Top 10 Things to Do in Krakow, Poland

The Norwegian fjords, the Swiss Alps, the Greek islands, and Italian architecture are some of the famous European landmarks recognized around the world. But what about Poland? What’s the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about Poland? 

When I introduce myself as a Pole, especially outside Europe, I often see the confusion on people’s faces. I’ve met a dozen people who have never heard of Poland or were unable to find my home country on a map. So, it’s no surprise that Poland is not on the top of the list for globetrotters. I’d like to do my part to change that a bit.

Introducing Poland

Before I virtually take you around my favorite Polish city and share things to do in Krakow, I’d like to dispel some common misconceptions about my homeland. Poland is not an ice-locked country with never-ending snowfall. No polar bears are roaming the streets, and Poles do not speak Russian. 

Poland is not a tiny country tucked away somewhere in a corner of eastern Europe. In reality, Poland enjoys an average summer temperature of 20 to 25 degrees Celsius (68 to 77 F) and -3 to 3 degrees Celsius (27 to 37 F) during winter. It’s the 9th largest country in Europe by land size and population. Picture a country with as many people as California squeezed into the land about the size of New Mexico. Lastly, Poles speak Polish which is distinct from Russian. 

The number of visitors to Poland dramatically increased after it joined the EU in 2004. The opening of borders and expansion of tourist infrastructure from EU funds are only some reasons why over 18 million tourists visit Poland annually. But the main reason is its beauty. From amber beaches of the Baltic Sea fringed with white sandy dunes and beautiful cliff shores to the clear, calm waters of the Masurian Lake District to the snow-capped peaks of the Tatra Mountains, Poland has something for everybody. All of my friends who traveled to Poland with me were amazed by its rich history, friendly people, and mouth-watering local cuisine. The Poland they found was far more interesting and complex than what they imagined.

Welcome to Krakow 

The recipe for the perfect city to visit probably involves some combination of fascinating history, great architecture, rich cultural life, fine dining, and a vibrant nightlife — this is Krakow. It is the historical capital of Poland, full of legends, beautiful architectural monuments, and art. If you ever visit the city, give yourself extra time to discover some of its most iconic specialties. Poland proudly boasts many regional cuisines which I plan to introduce in future articles. For now, here are my top 10 things to do in Krakow:

The Old Town

Any list of must-see places in Krakow starts with the Old Town, Stare Miasto. The oldest and the most famous part of the city was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List over 40 years ago. This part of Krakow never sleeps. There’s always something happening 24 hours a day through activities that vary by season. In the summer months, social life revolves around the restaurants and cafes located in the main square, Rynek Główny, and nearby streets. Things get a bit quieter during cold and snowy winters when locals and tourists enjoy mulled wine in old Krakow cellars.  

If the Old Town is the center of Krakow, the Market Square is certainly its beating heart. It is the largest square in Poland and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in Europe. The square is always noisy and loud. You can expect to hear street musicians entertaining crowds, horse-drawn carriages clattering on cobblestone streets, and the sound of the bugle from the tower of St. Mary’s Basilica at the top of the hour. It’s far from serene and that’s part of its charm. For those looking for tranquility, side streets off the Market Square offer an escape from the hustle-and-bustle. For me, this place is what Krakow is all about. I could spend hours in the square watching kids chasing soap bubbles, people feeding pigeons, admiring street artists, or simply enjoying Polish specialties served by many restaurants surrounding the square. 

The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)

Right in the middle of Market Square is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice in Polish), one of the most important historical buildings in the city. It’s considered the world’s oldest shopping mall. Sukiennice includes two rows of stalls selling leather goods, folk-inspired artifacts, hats, lace, jewelry, woodcraft, and souvenirs. A decade ago, a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow opened in its basement. The museum is a real treasure and worth a quick visit for those interested in Krakow’s past.

St. Mary’s Basilica

The basilica is the most prominent landmark of Old Town and one of the most famous churches in the country. It is full of priceless objects, including brilliant stained-glass windows and a magnificent altar.  Two towers top the basilica, the taller of which served as a watchtower during medieval times. A guard manned the tower day and night. He would blow on his bugle to warn citizens of fires, invaders, and other dangers. Even today, a “guard” blows his bugle from the watchtower, though it is done to mark the top of the hour, and it is decidedly more mellow. The bugle call has become the musical symbol of Krakow, and crowds gather to hear it. This watchtower offers a gorgeous, panoramic view of Krakow for those willing to climb its 300 steps. 

Town Hall Tower

Also known as the Krakow Leaning Tower, the Town Hall Tower is the only remaining part of Krakow’s old town hall built in the 1300s. The tower displays black and white photographs of Krakow, medieval costumes, and a nice view of the city. Near the top, there is an old clock mechanism that visitors have a chance to see from inside. There is also a small café and theatre located in the basement. 

Schindler’s Factory

Made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory attracts record numbers of tourists from Poland and around the world. This museum not only exhibits the life and work of Oskar Schindler but also illustrates both the tragic and uplifting life in Krakow during World War II. In my opinion, Schindler’s Factory is one of the best museums in Poland and one not to be missed during a visit to Krakow. I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance. 

Planty

Planty is the garden that surrounds the Old Town. It is one of the largest parks in the country, with a circumference of over four km. Originally the park was planted with mainly chestnut trees, but nowadays, it’s a home for a variety of the trees like lindens, maples, and spruces. It is the Central Park of Krakow (albeit smaller in scale) where we can find joggers, walkers, and cyclists.  With plenty of areas for rest, the park is the perfect place to relax for locals and tourists alike. 

