Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

If you’re a millennial on Instagram this rope bridge is a must see. I mean… it is your typical touristy photo that you see your favorite bloggers visit when in Ireland. And, that you’ll be disappointed to know is near impossible to get a photo of just you walking, unless you are there right at open (9:30a), but it is a must see… I’ll tell you why!

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Yes, the view is near perfect. Crystal blue waters, beautiful sand, cliffs in the distance, but from here you are only 15-miles away from Scotland with their mountains in view! Additionally, there are spots once you cross over the bridge that provides good yoga, meditating, sightseeing, and relaxing places to get away from the noise and to hear the ocean. Which I had found it hard to find while visiting Ireland. But my opinion comes at a time when tourism is high, July.

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Side note: If you are contemplating this visit or Cliffs of Moher, I recommend this stop! There are cliffs in the distance, far fewer people, and a nice bridge to cross! And for some history, supposedly this bridge was made by salmon fisherman over 350 years ago… if you want to trust Wiki.

 

 

How to Get from the Dublin Airport to Downtown Dublin

How to Get from the Dublin Airport to Downtown Dublin

I generally plan transportation in advance to/from where I am going when landing to a new place. This time, however, I refrained because booking in advance was extremely extensive $60/each way, and I knew if I procrastinated when I got there I could find a cheaper option. And yes, even looked to see how long it would be for me to walk to the hostel if needed (1 1/2 hours).

When arriving to the public transportation section the typical methods, taxi, shuttles, and busses were available.

  • Taxi estimated cost 50-70 euros
  • Shuttle bus 25 euros
  • Bus 6 euros each way

Do you want to guess which one I chose? You guessed it!

Okay, so the bus… walked to the bus pick-up area. I arrived at 4am, so you can imagine the resources available to answer my questions were limited so I had to figure out. The map of which buses go to which cities and locations was of no help unless you know the district you’re staying. That said, I aimlessly wandered for a good 15 minutes, probably looking like an idiot to those who I thought had it figured it out (more to come). I finally found a website listed on one of the bus signs that noted “avoid the lines book your ticket in advance.” That website: http://www.aircoach.ie. Here you can book online.

Second obstacle, where are you headed? Again, it listed all these districts, but this time it had several “Downtown District” options. I could have researched where my hotel was relative to these district locations but at this point I was just in a hurry to get Downtown and away from the airport, so I selected the “Downtown District O’Connell Street.”

I headed back to the bus stop area, again passing by the people who I found out were waiting for the ticket office to open, which was not until 8am. Again, this was 4am…. uhhhh! I did let them know of the website, but they insisted that the ticket office would have to open soon… I hope they made it alright. Us stupid millennials and our technology (I’m just saying, we are resourceful!).

Okay next hurtle, buses started to come, but none of them said exactly where they were going. So like a true tourist I entered every bus asking the driver by showing my receipt if I was on the right bus. After 2 wrong ones, I found the right one.

Also, luckily, the ticket I bought to O’Connell Street ended up being the right one.  Thank goodness too because they don’t take credit cards on the bus. However, I will say all the people in Ireland are extremely hospitable and willing to help, so knowing that now that I have returned, if I hadn’t picked the right stop I am sure they would have taken me as far as I needed.

I used the same website to book my trip back to the airport, which is a hell of a lot easier since it blatantly lists DUB Airport as the destination. I will say if boarding from the O’Connell area there are about 5 stops to the airport, so plan at least a 45 minute trip (30 mins to get there and 15 mins worth of stops).

Resources:

Air Coach Bus Link

Abbey Court Hostel, Downtown Dublin

Abbey Court Hostel, Downtown Dublin

On this trip my most common question was how and why do I stay at a hostel. The answer is really quite simple… it is the cheapest way to stay somewhere, generally is safer since surrounded by many people, and because it is a great way to meet new people from all over the world.

