Koala with Joey at Healesville Animal Sanctuary

Australia

Sign with Kangaroo Ahead AustraliaUpon hearing that you’ve been to such a far-flung continent as Australia the first thing someone asks you is: “How did you survive the jet lag?!” or sometimes “How could you handle such a long flight?!” I guess I was expecting different questions, such as: “What was the food like?”, “Did you get to hug a koala?”, or “What does the inside of a well-played Didgeridoo smell like?” (Ok, maybe I’m the only one that wondered about that last one).

To answer those two questions, I have to explain a condition that I have. It’s called Vehicular Narcolepsy. The moment I ease into the uncomfortable seat of a plane, train, or automobile, I slip into a miniature coma (I can only be resuscitated by the sound of one of those free food carts rolling next to my seat, not sure why that is…). Sometimes my condition is so severe that I fall asleep before the plane takes off and then I am rudely awakened by some irate passenger trying to get past me with his roller suitcase. What’s the rush? Everybody else is off the plane. I remember once I was traveling from London back to Brussels, and I decided to take the train. What makes this interesting is that England is separated from Belgium by the English Channel. So part of that journey would be through an underwater tunnel known as the ‘Chunnel.’ There I sat, upright and vigilant, determined to stay awake and not miss out on this unusual train ride. Next thing I knew, we were pulling into the station in Brussels. Good thing that food cart rolled by, otherwise I’d still be asleep in that train. Going back and forth from London to Brussels for decades. The next time you were in the checkout line at the grocery store you’d see rows of tabloid magazines with the headline “Comatose hobo spends 27 years on train until free food service finally comes.”

Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX Los Angeles California

Well, I slept here…

American Airlines 737 DFW Dallas Airport

And in there.

Anyways, back to Australia. Flying from Florida I had to take four flights to get there. I fell asleep in Florida, woke up in Texas, grabbed a BBQ sandwich, then fell asleep again. Next, I woke up in Los Angeles. I had a very long layover there so, needless to say, I slipped into unconsciousness yet again. Thankfully someone opened a bag of Cheetos next to me so I didn’t miss my flight. I then slept through the eleven hour flight to Fiji (less the food breaks, of course), spent the day in Fiji, and then slept for five hours on the final leg to Australia. By the time I landed it was about one in the morning, so I slept again figuring that was the fastest way to get to breakfast. I have to say sleeping for 34 hours has a way of taking care of the jet lag. So how did I survive the long flights? I usually say: “Well, the food was good. Other than that, I don’t really remember.”

Looking at Skyling of Melbourne from Federation Square

Those lines you see strung up are tram cables with lights that mimic the stars at night. Giving you the outback feel right in the city. The tallest tower is called the Eureka Tower. This 975 ft. tall residential building is an artistic representation of the Australian Gold Rush. The blue and white being the colors of the revolt against the taxing British authorities, and the stripe pattern is meant to mimic a surveyors staff for gold prospecting. The gold bit on top obviously represents, well, the gold, and the red strip is there to represent the blood spilled in battle between the Australians and the British.

As you may have noticed from earlier posts I try not to spend too much time in touristy places. When most visit Australia, Sydney is likely first on their list. I, of course, didn’t go to Sydney. This time it wasn’t exactly my choice to visit Melbourne instead of the world-renowned capitol, but I am sure glad I did! Melbourne is sort of the Portland, Oregon of the South Pacific. Incredibly artsy, unparalleled coffee, and amazing food, all without hippies, hipsters, and all those other annoying things that start with hip, like hippos and hip hop artists (Am I the only one annoyed by hippos around here?).

Eggs Benedict Melbourne Australia

There’s no such thing as a greasy fried egg and a slice of wonder bread here. If you want breakfast, you’re getting a mouth-watering Benedict garnished with Rocket (Arugula).

A testament to Melbourne’s artsy side can be seen in some of their alleyways (which they call lanes). Where in most cities, graffiti is a problem, Melbourne turns it into an ‘art.’ The city commissions ‘street artists’ to do their thing, but only in designated lanes. The result? Check out this lane for example…

Grafitti in a lane in Melbourne Australia

I say, what a novel idea really! And what about the other lanes that aren’t slathered in ‘art’? They’ve been transformed into restaurant districts. I’ve never been so excited to eat in a back alley in all my life! Just make sure you venture into the right one, otherwise you could end up sharing “Rat-a-la-Burn Barrel” with a couple of vagrants. Not that it would be a bad thing. I’ve heard Rufus’ use of paprika and thyme is nothing short of breathtaking. (Any resemblance to real vagrants named Rufus is purely coincidental.)

Outside of Gills Diner Melbourne Australia

While Gills may not be the prettiest on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Stuffed Rabbit wrapped in procuitto Melbourne Australia

No this is not from Rufus.

Anyway, moving on to the coffee. Originally Melbourne had been invaded by an evil enterprise, one that will not be mentioned here (Hint: it rhymes with Starbucks, oops). There were already 80+ of these fiendish franchises permeating the streets of Melbourne a few years ago, but once the native Melbournians realized what real coffee was, they started their own “mom and pop” coffee shops. Were they successful? Let me put it this way. They have eradicated all but 5 of those villainous green and white establishments.

