Looking up at the Arc de Triomph in Paris, France


France: North vs. South

Most European countries are often broken up into the “Southern Mentality” and the “Northern Mentality.” I am in no way relating them to the United States’ north and south divide. The directional mentalities may mean different things in different countries.

In most cases the northerners are more snooty, more “sophisticated” (or at least they think they are) and the southerners are more hospitable, more down-to-earth, sometimes (most of the time) even better cooks. I guess that does kind of sound a little like the U.S.

There are exceptions though. For example, in Belgium, the Northerners (Flemish) are much more low-key and welcoming. Whereas the Southerners (French-speakers) are more uptight and less yielding.

Anyways, before I get off track, France has the typical North-South divide. Yes, Paris is “magnifique” and you should probably visit this stunning city if you are in the country. Keep in mind, though, with great cities, come great “snooty-ness.” As a recommendation, if you are planning on visiting France, namely Paris, brush up on some French phrases. The first time I went, I didn’t follow that advice. Needless to say, I’ve never been treated so poorly in all my life (well maybe besides by the people at the local Drivers’ License Office). Now, everybody has their own Parisian experiences. Maybe I just caught everyone on an off day (not likely).

Oh so good...Thank you France

Oh so good…Thank you (Southern) France

Regardless, when I returned (this time equipped with an armament of French phrases) my experience was entirely different. Those few French words that I stumbled through made all the difference. All of a sudden, I was being treated like a human! Ok, I exaggerate a little. Parisians never treat tourists as human (just kidding). Nonetheless, learn some French (even if it’s just Merci and Bonjour) before you go. It will  completely change your French voyage.

Now on to the subject of Southerners. I LOVE southern France. For one, Nice (pronounced Neese) is, well, nice (pronounced, well you know). The quaint markets, the exquisite eateries, the laid-back atmosphere, all the crêpes you could want, what else could you possibly need?

Those are some "Nice" spices...get it...eh eh?

Those are some “Nice” spices…get it…eh eh? Sorry, forget I said anything.

If you do perchance extend your excursion into the south of France, don’t pass up La RossettisserieOpen only a few hours each night and with the seating capacity of no more than about 20, it’s a culinary quest you’ll not soon forget. My mouth is still watering.

Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box. Give the big cities and tourist attractions a break and go somewhere where most tourists would never think of going. That’s where stories, memories, and laughs (and sometimes tears) are born.

And in the off-chance that you do decide to still visit Paris (face it, you won’t take my advice) check out some of the sights from “The City of Lights”, hey that rhymed…

Looking up at Eiffel Tower at night in Paris, France

No idea what this thing is called. We’ll call it the “Giant Metal French Thing” for now.


Yes, you can go to the top of the “Giant Metal French Thing.” Of course, when I was forced into ascending this monstrosity (Take note, this was supposed to be a temporary structure built for the world’s fair and the French thought it looked “tacky”) I chose the cheap route and took…cue dramatic music…the stairs. Beware, there’s over 700 steps just to get to the elevator that takes you the rest of the way. By the end of that jaunt my thighs were so huge I was afraid they were going to be deported for not having their own passports. In my opinion, once you’ve ascended any tall structure, you don’t need to ascend another. Again, that’s my opinion. I know some love the sights from the heights (I’ve really got to stop rhyming), but if you’re like me, save the $40 and feast your eyes on the picture below.

Ariel view from Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

When you visit France, you’ll find that everything feels like a Kodak moment. Even the subway stations are photogenic.Black and White Metro Subway Station Entrance Paris, France

Paris as a Layover


Masquerade anyone?

As a general rule, I think it’s a great idea just to blitz big European cities in a day. My first time in Paris was just a really long train layover (planned on purpose). Side point, when taking trains through Europe and your itinerary connects through Paris, keep in mind you’ll have to trek from one train station to the other. Paris is set up like the center of a spoked wheel. There’s I think at least 7 train stations that depart to different areas. Say you want to go from Zürich to Brussels. You’ll get out at Paris’ Gare de Lyon and you’ll have to find your own way to the Gare du Nord which will take you the rest of the way (They’re 5km apart). As long as you did the smart thing and packed light then avoid cabs at all costs and see the city during your layover. (Layover adventures are travel opportunities that are often ignored. For another “long layover adventure” see “Fiji”) Get a metro “carnet” (10 tickets for about €14) and zip around the metroplex that-a-way. Those “hop on-hop off” buses cost double and they only stop at certain places.

