Inspired by...Final Days in Paris

My mom and I had one final afternoon in Paris, and she hadn’t been since she was in her 20s and flat broke while studying abroad, so I was determined to show her a different side of one of my favourite cities.  I’ve been to Paris three times now (I know, casual): once two years ago with my then-boyfriend and his mother, once last term with friends, and now with my mother.  Every time I go, I fall more and more in love with Paris, because each time is better than the last.  I have a friend who studied there last semester and she says that it’s much different when you’re living there, as opposed to visiting, and I’m sure she’s right, but for me, Paris is Paris and there’s nothing more romantic in the world.  

We started our afternoon near Notre Dame Cathedral at a cafe where my mom tried a croque monsieur for the first time.  It’s like a grilled ham sandwich, with cheese on top of the bread, and a fried egg on top of that, and it’s a beautiful creation.  

Also, it’s very French :)  We explored Notre Dame and all of its beauty before we moved on to the tiny side streets nearby.  We had wanted to see the memorial to the victims of deportation, but unfortunately, it was closed that day, so we just kept walking and exploring Ile de-Saint Louis, as well.  We didn’t realise how tired we were until we got to the Louvre, sat down for a moment, and almost couldn’t get up haha.  We couldn’t leave without seeing the Eiffel Tower, especially since it was getting dark and it’s gorgeous when it’s lit up, so we took the metro a few stops to Trocadero where the views are incredible.  As we got there, they were just turning the lights on, so we got to watch the tower slowly light up, which I had never seen before.  My mom had never tried a crepe before, either, so got one with nutella and whipped cream from a nearby stand, and just as we were taking our first bites, it was the top of the hour and the tower began to sparkle!  It’s always my favourite part :)

The next day, my mom was leaving from Charles de Gaulle, so I took her to the airport and had a quiet afternoon to myself — I was exhausted from two and a half weeks of travelling!  I got a baguette and a nice piece of cheese and some tomatoes from the Mouffetard market, came back to my room, and spent the evening watching Netflix on my bed with my treats.  My trip had come to an end!

Well, that's it for my European Adventure (or at least the continental part), but stay tuned for a reflection on my trip, coming soon to Katherinspired.com!

Inspired to be,

Katherine

Inspired by...Bordeaux and San Sebastian!

We were only back in Paris for the evening because we were leaving for Bordeaux bright and early in the morning!  Our train was at 9:00, so we got up early and headed to Montparnasse Station to have a coffee and pain au chocolat before our train.  This ride was longer but we still got in with plenty of the day left ahead of us.  Our hotel was gorgeous and right near the train station so it wasn’t a long walk at all.  Once we were settled, we walked into the centre of the city to explore the markets and beautiful churches surrounding us.

 Right in the centre of the city, we stumbled across a boulangerie, because it had been quite some time since our last pastry, and we were so glad we found this place!  The croissants and pains au chocolat were gorgeous and screaming our names so we bought a few, and the moment we bit into them, we were in pure bliss.  Now, I’ve been living in Europe for quite some time now, but NOTHING I had ever eaten compared to these pastries.  

Every layer was so light and buttery and it was like nothing we had ever tasted before.  In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m dying for one of them right now :)  We strolled around a bit more and soaked up plenty of much-needed sun, before we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner.  

We got dressed up and had a glass of wine in the hotel bar before we went in search of our meal for the evening.  We found the perfect place that had on the menu something I had been wanting to try ever since I saw the movie Julie and Julia : Sole Meuniere, or sole cooked in a lemon butter sauce.  It’s even more exciting than your usual fish dish because it comes whole and you get to de-bone it before you eat it — fun, right?  After five long years of waiting, I finally got to try sole meuniere and it was AMAZING!  So rich and buttery and I was in heaven.  That, some chocolate profiteroles, and a stroll by the river with the lit-up buildings in the background and it was a beautiful ending to the day.

The next day, we were taking a day trip to San Sebastian, Spain, so we got up super early and made a 6:45am train.  This was a much longer train ride, but it was early, so we just curled up and slept :)  We got to Hendaye, which is a small town on the French-Spanish border, around 10:30 and waited to take the Euskotren to San Sebastian.  This is a tiny commuter train that would take us the rest of the way, by the way.  Finally, we were in San Sebastian, and it was gorgeous!  It was the quintessential Spanish town, with tapas bars everywhere and the beautiful blue ocean just minutes away.  

We got tapas, which are like tiny plates or sandwiches, for lunch since by that point, we were starving.  Then, it was just us and Spain for the rest of the afternoon.  It was a quiet day, mostly, since we just took in the views, poked around shops, and then relaxed on the beach until our return train.  We soaked up plenty of sun and were so relaxed by the time we got on the train to head back to Bordeaux for the evening.  Definitely a perfect little taste of Spain for the day!

Inspired to be,

Katherine

Inspired by...Bayeux, Normandy!

I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was by this point in my journey — not only was I with my mother and therefore not completely responsible for myself, I was also staying in a hotel (can you say showers with no flip flops!), and I got to do laundry and have actual clean clothes!  On the day I met my mom (Thursday), we mostly spent the day finding a good laundromat near the hotel in Paris and getting settled in our room before having a nice dinner and catching up.

The next day, we left from St. Lazare station to take the train to Bayeux, Normandy.  I hadn’t realised this before the trip, but Normandy isn’t actually a town — it’s actually a region of France made up of smaller towns, hence the name of our location.  The ride wasn’t very long and was quite scenic, so it was a pleasant journey.  We arrived in Bayeux around 12:30 and walked to the tourist information office so we could find our hotel…which turned out to be a lot closer to the train station than we had thought.  It was such a gorgeous day, and we were dying to see the Normandy beaches, so once we were checked in, we decided to rent bikes (complete with baskets!) and ride to Omaha Beach!

