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.

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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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Chicago – Museums & Zoo

Full disclosure Im a fan of a good museum or aquarium, however i am quite picky since sometimes it can be a bit of “been there done that” surely they are all the same at this stage. Chicago however was an exception for me.

The Museum of Science and Industry

This one is a bit out of the city but easy to get to by 1209279_10151685745962513_1464709010_nbus, just do the research before hand. This is one of the most interactive science museums I have ever been to and easy in the top two best museums for me beating any in Washington DC. The museum is also near University of Chicago and Washington park so there is plenty to see and do around the museum too. I would give this trip a full day, get there early as the place itself is huge…no spoilers but it has an actual submarine!!! The tickets arent sky high either at just $18 per adult but you can also get a discount if you order online beforehand.

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I know i already said this about the museum of science but this was one of the best aquariums I have been to. One of the gems of this place is the jelly fish rooms, thats a must!!! You can just get lost in their movements and there is no many kinds. Petting stingrays and seal shows its all there. Its not just tanks full of water there are jungle like tanks and dont forget a 4D movie just for the fun. The tickets are pricey but well worth the trip, the cost will set you back $40 with a half day worth of fun. Around the aquarium you will also find the Field museum, Adler planetarium and surrounding parks which lead into Grant park and millennium park. From the aquarium itself you can get the water taxi all the way to navy pier which gives you some amazing views of the city skyline from the water. Main tip is get there early, the queue can become huge very quick and in the summer heat its the last thing you’d want to do even if they provide cover.IMG_7792

Lincoln Zoo

Guess what….this one is free. Yes the Chicago zoo is absolutely free and the animals are up closer than most Zoo’s in Europe. It has an interactive farm, bird house and conservatory. One of the little gems of this place is the Alfred Caldwell Lily pond just north of the zoo, its not big but definitely something to see. The public beaches stretch along the side of the zoo which have once again a lovely view of the city skyline rising from the sand.

Chicago – The Skyscrapers

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This time 4 years ago I finished my last ever college exams and headed over to Chicago for 3 months on a J1. The reason I picked to go to Chicago was through recommendation and Im so glad I listened. Fortunately there is so much to go through when it comes to Chicago that this will not be the last time I write about it. This Chapter will be dedicated to the city and its buildings. Let me just point out that before Chicago I had never seen skyscrapers in real life so the moment we got off the CTA and into the street my jaw dropped. I stood frozen with my mouth open for a good 10 minutes I just couldn’t believe how tall they were!!! IMG_7688

Marina City (Corn Cobs)

First on the list are the iconic corn cob buildings. Even if you have never heard of them you have probably seen them at some point. The best view of these are from the near by bridges such as the one off Dearborn street or else the water taxi which you can get just off Michigan avenue. Interesting fact is that the apartments in those buildings have no interior right angles as each is shaped like a pizza slice.

Willis Tower

If you did get the water taxi to go past the marina city then it will bring you along the river straight to the willis tower. This is the iconic tower with the glass floor on the 103rd floor (sky deck). The building itself is impressive up close as well as from a distance. To visit the sky deck only costs $23 which is not a lot when you get to step out over the city. Im not afraid of highs but I had to have someone hold my hand when I went to sit down on it because you feel like you will just fall through!!! The view of the city from there is spectacular. The willis tower and sky deck are a must see.

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John Hancock Center

This is the 100 story tall black sky scraper off the magnificent mile. The sky scraper offers observation decks with a view of the city and the beach front. The entry to the observation deck only costs $20 with an additional $7 if you want to experience the tilt. However if you are short for cash you can always visit the Bar/Restaurant for a drink with a view just a floor below the observation deck.

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Other notable mentions go to Tribune Tower, Aqua tower and the Crain communications building. One of the best ways to see all the skyscrapers is from the water front, either along the river through the city or across the Chicago harbor. Dont forget you can also visit the observation decks at night for a whole different experience.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

My trip to Amsterdam was for a long weekend away with the girls. Its a place many people speak fondly of and one that i was always interested in visiting. The idea of coffee shops and red light district made seem so exciting. 20160326_152016

As soon as we got to Amsterdam we went straight to Dam square where the main feature has to be the royal palace. While on the square we stopped by tourist information and booked all our touristy sightseeing tour tickets straight away since you get a good discount when you get them in packages. We got tickets for Madam Tussauds, Amsterdam Dungeons, Ice Bar and The Heineken Experience.  Since Madam Tussauds is on Dam place from there you can get great areal shots of the whole square and the royal palace. I have been to London and Edinburgh Dungeons before and loved both experiences however Amsterdam Dungeons weren’t quite up to the same standard and I wouldn’t recommend it. Ice Bar was brilliant, mostly for pictures though and very short experience as you wouldn’t spend too much time in it. The Heineken experience however was the most entertaining brewery tours I have been on, plenty of interactive parts and good flow through the impressive building itself not to mention the view from the roof top bar at the end. I would recommend getting the tickets for these in advance as you get to skip the queue, which can make all the difference if you are only going for a short break. The Heineken experience queues were pretty long in particular.