Trust me I have had my fair share of bad hostels, but I have found recently that trusting in the ratings by people who stay at hostels has been to my benefit, even if for a little more per night, for the stay.

My Rating:

I would rate this hostel a 10/10! Nothing negative to say!

I highly recommend to anyone staying in Dublin to stay at the Abbey Court Hostel!

Location:

The hostel is located near the city center, and in walking distance to nearly everything, including all the tourism agencies, so that you can make best use of your free time!

29 Bachelors Walk, North City, Dublin, D01 AX90, Ireland

Cost:

Each night at the hostel was 94 euros (~$110) for 6 nights, approx. $18USD/night.

Cleanliness:

The hostel was very clean! They have signs throughout the hostel noting that they clean between 10pm-5am. All the bathroom, toilets, and showers, were extremely sanitary. Although they didn’t have cleaning signs up for day cleaning it was evident someone was keeping up with general maintenance throughout the day.

Number of Bathrooms & Showers:

Each floor had 3 general bathrooms, and at least 6 showers. The only time I found it difficult to get in was around breakfast time at 7:30am.

Breakfast:

The cost per night also included breakfast each morning served at 7:30am. My recommendation is arrive about 15 mins early so that you can get dibs on the fresh and best food available. Choices included: cereal, fresh meats, cheeses, pancakes, oatmeal, and fruits.

Accommodations:

  • All women bunk options:  I stayed in 10-bunk room. It was actually quite nice as all the girls were extremely respectful of space, and turning off the lights early at night, and quiet when leaving each morning.
  • Luggage Drop- Off: if you are in between places, or you arrived earlier than the check-in time you can leave your luggage at the front desk for 8 euros.
  • Free Walking Tours: This hostel, among some others, had free walking tours daily generally with two time options, 11am and 2:30p
  • Lots of Common Areas: This hostel had a smoking section that was nicely decorated that had some outdoor access located near the basement of the building, a study area with access to the Internet for free, and a large kitchen area where people often played games, met for dinner etc.

 

What You Should Know Guide When You Visit Dublin

What You Should Know Guide When You Visit Dublin

1. Irish Currency

There are two currencies in Ireland. If visiting the Republic of Ireland (Dublin, Galway, Cork, etc.) the currency is the Euro. If visiting Northern Ireland (Belfast) the currency is the English Pound.  If visiting each side they do not take the other currency so come prepared.

2. Credit Cards

In most main cities in Ireland credit cards are accepted. The most common credit cards include Visa and MasterCard. They do not accept AMEX in most places.

3. Weather

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but according to the residents in Ireland it rains 330 days of the year, with it being unheard of that there is no rain for more than two days at a time. So, plan accordingly!

4. Food

There is no material change between US food and Irish food. The average meal is 8 euros for breakfast, 10 euros for lunch, and 14 euros for dinner. If you’re looking for authentic Irish food I recommend their Fish & Chips, and Corn Beef and Cabbage!

5. Drinks

Being the home of Guinness and Jameson those drinks are often the cheapest. Drink are on average are 8 euros, more if venturing off to the Temple Bar area and cheaper if willing to go to the local pubs.

6. Chargers

You must buy a wall adapter to charge your devices! You can buy these before you leave in Target’s travel section for $10 that includes many different adapters for each continent. If you wait until you get there you can purchase for 8 euros at your local hostel, or if you go to the travel agencies they sell them in their dispensers for 4 euros!

7. Tours

If looking to book a tour I recommend you plan ahead! Many of the tours I went on were fully booked, and did not have same day availability. You’ll find if you book through the same agencies they will give you a 5 euro credit if you book more than one tour through them; something to keep in mind when planning ahead. Popular tour groups were: Paddywagon Tours, Finn Tours, and Dualway Coaches.

*The tour busses leave on time, and are very serious about arriving 15 minutes before our scheduled time. I can tell you firsthand they left people behind.