 I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first because we only had a map and obviously spoke no French, so a lot of nightmare scenarios were running through my head… We set out and took on the French countryside!  What made it even more French is that I was in a dress (guess who didn’t bring any exercise-esque clothes) :)  The ride to the beach was amazing — the sun was shining, we biked through small country roads, and I had the urge to break out into Do, Re, Mi (because how could I not when wearing a green and white dress and riding through the countryside?).  After about an hour and a half of biking, we made it!  We had officially stormed the beaches!  We stood in the sand for a bit and took in the sea air and the history that could feel seeping in with every wave.  We had a long trek ahead of us, so we got back on our bikes (a little less enthusiastically this time) and began to head back.  By this point, we were quite tired so the ride back was much harder, but we stopped at a cafe we found and replenished with a sweet treat and some water. Let’s just say we were quite relieved when we finally got to the last downhill that would take us into the centre of town :)

That evening, we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant in the centre of town, and I actually forget what I had for an appetiser, and I know the entree was some kind of fish dish, but I do remember the chocolate mousse I had for dessert- YUM.

We slept in the next day, thoroughly exhausted from all of our travels over the past few days, and spent the day exploring Bayeux.  The weather wasn’t as nice that day, so we were glad that we had decided to bike the day before.  For lunch, we had incredible escargot and a cheese platter and it was the perfect way to top off a fun trip.  Our train left that evening, so we walked around some more, explored markets and little shops, and then made our way back to the train station to head back to Paris for the evening!

Inspired to be,

Katherine

Inspired by...Berlin!

At this point in my trip, I was on my way back to Paris to see my mom, but I had about a day extra and it’s an eleven hour train ride from Prague to Paris, which I really didn’t want to do, so I factored in an evening in Berlin to break up the trip.  We got in a bit later than we were supposed to, but I still had enough time to do a walking tour in the evening, which I enjoyed especially because I had been sitting on a train since 10:30 in the morning!

I loved Berlin!  It’s not as beautiful, so to speak, as the other cities I had been to, but it makes up for this by being historically rich, which was perfect for me.  What’s interesting about Berlin is how it’s embraced its rather unfortunate 20th century history.  They can’t escape from the horrors of the Nazis and communism, so they’ve turned the city into a living memorial for all of the victims of this period.  I saw the Reichstag first, which is the home to the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag ( I was having [nightmares] flashbacks of my European Politics class the whole time).  From the picture, you can almost see a glass cupola in the back, which is there to literally filter out stale air and bring in fresh air.  If you reserve a place ahead of time, you can even walk to the top which I think would be fun to do at night.  Right next to the Reichstag is a memorial to the politicians who opposed Hitler and it looks like a row of flat stones, but they also have the names of the 96 members of the Bundestag in the Weimar Republic who didn’t agree with Hitler and were murdered.  Definitely one of the more interesting monuments I had seen on this trip: simple, yet powerful.

 On that note, I then had perhaps my favourite experience in Berlin, which was walking through the Brandenberg Gate, which was a major part of the Berlin Wall.  I think I liked it so much because if this had been 30 years ago, I never would have been able to do this.  Communism isn't as far in our rearview mirror as we'd like to think.  In fact, my mom was even telling me about when she was studying abroad and travelling, Berlin was still divided.  I can't believe it's only a generation behind us!

 Also, the American embassy is just beyond the gate on Unter den Linden, so I had a glimpse of home, as well, though the security guards outside didn't look too pleased when I snapped a picture.... I walked away as quickly as I could. #expatproblems 

 Parts of the wall remain in Berlin, but for the places where it’s been taken away for practical reasons like traffic, they’ve put a double line of cobblestones on the street so you can see where the Wall once stood.

 Another surreal moment was on Bebelplatz near Humboldt University.  This is also the site of the former state library, and in the square, there’s a small framed pane of glass on the ground, where you can look through to see a room of empty bookshelves below you.  This is a memorial to the 1933 Nazi book burning and it’s eerie standing above it.

 Oh, and if you’re wondering what this little green man is, it’s Ampelmann.  In East Berlin, he was the symbol on the pedestrian lights, and it took a 10-year court battle to keep him on the traffic lights after the unification.  He’s so popular that there are stores with all kinds of Ampfelmann memorabilia.  I mean, can you blame everyone?  He's adorable!

Once I had finished my tour, I met my friend Michael and his friend for drinks since they were in the city the same time I was.  My train wasn’t supposed to leave until about midnight so I had time on my hands.  It was great to see him and catch up about our trips in a fun and very classy Van Gogh-themed bar on the river.  


Travelling got a little dicey at that point since the train was delayed by almost an hour, and I was only going to have a half hour layover in Cologne before my train to Paris.  We lost even more time overnight so we were running about an hour and a half behind schedule by the time we finally got in around 7:45.  Luckily, there was another direct train at 8:45 and after a mocha and freshening up, I was ready to head out again!  Oh, and in case you are curious about the post I put on Facebook about almost being robbed in Cologne, I also had a very fun run-in with a would-be thief who tried to take my purse (with my wallet, iPad, phone, passport, and tickets — can you say disaster??) while the train was still on the platform, but I recovered it almost immediately and spent the rest of the trip using it as a pillow out of sheer anxiety.  Let’s just say I was relieved when I finally got to Paris and the hotel where my mom was staying, at which point I was not completely on my own. :)

Stay tuned for more of the Katherinspired European Adventure, coming soon!

Inspired to be,

Katherine 

Inspired by...Prague

Before I get into Prague, let’s talk about the fun journey I had (yes, that was sarcasm).  I left Muenchen at 5:00 and was thrilled with my top deck, plush seat on the train…until I was told that there was construction on the tracks somewhere in Germany, so I would have to get off at the next stop and take a coach bus to the next stop after that where I would board my train to Prague.  That was quite the trek in itself, and then the train from that station was late.  I had a whole compartment to myself until about 9:30 when a nice French woman joined me.  Then, at the stop just before Prague’s main station, we just stopped.  I waited…and waited…and waited…until I was told that the train was having problems so I would have to take the metro into the city centre.  We were already delayed so at that point, it was about 11:30 pm and I was exhausted.  I figured out the metro and finally arrived in the city centre and tried to find my hostel using my map but everything looks different in the dark…and none of the Polizei speak English.  Finally, though, I arrived at Hostel MOJO (love the name!) and got checked in and ready for bed.