One of the most popular and must see parts of Amsterdam was the canals. Now you cant miss them when you are walking around but it is quite another thing to see them from the water, plus you get all the history lessons and stories at the same time.

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Cant exactly talk about Amsterdam without a mention of the red light district. Obviously my opinion on it would be the polar opposite to that of most men however for me although it was interesting it also seemed very seedy and quite frankly I felt very uncomfortable in that area walking past all the windows. The district itself is pretty nice along with many bars which are packed full of people but as a woman I didn’t feel comfortable. Although the sex museum is quite the opposite, fun and at a very low price too.

There were many things I wish I had gotten to see but even as small as Amsterdam is a shirt weekend cant guarantee you enough time to see everything. One thing we didn’t get to see was Anne Franks house, the queue (although we went early in the morning) was over an hour long to get in, so the most we got was a view from the outside. One other thing I wish i got to see was Micropia but that’s purely as a microbiologist I guess. The question is would I come back, and to be honest I don’t know if i would. There are other places around Europe that i felt have more to offer, as well as the fact I didn’t like the red light scene or the consistent smell of weed I just don’t think this was a city for me. However I’m glad I got to experience it and make my own mind up about it.

Dublin

Given the month that it is (St.Patricks Day) I think it was very fitting to talk about Dublin. Ive lived in Dublin for the last 14 years, well the subburbs of Dublin to be precise. Some people never discovered the tourist attractions in their own local area but I had plenty of family/friends visiting that I got the chance to see the tourist side of Dublin. Obviously if you come for St.Patricks day the atmosphere will be completely different so I will describe a time in June I spent the day being a tourist with my cousin.deer-in-phoenix-park-dublin.jpg

Our day started off with Phoenix park. This park has many points of interest including the presidents house, dublin zoo, papal cross, monuments and the local residents wild deer. Although wild the deer are extremely friendly and you can get some stunning photos up close and personal if you happen to stubble past them. The presidents house is open for free tours every saturday to the public. So far so free. The Dublin zoo is vast so don’t expect a quick pop in, at least half a day must be given to this.

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From the phoenix park we headed for the Guinness Store house, where at the top is an observation deck and obviously a free pint of the black stuff is included in your ticket. Tickets can be booked online, and that’s what I would advice to do as its cheaper and no need to queue. If you are a few minutes late for the time you booked, this is not a problem you can still go in. From here the only logical thing to do is stick to the beer as Ireland is known for the love of drink. Some idea’s are; The Brazen Head (Irelands Oldest Pub) with the smoking area covered in cobble stones, Temple Bar (the pub in the area known as temple bar) this one graces most peoples post cards,  the Church (converted chruch into a bar/restaurant), O’Donoghues, The Stags head, Porterhouse…the list can go on to be honest but you get the idea. the-brazen-head

O’Connell street where you can still see the bullet holes in some of the buildings and statues from the 1916 revolution rising. Walk across the ha’penny bridge. Visit St.Stephens green. Go for a riverdancing show. I mean the list does literally go on and on but hey at least thats a few suggestions for you. I’m sure Ill be coming back to this topic with more new mentions.

Berlin

IMG_0584.JPGMy trip to Berlin was a Christmas present from my other half and it remains one of my favourite cities to this day. Its my favourite not because it was a present but simply because I didn’t realise the amount i will get to see and how thrown back into history you are and just how respectful Germans are of that history and of their city.IMG_0510.JPG

First and foremost what I liked was the simplicity of getting from the airport to the city. I know you can say that about a lot of different cities but it was the first thing that i noticed.

The hotel we were staying was right beside the Großer Tiergarten. It was a lovely way to start off our sightseeing by wondering through the park. In the middle of the park you can find the Victory Column. From the top of the column you can get the panoramic view of the entire city as well as the park. To get to the observation desk wont break the bank either as access is only 3euro. From the column we headed towards the famous Brandenburg gate but before we made it to the gate we came across the monument to the soviet soldiers. The Denkmal für die Sowjetischen Soldaten has plenty of reasons to visit if you are a history buff and if not there is also pretty cool large guns to pose with. From there we went onto the Brandenburg gate and then down towards the Murdered Jews memorial. IMG_0565.JPGMost of the memorials and monuments are all within close proximity and easily walkable. From that point though it is quite a walk towards checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin wall museum. At the museum you can see remains of the wall untouched as it stood, however there are many opportunities to see the wall regardless around the city including at checkpoint charlie.