**Most hostels set up free walking tours. I paid for mine in advance and attended both. They were nearly the same. I’d recommend taking the free one.

8. Temple Bar Trap

Temple Bar area is popular among 30-somethings and most tourists visiting… it’s where the parties are at night. This area is known for increasing the cost of drinks as you drink and the night goes on, so be mindful of that!

I will have a separate blog for my top 5 bars in Dublin of those looking for good spirits at night.

9. Closing Times

To make most of your time while visiting you should know that most museums close at 5pm, restaurants stop serving food around 10pm, the bars during the week stop serving alcohol at 11p. Coffee shops opened around 7am, and places with food generally an hour later. No wonder why they were all skinny!

10. Popular Places to See for the Day

If you’re time is limited don’t leave without visiting the following places:

Trinity College with tour to see Book of Kells

Guinness Storehouse

Walk around Temple Bar

Dublin Castle

O’Connells Street

 

 

Harry Potter & The Cursed Child in NYC

Back in the Day….

I’m going to take you back quickly to 5th grade, for me. I was sitting in class and this one girl, Lauren, made mention that she was reading a new book series. You guessed it. It was Harry Potter… I heard the story plot she was raving about and kept thinking, magic… that’s stupid. The following year, 6th grade, the teachers were forcing kids to “want” to read. So, we were tasked with reading a number of books throughout the year. By this point everyone was reading Harry Potter and I was wondering what all the hoop-la was about. So, giving in to peer pressure I read the damn thing. And to my surprise… although I tried to fight it in front of them…I loved the first book. I forced myself to read, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in its entirety before watching the trailer (yes I waited so long to read it was becoming a movie).

To this day… there hasn’t been a book, series, that I had felt so connected to the characters, so out in a different world, so committed to see through to the end. Each page flowed to the next with anticipation, heartbreak, and excitement.

After completion of the book series I was kind of bummed. I mean it all made sense, school had to end for Harry…

Growing Up…

Fast forward to college… I figured out that Platform 9 3/4 was an actual platform located in King’s Cross Station in London. This was one of my first international trips, this one with my mom. And you better believe visiting the platform was on the list. Walking throughout the station remembering parts from the movie, surreal.

Later…I heard that Universal Studios was going to open a Harry Potter section of the park. I kid you not, I had to be one of the firsts to go. Having gone with my friend, Gaby, I was in awe. From first view of the castle it was heart filled excitement. Butter Beers for those who wished, but the best part was entering the castle… the pictures on the wall talked (just like in the books and movies), the staircases moved, the attention to detail was not missed. I remember repeatedly just saying “but this all looks too real.” I again went back in when Universal when Gringotts Wizarding Bank opened. Again, in awe.

Just Recently…

Needless to say, when I heard that play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was releasing in London I was geeked with excitement. I immediately started my search for flights, hotels, tickets, etc. What I didn’t budget for was the immediate sold out play when I went to go in for the purchase! Months later I was checking my work e-mails, and found out that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was coming to NYC! I signed up for the mailing list, and waited for the release of tickets. Having learned my lesson about the sold out tickets for the one in London… I set an alarm and upon the release time frantically clicked, refreshed, and attempted to book my ticket.

Cost…

Single-ticket in the worst seats $1,100 (for both Part I & Part II). I couldn’t digest that. I told myself I would let the hype dwindle down and keep periodically checking. Following weeks I checked with prices going down no more than $699. And then… talking about needing to see the signs… I received an email from an airline company reminding me that I had 40,000 miles that would expire if I didn’t use by the end of May. I looked up various places to go and visit, needless to say for me to not have to pay anything my choices were between Orlando, Chicago, Baltimore, or New York. New York was the pick. After I booked the flight I again went to look at ticket prices and saw on StubHub there was a single-ticket left for a Saturday afternoon/evening show, and the price…. $299. SOLD!

