Split, Croatia

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Following on from our stay in Dubrovnik we went onto Split. The drive from Dubrovnik to spit took about 4 hours and that’s with stop offs for snacks and pictures. The roads are mostly new and large so the drive was quite comfortable. One thing to be aware of is that Croatia is actually divided and if you wish to drive from Dubrovnik to Split or anywhere north you will have to drive through Bosnia and Herzegovina. The passport control is very quick, no need to get out of the car and you are in and out within 5mins. When we rented the car we were told to pay an extra 60eu for the passage through Bosnia, which was a completely lie since no paperwork was requested other than our passports.

Split itself is coastal surrounded by mountains. The city centre is a palace completely walled in without any roofs. The city is known for its promenade and its beaches. We had only stayed in Split for one night but did spend an extra day before heading back to Dubrovnik at the end of our holiday.

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The palace makes up most of the old town of Split. Inside you will find a number of different museums, roman structures and plenty of shops and café’s. You can also explore the underground basement levels of the palace as a paid tour. The palace and its basement is well known for being the filming location of game of thrones and many of the market stalls contain souvenirs related to the show. The palace grounds are full of small streets and amazing architecture such as towers. One of the most popular is the bell tower of St.Dominus where you can climb to the top for a birds eye view of the city. You can Outside the walls of the palace you can find more markets and café’s. The main promenade is just outside the walls facing the water.

Marjan Forest Park

Just north of the palace is the park Marjan. Even if you don’t have the time to explore the full park and all its sites I would recommend taking a walk up the hill and stopping for some lunch at Vidilica. You will get a beautiful view of the whole city and the port.

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Overall split is a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of beautiful views and ancient architecture. I enjoyed the time I spent in the city. The prices were much lower than those of Dubrovnik or Hvar and if you are looking for a beach holiday this is definitely a place to go. There are constant ferries that leave Split, day trips to different islands, krka waterfalls only an hour away and loads of other day trips. Although we did not visit the Krka waterfalls since we went to much bigger Plitzvic lakes, the Krka waterfalls are the ones were you can swim unlike the Plitzvic which are a national park.

 

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Plitzvic Lakes, Croatia

To say that this place was incredible would be an under statement. One of the things I wish we done different was that we actually stayed in the area over night and were able to spend more than one afternoon at the National Park. The park is located about 2 and a half hours drive from Split and thankfully we had our own car so we were able to head up there in our own time. Highly recommend wearing comfortable footware as there is a lot of ground to cover, sightseeing both upper and lower lakes will easily take you 3-4 hours and thats not including snack stops, toilet breaks or even photo/video time. Unlike Krka lakes you cannot swim in these so dont worry about bringing a swimsuit, you wont need it.

There are two entrances to the lakes, we had started at entrance 1. You can buy the ticket on arrival and will cost you about 34-35eu for an adult with all day to spend at the lakes.

Entrance 1 brings you out to the lower lakes, highest waterfall and wooden board walks along crystal clear lakes. As you make your way north stick to right handside and cross the water to get to the electric boat. The boat itself is super cute, the ticket is included in your entrance ticket to ride. There are two boats running across the wide lake every 15mins so you wont have to wait long, there is also food and toilets near the boat station. When you arrive at entrance 2 STAY ON THE BOAT as it will continue across a small stretch of water to bring you directly to P2 which is the upper lakes.

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If you thought the lower lakes are incredible you are about to be blown away by the views of the upper lakes. Make your way up along the wooden paths, take it all in and at the very top you can catch a train that brings you back down to entrances 1 and 2. Stay on the train until the end, you will have a short walk back to the actual entrance 1 but along that walk is the best view point of the lakes which is the main photo always posted of the lakes.

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We went at the end of may and arrived there in the late afternoon which actually ended up being an advantage as we were almost alone for a lot of the treking, giving us time to go at our own pace without bumping into people and to take plenty of photos without anyone else in the shot. I would love to go back there during autumn as the fallen leaves and changing colours would probably be even more spectacular. Perhaps even go back at every season. I really fell in love with these lakes and I think anyone who loves nature would too.

