Europe

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast is a must for any visitor to Iceland! It was something that we thoroughly enjoyed both times we visited this amazing country, and it’s one of the most beautiful and unique areas we’ve ever seen. Waterfalls, glaciers, and black sandy beaches await you as you drive the Ring Road away from the “big city” of Reykjavik.

After a very early landing in Keflavik we got our car and hit the road old school with no GPS and only a map at our disposal. The roads are so easy to navigate (there aren’t too many!) and the signage is pretty well posted. We passed through lava fields surrounded by not so distant mountains speckled with tiny waterfalls. At times it felt like we were alone on the road in a vast sea of lava. Iceland looks like a completely different planet. Simply spectacular!

Lava fields

Waterfalls

The first stop on the drive was to a beautiful waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and this waterfall did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal since we could climb up and walk behind the waterfall. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around, looking at it from all directions. A very cool sight indeed!

We walked about 1/3 mile to another waterfall called Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. We were able to get very close with this one! It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it (and a little bit of a walk from the more popular waterfall) not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up the rock to see the top.

More Exploring

During our second time in Iceland we decided to explore a little more. We drove up and up and up, and then around, hoping to see the Seljalandsfoss from a high angle. However, we couldn’t find what we were supposed to be looking for, which was the view from the top of the waterfall. Nevertheless, we saw some great views and it gave me a chance to practice my bathroom skills next to the car!

We continued on and drove to the impressive Skogafoss waterfall, which stands about 60 meters tall and is about 25 meters wide. The waterfall has a lot of power to it and you can hear the thundering at the bottom of it from afar. We were surprised that we were able to get so close to the base given how forceful it is. We walked up to about as far as we could get without getting soaking wet. Stairs and a path next to the waterfall led us all the way to the top to some precarious views down below. These stairs also mark the start of one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, taking you 55 kilometers to Landmannalaugaur.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Next we drove about 20 minutes to Sólheimajökull glacier. This glacier snout is part of the much bigger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. They say that Sólheimajökull is shrinking and retreating, and has retreated about a kilometer in the last decade. As you walk towards the glacier you can even see where it used to be since it is either covered by water or rough stony ground. It was pretty cool looking at a glacier that has probably been there since the Ice Age.

An Interesting Find

Our next stop is a really interesting and random find. On November 24, 1973, a U.S. Navy plane was forced to land on the black sand beach of Solheimasandur in Southern Iceland. The crew survived, but the plane was abandoned, rather than recovered, and it rests there still. Extreme weather (and looters?) has taken its toll on the plane, but the shell and half of both wings still remain.

The plane was somewhat of a challenge to get to. At the time, this site wasn’t in your Lonely Planet or Rick Steves’ books – we just happened to find it on a blog a few days before we arrived in Iceland and it gave very detailed instructions on how to find it. There are no signs from the main road and when you do come to the subtle turn off the road, there is a teeny tiny sign pointing that the site is about 5 km away.

Plane - Iceland's South Coast

The “road” to the site (packed gravel and rocks) is bumpy and full of potholes! Rocks were kicking up into the tires and metal and I was afraid that we were going to puncture something as we drove very slowly towards the south. It took a good 15-20 minutes to get down towards the water, but when we came around a small corner you couldn’t miss this incredible site. FYI, you cannot drive to this site anymore! There is a small parking area at the beginning of the gravel road and then you must walk about 45-60 min to the site.

Black Sand Beach

Continuing on we went to Reynisfjara Beach, about five minutes from the tiny town of Vik. Reynisfjara Beach was voted as one of the most ten beautiful non-tropical beaches on Earth. It was easy to see why! There’s a lot to see at this fascinating and eerie beach. In the distance off-shore you can see the Reynisdrangar rock formations, which look like spooky spindles of rock sticking out of the ocean. Legend has it that three trolls were pulling a three masted ship to shore, but were caught at dawn by the sunlight and were turned into rocks.

On the beach there are stunning basalt columns. They were created when magma cooled slowly and then cracked into columns as the surface area decreased. These were just spectacular to look at!

Also in the area of Vik is Dyrholaey. Here we saw views of the empty black sand beach. The Arctic waters crashing on them was a gorgeous sight. We spent some time just taking in the scenery and relaxing.

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast was a wonderful experience.. so much so that we did it twice! It’s a must for any visitor to Iceland. You could spend a few days in the area or make a day trip out of it from Reykjavik. Combine your trip with The Golden Circle and The Westman Islands for a great stay in this gorgeous country.

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Exploring Slovenia

Despite being such a small country, Slovenia has an incredibly diverse landscape and is home to some of the friendliest people we have ever met in our travels. Slovenia borders the northeast corner of Italy and is about 90 miles from Venice. A lot is packed into this country, which contains everything from snow-capped mountains suitable for skiing, beaches on the Gulf of Trieste, and acres of hills and plains blanketed with grapevines. It has some of the cleanest water in the world due to its many lakes and springs, has half of its total area covered in forest, and is abundant with various types of wildlife. We had so much fun exploring Slovenia!

Ljubljana

We flew into Venice, rented a car, and drove about two hours to the capital, Ljubljana. This small city has plenty of museums, universities, greenery, and a castle overlooking the city on its highest peak. We walked into the old town and through Presernov Trg (Preseren Sqaure). This is where the life of the city is! There is a river running through it with quite a few small walking bridges crossing the water. Many restaurants and cafes line the riverbank. Even though it was about 25 degrees there were a lot of people sitting outside, sipping their coffees with friends.

We took the funicular up and made our way to Ljubljana Castle. From below, the castle looks extensive and is the city’s focal point, but while we were up there it seemed surprisingly small. We went across a small courtyard to the watchtower and climbed the stairs. We saw wonderful views of the city here!

Our ticket also included entrance to the Slovenian History Exhibition. It led us through the country’s past exhibiting significant objects and video explanations.

After taking the funicular down we walked through the central market area, which has an outdoor and indoor market selling everything from meats, cheeses, vegetables, and honey, to items like magnets, paintings, and wooden kitchen accessories. We walked through the market along the river and crossed the Dragon Bridge. It is “guarded” by four sculptures of dragons, which are now the city’s mascots.

Lake Bled

After our time in Ljubljana, we drove 40 minutes to the town of Bled. Bled is situated right on Lake Bled, a picturesque, emerald-green lake that has the scenery of a postcard. The lake has some of Slovenia’s highest mountain peaks as a backdrop, a medieval castle on a small cliff, and a church sitting on a tiny island in the middle of it all. In the summer Bled gets incredibly busy, as there are many rowing, swimming, and boating competitions, while in the winter – though not empty – one can walk around the lake without the chaos and noise of tourists.

We walked the four miles around the lake, capturing pictures, petting dogs on walks, and admiring the natural beauty. Seeing the snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance was stunning and the entire landscape was just breathtaking.