I didn’t have Rick Steves’ book for Prague so I was on my own for a walking tour, but I think I did a pretty good job on my own.  I started the day in Wenceslas Square and then the Old Town Square where they have a famous astronomical clock.  I knew I was in the right place because wow was it crowded with tourists!  My mom had been to Prague a few years ago and she loved the clock…even with its rather dark backstory.  The city officials commissioned the clock I think around the 13th century, but because they were so proud of their clock, they blinded the artist who created the clock so he couldn’t make one for someone else.  Charming, right?  Despite that, the clock is beautiful and is fun to watch when it chimes.  At the top of the hour, the 12 apostles parade past the window, while below, the four anxieties of 13th century Prague are animated (Vanity, Greed, Death, and Pagan Invasion) and then the hour is rung after a rooster crows.

 I was in quite a good mood after that, and then I headed to the Charles Bridge which was incredible!  Check (Czech!) out the views from bridge:

Once I was on the other side, I got a coffee and took advantage of some free wifi before I continued on my tour of the city.  From there, I headed to the John Lennon Wall which I had been wanting to see for quite a while.  After Lennon died, fans and students began spray-painting this smallish wall near a church tucked away from the centre.  They included Beatles’ lyrics, political slogans, and a picture of the legend himself, and it’s a rite of passage to see it when you visit Prague:

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After I saw the wall, I went to Petrin Hill which is a park that, at the top, overlooks the city and the Prague Castle.  I first headed to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism which I thought was really well-done.  The memorial looks like a man deteriorating as you move along it, which is supposed to show the effects of communism.  Very powerful, right?

 Then I began a very long trek up the hill so I could see the view from the top.  It was a fun walk since the paths are all windy and lead into each other and it was a beautiful day, so I didn’t mind the huge uphill.  Check out the view!

I spent quite a bit of time in Petrin Hill, but after I left, I went back across the river (different bridge, this time) to the old Jewish Quarter where I saw a synagogue and a memorial to Franz Kafka.  There was a bakeshop that I had heard great things about, so I refreshed with a cup of tea and a piece of white chocolate raspberry cake before I  continued on my way.  I had also heard about an “expat” English-language bookshop somewhat on my way back to the hostel, and I was dying for some English, so I headed there and had some quiet time with books.  I was exhausted by that point, so I went back to the hostel and relaxed for the rest of the evening!

Inspired to be,

Katherine 

Inspired by...Munich! (Muenchen)

My train to Munich left at 8 am so it wasn’t as early of a wakeup as a few days before.  It was also a much shorter trip.  By the way, Munich is called “Muenchen” in German which is just so much more fun to say :)

I was meeting my friend from high school (the one studying in Florence) for this part of the trip and it was nice to have a familiar face after solo travelling for the past few days.  We were starving but nothing was quite open for lunch yet so we took a walk along the river a little ways north of the city centre.  We came back and had lunch at a lovely healthy cafe near the city centre and started a walking tour of the city from my book.  Like my first day in Salzburg, it rained and poured during the tour, but we didn’t mind too much.  What’s interesting about Munich is that it was completely devastated by the bombing campaigns during the war, but they chose to rebuild exactly the way it was, unlike Berlin which started from scratch and modernised.  My favourite was easily the New Town Hall in Marienplatz which also has a famous glockenspiel.  This one has more movement than the one in Salzburg since it reenacts a wedding scene between a duke and duchess from the 16th century, so it’s fun to watch.  From there, we moved on to St. Peter’s church and climbed 306 steps up to the top which was completely worth the hamstring workout because check out these views!

After climbing up all those steps, we went to the Viktualienmarket where we got a German specialty: giant pretzels!  Nothing makes you feel German like a giant soft pretzel, right? :)  The rest of the walking tour was mostly churches and a huge synagogue, which were gorgeous, and a very strange monument to Michael Jackson.  When Michael Jackson would visit Munich, he would stay at Hotel Bayerischer Hof, and after he died in 2009, some of his fanatics started putting pictures of him and candles below a statue of the composer Orlando di Lasso.  They still maintain it, actually, but Hannah and I thought it was a little weird...

We finished off the day by going to the Hofbrauhaus which is one of the most famous beer halls in Germany.  It seats about 5,000 people and you have to seat yourself, so on a Saturday night before Easter, this was a little tricky.  We eventually found seats and ordered a German classic: Hofbrau beer served a litre-size mug.  WOW, right?  Hannah somehow managed to finish hers and another pretzel, but I couldn’t quite finish my mug — I was already feeling lightheaded haha.  

The next day, we took a day trip out to Bavaria so we could see Neuschwanstein Castle!  This is the castle that inspired the Disney one, as well as the castle from the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie (we were both in the musical our junior year so it was a must).  It was a long trip — about 2.5 hours by train — but it was absolutely breathtaking and it was snowing!  Once we got to the site of the castle, we had to walk uphill through the snowy woods for a bit, but it felt quite festive.  We didn’t go inside because we had seen quite a few castles and didn’t feel like paying 12 euro to get in, but we had just as much fun taking pictures on the outside.  We finished off the day with apple strudel and coffee at a nice cafe near the train.

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Hannah left the following morning, so I took a shorter day trip out to see the Dachau concentration camp.  It was a short ride on the S-Bahn and then a 15 minute bus ride.  I didn’t take any pictures since I just couldn’t a) out of respect and b) a picture wouldn’t capture it anyway.  Not only can you walk around the grounds of the camp, but there’s also a very powerful museum that talks about the history of the Third Reich and the people held in the camps.  Dachau was one of the first camps of the Nazi regime and this is what makes it interesting because it served as a model for all of the other camps.  It was mostly a camp for political prisoners, Gypsies/Roma, communists, and a small number of Jews, which I hadn’t known.  There’s memorials from the Jewish, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox faith traditions on the grounds, as well, and it was both peaceful and eerie.  Pretty heavy stuff for my last day, but I’m glad I went.

It was Easter Monday which is actually a big day and not just a Catholic school thing like I had thought, so almost nothing in Munich was open.  I walked around some more and saw the churches again before I headed back to the hostel to get ready to leave.  I had an evening train to Prague and I wanted to be ready!

Inspired to be,

Katherine 

Inspired by...Salzburg!

The next day, I got up around 5:15 so I could get to the train station for my 6:40 train to Salzburg.  It was a long ride — about 5 hours — but it was easily the most gorgeous part of my trip because the whole ride took me through the Alps and there is nothing like sitting in a very comfortable train seat and going through snowy towns and by rivers and woods and such.  It was quite relaxing!