El Teide, Tenerife

Although to most the canaries is a guaranteed sun holiday to lounge by the pool I absolutely love the Island Tenerife for a whole lot of different reasons. You will notice many posts on Tenerife because this is one of those places that I would go back to year after year. One of the biggest attractions of Tenerife is El Teide.

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El Teide is an active volcano which stands as the highest peak in Spain. It last erupted in 1909 and you can get a full history and details on the eruption in El Portillo Visitor center. The El Teide national park offers something for everyone, volcano education, breathtaking views, hiking trails and those great selfie opportunities.

There are plenty of stop off and scenic routes along the road up to Teide through various national parks which include hiking trails for those interested. To get to the peak itself I would advice to go early and book in advance. The cost for return trip on the cable car is 27euro each but despite the steep price for just an 8 min journey up the mountain the experience is worth it. At the top the temperatures drop to zero degrees or lower so be prepared before you go up so you can take your time without shivering every time you go to take a photo. Dont forget the sunscreen too, as you are above the level of the clouds the sun is almost guaranteed all year around.20180403_141206. You get an hour at the top with your ticket and cable cars run continuously so you can get the next available one whenever you feel like it. From the top of cable car station there are 3 routes to go for a hike and get more scenic views. One of these routes brings you up to the very peak however this requires a permit to be obtained beforehand. You can get all information here.

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A trip to El Teide is definitely worthwhile however expect to give this one at least a half day if not a full day. You can also go up there at night for some stargazing. One bit of advice I would give is to rent a car and do it all yourself rather than going on a tour, you will get much more out of it. Keep an eye out for more Things to do in Tenerife as there will be plenty of them.

 

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent was a stop over trip on the way to Brugge which I got as a gift. The Medieval architecture is a must see in that part of the country and the one main focus point for me was the Gravensteen castle (see below). The castle is 10th Century surrounded by a moat, I mean what more can you want!!

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As well as the main castle itself the rest of the architecture is also worth seeing. We walked from the train station down towards the center along the canal that led us straight to the castle but also giving us great views of Sint-Michielsplein church (see below) which is just off the main plaza in Ghent (top tip the St.micahels birge is great for photo’s). From there you can get great views of bell towers in all surrounding buildings. The main plaza also leads off to the main shopping street if thats what you fancy.

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The cobble locks everywhere gave you a real feel for the age of the city and you do really feel like you were thrown into the past. There is also boat tours available along the canals, however these don’t operate in winter as parts of the canals are frozen solid. Prices for most attractions werent too expensive, Castle being 10 euro and to climb the bell tower at the main plaza was just 8 euro. All prices and opening times can be found at HERE which I for one found very handy.

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The city itself is quite big however most of the main attractions were all quite close together which made it much simpler for us as a stop over. If you like Medieval architecture then this is definitely the town for you. Im sure Id be back to it sometime in my future anyhow.

Brussels

For Christmas last year I got a 3 day trip to Brussels for my partner. Although some would say that this is as much a present for myself than him but this is something we seemed to do regularly. 20161227_173515.jpg

Brussels was a wonderful city and great to visit during the Christmas break since the Christmas markets are still around, plenty of Christmas villages with other fun attractions and of course the grand place lights show has to be the most spectacular to visit.

