My 4 Favorite Spots in Central Park

Central Park has always been, for me, a sort of Narnia in the middle of the city. For years, it has been a place of comfort when I’m stressed and an escape from the best, but endless chaos of New York. It also helps that it lies between my two favorite museum: The Museum of Natural History and The Met.

Despite how many times I have walked from the east side of Central Park to the west and back again, there are still a few select spots that I make sure to stop for a minute each and every time I go.

And that is how a week ago despite, the freezing temperatures I ended up on a tour of Central Park that I had been on many times before.

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  1. Bethesda Terrace 

The detailing of the inside of Bethesda Terrace combined with the erosion and rust of certain areas give it that unique, worn-down-by-time feel, which I feel makes it that much more beautiful. While you’ll likely pass a multitude of people taking the cliché Bethesda stairs photo, I  always spend at least ten minutes just walking through the corridor.

“You can get the true essence of New Yorkers by just hanging out in Central Park.” – Andy Roddick

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2. The Hans Christian Andersen Statue

One version of “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen opens with “It is a beautiful summer day. The sun shines warmly on an old house near a river.” I have always loved the location of this statue sits across the Conservatory Pond and Central Park skyline. It’s almost as if Hans, whose statue depicts him sitting beside a swan while reading “The Ugly Duckling” has stepped into his own story.

“The most wonderful fairy tale is life itself.” – Hans Christian Andersen

3. Strawberry Fields

While Strawberry Fields is a 2.5 acre of land dedicated to the memory of John Lennon, the most popular part of this memorial is the “Imagine” plaque. Growing up with a grandfather who is about the age that John Lennon would have been, the Beatles were one of bands I’ve always listened to. Despite the fact that I was a generation or so behind when they were at their prime, their music and the words of John Lennon are still inspiring to me.

Often, guitar players will play John Lennon and Beatles songs regardless of the weather. Nothing gets you in your feels more than that.

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“Imagine all the people, living life in peace.” – John Lennon

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4. The Lake surrounding the Loeb Boathouse

While the Loeb Boathouse is popular for visitors, my favorite shot is from the slightly elevated spot between Bethesda Terrace and the boathouse, where the trees perfectly frame the buildings in the back. You almost feel as if you’re somewhere else, but they give a small reminder that you’re still in this stunning city.

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“And the most unusual and surrealistic place in New York City, is Central Park.” – Christo

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Best of the Best of Winter in Quebec

Little fact about me: If you ever searched my google history around the holiday season, you will most likely find that a majority of the searches fall into two categories, “seasonal drinks” and “Christmas towns”.  It’s a secret goal of mine to spend the holiday season in every popular holiday town from Darby Montana, to Strasbourg, France.

That being said, Quebec City and Montreal easily became two of my favorite winter locations for a variety of reasons. Without further ado: my personal 2016 picks for the Best of the Best of Winter in Quebec.

  1. Best Historic Location or Attraction
    • Montreal Pick – Notre-Dame Basilica

The number one item on my must see list when I went to Paris was Notre Dame de Paris. Standing in front of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, while a bit smaller in dimensions (197 ft. compared to the 226’ in Paris) felt as if I was reliving the moment when the cathedral first came into my eye sight during my walk along the Île de la Cité. But Notre-Dame in Montreal is beautiful in its own right, and similar to Paris, I just enjoyed being in it’s presence. Across the street from Notre-Dame is the Centaur Company Theater which at the time was decked out with star-shaped lanterns for the holiday season.

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  • Quebec City Pick – La Citadelle de Quebec

Being that I am a self-proclaimed history buff, the minute that I heard the words “museum”, “fortress” and “active military installation” in the same sentence, I knew I had to visit the Citadelle. Despite the fact that it was less than 20 degrees and we were told a large portion of the tour would be outdoors, we decided to brave it. I may have lost a few toes and shed some frozen tears, because dear lord Canada can be a whole new type of cold, but I am so glad we didn’t miss out on this experience. FYI, if you’re from the United States, be prepared. The guides love cracking jokes at our expense, but the humor definitely added to the tour. The tour ends off with one of the most spectacular views of Quebec City, with the perfect view of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.

 


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  1. Best Outdoor Location
    • Montreal Pick – Mount-Royal

I am a sucker for views, so you best believe I spent some time researching “the best view in Montreal”, but physically finding the exact location in photos I had seen was an adventure within itself. Once, we got through the traffic congested area surrounding Mount Royal we drove in a loop until we reached the local visitor center which we located most of the way up the mountain. While we were able to find pretty cool birds-eye views of Montreal, we had more than a difficult time finding the exact view I was looking for. Big props to my fellow travelers, because we were not leaving this mountain despite the freezing temperatures until I found this view. This made for a pretty unexpected but worthwhile adventure, up frozen stairs on where we feared breaking our backs, down long trails of snow…before realizing, once we finally found the observation area, that there was actually a much, much, much easier route there. FYI, the view, totally worth it.