Kranjska Gora

About 40 minutes from Bled is the more well-known ski resort of Kranjska Gora. This resort has been used for the European Winter Championships and open air events. Not ony can you downhill ski, you can also toboggan, snowshoe, and cross-country ski.

We arrived to a huge parking problem at the resort! There was only one big parking lot and it had already filled up, with people double and triple parking cars into makeshift spots. All that was left was street parking in town, which we drove aimlessly around looking for. We got pretty lucky after we squeezed into a spot right in front of a ski rental place, which ended up being closer than the main parking lot. Win!

Kranjska Gora was more akin to east coast skiing in the USA than the west coast or the Alps. There weren’t too many runs, it was very icy in parts, and it was more crowded with people, especially beginners. Despite that, we enjoyed skiing here very much.

Postojna Caves

In Postojna there is a large cave network under the surface, consisting of 21 kilometers of fantastic tunnels, halls, and passages. It’s very similar to Lurray Caverns in Virginia. Remnants of rivers and pools of water can be seen from the indentation in the rocks. There are big rock chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites of many sizes and shapes, some of which have taken tens of thousands of years to form. The caves were enchanting! Each area that we saw offered a different view into this remarkable underground world. We felt like we took a journey to the center of the earth, where time is counted by the drops of water and the art of mother nature is on display.

We started with a ride in a miniature train for two kilometers through small archways, large halls, and tiny passageways. Afterward, we were led through different areas of the caves, each with their own unique name. The Hall of Tubes (aka Spaghetti Hall) was so named because of the white, needle-thin tubes hanging from the ceiling. The Concert Hall holds events and concerts a few times a year and can accommodate several thousand people. The White Hall is named because all the stalactites are extremely white from pure limestone. The whole experience was magnificent and it gave us a magical view of the underground world of the Postojna Caves.

We’re so glad that we visited this lovely country. The charm of Lake Bled, the relaxed atmosphere of the capital city of Ljubljana, and the various types of terrain and natural beauty, make exploring Slovenia a wonderful experience. It truly is a terrific place to visit and unwind!

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Eating Our Way Through Bologna, Italy

Ah, Bologna… the food capital of Italy! Located about 50 miles north of Florence, Bologna is a wonderful alternative to the more crowded and touristy cities of Italy. It doesn’t have the art museums of Florence, the canals of Venice, or the ancient monuments of Rome, but it does have some stunning architecture and food. The city is famous for its cuisine and is known as the culinary capital of Italy. In fact, Italians refer to Bologna by three names: La Dotta, La Rossa, and La Grassa; the educated, the red, and the fat. “Educated” refers to the city’s university which is the oldest university in Europe (since 1088). “Red” refers to the red bricks that most of Bologna’s buildings are made from, and because of its leftist political views. “Fat” refers to Bologna’s culinary history, making it the food capital of Italy, which held up to its name.

We were excited to taste Bologna’s delicious food and explore a new part of the country. We were also excited to meet up with good friends, Sera and Martin. After a lunch filled with glorious truffles and ravioli, we wandered the streets of the city center of Bologna. We took in sights like the Asinelli Tower, Piazza Maggiore, and the Neptune Fountain, as well as indulging in the wine and food from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Reggio Emilia Tour

During our second day in Bologna we went on a private food and wine tour of the region. After our guide arrived early in the morning, we went to a Parmesan cheese factory in the Reggio Emilia region. Here, we watched the daily process of making Parmesan cheese straight from the cows, along with a taste of the final product at the end (aged 15 months). Yum!

Next we went to the home of a traditional balsamic vinegar producer in the area. Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is made only from the Emilia Romagna region, is aged at least 12 years, and is different from the balsamic vinegar of Modena label that we often see. The two are distinct products in their manufacturing, composition, and price. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the process we tasted six different traditional balsamic vinegars. We could definitely tell the difference between the traditional and the other balsamic vinegars. They were thicker, creamier, richer, and much more expensive!

An Afternoon at a Winery

The final stop was our wine tasting at a vineyard in the region. The owner (whose real name we never found out, only that he wanted us to call him Jim because his favorite singer is Jim Morrison) showed us the vineyards. We tasted 8 (or 9?) wines and he did not skimp! He poured the wine so high in the glasses that it became more of a wine party than a tasting. It was fun and we don’t remember leaving the winery!

After a little rest and recovery back at the hotel, we ventured out to a local restaurant in Bologna. This trattoria uses only local products and cooks traditional cuisine from the region such as spaghetti bolognese, tortellini al brodo (tortellini in a broth sauce), and lasagna. Dishes in Bologna are less about olive oil and tomatoes and more about butter and cream sauces. The addition of truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, and a variety of meats, makes for a perfect cold winter night in December. Simply delicious!

Jon and I definitely could have used another day in Bologna and we would love to go back again. We took advantage of the fantastic food opportunities in the region while being able to enjoy the city itself. The people are so friendly, they seem to enjoy life, and are respectful of things and people around them. The weather is great, and the food is fabulous. It’s one of those cities that we could see ourselves living in or around and it got us thinking yet again… can we please live here?

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Visiting Vienna X-mas market

Visiting Vienna

Vienna is consistently ranked as one of, if not the best, livable city in the world. And with good reason! Green parks take up almost half of the area, the public transportation system is convenient and reliable, and the cultural aspect can’t be beat. Stately and imposing buildings line the streets, with dramatic entrances, windows, and designs. Opera houses, theaters, museums, and parks are abundant. We thoroughly enjoyed our time visiting Vienna!

Noteworthy Buildings & Museums

We took our time looking through the city, coming across a variety of noteworthy buildings, including the Hofburg Palace. The Hofburg Palace started construction in the 13th century and is the former imperial residence. Now it serves as the official residence of the President of Austria.

Vienna has more than 100 museums containing everything from very famous and historical paintings, to museums that simply show furniture. We went to the Belvedere Museum (housed in Belvedere Castle), which holds paintings and art from Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Claude Monet. We were able to see Klimt’s famous painting, “The Kiss”.

The Opera

Music is one of Vienna’s legacies so we thought it would be the perfect place to see our first opera. The famous Vienna State Opera House was sold out of tickets two months prior, so we opted for the showing of the Italian opera Tosca at the Volksopera theater on Friday night.

So we didn’t hate it, but we didn’t love it either. We knew the storyline, but we were surprised it was sung in German and not in its native Italian. I know, we’re in Austria and we shouldn’t have expected anything but German, but not being able to understand the words, especially during the slower parts of the opera left us a little bored. The singing, the acting, the lavish costumes, and the story of Tosca were fabulous, but overall, we were meh. We’re glad we tried it though… how do you know something isn’t really for you unless you try it out?

