Then you'll be able to make the most of your adventure and enjoy every moment along the way.
Another thing to practice, always, no matter where you are, is mindfulness. If you're worried about being pickpocketed, remain aware. Be mindful of your surroundings and your body language. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety is like a hyper mindfulness, so I spin it into a positive. There's a big difference between being a careless traveler and a carefree one. Practicing mindfulness can help you and your belongings remain safe and sound so you can feel that carefree travel high.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Being Away From Home
If it's your first time traveling somewhere by yourself, you may be faced with tasks you never had to handle before. You have to keep your important papers organized. You have to be on time and at the right place at the right time. You have to communicate with other people. You have to navigate buildings and transportation. It can be overwhelming, and it can seem so overwhelming that you may not even want to do it. But I urge you to take the leap. When I start to have those feelings of anxiety like I can't do something, I know that the only thing to do is the exact thing that I'm scared of - because it will be so worth it.
When I was in college, I studied abroad with Forum-Nexus as a solo traveler, hopping on a plane headed to Europe without knowing anyone and trusting that people would be there waiting for me, that I'd make friends, and that I'd have the summer of a lifetime. Here's the cliché - I did! I had the most amazing, exhilarating, life-changing experience that summer, and it set the tone for the rest of my life thus far. My family was absolutely terrified for me - I was the first person to leave the country since our ancestors came to the country. It was a big deal. I had traveled to Spain in high school and I knew what that feeling was like, and I knew that I wanted it again even if it meant going by myself. Sometimes all we need is to turn our anxiety for us instead of against us. What will you miss out on if you don't go? Get that FOMO on your side. You are strong. You are capable. And you are worthy. Being away from home is only temporary. And it can only become home when you leave it.
I'm proud to say that the person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago. Don't get me wrong - I still have that same brain. I still feel hyper mindful sometimes and I still get overwhelmed by things that wouldn't be overwhelming to someone else. I think - a lot. But I can recognize when I'm psyching myself out. I've learned to trust in myself and in my faith. I'm caring for my physical and mental health in ways I wasn't before. I'm opening up to you, who has read this all the way to the end - thank you for doing that, by the way. This space to express myself is never taken for granted.
I want you to know that you are fully you and your anxiety is a part of you that you can control. Use all that thinkin' to create your own strategies for how to cope with travel anxiety. You are able to make things better for yourself. You can travel near and far and live the full life you desire. I'm rooting for you.
As 2017 comes to an end, I'm reflecting on all of the trips and memories I've been lucky enough to have this year. It was by far the year of my life with the biggest trips, the most adventures, and the best photos. It never seemed so crazy in the moment, but I'm feeling really thankful as I think back to each experience and the people I've shared them with. Here's a recap of some of my favorite moments with a brief lil ditty about each place. Cheers!
January 2017 - Killington, Vermont
I'm really, honestly, truly not one for winter weather. But when my then-fiance, now-husband was planning a snowboarding trip to one of the top winter sport destinations in the height of the season, I said, "why not?!" Though I didn't hit the slopes myself, I had the opportunity to work from the lodge and catch views like this one. I loved being able to ride the cable car all the way up and gaze at the snow-covered, well, everything.
February 2017 - San Diego, California
Ahh, that's more like it. Feeling the warm sunshine in San Diego was such a treat compared to the freezing cold back home in Pittsburgh. I visited one of my best friends and got to explore Pacific Beach, watch the day's end at Sunset Cliffs, shop in Old Town, and brewery hop in North Park. We even made a little trip to Temecula for one thing and one thing only - wine! My favorite part of the trip (besides the wine) was salsa dancing at Tango Del Ray. I absolutely LOVE any Latin style of dance, and we had the best time there.
April 2017 - Chicago, Illinois
My sister and I took my dad to Chicago to go to a Cub's game, since he's a huge baseball fan. We also incorporated some touristy activities into our trip, like visiting the Bean. The weather was mild and I enjoyed wandering about the city. In all our wandering, we stumbled across the theatre district and took a chance at getting Hamilton tickets for that night. As luck would have it, we got there right on time (which was about 4 pm if I remember correctly), the gentleman in front of us took just 1 ticket, and we got the remaining 3 available for that night's performance. We were giddy. And not only that, but when you buy tickets day-of and get basically the unclaimed tickets for that night, they are all the same price and can be anywhere in the theatre. Ours were in the fourth row. It was UNREAL. Honestly, if you have the chance to see Hamilton, do it. The soundtrack may be stuck in your head for the rest of your life, but it's so worth it.