I got to Salzburg around 12:30 and headed to my hostel which wasn’t far away at all.  I think this was my favourite hostel (trying to remember all of them!) because it was pretty cheap, very clean, and it played The Sound of Music every evening at 8:00 in the lounge.  Also, it was located right near the Mirabell Gardens which is where a bit from the song Do, Re, Mi was filmed :)  After I checked in and got settled, I headed out on a walking tour of the city.  I had a fantastic tour book for this city, and the self-guided walking tour took me around all of the major sites.  The catch?  It was pouring rain most of the time…  Oh well, I had an umbrella and a rain jacket so I survived!  My book got a little wrinkled, but I think it makes it look well-travelled.  

I saw the statue of Mozart in the, wait for it, Mozartplatz, that was put there on the 50th anniversary of his death.  Salzburg, and most of Austria in general, makes a big deal out of the fact that Mozart was born there so his face is on everything!  Sometimes it’s a bit tacky, but sometimes it works.  Another one of my favourites was the Neue Residenz and the Glockenspiel, which has been around since about the 17th century and chimes in the morning and evening.  It doesn’t sound like church bells, but more like handbells and the sound is really charming.  I also climbed up the face of the Monchsburg cliff face near the festival hall to get some beautiful (albeit cloudy) views of the city — I got better ones the next day when it was sunny.  My tour book had also recommended a little bakery near St. Peter’s cemetery that is famous for its rolls which it sells for only a Euro, so after walking around in the rain for the longest time trying to find it, I stumbled upon it and was very grateful for the warmth!  It’s the oldest bakery in Salzburg and I think it’s been around since the 13th century or so.  Let’s just say it was so worth getting soaked because it was the best brioche I have had in my entire life— so light and warm and sweet, and there were a few raisins in it — I was in heaven!  I finished my walking tour and headed back to get into dry clothes for The Sound of Music!

The next day was my full day in Salzburg so I had breakfast in the hostel and set out for the city centre again.  I visited a few of my favourites from the previous day and then began a long uphill trek to the Hohensalzburg Fortress which had been highly recommended.  This has been around since the 700s and I got to see an exhibit where they have models detailing how it has grown since then.  It hasn’t been used as an actual fortress in quite some time (since 1860), but Napoleon used it as a military barracks when he was off being Napoleon.  I also got to see the fortress interior which hasn’t been modernised or lived in since the 1500s and at the end of the tour, they took us up top where I saw the Alps in their full beauty and it’s something I will never forget.    

After I had seen as much as I could of the fortress, I took a funicular down to the old city and then crossed over the newer part of the city.  I walked along the Steingasse which is full of history: I saw the alleged birthplace of the composer who wrote Silent Night (Joseph Mohr), and then a wall that had been gouged out a bit at the end of WWII because an American GI tried to get his tank up the street to visit a brothel.  Good job, guys.  

That was it for my day in Salzburg and it was quite a full day, so I was happy to relax with The Sound of Music that night…yes, again :)

5 points to Gryffindor if anyone can guess in what song (from the movie) this fountain is shown!

5 points to Gryffindor if anyone can guess in what song (from the movie) this fountain is shown!

Inspired to be,

Katherine 

Inspired by...Travel Day and Zurich

So, DAY ONE!  On Monday night (the 30th), I realised that, oh my god, I was leaving for Europe the next day and I started to freak out just a bit…okay, a lot.  What had I done???  I had no choice at this point, as I had booked my hostels, my EuRail pass, and all of my train reservations, but still, it was a lot to take in.  Also, there was the whole stress of packing since yours truly in a stroke of genius decided to wait until about 9:00 that night when I had to be up at 2:30 in the morning.  BIG mistake, since I had less room than I thought I had.  Anyway, I slept a little that night but I kept thinking about getting myself to the train station and not forgetting anything major, like my passport for example.  Finally, it was 2:30am and I was dragging myself out of bed, having finally fallen asleep.  I was out the door by 3:15 and on my way to Tottenham Court Road where I would take a night bus a few stops to King’s Cross/St. Pancras International.  This was one of those moments that the Tube not running 24 hours really wasn’t fun.  I eventually made it to King’s Cross, checked in for my Eurostar train, and then waited….and waited…and waited, until it was time to board!  This was it!  I got comfortable in my seat and settled in for a 2.5 hour train ride — I was prepared with a long episode of Sherlock and my relaxing playlist so I could get some sleep.

I arrived in Paris around 8:30 am local time (Paris is one hour ahead of Greenwich time) and had about a three hour layover with no wifi, so I needed to find some way to entertain myself.  It was a gorgeous day so I took a walk and got a crepe since I only get them in Paris and it had been so long.  I was in a much better mood after that :)  Then I had a quick train Lille Europe, which I think is north of Paris, but I didn’t really pay much attention.  After another hour layover, I was on the train to Marne La Vallee Chessy, which is definitely in France, and I think it was farther south.  The layovers were getting shorter at this point, but my train to Strasbourg was delayed so I killed a little time in the station and we were finally on our way!  Luckily, we made up a lot of time on the way to Basel (on the France/Germany/Switzerland border) since this was going to be my tightest connection yet, and I had just enough time to run through the station and make my train to Zurich!  I got in at 9:00pm having travelled for just about 18 hours and I was exhausted and in desperate need of a hot shower and my bed.  My hostel was close to the train station which was lovely…but reception was on the third floor with no elevators, so you can imagine the look on my face when I got in the door. Finally, after checking in, a blissful hot shower, and sheets on my bed, I collapsed!