Florianska

Florianska has always been one of the most important streets in the city. It’s been the center of artistic life for many famous Polish writers, painters, and performers. On both sides of the street, there are beautiful, historic tenement houses, including the oldest hotel in the city from the 1800s and a pharmacy museum that showcases exhibits from over 1,000 pharmacies from all over the country. Today, the street is a major tourist attraction. There are many shops, restaurants, cafes, and similar establishments, but their exterior building has been carefully preserved to maintain their original beauty.  

Wawel Castle

The Wawel Royal Castle on Wawel Hill is one of Poland’s greatest places of historical and cultural importance. For centuries, it was the home of kings and the place where Polish history was made. 

It has become one of the most important museums in the country, and, in 1978, it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List along with Old Town. The complex has beautiful gardens, courtyards, a chapel, a treasury, stately rooms, city views, and, of course, the Wawel Castle itself. Make sure to plan your visit and be sure to pick up self-guide headsets. Allow yourself half a day to discover this magical place. 

Kazimierz

Kazimierz is the former Jewish district situated a stone’s throw from the Old Town. After the Jewish population resettled here in the 15th century, it quickly became an important center of Jewish culture in Poland and the world. Many outstanding scientists, writers, and politicians were born in this area. Before WWII, approximately 60,000 Jews were living in Krakow, but tragically most did not survive the war.

Today, Kazimierz is one of the main attractions of Krakow, buzzing with cultural and artistic life. It tends to attract those who want to feel Krakow’s bohemian spirit. Endless cafes with unique character and artistic flair, as well as many well-known art studios and galleries, fill the district. You can expect to see a mix of historical monuments and synagogues (including the Old Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue in Poland from the 1400s) along with highly-rated restaurants and food trucks. 

Vistula District

The Vistula River (Wisla in Polish) is the longest river in Poland. It traverses through four countries (Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland) and cuts through Krakow and Warsaw before flowing into the Baltic Sea in Gdansk. The Vistula riverbank in Krakow is among the most relaxing places in the city, along with Planty. It’s where locals sunbathe, picnic, and go for a leisurely walk or bike ride. There are a wide variety of churches, new developments, industrial parks, and bridges along the Vistula. Visitors can walk along the riverbank or enjoy the view from one of the restaurant ships that dot the river.

You can explore Krakow in multiple ways. Guided tour options include walking, biking, golf carts, and even Segway tours. Traveling couples may opt for romantic boat tours. It’s a city for those interested in history and art as well as culinary and alcoholic adventures. Krakow caters to students, families, and seniors by offering a variety of activities like vodka tasting, traditional Polish dumpling cooking classes, food tours, pub crawls, and museum tours. It’s worth mentioning that visiting Poland won’t break the bank, and your dollars (or pounds or euros as the case may be) will go farther than many other European countries. You will be able to eat, see, and enjoy so much more compared to better-known tourist hotspots. 

Hopefully, I have piqued your interest to discover what is in my mind about the most beautiful city in Poland. I personally can’t wait to be back there again. Stand by for my gastronomic guide to Poland for all you foodies out there.

Meet Marcos González the Picture Perfect Traveler

Marcos González and I have a lot in common. We’ve made reverse journeys across the Pond. While away from our home countries, we have lost loved ones. I founded Dreams Abroad while teaching in Spain. In my latest interview, I speak with Marcos, a traveler who swapped the North Coast of Spain for the West Coast of the States.

“Come home to paradise, come to Asturias.” This is the slogan of the principality’s tourist board. A green and pleasant land, this is northwest Spain. A rugged coast and majestic mountain range crown Asturias. The fare is of the hearty variety, made to satisfy the appetites of those accustomed to working outdoors. It’s Marcos González’s native terrain and while pandemic-enforced absence makes the heart grow fonder, he has embraced a new life in California as a hospitality professional.

You come from Asturias, land of fabada asturiana and sidra. What dish or drink do you miss most from your home?

I miss many, but mackerel is one of my favorite ones! Undeniably, I do love cabracho cake too. It’s like a paté made with rockfish and it’s delicious. I am lucky to be from a country and a location with a rich, delicious, and varied gastronomy.

“If somebody is planning a Spanish road trip, what are the unmissable things to see and do in Asturias?”

First, they need to hire me as a guide… kidding! Asturias is small but you will be surprised by the number of beautiful places that we have. Definitely, Oviedo is a must. Covadonga, Llanes, Somiedo… everywhere there is something beautiful to visit, from waterfalls, lakes, castles, caves, and beaches.

Which country have you enjoyed exploring the most?

I must say that I have loved exploring all of them, but I think France is my number one! I love France. As I used to live in Andorra, I was in France all the time! 

“On your Instagram page, you describe yourself as a traveler, explorer, adventurer. Where was the first place you traveled to both in and outside of Spain?”

Good question… the first time that I went out of Spain was to Ireland. I loved it. In Spain… I would say Barcelona, I think it was the first city out of Asturias that I visited as a traveler.

What has been your favorite individual adventure?

I would say my trip to Hawaii. It was somewhere that I went by myself as a traveler and I had so much fun! Visiting Hawaii was a beautiful experience full of adventure. Kauai conquered my heart!

“You work in hospitality. How did your accommodation react to the pandemic?”