  • Quebec City Pick – Chute Montmorency

If ever in Quebec City, I recommend taking trip over to Chute Montmorency which is about a 20 minute drive from Vieux Quebec. There is a bit of a short hike through the surrounding areas to the actual falls, but the walk was actually super relaxing and enjoyable, especially since we were only one of three groups in the area at the time. The best view of the falls come via. bridge which allows you to walk right above the natural attraction.

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  1. Best Dining Location

We ended up at La Cartet for breakfast entirely due to a friend saying, “Hm, this place looks nice” as we strolled around Montreal, and I have to say it was one of the best breakfast spots I have ever been to. Easily up there in the top three as far as waitstaff who made us feel more than welcome from the second we walked in. The menu provides a multitude of options from eggs to crepes to salmon bagels. I personally was super excited that a couple of their menu items had yogurt and granola as part of an entree as opposed to it’s own option as usually seen in most places. The food was absolutely delicious, fresh, and not one person in our party failed to clear their plates.

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As everyone knows, the only thing better than brunch is brunch with a spectacular view. ‘Ciel’ actually means ‘sky’ in French and it’s the perfect name for this spot located on the top floor of the Hôtel Le Concorde Québec. Not only does this restaurant provide each table with a beautiful view of the Grande-Allée, Le Concorde Québec but it actually moves! So slowly, of course, that you’re unable to feel it but by the end of the meal, you should have gotten a complete 360 view of the part of the Quebec City skyline. Naturally, I assumed this spot had to be on the more expensive end. However, the most expensive brunch item is 24 Canadian dollars and includes your appetizer, as well as your coffee, hot chocolate, or freshly squeezed juice. There is absolutely no reason to visit Quebec City and not dine at Ciel!

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  1. Best Christmastime Activity
    • Montreal Pick – Centre de Commerce Mondial                                                            The Centre de Commerce Mondial is actually a shopping mall in Quebec, but during our short time in Montreal we still managed to enjoy a bit of Christmas magic here. Throughout the main level of the Centre de Commerce, during the Christmas season, you’ll find the eight different Santas which represent the various depictions of Santa Clause from different parts of the world.
      • Quebec City Pick – Marche de Noel allemande de Quebec

Of course the pièce de résistance were the Christmas markets of Quebec. As someone who roams both the Bryant Park Christmas Shops and Union Square shops a minimum of three times each every Christmas season, I naturally had pretty high expectations. The Quebec markets, fortunately, were just as fun and festive, a large part due to the amazing Christmas-themed alcoholic beverages and also this amazing sausage and cheese in a pastry concoction. Between the variety of shops and the close proximity to the beautifully decorated streets of Vieux Quebec as well as La Boutique de Noël de Québec, you can easily plan an entire day strolling the streets and shops.

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It’s easy to see why Quebec has been called one of the most amazing Christmas cities, but I fell in love with Canada in itself. Easy to say, I’ll definitely plan a warmer trip back!

NYC Food Fads: Worth the Wait or Not So Great

My name is Jasmine, and I am addicted to food fads.

As much as it pains to me to admit this, for some reason something so simple always seems twelve times more delicious when it’s constantly in your face through either Instagram, Facebook, or even Buzzfeed articles.

The social media craze can make a cool, new food spot go from “Hm, sounds cool. We should go sometime” to “We NEED to go now or I will never be fulfilled.”

If you’re like me, and have either woken up way too early, or stood in an hour long line to try a snack that flashed it’s way across your Instagram screen, you’ve probably also felt heartbreak. Because, let’s be honest here, whatever it rarely lives up to expectations.

I can almost remember the dissatisfaction when I tried my first Dominique Ansel cronut after three Monday’s of waiting on my computer (and phone) at exactly 10:59 AM for the pre-orders to open. Was it a good? Yes, but I’ve had way better and that includes the ones at the little Epcot stands in Disney World. (Disclaimer: While Dominique Ansel cronuts don’t top my list, nor do their other “trending” snacks such as their cookie shots; if you go for the basic pastries and deliquesces you will definitely be impressed.)

Fortunately, I’ve had way too much time on my hands the pleasure of getting my hands on a few must-eat/must-sip items. And I am about to tell which are worth the wait and which are not so great.

You’re welcome.

  1. Wine & Ice Pop Cocktails 

Location: Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar at the Conrad Hotel

I really wanted to find a way to describe these cocktails that made them seem refined and innovative, but you guys’, it’s literally a glass of average tasting wine or liquor with a popsicle in it. However, I can only say that now that I’ve actually tried that. Prior to that, my friends and I were beyond determined to get our hands on one of these due in a big part to Instagram. The online menu reels you in as well, with pairings such as Stolichnaya vodka with a peach-chamomile pop, and Citadelle Gin with a blackberry-lime pop. And then, they charge $25 bucks for each with an additional service charge on top of it.