The Play…

I had never been to Broadway, and all the raving of the theatre scene IS what everyone cracks it up to be. From walking up to the front doors with the Lyric Theatre decked out in Harry Potter posters, signs, etc., the magical feeling was in tact. Walking into the big ballrooms with many small clothing stores, and a food area, you could feel everyones’ excitement. I mean, whoever is willing to pay $299+ per person to see MUST love Harry Potter, yeah?

I found out my seat was literally the furthest back row, but it did not stop the experience. The play picked up where the books left off. Harry has kids who are entering Hogwarts, and his son has to figure out how he is going to fill his dad’s shoes. I’m purposely leaving out the plot as being a visitor of the play we have been told to #KeepTheSecret of the story.

But Wait….

I do want to take the opportunity, though, to share that although the main characters since the book have changed, and the quirkiness of what is the play is a bit different with a lot of the typical theatre-like skits, it was magical. Most impressive were the special effects of the play. There were times when characters were going back in time and the whole stage vibrated, and you could hear the audience go “ooooh.” There were also times when people would go through walls, phone booths, and fireplaces and it seemed so real I forgot I was watching a play with real people and it wasn’t an edited movie. A very well-done production, which I am sure literally is setting benchmark for future play performances.

Was it worth the time & money? 

Absolutely! I live by the saying that “we only live once, so we better live purposely.” Of course time and money don’t always come to balance, but when it makes sense, GO… do the things you dream of doing, see the plays you wish you wanted to see, take a trip by yourself even if you’re scared of feeling alone, just go out and LIVE. Live, laugh, love, and learn.

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10 Places to See While in Beijing… COUNTDOWN

10. Chinese Doctor 

If you’ve never been to see a traditional Chinese doctor, it is an experience whether you choose to believe their practices or not.

I remember walking in a school of medicine downtown Beijing with my mom (as part of a tour) and sitting waiting to this doctor to do a free consultation. I was hesitant at first since the room they put us was not of a traditional US patient room it was more like a movie theatre (sketch or no?). I mean… comfortable chairs and a big screen tv in the front. We watched a movie for 5-10 minutes going over traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the ways they tell symptoms: through examining your tongue, and feeling your pulse through your wrist.

After the movie the doctor came in with his students started his consult with the person closest to the door… first feeling her pulse, then looking at her tongue. The translator asked a couple questions “are you in pain now” and “what is your stress level 1-10.” After 30 seconds the doctor diagnosed her with two herbal solutions to her back pain, and left shoulder problem. Total cost for those herbs ($500+ USD). I looked in shock. In 30 seconds this lady bought what was recommended. He moved next to my mom, said she was healthy then moved to me. I had made up my mind before even being consulting my answers to his comments were going to be no, because I wasn’t going to try anything from a man who couldn’t even speak my language to tell me what was in what he would recommend. He commented “you work in an office,” “you are happy…that’s good,” then asked,”do you have menstrual problems in your lower stomach?” I laughed and said no. He gave me a look like he could tell I was lying. Afterward I had asked Danielle (the lady who was with us on the tour and spent so much money on the supplements) why she trusted him. She mentioned that she has had terrible shoulder pain and when she is stressed it causes her arm to not go higher than her chest. She added that she was amazed that someone who didn’t know her could have known that so she wanted to try it. After her story I reflected back on what the Chinese doctor told me…. he was right, I do work in an office, I am happy (most of the time), and he was spot on about having troubles with my menstrual cycle. Now, looking back I will always wonder how he knew.

So, not say you have to go– but if looking for an experience and in China you should see what the Chinese doctor would say to you. Share with me if you do!

9. Silk, Jade, and Pearl Stores 

Do you know that silk comes from a worm? And that when layered across each other it is not humanly possible to break real silk? And, did you know to tell whether or not you are buying silk you just twist it, and if it wrinkles it’s fake? This is the stuff you’ll learn by going to a silk shop. I made the mistake in coming here as the last part of the trip, by then I hit my budget for what I could spend and did not have the $50 for the pillows that were softer than a babies bottom!

