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Happy Thanksgiving from Ireland

“Would it be crazy to spend Thanksgiving in Dublin this year?”

I mean, a little? It was an idea I had while I was planning travel with my friend Alan, who lives in Ireland. We’d worked together for a few years but never met in person, and with my company still on full-time remote work, I’ve been trying to maximize this unprecedented flexibility since I know we’ll be back to hybrid work eventually. My family has never cared about Thanksgiving as a holiday, since it’s just my parents and I and we can do a family dinner any weekend when flights aren’t 4x as expensive as normal.

Colin decided to join me and we booked an Airbnb for a week in Dublin. We had three days of working remotely from Dublin and meeting our colleagues who work in Ireland, which was so fun after so many months of Zoom. We had a team dinner and a couple great nights at the pub, and a few days to properly explore the city! Obviously we went to the Jameson distillery and did a whiskey tasting. We saw the amazing library at Trinity College, walked along the river, and drank lots of Guinness (which, for the record, is SO much better in Ireland? I won’t even drink it in the US). Alan brought us to a comedy show. It was fantastic.

On Thanksgiving, we headed out to Howth. It’s an easy day trip from Dublin, only about half an hour on the train. We got fish and chips (or in my case, just chips) and did the cliff walk. Fun fact, Colin had not read the itinerary I had sent him or the links about the cliff walk, so he didn’t expect it to be a multi-hour endeavor and discovered that in real time. The views were stunning!

The next day, we went up to Belfast! I do not pretend to be an expert on the Troubles, but I had always wanted to learn more about the history of Northern Ireland. Beyond what you can learn in Derry Girls, that is. I signed us up for a black cab tour, where they take you to the various neighborhoods and talk about the history of Belfast. I was stunned to see how many murals there were around the city. I think I was expecting it to sort of be like the Berlin Wall, where there are some peace-related paintings in one area, but here there were memorials to the dead all over the place. On street corners, in neighborhoods, in alleys. The picture of us there is next to one of the peace walls. It was a really interesting experience. We also went to the Titanic Museum, which was an excellent museum and definitely worth a visit.

On Saturday, since Alan was also off work, he drove us out to the Cliffs of Moher! It was an adventure getting out there, as the drive goes through some very narrow roads, and it’s disconcerting being on the other side of the road. The cliffs were so beautiful. I also hadn’t realized that was where they filmed the exterior shots of the cave in the sixth Harry Potter movie, so that was cool. We had dinner in Galway, which had a ton of people visiting for the Christmas markets and was wildly busy. It was great to get into the countryside a bit more. Next time I visit Ireland I will definitely want to explore more beyond Dublin, but it was such a fun Thanksgiving week!

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The Last Rotter Family Trip Before COVID

Fun fact, this is my 100th post! I started this in the form of a Tumblr back in 2014, which is absolutely wild. It’s been nearly seven years, which I think might be roughly the amount of time it takes for every single cell in the human body to be replaced? Seven years ago I was in my sophomore year of college. A lot has changed since then, both in my life and in the world. Since 2014, I went on study abroad, traveled alone for the first time, graduated college, moved halfway across the country, started a job, got promoted (twice), started a masters degree, and bought a house. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!

It’s also been over a year now since I was on a plane. The world changed completely last March, practically overnight. The last trip I took out of the country was Cuba (which I will be posting about at some point soon). The one I wanted to talk about on this post, though, was last Thanksgiving. In November 2019, my parents and I visited Europe together. I am so thankful that we went before COVID. I can’t just get on a plane and visit for a long weekend anymore. Seeing my family now requires quarantining and driving, planning to minimize as many risks as we can. It will probably be a long time before we’re all vaccinated and can travel together again, so I’m glad the last trip was a good one.

Highlights from London:
– Going to the Tower of London in the rain and trying to imagine what it must have been like in the Tudor period
– Staying in Trafalgar Square in a beautiful boutique hotel
– Visiting Christmas markets and drinking mulled wine
– Going out to pubs with my friend Will and getting a tour of some of the more off the grid places
– Getting to go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour with my parents, who read me the first book back in first grade
– That amazing Italian pizza place near our hotel
– Going to the Shard and having cocktails as we look out over the city

Highlights from Paris:
– The charming café that we found near our hotel! The waitress heard me reading the menu and came up to my parents and started speaking French to them because she assumed we were all French speakers, which, not going to lie, I’m a little proud of….
– Wandering around the Louvre during their night hours
– Going on a dinner cruise down the Seine and seeing the city at night
– Taking a day trip out to see Chambord and Chenonceau, which I’ve been wanting to see for ages
– Dad trying escargot for the first time in that lovely little bistro