You guys, I practically paid $30 bucks for a glass of wine with a popsicle inside of it; and don’t let the smile in that photo fool you. I was mentally kicking myself the minute I took a sip.

Moral of the story: Go buy a whole bottle of wine instead because this place is not worth the wait or your money.

 

2. Cookie Dough…in a cup.

Location: DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections

This is the newest dessert fad sweeping it’s way across every Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feed in the tri-state area, so naturally I had to drop by.

If you’re like me, anytime cookies are made in your presence you are unable to stick them in the oven without skimming some raw, potentially salmonella-infused deliciousness off the tray. But now, you can have all of that in a cup! …or a waffle cone.

I wanted to love this; I really did. But it was…what it was.

Did it taste delicious? Of course, it’s cookie dough in a friggen’ cup. Unfortunately, I could barely make it passed four bites. Should I be surprised by this? Absolutely not! Why wouldn’t sugar-infused, raw, cookie dough in a cup, not be too sweet?  But logic goes out the window when all your friends have tagged themselves in at cookie dough heaven and you havn’t yet.

I think the concept of DŌ is cute, and clearly the owners knew how to take something traditional and make it quirky and original. But waiting hours to even get in, when making your own cookie dough takes about five minutes, and probably tastes just as good, seems a bit unnecessary.

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3. Cereal Milkshakes

Location: KITH

Let me start off by saying that KITH confuses the life out of me. KITH itself, is a shoe and clothing store but once inside you can find a small KITH Treats Cereal Bar because why the hell not.

The concept of KITH isn’t too original, similar to Kellogg’s Cafe or the type of cereal shakes you can find at many cafes now; but a Facebook video let me know that it had to be KITH-way or the highway.

At KITH you essentially have two choices: cereal ice cream (Vanilla Ice Cream + 1 Cereal + 2 Toppings) or a cereal milkshake (Vanilla Ice Cream + 1 Cereal + 2 Toppings + 1 Milk)

My customized cereal shake consisted of vanilla ice cream, low fat milk, fruity pebbles, graham cracker crumbs and mini marshmallows. This thing was so simple but so delicious. The best part is that the wait is virtually non-existent at KITH, so if you happen to be in the area or decide to make the trip you won’t feel like you’re wasting half a day on line.

All-in-all, I’d say grabbing a cereal shake at KITH might be worth a few minutes of your time.

 

4. Christmas Booze

Location: Rolf’s

This one is less about the booze and more about the ambiance. In case you’ve never heard  of Rolf’s, allow me to paint a Christmas miracle in photographs.

Rolf’s is a German restaurant and bar that, from October to about May looks as if you found yourself inside of a snow globe. Only a snow globe probably has more space to move around. While the $13 dollar drinks at least tasted like the amount of liquor you were paying for, waiting on line for 45 minutes just to get a drink while hunched over up against the bar didn’t really make the experience the best for me.

I won’t say I had a bad time at Rolf’s, though that may be in part to it being only stop #1 on our week-before-Christmas pub crawl; but I don’t think Instagram photos show how compact the place truly is and how rushed you feel considering the “two people out, two more people in” type rotation they have going on.

When it comes to going out of your way for Rolf’s, I’m going to give this spot a neutral yes/no response. Part of me wants to say it wasn’t worth it, but the holiday loving, Christmas obsessed part of me actually enjoyed my fifteen minutes there.

Tip: Pass on the spiked eggnog and go for the cider or holiday martini. The flavors are way more palatable!

 

5. Hold My Knots

Location: Gansevoort Market

A few days ago I was scrolling Facebook, while I should have been working and saw the most spectacular, mouth-watering masterpiece that I have ever seen; garlic knot sliders. Hold My Knots takes the most unhealthy, garlic butter deliciousness that is a garlic knot, cuts them in half and fills them with either meatball, eggplant parm. or chicken parm.       I know! Genius right?

Let’s just cut to the chase here.

I finally headed over to Hold My Knots today, where there was only about a five minute line, and ordered one eggplant parm. slider and one meatball parm. slider.

I could eat these once a week, you guys. It’s been a few hours now and I am still questioning why I didn’t get a chicken parm. slider as well, even though two definitely suffice as a full meal. The garlic knots were soft enough to bite through, and the eggplant and meatball were seasoned and cooked to perfection. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having to try very hard to stop myself from hopping a train over there for a few more, right now.

Hold My Knots is definitely worth going out of your way and breaking your diet for.

 

London: Day 3 – Cheers London!