Now I am a food and beverage manager, but I was a hotel manager in the past. We have followed all the protocols and we have been open and busy all the time. I haven’t taken any vacations since March 2020 and it doesn’t seem that I am traveling any time soon. Despite there being a pandemic, I have been working more than ever. I just wished that certain guests could have been more understanding and easier with us. Some people have been extremely rude and aggressive toward us during all this time, forgetting that we are doing our job and putting our lives at risk.

“How much does being based in California (where over a quarter of the population speaks Spanish as a primary language) help you with adjusting to your relocation?”

Well, it’s nice to be able to speak my language. Nonetheless, I am fluent in English, so I don’t mind speaking one or the other language. I have lived in the UK and even in Ireland before, so the language is not a problem for me. The problem is for the poor Californians who have to understand my accent!

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the hospitality industry?

I love the industry. My advice is to be ambitious and enjoy what you do. You should take advantage of the industry to live in different countries as I did. 

“Which one photo that you have taken do you like looking at and why?”

There is a photo with my dog in Asturias that I love. First, because I love my dog and Asturias. Second, I took it when I started getting interested in the photography world.

“When will you return to Asturias to see your family?”

I don’t have plans yet. I am vaccinated and they are too, but I think that it’s risky. With everything that has been going on, I won’t put my family at risk. I can wait until I feel it’s safe. Sometimes, deciding not to visit someone is the greatest proof of love, don’t you think so?

While Marcos is committed to securing residency in the United States for work purposes, his heart remains in Spain. Marcos looks forward to the day he can fly back to Asturias to reunite with his family. In the meantime, Marcos is traveling locally around California. He particularly likes visiting beaches and national parks such as Big Sur and Bodie State Historic Park.

Planning to explore north of California? If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest is famous for, it’s their coffee culture. Check out our guide to find the best coffee in Portland, Oregon.

Laos: The Sleepy Sister of Southeast Asia

Harold Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Welcome to the Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), a land-locked and less-traveled nation in Southeast Asia. The population of the country has yet to reach 8 million. Most first time visitors to Southeast Asia concentrate on the Vientiane-Vang Vieng-Luang Prabang corridor. Perhaps rightly so, as Luang Prabang is truly a wonderful UNESCO world heritage site. But Laos has plenty of other less publicized gems located in the far southern and eastern Champasak region, hugging Vietnam and a small northern border section with Cambodia. Join me as we take a look.

Pakse, Laos

Pakse (population around 75,000) is the hub of the southwestern corner of Laos. It is located along the confluence of The Mekong and Se Don rivers. The backdrop contains a series of rugged hills. The riverside sunset views are spectacular. Mother Nature used a masterstroke when painting this scene.

What is there to actually do in Pakse? Surprisingly, I found the city has a decent selection of satisfactory eateries. The Panorama Restaurant on the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel provided a 360-degree view of the entire city. It offered optimum sunset gazing with cool, clear air in a relaxed setting. Makeshift restaurants pop up along the riverside in the late afternoon. This is an ideal way to mingle with the locals over some Beerlao. If alcohol is not your cup of tea, there are numerous excellent coffee shops in Pakse.

I rented a bicycle during the day to get around. This is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place. I get a bit of exercise and I can cover more distance than I would simply by walking. If you want a less tiring activity, watch or ask to join a game of pétanque. This French-introduced boules game is very popular in Pakse. 

Not impressed with the excitement factor yet? Read on.

Corner Cafe

Spread Your Wings

OK, so you’ve wound down for a couple of days in Pakse, Laos and now you want to become a little more active.

The nearby Bolaven Plateau is the country’s coffee-growing region. The French introduced the production of coffee in the early 20th century. Presently, Lao coffee is renowned and appreciated worldwide. Other attractions and curiosities in this area are numerous waterfalls and the villages of ethnic minorities.

The Bolaven Plateau is wedged between the Annamite Mountain Range. The Annamite straddles the Vietnamese border on the east and the Mekong River on the west. During the American-Vietnam war, the area was strategically important to both sides. The US heavily carpet-bombed the Bolaven Plateau. To this day, UXOs (unexploded ordinance) riddle the dense jungles. Sticking to marked trails or hiring a guide when hiking is advised.  

Been There, Don Det

Finished with your jungle trek and want to relax again? Head further south to Si Phan Don, a 50-kilometer region just east of the Mekong barely on this side of the Cambodian border.

Si Phan Don translates to approximately 4,000 islands, half of which are submerged during the rainy season. This is the widest area of the 4,350-kilometer-long Mekong River system, offering stunning views of lush jungles and scenic waterways. 

I caught a skiff in Ban Nakasang and settled on the island of Don Det.

Don Det gives an entirely new definition to the term ”laid back.” If you want to get your travel budget in order and slow down beyond belief for some time, Don Det is the haven for you. 

Pace of Don Det, Laos

Two Tribes

Two distinctly contrasting tribes coexist on the island of Don Det — the TVs (travelers, tourists, visitors… take your pick) and the DTs (permanent Det dwellers, locals, natives… take your pick). The TVs are a curious lot and a constant source of amusement for the DTs. I wonder what the DTs did for entertainment before the arrival of the TVs.

TVs come in all ages and from various nations, but all seem to share a fondness for lassitude. The biggest decisions of the day lie in the answers to: “Where to eat next?”, “Where to go for the next beer?”, and “Do I want to eat regular food or ‘happy’ food?”. The more adventurous of the TVs have been known to vacate their hammocks long enough to engage in the rather boisterous activities of floating down the Mekong on inner tubes, lounging on the small beach, or perhaps renting a bicycle to escape the hustle and bustle of the north end of the island. The favorite expression of the average TV is ”chill out.”

