My time in Slovakia – Winter Spa Weekend

The most memorable moment of our time in Slovakia? “There’s a man rolling around in the snow with his bollocks out!” Intrigued? I thought so.

We were going to Slovakia for a spa holiday. Our Slovakian friend was visiting home for the weekend and asked us to join him. I never turn down the opportunity to visit a new country and I never say no to a spa! Since Roman times, spas have been recognized for their relaxation benefits and healing properties, a natural way for your mental and physical health to rejuvenate. We all work in customer service (a known head-wreck) and are on our feet all day, so our time in Slovakia was much needed.

Snow Covered Slovakia

The air was clean and crisp. The cold brightened my cheeks while the sun made my eyes squint and warmed my back. A sunny welcome in snow-covered Bratislava was the perfect way to start our two-day getaway.

We got the early fight from Dublin on Sunday morning after an exceptionally late night at work. Two hours after my head hit the pillow my alarm went off and I awoke to a Canadian dream – the smell of maple bacon wafting through the apartment. Breakfast sandwiches are always a good way to start a trip.

The flight was two hours and we settled in for another three-hour drive. Thankfully we got the music working in our cramped rental car and were able to enjoy the beautiful journey, climbing the Slovak mountains with ’80s throwbacks as our soundtrack.

There was six of us in total. Myself and my boyfriend Steve, an Irish couple Sorcha and Dan, our Slovakian pal Marik, and an Irish fella Jack. We found the Grand Hotel Permon at the end of an icy road set in the alpine village of Podbanské. Waking up to the view of the majestic Kriváň Mountain dominating the landscape and standing out amongst the peaks of the High Tatras was an amazing site.

Our time in Slovakia – The Spa

Slovakian Spa
Hotel Permon Spa Paradise, Photo credit: https://www.podbanskeresort.sk/en/

The spa itself was substantial, a maze of 33 different saunas/baths. We all planned to meet in the leisure centre at a certain hour and went our separate ways. After getting towels, wraps, and a bracelet key, Steve and I wandered into the spa with no idea where to go or what to do. Sadly the friendly woman at reception didn’t speak English so we weren’t able to understand any instructions she might’ve given us. Eventually, we figured out how to work the lockers, found the change rooms, and entered the pool area.

Lovely place, but it seemed to be missing a few facilities. There was a massive pool, one hot tub, and a small sauna. We went for a dip and argued amongst ourselves about where to find the rest of the attractions. I noticed a lot of people were only wearing the purple cloth wrap that was given out at reception, and they seemed to be disappearing down a mysterious staircase. We had a look and interpreted the signs. Staircase, fob key entrance, changing cubicle at the top, and no swimwear signs.

Au Naturel…

A little nervous, we knew what we had to do. We ditched our swimsuits, wrapped up in the purple cloth, and entered the promised land. Steve and I had been to a spa in Amsterdam where most facilities did not allow swimwear, but this was a little different. In Amsterdam, we knew no-one. This time in Slovakia, we were there with colleagues. Yikes.

Down the stairs there was a whole other world. Very dark lighting and the illusion of being underground, there was an abundance of saunas, aromatherapy rooms, tropical showers, and steam baths to choose from. I was in heaven. We came across a beautiful indoor “cave” pool, a dark space with star lights all across the ceiling. The perfect place for a leisurely swim.

“There’s a man rolling around in the snow with his bollocks out!”

There were a few hilarious moments on the trip. Sorcha and Dan didn’t realize until they were in the outdoor jacuzzi that swimwear wasn’t allowed. Dan thought he was being subtle and said to Sorcha, “Quick, take off your swimsuit!” He then proceeded to shimmy out of his shorts and ditch them over the ledge. Later in the evening we all got out of the hot tub and politely tried to cover up as quickly as possible, only to find our wraps had all completely frozen into tiny shapes. That was awkward.

Then there was the time Marik and Jack (also oblivious to the “No Swimwear” policy) wandered outside, stood on the porch and admired all the snow-covered facilities: a massive sauna, salt cave, jacuzzi, huge steam bath, and more. Suddenly Jack exclaimed: “There’s a man rolling around in the snow with his bollocks out!” That man was Dan. Everyone needed a few treatments to relax after the shock of that visual.