AU Coffee

I deleted my Starbucks app just looking at this picture.

The first time you set mouth on the dark brown velvety goodness of a true Australian coffee, be it a short black, long black, long white, flat white, cappuccino, or latte you will be uncontrollably forced to shred your “Gold Card,” delete all of your “Frappuchino selfies from Instagram, and run screaming down an alley repeating the words: “My life has been a lie!” until you trip over Rufus who was violently gnawing on another ‘paprika rat.’

Dessert case full of delectables Melbourne, Australia

Here’s a picture of some desserts to help get your mind off of Rufus and the rat.

Besides excellent coffee, the nearby Yarra Valley is home to rolling vineyards and even a Chocolaterie that is quite inventive.

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie

Here, in what feels like the middle of no where, you’ll find a chocolaty oasis teeming with unusually (but most of the time good)  flavored chocolates. Some a little more adventurous than others. While lavender may be nice to smell, eating it in a chocolate bar is a completely different story, but hey if you like to eat things that taste like potpourri, then you can have mine.

Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley is the State of Victoria’s oldest wine region with the perfect cool climate for optimal grape growth. A concept that I didn’t fully grasp until I got here, it’s cold! I figured it couldn’t be that cold in the “Southern Hemisphere” but the temperatures were around 40-50ºF most of the time.

If you do decide to visit Melbourne (which I highly recommend) remember to make time to get out of the city. I trust you wouldn’t want to miss out on the Australian wildlife (and no I’m not talking about Rufus again, would you just let it go already?). The animal life on this continent is completely unique. My personal favorite, of course, is the Koala Bear (no it’s not really a bear, it is a marsupial. Hence the pouch). There’s another Koala myth that needs to be dispelled. I’ve heard the notion that Koalas are permanently intoxicated from the Eucalyptus leaves that they consume (and I understand, if I spent all day, everyday sitting in a tree eating the same old leaves, I’d hope there would be some sort of ‘kick’ to them), but this is not the case. The leaves that they eat are very low in nutritional value so the Koala needs to sleep around 18 hours a day to conserve energy.Koala sitting in Gum Tree Victoria, Australia

 

From what I could see Australian wildlife either wants to sleep all day (Koalas and all the other Marsupials) or kill you (venomous spiders and snakes). I prefer the fluffy ones that sleep all day, just don’t let Rufus near them (really, another Rufus joke?).

Now, you may be thinking that Australia is a ‘comfort country’ (What’s that? See my England post) since they’re English speakers, but that’s not necessarily the case. Australians really like to abbreviate their words or even make up their own, it seems. Afternoon becomes ‘Arvo’, McDonald’s becomes ‘Macca’s’, Sandwiches are called ‘Sangers’, and if something is really good, it can be ‘a ripper’, ‘dinky-day’, or ‘true-blue!’ Throw in a thick Aussie accent and “Presto!” they’re speaking a different language. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. If not, just nod your head and say “fair dinkum?” (Translation: “Are you serious?”).

Gum tree with South Pacific Coast in Background

Make sure you have SPF 3,000 because of the colossal hole in the planet.

Another thing to keep in mind, there’s a gigantic hole in the ozone layer above the south pole extending up to Melbourne. This makes the sun tremendously intense. I saw one guy get sunburned in 10 minutes! My advice, invest in one of those awesome Aussie hats (usually made of kangaroo leather), they’re a real ripper! What if you don’t feel like wearing a hat or applying sunscreen? No biggie. As long as you don’t mind getting skin cancer and having the complexion of a lizard in molting season, then be my guest.

Beach Victoria Australia

These waters bring surfers from all over the planet.

All in all Australia is an outstanding place to visit. Where else can you sip on an amazing cup of coffee while gazing up at koalas in the old gum trees, all the while sinking your teeth into a delicious, succulent paprika…ok ok fine I won’t say it. The moment you set foot ‘down-under’ you’ll see why it’s worth the jet lag (still don’t know about the Didgeridoo smell, though).

Above images: Australia has these crazy suspension platforms that allow you to walk through the Eucalyptus forests. The walkways are about 100ft. up whereas the tower is 150ft. tall! Very cool, there’s three on the continent so if you ever visit check to see if you can squeeze in one of these tours.

Editor’s note: I haven’t seen my cat since Friday. I’m also missing my entire bottle of paprika. The cat comes to “Frisky” and the paprika comes to “Pappy”. Anyways, got to run. Something’s in the oven. Whatever it is, it sure smells good…

Germany

Wie Geht’s? Hier ist mein German page! I have to say this page is directed mainly to Americans, and that is because there are some stereotypes that have to be overcome with regards to this Central European country. Let’s take it from zee top, shall vee?

A view of vibrant green mountains in Bavaria, Germany

German myth #1: German’s are mean, uptight, and all together unpleasant to be around. Usually this statement is followed by, let’s go to France instead. If you want to see mean, then by all means, go to Paris. (See my France page for survival tips) The reason many (Americans) feel this way is because of the difference in communication style.