Highlights from Copenhagen:
– Showing my parents where I went to school! Copenhagen was my first big trip on my own, and so it was amazing to get to show them all my favorite places
– The Christmas market at Nyhavn. I used to stay away from Nyhavn when I lived there, because it always felt touristy, but all the little stalls were so cute and we had a favorite mulled wine place by the end of our time there
– The fabulous restaurant a few doors down from our hotel with some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever tasted
– Tivoli’s Christmas season
– Just being back in Denmark. Copenhagen is one of the cities I love most in the entire world, and I have so many happy memories associated with it. I met one of my best friends in the world there, I learned so much about myself and about traveling, and I love being able to walk around and revisit my favorite places again <3

It was the first time I got to go to Europe with my parents, but hopefully it won’t be the last! I’m excited for all of us to get vaccinated and be able to take more trips together in the future.

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Scotland: Aberdeen, The Loch Ness Monster, and Even More Harry Potter

When we landed in Scotland, we took a cab to Kelcy’s apartment, and she had to leave to work on a project and go to class.  I took a good half of the day to catch up on sleep, which allowed me to not feel like I was a zombie, and then I wandered around the University of Aberdeen campus for a while.  It’s quite lovely, especially in the fall with the ivy.

After that, we headed to the beach, walking past a golf course along the way, and I accidentally wandered too close to the water and ended up with some very cold feet.

The next morning, we explored Aberdeen!  And by that, I actually mean that Kelcy gave me a tour, because she has Tuesdays off from class.  She took me through the Maritime Museum, where she’s a tour guide, and told me all about the history of Aberdeen.  The city is mostly monochromatic, and the architecture is beautiful but very similar.  A big difference from London, where the modern architecture is placed among the older monuments.  We went through a museum on toys, and walked through a graveyard, and ended our night at Slain’s Castle, which is an excellent Dracula-themed bar where they have cocktails named after each of the deadly sins.

The next morning, Kelcy had to go back to class, and I took a trip to Inverness.  I had signed up to do a Loch Ness cruise, where they drove us from Inverness to the pier, took us on the water for an hour or so, and then gave us some time to explore the castle before dropping us back off in Inverness.  They also took us to a museum exhibit on the history of the Loch Ness Monster sightings, which provided a host of theories on what has caused the images and speculation.  I ended up talking to an American couple who had booked their vacation because of Outlander, and were very excited to see another American who they could commiserate with over the accents and driving on the wrong side of the road.  I also got to walk down to the edge of the water, where I watched a little girl through cookies into the water so she could “feed Nessie.”

I wish I’d had a little more time to explore at the castle, but otherwise I was very satisfied.  The views going to Loch Ness and from the boat were stunning, and the Loch Ness Monster is a great quirky urban legend.  Our bus driver was hilarious, and it was the perfect day trip.  If you’re in the area, the tour company was Jacobite.

From there, I got to explore the rest of Inverness, which is a lovely town.  When it started to rain, I ducked into a restaurant, where I was the only one- I guess that’s what happens when you try to eat a meal at 3pm.  Anyway, it ended up being the first time in my life that a bartender has given me a free drink, because they were trying to test a new cocktail and wanted me to be a guinea pig.  Also the first time in my life I can remember enjoying a drink with gin.

I finished the afternoon with a trip to a bookstore down the street that Kelcy recommended, which was giant and stuffed to the brim with old and beautiful books.  Then I caught the train back, and spent a last night on Kelcy’s couch.

After another quiet morning, we took the afternoon train to Edinburgh.  I finally tried my first Pizza Express, which was honestly way better than I expected for a fast food pizza place, and then we ended up trying the Frankenstein-themed bar.  10/10 would recommend, the drinks were cool and the atmosphere was fun too.

The next day we got to explore.  We started the day at the Elephant Café, famous for being the “birthplace” of Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling used to do her writing there.  Fun fact, that picture above the title is the location that inspired Diagon Alley.

Then we wandered up and down the Royal Mile, took pictures up at the castle, and went on a tour of the area underneath the city, Mary King’s Close.  They described a lot of the history of Edinburgh, how it used to be filthy and people walked through human waste, and how the plague spread rapidly through the city.  Which only underscores how crazy that woman in Outlander is to strongly prefer staying in the past.

We also went to an art museum, a park, and finished off the evening with a literary pub crawl.  The next day, it was another morning of getting up insanely early followed by a long day of travel.

Edinburgh’s a great city, and I can see why many of my friends have raved about it.  It was fun to visit Kelcy and get a sense of her life in Scotland, and it was nice that we were able to check off several of the experiences on my list while I was there.  I missed being in Europe, and it was nice to be back for a little while.  Especially London, which is one of my favorite cities.  I’m excited to see where my adventures take me next!