May 2017 - Berlin, Maryland
The next month, we went with my mom on vacation to Berlin, Maryland, just outside of Ocean City. This was a familiar place for us - it was the place almost two years prior where Brandon and I got engaged, when we went on vacation with both of our families together. This time, the weather was not in our favor, but we made the best of it and had a great time relaxing in our little cottage, walking the deserted beach, and checking out the antique shops in the town of Berlin. Brandon and I took a few moments to sneak away to the spot on the bay where he proposed. We may or may not have re-carved our initials into the wood while taking time to reflect on our engagement and re-ignite our excitement for our wedding in just a few months.
July 2017 - Rome, Italy
This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to the Eternal City for the first time through my work with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. (There were actually a ton of people all around us at this moment, but with a little angling we were able to get a clear shot!) Each year with Forum-Nexus, we take about 60 students to cities across 5 countries in Europe as they take a variety of different courses and participate in visits to international companies and organizations. Studying abroad with Forum-Nexus was the best decision I've ever made, and I'm lucky to have continued to be a part of the organization ever since. Traveling is such a huge part of my life and I feel like I'm really fulfilling my purpose by helping other students have the experience!
August 2017 - Miami, Florida
By the time we returned home from Europe our wedding was right around the corner, which meant only one thing: my bachelorette party! I had always wanted to return to Miami after only traveling there briefly once before. We spent most of our time in South Beach, soaking in the sun, eating good food, and most importantly, DANCING. There are only a few things that I love more than salsa (see February in San Diego). But I think our favorite night of the trip was a Sunday night when we went to Tapas y Tintos for tapas, sangrias, and a flamenco show. We were there all night and had the BEST time - shout out to Patricia our waitress and the entire staff for being so amazing! Unfortunately the next day I did not feel so amazing, but we had to check out of our hotel and we had planned to visit Wynwood before flying back home. When I look back on my photos at the Wynwood Walls, I laugh at how awful I felt on the inside, while trying to play it cool on the outside. Now you know and can LOL with me!
September 2017 - Split, Croatia
My favorite memory from September (and ever) was getting married, but my favorite travel memory from this month is from our Heritage Honeymoon! We traveled to Wales, Croatia, and Italy to explore some of the countries our ancestors have come from. In Croatia we spent 24 hours in Zagreb on our way to Split. In Split we really felt like locals, staying in an apartment, shopping at the markets, strolling along the water, and relaxing out at sea. We got a taste of what it would be like to live there, and honestly I really loved it. I could see us living there or somewhere similar for a time. It was a low-key lifestyle that felt just right, and when I look at this photo I smile thinking about how wonderful it felt to be there.
November 2017 - Boston, Massachusetts
We moved to Baltimore at the very end of September and had the opportunity to explore nearby areas like Frederick and Washington, D.C., and also travel to Boston in November. I had never been there before but really wanted to go! We planned it at the last minute, and it was really nice to have the freedom to do that. I was able to use my Hotels.com rewards for our stay at The Verb Hotel, right near Fenway Park. This hotel is amazing! It has a retro vibe with music inspirations from the lobby to the hallways to the guest rooms, and there is so much attention to detail. Each room has a record player and there is a selection of records in the lobby to choose from. Even though it was freezing cold, we took some photos out by the pool. I loved the way the retro windows matched the bright closed umbrellas, and Fenway looks like an extension of the hotel in the background. The staff were super friendly and it was overall such a fun experience.
Whew! 2017 was so amazing - I hope yours was, too. But the best part about today is the excitement of what's to come in the new year. I love New Year's Eve and I can't wait to celebrate! Time passes and years change no matter what, but we have to be HERE for it. I feel so ready to do more, feel better, and live harder in 2018. What are you looking forward to most?
Buongiorno! Here we are at the very last stop on our Heritage Honeymoon - Benevento, Italy. This is the city where my husband's family originated, and it's not far from Potenza, where my maternal grandfather came from. Benevento is inland from Naples, and it is by no means a tourist destination - which made it both exciting and complicated to travel to. But honestly, we were up for the challenge, and the opportunity to visit someplace so meaningful outweighed any complication.