The infamous hot tub… Photo credit: https://www.podbanskeresort.sk/en/

Spa Etiquette

All joking aside, in the end the no swimwear policy wasn’t scary. Why the policy? The primary reason is hygiene. The point of using a sauna is to sweat out toxins from the body and clothing can block pores, trap sweat and carry bacteria. Everyone’s in the same boat and are too busy relaxing to notice others around them in an equally meditative state.

Our time in Slovakia - lava stone massage

Our time in Slovakia: The Numbers

Ryanair flight from Dublin to Bratislava: €71 return

Accommodation: We got a special all-inclusive package with Hotel Permon. Entrance to the spa, buffet dinner and breakfast, accommodation, €100pp/night.

Treatments:
Foot and leg massage (25 min) €14
Lava stone massage (45 min) €26
Whole body lymph drainage (90 min) €50
Full price list found here.

Thinking about visiting a European spa? Don’t be a Dan! Stay tuned for my top tips on spa etiquette.

Our time in Slovakia - spa weekend

Are you interested in 24 hour holidays? Check out 24 hour holiday: Top Five Ways to Spend Time in Edinburgh, Scotland

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24 hours in Edinburgh

Do you ever think about other lifetimes? I’ve been fortunate enough to have serendipitously met a few people in my life that I have instantly bonded with. Bosom friends. Sister from another mister. Love at first laugh. There’s that moment when you connect so quickly it feels like you’ve known one another your whole lives. You can go years without seeing each other and get along better than most of the people you’ve met in the same amount of time. Almost like you’ve done this so called life together before.

Ok, enough of the philosophy. If I go too far down the rabbit hole there’s no going back! After not seeing each other for seven years, my friend Elyse spontaneously decided to visit me in Dublin for a week. She’s never been to Europe before so we managed to squeeze in a quick two night trip in Edinburgh. Elyse is the first person I met at university. Some random “soph” (Definition: overly excited second year student trying desperately to relive their first year) pulled me out of the car at my new residence and proceeded to force introductions with a handful of other students who were pulled out of their cars at the same time. Thankfully, Elyse was the first person I met and we connected as soon as we discovered we were both in the same media program. We ended up spending way too much time together as we found each other equally hilarious (surprisingly, not many others shared this disposition). From thereonin we ended up living in a share house with three other hilarious girls. After spending time with each other nearly every day of the school year for four years, I decided to take off to Australia, then British Columbia, then Ireland, until suddenly we hadn’t seen each other for seven years.  We picked up exactly where we left off and made for great travel companions. Fast forward to an adventure in Edinburgh.

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Reunited and it feels so good!

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Edinburgh four times. Every time I go as soon as I get a glimpse of the city all I can think about is how amazing it would be to live there. Panoramic views of breath-taking Victorian architecture is a treat for the eyes and a boost to the creative soul.

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Edinburgh Old Town. Photo Credit: Elyse Booth

Edinburgh is a city that just makes sense. I’d imagine that the architects were inspired by the natural landscape and weather since the buildings are even more beautiful when it’s windy, cloudy and drizzling. Whenever I’ve gone I’ve only had one or two days to explore, so I’ve put together a little list of what to do in the city in 24 hours.

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Strolling around the city. Photo Credit: Elyse Booth

FIVE THINGS TO DO-3

  1. Walk the entire Royal Mile
    The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets in the Old Town. The stretch between two significant historic locations, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, is the ultimate place to imagine medieval life. You can walk right up to the gates of Edinburgh Castle, and if you can spare the time, tour the inside for £17. On the opposite end you’ll find the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, who spends a week residing there every summer. You can visit the palace for £14.

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    View of the Castle at the end of the Royal Mile. We. got this shot from the tower of the camera obscura. Photo Credit: Elyse Booth
  2. Arthur’s Seat
    A hill located at the end of the Royal Mile, climbing Arthur’s seat is a great way to spend a couple of hours when visiting Edinburgh. A relatively easy climb (my legs only hurt for one day after), you’ll get a chance to catch your breath while getting amazing panoramic views at the top. I’ve climbed Arthur’s Seat three times and would do it again next time I visit Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is the largest of three sites of the Arthur’s Seat Volcano site. Like the location of the castle, its formation is the site of an extinct volcano system.