Today was the day that I felt would never come, yet still came too soon. After a year and a half of planning and dreaming of this trip, it was now the final day of our adventure.

Stop number one of the day, was actually stop number 1 and 2.

You may have heard of The Breakfast Club, a local breakfast spot in London of which I believe their are three locations (and more throughout England). But one location is a bit more popular than the others, an for good reason. If you find yourself at The Breakfast Club,  try asking for the Mayor. If you’re lucky you’ll be led to a large blue fridge, which actually leads to The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, a hidden speakeasy.

That’s the first secret that I’m ruining today; the second is that if you stop in for breakfast and are having a challenging time making a choice on what to order, the chicken and waffles are out of this world.

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The remainder of our final day was essentially a self-guided, cliche tour of London.

So after our first stops, we obviously headed over to the Tower Bridge area. While planning our original itinerary, we had planned to spend a couple of hours touring the Tower of London, but due to time constraints this is yet another thing that will be saved for our next trip.

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The area surrounding Tower Bridge was probably one of my favorite locations in London, at least earlier in the morning. Relaxing along the Thames was super relaxing, and at the time there were very few visitors around.

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The peace didn’t last too long however, considering that our final plans involved us hanging around the most popular attraction in all of London. You guessed it, the London Eye.

Big thanks to Coco-Cola for developing the amazing deal that is the multi-attraction package, when you book your London Eye pre-timed tickets. We had decided, prior to traveling, to purchase a trio so we could see as much as possible and save a few bucks.

Was it worth it? …Eh.

We had decided to do the London Eye, the London Dungeon, and the SEA LIFE London Aquarium.

In case you’re wondering which high-volume tourist traps are worth visiting and which you’ll live without ever seeing, I’m about to break it down just for you.

For starters, if we compare pre-buying tickets to the three locations that we chose as a multi-ticket to pre-buying the same three attractions separately, we did end up saving approximately 16 euros each; 48 combined for all three of us. Savings are even higher if you compare the trio to buying day-of tickets.

However, if I were to make recommendations to a friend or fellow traveler, I might suggest really researching each attraction.

To help with that, I’ll be reviewing all three of the most touristy-trap tourist traps of London.

1. The London Eye

 

I understand that the London Eye, aside from the Palace of Westminster, may be a sight many think of when they think of London..but…for me…the London Eye may not have only been the most anticlimactic part of our trip to London, but maybe even our entire trip. It’s an overrated ferris wheel.

This is coming from someone who, when in Paris, had to travel to both the Eiffel Tower and Tour Montparnasse. I am a complete sucker for views, when there are in fact views to be seen. The only exciting view from the eye, would be the Palace of Westminster and believe me, it looks just as outstanding, if not more, from the ground. I would definitely be open to attempting the eye again at night, as maybe London lit up would be slightly more appealing; But I personally feel there is a lot more you could see of London, instead of wasting time in a half hour (much longer without pre-timed tickets) queue for lackluster view.

When it comes to my famous (I just made this up now) ranking system, Worth the Wait or Not So Great…the London Eye, unfortunately takes the latter.

2. SEA LIFE London Aquarium

Tiny children, especially those who don’t frequent larger aquariums or marine sanctuaries, might find SEA LIFE to be a fun time. I was very very unimpressed with SEA LIFE on many levels. From a tourist perspective, it just wasn’t enjoyable. SEA LIFE is very small, and compact, and awkwardly themed in certain areas but I wasn’t expecting the Georgia Aquarium in the middle of  London.

From the perspective of someone who advocates for wildlife conservation and proper restrictions on places that house any type of wildlife, I found SEA LIFE to not only be ridiculously undersized but also, to put it bluntly, filthy. I am all for attractions that aim to boost awareness of conservation and preservation for the average person, but this aquarium screams money-scheme and nothing more.

Worth the Wait or Not So Great?

3. The London Dungeon

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Of all three attractions, The London Dungeon is the one I would most definitely recommend and visit again during future visits. If you’re someone looking to really immerse yourself in some of London’s history and myths, in a short amount of time, this is the place. Each scene of the London Dungeon is so immersive and detailed, you almost feel as if you stepped back in time. The Great Fire of London and Jack the Ripper take the top spot as my new favorite areas, but the attraction as an entirety is not only worth the money, but exciting and something everyone in the family can enjoy.

Worth the Wait or Not So Great?

FYI, there isn’t even really much of a wait at the London Dungeon, as large groups are taken in at a time, making it even more worth it.

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The rest of our night was spent roaming the promenade surrounding the London Eye, sipping drinks from food stalls and gazing longingly across the Thames at the Palace of Westminster. I wish I could document exactly what I was feeling that night but it was most likely a cross between feeling anxious and content, but bittersweet.