We ended our trip to Split, Croatia and flew to Rome, Italy. There are several SPU>FCO flights, which made that route most convenient. From Rome, we took a Trenitalia train from the Roma Termini station to Benevento. This required a lot of planning in finding the best train times that would work with the flight times, but we were able to create an itinerary that worked. Trains in Europe and Italy in particular are frequent, fairly reliable, affordable, and safe. We opted for first class (which wasn't expensive at all!) on the way to Benevento and it was a very pleasant 3-hour trip.
The fact that Benevento is not made for tourists made it the most authentic travel experience I've ever had. We really felt like locals by the time our stay was complete! What was so charming about the city was that it was modern only in the necessary ways. Otherwise it was like we stepped back into a simpler time, between the ancient ruins, tight cobblestone streets, hanging clotheslines, and the silence and absence that occurs during siesta time mid-day. If you ever find yourself in this Italian city, I hope you'll reference my recommended to-dos and to-eats below!
All in all, our mini trip to Benevento was a relaxing way to end a whirlwind Heritage Honeymoon, and it brought us even closer to our roots, which was the core goal that we wanted to achieve. This city may be unknown to tourists and travelers but it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Where will you go where no one else does? What can you discover about yourself through travel? If you are interested in planning your own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, I would love to help. Click here to learn more.
And if you're interested in reading about the other stops on our Heritage Honeymoon, please check out the links below!
Stop 1: Cardiff, Wales
Stop 2: Zagreb, Croatia
Stop 3: Split, Croatia
Thank you so much for following along in our journey.
Ahh, Split, Croatia. This was a stop added onto our Heritage Honeymoon purely out of the desire to go somewhere coastal in one of the countries that our ancestors had come from. I had been hearing more and more about Croatia and we decided that it would be the perfect country to explore, both inland with a quick trip to Zagreb, and on the coast with a visit to Split. We found the perfect tour that began in the capital city, traveled through the country with a stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park, and concluded in Split.
We fell in love with Split and I now think of it as one of my favorite places. Most of why it's so charming to me can't be explained; it needs to be felt. But I'll share about our favorite experiences here in the hopes to inspire you to one day visit and feel it, too!
Another tip: Avoid the restaurants along the Riva promenade - they're more touristy and less authentic.
Spending a few days in Split was relaxing yet exciting, and while we felt like we were on vacation, we also got a chance to feel like a local, staying in an apartment and going to the supermarket, cooking meals, doing laundry, etc. The ability to walk to so much was so welcomed, and not once did the city feel unsafe or uncomfortable. If you have the chance, get yourself there. And soak in all the sunshine for your soul that you can find in Split.
The second destination of our Heritage Honeymoon was Zagreb, Croatia. I learned that my family from Croatia lived just outside of Zagreb, so I was extremely excited to get there. We had a less-than-perfect arrival (our plane was delayed leaving London because it had been struck by lightening on its way to London, and then our baggage took forever to arrive once in Zagreb) but hey, we all know that travel isn't perfect! We, and our bags, made it safely, and I knew it was a good sign when "I Got You Babe" was playing in the taxi on the ride to our hotel. We checked in and went straight to the bar for food! We only had the following day to explore the city before we traveled onward, so we made the most of it by seeing, doing, and eating as much as possible. Check out the list below for everything I recommend for a quick 24 hours in Zagreb.
Outside of all of this, one of my favorite experiences in Zagreb was seeing my very Croatian maiden name, a name I will probably never see on much of anything ever again at home. It was on a car plate because there is a dealership group by that name just outside of the city. Are they family? I'll probably take a Heritage Holiday to find out.
We didn't get a chance to have too many meals in Zagreb, but here's what we liked best:
If you couldn't guess, we stayed at the Esplanade. It's a remarkable building that's in just about every list of best hotels in Zagreb. Opened in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express, the hotel has become known for housing famous guests ranging from movie stars to politicians to music artists. It was a mix of beautiful and creepy that made us feel fancy and important, even if just for a day.