We were staying very central, but even if you are not the metro system is a good one and doesnt cost a fortune either. The city isnt huge so you will still have plenty of time to visit everything you want. Obviously the main attraction is the Grand Place and this is one amazing place. The architecture all around you will have your head spinning. This place is has to be visited both during the day and at night. From the Grand place its only a short walk to Manneken Pis (pissing boy) which is a lot smaller than what I had expected it to be. With another short walk you can get to the royal palace. Another place of interest is park Cinquantenaire with its impressive looking arch as well as millitary and auto museums. 20161228_105542.jpg

A little outside of the main city (by metro) you can find Atonium and Mini Europe with is great fun. You can buy a ticket to go to both or separately when you get there its up to you. Mini Europe is a great photo opportunity where you get to see the miniature versions of all the best European destinations, even in motion. 20161229_125305.jpg

After this city break my legs definitely needed a day or two to recover. As i said its not small but despite that there is still plenty of walking involved and taxi’s arent cheap if you wanted that as an option. As for food, the mussels and fries are their specialty and are available at any corner and why not try the Belgian waffles with toppings of your choice for dessert. You’ll also be delighted if you are a craft beer lover as there is plenty of that in Brussels.

Washington DC

My last stop on my america adventure was Washington DC and the main reason was the Smithsonian for my love of museums and science. DC did not disappoint, between all the museums and monuments there was plenty to keep you busy. Click on the links to bring you straight to the site for more info, price and opening times.

Capitol building and Smithsonian

One of the very first things that i noticed when it comes to Washington DC was just how easy it was to get around, and im not talking public transport, Im talking the streets layout. A,B,C and 1, 2, 3 its as simple as that. In no time at all i found my way to the Capitol building, which i used as my starting point for my museum tour. The capitol building itself is free to enter but if you want a tour you need to book in advance. There is also a list of things you cant bring in so make sure you read that before you decide to go.IMG_0051

First up on the left is the botanical gardens, I just happen to wonder over there without any plans and it was beautiful. Sections where you feel like you’re walking through the actual rain forest. I definitely spent more time there than i intended but not everyone would think of going there.

From there I just headed down to every museum along the road including the native american museum and hirshhorn museum and sculpture park but the real gem was the air and space museum with its life size airplanes handing from the ceiling, the planetarium and so much more. I felt like I had spent a full day there despite only being there for an hour or so. I was completely engulfed.IMG_0068.JPG

Across the green was the national art gallery, despite the fact I’m not a huge art fan I was still fairly interested when walking around this museum. Beside the art museum is the national history museum, this was another gem of a place. Aside from the different exhibits and learning there was the butterfly pavilion. One of my favourite experiences was being in a dome full of butterflies some of which were as big as much face. It really was awe inspiring to be there. The entry to the butterfly pavilion is only every few hours and you have to get a ticket in ahead of time. If you’re doing a museum day, plan your time well and check out the websites for all the up to date information of the exhibits to make sure you don’t miss out on something awesome.

Monument & Memorials

Well as far as monuments go DC definitely has its fair share starting with one of the most famous ones the Washington monument which unfortunately was under renovation when I was there and still is until 2019. I recon the view from the top is definitely worth a second visit to the city. IMG_0100.JPGFrom the Washington monument its straight ahead towards the Lincoln memorial with the world war 2 memorial and the Lincoln reflective pool along the way. Like many people there I had brought a lunch with me and sat on the steps of the memorial under Lincoln’s feet. The view from the top of the stairs is beautiful and I’m not just talking about Lincoln himself. To the right of the Lincoln memorial was the Korean war veterans memorial and one of both saddest and heartfelt memorials I had ever visited. Staying in that direction you eventually get to the Martin Luther King memorial and the tidal basin with a perfect view of the Thomas Jefferson memorial. Across from the Potomac river is the famous Arlington cemetery which is the grave site of John F Kennedy and also the tomb of the unknown soldier.

White House & City

The main attraction of course for most would be getting a glimpse at the white house. There was always a crown at the park anytime I walked past but I wont lie I did stand with the crowd at one stage too even got a thrill to see the helicopter land just outside the house, although nothing even happened. The rest of the city has loads to offer, attractions and museums such as the international spy museum or madame tussauds which I love no matter how many times I go.

All in all Washington DC has so much to offer you will walk the feet off yourself. Definitely take a few days if visiting as you will need it and I’m glad that I spent 3 days in this exciting city full of things to do. I think this city was the perfect ending to my 4 months spent in the states.