Only three weeks prior, I had boarded a plane for this adventure and it had already come to an end, but the adventures experienced within that three weeks were enough to last me a lifetime, or at least a year.
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London: Day 2 – Churches, Fashion, and St. James Park

Our second day in London began with grabbing breakfast twice.

Let me start off by saying that I am pretty open when it comes to trying new food and different flavors, but we definitely overestimated the tastes of chili jam with cheddar and Vegemite with cheddar. Starbucks had blown me away without how superior they are compared to those in the US for a majority of my trip, but these breakfast sandwiches were not doing it for us.

Breakfast numero deux, consisted of coffee and pastries from Paul. That was a winner, because you honestly can never go wrong with Paul especially when it comes to staying caffeinated for a jam-packed day in a new city.

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As mind blowing as it to finally see Big Ben right in front of you for the first time in your life, it’s even more amazing when you’re seeing it at nine in the morning before the hoard of visitors start to crowd around Parliament Square. Of course, this seclusion didn’t last too long.

I guess I should say, Elizabeth Tower is mind blowing to see. Little fact, for those as clueless as I was until about a year ago: Big Ben actually refers to the Great Bell of the clock and not the clock or tower itself. I know, I know. When I first found out, it felt like every movie I had ever watched based in Great Britain had lied to me.

*Geography Tip:  If you’re like me and have a hard time differentiating the United Kingdom, Great Britain, etc. just think of it in terms of The Palace of Westminster. The Palace of Westminster is the entire United Kingdom. Great Britain is Elizabeth Tower, a part of the United Kingdom. And then England would be Big Ben, which is in the Elizabeth tower which makes up the Palace of Westminster.

If that confused you more than it helped, I apologize.

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Westminster Abbey was our next stop of the day.

I can describe Westminster Abbey in two words: brilliant and morbid.

I never cease to be amazed by European architecture, and Westminster Abbey doesn’t disappoint. Of course we wouldn’t have been satisfied simply taking photos from outside, as would’ve missed out on the unique stained glass windows, monuments, and carvings that make up the various memorials of Westminster Abbey.

That’s probably where it gets slightly morbid.

When I was growing up I had a mild obsession with Alice in the Wonderland. And now I was literally walking on the burial location of Lewis Carroll. Actually, I was essentially walking on my entire life’s worth of English class, also known as Poet’s corner.

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But while it was mildly morbid, it was no less brilliant.

We had planned to visit Buckingham Palace after Westminster Abbey but as had timed tickets which didn’t allow entry for another two hours, we spent some time roaming St. James Park.

Back home in New York, my absolute favorite place in city, especially when it comes to clearing my mind is Central Park. I love the open space, of which we have very little of; the adorable Alice in Wonderland statues, and the fact that it lies right in between my two favorite museums: The Museum of Natural History and The Museum of Metropolitan Art.

Naturally, I had no qualms with spending good portions of our days wandering St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, and St. James Park in London.

For those who don’t know, Buckingham Palace is only open during the summer months which I would assume has part to do with the fact that the Queen vacations to the Scottish Balmoral Estate all summer. Luckily for us (not as lucky as spending the summer in Scotland, but still pretty great), we were visiting in mid-July. Though it wasn’t necessarily the actual palace I was excited about. Personally, I feel like once you’ve seen one overly gaudy palace, you’ve seen a majority of ’em.

However, we were lucky enough to have been visiting during Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from the Queen’s Wardrobe; I’m a sucker for any fashion related exhibit. Unfortunately, photography inside this exhibit was prohibited but you can get a sneak peak at some of the Queen’s fashion items here.

I had so many questions while roaming this exhibit.

Where does she put all these? Do they have their own room? I mean there are three different living rooms in this place. Maybe she has a storage unit? Do Queens have storage units? You think she ever has worn the same thing twice? Does she wake up to a designer handing her a custom designed outfit each morning?

To answer one of my own questions, which I later found out, the Queen has in fact worn a couple of her outfits more than once.

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It seems we had visited every cliche London location we could think of, but our day was still not over.

Hopping the train to Covent Garden, we had made it just in time to peak into some of the shops before our dinner reservation at the Palm Court.

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This meal was to everything.

Palm Court leads with the triumphant score of  4.5/5

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In case you’re wondering, that is in fact chorizo jam on top of my pork chop.

I can think of no better way to end a full day in London other than chorizo jam.

But the London skyline against a beautiful sunset isn’t too bad either.

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London: Day 1 – Just Touched Down in London Town

We awoke from our hotel in Westminster, ready to take on our first day in London. First thing on the agenda: getting to the Museum of Natural History at opening. As cliche as it may be, ever since I was little I fantasized about visiting the Natural History Museum in London and walking in to that huge dinosaur model.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is finally seeing something you recognize from a postcard or a movie, even something as simple as specific street right in front of you.