Our next destination from Zagreb was Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Rather than flying there, we opted for a tour through Portal Travel Agency in which we were picked up at the Esplanade in Zagreb (at which time we loaded our suitcases onto the tour van), toured through the country with a few hours stop in Plitvice Lakes National Park, then dropped off in Split. In our opinion, this was the best way to travel between the two cities!
It poured rain the entire day, which made our photos from Plitvice Lakes less-than-glamorous, but the advantage was that the park was less crowded, and still just as beautiful! There are 16 lakes to explore via wooden pathways, surrounded by waterfalls, limestone, and genuine, untouched nature. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can't swim in the lakes. This is a must-see during a trip to Croatia, and one that you will never forget.
Here is a link to the tour that we booked in case you want to go for it yourself! Stay tuned for more about our stay in Split. And for help planning your very own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, click here.
And just like that, we were off. Our whirlwind wedding weekend was beautiful and wonderful in so many ways, even despite a little rain. Just a few days later, after gifts were opened, leftovers consumed, and family members back at home, we finally embarked on our Heritage Honeymoon. First stop: Cardiff, Wales.
Why Cardiff? // To be honest, Cardiff wasn't our ideal destination from the start. What we discovered through our Ancestry.com research was that my husband's family was from the north of Wales, from Wrexham. What we discovered through hours of logistical research was that it would be a little difficult to go directly to Wrexham and later to our other destinations in other countries. So, the next best thing in our minds was to visit the capital city of Wales - Cardiff. We wanted to get a sense of the history, culture, and lifestyle, and we knew this South Wales city would give us just that. It's also the perfect base city for day trips and excursions to other places, not to mention its proximity to London for travel purposes. So, we boarded our planes to Detroit > Amsterdam > Cardiff, a rare route directly to Cardiff airport (most visitors fly to London and take a train to Cardiff) and had a beautiful stay in one of the most friendly cities/countries I have ever been to. Here's a few recommendations based on our days wandering through the beautiful Welsh countryside.
We were able to see most of these things through a WhereWhenWales tour. If you have limited time in Cardiff, I recommend booking a day tour to really get the most out of your stay and see more more of the country. There are plenty of tour operators in Wales, but I can say that this one was very special. You'll learn about things like the history of the Welsh flag, why the royalty isn't actually from Wales, what a "window tax" and a "free house" are, how many kinds of sheep there are in Wales (and what their markings mean) and so much more. Plus, Jan is a delightful human and very knowledgeable tour guide.
And that's a wrap on Cardiff and South Wales. I'd love to go back someday to explore the rest of the country and interact with those sweet, friendly Welsh people that we met at literally every turn. But for our Heritage Honeymoon, we were on to the next stop: Zagreb! Since there aren't too many major flights out of Cardiff airport, we decided to take a train to London Paddington from Cardiff Central, which was super easy and took just about 2 hours. From London Paddington we left the train station just for lunch and then hopped on the Heathrow Express train directly to the London Heathrow Airport. V convenient.
And hey, thanks for following along so far. It really means the world to me to have the opportunity to share about this very special experience that we worked so hard to create. For help planning your own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, drop me a line here, and stay tuned for more highlights!
The Island of Rhodes and the city of Rhodes will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the last destination on the Forum-Nexus Study Abroad itinerary each summer, which is how I first came to know this beautiful place. Rhodes may not be as well known as Mykonos or Santorini, but it still has a ton to offer. Here are just 7 reasons to add this island to your travel bucket list:
1. You can get to Rhodes easily by plane or boat from Athens. Flights arrive in the Rhodes Diagoras (RHO) airport, which is small and sometimes crowded, but easy to navigate. Because the island is so small, you’ll never have to be in a taxi too long on your way to your hotel. The Sheraton Rhodes Resort is where I’ve always stayed and it’s a 20-minute cab ride from the airport.
2. Old Town is full of medieval history. The main areas within the city of Rhodes are the Old Town and the New City. To get to the center of Old Town, you must traverse through three medieval stone entrances that twist and turn (so that enemies could get lost or literally run into a wall on their way in and it would slow them down). There is an entrance facing the sea and an entrance facing the land, as Old Town is now met by a marina of private ships. Take a tour to learn about the history and preservation of the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and then spend some time exploring on your own. If you’re looking for a dinner spot, Sissitio has a romantic atmosphere, detailed cocktails, and a variety of yummy dishes. For more modern shops and nightlife, New City, or “New Town,” will be your go-to.