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    We made it to the top!
  3. Whiskey and Wine
    Head out to either the Old Town or the New Town and try a unique Scotch you’d never get to try elsewhere. There are so many to choose from it can be a bit overwhelming. There are lot of good whiskeys to try at affordable prices so just go for something you’ve never had before. Besides that, Elyse and I came across a couple of great wine bars. We especially liked Smith and Gertrude in the New Town. You can choose different artisan cheeses ranging from £3.50 to £4.50 and cured meats from £4.50-£5.50. Or you can do what we did and order a mixed board of cheese and charcuterie (three of each) for £16. So.Good. We also treated ourselves to a great bottle of  Langhe Nebbiolo, La Ca Nova for £30.

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    Smith and Gertrude
  4. Camera Obscura
    If you’re short on time, visiting the camera obscura is a brilliant way of getting your bearings in the city. A Victorian style virtual tour, you are guided through the Unesco World Heritage site that is Edinburgh from a tiny dark room. Tickets are £15.50 for adults and they’re valid all day so you can come and go as you please. There are some great photo opportunities from the top of the building as well.
  5. Walk Princess Street (and Primark!)
    On the south side of Princess Street you get amazing views of the Castle perched atop the volcanic site, giving the illusion of the castle blending in to the rock as if it’s part of the earth itself. There’s also a massive gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott, the stunning Balmoral Hotel, and the Princess Street Gardens. On the other side, you’ve got your high street shops. Ladies and gents, there is some serious Primark action happening on this street. Sprawling over about 5 floors, if you fancy a bit of shopping you’ll find some stellar deals. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, there is always a ton of paraphernalia to choose from (pyjamas, socks, notebooks, etc).

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    View of the castle at night from Princess Street. As soon as we got off the bus in the city we were greeted with this view. Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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    Photo credit: Elyse Booth

    We did all five of the things on the list (but didn’t go inside the castle or palace) in 24 hours and had a great time. Next time I’m there I plan to check out the galleries, museums, and evening ghost tour.

The travel details:

  • Ryanair return flight from Dublin for €50
  • Two nights in a twin room at the Edinburgh City Hotel for £111 (£55.50/person)
  • Return air coach transport from Airport to Edinburgh City £7 (this bus leaves every 10/15 minutes. Great service).
  • The city is very walkable and we didn’t need public transit or taxis at all.

Edinburgh is wildly beautiful. In my opinion it’s an underrated gem in the United Kingdom. It seems almost unfair for so many gorgeous buildings to be located in such close vicinity, and it’s a pleasure to visit every single time.

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Walking through the Old Town on our way to breakfast at The City Cafe. Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Doesn’t it look like the castle is a part of the hill? Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth

24 Hour Holiday – Top 5 Ways to Spend Time in Edinburgh Scotland

Do you ever think about other lifetimes? I’ve been fortunate enough to have serendipitously met a few people in my life that I have instantly bonded with. Bosom friends. Sister from another mister. Love at first laugh. There’s that moment when you connect so quickly it feels like you’ve known one another your whole lives. You can go years without seeing each other and get along better than most of the people you’ve met in the same amount of time. Almost like you’ve done this so-called life together before. Ok, enough of the philosophy. If I go too far down the rabbit hole there’s no going back! After not seeing each other for seven years, my friend Elyse spontaneously decided to visit me in Dublin for a week. She’s never been to Europe before so we managed to squeeze in a quick trip to spend some time in Edinburgh Scotland.

(If you don’t fancy reading a little story about university life, scroll down to my top five ways to spend time in Edinburgh Scotland).

Elyse is the first person I met at university. Some random “soph” (Definition: overly excited second-year student trying desperately to relive their first year) pulled me out of the car at my new residence and proceeded to force introductions with a handful of other students who were pulled out of their cars at the same time. Thankfully, Elyse was the first person I met and we connected as soon as we discovered we were both in the same media program. We ended up spending way too much time together as we found each other equally hilarious (surprisingly, not many others shared this disposition).

From thereon in, we ended up living in a share house with three other hilarious girls. After spending time with each other nearly every day of the school year for four years, I decided to take off to Australia, then British Columbia, then Ireland, until suddenly we hadn’t seen each other for seven years. We picked up exactly where we left off and made for great travel companions. Fast forward to an adventure in Edinburgh.

our time in edinburgh scotland, two females having a great time exploring edinburgh, scotland
Reunited and it feels so good! (Elyse on the left and Grace (author) on the right)

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in Edinburgh Scotland four times. Every time I go as soon as I get a glimpse of the city all I can think about is how amazing it would be to live there. Panoramic views of breath-taking Victorian architecture is a treat for the eyes and a boost to the creative soul.