Christmas Markets

Because we visited in December there were numerous Christmas markets that we could attend. This is one of my favorite things about Europe. A lot of countries have these markets, but each one has its own uniqueness and charm. Stands sell everything from from ornaments, to wooden toys, to local food. We sipped on numerous amounts of gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and browsed the different vendors. Each time you get a cup of gluhwein it comes in a decorative glass souvenir mug unique to the market that you’re visiting. We also went to Vienna’s famous year round market, Naschmarkt, which has a variety of different foods, spices, and cuisines to taste.

Visiting Vienna was an experience that we loved! We really enjoyed the different atmosphere that it provided us. We took pleasure in passing the large buildings, listening to the classical music playing in the streets, and wandering through the different areas of the city.

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Hiking Cinque Terra

The Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands) is an area that consists of five towns that are in close proximity to each other and are dotted along the Ligurian Coast of Italy. Each town has its own charm and unique characteristics, but they all still hold onto the quaint fishing village feeling of the area. We visited Cinque Terre knowing that we wanted to hike to the different towns, something the area is known for. There are different options for hiking Cinque Terre – you can hike one section of the trail, or make a day of it and do the whole thing. I’m sure you already know what option we went with!

Monterosso Al Mare

We flew into Genoa, spent the afternoon in the city, and continued our drive to our base, Monterosso al Mare. This town is Cinque Terre’s most northern town and is divided into two parts, the old and the new. It is also home to Cinque Terre’s most extensive sandy beach. This is the town to go to if you want a traditional Italian beach experience. Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five towns and also serves as one end of the hiking trail between them.

The Hike to Vernazza and Corniglia

There is a cliffside trail that connects the five villages, while also providing stunning views of the sea and coastline. The first part of the hike is from Monterosso al Mare to the next town of Vernazza. This is actually the most challenging section of the coastal hike. This is because there are very steep inclines and declines with pathways so narrow that at times only one person can fit at once. It took us one hour and five minutes to hike to Vernazza (the average is 1.5 hours… go us)! When we made our way down to the town we browsed the shops and refreshed ourselves with some water.

After a short break we left the pretty town of Vernazza and walked up towards the trail to Corniglia. Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and is the only one not accessible by water. Because it is on top of a hill, no matter which way you come from you have to head up. We had a very steep uphill start from Vernazza and from there it was a mix of uphill with small breaks of flat path for us to follow (though still pretty narrow). This section took us about 1.5 hours.

By the time we made it to Corniglia we were out of water and were famished! We found a cute restaurant that served the traditional food of Liguria, trofie with pesto, and had a delicious meal. Afterward, we spent about 30 minutes walking around the town. Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but is just as charming as the other towns, if not more. There’s a little piazza with a tower where people sit to pass the time, narrow car-free streets to wander through, and an overlook to take beautiful pictures of the sea.

The Hike to Manarola and Riomaggiore

Now we had a decision to make. Because of landslides from the previous year blocking the trail, the 1.2 mile coastal section between Corniglia and the next town, Manarola, was closed. We wanted to keep hiking so we decided to take a route that would take us UP and around the other trails in order to get to Manarola… about 2.5 miles. It winds up to the small town of Volastra and then all the way down to Manarola. So up we went. We went up so much that we really didn’t think it was possible to go up anymore. And when we thought “this has to flatten out soon, right?” we would turn a corner and see another set of treacherous rocks to climb up. There was no other option but to keep going! Hiking Cinque Terre was going to be a lot harder than we thought!

After making it to the top, the trail then consisted of small ups and downs, a nice reprieve from climbing. We made it to Volastra, followed the signs to Manarola, and finally went down. It seemed like we were descending way more than we had ascended in the beginning. After going down 1,200 narrow steps we finally made it to Manarola, two hours from when we started in Corniglia.

We really wanted to check out the most famous (and easiest) part of the hiking trail, Via dell’Amore, or the Love Trail. This is a 1km path carved out of the hard rock face overhanging the sea. It’s supposed to be one of the most romantic paths to walk. Unfortunately, because of those same landslides the year before this path was still closed. It is finally reopening in July 2024.

Our only option to get to the last town, Riomaggiore, was to take the very quick train ride. We spent some time in the town and refreshed with some water, but we didn’t stay long. We were beat!

Getting Back

After, we took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. But our hike didn’t end there. From the train station it was at least a mile uphill to our bed and breakfast. We calculated that we hiked a total of 12.15 miles that day (half of it pretty uphill), including walking in the towns a little bit – not bad for me being 14 weeks pregnant at the time! But we still had to walk down to the town for dinner later on…

Hiking in Cinque Terre is still one of our favorite hiking experiences in Italy. Not only does the hike give you stunning views of the sea during the trek, it was pretty cool being able to hike to the different towns and take in the scenery and characteristics of each one. 

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Off The Beaten Path in Rome

There’s something that happens when you visit a city for the second or third time and you’re not trying to see all of the regular touristy sites. You walk a bit slower, take in the sights and sounds of the locals going about their day, and notice just how beautiful the city can be when you’re not standing in line with the crowds. Around every corner and down every street are magnificent buildings; and in no way are they well known or famous, and people don’t go out of their way to see them, but they are striking, majestic, and stunning to admire. This is not to say that you shouldn’t see the main sights in a city. I think you’d be pretty disappointed if you didn’t visit the Colosseum or the Vatican while in Rome. But if you add on a couple more days to a trip, or make subsequent visits, you can truly get off the beaten path in Rome and have a completely different experience.

Aventine Hill

This isn’t totally off the beaten path in Rome, but it’s something different and away from the hustle and bustle. Aventine Hill is Rome’s southernmost hill and walkable from the city center. It’s a quiet residential area with a lot of historical churches and monasteries. One thing we sought out was here as well – the Knights of Malta keyhole in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Here, there is a keyhole through a door that gives a rather impressive view of St. Peter’s Basilica. When we visited during the winter there was no one there, but now you can expect to wait 15-30 minutes. This off the beaten path in Rome activity isn’t so secret anymore! Nonetheless, it is still away from the crowds and it’s an opportunity to go to a different neighborhood in Rome.

The nearby piazza and gardens gave us a wonderful view of the city stretched out before us.

The Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome was built in 1555 and was the mandatory home for the Roman Jewish population for more than 300 years. Most of the ghetto has been torn down, but you can still discover some remaining structures of the Jews’ notable past and modest present.

Portico d’Ottavia

Portico d’Ottavia, a big ancient ruin, is just next to the ghetto. These are the remains of an ancient gateway, which used to house a flourishing fish market. It was later turned into a church and was subsequently used by the Christians at that time to force the Jews to pray in, in hopes of converting them. Within the archeological site we walked behind an ancient theater, now with more modern buildings built into it. The back is the original rounded portico with arches, reminiscent of the Colosseum and other Roman theaters.

Trastevere

From there we crossed the Ponte Girabaldi into the Trastevere region. This is a very charming area of the city where a lot of young locals live. Small narrow streets dominate the neighborhood and restaurants and bars line the piazzas. After walking around here for a bit we had a fantastic lunch in a cute restaurant and had the best ravioli we’ve had in all of Italy!