3. Sun + Sand + Sea. The entire island of Rhodes sees mostly sunny days, and the summertime is hot but not overwhelming. There are plenty of beaches to relax on and ocean to play in. Many resorts like the Sheraton have their own private piece of the beach with chairs and umbrellas available at no extra charge. Depending on the beach, you can find beautiful rocks in different colors, and above the beaches are hills and mountains that make for really amazing views.
4. You can find every type of water sport at Faliraki Beach. Faliraki is a short ride from the city of Rhodes known for its water park and plethora of water activities. Whether you prefer to jet ski, slide, or rent your own boat for the day, you can find it at Faliraki. While at Faliraki, I rented a motor boat with friends for a few hours and had the chance to visit several coves in the Aegean Sea. The water was clear, it was the perfect temperature, and the boat had just enough shade, too. It was my favorite day while in Rhodes! If you’re interested in renting a boat, you can probably find one day-of (we did) but I recommend reserving one in advance just in case. Peter’s and Manolis are two companies that will rent you a boat that you can drive without a guide.
5. Lindos has the classic Greek island look you need. When you think of a Greek island, you might imagine hillsides of white buildings, bright flowers, and sparkling water hugging the beach. The beaches in Rhodes might disappoint in this aspect, but the town of Lindos won’t. In Lindos you can get lost in the alleyways of shops and restaurants, then make your way down to the beach. You’ll get a perfect view of the ivory buildings on your hike up to the Acropolis and temple of Athena, too.
6. It’s really hard to have a bad meal on the island of Rhodes. Traditional cuisine like grape leaves, tzatziki and pita, baba ghanoush, and moussaka can be found just about anywhere, and everything is absolutely delicious. To compliment your food you might try a local beer – Zythos. Mythos, or Alpha. Coming from an American background, I love to experience the care and consideration in the way other cultures prepare and present food, and Rhodes is no exception.
7. You’ll see an incredible sunset every night. Having the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Greek meal while watching the sun set beneath the Turkish mountains (Turkey is visible across the sea from the Sheraton Rhodes Resort), taking it all in from the beach, or even watching from the balcony of my guestroom, made every day just a little bit better than it already was.
You guessed it, I'm engaged! In less than 200 days I will be marrying my partner in life: a handsome, compassionate, talented, and genuine man. As we've gone through the wedding planning process, a thought occurred to me while daydreaming about our honeymoon - What better way to start off our marriage than experiencing where we came from? As third-generation Americans (meaning some of our grandparents immigrated to the United States), we've taken note of the decline in patriotism for our countries of origin. Many of my older family members don't know any of the details of where our ancestors came from, or why. Thus, a concept I've been affectionately referring to as our "heritage honeymoon" was born.
Both Brandon (my fiancé) and I have origins in Europe, but not knowing the details was a little intimidating at first. So, we decided to view it as a challenge rather than a problem. It took hours of research, conversations with family members who we hardly talk to, and did I mention research? But we're finally at the point where we are ready to book the details of our heritage honeymoon. Here's how we planned it, and how you can, too.
Step 1: Gather the Information You Know
Any details that you already know about your family origins will be helpful. Even just knowing a country is still a good place to start. Depending on when your ancestors emigrated from their countries to the U.S., you might even be able to talk to them directly! Unfortunately, neither Brandon nor I had that opportunity. Some of our grandparents were immigrants, and some were born in America; for those who were, that meant that we had to trace our ancestries back even farther.
Step 2: Research. A lot.
Since we had such limited knowledge of our ancestries, we decided to take what we did know and begin creating family trees using Ancestry.com. Ancestry provides access to databases and records that are difficult or impossible to find for free on the Internet - trust me, I've looked. We subscribed to Ancestry.com for a few months to collect as much research as we could, based on the little information that we knew. And what we found was amazing! Seeing the military, naturalization, and marriage records of some of my ancestors really blew me away. Family whom I've never met, but their sacrifice, their decisions, and their love ultimately led to me. And being able to show my mom and my uncles the documents related to their father who passed away at a young age, and their grandparents, was really exciting, and we were able to discover new things together as a family. There are plenty of websites like Ancestry out there, and you can consult specific resources like The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation Passenger Search as well. In doing so, here's my warning: Approach each piece of information with investigation. Ancestry in particular suggests other family trees that may link to yours, and it's easy to get caught up in accepting all of the hints and attributing information to ancestors that you really don't know if it's true or not. We scrutinized as much as we could, knowing the limitations, and celebrated the puzzle pieces that fit.