The DTs, on the other hand, are also a relaxed tribe, but in a much more traditional way. Their days are spent fishing, repairing fishing nets, playing pétanque, caring for their chickens and gardens… and of course, being amused by the behavior of the TVs.

Don Det Beach

Is it on Your Bucket List Now?

Some travelers have limited time and feel that hanging out and simply enjoying a place wastes too much of their travel time. Although true in some cases, remember that you won’t see the world in one trip. Stick around a while and enjoy the place you are at. 

If you like Vegas-style entertainment, 5-star accommodations, or piña coladas by the seaside — well, Laos might not make your bucket list.  

If you want something much simpler and want to take a step back in time for a while, then this is your ticket.

I hope to share my experiences in a different part of the world with you again soon.

A Quick Skip Up the Swiss Alps

In my last article, I talked about our visit to the Black Forest, the House of 1000 Clocks, and a scenic detour to Rhine Falls.

We finally arrived at our hotel, only to be faced with an unexpected dilemma: Switzerland used Francs instead of Euros! Luckily, after settling in, Nikos, our guide, bought everyone dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was incredibly pricey, and a bottle of water was nearly six francs! This was one place we did not want to splurge.

switzerland view

Nikos gave us a tour of the small town we were staying in, and we watched the sun set beneath the rooftops from a large overlook. Afterwards, we decided to head back to prepare for the next morning to the Swiss Alps, and to enjoy the hotel. It was certainly the nicest place we stayed. After everyone had showered, we all met up in someone’s room to drink wine and hang out (which turned into quite the adventure without a wine opener).

sunset

Up Mt. Pilatus

We woke up early the next morning to head into Lucerne before we left to the Swiss Alps. We arrived early enough that we could walk around the town a bit before getting onto the ferry. One of my favorite memorials we saw was the Lion Monument, which represented the Swiss Guard that had been massacred by the French in the 1700s. Additionally, I saw real swans for the first time off the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, a beautiful wooden bridge that snaked across the River Reuss. After stopping in the ferry’s gift shop (and picking up a few francs), we boarded the ferry to watch mountain tops glaze by the crystal blue water.

lucerne Switzerland

After we got off the boat in Alpnachstad (and after a fun conversation about American politics with Nikos and some group members), we loaded up into what seemed like a trolley. It was in fact the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. Nikos passed out Mt. Pilatus baseball caps to everyone as we went up, which quickly became my go-to headwear. We filed into a large, modern building that had a buffet-type restaurant. I believe it may have also functioned as a hotel. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you too much about it. I immediately ran to the nearest door to get a look at the view. 

steepest cogwheel railway swiss alps

A Postcard View of the Swiss Alps

Mountains were everywhere. We were over 2,000 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps. I was especially giddy. It was cold enough that I could wear the beanie I picked up at the House of 1000 Clocks and the hoodie I bought in Oxford. I ran up and down from the base to the overlook probably three times. Every picture I took looked like a postcard — they all seemed fake and not real, but I could look up from my phone and see the view was right there.

swiss mountians

After enough time to enjoy the view and grab some lunch, we headed back down the mountain in gondolas. We saw people hiking as we soared over forests and meadows. I’d never seen anything quite so idyllic. Without a doubt, no other country was as pristine as Switzerland. There were flowers, mountains, and gorgeous blue lakes everywhere. I would love to return there one day and be one of those hikers I saw from above.

group viewing mountains of the swiss alps

Best of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland

This is part two of my trip to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Check out part one.

Edinburgh had been nothing but magical since Donald, Johnny, Andres, and I arrived. Its history, atmosphere, and nightlife had captivated us from the get-go. But now our focus was on New Year’s Eve. What were we going to do in order to enter 2019 on a high note?

Hogmanay Edinburgh New Year Eve
Hogmanay Edinburgh New Year Eve Fireworks

Day Three – New Year’s Extravaganza in Edinburgh

We all woke up late Monday morning a little deflated. Although the previous night had been a blast, we were still without any New Year’s plans. It seemed like everyone and their mothers would be attending the infamous street party. It was poor planning on my part for not purchasing tickets ahead of time. I had no idea Edinburgh would have such crazy festivities planned for the New Year, drawing in crowds from all around Scotland. If you plan on coming for New Year’s Eve, make sure you buy tickets ahead of time for whichever activities you plan on getting yourself into.

Hogmanay – Last Day of the Year

As we all laid in bed thinking our New Year’s celebration would be at a sleepy pub somewhere, Andres exclaimed that the Facebook page for Hogmanay (what Scotland calls New Year’s Eve) posted that there would be a last minute sale for tickets to the street party! Our mission was clear: get those tickets. Andres was able to buy all four of us tickets online but we still had to go retrieve them before a certain time. Luckily we had plenty of time to grab them. So on the way to the ticket tent, we picked up some food and drinks to bring back to the hostel in order to prepare for the night.

Edinburgh’s Atmosphere is Mesmerizing

After cleaning ourselves up (and looking quite dapper I might add), we toasted to our vacation together over some whiskey and set out for the street party. Edinburgh was completely unrecognizable in preparation for New Year’s Eve. The streets were packed and music was blaring from speakers that echoed all throughout the city. The whole atmosphere was mesmerizing and definitely something I will never forget. We weaved our way through the crowd towards Rose Street, where a rave of sorts was going on. Along the way, we were given more whiskey. Lord those Scots love their whiskey.