One of the most memorable moments about my trip to Berlin was the tour we took down to the bunkers. Berliner Unterwelten e.V. do tours all through the week in different languages at different locations. We opted for the bunker tour under the railway station and it left us in awe. The feeling you get when you go down there, you can really get a glimpse of what it must have been like during the time of the great war.

2014-01-20-09-34-13As the last item on the itinerary we went to visit the Reichstag building. One thing that you must do if you are interested in going to the parliament building is you have to book it ahead of time, there is a tickets desk across from the parliament building where you have to register. You will need your passport with you too.

Make sure you do this first, if you are only going for a weekend it might be booked up. The glass dome and mirror center is amazing to walk around definitely a must.

The one thing we didn’t get to do during our trip wasimg_0657 to go to the top of the television tower due to heavy fog. However we spent the time walking around Alexanderplatz and went up to Berlin cathedral. There is plenty to see and more than you would expect museums.

This trip for me was different to any other city break and its all about the history, you really feel like you dive into it all with everything you get to see. I cant praise it enough. People are nice. Food is great. Plenty to see. Whats not to like.

London

To stick with the theme after my earlier book review of “In the Dark” this review will be on London. The trip to London was a Christmas gift for my other half, part of the weekend away was meant to be a day spent at Arsenal for a match and tour of the stadium so a little bit of football will be thrown in.

We had stayed in Peckham, at this stage i img_1136didn’t know anything about Peckham but apparently its not the best area of London to stay in. We had no trouble staying there at all and our hotel was lovely and at a very good price. The cost of public transport or taxi in London is one thing I was not prepared for as it cost us more than the hotel stay for the weekend. Perhaps for that reason if I was to go back I would try find something closer to the center however that also depends on what you are interested in since London is huge.

Sightseeing

We had dedicated a full day to sightseeing and a full day to football to keep it all fair and keep each other happy. img_1247
The sightseeing started off with the London Eye, what way to start you off than getting a birds eye view of the city from the river. The pods themselves were bigger than I had expected and the journey was lovely with plenty to see from the top. From the tourist desk we got the multi sightseeing ticket which is common in most European cities, with it we got London Dungeons and Madam Tussauds.

From the London eye we went on towards the parliament building and to get a wonderful view of the big ben. The two places are very close to each other and from there its only a short walk towards the Buckingham Palace to see the change of the guards. The guards are pretty far from the gate to get a closer look but if you walk down the mall towards trafalgar square you will walk past them on guard on your left which is close enough to take a selfie with.
From there we got the tube towards Baker street img_1108and Sherlock Holmes museum which just happened to be around the corner from Madam Tussauds anyhow. From there we had a little walk back down towards Piccadilly circus and then the London Dungeons.
I didn’t know at this stage what the London Dungeons were and what was involved, and this i think made the experience all the better. If i was asked what was the best part of my trip I will no doubt say the London Dungeons!! It was so much fun I wish I could have gone again a second time.

Arsenal

20140222_120713No i am not the football fan but my other half is and he supports arsenal which was part of the reason for the trip to London. The football club is in North London so we got the tube up to the stadium grounds. As well as going for the match which was (despite my lack of interest in the sport) really fun, we also went back the next day and done the tour of the stadium and the stadium museum. The tour itself allows you to go through the members box, the players changing rooms and onto the pitch itself and the managers seats. That day for me was even more interesting. The museum was also good as it went through all the history of the stadium, players and awards. I think if i was to come back i would definitely come back for this part.

Overall my impression of London wasn’t that great, and i know many people would claim that London is amazing but it just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t much different to what I’m used to here in Ireland just on a biggest scale. I definitely have other places that I would rather revisit than London. I found it insanely expensive for what it is. Im happy enough i got to see some of the famous sights but I doubt i would return again unless its for the London Dungeons ha.