As for pearls… I GUESS if you try scratching a pearl with a knife and you wipe away the residue and it looks like it was never scratched then it’s real. I don’ know they are super cheap anyway, so if this style of jewelry is your thing get you some!

AND did you know that jade is the stone of China, since it brings luck, happiness, and longevity. Lord knows I needed it. And, it’s true if you go to the actual Jade factory they have the cheapest. I was a skeptic on how prices would jump up/down based on where I was and ended up missing the chance in buying a real jade from the factory, and instead bought a knock off that ended up costing the same (the Jade factory was too far to go back).

These thee places are traditional Beijing visits if looking to wander and be more immersed in culture.

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8. Beijing Zoo- Panda Exhibit 

I had seen koala bears in Australia, so I had to go see the pandas in China right?!

I am so conflicted in how I feel about zoos. The millennial in me hates the idea that we catch animals and put them for showcase and encourage the capture by paying an admission ticket. Then the other half of me rationalizes in saving animals in the wild that are going near extinct, nursing them to health and then mating them to increase their population, for future release. I’m on a tangent….

If you’re about the zoos, go see the biggest pandas you can imagine! You should see these!

7. Ming Tombs

I made the mistake in not researching this place to understand the historical importance, because I thought my tour guide would help bring me to speed. But when you can’t understand the tour guide you quickly learn the importance of knowing where you’re at before you go!

Let me fill you in… in China there is a rich history of many emperors and other government powers that have made lasting impressions to current cultures and traditions.. A lot of these have been dated back to the Ming Dynasty which spanned for nearly 300 years starting in the 1300s. The relics, clothes, replicas of goods (clothing, silvers, jewelry, sketches) found, buried, and treasured from this time cane found at the Ming Tombs.

The tour starts above ground where you can see the original brick and cement walls from the Ming Dynasty. As you walk toward the back you can start to enter different sacred buildings, prayer temples, and toward the end can go underground to see replicas of the tombs. If you’re at all a history guru, you should check out a tour here to feel a part of a history very different than our own.

6. Tea House

I have always enjoyed a good cup of tea! Little did I know that China is one of the main distributors of tea; I had thought it would have been India.

If you’re in China it is tradition in their culture to serve your tea to welcome you to their home, store, or hotel. Most commonly you’ll be served Jasmine. But, at the tea houses throughout Beijing you can enjoy Rose, Citrus, Jasmine, Black and Green Teas. They show you how to property pour tea, how to blend tea with cut-up fruit, and how to greet guests by using tea. This is an experience that had me wanting to return home for a tea party! This is a perfect stop if you’re looking to add some balance and zen in your trip to Beijing!

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5. Shopping Center 

If Time Square tickles your fancy, the Beijing shopping center will not disappoint! This city center was full of people, street food/venders, shops, and also the entrance way to the city center plaza where you can get a bunch of authentic Chinese delicacies including  living scorpions on a stick.

This was one of my most memorable stops of the entire trip to China, and one I would highly recommend! Food recommendations: caramelized strawberries, fresh mangos and pork buns!

4. Temple of the Heavens

This beautiful temple is located on Beijing’s south side, where many ceremonies occur. The temple was made to represent the balance between heaven and earth. If you visit I’d recommend going early, otherwise you’re bound to have someone if your perfect shot!

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3. Summer Palace

If you’re looking for the best IG photo-worthy photos, here is your place. And, you must go near sunset. This beautiful park is situated along the water and has many tiny treasures to find as you walk through, over and under the many trails and paths! It is here, too, that many of the locals fly their kites, make prayer/wish ribbons, and go to enjoy the tides that come and break near the bridges.