Beautiful Hallway in Palais Garnier Paris, France

Cue the scary organ music…


With your carnet in hand, Paris is your oyster (Excuse me, escargot). If you like the Phantom of the Opera, definitely check out the “Palais Garnier” for €10, take yourself on your own tour of the place. Leave no hallway unexplored. It’s an extraordinary structure, oh, and don’t forget the chandelier either!

You surely have to check out all the other marvelous architecture. Such as the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the Louvre (if you want to impress your French friends the correct pronunciation of Louvre is: Loo-voo-loo-de-la-roo, though I may be saying that wrong)

Arc de Triomph in Paris, France

Arc de Triomphe


Facade of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France

Notre Dame


Glass Pyramid of the Louvre black and white in Paris, France

The Louvre

On a serious note, if you wish to enter the Louvre (not really sure what’s inside, I’m pretty sure it’s a giant Costco or something) do not visit Paris on Tuesday (if you’re only there for the day, that is) both times I’ve been, it’s been Tuesday. It goes without saying…I missed out on the free samples.

In summary, if you wish to go to Paris, by all means go! If you can, try not to spend all your time there, because there’s so much more of France to see (and the people are nicer everywhere else). As I said, Nice and the French Riviera are a must see…

Cote d'azur (French Riviera), Nice, France

A ‘Nice’ shot of the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera). Ok, I swear, I’m done with the ‘Nice’ jokes.

Something cozy about narrow alleyways…

quaint alleyway in Nice, France

 So in conclusion. Wherever you may traverse in this beret clad country, embrace the good and the bad. The kind-hearted and the snooty. The magnificent and the malodorous (talking about cheese, of course) and when you’re frustrated, try this: Take a deep breath, let out a big hearty French laugh, and shout: C’est la vie!

Pathway off of a cliffside near Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Cliffs of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s take on the Cliffs of Moher (which are located in the Republic of Ireland)

These ten counties of the Island of Eire are technically its own country. A country that makes up only 3% of the population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (affectionately known as the UK). For a better (or at least I hope better) explanation of the names of the regions of the British Isles, see my “British Isles” page.

It’s seems to me that Northern Ireland doesn’t get as much recognition as the Republic of Ireland. I understand, when you think of Ireland, you think of Dublin. Though the Republic’s capitol is a must-see for all the american tourists who have to say: “Oh back when I was in Dublin, and yes I mean Ireland, yada yada,” who cares, you’d be severely missing out on Ireland’s natural beauty if you chose to forgo Northern Ireland.

If you are planning to visit any part of Ireland, here’s a few ups and downs to Northern Ireland to help you decide if the northern ten counties are right for you (uh oh, I feel like I’m selling insurance. By the way, you could save 15% or more by….).

Lobster outpost in Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

One of the original lobster outposts.

First, let’s start with the bad news. Northern Ireland is on the pound (GBP), so if you’re coming from the U.S., that can decelerate your “bang-for-your-buck-o-meter” rather quickly. Although, the dollar (USD) is climbing at a staggering rate. Last time I checked, 1 pound sterling cost $1.47, that’s about what the euro cost when I was in Europe last year (2014).

Another bit of bad news: you probably won’t hear that “leprechaun accent” that you know you were hoping for. In fact, the Northern Irish sound to me like heavily accented Minnesotans (don’t tell them I said that, of course). I’m not going to go into the full explanation of why that is, but to illustrate this further, when overseas I’ve been labeled as Irish as many times as I’ve been placed as American (now that could be because I tend to adopt the accent of whoever I’m talking to, but that’s besides the point).