 

Philadelphia

Following on from my last months post, I had taken the bus again from New york down to Philadelphia. I didnt think the city was that big and gave it less than two days on my schedule. Once again just like with new york this proven to be a far more interesting city than I expected.

Once I arrived I set off to go visit the Eastern State Penetentiary. I managed to get there just before closing and got to walk around a mostly empty prison along with my guided headset. Once again I had a lot more fun on my own exploring different cells and reading up on the history of the place.

From there I didn’t really have any further plan so I wondered over to the art museum which happened to be the famous rocky steps location. Watching people running up and down for photos and videos was quite entertaining but I decided to pass on that one.

From the art museum you can walk back along a pretty lane way covered by trees all the way to the city. In the city there is plenty of art installations and mosaics to see. I couldn’t go to Philadelphia and not see the liberty bell of course but that didn’t prove to be too interesting. It is as it sounds just a bell.

After wondering around I came across the burial place of Benjamin Franklin and of course got myself a Philly cheese steak sandwich.
Perhaps Philadelphia doesn’t come across as full of activities as my last post on New York but it was in it’s own way a lovely place to visit. I know for a fact that when I was leaving I regretted now allocating more time to this city.

New York

Following my two days in Boston I got on a bus to New York City. I had stayed with my cousin in jersey but was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get into the city via public transport. I didnt think New York would be my favourite stop however that quickly changed. I had decided to spend 4 days in New York given that there was so much to see and do.

Manhattan

Times square was an obvious one to visit, and I went in the evening just to be even more impressed by the lights off all the screens. Its got so much happening, so many people there its busy but yet not too crowded. Around the times square there was a few places to visit, like the wax museum and the Ripleys believe it or not. Those two places I went on my own and still enjoyed it so much. There was plenty of shops, bars and restaurants all around there to keep you entertained.

Another must see was a Broadway show. Although I hadn’t intended on going before I arrived my cousin had talked me into it. It isn’t cheap but the experience is definitely worth it. Just one of those things you should experience in your lifetime I think and I’m not even that big on plays or musicals.

One of the places I was told about was the Chelsea Market and the highline. The highline was one of my highlights of New York. A park stretching above the city along an old rail line, I mean if that alone doesn’t catch your interest I don’t know what will. When I reached the end of the park near Greenwich I walked down towards the bottom of the island where I discovered a sweet memorial for all those who immigrated from Ireland during the famine. The memorial looked like a small piece of Irish country side places in the middle of New York.

The famine memorial turned out to be only a short walk towards the twin towers memorial. Be warned the queue is long and a passport is required to get in. I found the memorial to be quite sad to be at, kind of like the Titanic museum in Belfast.

I could not resist going up the empire state building. Despite being told that you can go to the top of the rockafella instead and the views would be just the same but less queue I still didn’t care. I tried to go early to beat the traffic of tourists however there is no avoiding it completely at such an attraction. I enjoyed going up, learned about the building and the views of course. This was one of the experiences I wish I had someone to share it with though.

Central Park, well lets just say I underestimated the size. There was way more to it then I had imagined and you can spend hours in it. I seen loads of animals and performers. It was very relaxed. You can take boat rides on the lake there however I felt like rowing romantically by myself was a little weird.

Surroundings

Despite the shear size of Manhattan and all the things to do there I did manage to see some of the surrounding area’s. I walked across the Brooklyn bridge of course and then doubled back along the Manhattan bridge where I got some brilliant photos of the Brooklyn bridge from the distance.

I went out to Brighton beach which is little being transported to Russia. The amount of Russians living there is insane but to top it all off most of the shop names aren’t even in English. A walk along the beach and a visit to the fair made me completely forget I was even in New York.