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And now onto Zurich!  It’s an absolutely gorgeous little city in the German side of Switzerland with a river running through it, and incredible views of the Alps just beyond the river.  Here’s the flip side, though: it’s expensive.  I found out when I went to Starbucks to get a bottle of water and a snack bar and it cost me 8 Swiss francs which is the equivalent of 7 USD.  Good thing I was only there for a day!  I mostly walked around on my day in Zurich since, while it’s a beautiful, quaint city, there’s not a whole lot to do besides poke around in churches and see the river.  I did find a market in the train station and got to sample some cheeses and pastries which was quite enjoyable, and I hiked up this huge hill to get a nice panoramic view of the city and listen to the church bells chime.  I also found a fun music store on the main street near my hostel where they let you open any CD you want (well, they open it for you) and you can listen to it with amazing Bose headphones for as long as you want!  I listened to German music for a bit, and then found a Broadway classics CD that I liked a little more :)  

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, LSE finally released the exam schedule (it got delayed because of a software issue or something so I was searching for wifi all day so I could figure out when my exams are), and I’m coming home on June 4th!  I’ll be home in time for David’s graduation which I thought was a long shot, but it worked out and I am so relieved!

After a long walk by the river and a few more pictures, I called it a day and headed back to the hostel.  The next day was going to be an early wakeup, so I needed to get some sleep!

Inspired to be,

Katherine 

Inspired by...My European Adventure: The Beginning

I’m back!!!  I returned on Thursday from 17 days of travelling around Europe and I can’t wait to share it with you!  Before I go into all of the lovely pastry/Alps/castle/ beach-infused details, let’s talk logistics:

 

Who: Yours truly, the brains behind Katherinspired, the 20-something living in London for the year with a long break in between spring and summer terms who had (and still has) incredibly itchy feet.

What: Seeing the farther-away places I didn’t go last term, because how can you not when you have the perfect break in between terms?

When: March 31st - April 16th

Where: Zurich, Switzerland; Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Berlin, Germany; Paris, Bayeux, and Bordeaux, France; San Sebastian, Spain.  WOW.

Why: Why not?  Seriously, though, I did this trip so I could get out and explore, so I could marvel at something (Eat, Pray, Love, anyone?), so I could have an adventure beyond the adventure that this year has already been.

How:

     Travel: I had a few different options for how I wanted to travel around Europe, but I eventually chose a EuRail pass.  I love trains and the scenic views they provide, so I thought it would be a fun way to enjoy the journey.  EuRail has several options, including a one, two, or three-country pass, a flex-pass that allows you a certain number of “travel days” within a set period, or a global pass which gives you unlimited travel within a certain amount of days.  I opted for the global pass options because I didn’t want to be limited in case of train delays or anything, and because I would be travelling through so many countries.  I do think it would have been cheaper to fly (…Ryanair), but then you miss the scenery and “on the ground” interaction, I think, so it was worth it.  What I didn’t realise before purchasing the pass is that certain trains (especially ones in France and Switzerland) require you to make reservations in addition to having a pass, which also cost more money.  That was a bit frustrating, but even with the additional cost of the reservations, the pass pretty much paid for itself if you factor in the cost of all of the train tickets.  I was pretty intimidated by the idea of planning this huge trip itself, so I procrastinated a bit, but I eventually sat down one day and just began booking my trains and the dates I would be in each place, and it fell into place like a puzzle.  Best feeling ever.


     Accommodations: I was especially worried about hostels because I had never stayed in one by myself before.  Obviously, the concern here is security both for myself and my stuff, so I thought I would have to book single rooms in all of my hostels…which is really expensive.  Luckily, I found HostelWorld which is a website that lets you search for hostels using specific filters.  So, when I was looking for hostels in Zurich for the nights of March 31st and April 1st, I used filters like “luggage storage” and “hairdryers available” (trust me, it was a concern).  The website was fantastic — I was very satisfied with all of my hostels.  They were fairly inexpensive (with the exception of Zurich, but nothing in Switzerland is cheap, anyway), clean, and all were centrally located.  Also, I wasn’t expecting this, but all of them had free wifi!  If you’re going to be travelling, definitely use HostelWorld so you can get the hostel you want and need.

Touring: When you’re planning a trip like this, you want to make the best use of your time.  I was going to have between a day and a day in a half in each city, so I wanted to see all of the major sites and get as much of a feel for the city as I could.  Luckily, I live right near one of the best travel bookstores I’ve ever encountered: Stanford’s.  This place is a goldmine.  They have maps (both vintage and modern), tour books, novels about travelling, and basically everything this wanderlust-filled traveller could ever dream of.  Once I had booked all of my trains and accommodations, I popped on over to Stanford’s to get tour books on all of the cities I was going to.  Hands-down my absolute favourite were the books by Rick Steves.  This man is a genius when it comes to travelling around Europe, I promise.  He has a show on PBS, as well as an app, but I relied on his tour books because they helped me make the most out of each day.  What I love about his books is that they teach you the smart way to travel.  He has a walking tour of the city in each book with an easy-to-follow map that takes you around the major sites, while also making it logical.  Additionally, he divulges the tricks of the trade that he’s learned throughout his extensive years of traveling.  For instance, when I was in Salzburg, he had rated visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress an absolute must, but what he also did was talk about how to visit the fortress — when I first got there, he said rather than turning right at the entrance to a certain site, turn left for fewer crowds, and things like that.  Some of my best memories from the solo bit of the trip were my walking tours so I highly recommend him!

Packing: I know some people are able to “backpack” around Europe with literally nothing but a backpack, but I am not that kind of person.  Seriously, though, how do people do that???  17 days of the same clothes from my suitcase were enough to push me over the edge so I can’t imagine.  Anyway, I digress.  I took my carry-on-sized suitcase, and a good sturdy shoulder bag and that was it.  I packed basics that I knew I would be able to mix and match since I had very little room (light sweaters, layering pieces, leggings, a good skirt, my tall boots, and a pair of sneakers, etc.) and I organised them in big ziploc bags.  This is especially useful for saving space since you can squeeze the air out of the bags, and is good to keep things clean because god forbid your shampoo spills or something.  I packed all of my toiletries, stress remedies, first aid stuff in plastic pouches (these are my favourites), and then squeezed whatever else I thought of at the last minute somewhere else in there.  My advice?  Don’t leave packing for a few hours before you have to go to bed before you have to get up at 2:30 am.  Trust me, don’t do this.  You always have less space than you think you do and you want to walk out the door feeling like you have your life together, at least partly :)

Well, that’s it for the logistics of my trip!  Stay tuned for details of my travelling day and my day in Zurich, coming soon to KatherInspired!


Inspired to be,


Katherine  

Inspired by...Ireland!