Step 3: Lay it Out
Once we had gotten a better sense of the countries and cities or regions where our ancestors originated, it was time to look at the big picture. Disclaimer: We weren't able to zero in on clear locations for some of our ancestors. For example, my paternal grandmother's side of the family goes back generations and generations of being in the United States. We got a sense of what might be our family's path, but we couldn't identify for certain any other countries of origin. But, I now know a town in West Virginia where that side of the family lived for several generations. The tools and information still helped me learn, so don't be discouraged if you don't find exactly what you were hoping for. Work with what you can, and lay all of the potential locations out on a map.
The countries that we did know were: Wales, Slovakia, Croatia, and Italy. Countries that we had hints or suspicions about were England, Scotland, and Ireland. In attempting to plot out our itinerary, we first tried to plan to make it to all countries and cities. In doing so, we realized that we would be traveling more than we would be enjoying each place, and that the cost of traveling to all of the cities would be overwhelming. Which brings us to:
Step 4: Make Decisions
As difficult as it was, we had to make the decision to cut Slovakia from our heritage honeymoon itinerary. The flights and logistics weren't in our favor, and neither was the pressure to fit it into an already packed trip. We also had to make an alteration to our destination in Wales. We found that Brandon's family is from the north of Wales, but it is easier for us to fly into Cardiff in the south, and travel to our next destination from there. So, we decided that getting a sense of the country and culture in general would be a great first step. On the other hand, since we knew that both of our families are from Italy, we wanted to spend more time in that country in the particular regions we're from. And wouldn't you know it, but the two towns are only about 2 hours apart. Getting down to this level of detail will help you determine what's really doable given your time, budget, and energy commitment. In Croatia, where my paternal grandfather is from, we're taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the beautiful beaches and relax and unwind a little bit in the middle of our adventures. In the end, we had to make some strategic and difficult decisions, but we are really excited about making our heritage honeymoon official.
Step 5: Book!
Ahh, and that brings us back to where we are now, preparing to book! We've decided that we will spend 3 days in Wales, 5 days in Croatia, and 4 days in Italy. Our heritage honeymoon will take us to cities and countries that we've never been to, and yet I imagine they might feel sort of familiar. Knowing where we came from can tell us where we're going. Understanding and appreciating, really, the incredible places our ancestors left to pursue something new in America will give us new perspectives on the family we will create, and our sacrifices, decisions, and love that will influence generations after us.
I hope this post may inspire you to do a little research into your family origins, even if you don't decide to pack up and go there. I hope you find time to consider the big picture of who you are and how you influence your family. We are living in a time in which it's ever important to celebrate what makes us unique - the melting pot of ideas, behaviors, perspectives, and characteristics that stirs inside each and every one of us, created by those who came before us.
"May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back... "
Is it better to visit a faraway place for only a day or two, or not visit at all? In my opinion, every trip is worthwhile. Sometimes you can’t stay for long, but at least you went to stay.
A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Ireland, and it was so lovely. I had never been to the Emerald Isle, and it did not disappoint. My fiancé and I had to be in Barcelona, Spain on a Monday, so we decided to leave the U.S. on Friday night and make a short stop in Dublin.
Here I’m sharing notes about my trip and all of the things that we managed to do in just two days. I hope this will give you a perspective of Ireland if you don’t already have one, and some inspiration to visit, even if just for a few days.
Saturday // We arrived to Dublin around 10:30 AM local time on Saturday. Upon arrival we took the 747 bus, which is convenient for most hotel or hostel locations around the city. We stayed at the Trinity City Hotel, near Trinity College. The eccentric décor was charming and the location was perfect.