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

We crossed back over, this time over Ponte Palatino, and stopped by the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The Roman statue called “La Bocca della Verita” (The Mouth of Truth), is here and legend has it that if a liar or a sinner puts his hand in the mouth they will lose it! The thrill of putting our hands in the statue’s mouth was strong and we couldn’t resist! We stuck our hands in and hope for the best. Alas, the harmless, but unnerving stone did not eat our hands.

Whether you’ve been to Rome ten times or only one, the Eternal City has so much to offer! No matter how many times you visit there is always more beauty and culture for you to discover and enjoy. We can’t wait to go back and discover more hidden gems when you go off the beaten path in Rome!

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Exploring the Westman Islands

The day we arrived in Iceland, our first day, we drove 2.5 hours to the ferry terminal in Landeyjahöfn to head to The Westman Islands, known as Vestmannaeyjar. My cousin, who lived in Iceland, highly recommended that we make a stop there as part of our trip. So off we went, bleary eyed and tired, but full of excitement and adrenaline! Exploring the Westman Islands turned out to be a great decision as we learned so much about this island that we never would have otherwise.

What to See While Waiting for the Ferry

We arrived about two hours before the ferry was due to leave, but knowing this beforehand we had planned to go to the nearby waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and these particular waterfalls did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal as we were allowed to climb up and walk behind Seljalandsfoss. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around looking at it from all directions. About 1/3 mile down the path is Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it, not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up to the rock and see the top.

Onward to the Island

We drove about 15 minutes to the ferry, parked the car, and walked on. The weather wasn’t the best so we decided to stay in and chill, where we ended up passing out for just about the whole 30 minute trip. The rest of the day is a little bit of a blur. We went right to the hotel, checked in, and had a delicious lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We were so tired we went back to the hotel for a little nap to catch up on some sleep before we had a spectacular dinner.

After getting about 10 hours of sleep (!) we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny, and warm day. Luckily we were able to sleep through the daylight the night before since we brought our eye masks – the hotel (or any other place we stayed for that matter) didn’t have blackout curtains. At this time of year (July 2) the sun doesn’t set until almost midnight and then rises again around 2:45am. During those few hours the sky doesn’t even come close to being black!

A Brief History on the Westman Islands

The Westman Islands are a series of islands south of the mainland formed by eruptions about 10,000 years ago. Only one island, Heimaey, is inhabitable, and it came to international attention with the eruption of Eldfell volcano in 1973. The eruption last about 6.5 months and destroyed about a fourth of the island, while increasing the size about 20%. Luckily, everyone was evacuated quickly so no one was killed. Families came back to the island to rebuild, and now climbing the volcano and visiting the museum is a pretty big attraction there, along with puffin watching.

Exploring the Westman Islands View

Eldfell Hike

After breakfast we set out on a clearly marked path towards the volcano Eldfell. They call this area the “Pompeii of the North” due to so many houses and other structures being buried (and most likely preserved) in mounds of lava. We walked past those memorials of houses and schools that were buried 16 meters below where we stood. We continued to get nice views of the town as we walked through 40 year old lava on either side of us along the way to Eldfell. On our walk we learned that heat from the volcano provided the town of Heimaey with geothermal energy from 1976-1985!

We started the somewhat steep climb on the collapsed northern end of the volcano taking breaks to snap pictures of the gorgeous view.

We made it to the top and wow, what a view! Once we got up there the wind hit us and all we could do was stand out facing the ocean with our arms stretched way out. We could basically see the entire island, including the teeny tiny airport. We were also able to see the other small islands that make up Vestmannaeyjar. This was such an incredible view and a great way to start out week in Iceland.

Eldheimer Museum

We made our way to the town and walked to Eldheimer. This is a museum detailing the 1973 eruption, and life on the island before and after it. The museum incorporates one house that was excavated and is still intact, including toppled household items left behind. The museum is beautifully done and we learned so much about the island.

Before we knew it we had to board the ferry again so we could continue our journey (but not before stopping at a delicious restaurant for some lunch)!

We’re so glad we spent some time exploring the Westman Islands. Plus, we got to learn some history about it that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about! After we disembarked we continued eastward on our Iceland journey. Starting our week with this beautiful island was just what we needed!

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Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle is by far Iceland’s most famous attraction. It’s conveniently situated near Reykjavik and stretches for around 186 miles hitting top sights such as Gulfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geysir geothermal area. Along the way one can also see the colorful Kerid Crater Lake, Bruarfoss Waterfall, and the Laugarvatn hot springs. Since the Golden Circle is so popular it can get pretty crowded with buses and tourists. But driving the Golden Circle in Iceland doesn’t have to be a crowded mess! When we drove it we did run into crowds in one area, but because of timing and our direction we were able to peacefully enjoy a lot of it!

Kerid Crater

Since we were coming from the east, Kerid Crater was our first stop. Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake that has milky blue water and red volcanic rock surrounding it. The pictures don’t do it justice! The singer Bjork actually held a concert in the middle of the lake about 10 years ago. We walked around the rim at the top to get the best views of it, but you can also take stairs down and walk around that way too.

Gulfoss Waterfall

We drove a little bit north and went to Gulfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is on the Hvita River, which is fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull. It was pretty crowded when we arrived here and we could see why. The falls are very powerful and were rampaging over the sides.

We went out to different view points, all in an attempt to get away from the mobs of people, but it was hard to do. It’s a great stop to have on a tour bus route. but we much prefer the quieter bus-free areas. We did very much enjoy looking at the intense waterfall though!

Geysir Geothermal Park

The next stop was only five minutes away, the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Because we went to the waterfall first (we had passed the hot spring area on the way) we were able to park in a small empty parking lot away from the tour bus area. The hot spring area is a large open area that has more than a dozen hot water blow holes and has been active for more than 1,000 years. Geysir is the original hot water spout after which all other geysers are named. Unfortunately, the original geyser no longer spews water into the air, but Strokkur is a very reliable geyser within the same area that shoots water 50-100 feet every 5-10 minutes. We watched Strokkur blast some hot water into the air a few times!

Laugarvatn Hot Springs

We continued counter clockwise on the Golden Circle and made a planned stop in Laugarvatn. The small town of Laugarvatn is known for its geothermal baths (Fontana) and we wanted to experience them! We stopped for a quick bite to eat and then headed to the baths. The Fontana is a small and intimate area consisting of several choices of shallow and deeper baths, each marked with a temperature rating. You can also go into the lake (with a sign that says “Dangerous Nature”)! And if you’ve had enough of the baths you can go into the sauna that’s fed by a naturally occurring geyser-like vent below.

This was a really nice place to go and unwind after a long day of driving the Golden Circle and sightseeing. The temperature outside was in the 50s and it was nice to sit outside in the hot water and check out the scenery. We also ventured into the lake a little bit, but didn’t go in that far since the bottom was rocky and it was a bit cold!