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2. Forbidden City/ Tiananmen Square

Have you seen Mulan? The large square at the end of the film you see where Mulan saves the emperor from the Huns… that’s near Tiananmen Square and part of the Forbidden City. If you’re going to China this is a MUST. What I didn’t know was the limited access one has to enter the Forbidden City, especially during Chinese New Year. Luckily for us (mom&I) we planned months in advance for this tour which allows us within the walls of the 100+ acres totaling 999 buildings (why not 1000? They count earth as the last room).

Spending the time/money to make it here won’t disappoint, just ask the 15 million annual visitors!

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1. Great Wall of China

What is a trip to China without seeing the iconic Great Wall of China. Yes, it is as beautiful and as grand as you see in photos. Yes, it’s worth the journey to go! Yes, it spans over the eye can see, and yes, this made this trip to China 100% worth it. So much so I will have a separate blog dedicated just for it!

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15 Things to Know if Visiting China

The stresses of planning for any trip can be a lot. Considerations to hotel, flight, food, and transportation are all things to consider prior to leaving. Especially, in China where the required visa forces you to have your trip booked in advance. Often times we forgot of the little nuances and cultural changes once we get to our destination. Below are 15 things to know if visiting China if you’re planning a trip.

15. No One Speaks English 

I used to think there were two universal languages, a smile and English. That was until I visited China. English is rarely spoken by most people, in fact asking for help is almost pointless unless you have the translation in the Chinese language, thank you Google Translate. I thought this language barrier would make it hard place to visit, but pointing and asking for a “photo menu,” in most places gets you where you are trying to go, or eat. To help, I recommend you bring a map that has the places you are looking to go before adventuring out because all road names are in Chinese & if trying to limit the use of your phone the good old fashion map works great. I found, most hotels have English & Chinese version of their maps, which was a huge help. 

14. Cell Service and WiFi 

Before leaving for this trip I was happy to find out that I would have, with Sprint, free 2GB of cell speed and texting in China. Call costs were minimal costing $0.20/minute. Researching AT&T for my mom, we found that cell service with the company was about $10/day. Needless to say, the costs are quite minimal if needing to connect. 

If you are looking for free, Wifi was available at most common areas, but when hopping on was extremely slow. 

*Tip: Bring a charging stick, or port. It was rare to find any charging stations when visiting places. As a result, when you did find them they were always packed. 

13. Don’t Rely on Your Credit Card, Bring Proper Chinese Currency

It is rare that I bring cash with me at all. But, after reading some blogs before I left on this trip I discovered that American credit cards are rarely accepted in most places. In fact, the only places that accept them we had found were in the shopping areas the tour groups would take you; and trust me you’re paying a premium for it; the cost of the products in these areas are a lot more than you can pay in the markets. 

If looking to transfer monies at the airport, the cost typically to do so is a $10 service fee and the exchange rate difference. To get more, this requires you planning ahead and knowing how much you want to take with you in advance and getting the currency exchange with your local bank. Estimated time to get the monies back is 7-days, for it to be guaranteed in time. By me waiting until I got to the airport I ended up losing $70USD in fees and exchange rate, where my mom only had $10USD with Chase. 

The Chinese money can take you a lot further than anywhere I’ve visited. Normally, I would say bring $50USD/day for food, transportation, and misc. costs. But, food on average is 50RMB/meal ($7USD). I’d say 650RMB ($102USD)/week would be comfortable (food & transportation). 

*Helpful Tip: The common currency in China is WeChat & UnionPay (credit card). Both of these require a Chinese bank account be established with pre-paid funds in order to make purchases. 

12. Get Comfortable in Bartering, or Accept Losing Money 

I’ve never been too comfortable in trying to find what something is worth. Maybe because I have been so used to the American culture where everything is fixed, where the value has been pre-determined and where supply/demand seems to have worked. In China, you’ll find it an easy place to barter especially when choosing to walk away and the price you were getting comfortable in paying is slashed in half, and has you again question the value. 

My suggestion is before buying anything walk around and understand the varying prices, this also helps with buyers remorse. 