Edinburgh is a city that just makes sense. I’d imagine that the architects were inspired by the natural landscape and weather since the buildings are even more beautiful when it’s windy, cloudy and drizzling. Whenever I’ve gone I’ve only had one or two days to explore, so I’ve put together a little list of what to do in the city in 24 hours.

Our time in edinburgh, scotland - the view of the city streets in edinburgh
Edinburgh Old Town. Photo Credit: Elyse Booth
woman walking down the cobbled streets enjoying her time in edinburgh, scotland
Strolling around the city. Photo Credit: Elyse Booth

FIVE THINGS TO DO when you spend time in Edinburgh Scotland

My Top 5 Ways to Spend Time in Edinburgh Scotland

 

1. Walk the entire Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets in the Old Town. The stretch between two significant historic locations, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, is the ultimate place to imagine medieval life. You can walk right up to the gates of Edinburgh Castle, and if you can spare the time, tour the inside for £17. On the opposite end you’ll find the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, who spends a week residing there every summer. You can visit the palace for £14.

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View of the Castle at the end of the Royal Mile. We. got this shot from the tower of the camera obscura. We had the best time in Edinburgh Scotland! Photo Credit: Elyse Booth

2. Arthur’s Seat

A hill located at the end of the Royal Mile, climbing Arthur’s seat is a great way to spend your time in Edinburgh Scotland. A relatively easy climb (my legs only hurt for one day after), you’ll get a chance to catch your breath while getting amazing panoramic views at the top. I’ve climbed Arthur’s Seat three times and would do it again next time I visit Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is the largest of three sites of the Arthur’s Seat Volcano site. Like the location of the castle, its formation is the site of an extinct volcano system.

IMG_4365
We made it to the top!

3. Whiskey and Wine: Restaurants in Edinburgh Scotland

Head out to either the Old Town or the New Town and try a unique Scotch you’d never get to try elsewhere. There are so many to choose from it can be a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of good whiskeys to try at affordable prices so just go for something you’ve never had before. Besides that, Elyse and I came across a couple of great wine bars. We especially liked Smith and Gertrude in the New Town. You can choose different artisan cheeses ranging from £3.50 to £4.50 and cured meats from £4.50-£5.50. Or you can do what we did and order a mixed board of cheese and charcuterie (three of each) for £16. So.Good. We also treated ourselves to a great bottle of Langhe Nebbiolo, La Ca Nova for £30. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy our time in Edinburgh Scotland. Can you?

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Smith and Gertrude

4. Camera Obscura

If you’re short on time, visiting the camera obscura is a brilliant way of getting your bearings in the city. A Victorian style virtual tour, you are guided through the Unesco World Heritage site that is Edinburgh from a tiny dark room. Tickets are £15.50 for adults and they’re valid all day so you can come and go as you please. There are some great photo opportunities from the top of the building as well.

5. Walk Princess Street (and Primark!)

On the south side of Princess Street you get amazing views of the Castle perched atop the volcanic site, giving the illusion of the castle blending in to the rock as if it’s part of the earth itself. There’s also a massive gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott, the stunning Balmoral Hotel, and the Princess Street Gardens. On the other side, you’ve got your high street shops. Ladies and gents, there is some serious Primark action happening on this street. Sprawling over about 5 floors, if you fancy a bit of shopping you’ll find some stellar deals. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, there is always a ton of paraphernalia to choose from (pyjamas, socks, notebooks, etc).

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View of the castle at night from Princess Street. As soon as we got off the bus in the city we were greeted with this view. Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth

We did all five of the things on the list (but didn’t go inside the castle or palace) in 24 hours and had a great time. Next time I’m there I plan to check out the galleries, museums, and evening ghost tour.

The Travel Details:

  • Ryanair return flight from Dublin for €50
  • Where to stay in Edinburgh Scotland: Two nights in a twin room at the Edinburgh City Hotel for £111 (£55.50/person)
  • Return air coach transport from Airport to Edinburgh City £7 (this bus leaves every 10/15 minutes. Great service).
  • The city is very walkable and we didn’t need public transit or taxis at all.