Driving the Golden Circle - Laugvartn

Thingvellir National Park

Moving on from Laugarvatn, we drove to our last stop of the day, Thingvellir National Park. Because we arrived later in the day, in addition to its large size, we were able to avoid the masses and explore this park in peace. The park has a lot of historical significance as the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament here in 930 (Thingvellir means “Parliament Plains”). Now it is a protected national shrine. The national park is also located on two tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and it’s possible to stand (and snorkel) in between the two plates.

There is so much beauty in this park! There were a lot of trails, paths, and other walkable areas for us to explore, as well as a beautiful lookout spot that had a stunning view of the park and surrounding area.

Tips

The Golden Circle is a really popular area to visit in Iceland, and that brings a ton of people. Here are some tips to best enjoy driving the Golden Circle in Iceland:

  • Almost all of the tour buses and large groups drive the Golden Circle in a clockwise direction. If you are driving yourself then drive the circle in a counter clockwise direction. You will avoid a lot of the congestion and large buses!
  • If you go in the summer you have the sunlight for almost the entire day. You can visit these places at 8pm when the tour buses are gone, but there is still plenty of sunlight!
  • Like with any major tourist area, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • Definitely take time to do some off the beaten path stuff like the Laugarvatn baths we found. It won’t be crowded and it will recharge you for the next part of your Golden Circle trip.

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland is a quick and efficient way to see the top spots. Even though the sights can get extremely crowded, knowing when and where to go can greatly diminish the amount of people you come into contact with. There are plenty of off the beaten path stops in between the “must sees” and this can all be done in one day. It’s a great thing to add to any Iceland itinerary!

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Strolling the Streets of Paris with Kids

Strolling the Streets of Paris with Kids

In November of 2019 when our children were just about to turn 6 and 3 we flew to London for four days and then traveled through the Chunnel via train to Paris for four days. Since we had been to Paris before it was a pretty relaxed trip. We didn’t feel the need to run around catching all of the sights. And it was magnificent! But even if you haven’t been here, you can make Paris with young kids a memorable and fun trip for everyone. We sat on the grass outside the Eiffel Tower, went to the top of Montparnasse Tower, played in the Luxembourg Gardens, ate croissants and drank hot chocolate everyday, strolled the cobblestone streets, and made our way out to the champagne town of Reims for a day. The best part about this trip was that we were able to meet up with our close friends who were living in Germany at the time.

Family Photo

Eiffel Tower

I mean, you have to see the Eiffel Tower, especially if it’s your first time or second time here. We visited it multiple times with the kids during our stay. Since we had gorgeous weather we were able to sit on the grass, let the kids run around, and enjoy the scenery. They were impressed by its size and genuinely enjoyed seeing it from different angles and vantage points.

We had bought timed tickets to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This was the one part of our trip that I wasn’t too excited about. We did it in 2011 during the off season and it was just as busy as any other time. But we wanted to show the kids the top and the beautiful view, so here we were. Even in November, it was crowded and pushy and overall just not enjoyable. But the views were amazing! And the kids had a really nice time and loved it! But that’s it… I’m never doing it again!

Because of the time change the kids were staying up later than normal, which worked out because we all got to experience the Eiffel Tower light display! The light show starts at sundown, takes place every hour until 1:00am, and lasts for five minutes. After a very long dinner we were able to make it there for the 10:00pm show and it was fantastic. The kids really enjoyed it, and over three years later STILL talk about it!

Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Gardens, Jardin du Luxembourg, is a popular place to relax and get away from the busy Paris streets. The expansive gardens are well maintained, with large fountains suited for toy boat sailing or reading a book. It also has an incredibly fun playground for kids called the Ludo Jardin. At the time it cost a few euros a person to enter, but what you get from an hour or two of the kids playing here will help you continue with the rest of your day in Paris! The area is fenced in so the kids can run around while parents can sit with a coffee or tea.

Montpanarsse Tower

Tour Montpanarsse is an almost 700 foot skyscraper in Paris and was the tallest building there until 2011. The tower is known for having the best views of the city, with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower.

Strolling the Streets of Paris with Kids

We were excited to go here since we hadn’t been before. It’s right near a metro stop so it was easy to get to, and we had bought our tickets online so there was no hassle at arrival. Besides the view, the great thing about this visit was that it was empty… there was hardly anyone there! We were able to read about the history of the tower, some interesting facts about Paris, and enjoy the view in peace! It’s not obvious when you first arrive, but there are several more flights of stairs that you can climb in order to get to the rooftop terrace. This was our favorite as you can truly relax and enjoy the view at your own pace unlike the Eiffel Tower.

Eating & Strolling

We spent the majority of our time eating and strolling. Every morning we started our day with croissants and hot chocolate. We snacked on macarons, ate crepes with various foods heated inside, and had a lot of bread! Jon and I drank French wine while eating decadent food, and enjoyed somewhat peaceful meals while the kids played with some toys we brought. We walked around the different areas at a very relaxed pace – no running around to different sites, no early wake-ups to sightsee; we just… were.

Dinner with friends!

Traveling to Paris with young kids from the U.S. can be done! The key is finding a balance between what the kids want to do and what the parents want to do. It also helps to find activities that the whole family can enjoy together while finding times to just, be. Either way, take the time to stroll and eat your way through this vibrant city!

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Let’s Go to Venice! (Bring the Kids)

Venice is unlike any other city in Italy, or in the world for that matter. From its never-ending canals, bridges, and narrow walkways winding around them all, this city is quite unique! You will find yourself transported to a completely different world. There are no cars whizzing by or scooters beeping at you to move. You can walk along the canals admiring the main modes of transportation, which are walking and boating. The streets can be so narrow that, at times, you must walk single file in each direction, with small bridges stretching the span of the water for pedestrians to cross. And the biggest canal of them all, The Grand Canal, which is Venice’s most important waterway, runs in an S-shape throughout the city nearly splitting it in two. And you don’t have to leave the kids at home! Venice with kids is exciting and fun!

What’s great about Venice is there’s nothing you need to run and see. The goal here is to take in the environment and experience something completely different from what any other city will give you. And each time you go you will have a different outlook. You’ll still be amazed and you’ll discover something new every time.  

