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.

Cheers! XOXO

Read about the rest of our quick London visit:

London: Day 3 – Cheers London! (2016)

London: Day 2 – Churches, Fashion, and St. James Park (2016)

London: Day 1 – Just Touched Down in London Town (2016)

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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.”

 

Read about the rest of our Ireland Adventure:

Ireland: Day 7 – A Man Named John Jameson (2016)

Ireland: Day 6 – The Rock of Cashel and the Gift of Gab (2016)

Ireland: Days 5: Bidding Adieu to Ballyseede Castle (2016)

Ireland: Day 4 – Adventures Through the Gap (2016)

Ireland: Day 3 – Gardens, and Castles, and Books…Oh My! (2016)

Ireland: Day 2 – Towers, Cliffs & the Burren (2016)

Ireland: Day 1 – The Three Musketeers Take on EPIC (2016)

 

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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.

 

Read about the rest of our Ireland Adventure:

Ireland: Day 7 – A Man Named John Jameson (2016)

Ireland: Day 6 – The Rock of Cashel and the Gift of Gab (2016)

Ireland: Days 5: Bidding Adieu to Ballyseede Castle (2016)

Ireland: Day 4 – Adventures Through the Gap (2016)

Ireland: Day 3 – Gardens, and Castles, and Books…Oh My! (2016)

Ireland: Day 2 – Towers, Cliffs & the Burren (2016)

Ireland: Day 1 – The Three Musketeers Take on EPIC (2016)

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Ten Parisian Bucket List Must-Do’s

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 a tead 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, scream “Little town, it’s a quiet village”. (Beauty & The Beast reference, for those non Disney fanatics.)13690696_10208550526213759_6372865752628512477_n.jpg
  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. Be sure to grab an audio guide, as the history of the morbid, yet exciting attraction is actually pretty fascinating.
  5. Try the pick of the bunch when it comes to ordering pastries. If you’re free of most allergies, like myself, try walking into a bakery and pointing at the first thing you think looks good. During my first visit to Laduree, I was so overwhelmed that I ended up pointing to the most random assortment of macarons and pastries. One of the croissants I had pointed to ended up being a  filled with some kind of nut/apple mixture, and also ended up being 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 the architect was who thought this was a good look, but the view is stunning. IMG_3187
  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.

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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.

 

Read about the rest of our Ireland Adventure:

Ireland: Day 7 – A Man Named John Jameson (2016)

Ireland: Day 6 – The Rock of Cashel and the Gift of Gab (2016)

Ireland: Days 5: Bidding Adieu to Ballyseede Castle (2016)

Ireland: Day 4 – Adventures Through the Gap (2016)

Ireland: Day 3 – Gardens, and Castles, and Books…Oh My! (2016)

Ireland: Day 2 – Towers, Cliffs & the Burren (2016)

Ireland: Day 1 – The Three Musketeers Take on EPIC (2016)

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Ireland: Day 4 – Adventures Through the Gap

This had been the day I had most been looking forward to, the day that we walked, boated and rode a horse and cart through the magnificent and underrated Gap of Dunloe.

I say underrated due to the fact that it wasn’t until last minute that we chose this day trip over the Ring of Kerry; and anytime I asked any questions regarding must-sees on the west coast, the Gap was never brought up. In fact, if it wasn’t for Viator and following my gut instinct we may have missed out on what I consider not only one of the most outstanding days of our trip but one of the most adventurous days of my life.

We got up at the crack of dawn and hopped a 35 minute train from Tralee to Killarney, where we’d meet our tour guide and group literally right outside the gates. I use group lightly here. The tour group we used was hosting two different tours that day, the Gap of Dunloe and the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry tour ended up having two full tour buses. Our tour group consisted of the three of us and one other English couple. Right away, we knew we made the best choice.

This isn’t to say that the various areas of the Ring aren’t amazing in their own right, but we’re a sucker for less touristy excursions. And while I’d tour the Gap every time i’m back on the west coast of Ireland, I definitely would love to explore the Ring as well.

Our driver dropped us off at the starting point, a small depot with a few souvenier shops, a restroom, and a place to grab some coffee or tea. It’s also here where we made our decision on choice of travel through the Gap. We could do the walk; approximately 7 miles, ride a horse behind a horse-drawn cart or be seated on the cart. Had my sister’s asthma not been acting up, we may have done more walking but for a majority of this ride she instead rode a horse (English-style and a lot better than I thought she was) as my mother and I, plus that couple and the driver who was holding onto our horse and a rope holding my sisters at the same time, were way too snug in a jaunting cart.

What I love about the area of Ireland we explored on this trip was how huge, yet close-knit it was. About halfway through our journey, our horse-cart driver(?) stopped as he saw a neighbor on the side of the road. They then began to have a casual conversation along the lines of:

Neighbor: Hey Jack, did you here Connor thought he saw one of your cows about a mile up.

Driver: One of my cows?

Neighbor: Yeah, maybe. A large mostly black one.

Driver: Eh, that doesn’t sound like one of mine. I’ll see ya round.

Neighbor: See ya!

Being a graduate with a hospitality & tourism major, this is of course peeked my interest. Those who lived here had jobs completely unrelated to the tourism industry but then, like many, realize that they can make a living or some extra money off of becoming a part of it instead of opposing it.

The views on this tour…were like no other I had ever seen. This is wear the two mountainsides meet at a small curving rode and a lake, thus creating…you guessed it, the appearance of a gap.

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As far as the cliche Ireland that you imagine in your head, this is it. It was the most beautiful mix of green fields, magical bridges and rough terrain, and I did have to stop numerous times just to stare in awe and take it all in.

Finally we made it to the actual Gap of Dunloe.

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Que the slideshow of what is most likely a bunch of overly similar photos. It was too breathtaking to not take multiple.

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But the journey was only beginning. After experiencing the gap we were dropped off at Kate Kearny’s Cottage, a 150 year old, family-run bar, restaurant and shop. We had about a half hour until the next boat arrived, so we grabbed some tea and explored a bit, which ended up being 20 minutes of us following around an adorable deer. Unlike deer back in the US, these weren’t shy of humans and didn’t flinch or run away which made for a fun little photoshoot.

Soon enough we were boarding a tiny, wooden boat with six other people plus our guide. The beginning of the ride was relaxing and gorgeous, a small snippet of which can be seen here. Let me just say, that I did not anticipate the size and depth of these lakes, nor did I expect the mini-rain storm that began was we were halfway through the largest of the three lakes.

At one point it seemed as though the waves would make their way into our small boat, and we were told to all move as far to the back of the boat as possible to steady ourselves. But in all honesty, this just added to the excitement and adventure.

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Almost too soon, we were able to make out Ross Castle in the distance. As soon as we stepped off our driver was waiting for us, looking a bit chilly due to the rain. We grabbed him a cup of tea, along with a few for us before taking a quick look around the castle.

We were dropped back off at the station and having some time to spare, we explored a bit of Killarney and grabbed a bite to eat. I really wish we had more time to roam Killarney, but we’ll definitely move it to the top of a future itinerary.

Eventually but all too soon, we were on a train back home to our castle stay in Tralee.