On top of crossing something off my bucket list, I’ve always had a love for history museums even visiting the one back home in New York on at least a bimonthly basis.

Next stop: Harrods, because you don’t go to London and not stop in Harrods. Where else can you find a carved meat station in the middle of a typical shopping section?

After spending way too much on tea and chocolate souvenirs for family and friends, and some light shopping in the area we decided to head back to our room for a quick nap. Though that didn’t last too long as we had purchased tickets to see the Lion King, that night in the West End.

We hadn’t made a dinner reservation so decided last minute to try out Frankie and Benny’s, for the mere fact that Google stated that while there are only Frankie and Benny’s in the UK currently, it originated in Little Italy by an Italian family from Sicily.

Naturally this sounded like a great choice because Italian and New York go together like cereal and milk. Well, while this restaurant may have originally been outstanding, the Chain-UK version is not up to par. Inedible? No. But the flavorless, thin sauce with flavorless meatballs really wasn’t a showstopper. The cheesy, garlic bread however was on point, but I like to think it’s impossible to ruin something so simple. I also watched as a huge group of parents and children, obviously celebrating a child’s birthday, had to send back one child’s dish at least four times.

Overall, Frankie and Benny’s gets a 2/5.

But the Lion King gets a 9/10.

Bonus points to the actresses who played Rafiki, who had one of the most chill-inducing voices, and Nala, who was one of the most charismatic and talented young actresses I’ve seen.

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What I Learned this Day in London:

  1. Don’t eat the Italian food.
  2. See all the shows.

 

Ireland: Day 7 -A Man Named John Jameson

Seeing as this was our final day in the Emerald Isle, we decided to finish it off right with an Irish breakfast and more at Clontarf Castle’s breakfast buffet at Fahrenheit.

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We also needed to prepare our stomaches for any whiskey to be ingested at the Old Jameson Distillery. In case you’re curious as to why it’s called the Old Jameson Distillery, it is because the current, running one is actually in County Cork. But that didn’t make us any less excited.

Our tour consisted of what maybe around 25 attendees and started off with a short film discussing the history of Jameson Whiskey and it’s founders. After that we were given an in depth tour of the old factory and taught about the long and specific process it takes to make Jameson as well as other types of liquor.

During the final part of the tour, each guest is given a sample of three different Whiskey’s, American Whiskey (ie. Jack Daniels/That stuff you thought was good in college), Scotch Whiskey  (ie. Johnnie Walker/Whiskey with a side of burning log taste), and finally Irish Whiskey (ie.Jameson).

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One of these things is not like the other, one of these things doesn’t belong.

I’ve never been a Jack Daniel’s fan, but oh…my word, taking them side by side… The Scottish Whiskey on the other hand, I don’t mind. That smokey flavor is actually right up my alley.

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(Take Note of the Guinness sweater while at the Jameson Distillery #Rebel)

Our tour ended with a mixed Jameson drink in the lounge, which was a  nice change from all the Guinness. We spent a good amount of time looking around the Jameson gift store which could make even the biggest haters of Whiskey a Jameson fan.

We still had some time until our flight to London and decided to use that time wisely, and explore as much of Dublin as we could. Let me just say, I was once told by a friend that “Dublin City is so small. You can easily see everything in two days.” The short response to that is, no. Not only did we not fit in some thing that we actually had planned to see, but on our last day we ended up passing so many other stops or attractions and thought “Aw, I wish we had known about that earlier.” Dublin is an amazing city with so much to see and we could’ve easily spent the good part of a week just exploring County Dublin.

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Our last stop was the National Museum of Ireland; unfortunately we only had time to visit one of the three museums in Dublin that make up the National Museum and so we chose Archaeology. I’ve always had a strong interest in archaeology but I was very interested in seeing the bog bodies which were in fact incredibly cool.

We took our time, knowing as soon as we finished this last adventure our trip to Ireland would officially be over. We headed back to Clontarf to pick up our bags before hopping in a cab to the airport.

We knew as soon as we left that would be indeed be back again. After all, an Irish proverb once said “Your feet will take you where your heart is.”

 

Ireland: Day 6 – The Rock of Cashel and the Gift of Gab

Today was the day I had been waiting for. No, not my birthday though we would be receiving a gift.

Today was the day that we would kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the Gift of Gab.

Our first stop on our way to County Cork, was the Rock of Cashel. If you’re unfamiliar with the legend surrounding the Rock of Cashel, you can read all about it here. But long story short: Patrick went to confront the devil who was plotting his evil plan to plunge Europe into the Dark Ages. While attempting to escape, the Devil took a bite out of a mountain (nicknamed the Devil’s Bit) and then spit the rock at Patrick, who he was unhappy with having been made a fool of, however the rock ended up landing in the middle of the plains of Tipperary, it’s current location.

