• AMSTERDAM TRAVEL GUIDE

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    The Royal Palace

    As I mentioned in my last post about the amazing found we found in the city, I recently spent the weekend in Amsterdam. Today I’m talking through all my thoughts about my visit, where we stayed and things we did.  I went with 12 of my friends and it was such a great 48 hours. When researching the city, I read that the canals soothe rather than imprison the city, that “they provide its order, its calm”. And I agree. I admit that I found it hard to get orintated and I never felt like I gained a general sense of where things were in relation to each other because of how the city is set-up. But I didn’t mind, I never felt lost because the water was always there. The canals are lined with beautiful and intriguing builds and you never know what cute street you’re going to see when you turn a corner.

    However, I do have to be honest, and say that the serene image painted by the canals is slightly smudged by the bikes. Bikes run this city. They appear everywhere in full force. I do think this is kind of amazing and it is definitely something to be applauded. But being a pedestrian who isn’t used to the sure quantity of people peddling everywhere, you need to be on your guard at all times. And you also need to watch out for cars coming from the opposite direction that you’re used to, and trams. Don’t forget about the trams.

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    Bikes and canals everywhere!

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    Our hostel boat (right).

    INTERSAIL HOSTEL BOAT

    Like I said, I was in Amsterdam with 12 friends and honestly I wasn’t very involved in the planning process. I definitely wasn’t very involved in choosing to stay on a hostel boat. I get sea sick, and honestly I was a bit nervous about it. We were warned the rooms were small. And wow were they small. But I actually ended up really enjoying my stay. Thankfully my friends were okay with me taking a top bunk, the thought of the bottom bunk still makes my chest tight with claustrophobia, and we did have to take it in turns to get ready because there wasn’t room for all us to do it at the same time, but other than that, it was a lot of fun. The guy who runs the place was amazing, super friendly and helpful. The location was great, it was only about a 10 minute walk from the central station on one side and the city on the other side. It was definitely an experience.

    THE FLOWER MARKET and REGULIERSDWARSSTRAAT

    I was a little disappointed by the flower market, though we weren’t there during tulip season so maybe that had something to do with it. I felt like it was just a street of touristy shops. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like a good tourist shop but I was just expecting more flowers. None the less, there were some pretty things to look at and a cheese shop that was amazing.

    We had dinner one street over from the flower market, on Reguliersdwarsstraat, and it is such a cute spot at night. The restaurant we went to wasn’t my favourite (though that was mainly because of bad ordering) but after the meal we found a bar a couple of doors down and had a few drinks outside. It’s one of my favourite memories, the drinks were great and there was such a fantastic buzz to the city. I would highly recommend taking a stroll around this area at night to see what’s happening.

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    I loved this park. The weather was hot and sunny so we just sat in the shade and chilled out for a bit. Despite the fact that there were lots of people, it was really relaxing. Everyone was just out enjoying themselves and there was a great vide. They also have water fountains where you can fill up a bottle at the entrance which is great when it’s million degrees outside.

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    The view of the 7 Bridges on the canal tour.

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    View of the city on the canal tour.

    CANAL TOUR

    This was my favourite thing we did in Amsterdam. There are lots of different companies that run them, but we went with Friendship Amsterdam because we wanted to go on an open-top boat. There wasn’t a recording telling you the history of Amsterdam, the skipper just pointed out things of interest as we went along. I don’t feel like I learned a lot about the city but it was so relaxing and an amazing way to see everything. You can purchase drinks on the boat and they have cushions so you can just sit back and enjoy the sites as they go by. It lasted an hour and cost €15.

    THE 9 STREETS

    A few of my friends and I spent a couple of hours wondering around The 9 Streets area; a collection of quaint and quirky streets that straddle the canals. They are packed with designer shops and little boutiques. We didn’t buy anything but it was just nice to wonder the photogenic little streets and experience the city. We also stopped into the Litertine Cafe, where I got the most amazing mozzarella and tomato crostini that I’m still dreaming about (learn more about that here).