“As a general rule, when traveling to a different country, leave yours behind.”

As you travel to different countries in Europe (and in the rest of the world, for that matter) you’ll find greatly different rules of etiquette. For example, in China it would not even be the slightest bit rude to slurp, burp, and pass gas at the dinner table. Not that there’s anything wrong with this form of manners, assuredly Americans do things that offend other world cultures (like being obnoxious, uneducated, and all together distasteful as soon as they leave their home soil).

Looking out of a train headed to Neuschwanstein

High speed trains are great and all, but a good old-fashioned regional train has a certain ambience. One of adventure and chewed gum under your seat.

I remember once visiting Scotland. I was leisurely nosing around a gift shop (not a usual place I like to be) having a grand old time actually. I was trying on a Sherlock Holmes’ style hat, when in blasts through the front door, no no, please no, it couldn’t be…an American. Already anticipating the onslaught of embarrassment to follow, I promptly hid behind the collector spoons (don’t even get me started on those) quivering and clenching at every word he uttered. “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?!” he begins his conversation with. Not a “Hi, how are you?,” no this tourist needs to ask a clerk that’s from a country that has spoken english, centuries before George Washington was in a diaper, if he knows how to speak his own language. Wouldn’t you know it, all he needed was a travel adaptor. I was just about to give him mine and swiftly cover his mouth with duct tape (never leave home without it) when he blew through the exit in the same manner he entered. He couldn’t understand the beautiful Scottish brogue that the clerk had answered in. “Can’t find a soul that can speak ‘American’ around here” he muttered to himself under his breath as he stormed out. Checking to see if the coast was clear, I slowly rose from the rack of silly tourist spoons and pretended to be Canadian for the rest of the day.

Cabin on the water near Frankfurt, Germany

Cool little cabins on the water you can rent for the weekend.

Germans may have many negative stereotypes that we have given them, but remember Americans have ten times as many stereotypes from practically every European country…well maybe except Belgium. (Belgians are, quite possibly, the most welcoming and accepting Europeans you’ll find. More on that later.) So let’s break it down. “Germans are mean” is the thrust of German Myth #1. So, are they? Nope (or, should I say, Nein!). But they do have a different style of communication, if that’s what you’re referring to. A German might say: “Give me that piece of cheese, please”, where an American would conjure up a sentence like: “Would you by chance happen to have a piece of cheese that I might be able to try, if it’s not too much to ask?” We’d personally consider the latter to be more polite, whereas the Germans would simply consider it inefficient. If you want cheese, just ask for it! That goes for all aspects of conversation in Germany. Don’t bother beating around the bush, it just wastes time.

Alpine houses in Germany

Typical street view in Southern Germany

As a general rule, when traveling to a different country, leave yours behind. A new country is a new world, enjoy the differences instead of taking them personally. It will definitely make for a better trip. No one likes to hear from a person that begins every sentence with: “Well back in my country, we do that this way…”

Reclining chairs on German night train.

If you’re going to attempt to take a night train from North to South Germany, be sure to pay to reserve seats along with your ticket. I didn’t and I was presented with two options. 1) sit on a cold metal bench in between two train cars or 2) pay extra to sit in these weird contraptions that look like a sit-down hair dryer at a salon. Don’t ask me how I know about those…

German myth #2: The German language is all phlegm, and it’s unpleasant to listen to. Of course, you are entitled to your own opinion, but have you ever thought of what others think English sounds like? Especially the way Americans speak it, definitely not a romance language. Keep in mind the media often misinterprets different cultures, giving them false stereotypes. For example, all Irishmen dance around with buckled shoes, have red hair, and sound like a leprechaun. Not true! (Check out my Northern Ireland page for more details.)

Street sign that says Ausfahrt in Germany

How can the German language be that bad if you can use ‘fahrt’ in everyday conversation and people still respect you!

If you want to hear phlegm in a language visit The Netherlands, or Germany’s southern neighbor, Switzerland. In some of those regions, I swear they must have to drink a gallon of milk just to be able to speak a full sentence. Germans, especially from the north, have a very crisp, clear, and concise manner of speaking. In my opinion, it’s quite pleasant to listen to. Who doesn’t like a good German accent?

Frankfurt Castle

Quaint castle near Frankfurt.

German Myth #3: German’s don’t know how to have a good time. Hello! Have you never heard of lederhosen? How can you not have a good time wearing suspender shorts and feathered hats? I rest my case.

Then, if those three myths don’t work, someone has to mention Germany’s wartime past in an attempt to ‘save’ you from visiting such a terrible place. Really? Can we just let it go already? Yes, we all know it was terrible, but the generation that was involved in that whole debacle has all but disappeared. They’ve paid for their mistakes, they are still apologizing to this day, and they’ve made it illegal to even entertain those disgusting notions of the past. So please, don’t let what happened 70+ years ago decide whether or not you visit this underrated tourist destination.

I just love getting lost in these streets...

I just love getting lost in these streets…

Phew! Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. Just like other countries that I’ve posted about (i.e. France), there is a definite North-South divide. In the North you’ll find a more clean, pristine, and precise culture. One that we (again, I’m talking about Americans) may consider to be more ‘uptight.’ You’ll soon find that Northern Germans are just as fun to be around. In fact, my closest friends in Germany are from the North.