Last week, I got to reconnect with my roots with a visit to Ireland!  Before I begin, I’d just like to point out that this trip was monumental in a few ways.  First, it was the first time I booked a plane ticket all on my own (snaps for me!).  Second, it was the first time I flew Ryanair which I believe is a rite of passage for study abroad students.  And third, I got to meet my family!

I left bright and early on Saturday morning to catch the first Tube to Liverpool Street, where I took the Stansted Express to the airport.  The flight was quick and easy and I have to say, Ryanair is not that bad at all.  Once I landed at Shannon, I was greeted with lots of hugs and welcomes from my family and we set off for the day’s adventures!

 

We stopped first at Dromoland Castle for (completely necessary) tea and scones since I was famished after the journey!  Dromoland Castle is a very high-end golf course and hotel where people have their weddings and other fancy events, so having tea in the garden made me feel oh-so chic :)

From there, we went to the Cliffs of Moher, which are on the western coast of Ireland near a little town called Doolin.  The weather was absolutely pristine that day, which was great because we went on a ferry ride to see the cliffs right from the water (the best way to see them, I think!).  The sea air felt lovely and the scenery was breathtaking.  (Fun fact: a scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was shot near the cliffs — can you guess which one?)  After stopping for lunch at a pub in Doolin (and watching Ireland destroy Scotland in the rugby match that day!), we began our drive along the Clare Coast and Burren National Park.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves...

Needless to say, I was exhausted when we finally got home, so I slept very well that night.

 

On Sunday, my family took me to the historic town and castle at Bunratty, which was about 15 minutes from where I was staying.  I’ve always loved historic towns — something about getting to poke around in all of the buildings and walk along the paths lets me get a real feeling for the town and its history — so we had great craic that day!  I also tried a Bailey’s coffee, which is coffee with Bailey’s Irish cream, topped with whipped cream, and it was love at first sip.  This certainly warranted a slainte! (Cheers!)  That night was Sunday dinner with almost all of my cousins and after a whole term of cooking for myself, I really appreciated the home cooking :)

Monday was quite an adventure: Eyeries to see my great-grandmother’s house!  It was about a three hour drive down to Eyeries, which is a little town on one of the “fingers” of Ireland.  Words cannot do the scenery justice, trust me.  There was something so pure about the rolling hills and the cliffs,  the tiny winding roads, and the sparkling coast and I was absolutely mesmerised the entire time.  I felt completely at ease because it was so quiet and undisturbed and the colors were so vibrant.  The scenery alone would have been lovely, but nothing could prepare me for what came next.  I got to see the very house where my great-grandmother grew up and from which she left 88 years ago at the age of 17 to come to America.  Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt the moment I laid eyes on the little house.  Can you imagine, for a second, being 17 years old, having grown up in a remote town in the mountains of Ireland, and walking out the front door knowing that you will never see your family or your home again?  I thought I was making a big leap when I came to London, but I have Skype, an iPhone, and a plane ticket home, so this doesn’t even compare.  

 

Tuesday was my last day, but it was a full one!  I sent off a bunch of postcards to family in the states, and we took a beautiful drive through the centre of Limerick.  We stopped for lunch at the University of Limerick where my uncle studied when he was about my age.  It’s a lovely campus and the music building had a beautiful mural that I simply had to capture!  We then drove to Annacotty and saw even more gorgeous scenery — I couldn’t get enough!  

After a final meal with my cousins, it was time to head to the airport, but I had had such a great time that I wasn’t even that sad to leave.  It sounds odd, but I got to do so much in a few short days, and I felt so lucky that I got to spend time with my family (who spoiled me shamelessly, by the way!), that I was in a great mood on the flight home.  Also, I’m already looking at flights to return — that’s how in love I am with Ireland!

 

Inspired to be,

 

Katherine

Adventure in Amsterdam!

The meeting time for Friday was 7:00 am at Waterloo stations I got up bright and early to head out!  We got our coach assignments and then headed out to Dover which took about 2.5 hours or so.  Here's where the trip gets interesting.  We were going to be taking a ferry from Dover to Calais (France) to drive to Amsterdam which sounds like a great plan…until the French workers at Calais decided to be French and go on strike.  Our ferry was delayed leaving by about two hours….and then an hour and a half ferry ride took ….wait for it….5 HOURS.  We literally sat in the water for 4 hours while we waited for the ferries in front of us to dock.  At least the view was nice (I saw the gorgeous white cliffs of Dover!) and the company as well.  When we finally docked, we boarded the coach with an immense sigh of relief and began the rive to Amsterdam.  I got quite a bit of reading done in my book on a murder mystery in the 15th century Ottoman Empire and it was actually quite peaceful.  We finally finally finally arrived in Amsterdam around 9:30 and we checked into our hotel in southern Amsterdam.  The hotel was the best one I've stayed in yet so that was lovely.  We dropped our bags and freshened up before we went on a short walking tour of the central city.  Amsterdam is quite unlike any other city I've visited: definitely a city, but quieter and lots of canals haha.  We were starving and luckily everything is open super late on the weekends so some new friends and I had a quick dinner at an Argentinian restaurant near the centre of the city before we did a bit of exploring.  I also had the immense pleasure of trying a chocolate covered Belgian waffle from a stand on the street and words cannot describe what this waffle was like.  Smothered in chocolate, light, fluffy, and warm, and simply to die for.  