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London, Harry Potter, & Stonehenge

My friend Kelcy is studying in Scotland, and so I decided I would use up this year’s vacation days by visiting her!  I booked a trip through London, and we spent the first weekend there before heading up to Scotland.

Getting there was a little complicated than I planned.  I woke up in the morning to a text saying my flight was delayed, which would have left me with a whopping 45 minutes to catch my flight to London.  In O’Hare, of all places.  So I went to the airport early, got my flight switched, and ended up flying through Houston.  Luckily, I still got there close to the same time, and I found Kelcy in the airport.

Once we had found our hostel, we went to the British Museum and then wandered around near the Tower of London.  We ended up eating dinner in the basement of a bar, where we were alone for the first half of our meal.  Since I was somewhat jetlagged, and Kelcy was tired from a busy week of school, we went to bed early so that we could get up early for our next day.

Remember how I said I was coming back to London for a Harry Potter Studio Tour?  This is it.

Yes, I am a little obsessed.  I’ve been a fan since I was six, so…. this was an incredibly exciting experience for me.  I got to see a full replica of Hogwarts, and walk down Diagon Alley, and walk through the Hogwarts Express, and eat Butterbeer ice cream.  It was everything I hoped it would be.

We had to hurry, though, because we had also booked a matinee performance on the West End!  We saw Les Mis, which is an awesome show.  While I’ve liked the music for a long time, I had yet to see it live.  They had this rotating stage that they used very effectively throughout the production, and of course the talent was amazing.

The next day was another busy one, this time to Stonehenge.  Kelcy found this great all-inclusive package that started in Salisbury.  We started at the Salisbury Cathedral, which is the home of the best preserved manuscript of the Magna Carta.  There are only four remaining.  The cathedral is beautiful, but it was extra special to see such an impressive piece of history.  You have to go in a special room where it’s in a tent, and no one can take pictures or let in any light because it’s so old.

After that, we took the bus out to Stonehenge.  I was excited to see the stones in person, although I admit there’s not a whole lot out there besides the stones.  But the mystery of them is fun, and they’re such a well-known landmark.  We headed up to the fort after, which was a lot of low walls indicating where buildings had once been.  The views from the hill were beautiful as well.

After that, we headed into Salisbury for dinner, where I accidentally ordered a pitcher instead of a glass of the drink I wanted.  Or rather, I ordered a drink and the new, confused waitress made it in a pitcher and then just handed me the pitcher.  Nice to know these things can happen even when everyone is speaking the same language during travel…

After that, we took the train back to the city and went straight to bed.  Kelcy had class the following day, and our flight was at the crack of dawn.  It was totally dark when we waited for the bus to take us to the airport, which continued to mess with my circadian rhythms.  Probably not the proper way to beat jet lag….

To be continued with Scotland in the next post.

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London: From Kings Cross to the Top of the Shard

I honestly cannot imagine a better way to see London.

Admittedly, I didn’t see all of the touristy things.  I didn’t go in Westminster Abbey or see the inside of a single church.  I didn’t visit the Tower of London, or check out the views from the London Eye.  Sadly, I didn’t get to go do a Harry Potter Studio Tour either (but I will be coming back for that one!).

London was a bit of a spur of the moment trip.  One of my friends from Northwestern, Sona, was working in the city for the summer, and she suggested that I come visit her.  I looked it up, figured out Easyjet flies from Strasbourg to London, checked out the timing, and booked the tickets.  It was a great decision.

I arrived on Friday night, and we met up at an Italian restaurant near Sona’s apartment.  She lived right near Paddington station, in a cute little area with a lot of shops and restaurants.  After a lovely night of catching up, we headed to bed so that we would be ready for a day of touristy things!

We stopped by Baker Street in the morning, because I’m a nerd and wanted to see the hypothetical home of Sherlock Holmes.  Then we headed to the British Museum, which Sona correctly described as housing all the treasures that Britain stole from the rest of the world in their quest for an empire.  It was pretty cool.  We saw the Rosetta Stone, artifacts from India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece… amazing artwork and objects from history.  After lunch, we headed off to the major touristy sites, namely Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace.  We couldn’t go inside any of them, but it was amazing to walk around and see the places that I’ve heard about and seen in pictures for years.  After a long walk along the Thames, Sona offered to take me to Harrods at Oxford Circus, where all the nice shops are.