    RED LIGHT DISTRICT

    I felt like I had to mention the red light district as it is one of the main things that comes to mind when thinking about Amsterdam. We didn’t spend a lot of time there but we did walk through it at night. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about, it’s a weird thing to write about. I did find it upsetting being there, but for me, that was not a reason to avoid it. I wanted to force myself to see it. I guess that’s why I’m mentioning it, I think that even if its something that you’re disturbed by, it’s not something anyone can ignore. I’m hesitant to say too much because I think sex work is extremely complicated. A lot of the discussion around it, even when people are trying to help, tends to take agency away from the girls actually doing the work. I have never talked to anyone who is a sex worker and I just don’t know enough about it. I will say walking through it, I was extremely creeped out by the men. Nobody said anything to us or did anything untoward, but the vibe wasn’t good…

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    Beautiful building facades everywhere you look.

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    Interesting building line all the canals.

    COFFEE SHOPS

    Last but not least, I had to mention the coffee shops, not to be confused with innocent cafes. Coffee shops are where you can legally buy weed, both in bud and brownie form. While I do recommend trying them out if that’s something you’re interested in, I sadly don’t have any recommendations. We went to one and I don’t know what the name of it was, and frankly I wasn’t that impressed by it anyway. Maybe I just should have done more research but I expected coffee shops to be super chill and relaxing. And while that type of place might exist, a lot of them seem to be more like bars. I will say though, if you’re someone who doesn’t normally smoke, take things very slowing and remember the brownies can take a couple of hours to kick in so don’t keep eating more just because you don’t feel it at first (that’s not something I personally experienced but I was warned about it so many times that I feel the need to pass on the message).

     

    So that’s it, all my thoughts on Amsterdam. What I liked and what I didn’t like after spending 2 days in the city. Overall, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t my favourite city in the world but it did grow on me, and I feel like I would get to love it more the more time I spent there.

    Jane x

  • AMAZING VEGETARIAN FOOD IN AMSTERDAM

    I recently spent the weekend in Amsterdam and one of the favourite things about the city was the amazing food we found. There were a few places that weren’t the best for vegetarians, or even meat-eaters, but the places listed below were seriously amazing and I would highly recommend them to everyone. They even gave me ideas for dishes I could make at home!

    TISFRIS CAFE(Pictured above)

    When we arrived in Amsterdam and checked into our hostel, our first mission was to find food. I was so hungry and we basically just stopped at the first place we found, which was probably tourist central. None the less, I was pleasantly surprised that they had multiple vegetarian options. I went for the avocado, beetroot hummus & olives sandwich, and I’m probably a little biased because I was starving but it was delicious. Other people in the group got the nachos, which looked really good, and they have plenty of options for meat-eaters too.

    LIBERTINE CAFE

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    I stopped in this airy cafe for a snack since the group I was with wasn’t meeting up to eat for a while but I was already pretty hungry and didn’t think I would last. I got the crostini with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella and my two friends got the tuna crostini and we were all very impressed. This was the perfect little meal, enough to fill me up but not too much to where I couldn’t eat dinner a couple of hours later. Honestly this was so tasty and delicious and I wish I had an unlimited supply of it in my house at all times.

    DIGNITA

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    This is a really cool cafe/restaurant that my friend found online. 100% of Dignita profits go towards supporting the work of Not For Sale, an international organization that launches social enterprises in order to fight human trafficking. They have a few vegetarian options and some for the meat eaters too. I got the zucchini and chickpea fritters, which came with minted yoghurt, grilled haloumi, free range poached egg, cashew nut dukkah, lime and a wedge of fresh avocado, and it was delicious! I also tasted the pancakes and they were unbelievably amazing and they have a vegan option that sounded really good. The cafe itself has a great vibe and there’s nice green areas to sit around in after you eat.

    DE BOLHOED

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    Okay, I know this doesn’t look like much, but I promise you, it was amazing. This restaurant has options of vegan and vegetarian options, but my friends and I went for the vegan dish of the day which was basically a sample plate of multiple different dishes. There was lemon rice, creamy coconut tofu, cauliflower with peanut sauce, sweet potato and lentil curry and an aubergine with hummus. I’m sure I’m forgetting something but it was all so so good. 10/10, would recommend.