 

 

On Saturday, we had an early breakfast and were then taken on a little morning excursion to the seaside villages of Edam and Volendam.  Volendam is right on the water is full of little shops selling cheeses and souvenirs and fries and waffles of course, and it was so nice to get some fresh air and explore!  Edam is about a half hour away from Volendam and is even tinier!  I spent quite a bit of time in a little cheese shops because they had a ton of samples, including a truffled goat cheese which was incredible.  We strolled along the river a bit and sampled some more cheese before it was time to head back to Amsterdam.  When we got back, we headed straight for the Anne Frank house because that was at the top of my list.  The line wasn't too long at all and they had free wifi so we were very quiet while we waited.  You aren't allowed to take pictures inside, which I actually appreciated since I think it would feel disrespectful.  The experience was absolutely surreal.  I had read Anne Frank's diary when I was a bit younger and had read a lot about her but it's nothing like walking through the secret annexe and reading quotes on the walls and climbing up the staircases.  The rooms were so tiny and dark and you have to remind yourself constantly that eight people lived here for two and a half years, all together and terrified.  I was silent the whole time because I was speechless at what I was seeing.  They've done an excellent job with the museum because they've preserved her legacy so beautifully with quotes and pictures and I got to see the original diary which was amazing.  The whole walk through took a while so unfortunately, most of the other museums were closed by that point, but I think that was quite enough to process for one day.  We got dinner after the house and poked around in the Cheese Museum (sooo many samples!) and the Tulip Museum gift shop before we were in need of something sweet!  We stopped at a crepes and waffles place in the city and then my personal request: the best place to get Dutch apple pie in Amsterdam.  It was right on Prinsengracht and was a little cafe that had gotten 5 stars all around.  It was for a very good reason since this New Englander had the best apple pie of her entire life.  It was a cross between a pie and a cake and had whipped cream on top and was absolutely divine!

 

 

 

We had an early wakeup on Sunday so we could check out of the hotel and head to Bruges, Belgium!  It's like a little storybook city that never left the 1600s and was so fun!  We had two hours in the city so we did everything we possibly could.  We started by getting, of course, waffles at a tea room which were excellent!  I got mine with butter and powdered sugar to change things up a bit.  We then spent the rest of the time poking around little shops and tasting chocolate and stroop waffles (waffle cookies with syrup or caramel in the middle!) and fries, of course!  Belgian-cut fries are thick and they serve them with a tiny fork because they can get quite messy!  Our time was over too quickly, unfortunately, but I can't wait to come back.  From there, it was a quick journey to Calais where the French were, surprisingly, not on strike this time!  I added another stamp to my passport and the ferry ride was quick and painless.  What a relief!  

 

Inspired to be,

Katherine :)

La Vie Parisienne

I finally got to return to Paris last weekend and wow was it a beautiful trip!

Friday was quite the early start, as I had to be at King's Cross by 7:15 in the morning, but I didn't mind an early wakeup at all.  Almost immediately when I got to King's Cross and was looking for the group, I met two girls, Marie and Sarah, who looked like they were "in the same boat" and we became instant friends!   They're studying at Kingston University which is in the suburbs so they had had a much much longer journey than me.  We met our guide who gave us our tickets and showed us through security, and then it was onto the Eurostar!  I finally got to travel the Chunnel Tunnel underneath the ocean and, though it made my ears pop, it was still exciting :)  We arrived in Paris around noon local time and headed to our coach which was waiting for us.  From there, we were taken on a panoramic tour of the city!  We went around the Arc de Triomphe, the Royal Opera, Musee d'Orsay, Grand Palais and of course, the Eiffel Tower!

We checked into our hotel, dropped our bags, and then it was time to get on the Metro to head to the Louvre!  Paris is a great city for students since any EU student with an ID can get into most museums for free!  We were set loose in the Louvre for the night and free to do whatever we wished after that, so Marie and Sarah and I saw all the major pieces we had wanted to see and did some exploring of the Greek and Roman statues, as well:

IMG_2877.jpg


We were starving after that, so we found a nice brasserie near the museum and had soup and fries ("frites") and rested our feet.  I had been dying for a crepe, so we stopped outside and I was reunited with my true love of banana and nutella in a crepe and was in pure bliss.  We ate our crepes outside the Louvre and saw the most beautiful sights of Paris and the Eiffel Tower and it was perfect way to end the night.



On Saturday we had breakfast in the hotel and then headed into the Latin Quarter for a tour of Notre Dame and the surrounding area.  Notre Dame is so beyond words and is incredible.  The stained glass and reliefs and art in it are breathtaking and I lit a few candles when I was inside as well. 



 From there, we strolled through a few streets and parks in the Latin Quarter and I saw one of the oldest trees in Paris which was planted in 1622!  It's still living and is older than the US so that was quite the experience.  We then went on a boat cruise on the Seine so we could get a glimpse of the whole city and relax on the water and it was gorgeous!  The weather was pristine all weekend - it felt like true fall there and was nice and warm which was definitely a change from London!  After our boat tour, we had the rest of the days to ourselves, so Marie and Sarah and I went to the Cathedral of Saint Chappelle which is right near Notre Dame.  It has the most extensive collection of stained glass in the world and I was speechless as I was looking up around me.  I think the entire biblical story is printed in the windows which, after reading about how stained glass is made, is quite impressive!  From there, I had wanted to go to Shakespeare and Co. so we strolled along the river a bit until we were there.  The Latin Quarter is the old artist's and writer's district so writers like Hemngway and Gertrude Stein used to go to this bookstore.  It's tiny and books are stacked in every corner and crack and is the bookstore of my dreams :)

We then took the Metro down to the Eiffel Tower and had fun taking artsy pictures and gazing up at the tower.  When I went in June, the workers had gone on strike (in a typical French fashion!) that morning so it had been closed, but now my chance had finally come to go up to the top! We had dinner first (escargot for me and Marie and French onion soup for Sarah) and then mentally prepared ourselves to wait in line.  The line wasn't that bad at all and before we knew it, we were climbing the stairs to the second floor, where we boarded an elevator to the top.  Oh…my…god…so…many….stairs!!!  Seeing the entire city laid out in front of us and feeling the breeze and and hearing everything going on below made it so worth it and I will never forget it.  At the top of every hour, at night, the tower sparkles with hundreds of lights in addition to its usual lighting and it was absolutely magical.  

I was really excited… :)

I was really excited… :)




Needless to say, we were exhausted when we finally came back down, took the Metro back to the hotel, and walked into the lobby.  I laid on my bed for a solid hour before I was able to move but it was a perfect day.