As with France, the North has more cities to explore such as Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, etc; however, if rustic beauty is your aim, then the South is where it’s at. Mountains: check, rivers: check, castles: double check!

Dom Cathedral. Cologne, Germany

The Cologne Cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany. Attracting 20,000+ a day. This church has the largest façade of any cathedral in the world.

Here's what inside one of the spires looks like after climbing 500 steps.

Here’s what inside one of the spires looks like after climbing 500 steps.

In my opinion the best way to travel in Europe is to pick a (cool) hub city to stay in, and explore the surrounding areas to your heart’s content that is accessible by no more than a 3-hour train ride away. Any longer and most of your day will be consumed with travel. When visiting Southern Germany, the most logical choice of a good hub city would have to be Munich (München). While the city in itself is astounding to galavant about in, the surrounding areas are just as diverse and spectacular.

Hohenschwangau Castle near lakes and mountains in Southern Germany

Here’s a look at Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig II of Bavaria grew up. You’ll see his castle down below…

While in Munich last time, I decided I wanted to visit a concentration camp. Not exactly a party starter, but if you do have an interest in world history then I’d definitely recommend Dachau (Wow, I never thought I’d ‘recommend’ a concentration camp). If you have a soft heart and a weak stomach, visiting death camps such as Auschwitz (which is actually in Poland) or Sachsenhausen would completely throw you into a depression for the rest of your life, whereas Dachau was a labor camp with fewer atrocities.

If you would prefer to visit something more ‘uplifting’, then certainly check out Neuschwanstein Castle (Fun Fact: that’s German for ‘New Swan Stone’ Castle. It makes the name sound less intimidating, doesn’t it?). Hop on a train to Füssen and in a couple of hours you’ll be seeing the castle that Disney based their famous Cinderella Castle after (This one’s much more convincing). The best part about visiting Neuschwanstein is that there are no inebriated hobos dressed up as oversized stuffed animals trying to hug you and shake your hand the whole time. It makes me shiver just thinking about that.

Full view of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria Germany

Once upon a time, King Ludwig II of Bavaria (the guy who commissioned this monstrosity) was greedily using up all the taxpayers hard-earned cash to build this luxury estate. However, it was not completed during his lifetime. That’s probably because he was found dead in a river. Coincidence? I think not. So much for a fairy tale ending!

As in most European countries, don’t be afraid to wander. Who knows what you will stumble upon! If you’re there around Oktoberfest (in Bavaria it seems like every month is Oktoberfest, they just put the month in the name to sound like they have self-control) you can expect to see lederhosen, taste great beer and ‘apfel strudel’, and hear Schlager music. What is Schlager you say? Imagine music that resembles rabid squirrels chewing on bubble wrap through a megaphone. Needless to say, it’s the worst thing I have ever heard. Sorry, Germany. You’ve got great things going for you. Just work on your music…PLEASE, because my ears are bleeding and just the thought of being horrified again by that reprehensible swine fodder makes me want to crawl into a padded cell, don a straight jacket, and rock back and forth violently, humming “You Are My Sunshine”.

Blue and White tent during Oktoberfest. Munich, Germany

These Oktoberfest tents abed the dreaded Schlager instead of killing it before it multiplies.

Plate of Apfel Strudel in Germany

You can’t come to Germany without trying some Apfel Strudel. (Never confuse Schlager with Strudel, the results could be deadly.)

One more word to the wise. If you happen to have any form of blonde hair and blue eyes, beware! In this day and age most people you see in Germany do not look like the stereotypical Germans from Indiana Jones (the accents are right on, though). With my complexion, I was stopped at just about every street corner, bus stop, train station, grocery store checkout lane, and Biergarten. Overwhelmed with questions by unsuspecting American tourists. The first question, of course, being: DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? Then, where is this street? How do I get to this castle? What does this word mean? Should I get the Schnitzel or the Pizza Leberkäse? Ironically I had just came from that street or castle, or I had just learned the meaning of that word (The food question is a no-brainer. Go for the Schnitzel. Unless you like pizza liver cheese.) so I’d answer their questions. I always received the nicest replies. Your English is amazing! You sound just like one of us! To which I’d respond with a “sank-you” and a heartfelt “Auf Wiedersehen!”

Tyler Cramer standing in a covered bridge near Frankfurt, Germany.

The only selfie I can approve of is at a great distance inside of a covered bridge in a foreign country.