Northern Ireland (Co. Antrim)

Whats Antrim? Well its the country at the very top of Ireland if looking at a map but most importantly its home to one of the most impressive natural wonders the Giants Causeway. To top it all off there is so much more, as if driving along the coastal road wouldn’t be enough there is also Dunluce Castle, Carrick-A-Rede Rope bridge, Bushmills and the Dark Hedges. I find Antrim so impressive that I’ve went up more than twice and would definitely go again as it just doesn’t get old!!! 20160619_174616

Bushmills

Now to me Bushmills is Whiskey, I was not aware that there is a town in Antrim called Bushmills. I know its obvious that the whiskey must have come from somewhere, I just didn’t realise it was in Antrim. Its a quiet little town with some lovely pubs, restaurants, b&b’s and obviously the Old Bushmills Distillery itself!!! You can go for a tour of the distillery for just 7.50 pounds per person, now that is a bargain compared to Jameson Distillery tour. Most Distillery tours are the same but I still find them interesting to visit and the taster at the end is also worth it.

Giants Causeway

The main attraction itself and the purpose of every trip I’ve taken up to Antrim. Once you pay your 8.50 pounds per adult at the visitor center you can walk around and get more information on the place within the center. Once you get your audio guide you can be on your way. There is a bus available that will drive you down to the giants causeway basalt stones, however if you can walk then DO. As you walk down the scenery just gets more and more impressive, between the cliffs and the through the windiest gap in Ireland you step out to the rocks themselves. 20160619_174635Formed due to volcanic eruptions or the giant Finn, which ever story you believe the stones are like nothing you have ever seen and much much bigger than I expected anyhow. If you think this is the end of the tour you are very wrong. As you continue to follow the path you can reach the Organ of Reostan, the Organ like rocks are massive and just as impressive from up close as afar. If you continue your adventure up to the top of the cliff following the path you get a stunning view of the coast as well as some sheep. The trip is at least a half day venture but can be stretched to a full day with a lovely meal in the hotel right beside the visitor center.

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We actually accidentally stumbled on this medieval castle. Perhaps i should have done some research before our trip because I’m really glad we came across it. Located along the coastal road the castle is accessible to the public for 5 pounds per adult which allows you to walk around the grounds while guided tours are also available. The castle is in great condition as far as medieval castles go and the size is very impressive.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

1794769_10151955470392513_861980680_nI will not lie, it disappointed me a little bit. I guess i was just expecting a proper old school rope bridge that’s just about holding on and i might plummet to my death at any moment. I guess if that was the case they wouldn’t have tourists visit, so perhaps my disappointment is more so a problem with my wild imagination. The one thing I will say is, expect a walk. You cant just drive up to the bridge itself so you need to walk a few Km to it but the walk is along the cliff tops so pretty scenic none the less. The experience of the bridge itself lasts about 2 mins, also depends on how many tourists there are.

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Mystical and enticing!! Makes for a lovely picture too. Made famous by the t.v. show Game of Thrones this tree alley is pretty cool. Its also in the middle of nowhere and that its a road to a farm which is pretty much it. Drive up, stop, get out, take a picture and off you go. Don’t get me wrong I’m not disappointed with the trees but don’t get your hopes up if you think there is more to them then meets the eye.

All in all going to Antrim is definitely a weekend trip, between the time it would take you to drive between all the places you wont fit into one day especially if you want to properly enjoy all that Antrim has got to offer.

 

Wicklow, Ireland

I’ve been to Wicklow a number of times and its definitely one of the most scenic counties in Ireland. Between Hikes in Glendalough and visiting Wicklow Town it is definitely a place to visit.

Glendalough

To those living in Wicklow it might not be all that impressive but for anyone else this would be a wonderful day trip. There are 9 marked walks around Glendalough each trail offers stunning views around the mountains. Maps and details are available on the following link Walking Trails. Apart from the trails Glendalough allows you to freely walk through the Medievil monastry grounds and graveyard and guided tours. One of the best trails and one of the longest is the White hill walk which brings you along the steps to the top of the hill which offers stunning views of the lake and grounds below.

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Wicklow Town

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I had lived in Wicklow Town for a while in 2001 and fell in love with it as simple as it was when compared to other major towns. As far as visits go there is plenty to see and do.

One of the main attractions is the Old wicklow Goal which is the jail located in the heart of the city. For the small price of 8euro you get a guided tour around the jail where you learn history of the place and the people who were imprisoned there.

Apart from the visit to the jail there is also the Wicklow pier and the remains of the Black Castle (below) on top of the hill which are free to walk around.

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Wicklow is perfect for a romantic weekend or just a getaway into nature and history. As its only a short drive from Dublin its perfect for those short breaks.

This is definitely a place I love to visit time and time again and each time discovering something new and feeling completely relaxed. I have always said that if i was to retire I would love to do so along the coast in Wicklow simply because it is so peaceful. Ideal for any time of the year.