Onto the good stuff (Hint: Notice how short the ‘bad news’ portion is). In my opinion, there are three things you HAVE to check out while you’re visiting Northern Ireland. The best part: they’re all located within about 11 miles of each other!

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

So hop in your car that you’ve rented (hired, if you’re going to learn the lingo) and then once you’ve realized you’re sitting in the passenger seat, gracefully exit the vehicle and get in the driver’s seat…weirdo. Anyways, drive up to Dunluce castle, which should take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes if you’re driving from the capital city of Belfast (that is if you don’t get into a head-on collision since you keep veering into the other lane). Once you arrive in Dunluce (and after you’ve changed your trousers from all of those close calls) behold this, now ruined, medieval castle. The rule is: the more ruined the castle, the cheaper it is to tour.Approaching Dunce Castle, Northern Ireland

As a side note, when you plan on gallivanting across a country where there are heaps of castles, pick one castle that you feel you must see the inside of and stick with that one. If you veer from this advice, you’ll soon find that once you’ve seen one castle (on the inside that is) you’ve seen them all. Now don’t get me wrong, I love castles. I usually try to incorporate at least one new fortress on each trip, but I choose to take the free route. Follow this easy three-step process when touring a castle: Step 1-Save £30 by not paying to go inside the castle. Step 2-Load up on pictures of the exterior. Step 3-Proceed to the nearest pub, and go “hog-wild” on a shepherd’s pie. All the while, flipping through countless (free) castle pictures on your camera and admiring that crisp £20 note that you just saved (cost of pie and pint factored).

Now, back to Dunluce. It is quite “ruined,” meaning it is quite “cheap” (£5, I think) and since it’s in this state of dilapidation, there’s not much to see on the inside (it’s so ruined, you can practically see the inside from the outside. Definitely not the castle you should pick to ‘splurge’ on.), but you can take some amazing exterior shots. I believe this castle even made it on the inside of a Led Zeppelin CD case. (I may have misheard though. So google it before bragging to all of your ‘LedHead’ friends.) Ok, spend 20-30 minutes tops here, and then head northeast!

The Giant’s Causeway

In only 4.5 miles you’ll reach my personal favorite. Even though I typically would never call a touristy area a necessity, the Giant’s Causeway is just that. This natural wonder is, well, naturally wonderful.Looking up at the cliffs above the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland


Ariel view of the famous polygonal stones of the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Polygons await you when you arrive at the Giant’s Causeway. Who doesn’t love polygons?

DSC02652Seeing about 40,000 interlocking polygonal pillars, some towering almost 40 ft. in the air, feels like LEGOland the way nature intended it. (If you’re debating between visiting Northern Ireland and going to LEGOland, then sadly, we can’t be friends). As a budget traveler you should, of course, opt to walk instead of being bussed down to the causeway. Though I originally chose that option to save some dough, in hindsight I’d recommend this anytime over the bus. Though it is a bit of a trek, you’ll be rewarded with a plethora (all great article uses plethora, everybody knows that) of Kodak moments. If you’re into folklore, check out the visitor center/gift shop that has a video presentation about Finn MacCool and the fearsome Scottish giants (I have no idea if it’s worth watching. Plop me in a foreign country with a camera and the last thing you’ll find me doing is watching a movie, unless it’s a good movie…and there are snacks. Come to think of it, if there were snacks at that Finn MacCool video then you wouldn’t be seeing these pictures of Northern Ireland). Spend as long as you like here, this is an unforgettable sight to see.image


Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede 3Then after you have seen enough, venture another 7.5 miles to get to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge near Ballintoy, Northern Ireland. Legend has it, bridges were built to the miniature island of Carrick-a-Rede for over 350 years. Originally used by salmon fisherman, but since the salmon have all but disappeared, it now serves only as a tourist attraction. There is a toll of £5.60, which is certainly worth it (reach into your pocket, you should still have that £20 note from NOT blowing it on castle admissions, and cheesy “my friend went to Ireland and all he got me was this lousy…” trinkets). If you’d rather not cross this bridge, I understand…pansy. At first I found it frightening, but then seeing my 70-something-year-old tour guide (No, I didn’t pay for a tour guide, he was my cousin, obviously) fly across the bridge with the grace and speed of a well fed Peregrine falcon, I decided to ‘give it a go.’ Words and pictures cannot convey the excitement of crossing this perilous overpass. It looms 98 ft (30m) above waters that share the same latitude as the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. As you intrepidly cut across this mess of ropes and planks, bombarded by winds in all directions. All the while swaying side to side, back and forth, and up and down, it’s no wonder why some are so petrified by the time they reach the other side that they have to be boated back to the mainland. I’m making this sound horrifying, aren’t I? It sounds terrifying, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a blast. Look on the bright side, according to records, no one has fallen off this bridge in all those centuries. Hey, maybe you could be the first!

Looking straight down 100ft from the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland

So if you choose to make the voyage over to Ireland, be adventurous and give Northern Ireland a chance. Yeah, they may not have the accents we’d hope for, and sure it’ll cost you a little more to peruse then euro zone Ireland. But remember the next time you’re at a dinner party and that one guy starts out his story: “Oh, back when I was in Dublin, and yes I mean…,” (we know he was really just there for a two-hour layover after some business trip) all the dinner guests begin to slouch in their seats and prepare for the long ride ahead. That’s where you jump in and say: “Yeah, but did I ever tell you about the time that I scaled the perilous bridge of Carrick-a-Rede.” Instantly the heavens will turn ominous and roar with thunder. You’ll then be transformed into a bearded fisherman with one leg and a yellow rain slicker. Instantly endowed with an impromptu Irish accent. All the, once bored, dinner quests will be on the edge of their seats, glued to every word of your tantalizing Irish tale.Looking across Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland

Editor’s Note: When telling your ‘tantalizing Irish tale,’ resist the urge to say ‘top of the mornin’ to ya’,  which no one in Ireland actually says or even worse, ‘Argh!’  which gives the story a pirate feel ultimately leading to the death of your once interesting story, prompting the return of the business trip drivel. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Looking up at a Belgian windmill

So why 109 days?

So, why around the world in 109 days? Why couldn’t it be for 80 days? Well, first of all, 80 is ever-so-slightly overused as a travel duration. Second, 80 days just isn’t long enough. In the book, Around the World in Eighty Days (great read, of course) it was a mad dash to the finish line. Traveling is most enjoyed when there is no such mad dash. Lastly, (here’s the real reason its 109 days) the tickets were cheapest leaving June 12 and returning to the states on September 29. What I didn’t realize was that as Americans we only have 90 days in Europe within 180 days. According to mathematics, (this came as a total shock to me) 109 days exceeds the 90 day limit. Leaving a difference of 19 days.

What’s so bad about overstaying your visa you might ask? Nothing really. Well, except for the part where they stamp your passport with “Illegal Immigrant”, deport you, fine you, and ban you from the continent for up to 5 years. “What’s 5 years?”, you may say. Here’s the thing, even after the 5 years are up, you have to go through a special process to regain your visa (whereas at the moment you have one automatically). So yeah, totally worth it.

This leads to the question: What do I do for 19 days? I was planning on spending a few days in Croatia, The UK, and possibly Morocco (Not apart of the 90/180 Visa). But those would be quick overnight trips. Then, out of the blue, some Australian friends of mine that I met at an international convention, send me an email. It turns out, they’ve moved to Botswana and they offered their place if I wanted to come visit them. Still, the way the dates worked out, that would only buy me another week and a half. Bottom line: I still needed 4 days outside of the European Union. Then I realized that flying into Botswana from Europe requires a layover in Jo’Burg, South Africa, where I have other contacts that I really wanted to visit. They, of course, could only accommodate me for…4 days! So there you have it. Hopefully I did the math right…

Now you’re probably thinking: “Around the world?, that’s not around the world…”, and you’re right. I do have a layover in Dubai (which is technically in Asia) so I figured 3 continents in a little over three months constituted a little aroundtheworldyness. Look it up. It’s a word.