Knowing that we didn’t have too much time, we dropped our bags and headed to lunch with friends who were also in Dublin. Our pub of choice was Slattery’s Bar and I went straight for the fish and chips with a pint of Guinness. After lunch, a quick stop at an Insomnia Coffee fueled the rest of our afternoon. We opted to take the Dublin Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tour (the green buses). A hop-on, hop-off bus tour might seem touristy (because it is), but it’s also a great way to see any city in a limited amount of time. You’ll hit all of the main attractions with the option to check them out from the bus, or get out and explore further. Most of these types of tours play a recording, which explains historical events and shares fun facts about what you’re seeing along the way. We got lucky on our Dublin tour – the bus driver offered a live commentary the entire way. He was hilarious, and he really made the tour so much fun.
On the tour we learned that O’Connell Bridge is more wide than it is long, we saw where Oscar Wilde was born, and we learned that the original "Leo the Lion" who roars before MGM films was born in the Dublin Zoo, one of the oldest zoos. But it wasn’t just about the textbook facts or even the fun facts – we also got a cultural lesson during the tour. Our guide explained that in Dublin there are Northsiders and Southsiders – local terminology for people who are born on either side of the River Liffey, and who have jokes and rivalries with one another. During the tour we also drove past a concert at the Museum of Modern Art and saw a lot of police officers outside. Here we learned that most of the police force in Dublin is unarmed.
We only made a few stops along the way, sticking on the route because the tour guide was so amazing, and because we had limited time. We did decide to get off the bus at the Guinness Storehouse. An incredible 7-level facility, it was 100% worth it to spend the ~$20 to go inside. We opted for a self-guided tour through the levels, up to the Gravity Bar at the top, which boasted an incredible view of Dublin through glass walls all the way around. Our entry fee included a pint of Guinness from the Gravity Bar, and it was probably the best Guinness I’ll ever have.
Later that night we took a walk through the Temple Bar area before going to the Oval Bar, where we ate Irish stew and beef and Guinness pie.
Sunday // For our second day in Ireland, we decided to see more than just Dublin. We signed up for a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher through Extreme Ireland / Irish Day Tours. (Tip: We signed up ahead of time, and our tour ended up being very full. Sign up online a few weeks before, if you can.)
We met early in the morning in Dublin and drove until we made a quick stop in Moneygall. We continued on, passing the River Shannon, which divides the west and the east, while getting a lesson in Irish history from our guide, Jennifer. She explained Celtic passage graves, the Iron Age, trade with the Romans, and the way Irish words are structured and what certain prefixes mean. I loved being able to take everything in while admiring the beautiful green and fertile Irish countryside. Shout out to our bus driver, Larry, too!
When we arrived to the Cliffs of Moher we were given an hour and a half to explore, which sounds like a lot of time, but we could have stayed forever. You can choose to pursue the left or right side walking path, but the right side leads to an area where you can walk beyond the fence and continue to explore. So that’s what we did! We were fortunate that the weather was in our favor that day – not too cold, and no rain. The cliffs are incredible to see in photos but even more breathtaking in real life. The way they drop off into the ocean is dramatic and demanding. To be on the edge is a thrill but not one to be taken lightly. If you are visiting Ireland, even just for a few days, a trip to the Cliffs of Moher should be on your list!
Next we traveled to nearby Doolin for lunch at McGann’s Pub. The pub was charming and the company was delightful. We sat with a woman from Sweden, sharing travel tales and thoughts about our favorite places. Continuing on our journey back to Dublin, we made another pit stop in the Burren, a barren area consisting of limestone rock, also overlooking the water. It was incredible to see so much limestone rock in one place. Back on the bus, we drove along Galway Bay, making another stop at the Corcomroe Abbey, and a final major stop in Kinvara. Kinvara was a sweet sea port town with colorful buildings, cute shops, and hidden treasures.
I really liked that this tour took us to so many places and exposed us to so much, even in just one day. We arrived back to Dublin around 7 pm – a 12-hour day well spent.
Back in Dublin, we ate dinner at The Porterhouse Central. We tried a flight of beer – Chiller, Temple Brau, and Dublin Pale Ale. The food was delicious and we enjoyed getting a taste of some craft beers in Ireland. After a long day, it was back to the hotel bar for a drink before packing up for our early flight to Barcelona in the morning.
Our trip to Dublin was jam-packed with history, great food, good beer, and memories that I will never forget. The people were so friendly and helpful, and the landscape was awe-inspiring. I look forward to visiting Dublin and Ireland again someday, even if just for day.
Where will you explore this weekend?