What To Do While Here

There are two on-the-water musts to do while in Venice. The first is riding on the vaporetto, which is Venice’s water bus service. This is a great option if you don’t want to walk across the island or if you want to go to a different island like Murano. It operates just like a bus service, with stops dropping people off and picking them up. It’s an interesting sight watching people use this to get to and from work. When we went with our kids, we used this option to get from our hotel to St. Mark’s Square. The kids loved being on the water bus and it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Venice with kids - on the vaporetto

Another water option is taking a gondola ride. Along the canals you will see gondoliers standing by their gondolas waiting to take you on that relaxing ride. Don’t worry if you’re traveling as a family – it’s not just for a romantic couple. I’ve gone with my kids, my parents, my friends, and my husband. You will have a good time no matter who you’re traveling with! You don’t need to buy the gondola in advance as it’s done on a whim. Give the gondolier the money (80 euros daytime, 100 night) right then and there and off you go! For about 20 minutes they take you down the small canals and under stone bridges, while passing hotels and old buildings. A lot of gondoliers will talk about the historical significance of the buildings that you pass, legends about the bridges you go under, and general information about the city. It’s a charming ride that everyone will enjoy.

St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

Piazza San Marco is Venice’s largest and most important piazza and is an absolute must when you visit Venice. In the square, built in the 12th century, you will see beautiful galleries that surround the area, with Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bell Tower on one end. This is a place to stroll and take in the beauty of the architecture around you. Head into the basilica for some impressive mosaic craftmanship, shimmering with gold from all angles.

Afterwards, head inside and up the elevator in the iconic Bell Tower (Campanile) to get beautiful 360-degree views of the city. This is probably the only tower in Italy that you don’t have to physically climb up! The panoramic vistas are worth the short wait for the lift up.

The Different Islands of Venice

Did you know that Venice is made up of over 100 islands? While there is no need to visit anywhere close to this amount there are a few of note that are worth the visit, namely Murano, Burano, and Torcello. On one of our trips, we took the day to visit Murano since they are known for their exquisite blown Venetian glass and we wanted to learn more about it.

Stepping off the boat in Murano was a completely different experience than on the main island of Venice. It was much quieter, laid back, and had beautiful glass shops and intimate sidewalk cafes. Each shop after the next was filled with intricate, exquisite glass pieces that illuminated with the store lights. We had to learn how these pieces were made! Luckily, we were able to step inside a factory for a tour and glass blowing demonstration. It is pretty impressive what the glass blowers are able to make.

Strolling & Shopping

I’d say one of the highlights of Venice is strolling the streets and checking out the different neighborhoods, each one having its own special appeal. We stopped numerous times for gelato on the go and went in and out of small stores for some shopping, which proved hard to get out of… there are so many cool things to buy! From Venetian masks to glass jewelry, you’ll have no trouble bringing back souvenirs for your friends and family back home.

Whether you visit Venice solo or spend time visiting Venice with kids you are sure to have a great time. Get lost in the maze of narrow streets and bridges, shop in the fabulous small stores, find transportation on the numerous waterways, or make it a combination of all of the above. You can’t go wrong!

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Ireland roadtrip

Ireland Roadtrip: Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle

The last part of our Ireland roadtrip took us out of County Kerry, heading north to County Clare. We started our journey in Dublin and Kilkenny, and then made our way down to Cobh and Blarney Castle. After that, we headed to County Kerry where we visited the Gap of Dunloe, the Dingle Peninsula, and Slea Head Loop. It had been an amazing journey so far and we were very excited to experience Adare, the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, and Bunratty Castle.

Adare

We drove up to the Cliffs of Moher and then back down to our lodging at a farmhouse in Newcastle. On our drive up we we stopped in the small village of Adare. Adare is often known as Ireland’s “prettiest village”. The village is famous for its thatched cottages, which were built in the 19th century. Now the cottages house restaurants and small craft shops.

Cliffs of Moher

We drove an hour from Adare to the very famous Cliffs of Moher. There are no words to describe what we saw here – it was that stunning and beautiful. The cliffs tower over 700 feet above sea level and are completely vertical, with abrupt edges down to the bottom.

Road trip through Ireland

We walked out quite a ways down from the entrance in order to get away from the crowds. There were areas that were a little scary to walk by. If you took one wrong step you might have risked falling off a cliff! It was pretty windy while there, and very overcast!

After the cliffs we drove down towards the water to the small town of Doolin. Our friends had told us that they had amazing mussels here, but after looking at numerous restaurants’ menus and not seeing mussels, we settled on some local grub to eat.

Road trip through Ireland

Farmhouse Accommodations

For the next couple of nights we stayed at a gorgeous farmhouse in Newmarket in Fungus, about 15 minutes from Shannon airport, where we had an early flight from there two days later. Cahergal Farmhouse is off the beaten path, but still within access to many sights. This farm is gorgeous with such bright greenery, animals strolling around the grounds, and space in the house so we could lounge without being in anyone’s way. This farmhouse is exactly what I think of when I think of classic Ireland. We were greeted with homemade scones and tea, and lovely hosts that gave us suggestions on what to do since we had a “free” day during our last day there.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

Our hosts suggested we go to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. This is a pretty complete medieval fortress that contains many 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, art, and dwellings, which captures the mood of that time. We strolled between each of the different buildings, all representing a different purpose. There were houses, shops, schools, a post office, a doctor’s office, and pubs, each taking on the medieval time period. We were involved in all of the sights and sounds as they recreated the scene from that time. We watched the tasks of typical rural Irish families and saw the conditions in which they lived. At the end of the morning, we took a nice walk through the gardens. It was modeled on the original Regency period garden, which supplied fruit, vegetables, and flowers to the Bunratty House.

Had our hosts not suggested it we wouldn’t have come to Bunratty Castle. We had read reviews that weren’t the greatest. People stated that it gets very crowded, to the point where it’s not enjoyable at all, that it’s not authentic, and that it’s a big tourist trap. As with most things we do, we got there right when it opened so it wasn’t crowded at all, and we found that everything from the period pieces to the “actors” was believable and tastefully done.

Our Ireland roadtrip proved to be just what we needed; a mix of outdoor activities filled with amazing scenery, and a flexible schedule that allowed for the much needed down time that we were craving.

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Ireland Roadtrip: County Kerry

After visiting Blarney Castle we drove the 1.5 hours to Beaufort, which is about 10 kilometers outside of Killarney, and our home for the next three days. We had started our Ireland roadtrip in Dublin and then made our way to Kilkenny. The next day we visited The Rock of Cashel, Cobh, Cork, and Blarney Castle. It was a fun-filled busy few days, and we had such a great time! Now, we were excited to see the wonder of County Kerry as it is full of magnificent scenery, an outstanding national park, and two well-known loop drives – The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. This area is a must for any first time visitor to Ireland.

Gap of Dunloe

For our first day in County Kerry we walked the Gap of Dunloe. The Gap of Dunlow is a narrow mountain pass through Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. We parked the car at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, which is a pretty popular restaurant for everyone deciding to attack the Gap (either by walking, by jaunting car, bikes, or driving). It’s a relatively easy, though long, walk with periods of steep ascents. The sun was shining down so brightly and the beauty is unlike anything we’ve seen before.

We met a lot of friendly people on the walk and even witnessed a runaway sheep! Poor thing!