We began hiking up the small hill towards the buildings surrounding the Rock, when we finally saw it.

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Welp, there it was. And honestly, it was pretty cool. We explored the surrounding buildings including the artifacts inside the visitor center, but naturally it was the fields of greens that captured most of my attention.

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Once we deported from the Rock of Cashel, we were headed towards Blarney.

Upon arrival we were given a map of the entire Blarney Castle area and suggested to to get on the line for the stone as it was the most popular attraction here. (obviously) Of course, being the tourists that we are, we decided to knock this must-do off the list first. The entire hike up to the tower didn’t take more than 35 minutes, but the walk up is interesting in itself. The most recent structure that is Blarney Castle was built in 1446, so the layout and room arrangement is something completely different than anything you may have seen. To get to each room you had to walk either up or down the spiral staircase, which I assume caused much trouble if two people ended up walking in opposite directions, considering how narrow the staircase is.

At last we had been gifted with the gift of gab!

While most people come to Blarney with their sights set on the stone, I personally feel that Blarney Gardens are the real highlight. To be honest, we knew not much about the gardens before our visit but considering we had so much extra time we spent a couple of hours roaming. Not only were the gardens, which seem to be right out of a fantasy storybook, completely spectacular but we’ve already planned on returning in the future without a guide, so we could spend a good half day exploring every nook and cranny.

 I highly suggest that anyone who has time during their trip to County Cork, to check out the stunning Blarney Gardens. And sure, kiss the stone while you’re there too.

We had one final stop on our tour: Cork City.

Similar to Galway as the last stop on our Cliffs of Moher tour, this stop should’ve probably been eliminated entirely.

Not that Cork City doesn’t seem worth the visit. Quite the contrary; it seems like it deserves and actual visit. 45 minutes to explore a city seems a bit unnecessary and as if they just wanted to add another destination to the tour itinerary.

However, we attempted to roam the couple of blocks closest to the bus and take a quick look around the English Market. Cork City, we will return.

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Once home at our castle in Dublin, we decided to have our second dinner at the Knight’s Bar and didn’t regret it one bit.

It hit us during this meal that tomorrow would be our final day in Ireland before we headed off to London. It’s safe to say there is no sadder day than one’s final day in Ireland.

 

Ten Parisian Bucket List Must-Do’s

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When I was twelve and began jotting down all the things I knew I’d one day have to do, which would eventually become my Bucket List, “visiting Paris” was one of the highest things on the list.

I’d collect every postcard or painting showcasing Paris and watch Chocolat so often that I could almost recite the film by heart, in French!

Now that I’ve been to Paris, I am not less obsessed. Not only do I know I have to visit Paris again, but during my short day trips away from the city I’ve fallen for France as a whole. So my bucket list item has gotten a lot more extensive.

For those of you who are soon embarking or hope to soon take a trip to the City of Love, here is a list of what I consider the must-do’s/must-see’s/must-visit’s when visiting Paris.

  1. Buy yourself some sorbet from Berthillon and stroll the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis. These two mini islands in the center of Paris, are my absolutely favorite part of the whole city. Don’t forget to make stops at Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and Concierge.
  2. While you’re in that area, don’t forget to stop into Shakespeare and Company. While some may feel this stop is overrated, for those like me who are lovers of small book stores, this is a must-visit. And the ladders, which guests are free to climb to reach books on higher shelves, screams “Little town, it’s a quiet village”. (Beauty & The Beast reference, for those non Disney fanatics.)
  3. Try the street food. I know many may not think to try the street food when there are so many five-star bistros along every street of Paris but the street carts, specifically those in the area surrounding the Lourve, ended up being a frequent stop for me during my entire stay. Extra tip: Find the man who makes fresh squeezed orange/lemonade drinks with fresh mint.
  4. Visit the Catacombs. For those who are worried, they really don’t feel as small or constricted as you may think. If you go, be sure to grab an audio guide, as the history of the morbid, yet exciting attraction is actually pretty fascinating.
  5. Try the pink of the bunch when it comes to ordering pastries. If you’re free of most allergies, such as I am, definitely walk into a bakery and point at the first things you think look good. During my first visit to Laduree, I was so overwhelmed that I ended up pointing to the most random assortment of macarons, pastries and tarts. One of the ones I had pointed to ended up being a croissant filled with some kind of nut/apple mixture, and also my favorite snack of the entire trip.
  6. Stroll. Be sure to fit in some time to stroll in any which direction while in Paris. I know this can be difficult, especially on shorter trips but my most memorable moments were when I was spending hours walking around with a street crepe in my hand, taking it all in. You’ll begin to feel more a part of the city instead of just a visitor and you may stumble upon something you hadn’t even have thought of.
  7. Hop on a river cruise. Cliche? yes. Worth it? also yes. This was one of the first things we did on our first day so it made for a very relaxing ride after our long flight, but we also got a chance to see a good amount of popular attractions and Parisian architecture along the way.
  8. Don’t restrict yourself to French restaurants. France is actually home to brilliant chefs of all cuisines. If you happen to be in the mood for Italian, stop by Enza y Famiglia. Small but absolutely delicious! I’d go as far as to say that it may be in the top three best Italian restaurants I’ve ever been to, and I’m from New York. I honestly think they sprinkled some magic in their sauce.
  9.  Visit the Tour Montparnasse. Of course you should visit the Eiffel Tower (and pre-book a timed ticket prior to your trip, FYI) but the real view is from Tour Montparnasse, or otherwise known as the middle finger of Paris. Why? Because when atop the Eiffel Tower, you’ll notice the beautiful view of Paris and it’s spectacular architecture but then you’ll notice an obnoxiously tall, plain, jet black, rectangular building sticking out above the skyline. It does make you question who the hell thought this was a good idea to build however the view is stunning. You get the same spectacular view you get from the tower, only the tower is also included in this view. Whip out your cameras!
  10. Have a hot chocolate at Angelina. And pair it with a delicious, and just as awful or your teeth dessert. If you’re a fan or real hot chocolate or have ever tried Max Brenner’s, you’ll absolutely love this regardless of how hot it is outside.