One of the things I was told from the start is to not waste your time or money going to the statue of Liberty but instead to take the free ferry over and see the statue from the waterfront. This is exactly the advice I followed and I was very glad I did, the trip wasn’t long and the views were pretty cool.

 

Overall I really enjoyed New York and got to see a lot in my short stay. Im sure there would be loads to see again the next time Im back. I would definitely recommend to go with a friend. Its not lonely to spend the time on your own there but some parts are more enjoyable shared with someone.

Boston, MA

After my J1 summer in Chicago I decided to travel across some of the cities on the east coast and my first stop was Boston. Ive heard a lot about Boston so when i got there I expected it to be a lot bigger than it was. Given that I had only given 2 days for my stop off in Boston it worked out perfect.

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This was one of my favourite ways to see a city, what a great idea. The freedom trail is what it is, a red line trail going through the city that you follow. You can download the map from their website but frankly you wont need to. The trail leads you along all the best sights from Boston Common all the way to the USS Constitution. The walk is long but covers absolutely everything you would want to see including burial grounds and a great view of Charles river. This one would take you a full day but enjoy it!

Samuel Adams Brewery

Im not a huge beer drinker and after the first brewery they all look the same right? Well this one sure wasnt. The entry first of all is FREE, and the ticket they give you is a beer label from their bottles, that in itself is pretty cool. The tour doesnt take long and if you get there in the first half of the day its not packed either. At the end of the tour you get to do some beer tasting. If thats not enough there is a free Doyles party bus that brings you around to the famous bar. Having a drink at the bar will also get you a complimentary Samuel Adams glass, uniquely crafted for a better beer drinking experience.

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Whale Watching

Why did I have to mention this one, well because not everything in Boston is free and fun like the first two points i made. This was a massive waste of time as more or less within the first 10mins of the 4 hour trip we were told that there will be no whales to see as they are all gone down the south for warmer waters. The best part of the trip was getting to see boston from the water along with the different islands that surround the harbour, thats about it. After 4hrs on a boat with no whales in sight the company did offer a free ticket for the next whale watching but not refunds. Given that i was only there for 2 days I wasnt risking another 4 hours wasted at sea.

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Of course there was a lot more to see and talk about when it came to Boston and I would definitely recommend the city to any of my friends but the above where my highlights. I was pleased with all i got to cram into my short stay.

Chicago – Parks and Navy Pier

Parks and navy pier are the go to places in Chicago and the most popular and well known.

Millennium Park

Probably most well known for the cloud gate aka the bean of Chicago. IMG_7671.JPG

Not only does this park house the famous mirror bean which you must take a photo with, it also has many other attractions. You can chill out on the lawn in front of the Pritzker pavillion, plan this one ahead as there is always shows or movies on. Bring a blanket, picnic and enjoy the view. Walk around to the crown fountain which is a shallow pool separated by two 50 foot towers. Take a walk around the chase promenade as there is always different art installations free for the public to view.

Grant Park

The grant park connected to the millennium park leads all the way to the museum campus. Along the way you can find the Buckingham fountain which is one of the worlds largest fountains and the art institute as well as sports fields and gardens. This park is also home to most of the food and music festivals on during the summer months, including the grand taste of Chicago and music festivals such as Lollapalooza.

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Lincoln Park

I have touched on the Lincoln park previously when I discussed the zoo that it houses as well as the lily pond and many more. See my previous blog entry on Chicago – Museums and Zoo.

Navy Pier

One of the most visited attractions of Chicago. What is it though, well its everything. Its bars, restaurants, ferris wheel, mini golf, cruises, museums, shops and the list goes on. Its a two part pier in that there is the outdoors area as well as the indoor. Here you can spend a whole day if you wanted. Getting there is a fair walk from the loop, the scenery on the walk to it is nothing spectacular so I would advice to splash out and get a taxi there or the bus even which stops just outside the entrance. From the Pier you can walk on towards the memorial park and onto the beach front along the skyscrapers. There is plenty of water taxi’s and cruises available from the pier itself.

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