New Years Extravaganza in Edinburgh
New Years Extravaganza in Edinburgh

 

The rave was intense. The music and the lighting were euphoric, and everyone was dancing and having a great time. The only thing that slightly annoyed me was how long the lines to the bathrooms were. It took upwards of forty minutes standing in line filled with pushy people. Thankfully, I only had to go through that once. As midnight approached, the whole town began counting down to zero and we were all greeted with an impressively beautiful fireworks display from Edinburgh Castle, which Rose Street perfectly faced. They were probably some of the best fireworks I have ever seen in my life. I may have teared up a little bit. Right after the show, Franz Ferdinand played a song, too, which was unexpected and really cool!

Day Four – Continuing the Party

After midnight had hit in Edinburgh, we went to a pub called Stramash to listen to live music and chill for a bit. I was getting a bit sleepy so I left early and went back to the hostel to hang out in the common room. A lot of people were in there playing pool or hanging out, so I joined and chatted with fellow travelers. As much as I wanted to sleep, I kept winning at pool so I had to keep playing. Next thing I knew, it was six in the morning. I made my way back to my room only to find that my friends were still awake. Not wanting to be the party pooper, I continued celebrating with them even though my eyes were heavier than a Scottish cow.

We had a bus to Glasgow to catch at 10:00 AM, so we left the hostel around 9:00 AM and got some food next door. We were hoping to get a little bit of energy in us to make it to the bus station. Unfortunately, we got a little lost getting there. What should have been a ten-minute walk turned into a forty-five-minute ordeal. Imagine having no sleep and lugging your belongings around for almost an hour on bumpy sidewalks and cobblestone streets. I was miserable.

When we finally found the station, we had missed the bus. I was too exhausted to care. I almost just laid down on the floor and went to sleep. Luckily for us, the buses were running every hour so we were able to get on the next one without any issue. I immediately fell asleep the moment I landed in my seat.

Traveling to Glasgow

When we got into Glasgow, we called an Uber to our accommodation, the Alba Hostel. Unlike Edinburgh, this hostel was well outside the city center. It was still located in a nice area filled with many restaurants and such so I didn’t see much reason to complain. The plan was to drop our bags off and then do a walking tour of some sorts to see the town. However, the second we entered our room, we all crashed. Hard. None of us woke up until 9:00 PM. We ended up going to the BrewDog Brewery for some dinner and a couple of drinks before immediately going back to the hostel to catch up on our sleep.

Luss Loch Lomond
Luss, Loch Lomond

Day Five – Tours, Scottish Food, and the Oban Distillery

With our energy back to 100%, we woke up early on our fourth day to go on an excursion of the Highlands. I booked this tour through Tripadvisor and the operator of the tour was called Timberbush Tours. We met our driver, Callum, in the city center and took off to the north with about fifteen other people. The tour stopped for a short break in a village called Luss on Loch Lomond for some sunrise pictures, and later in a town named Inveraray on Loch Fyne to see a castle before heading to our first major stop: Oban.

We had about two hours to kill in Oban so we walked along the town’s harbor to admire the view of the sea. Then we searched for a place to eat lunch, which wasn’t too difficult since there were restaurants everywhere. We ended up choosing the Oban Inn for no particular reason, but I’m glad we did because they had an array of delicious, traditional Scottish food. Always down to try something crazy, I ordered the haggis, neeps, and tatties. I’m still not really sure what I ate, but honestly, it was a very good dish and I highly recommend it. I washed it all down with the Highlander by Fyne Ales, which wasn’t the best beer I’ve had, but certainly not the worst.

World-Famous Whiskey

After lunch, we walked over to the Oban Distillery to try some of their world-famous whiskey. As much as I love whiskey, I really don’t drink it straight. I wasn’t too thrilled when we ordered a flight of samples. To make matters worse, we realized soon after ordering that we only had fifteen minutes to drink them before Callum headed back on the road. I’ve never experienced a greater torture than having to scarf down four whole glasses of whiskey in a short period of time. I’ll admit, I left a lot in the glasses. The damage was done though. My stomach was burning, and surely my liver was cursing at me in a Scottish accent.

Oban Whiskey
Oban Whiskey

 

Back on the road again, we made our way further into the Highlands, occasionally stopping on the side of the road to take some photos of the breathtaking scenery. The landscape was becoming more and more barren with mountains intermittently scattered about. It was a very distinct environment in that there were so many rocks and so little vegetation. It’s not something I had personally experienced before. We didn’t stop in any more towns on the tour but instead drove from viewpoint to viewpoint. At one point, we stopped to see a herd of Scottish red deer. Unlike the American deer I’m accustomed to, these deer didn’t mind us getting close to them. They just went about their business.

Highlands deer
Scottish Red Deer

Our Last Evening in Glasgow with an Early Flight to Belfast

We pulled back into Glasgow around 6:00 PM. We had an early flight to Belfast the next morning so we decided to grab a quick bite to eat and a drink. I was able to meet up with a Scottish friend of mine who I taught English with in Madrid, too, so it was great to catch up. Because I’d lost track of time on New Year’s Eve, I was a bit upset we couldn’t see more of Glasgow. I really didn’t think we’d be so paralyzed that we would waste a whole day in bed. I guess that means I’ll have to go back!

Stay tuned for part three as we hit up the last destination of our trip: Belfast, Northern Ireland!

by Tyler Black

Touring the Eiffel Tower at Night

night tour eiffel towerI had been to Paris one time before my solo birthday trip but had never toured the city to the extent I wanted… I had seen the Champs-Élysée area and some of the tourist traps that surrounded the Louvre and the river Seine. My previous trip didn’t allow me to reach the next layer of traveling beyond the initial tourist exploratory phase.