    I hope this helps if you’re looking for recommendations of places to eat while in Amsterdam.

    Jane x

  • 2 DAYS IN VICTORIA, BC, CANADA

     

    While I was visiting my friend in Vancouver, we went on a weekend trip to the nearby city of Victoria. Well, I say nearby but it was a bit complicated to get there. It went smoothly and all in all took about 4.5 hours, but you have to take a train, a bus, a ferry, then another bus and then walk to the hotel. You can take a plane, but that’s not cheap, so we went for the adventurous option. I think there’s probably more going on in Victoria during the summer though, there was mention of The Butchart Gardens which are supposed to be really lovely. Nonetheless we made the most of it and had a nice relaxing weekend.

    Accommodation –  We stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort (such a ridiculous name). It was nice but the spa prices were a bit outrageous; the facials started at $100, which I know is common for facials but the rest of the hotel didn’t really seem to match that price point. We ordered room service for breakfast and it was a bit disappointing, just not worth the price. They forgot the tea, cream and juice. It was in a great location though, there was nice views of the city at night but it was just a short walk over the bridge to get to everything.

    Things to do – I liked just strolling around Victoria. It actually looks kinda European. I don’t know if I would want to spend a lot of time there but for a weekend get-away, it was perfect. We went to see Carrigdorrach Castle, which is not a castle, it’s a Victorian house. It seemed to be fairly popular and has a very interesting history.

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    Food – The food in Victoria was just as good as the food in Vancouver. I even had my first cronut from a bakery we randomly found wondering the streets and it was amazing! Here’s the restaurants I tried:

    Lure  – This is the restaurant at the hotel. We ate there the first night because we were too tired to go in search for anything else. I got the fish and chips, with their ice-cream sandwich dessert. It was pretty good and the place has great views. It’s a little over-overpriced but that’s to be expected from hotel restaurants.

    El Terrazzo – I loved this restaurant. It has great reviews both online and from the hotel receptionist and it did not disappoint! There were a few meat-less options on the menu, which I appreciated, and they gave us warm bread as soon as we sat down, what more could you ask for?

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    Jane x

  • VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA

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    Last week, I went to visit my friend in Vancouver. It was my first time in the city and it was beautiful. However, I didn’t exactly have the best weather while I was there. It rained. A lot. None the less, I tried to explore and experience the city as best as I could in the short time I was there. Below is an over-view of my experience, which should give you an idea of what to expect if you’re planning on heading that way!

    Accommodation – I stayed in my friend’s apartment in Gastown, which was a great location. The streets are really cute, even if it is a bit touristy. It’s magical at night as they have lots of lights strung up in the trees. There’s a steam clock there, modelled after Big Ben in London, that plays a song every 15 minutes. There were constantly a lot of people taking pictures but it was a cute thing to see none the less.

    Prices –  In general I found food to be well priced but everything else was a bit of a rip-off. Store that I knew from Europe and the U.S. were definitely more expensive, such as H & M, and the little boutiques dotted around the city were very cute but definitely more expensive that they should have been. I didn’t buy anything other than food except 2 postcards made of wood as a souvenir. Because of this, I was able to eat in a few nicer restaurants while I was there, but food was definitely very affordable. Transport was also reasonably priced while tourist attraction/activities were priced high.

    Getting around – It’s a very easy city to walk around, I only used the public transport to get to and from the airport, but it was very reliable and easy to use.

    Things to do – I spent the first day just wondering around and exploring Gastown and along the water front; it really is a great city to walk around. The second day, I took the hop-on  hop-off bus (well actually I took the one that they call a ‘trolley’ but it’s a bus that’s made to look like a trolley) . I know they’re so touristy but I genuinely like doing them when I’m in new cities. They give you a good over-view, and for me they help give me an idea of how the city is laid out. I only got off at Granville Island, where I found a fun store called made. that I would totally recommend checking out.