Edinburgh is wildly beautiful. In my opinion, it’s an underrated gem in the United Kingdom. It seems almost unfair for so many gorgeous buildings to be located in such close vicinity, and it’s a pleasure to visit every single time.

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Walking through the Old Town on our way to breakfast at The City Cafe. Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Doesn’t it look like the castle is a part of the hill? Photo credit: Elyse Booth
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Photo credit: Elyse Booth

Are you interested in travel? Check out my time in Slovakia – winter spa weekend. 

The blog is BACK!

Apologies for the hiatus. Sometimes life gets so busy you unconsciously set your creativity aside. It’s not like I haven’t been anywhere since I’ve last written. It’s been a great couple of years! I’ve travelled all across Spain, exploring the difference in culture across Madrid, Bilbao, Santander, Seville, Huelva, Cordoba, Granada, Tarifa, Jerez, Cadiz, Malaga, and Barcelona. After all that I had to take a siesta or two along the way.

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Seville Cathedral, August 2015

I’ve been to Portugal on four different occasions, visiting Porto, Lisbon, and different parts of the Algarve.

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Tariva, Portugal, July 2016

I’ve indulged in the best pizza and pasta in Italy, exploring Rome, Trieste, Fruili, and Venice.

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Venice, Italy, September 2017

I ran through the hills in Austria and belted out tunes from the Sound of Music (Number 21 on my Before 30 list) with my pals from The Western Gazette.

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Salzburg, Austria, July 2016

Afterwards we went on to explore Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague.

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Vienna, Austria, July 2016

I finally visited Plitvice National Park in Croatia, a scenic waterfall haven that had graced my screen saver since I was 16. We also toured around Pula, Zagreb, and Rijeka.

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Plitvice National Park, Croatia, September 2017. Bucket list location.

I’ve enjoyed the liberal, forward thinking Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, and Delft.

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Rotterdam, Netherlands, January 2017

That’s just a taste of the what I’ve been up to, so needless to say I’ve been busy! The greatest joy of living in Europe is that it is so easy to take off for a night or two and visit a whole new country. Flights are so affordable (thank you RyanAir) and with accommodation sites like Booking.com it’s easier than ever to book a cheeky night away. I still live in Dublin and it is the perfect location to dart to and fro around Europe.

This year I’m prioritising creativity. It’s time to get back to writing and design. Time to excercise the mind. I’m planning to travel a lot in 2018, and I’ll fill you in on all the shenanigans and also give you my top travel tips and recommendations. Here you’ll find the tales of my European Odyssey. Stay tuned.

 

Belgian Bliss – A Brussels City Break

I got the waffle from a waffle truck.

The breeze carried the sweet smell of the dough, enticing me to find the truck and take a break from getting lost in Brussels. We ordered two waffles, each with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Belgian chocolate. We sat at the top of a set of stairs overlooking a park nestled in front of city landscapes. With the sun on my face and the soft sound of French style accordion music from a busker, I had the perfect setting for indulging in my first Belgian waffle. One bite of the dense, sugary waffle and I was ruined for any future non-Belgian waffle.  It was the best pastry I’ve ever had, and the ice cream and chocolate made the treat all the more delectable. There’s a reason why Belgian waffles are famous.

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Best. Waffle. Ever.

I booked a trip to Brussels on a whim. There was a Ryanair sale so one day my friend and I sat down and booked three random trips. #44 on my Before 30 list (eat chocolate in Belgium) was reason enough to buy a 40 euro flight.

When we told people we were going to Brussels, a lot of our friends told us negative stories about their experiences in Belgium. I had a gut feeling I would still IMG_6922like Brussels, and I was right. Brussels is beautiful in so many ways – beautiful architecture, beautiful food, BEAUTIFUL men. I love Brussels.

Our flight was early Monday morning, which proved to be problematic because we had a friends farewell party Sunday night. Service industry staff tend to stay out late, so I opted for a no sleep option. After we hit up a couple of bars and had a little after party with some peanut butter toast, I went home, packed, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport as the sun rose.

What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became slightly miserable. After catching a bus to a massive train station we had to find a tram to take us to the hostel. Combine extreme exhaustion, a pending hangover, and a complicated foreign language station and you can imagine how difficult it was for us to find our tram. We spent a lot of time looking pathetic which gave the Belgian people a chance to show us how nice they are. Multiple people asked us if we needed help and one person even walked us to the area we needed. The transit system in Brussels is very good once you figure out how it works, and even though all of the signs weren’t in English, we found it easy to find people that speak English.