This solo trip was a trip where I would do what I call ‘a second-layer’ exploration. I could visit some of the neighborhoods that I saw on the initial trip but didn’t get a chance to explore. Plus, I could spend more time in the places that I liked rather than waste time in touristy areas that I didn’t particularly care for. On my initial visit, I was only able to spend a little less than 48 hours in Paris. It was time to peel back another layer of the city on this visit. I wanted to dive deeper into the Parisian culture and history that had me at hello!

A Solo Journey to the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower at night was something I had been waiting to do – a bucket list item! This was probably the only touristy thing I did on this trip with a group but as a solo traveler. I wanted to see Paris at night and from way up high. As I get older, I realize that some things are worth experiencing independently and some are better with friends. You can’t go wrong when traveling – however, this trip was one I wanted to do solo. In part, so that I could experience Paris at night and remember all she had to offer with an open mind. I wanted to later reflect upon this uninterrupted experience.

landmark eiffel tower night photo

When planning my trip to Paris, I came across a couple of Eiffel Tower at night tour options and went with City Wonders tour. I chose this company because I did not see any bad reviews and it seemed like a legitimate price to get to the top of the tower. I am not endorsing this company by any means; I’m sure there were plenty of other options. We were instructed to meet in front of the Architecture Museum at the Palais de Chaillot promptly at 8:30pm. Luckily, the tour was not very crowded at all.

On Top of the World

It was the end of September in Paris, so, naturally, the weather was unpredictable. In my case, it was foggy and misty, but it made for some cool photos. The tour was a pretty basic tour – nothing too special. The cost paid for the entrance up to the tower and the tour guide provided a history of the tower through our earphone audio system. They talked about the history from where we met, at the museum, until we were up on the tower.

It was really chilly while on that upper level that evening, so I don’t remember everything about what was explained by our tour guide. One can only take in so much history when their fingers are going cold! One thing that I do remember is that Parisians really do not like the skyscraper Montparnasse that was built recently(ish). They didn’t like its modern look because it does not blend with the charm of the rest of the city.

paris cityscape

After Touring the Eiffel Tower at Night

After the tour finished, we were directed where to find the nearest exit. Our guide showed us the safest place to find transportation. It was a good tour for tourists who are looking to see what the view looks like at night with a touch of Parisian history included. For a more personalized tour that includes more historical references, I am sure there are private guides available. However, they probably cost more. Overall, the trip to the top was just as I expected. Touring the Eiffel Tower at night is a memory that I will never forget.

Be sure to check out our travel resources section to see what some of our other travelers are saying about Paris.

Tune in next time for the final installment of Leesa’s adventure in Paris, where she tours the city by night.

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things 2018

Christmas Holiday Traditions

I can remember a few of my favorite things when I was when I was a young girl. I always thought of Christmas as the time when my Tata would cook her infamous bacalao fritters and paella. My grandmother’s favorite holiday pastime was to sit around the piano and play music for all. Tata loved to entertain and spread holiday cheer that would bounce from wall to wall. Christmas was her favorite holiday for many reasons. She always cooked her signature dishes from Puerto Rico and loved to be with her family. Tata adored her family, sharing gifts, and spreading holiday magic with all of us.

favorite things 2018 my family

Last year I asked the Dreams Abroad team to share some of their favorite things. It turned out to be a great post because each person had such a different response. This is what we all had to say: HERE

A Few of My Favorite Things 2018

This year will be the second Christmas and New Years since she passed, and for some reason, it hit me harder this year. I spent a good amount of time writing my resilience abroad pieces and haven’t really reflected too much on the passing of time. I also haven’t reflected on my emotions of her passing since I completed the series. Perhaps, the combination of working hard, not reflecting, and not traveling outside the US as much this year could all be reasons why her being gone this year hit me hard and fast. I knew toward the end of our time together how precious it was. When she had her memory and life was good, we made the most of our time together. These are the times I remember and cherish deeply.

traveling abroadIt took me thirty years to get to Puerto Rico to visit her hometown. She spoke about this town for all of my life and now, I can’t stop traveling. She is with me always in my heart and through my actions. My Tata taught me to be considerate, thoughtful, and strong.

Take Each Day as it Comes

“‘Cause you never think the last time’s going to be the last time- you think there will be more. You think you have forever but you don’t.” A quote that I always try to keep in the back of my mind to remind me how precious each friendship and each moment of each day truly is.

Tata always shared her love for travel. If not for her, I wouldn’t have been introduced to the wonders of the world and the joys of travel as I know it today. Remember to tell all the people in your life how much they mean to you because you just don’t know what tomorrow brings. So, make today awesome and share your love.

With that, here are a few of my favorite quotes and travel memories from this past year:

“Life is all about how you handle plan B” – Anonymous

quote grateful heart

” If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.” – Grey’s Anatomy

My Big Brother

My favorite memory from spring 2018 was being able to spend time with my big brother and go to our first concert together in a while. We went to see Blue October perform in Orlando, Florida. We met the band before the show and it was epic! I had seen them play in London in 2017 and wanted my brother to see them live. A definite favorite!

brad & leesa truesdell traveling

blue october orlando florida

My Trip to San Francisco

My favorite memory from summer 2018 was my trip to San Francisco when I linked up with my best friend Luis. Whenever we have an adventure planned — we adventure! This trip was too short, but then again, I always feel like our trips are too short. We have way too much fun! Fourth of July in California with Luis was certainly not like the first Fourth of July that we spent together (see my Travel Tale about Medellin) but it is a favorite memory of 2018 for sure.