    Food – One of my favourite things about Vancouver was the food. It was very reasonably priced and tasted great. Here’s all the place I checked out:

    Lost and Found Cafe I loved this cafe! It had a great vibe and lots of options for  vegetarians! I got the Veg Sandwich with soup and it was delicious. They also have wifi which is a plus when you’re in a foreign country and don’t have data roaming.

    Noodle Bar I loved how customizable their menu is; you pick the sauce, then protein and spice level. I misunderstood the menu and put shrimp in mine which made it a little expensive but in hindsight, I would have been perfectly happy with the meal if it didn’t have shrimp so lessons learned. It was quite a big portion though and I did get lunch the next day out of it, so it was’t too bad.

    Cactus Club – Coal Harbour This was the only place that I think I would have struggled to find something to eat if I didn’t eat fish. The view was lovely and I really enjoyed what I got, the Prawn Spaghetti. I believe this is a chain restaurant, but the one at coal harbour is a bit more fancy and has different options on the menu. It’s a nice place but not anything too special in my opinion, but I’m not really the biggest fan of fancy restaurants anyway.

    Nandos I’m a big fan of Nando’s in Ireland and I’ve missed it while living in the US.  So when I found out their was one in Vancouver, I had to go. Despite being a known for their chicken, they actually have great vegetarian options. I think the menu was a little different to the one back home but the food was still familiar and great! Love a bit of Nandos (pictures below).

    Alibi Room We went here on the first night I got to Vancouver so it’s a little bit of a blur. I wasn’t sure how hungry I was until I started eating, then I realised I was starving. Not a lot of options for vegetarians but I loved the food I got, the Broccoli and Mushroom stir-fry. It was just want I needed!

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    While I did enjoy my trip, it started to frustrate me how everyone kept talking about how great the city is when the weather’s good. I get it, it’s definitely makes things easier when the weather’s nice but if you live in a city where is rains a lot, you should be able to deal with it. I like cities that embrace their weather and have a fun atmosphere all year round; it seems like Vancouver goes into hiding during the winter! I would definitely like to go back at some point in my life during the warmer months, but it’s nit top of my list right now.

    Jane x

  • PRE-TRAVEL TIPS

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    Heading aboard sometime soon? Traveling can be thrilling and exciting and educational and inspiring, and all these wonderful things. But it can also be stressful. Very stressful. There’s a lot to think about and a lot of pressure to make the most of things.  Here’s a few very important things to think about in the weeks leading up to your holiday/vacation to make things run smoother on your trip!

    Visa/documents

    Do you need a visa to get into the country you’re going to? Do you have layover? Will you need a visa there? I’m going to Canada in a couple of weeks and I found out that, as an Irish citizen, if I’m travelling into the country by land or sea, I don’t need a visa, but if I’m travelling by air, I do need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). This was easy enough to get, I just had to fill out a form online and pay $7 CAD, but it’s important to have these types of things done in advance. A quick google search will tell you what you need for entering whatever country you’re heading to, normally it will also depend on what the country of which you are a citizen!

    Currency/cards

    How are you going to pay for things while you’re there? Will your cards work? What are the fees for using them? You may want to just bring cash as it’s easier to keep yourself on a budget but it’s good to know what your emergency back-up options are. It’s also a good idea to have your cash in advance so you don’t have to stress about it at the airport or when you get where you’re going. Again Google is your best friend, search around and see what you’re options are. Also, talk to your bank about whether your ATM and/or credit cards will work where you’re going and what the conversion and/or transaction fees will be. While I don’t normally think having a credit card is important, when travelling they can be handy. I’ve been in situations where I needed to have a credit card, not a debit card, in my name to hire a car. I didn’t have to pay with it, but they needed it on file just in case. So it’s a good thing to think about getting.

    Adapters

    Do you need an adapter for your plugs? If so, you can save yourself a bit of money buying them in advance as they can be pricey in the airport and hard to find in the country you’re visiting.