Ireland: Days 5: Bidding Adieu to Ballyseede Castle

Our fifth day in Ireland was much less eventful, though no less exceptional.

Without any specific plans for the day, and a later train planned back to Dublin, we were able to relax a bit more this morning. We were thankful for this as we now had time to experience breakfast in the Stone Room at Ballyseede Castle.

FOOD: 4/5

Each of our entrees were delicious. Though my mother and sister weren’t used to the European style pancakes, they loved the strawberry compote. I’m always a sucker for any form of eggs Benedict so this was clearly a win for me, especially since the chef knew not to go overboard on the hollandaise. Plus any place that has a pre-entree buffet station, complete with juices, muffins, cheese, etc. never gets less than four stars from me.

AMBIANCE: 5/5

Each room of Ballyseede is designed to fully embody the vintage castle feel and the Stone Room is no exception. From the stone walls, to the pained portraits it truly feels like we were guests invited to a royal breakfast.

SERVICE: 5/5

Considering the amount of allergies my younger sister has, we are always extra impressed when restaurant staff not only take a second to listen but are also able to explain the menu and any alternatives should there be a cross contamination issue. Our waiter was very sweet and accommodating, and let my sister know exactly what she was able to order without issue.

Overall, I’d give out stay at Ballyseede 4/5 stars, which could have easily been been higher if it weren’t for that service problem. I loved everything about Ballyseede as well as those work there, but if you choose to place guests in basement level rooms, be sure to make it known that they will receive not only zero wifi, but zero reception. That or fix the situation.

Despite that small issue however, we would 100% come back to Ballyseede Castle.

Finally, we had to bid adieu.

We had a bit of time before we had to depart from Tralee Station to Dublin, so upon doing a quick search of attractions in the area, decided to stop by the Kerry County Museum where they were more than fine with holding onto our bags as we explored.

I’m only sorry that we hadn’t realized how much more there was to see in Tralee before our last day. Turns out, if we had just walked a few blocks passed the station we would’ve come to a strip of stores and restaurants. Yet, another thing added to the “When we Return” list.

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We ended up enjoying the Kerry County Museum even more than we had anticipated, but the theme of our trip had been about stumbling upon places we hadn’t even have thought to visited.

My absolute favorite part of the Kerry County Museum had to be the Medieval Experience, which is a life-size walkthrough of the streets Tralee as they were in 1450 AD with all the sights, sounds and robust smells of a bustling community. Truly a great experience.

Two train rides later we were back in Dublin.

Though we were sad to leave our beautiful Castle stay in Tralee, we were excited for our next couple of nights in Clontarf Castle. Not going to lie, Clontarf Castle definitely did not give off the same feel as Ballyseede Castle.

While Ballyseede seemed like a castle which later been renovated into a hotel, which it was, Clontarf seemed more like a hotel that they tried to theme as a castle. But still, a nice hotel nonetheless.

We set our bags down in our room and decided to head downstairs to Knights Bar for dinner. This would become our favorite spot in Clontarf because of it’s open, warm atmosphere. Plus the food was spot on.

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While we had planned to spend the later part of the day exploring a bit of Howth, the downpour that occurred following our meal put that plan on hold. *Adds Howth to list of places we did not get to visit on this trip.

Due to the storm and suddenly being hit with a fit of exhaustion, we decided to spend the rest of the night relaxing and exploring our second castle stay.