The weather held out for most of the walk. But soon we got to a point where we had to make a decision to keep going or turn around. Although it looked very appealing to keep walking, the skies opened up and it started pouring! We didn’t want to be caught in the mountains during the downpour. So after our three mile walk we turned around and headed back. We dried off and warmed up with some stew and a goat cheese salad at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. Yum!

Dingle Peninsula

The next day we drove around the Dingle Peninsula. We decided against driving around The Ring of Kerry, though we were able to see many parts of it since as our bed and breakfast was just off it. It was super crowded with buses barreling down the narrow roads with us driving a stick with the “wrong” hand on the “wrong” side of the road. We were looking for a stress free vacation! The Dingle Peninsula did just that and had amazing scenery of its own. The coastline is full of towering cliffs interrupted by sandy beaches.

We stopped at Inch Beach at the recommendation of our B&B host. Even though we had planned every part of this road trip through Ireland, we had been able to be flexible and add on things based on locals’ recommendations. And those are the best!

Stretching four miles, Inch Beach is very popular with surfers and swimmers and offers a magnificent backdrop as you look out onto the blue waters. It was a very breezy and brisk day!

Dingle

Our next stop along the peninsula was the fishing port town of Dingle. It’s a good thing we got here relatively early in the morning because it became so crowded with tour buses and the general public after 12pm. This is a charming town full of pubs that play live traditional music, and shops that sell a plethora of random trinkets and knick knacks. While strolling the streets we found some beautiful artwork to add to our collection, slipped into a teeny tiny restaurant where we had some delicious chowder, and ate ice cream at the legendary Murphy’s Ice Cream Shop. We had a beautiful and relaxing day in this pleasant town!

Slea Head Loop

Instead of heading back, we drove the Slea Head Loop, which is one of the most famous drives in the area. We headed west from Dingle and hugged the coast as we drove through some of the most breathtaking and dramatic views we have seen. In some places the road was extremely narrow with some sharp cliff-edge bends, which provided some heart stopping moments. It is a stunning drive and we’re happy that we decided to do it.

Killarney

We went to the town of Killarney a couple of times during our stay in County Kerry, mainly for a couple of meals and to walk around. I had read that Killarney is swarming with tourists, but it actually wasn’t too bad and it was a really nice town. I don’t know if I would go out of my way to visit it, but since our B&B was so close it made sense to go there. There were a few great restaurants that we went ate in and quaint streets to walk through.

We wish we would have had more time in this area, but isn’t that always the case?! Next up is the last part of our Ireland roadtrip… the Cliffs of Moher, Adare, and Bunratty Castle!

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Road Trip Through Ireland: Cashel, Cobh, Blarney

We planned our road trip through Ireland to start in Dublin and then Kilkenny where we had a great couple of days! After our time in Kilkenny we drove 45 minutes to Cashel to spend the night. From Cashel, we drove to Cobh, Cork, and finally Blarney Castle. This day would end up being one of our favorite days of the whole trip!

Cashel – The Rock of Cashel

Our purpose for visiting Cashel was to see The Rock of Cashel, which we had wanted to visit first thing in the morning. We arrived at our bed and breakfast and were greeted by an odd, but very friendly fellow who showed us around the b&b and to our room.

It was a Saturday night when we arrived and we must have spent about an hour walking around in circles trying to find a restaurant or pub to eat in. There was NOTHING open! It was so weird. The one restaurant we wanted to go to didn’t have anything free until 10pm. I guess that’s where everyone was since the town was dead. It was a complete 180 from what we just saw in Kilkenny a few hours prior. We finally found a pub where we had some stew and beers. There wasn’t much activity, but it had food! The town was a bit of a disappointment and I wish we had stayed in Kilkenny. But at least we still had the ROCK to see.

The Rock of Cashel is a set of medieval buildings dating back to 1100. It’s literally built on a rock and the site rises up from the rolling plains making it dominate the landscape from below. It really is quite a site to see from the town. The Rock of Cashel includes a chapel, a round tower, a cathedral, and a graveyard. It has a rich history and most of it is in its original rustic condition, though they were doing renovations while we were there. Since we arrived right when the site opened we were able to see everything pretty quickly.

Cobh

We got on the road and drove to Cobh, about an hour away. We hadn’t planned on going to Cobh, but someone on our Kilkenny tour strongly suggested that we stop there and we are SO glad we did! It ended up being one of our favorite stops!

Cobh (pronounced Cove) is a pretty seaside town on the southern coast of County Cork. It served as one of the main transatlantic Irish ports, transporting 2.5 million of the 6 million Irish people between 1848 and 1950. It was also the famous final port of call (then called Queenstown) for the Titanic when it set out of its tragic voyage.

We walked around the town for a while and went to a small market on a plaza on the water. Next to this market was the “Titanic Experience“, a unique experience detailing the history of the ship and its unfortunate journey. It’s located in the original White Star Line Ticket Office, which was the departure point for the final 123 passengers who boarded the Titanic. The first part of the experience retraces the steps of the passengers who boarded on April 11, 1912. We experienced what life would’ve been like for the different classes of passengers and saw replica set designs of rooms. The second part examines what went wrong the night the Titanic sank. The tour was extremely informative and we really enjoyed it!

Cork

We left Cobh and drove to Cork for lunch. We went to a delicious restaurant where they use most of their ingredients gathered from The English Market (it’s closed on Sunday, otherwise we would have visited it). Afterward, we walked along the water a bit, but we didn’t get to spend much time here at all. We wanted to stop at Blarney Castle on the way to Killarney and we had to continue our road trip through Ireland as we were running out of time before it closed! Oh well!

Blarney Castle

We were excited to visit Blarney Castle and its famous Blarney Stone. The castle was built nearly 600 years ago and has become one of Ireland’s most visited treasures. Blarney Stone has a lot to do with its popularity – the Stone of Eloquence stands at the top of the tower. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone you’ll never again be at a loss for words (the gift of eloquence or the skill of flattery). The word blarney has come to mean clever, flattering, or coaxing talk sweetened with humor or wit. We were fortunate that we arrived later in the day and had no crowds to battle since August is their busiest month – sometimes the line can be up to two hours to get to the top of the castle, but we walked right up!

The ritual of kissing the stone has been performed by millions of people, and luckily there are now safeguards in place to prevent people from plummeting to their deaths, which did happen. I was very hesitant to kiss the stone; not because of the height, but because of the millions of people who had kissed it before me. I had planned to get into position and put a tissue between my lips and the stone, but I needed both hands to hold onto the railing upside down. Nowadays though, they actually have people cleaning the stone with antibacterial spray after each person’s kiss. It still skeeved me out a bit, so I didn’t exactly touch it, but came close enough! *This was before Covid so I’m not sure what has changed, if anything, with kissing the Blarney Stone!

More Than Just a Castle at Blarney Castle!