Besides castles and concentration camps, there is plenty to see in the areas surrounding Munich. The first thing I do when I visit a country is to haul out the map (ok ok, I haul out my smart phone) and see where the closest country border is so that I can check off another country from my list (for the official rules on crossing a country off of one’s list see my “Fiji” post)! The closest foreign country to Munich was (and still is) Austria. The moment I found out that I could be in Salzburg in less than 2 hours by train, I screamed like a girl (involuntarily, of course *clears throat to make voice sound deeper) and tore off down the road to the nearest train station. There, in Salzburg, I made the biggest mistake of my entire trip. I purchased a genuine Tyrolean Hat (you know, one of those cool little green Bavarian-style hats with the feather in it). Why was that a mistake? Well, it started raining. I decided that since the inside of my hat said “wasserbeständig” (water-resistant) in big letters, now was a good time to try it out. The moment I ornamented my head with this fine piece of felt, hordes of tourists came barreling down the boulevard with pitch forks and torches and picket signs that read “Where is Mozart’s house?” and “Where is the nearest bathroom?”. Clutching my hat for dear life, I sped down to the train station, narrowly escaping onto the next train back to Germany. I sighed with relief. Slouching in my seat, I watched the angry mobs grow smaller and smaller in the distance. A nice older German lady was sitting next to me. She looked at me very intently for a moment and then asked: “Any idea how I get to Hohe Straße from here?” Without a second thought I thrust my newly acquired headpiece into the trash.

Walking up to the Hofbrauhaus in Munich

Walking up to the Hofbräuhaus in Munich.

So in summary, when you go to tell your friends about your upcoming trip to Germany, don’t be surprised if you are barraged with negative stories, myths, tall-tales, and propaganda. Simply nod, say “Hmm”, and resolve to traverse this amazing country undaunted. Also, seriously consider dying your hair a darker shade, but if you choose not to, never under ANY circumstances wear the local attire, trust me. Lastly…wait, what’s that sound? Is that…no, it couldn’t be! Not Schlager! ♫“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine……♫

German Lake 3

Editor’s Note: If you find a green felt hat with a feather in a waste receptacle on the Salzburg-München Train kindly return it to the address provided. Oh, and if you see an older German lady that looks lost, tell her to head North on Kartäusergasse for two blocks and Hohe Straße will be on her right. 

England

When one sets out to explore the European continent for the first time, certain core (and by core, I mean ‘comfort zone’) countries immediately come to mind. Most want to see countries and cities that will be readily recognized by their friends when they get home. “You went to Dublin?! I’m so jealous, tell me everything!” That’s the line that most hope for when telling of their travels. I try telling someone about the day trip I once spent in Luxembourg and they just look at me blankly, thinking to themselves: “That’s in Indiana, right?” Then, “Surprise!”, your story is ruined, you then have to spend the majority of your time just explaining where Luxembourg is and more importantly what it is. By the time you get to the ‘good stuff,’ they’ve lost interest. And that’s alright.

Colorful taxi driving through London, England with Big Ben in the Background.

Oversized taxis, traffic lights, giant buildings with the sole purpose of telling you the time. Gotta be a comfort country.

There comes a point in every traveler when you have to resolve to leave your comfort zone and venture into places that you may have a hard time explaining ‘where-on-earth’ it is. That is where you find unforgettable travel experiences.  Don’t let how many likes you think you may get on Instagram dictate where you travel.

Black and White facade of Big Ben Clocktower in London, England

Ok, I admit. When I posted this on Instagram I was hoping for some likes…

England can be one of those comfort zone countries that’s first on your list to visit when you get to Europe. (If it isn’t, and you instead were dreaming of roaming the streets of Riga, Latvia for your first European adventure, then I’m impressed. For you, my friend, are a courageous swashbuckler of olden times. Please proceed to the nearest airport and conquer the seven seas of your imagination).

Steep english road in England

You miss out on moments like these when you stay in the city.

Now, I’m not saying all comfort zones are bad, I’ve heard comas are quite tranquil. England is in a ‘comfort zone’ for a few key reasons. First of all, If you’re a native English speaker (in other words, someone who is only capable of learning one language every 70-80 years) then you can leave your phrase books at home (although, they should write a few for some parts of England where sometimes you have to resort to sign language even to get directions to the nearest pub). Second, you won’t have to worry about the food and water quality there. This is where ‘England Myth #1’ needs to be addressed. It states: “All English food is boiled, tasteless, and altogether ‘icky.” NOT TRUE! I don’t know where or how this gossip was spread (probably French propaganda), but it ends here. In England you’ll be delighted with not only good ol’ pub fare (i.e. Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Fish n’ Chips, etc.), but also tantalized by amazing Indian food everywhere you look. Definitely not ‘icky’. In fact, I’d recommend keeping travel size samples of English food in your pockets so that the next time someone carelessly decides to recite ‘English Myth #1’ you can immediately force feed them a miniature Shepherd’s Pie, silencing that slanderous notion for all eternity. Trust me, they’ll thank you. (I’d recommend bringing along some napkins with the mini pies as well, I’m still brushing bits of corn off my coat from last week.)

Old brewery in England that spells Brewed as Brewd

How can you have bad food with spelling like that?

Ok, so we have an idea of why England can be a comfort country. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: “How can we keep that from happening?” I’m glad you asked. Even though England is a default comfort country, don’t worry, there are ‘un-comfort zones’ to be found! Take note, there are both good kinds and bad kinds of ‘un-comfort zones’. Dropping your wallet full of freshly withdrawn pound notes (along with your glasses) after dark in some random subway station by yourself surrounded by escaped convicts with tasers is an example of a bad ‘un-comfort zone,’ avoid these.