From my experience food should never be more than 40RMB (and that’s for a full meal including drink), and gift goods should be no more than 50RMB. In one instance my mom and I were haggling for cheap earrings, she started at 100RMB, by the time we were walking away for the 4th time she was down to 20RMB, and we finally negotiated at 15RMB (Yu Garden). Same place, different store we were interested in potentially getting a necklace that would have the English name with Chinese translation next to it and she started at 150RMB, and when walking away negotiated herself down to 20RMB. That’s right. You’ll know which places allow you to barter, because whenever you walk away they will lower their price and the places with fixed pricing usually have it listed in the door way (almost none of them). 

And, if looking for real jade. Ask for the Jade of pearl. The ones with lighter green are worth more, and on average are around 80RMB (for 1 inch by 1 inch), and can go up to 3300RMB. In the Yu Garden you’ll find the best in what you’re looking for, and because there are so many vendors they are willing to take a lot less so they have your business rather than their neighbor. I ended up getting a Jade of pearl Buddha for 15RMB. 

11. Don’t Bother Renting a Car if Beijing or Shanghai is Your Destination

Typically, I like the option to leave, and feel liberated by having a car. However, due to many affordable and abundant public transportation options, and the high traffic & aggressive drivers I’d say using public transit would be more relaxing. 

By far, the most cost effective way to travel is by bus. It is 2RMB ($0.03USD) for each bus transfer. This allows getting around to be extremely cheap! The most difficult part of taking the bus is figuring out which bus to take and what stop to get off at. This is where going to the nearest hotel and pointing using your map becomes quite handy. 

If you elected to use your cell service, you can always use Google maps to find where you’re going and just hop off when you know you’re nearing. 

*Mindful Tip: If using the bus you must have exact change. If needed, your hotel can provide you small change. 

**We found that costs for taxi cabs started at 20RMB, and based on the distance went up from there. To best estimate we found it is approx. 5RMB/5 mins.

10. Booking at Hotel Near the City Center Pays its Benefits

By now, most of you know that I love AirB&B and prefer a more authentic cultural stay, than to stay at hotels. This trip I chose to book a hotel because (1) the tours I booked would pick-up/drop off from your hotel, very convenient, and (2) I wanted to visit many of the tourist attractions which most in China are near the city center and within walking distance of the “first ring” of hotels. 

The best way to find your hotel for your stay can be using booking sites like Hotels.com, and sorting by distance and cost to the city centers. 

If visiting Beijing I would highly recommend the Novotel Beijing Peace Hotel it was $100/night + breakfast. Because we were staying more than 4 nights they upgraded us to a suite with no additional cost. And, the breakfast…FABULOUS. All you can eat food, they had a pastry section, cereal, fruit, egg, lunch/dinner food area, tea, and coffee areas. The hotel was about a 20 minute walk from the Time Square of Beijing, which was full of high-end stores, as well as from the outside market(s) with authentic Chinese foods and stores. 

If visiting Shanghai I would recommend the SSaw Boutique Hotel. Right when you walk in it smells like an Abercrombie store, that was a great start. The hotel was the cheapest hotel within a 15 min walking distance to Yu Garden (a must see if looking for the Chinese style buildings, food markets, and handmade gifts). The cost was $89/night. Upon entrance they welcomed us with tea, recommendations based on the weather (raining) and time (since it was a holiday). Additionally, they went as far as booking our massage for us, and provided us a map and directions to the nearest bus stop in order to get there. Unlike any other hotel I’ve stayed, they had an online app that helped lay out unbiased opinions of where to go and what to see including estimated costs, open/close times, and feedback from their guests who have tried the places. This was a treat as this leg of our trip was not as planned as Beijing.  

*FYI: The beds are not mattress-like, what you expect in the US and other places. They are more of a box-spring. At home I have a plush and soft bed, so this was quite different. After the first night, I realized this relieved a lot of back pain. 