After a much needed two hour snooze, we wandered around the city. We took the tram to Louise Station, an upscale area with storefronts sporting labels such as Versace and Vera Wang. As we waited for my friend Julie (who I lived with in Gold Coast and now lives in Brussels,) we had a chance to people watch. Brussels is very, very different from Dublin. From the areas we explored in the city centre, we found it to be a more peaceful city than Dublin. People speak more softly, everyone seems relaxed, and people have great style. Even our taxi driver looked like he could have been in a stylish magazine for  casual day wear.

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Health and fitness seemed to be a cultural value. We noticed a lot of people jogging all over the city and restaurants advertised organic food. For a country that’s

All of the food!
All of the food!

known for its chocolate, beer, waffles and frites you’d expect to find an overweight population. We found the opposite to be true — on average people were healthy looking. Oh, and did I mention attractive? From my perspective, this city is doing its part with maintaining the tall, dark and handsome stereotype.

Brussels is small enough that we were able to see most of the city centre landmarks on foot. We spent the day getting lost and stumbling upon gorgeous buildings and sculptures. We ate beautiful French food and visited multiple chocolate shops, and let’s just say I crossed #44 off my list several times that day.

#44 Eat chocolate in Belgium.

We also visited Delirium Cafe and tasted a few delicious fruit beers. Kriek is a cherry beer, and it is unbelievably delicious. My friend Iza hates beer, so much so that she had never even had a full beer and she’s in her 20s. She had two glasses of Kriek! Delirium had many beers to choose from, but you either had to choose from the menu or ask the bartender for a recommendation because the taps were blank. Normally beer is advertised on bar taps, and brands want the best display possible (for example, it’s best to be on the end of bar rather than nestled into the middle). The way Delirium is set up is a better experience for the consumer because if you’re chatting with the bartender or looking through the menu you’re more likely to pick a product that suits you rather than just choosing a pint of Heineken because it’s the first thing you see. In Belgium there is also a wide range of glass wear to pair with each beer and they pull pints differently. If you like beer, you’d be in heaven, and even if you don’t like beer I think there was something for everyone.

I loved Brussels, not because it’s a flashy, but because it’s quality. It’s been added to my list of dream cities to live in, and even inspired me to add something new to my Before 30 list — #97. Learn French.

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Spot the waffle truck!
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View from the waffle truck
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Brussels is the capital of the European Union.
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Yes please.
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“Welcome to my home!”

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coconut beer
Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

belgian bliss

Belgian bliss

I got the waffle from a waffle truck. The breeze carried the sweet smell of the dough, enticing me to find the truck and take a break from getting lost in Brussels. We ordered two waffles, each with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Belgian chocolate. We sat at the top of a set of stairs overlooking a park nestled in front of city landscapes. With the sun on my face and the soft sound of French style accordion music from a busker, I had the perfect setting for indulging in my first Belgian waffle. One bite of the dense, sugary waffle and I was ruined for any future non-Belgian waffle.  It was the best pastry I’ve ever had, and the ice cream and chocolate made the treat all the more delectable. There’s a reason why Belgian waffles are famous.

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Bliss

I booked a trip to Brussels on a whim. There was a Ryanair sale so one day my friend and I sat down and booked three random trips. #44 on my Before 30 list (eat chocolate in Belgium) was reason enough to buy a 40 euro flight.

When we told people we were going to Brussels, a lot of our friends told us negative stories about their experiences in Belgium. I had a gut feeling I would still IMG_6922like Brussels, and I was right. Brussels is beautiful in so many ways – beautiful architecture, beautiful food, BEAUTIFUL men. I love Brussels.

Our flight was early Monday morning, which proved to be problematic because we had a friends farewell party Sunday night. Service industry staff tend to stay out late, so I opted for a no sleep option. After we hit up a couple of bars and had a little after party with some peanut butter toast, I went home, packed, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport as the sun rose.

What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became slightly miserable. After catching a bus to a massive train station we had to find a tram to take us to the hostel. Combine extreme exhaustion, a pending hangover, and a complicated foreign language station and you can imagine how difficult it was for us to find our tram. We spent a lot of time looking pathetic which gave the Belgian people a chance to show us how nice they are. Multiple people asked us if we needed help and one person even walked us to the area we needed. The transit system in Brussels is very good once you figure out how it works, and even though all of the signs weren’t in English, we found it easy to find people that speak English.