Sunday was what I called my "Parisian Day" since we had the whole morning to ourselves and I had wanted a bit of quiet time.  I got up a little early, checked in my bags and had breakfast, and took the Metro back to Notre Dame.  I was early for mass so I had one of the best cappuccinos of my life in this cafe called "Le Quasimodo" (which you have to say in a classic French accent to get the entire effect haha)


  I sat and read my book for a little while before I headed to mass.  I didn't understand a word of what was being said but it was still lovely to sit and listen and take in the atmosphere.  From there, I strolled around a bit before I found the perfect place in the Latin Quarter to try moules et frites which had been on my list.  I got to sit outside and people-watch a bit and the owner liked my smile and that I was America, so he gave me a glass of Rose which paired beautifully with the garlic white wine sauce:


I had time for one last poke in Shakespeare and Co. before I had to head to the Metro to meet my group in Montmartre for another walking tour.  This is another artists' district and is where the Moulin Rouge was born so it's a fun place now.  It's the hilliest part of Paris so it was a bit like I imagine San Francisco is: up one hill and down another!  It's beautiful with cobblestone streets and little cafes and patisseries and is so charming.  We finally got the the highest point in Paris, the Sacre Coeur, and it was there that I could turn around and see Paris spread out in front of me:

 

 

I was utter awe at how beautiful it was.  We had some more free time so Marie and Sarah and I walked around a bit more and checked out artists paining and had one final crepe before it was time to head back to the hotel, check out, and make our way back to the train station to return to London.  I seriously considered just staying in Paris because I couldn't bear to leave!  I'm definitely coming back next term, though, because Paris really is one of my favourite cities :)

 

Inspired to be,

 

Katherine 

Adventure in the Highlands!

Last weekend was my adventure in the highlands, a.k.a. SCOTLAND!!!  I couldn't wait to take a little break from the city and travel so I was really looking forward to this weekend.

On Friday, I had to be at King's Cross by 8:45 so I took the Central Line to Oxford Circus but I went the wrong way at first and had to turn around and take the opposite direction and then switch to the Victoria line for a few stops before I was at King's Cross.  We met up with a rep from the tour company who gave us our tickets and it was basically like attack of the Americans on this one coach of the train which was funny.  After a long five hours on the train, we were finally there!   We were met by another tour guide who had the most lovely brogue ever!  I could never get tired of a brogue haha.  We split off between the LSE students and non LSE for the purpose of transportation back to london on Sunday and then we took a quick walk to our hostel which was really really nice!  Come to find out, Anna and I are roomies for the weekend so I was very excited.  I gave her the bottom bunk which is a double because I have a thing about having people above me and I don't mind a bunk bed for a night haha.  We had time to quickly freshen up before we headed out again.   We headed up a million stairs and a big hill to one of the best sights in Edinburgh which is on top of Carlton Hill and oh my god it is incredible!  Hills all around you and the city all spread out and I was in awe the whole time!  We had time to take pictures for a bit so Anna and Amanda and I climbed on top of the half finished war memorial and took fun pictures and almost froze to death because wow was it windy up there!  Then it was off to the Royal Mile which is this long beautiful street between the castle and palace and is full of kilt shops, pubs, gift shops,etc.   We finished right outside the castle of Edinburgh and Anna and Amanda and I decided to spend our free time poking into shops with another girl. But first, our tour guide took us to the very cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter!  Total fangirl moment.  We also went to Blackfriars Cemetery where she got inspiration for some of the characters which I didn't know.    We poked around shops for a while so Anna could finish her Christmas shopping and then finally got dinner at this nice pub where I tried...:haggis!  Anna got a main serving and I got a starter vegetarian version that was layered with potatoes and mashed turnips and a whiskey sauce which was amazing!  I tried the real stuff and it was definitely an experience I needed to have.   After dessert at another pub we were wiped so we made our way back to the hostel and collapsed!  

Saturday began bright and early with a trip through the Highlands.  It was about an hour until we got to Stirling Castle which was where the Stuart Royal Family lived for centuries and is gorgeous!  There is the most breathtaking view of the hills all around it and I couldn't get over how beautiful it was!  We poked around a bit more, taking in the scenery, before we were off again.  I think I could have gazed out the window for hours at the Highland scenery!  We made a quick stop at these giant rocks across the river called the Three Sisters because legend has it that these three sisters fell in love with these men who we're going off to war and vowed to change into rocks until they came back...which they didn't.  The wind was whipping around us, hence what I call my "munchkin picture" lol.  Absolutely gorgeous, though!  We drove through the highlands some more with our tour guide giving us a great recount of Scottish history before we got to this clans men's center which was so interesting.  They gave us a demonstration of how to fold a kilt and what life was like back in the 4th century and all I can say is that I like modern life.... Then we got to Loch Ness which is one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen!  It was so quiet and eerie in the rain and mist and quite peaceful.  After we got to the hostel, the whole lot of us headed into Inverness where there were a bunch of restaurants and pubs.  After a nice relaxing dinner at a restaurant, the girls and I went to a pub called, I kid you not, Hootenanny's!  They were playing live Scottish music (bagpipes and violins and everything) so it was so fun to listen to it and dance and hang out with everyone.

Sunday was another day of exploring the Highlands as we made our way back to Edinburgh for our train.  We started the day at Culloden Battlefield which is where the Jacobites and the government forces fought in 1746 for control of the government.  Basically, it was a highland clan against well-trained soldiers, but don't discount the clan just yet because we learned some very interesting and quite terrifying battle techniques that the clansmen had the previous day.  They were outnumbered so the Jacobites lost, however.  The battlefield was huge and has monuments dedicated to all of the clans who lost members in the battle so it was eerie and beautiful at the same time.  After that, we made a detour to a 4,000 year old burial ground!  It reminded me of Stonehenge because it was mounds of rocks piled up and creating tunnels and caves and no one really knows exactly what they were used for but it was definitely interesting to check out.  From there, we headed into a tiny little town with some cute shops and restaurants, and my friends and I discovered a great Indian restaurant with a Sunday prix-fixe!  Indian food is one of my favorites so I was quite happy after that :)  We stopped at a place called the Hermitage which is like a sort of nature preserve with hiking trails and paths and an enormous waterfall in the river. It had been raining so much lately that the water was hurtling down the falls so we couldn't see any salmon or other fish jumping but it was quite peaceful and nice to get up and stretch.  That was our last stop before we got back to Edinburgh's Waverly station for our train back to London, but it was a great way to end the day.  Picture 50 American study abroad students on a train for five hours and you'll get a general idea of what the train ride back was like.  It was fun to just be silly and relax before it was back to reality, though!