    Minitures

    Look at the products you want to bring and figure out if there are mini versions available or if you can decant them into smaller travel bottles. This saves space and weight, especially if you’re only bringing hand-luggage. Remember, in your hand luggage, all your liquids must fit in ONE quart-sized clear plastic bag and all bottles must be 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less! There are no liquid restriction for your checked-luggage but there are weight restrictions (this varies by airline, check their website for more information). I would also recommend buying a travel weighing scales so you know how much your bag weighs before you get to the airport.

    Clean Yo Clothes

    This is fairly obviously, but it’s worth thinking about what clothes you may want to bring a week or so prior to the trip. You don’t have to have everything packed and organised, but make sure anything you might possibly want to bring is clean to avoid any last minutes hassles.

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    I will be doing more travel posts as my trip to Canada approaches so stay tuned. And safe travels!

    Jane x

  • HOCKING HILLS

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    Last November I went to Hocking Hills with my dad and my boyfriend for the weekend, and it was spectacular. It wasn’t really the ideal time of the year to go, a lot of the trees had already lost all their leaves and it was pretty cold (it starting snowing at one point). But my dad wanted to go while he was visiting me here in Ohio so he rented a cabin. Despite the slightly bad timely, it was beautiful. I’m a sucker for rock formations. Like, I genuinely love geology. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by it! So that combined with the tress was always going to be a winner for me. I didn’t realise until we were down there that we didn’t have wifi, and that I would have no signal. But after the initial way of anxiety settled down, it was nice to have some space from everything. To be with the people I love and just relax.  I would highly recommend anyone visits this glorious place if they have the chance. I haven’t even edited these photos because I don’t think they need anything more.

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  • Alone in Detroit: Being Independent

    I needed to do something for myself.  I needed to prove that I was still independent, that I was still me. Because being independent is a bit part of being me. Probably to a fault, but having to rely on people to take me places, on top of all the changes and complications associated with moving aboard,  was starting to make me feel like the rug was being swept out from under my feet. I wasn’t me, I was falling.  So against everyone’s wishes (aside from my parents), I drove to Detroit by myself. They were probably right to be a little concerned. I had only driven a car in the US for a grand total of 30 minutes, but none the less, I hired a car and made the nearly 3 hour drive. Now I know Detroit has a bad reputation, and I wasn’t taking that lightly. But I had done my research, I’ve traveled by myself before, and I just felt like this was something I needed to do. I had to believe that I could make this happen for myself.

    I went up to see a Lukas Graham concert, and they were pretty incredible actually. I don’t have a great ear for these things, but they sound better live that the CD (though the US version of the album has always sounded a little over-produced to me). Lukas should just always sing live. All the time, every day.  His voice is melted chocolate.  I went through a period of going to concerts frequently but in recent years, I’ve fallen out of that. But being there, feeling the buzz and letting the music (and the whiskey) seep into my soul, was the best form of therapy.

    After the concert, I went outside and happened across a car dealership commercial being filmed; so I loitered in the artificially bright Detroit night watching a girl in high heels attempt to look graceful getting out of a low sports car (something I could never do). When they were finished, I wondered to a small bar right by the venue and sat down with my whiskey.  I was only there for a few minutes when this guy started talking to me; he wasn’t hitting on me, he was an older guy who does sound for concerts, so he spends 8 months touring and 4 months sailing in Thailand. He was with a few guys and one of them just happened to be Lukas Graham.  I didn’t know anyone in Detroit, let alone anyone in that tiny dive bar, but a bunch of us from different worlds collided there that night. Everyone was nice, nothing was serious.

    I bought the ticket for the show a while ago, and to be honest, I thought I’d be more settled into my new life in Cleveland by the time the concert came around. But in a way, it came at the right time. I’m not religious; sometimes I wobble around being spiritual, but ultimately decide that there’s too much out there that humans can’t comprehend and that kind of thing, if it does exist, is probably beyond us. However, sometimes things happen just when you need them too. Maybe it’s the universe giving back or maybe it’s completely by chance, but Detroit caught me right when I needed it. I was about to hit the ground hard but I found something there that showed me I could pick myself up.  In that night, I was content.  I was independent.