Severed pig heads at an English Rag Market in the UK

Nothing says ‘un-comfort’ like severed pig heads for sale.

Comfort countries, in turn, have comfort cities. As a general rule, more comfort, more money. Needless to say, London is a comfort city. Amazing to visit, not so amazing on your wallet. For example, London’s restaurant prices are over 170% more expensive than, say, Budapest (which is definitely not a comfort city). My advice: if you have your heart set on London, then by all means go, but try to limit how much time (money) you spend there. In my opinion, most comfort cities can make for a very satisfying day trip. I saw Paris for the first time in a 7 hour layover (Always try to capitalize on your layovers. For another quirky tale on this, check out my Fiji page). After you’ve had your fix of comfort (psh…who needs comfort?) head up to the Cotswolds.

Big Ben with a budding tree branch in the foreground. London, UK

Another reason I keep my time in the city to a minimum. I inevitably get lost, walk in circles and take pictures of the same things over and over. Hence, the surplus of Big Ben shots, whoops.

After driving about 100 miles northwest of London, you’ll swear you’ve traveled back in time (or to any BBC sitcom for that matter). Named after the Cotswold Hills, the Cotswolds run through six different English counties. In the U.S. when you cross a county line little changes, except for a boring green sign that says “_____ County Line.” In England, it’s much different. The accent changes, the industry changes, the architecture changes, each county has its own unique flare.

Cotswolds English Market

Fun fact #875: Notice that the building is goldish color? That’s because the buildings of the Cotswolds use a specific kind of limestone common to that area. If you go further north or south in England, you’ll see different colored structures for this same reason.

The Cotswolds are chock full of little villages waiting for you to discover. Each having its own Cotswoldy (definitely not a word) charm. When you visit the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, be sure to check out Shakespeare’s residence. (By ‘check out’, I mean strictly abiding to the 3-step castle viewing process set out in the Northern Ireland page., of course)

Shakespeare Residence in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the Cotswolds, England

No, that’s not Shakespeare out front. I think he was away that weekend. Or, perhaps, not away. That is the question. (Ok, that was cheesy.)

Inevitably, you will be confronted with a small chalkboard street sign that has the words ‘cream tea’ scrawled on it.’ When you see this sacred billboard, liberally apply the brakes, find an appropriate parking space (on the correct side of the road), and run screaming with joy into that miraculous establishment as fast as you can. Nothing tops the euphoria that ensues upon consuming those glorious scones, accompanied with their trusty sidekicks, clotted cream and strawberry preserves. Washing it all down with a piping hot potta’ tea with milk, your life will flash before your eyes. All the while you’ll be wondering how you’ve survived all these years without once partaking of this invaluable gift to humanity (Well, that wasn’t dramatic).

Cream Tea with Scones and Clotted Cream in England

There’s really no comment needed. Maybe a moment of silence would be appropriate.

After you’ve enjoyed your cream tea (if you’re like me, there’s going to be more than one round) set off, down the windy roads of south-central England. You really can’t go wrong once you’re in the Cotswolds. Stop at whatever town is your ‘cuppa tea (sorry couldn’t resist), whether it be Cheltenham, Broadway, or wherever your little rental Ford Fiesta will take you.

Old Market Cotswolds England

This market place is over 600 years old! That’s gotta be like 1200 years in metric!

This is the part where I talk about pubs. Pubs sum up everything you could possibly want in an English adventure. Do you want to see architecture from the 16th and 17th century? Go to a pub. Do you want to sink your teeth into some freshly fried Cod or maybe devour a generous helping of bangers and mash? Go to a pub. Do you want an opportunity to hear English accents in their natural habitat? Go to a pub. Do you want a ‘Double Shot Caramel Macchiato with extra foam? Then go back from whence you came! Obviously you have to no appreciation for culture.

Then, there’s English Myth#2: Don’t order a beer in England, because they serve it warm there. What?! Ok, sure with beer that’s handcrafted like at “The Olde Swan” pictured below, you could risk ruining a good brew by refrigerating it. So while some beer there may not be refrigerated, it’s certainly cellar temperature. Let’s put it this way: England is cold, which means English dirt is cold, which means that English cellars are cold, which means…. I’ll let you figure out the rest. (I’m still working on bringing samples of English beer with me at all times to refute this second bit of malicious gossip. Only set back is, by the time English Myth #2 comes up, the beer is warm from being in my pocket with the mini shepherd’s pies.)

Snowshoe Arms in the Cotswolds, England

By far my favourite (notice spelling) pub of all time. Snowshill Arms.

This place, "The Olde Swan", even brews their own beer in the back room!

This place, “The Olde Swan”, even brews their own beer in the back room!

From severed pig heads, to flat cap souvenirs. The rag market has you covered.

From severed pig heads, to flat cap souvenirs. The Rag Market has you covered.