There’s a lot more to this castle than meets the eye. The grounds have expansive gardens, each with different names and purposes. Behind the castle is the poison garden, which contains a collection of poisonous plants from all around the world. The plants are labeled with information about their toxicity and traditional and modern uses. Some of the plants are so dangerous here that they are kept in large cage-like structures.

We also walked around Rock Close, which is an enchanting and magical area to be in. As you walk through you can find yourself in a shaded nook, standing on a terrace above a creek with slivers of sunlight peeking through old trees. Here one can find an ancient sacrificial alter, a druid’s circle, a hermit’s cave, a witch’s kitchen, and wishing steps. It was definitely an unexpected find and one that we’re glad we stumbled upon.

Jon made a wish, closed his eyes, and went up and down backwards in hopes his wish would come true.

Road trip through Ireland

This was one of our favorite days out of our whole trip to Ireland. Taking a slight detour from our plans to visit the small and delightful city of Cobh was so special! Having lunch with fresh market ingredients in Cork, and exploring an old castle while engaging in a centuries old tradition, really stood out during our time in this exquisite country. Our road trip through Ireland was well underway! Next up, County Kerry in Southwestern Ireland!

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Road Trip through Ireland - Kilkenny

Road Trip Through Ireland: Dublin, Kilkenny

Ireland is such an easy destination to visit from the U.S. One, it’s only about a six hour flight from the NY area. Two, it’s about a five hour time difference as opposed to six (hey, every hour counts)! And three, there are no language barriers as everyone speaks English! We chose to visit Ireland during the warmest and least rainy time, August. We spent eight days on a road trip through Ireland, starting in Dublin and ending in Shannon.

Dublin

We arrived in Dublin around 6:00am. After going through customs and renting a car we were ready to go! Driving on the left side of the road was… different. The roundabouts were tricky at first and anytime we had to make a turn we looked both ways multiple times because we kept forgetting which way the cars were coming from. There are signs all over the right side of the roads that say, “Wrong way!” and “Turn Around” for everyone not from the area.

Road Trip Through Ireland
What do I do???

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel we made an early visit to the Guinness Storehouse. We figured it wouldn’t be that crowded at 9:30am (it wasn’t) and we wanted to enjoy it while we were fairly awake. We learned all about the history and brewing process of making a true Guinness and even got a certificate on perfecting the perfect pint of Guinness – meaning, they taught us how to properly pour a pint. It was a fun and informative hands-on experience!

After walking through the storehouse we went up to the rooftop bar with our beer and enjoyed the panoramic views of Dublin.

We walked outside to find ourselves in a rainstorm! Rule number one when visiting Ireland – always carry an umbrella or raincoat as there is always some passing shower overhead. We took a cab to another area of Dublin and ate at a delicious restaurant based on a local’s recommendation. After lunch we went for a quick walk around Trinity college. However, we were so tired from our overnight flight and heavy morning beers and lunch, that we went back to the hotel afterwards and crashed until dinner.

The next morning after breakfast we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral dating back to 1191. We opted not to go inside, but the outside was very impressive. We spent the next hour strolling and walking around the city.

Kilkenny

We hopped in the car and started our road trip through Ireland. Our first stop after Dublin was Kilkenny, about 1.5 hours away. Kilkenny is a busy, but charming town built on both banks of the River Nore. We really wish we had more time here, rather than rushing off to spend the night in Cashel, but we definitely didn’t realize what a vibrant town this is.

We took a two hour bike tour of the city in order to get a quick overview since we were short on time. The tour used scenic riverbank paths as out roadways, which took us not only to the town center, but to sites such as Kilkenny Castle, The Design Centre, Shee Alms House, The Tholsel, St. Mary’s Church, Rothe House and Gardens, The Courthouse (Grace’s Castle), St. Francis’ Abbey, The Black Abbey, and St. Canice’s Cathedral. We had a really nice time with the diverse group of travelers and our fun guide!

Our last stop on the tour was to St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Round Tower. The site was founded in the 6th century and worship has taken place here for over 800 years! The Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny. We were able to climb to the top and take in some nice views.

We were hoping to get to Smithwick’s Brewery after the bike ride, but we ran late and JUST missed the last entrance for the tour. Since we had reservations at a bed and breakfast in Cashel that night we couldn’t stay in Kilkenny to tour the next day. Instead, we bought some beer glasses and went on with our journey.

Road trip through Ireland

Moving Onward

Dublin and Kilkenny were great places to start our trip. We wish we had more time in both cities, but with limited time something had to be cut. Next up on our road trip through Ireland journey – Cashel, Cobh, Cork, and Blarney Castle!

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New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy

We had heard so much about New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy that we had to experience it for ourselves! It is said that Naples has some of the best fireworks displays in the world. While there are organized fireworks presentations along the Lungomare (near Castel dell’Ovo), many people buy their own fireworks and head to their roofs or windows to show them off. From high on a roof or balcony you can see hundreds of fireworks from the islands, Naples, and Pozzuoli. In total, they last approximately 45 minutes, though many continue all night and into the daylight the next morning. It was very different from our time in Venice the year before.

Fireworks on New Year's Eve in Naples Italy

New Year’s Eve Traditions

Fireworks are popular with Neapolitans throughout the year. They set them off of their roofs for any occasion, whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, a holiday, or – it’s Thursday! Of course, this comes at a price. While many cities in Italy have banned personal fireworks, Naples holds their traditions and each year hundreds of Neapolitans are injured. In 2012 two people were killed and 361 people were injured (in 2011 two were killed and 561 were injured). On the roof below we witnessed fireworks gone awry as they were shooting sideways and the family was ducking behind walls to avoid them. Yikes!

Another tradition on New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy is getting rid of old things. When the clock strikes midnight they believe they should get rid of anything they don’t want to carry into the new year. At midnight people will open their windows and throw things out onto the streets that they don’t want anymore. No matter how big it is! People have been injured or even killed because small ovens and refrigerators were flying down from above and hitting them. The streets in the downtown area become so littered with everyone’s old stuff that cars cannot move for hours. While this tradition is slowly fading away you may want to go to an open plaza, a roof, or stay inside on New Year’s in Naples, just in case!

Delicious Food

For cenone (the Italian word for New Year’s Eve dinner), Ashley and I cooked an Italian feast! It consisted of capers, prosciutto, and cheese for appetizers, and continuing on with Pizette con melanzane (fried eggplant balls), Pesto all Genovese (pesto pasta), Spaghetti Tradizionale (spaghetti with oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt), Penne Siciliana (penne with eggplant, meat, and tomato sauce), and a variety of cannoli for dessert. And of course, a plethora of wine and champagne!

We’ve never been so close to a fireworks display and have never seen anything like we saw that night. It was a remarkable scene watching the fireworks from nearby windows and roofs all the way to the islands. We are thrilled that we made the decision to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy. While we didn’t throw anything out of the windows or light our own fireworks, we were still able to partake in one of Naples’ many traditions simply by being present and taking in the experience.

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