And.  What a nice shop.  It was incredibly overwhelming.  The bottom level has a bunch of food and markets, with a whole chocolate section and beautiful pastries.  I bought an Oreo cupcake that looked like it was dusted with gold.  Then Sona took me up to the clothing section, to show me some absurdly expensive dresses that she had seen before.  Three shop assistants later, we were in the Evening Dresses Boutique.  It was practically out of my dreams.  The dresses were incredible, in all different colors and covered in rhinestones and glitter- with the price tags subtly tucked under the skirts to keep them out of sight.  Which made sense, considering most of the dresses were around $2,000… and some were special, one of a kind Harrods dresses for around $16,000.  It was sort of unreal.  And, as we’re wandering around the shop getting excited about dresses, the shop assistants come over and offer to look for them in our size…. So, we went ahead and tried them on.  Yeah.  That dress I’m wearing up there, with the sparkles?  About $2,300.  It was totally awesome.

We left when the shop closed, and headed back to have a quiet dinner and figure out what to do the next day.  I’d initially had a Skype interview scheduled for that Sunday, but I woke up that day and had literally no voice, so I had to reschedule.  While unfortunate, it did allow us to have a full day out on the town.  We started with the Cereal Killer Café, fantastic both in name and business idea.  It’s located around the area where Jack the Ripper used to strike, and it features cereal from the US, the UK, and continental Europe.  You can combine cereals, get different milks, add toppings…. and the decorations are all very retro, with cereal boxes through the ages along the walls.  From there, we headed down through the Brick Lane market, stopping to make a couple purchases along the way.

We headed off to Hyde Park in the afternoon, where we rented a paddle boat.  It was incredibly relaxing.  When I was reading the rules, I saw one that said not to pick up people while you were on the boat, which I laughed at… except we sort of ended up breaking that rule?  A group of four British people bumped into our boat, like you sometimes do, and then one of them jokingly said, “do you want to race?”  At which time Sona pointed out the unfair numbers.  And one of them goes, “I’ll even it out!” and casually hops into our boat as his friends are literally floating away.  So we had to follow them and return him to his friends.  Also at the park, an absurd amount of rich people cars.  We saw three lamborghinis in a row.  Talk about wealthy!

Monday morning, Sona had to go to work, so I was on my own for most of the day.  I began my day by heading to Kings Cross and being as touristy as possible at Platform 9 ¾.  I waited in line for… let’s just say a long time… so that I could take the obligatory picture at the station with the wand and the scarf and then I went shopping and bought some chocolate frogs and a shirt.  I’ve been a huge fan since first grade, it was a pretty exciting time for me.

After, I stopped by St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I didn’t want to pay the entrance fee so I just took a few pictures in the lobby and then had lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Then I headed to Charing Cross.  I wandered through parts of Chinatown and went into bookstores, and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere.  There was this amazing bookstore called Foyles, and I spent more time than I’d care to admit in there as well.  It had a huge foreign language section.  Fun fact, the latest redesign of the first French Harry Potter book features Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s castle, located in Romania.  Which I have been to, so I guess by extension I’ve been to Hogwarts?  Let’s go with that.

That evening, Sona and I went to Billy Elliot in the West End.  What a fantastic choice!  The dancing and singing was outstanding.  I love musicals.  After the show, we headed to the Shard.  We had a drink at the Aquashard- probably the most expensive drink of my life, Sona’s actually had squid ink in it.  The views were unbeatable.  It was up on the 33rd floor, and looked out at the Thames and the London Bridge, and everything sparkled at night.  The whole evening was the definition of luxurious and it was all amazing.  The perfect end to my trip.

So, three days later, I’m totally in love with London.  Head over heels.  My next post will feature my time in Marseille, so stay tuned!

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Gibraltar: Light-Up Caves and Monkeys on Cars

Located at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar is technically an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.  We stopped by for the morning after leaving Costa del Sol, and it was pretty awesome.  We went on a bus tour with our slightly crazy but very entertaining driver, and he brought us all around the island.  We stopped at a lighthouse at the southern part of the rock, where he told us about a mosque funded by Saudi Arabia and explained that if we looked over the Strait of Gibraltar we could see Africa.

From there we went to the top of the rock and checked out St. Michael’s Cave, which was a performance venue.  I bet it would be amazing to see a concert in there!  Although I’ve been in a lot of caves, the lighting in this one was the coolest I’ve ever seen.  They had a bunch of changing colored lights in the space, which emphasized all of the cave features.

Outside of the cave, we saw the famous colony of apes.  There were signs everywhere saying not to feed them and talking about how they may bite.  But what surprised me was how close they would get to people.  Some of them seemed to pose as the tourists took pictures, and we even watched one climb onto a moving car.  They were very cute!

Overall, a pretty fantastic day trip.  Totally different from anything else we saw in Spain, and if you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out!