Now, you’re probably thinking “ok, say I take your advice and spend all of my time in the ‘un-comfort zones,’ how am I supposed to get a decent souvenir? True, the ‘comfort’ method would be to traipse into one of those touristy gift shops and grab a fist full of key chains. Feeling more adventurous (or more thoughtful)? Check out some ‘Charity Shops’ or better yet, head to the Rag Market in Birmingham. There, I found a genuine Harris Tweed hand-woven flat cap for £5 (normally £50). If you do the math, you could buy ten flat caps for the price of one, imagine that! With that kind of discount, you could even afford to buy souvenirs for people you don’t like very much (just kidding)!

So as you sit down and plan your European adventure, be it the first, second, or tenth time, go ahead and schedule in some comfort countries. But promise me this, that you will seek every opportunity to find the un-touristy, un-popular, and un-comfort zones, and when you go to tell me about your adventures, it better take a good ten minutes to explain ‘where-on-earth’ you were.

Editor’s Note: Due to the increase in hate mail from “French Propaganda Weekly” I find it necessary to inform you that in no way have I been paid by the English Tourism Board ‘s BETEFBFTM (Britons for the Ethical Treatment of English Food and Beer For That Matter) division (although it was tempting).  

 

 

 

Still scrolling? Here are a few bonus photos to make it worth the trip:

Town road in England

Really any road in England is worth admiring.

Catapult near Warwick Castle, England

Aha see! A random 100 ft. tall catapult, I told you this was a comfort country.

Ludlow Castle in England

Ludlow Castle

Big Ben overlooking the Thames in London, England

Sorry, I just had to sneak one more Big Ben photo in there.

Looking down a road in Nadi, Fiji

Fiji

Bottle of Fiji Water in Fiji

This stuff is actually affordable here.

Fiji. The ancient Sanskrit word meaning: “Land of Expensive Bottled Water.”*

Tyler Cramer Standing outside the Nadi, Fiji Airport

Well I’ve cleared customs! Now onto that interpretive dance…

Never in a million years did I think I would see the South Pacific island of Fiji (to sound like you know what you’re talking about, put the emphasis on the second syllable: fee-JEE, while holding your nose in the air, of course). This was only achieved by taking advantage of the typical travelers’ nuisance: the dreaded layover. Personally, I love layovers. Not only are they free, you get a break, prevent Sheep Train Thrombosis (Now that I think of it, I could be hearing that wrong) and you get to scratch another country off of your list!

Although, this leads to a lot of confusion. You’ll talk to some travelers who say “Oh, I’ve been to Paris several times,” naturally you reply: “Nice, what did you think of the Louvre?” Then, they reluctantly respond:  “I was just in the airport for a layover for a couple of hours, but coming and going, so that counts as two times in France!” To alleviate the ensuing argument of whether they have been to France or not, I have included an excerpt from the International Standard for Scratching a Country Off of One’s List (ISSCOOL). It states, according to Section A Sub-Paragraph 3.15c, and I quote: “One may not officially scratch a country off of one’s list until these three criteria are met: (1) Said individual must clear customs and exit the airport premises. (2) The traveler in question must, and we repeat, must sample the staple cuisine of said country. (3) It is imperative that said traveler take part in an interpretive dance of the Overture of 1812 by Tchaikovsky or similar festival overture in e♭major”…do we need to go on?

 

Fiji Airways 767 by Tyler Cramer

Even their airplanes are decorated with their famed Tapa design.


Fiji flower by Tyler Cramer

Fiji Fact #257: Tekiteki is the practice of putting a flower in ones hair that signifies marital status and sometimes where one is from on the Island.

Anyways, back to Fiji. It is an archipelago of over 300 islands (only 1/3 of which are inhabited), with a combined land area comparable to the state of New Jersey (or about the size of Slovenia, to which you probably just said in your head: “Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?!”, and I apologize. I didn’t realize you were all such geography buffs). Fiji’s main exports are sugar and (Fiji ®) water. Apparently, if you combine Fiji’s two main exports, you get luxury hummingbird food. Which is why the Fijian Constitution provides that hummingbirds have the right to vote (too bad there are no native hummingbirds to exercise that right).

I was on my way to Melbourne, Australia and my layover was in Nadi (Pronounced Nahn-dee, for whatever reason) located on the southern island, Viti Levu. Traveling with a large group to attend a convention, I asked the other Americans what they were doing for their layover in the beautiful country of Fiji. It turns out, most booked their tickets in a way that their layover only lasted 2 hours, lame. They would probably go on to be those people who would tell you that they’ve been to Fiji ‘several’ times, when in reality, they’ve spent all of 4 hours there, never even breathing the fresh air of Fiji (trust me, the air in that airport was anything but fresh. I mean come on shouldn’t they have a cleaner ventilation system. That is why they call it an ‘air’port right?).

Tyler Cramer riding in the back of a covered pickup truck through Fiji

Definitely my favorite way to zip around Fiji.

Then, there were those that booked a day at the nearby all-inclusive resort. Nice you say? Absolutely! You get waited on hand and foot, as much food as you can bear to shovel in, and a comfy chaise lounge to park yourself for 8 hours. “Great!” you say, “can I scratch Fiji off the list now?” Really? Do we need to repeat Section A Sub-paragraph 3.15c? While you did leave the airport premises and you may very well have done an interpretive dance while you sipped your (mostly juice) Mai-Tai, did you sample the local cuisine? Nope.