After a much needed two hour snooze, we wandered around the city. We took the tram to Louise Station, an upscale area with storefronts sporting labels such as Versace and Vera Wang. As we waited for my friend Julie (who I lived with in Gold Coast and now lives in Brussels,) we had a chance to people watch. Brussels is very, very different from Dublin. From the areas we explored in the city centre, we found it to be a more peaceful city than Dublin. People speak more softly, everyone seems relaxed, and people have great style. Even our taxi driver looked like he could have been in a stylish magazine for  casual day wear.

Health and fitness seemed to be a cultural value. We noticed a lot of people jogging all over the city and restaurants advertised organic food. For a country that’s

All of the food!
All of the food!

known for its chocolate, beer, waffles and frites you’d expect to find an overweight population. We found the opposite to be true — on average people were healthy looking. Oh, and did I mention attractive? From my perspective, this city is doing its part with maintaining the tall, dark and handsome stereotype.

Brussels is small enough that we were able to see most of the city centre landmarks on foot. We spent the day getting lost and stumbling upon gorgeous buildings and sculptures. We ate beautiful French food and visited multiple chocolate shops, and let’s just say I crossed #44 off my list several times that day.

We also visited Delirium Cafe and tasted a few delicious fruit beers. Kriek is a cherry beer, and it is unbelievably delicious. My friend Iza hates beer, so much so that she had never even had a full beer and she’s in her 20s. She had two glasses of Kriek! Delirium had many beers to choose from, but you either had to choose from the menu or ask the bartender for a recommendation because the taps were blank. Normally beer is advertised on bar taps, and brands want the best display possible (for example, it’s best to be on the end of bar rather than nestled into the middle). The way Delirium is set up is a better experience for the consumer because if you’re chatting with the bartender or looking through the menu you’re more likely to pick a product that suits you rather than just choosing a pint of Heineken because it’s the first thing you see. In Belgium there is also a wide range of glass wear to pair with each beer and they pull pints differently. If you like beer, you’d be in heaven, and even if you don’t like beer I think there was something for everyone.

I loved Brussels, not because it’s a flashy, but because it’s quality. It’s been added to my list of dream cities to live in, and even inspired me to add something new to my Before 30 list — #97. Learn French.

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Spot the waffle truck!
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Best. Waffle. Ever.
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Brussels is the capital of the European Union.
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Iza with her cherry beer!
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Beautiful monument.
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Yes please.
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“Welcome to my home!”

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coconut beer
Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.
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#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.

Unknowns

I am about to begin a huge adventure and I don’t think the reality of it all has hit me yet. Sure, I’ve done my fair share of research on Ireland and have tried my best to educate myself on Irish customs and history, but there are still so many unknowns and experiencing Irish culture first hand will be completely different than researching it.
(Fun research fact — there are no snakes in Ireland and there never have been. After living in Australia, I love this fact a lot.)

Fun facts aside, my question is, can you ever really prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for an adventure abroad?

I don’t think you can. Speculation is inevitable, but retrospect holds the real power. Martin Buber summed it up when he said:

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

Yes I can spend hours on Google and blog surf everything I can think of about Ireland, but I won’t know where I’ll love to drink coffee until I get there. I can pack and repack 10 times, but I won’t know if I packed appropriately until I get there. I can watch P.S. I love you over and over and it still won’t prepare me for the Irish man that is guaranteed to sweep me off my feet with that amazing accent of his. I can make a list of places to see and things to do, but what about all the things I don’t know that I want to do yet? And then there’s all of the people I haven’t yet met who are going to change my life.

Am I excited? Heck yes I’m excited. I’m excited for the newness of it all and experiencing a continent that I have never stepped foot on. I’m excited to build new relationships, discover my new favourite pub, learn to love the rain, embrace new music, and be pushed outside of my comfort zone. I’m excited to find inspiration in the unknown and look in awe at my adventures in retrospect. Ireland being my destination is already a surprise and I have no idea what this adventure holds, and that is what I find most exciting of all.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Bryson sums up the exact reason why I love to move to new cities. I want little things like ordering a pint or doing groceries to be unfamiliar. I want to be surrounded by accents and new sights. I want to make every day an adventure.