fourth of july best friend luis

Castle in Burgundy, France

My favorite memory from fall 2018 was walking through a castle in Burgundy, France. Although I had many wonderful memories from Paris, taking the train to Dijon and driving to Burgundy in the fall was absolutely magnificent. The castle was built in the 1500s and reminded me of the castle from Beauty and the Beast. It was undoubtedly breathtaking. I felt timeless. The gardens had fresh flowers in every color and the roses were beautiful.

smelling rose in garden

“Take time to smell the roses” – Leesa Truesdell, a lesson learned from Burgundy, France

Birthday in Madrid

Another favorite memory of 2018 is the dinner I shared on my birthday with some of my Dreams Abroad family. Despite how close we’ve come from working together, it was the first time some of them had met. This marked the third year I spent my birthday in Madrid, and it was certainly such a special way to celebrate.

madrid trip abroad for birthday

Stay tuned for more articles from me and the rest of the Dreams Abroad team in 2019! We always look forward to sharing more with you. Thank you for being a part of our community.

Happy New Year,

Leesa

by Leesa Truesdell

Roundup of Our Best Articles of 2018

As the year comes to a close, we have so much to be thankful for. First, we wanted to say thank you to all of our readers and our online community for continuously coming back to Dreams Abroad and making our site what it is. We have become what we hoped to achieve. During 2018, we had 30,453 viewers of the website who spent their time reading and learning from our stories, interviews, and resources. Each piece we’ve posted has gotten more and more traffic due to our friends and readers knowing and liking what we have to share.

We have come a long way and look forward to growing even more with all of you in the upcoming year ahead. If you haven’t already, take a moment to check out this year’s best articles on our website. Our readers clicked them for a reason, so check them out and be sure to come back in 2019 for new topics, new writers, more resources, and some more great articles.

Here are our best articles of the year:

Expat Depression dealing with while traveling

Coffee con Leche: Expat vs Depression

Coffee con Leche is a popular series written by our one and only Bebe Bakhtiar. Expat vs. Depression walks you through the emotional roller coaster of what an expat could potentially feel at any given moment while living abroad. She discusses different scenarios that explain what decisions and questions expats encounter on a daily basis. For example, the scenario Instagram vs Reality discusses how those who post on Instagram really aren’t posting their reality. It’s in fact, quite the opposite. It’s their escape from reality. Bebe analyzes the difference between Instagram and reality, guiding the reader to five tips on how to support your loved one while they are living abroad. This is a must-read article for those about to move abroad, live abroad, or have a loved one abroad.

Ellen Hietsch: What I Know Now Living Abroad Madrid

living abroad madrid blogWhat I Know Now is a resource for our readers who are looking to learn more from those who have traveled and lived abroad. This series has five tips that each writer shares based on their own experiences in life. What I Know Now is the most authentic resource on our site because it offers first-hand information on where the writer lived, worked, studied, and traveled abroad that year. In this article, Ellen discloses helpful guidance on how the unexpected events in her first year living in Madrid as an expat helped her to achieve her second year in Madrid.

Traveling in Peru and Continuing My Adventure

traveling peru moray abroad archaeological tyler black

Tyler Black lived and taught in Spain for two years. After his return back to the States, he started working again in Pennsylvania but never lost the itch to travel. This past summer, he decided to take a solo trip south of the equator with one destination on his mind– Machu Picchu. This four-part travel tale takes you on an adventure through the Andes Mountains where Tyler is biking, climbing, and even flying (barely!) through multiple cities in Peru. In this article, Tyler talks about his practical travel plans to Peru and his first day in Lima. If you want to experience Peru on a ten-day budget-friendly schedule, check out Tyler’s ten-day series.

When You Get Going: Travel Tips for Easier Exploring

pack light travel abroad backpack travel tips

In this piece, Emma, a seasoned traveler, mentions her previous post on how to make 2018 a great travel year by emphasizing four travel tips to accompany a great travel year. These tips are meant to help any traveler have a more enjoyable trip through a streamlined process that she recommends. Read more to identify what you what you should be doing in order to minimize stress and maximize fun!

Pre-departure to Spain: Meet Ryan Gomez

Spain Meet Ryan Gomez travel abroad fsu

Ryan Gomez left Tallahassee, Florida on a hot summer day to embark on the journey of a lifetime. He headed to South Florida to meet his family members to say one final goodbye. Then, Ryan and his father flew to Spain so he could find his ancestral roots and rediscover himself.

In this very popular and highly viewed pre-departure interview with Leesa Truesdell, Ryan discusses the range of emotions felt before he left. He also shares why he chose Dreams Abroad to tell his story. Ryan didn’t know what to expect, just as many don’t before their arrival to a new destination abroad. However, as he describes in this interview, he did have a new network of people who cared and were now a part of his community and new reality. To better understand how to prepare for your upcoming trip abroad, check out our pre-departure resources. Follow Ryan’s story to see how he is adjusting over the course of his first year abroad in Bocairent, Spain.

by Dreams Abroad

Five Ways to Study Abroad

 

books for collegeStudying abroad has become more popular than ever in recent years, but the ways in which students are engaging the world is changing. While a semester/year-long study abroad used to be normal, more and more students are going abroad in other ways. If you’re thinking of studying abroad, there are so many different paths for you to consider. Read on to learn about some of the best-defined ones.