Lastly, there was a third group who purposely extended their layovers so that they could galavant with the locals and truly experience this foreign land. As I said earlier, there was an international convention going on in Australia, and because of that, there was a small group of Fijians waiting at the airport entrance to welcome the few brave souls that wanted to venture into the Fijian ‘outback’ before going on to their final destination.

View of a Fijian Roadway from the back of a pickup truck taxi. By Tyler Cramer

Though taking the adventurous route may require you to be thrown around in the back of a pickup at warp speed. You can’t ‘ouch’ beat ‘ouch’ the view!

Upon seeing this small, but grinning welcoming committee, I knew I was going to be ‘scratching Fiji off the list’ in no time. A handful of us followed our impromptu tour guides out of the airport, across the ‘highway’, and then ten of us crammed into ONE taxi. Before we knew it, we were hurdling through the streets of sleepy Nadi, heading to our guides’ house for breakfast. There we were presented with a Fijian Smörgåsbord of pastries, sausage rolls, sandwiches, and Milo (some sort of hot chocolate malt beverage.) After we grazed on Island grub, we piled into yet another taxi.

Since not many Fijians own their own vehicle. There are various forms of public transport.

Since not many Fijians own their own vehicle. There are various forms of public transport.


Fijian Style Home Nadi, Fiji by Tyler Cramer

Typical Fijian house—This is where I ate breakfast!

This time, heading to Port Denarau. This was reminiscent of a cruise ship port. A miniature tourist town isolated from rural Fiji, complete with a Hard Rock Café and numerous trinket shops. Now typically I steer clear of gift shops, but these were exceptional.

A view of the harbor in Port Denerau, Fiji by Tyler Cramer

This is the area that most people go when they ‘explore’ Fiji.—Port Denarau

Nothing was made in China, (no offense China, when I visit you, I’ll only be looking for things ‘Made in China’. I promise.) little burlap bags of various Fijian exports (coffee, tea, sugar, etc.) and native Tapa cloth galore! With the excellent exchange rate at the time (almost 2-1), I promptly loaded up my backpack (on the way back home, of course, since I knew I had room).

Fijian currency in a variety of colors by Tyler Cramer

My souvenir of choice…

 

After blowing most of my Fijian dollars (excluding my carefully calculated food and souvenir currency reserve) we proceeded to drop by every business where our tour guides had friends/relatives that were employees (which was just about every place you can think of). All the while using various types of transportation. Sometimes it was a bus, other times it was a taxi, and (just to show off their diverse assortment of transport methods) the back of a pickup truck. One of our stops was a coffee shop where I literally got a bowl of Cappuccino for the equivalent of $2.50, a far cry from the exorbitant prices of Australia, where I believe the going rate is $5 per half teaspoon. (Although, that half teaspoon was the best half teaspoon of coffee I’ve ever tasted.)

Yummy cappuccino in Nadi, Fiji by Tyler Cramer

My delicious bowl of Cappuccino

Our last stop before being returned to the airport was the moment I was so eagerly awaiting. A restaurant with a book for a menu, describing all kinds of Fijian foods that I wish I could’ve spent a week consuming. What do you do when you are barraged with far too many choices, constrained time, and limited stomach vacancy? Ask the server for their recommendation. This was easy considering I said: “I think I’ll have this dish” to which the waitress immediately replied with a stern: “No, you will have this. Much better.” Alright, ‘some dish that I can’t pronounce’ it is! I can say I was definitely not disappointed, and from now on I’m never ordering for myself again (unless you are at a Subway, and the lady insists on loading your sandwich with banana peppers, bologna, and mayonnaise. This is where you employ the ‘oh, I forgot my wallet in the car’ method and make a solemn oath never to return again.)

Tyler Cramer drinking from a coconut in Nadi, Fiji

These coconuts taste like garlic and apples. Maybe some people like that combination…And as always: “When in doubt, pinky out”


Crab Dish in Nadi, Fiji

Don’t worry the shell is just for looks!

In only two layovers totaling about 25 hours, I can scratch Fiji off my list with a clean conscience. What could’ve been an uneventful stop over (where the most excitement was watching some old guy beat the tar out of a forever lodged bag of potato chips in a vending machine screaming: “Release the goods, you contemptible beast of burden!”) will become an unforgettable memory filled with little burlap bags of Fijian Coconut Soap (they were on sale, ok!?). So the next time you are looking for tickets on a long haul flight consider a layover, and I mean a LONG layover. Who knows, maybe you’ll be rewarded with an amazing destination you never thought in a million years you’d ever visit.

Editor’s note: Sheep Train Thrombosis (STT) is a fatal disease that causes the death of countless railbound sheep each year. If you think you could have Sheep Train Vehiculosis, consult a doctor/veterinarian to determine whether you are at risk. Side effects may include: Wooly Ear, Trainophobia (fear of wolves), uncontrollable Baa-ing, and in some cases death.

*Calm down, I’m just joking.

 

Looking up at the Arc de Triomph in Paris, France

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

IMG_8065

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.