1) A Traditional Study Abroad Semester/Year

During a semester or academic year abroad, students – often in their junior year of college – spend time abroad in a formal program for university credit. Fewer students are choosing to study abroad for a semester or full academic year now than in years past. Regardless, this is still the most traditional (and often most immersive) way to study abroad. Whether you do a program through your home university or a study abroad provider, choosing to go abroad this way is a tried and true method.

2) Short-Term Study Abroad Programs

Some students choose to go abroad on short-term study abroad programs. These are typically also organized through their home universities or partner programs. These may be summer programs or courses that include educational travel during a winter or spring break. These programs offer the opportunity to study abroad while being more flexible in terms of time commitment and money spent.

college students in class

3) Doing a Gap Year

The concept of a gap year is rapidly growing in popularity, and I’m a big supporter of the idea. A gap year is a year that students take off from studying in the traditional sense, most often after high school but sometimes at other junctures as well. During this year, it is popular to travel, complete not-for-credit study, or work. Formalized gap year programs where students complete a combination of studying and working are becoming more and more common. Whether you spend a gap year studying, learning a new language, volunteering, or otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to engage the world and learn something new outside of the classroom.

students studying over coffee

4) Learning a Language

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, students are seeing the value in learning a foreign language. Companies looking to hire students are also looking for this aspect. Choosing to study anywhere at a language academy is another great way to go abroad. Whether you do so as part of a gap year or at another point in life, learning a language is an invaluable skill, and getting to do so onsite is a great way to get to know another culture.

5) Taking Time to Travel

Although often part of a gap year, traveling abroad deserves recognition in its own right as well. Although far from a traditional study abroad program, traveling extensively teaches you a lot about the world and helps prepare you for later studies in any field.

ways to study broad student

Studying abroad is at an all-time high. People all over the world are looking to have experiences in other countries. Whether you choose to study abroad for the year in a college program, learn a new language for a few months, or something in between, studying abroad will provide you with the opportunity to learn something new about the world and something new about yourself.

by Emma Schultz

A Meaningful Impact of Paris Fashion Week

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It felt like the airplane was gliding through the clouds as I looked out the window with anticipation, wondering what this next trip would bring. I couldn’t wait to touch ground and get my feet moving. Since my tour would not start until the next day, where would I go first? What would be the first activity after I stepped off the plane? I did not have anything planned, which was out of the ordinary for me. I used the flight to mull over a general outline of what my day could look like. But nothing in my wildest dreams could prepare me for the unexpected joys of Paris Fashion Week.

Touchdown to Paris Fashion Week

The wheels hit the ground around 10:00 AM and I made it to the hotel around noon. Much to my surprise, I was informed it was Paris Fashion Week 2017, and the city was jammed packed with events! This softened the blow when I was told that my room could not be reimbursed from the night prior because it was booked through Booking.com. I was going to have to call them directly and work out a room reimbursement (note: it was a nightmare trying to get this resolved through Booking.com).

Prior to hearing about Paris Fashion Week, I thought about touring the Louvre and checking out the Seine river scene, but hey, Fashion week sounded like the plan. Plan B: throw out Plan A, the plan I had meticulously crafted on the plane.

travel blog paris abroad

Much to my surprise, my luck got better – my hotel was right in the thick of Paris Fashion Week. I decided it was time to not have a plan at all. I went to my room, unpacked, then went and took a chance. That chance was just what I needed – I found what I was looking for without even knowing that I was looking for it.

Going in a Different Direction

As I started to walk down the streets near the Madeleine, I happened to meander down a street not realizing that I had been distracted by window displays. After looking up from the window display, I realized I was in my own nostalgic world. I felt myself reminiscing way back to the days when my passion for fashion started in the late 1980s. The iconic sequins and heavy shoulder pad days of the ‘80s were in full throttle. I was probably seven when the movie, Mannequin, was released. However, this movie, including the window displays in the movie, had a pretty significant impact in my life. Not to mention, Kim Cattrall was absolutely stunning in her early years!

ralph lauren quote fashion week travel

Back to the window displays: I walked down a side street and happened to glance up. There it was… the grand opening of Kate Spade Paris, happening right in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. I paused and stood there. Then, I took a step, and then another. As the actor says in Mannequin when he finds his Roxy, “it’s a miracle.” He thinks he finds a mannequin that came to life too. And in that moment, I felt the same way! This was such an epic and totally unexpected moment that had perfectly tied my childhood movie fantasies to a real-life window display fantasy. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Kate Spade has been a part of my life for decades. My very first Kate Spade bag was the iconic black nylon make-up bag that never wore down. It lasted my entire undergrad college career. Of course, there were other Kate Spade items that were eventually added to my collection—her wallets have always been my favorite! The opening of the store during Paris Fashion Week was probably one of the best finds on that trip. Touchdown!

The Meaningful Impact of Kate Spade

kate spade paris fashion week travelingLooking back now that Kate Spade has passed, being at the Paris opening of her store during Paris Fashion Week means so much more to me now than it did before. It reminds me to never stop telling those around you how much they mean to you. Spade’s passing was sudden and tragic, and no one will ever know what she had going on in her life. Her tragic passing reminds me even more that one small act of kindness can go very far.

In one of my earlier posts, I stated this quote; I refer to this frequently, as it makes so much sense to me:

’Cause you never think the last time is going to be the last time – you think there will be more. You think you will have forever but you don’t.”

My Kate Spade moment happened on my first afternoon in Paris. After the first day, however, most of my itinerary remained on schedule.

Find out what’s next for Leesa as she continues her adventures in Paris.

eiffel tower travel abroad tips paris france