*Mindful Tip: Be prepared to have them put a hold on your credit card for incidentals, similar to what they do in the states. They run your card and pull the amount, and when you check out, they run it again to provide a refund. The first hotel we stayed held 1200RMB ($189USD), and the other held 400RMB ($63USD).

9. To Be Early is to Be on Time, and to Be on Time is to Be Late- BYE!

We found that in the Chinese culture, being early is to be on time. Most of our tours had hotel pick-up at 6:30a, and almost always showed up 15 minutes earlier. Keep this is mind because it goes for the use of bus, trains, and scheduled appointments. And, if you show up exactly when you’re supposed to then you’re too late and they leave without you. My mom and I watched many trains and tour guides leave without their necessary people. Maybe we Americans should start doing this to get people to value each others’ time just a little bit more. 

8. Second Hand Smoking, Expect It

I am convinced that the Chinese don’t wear the masks due to the smog/air pollution, but rather because of all the people smoking. I have never been in a place where avoiding walking next to a smoker was nearly impossible. Beijing was full of smokers. I ended up buying perfume to spray my clothes at the end of each night. 

7. Get Pushy, or Get Behind 

I used to think the asian women at the grocery stores in the states (weird saying because I’m asian, but I consider myself Americanized) were rude because they pushed you without saying excuse me. Well now, I believe it to be culture. People here push their way through to get from point A to B. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many people, or if because the value of time is so important in their country and they don’t want to wait on someone who isn’t ready. 

When my mom and I went to the zoo, we thought we were waiting in line for the cotton candy to find out a women with her money ready pushed her way to the front and got service. 

Because of this, I recommend planning out meeting points throughout the trip in case you get lost in the shuffle. Especially since when the “walk” line turns green it’s a free for all on how you make it across the street, and if you aren’t forceful enough you will be bullied behind everyone. 

Also, just know that people in China stand closer together, and personal space may not be what you’d be used to. Again, I think this goes along with saving the time.

6. Where’s the Toilet & Toilet Paper?

You better start learning how to squat before you leave. In most places there are no toilets as we are used to seeing them. They are holes in the ground. You use them facing the door, and when you’re done usually they auto flush if they have a sensor, or it will auto flush when you open the door. Also, bring/buy toilet paper before you need to go. Most places don’t have the luxury of carrying the paper for you. 

When on a tour your guide will generally lead you to the nicer “10 star rated” toilets. But, most of the time you’re on your own. 

5. No Tissues, No Problem, They Spit  

I read a lot before I came to China that a lot of people spit. Come to find out when visiting it is because they don’t use tissues instead you’ll see them plug one side of their nose and blow. Sounds unsanitary for us, but you’ll notice it quite a lot. For peace of mind, you’ll find in midnight hours the streets are thoroughly washed. But, keep this in mind if you ever drop something if it’s worth picking it up. 

4. Book a Tour Guide 

In most English speaking places it is easy to create a self guided tour. But, in China finding anyone who speaks Chinese is difficult, so best understanding significant places, is truly best by planning ahead through various travel agencies and travel sites. If you need recommendations just ask me! 

In Beijing, we had two tours planned, (1) Great Wall of China, Ming Tombs, Jade Palace, and a Tea House and (2) Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Chinese Doctor & Foot Massage, a Silk Shop, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and a Pearl Store. These tours gave us an overall understanding of culture, understanding of customs, and historical significance of places seen. 

These tours in Beijing are quite cheap compared to tours I’ve booked in other countries. For an 8 hour tour, including lunch and transportation we paid $40-$70 per person. 

In Shanghai, we elected not to take any guided tours. Instead, we elected to do a hop on/off bus, that had English speaking recordings that are sensored when passing certain buildings. My mom and I have historically found these quite fun to give a good lay of the land when we are unfamiliar of where to go. 

3. Authentic Chinese Food is Different than American Chinese Food

Many people before visiting China told me not to expect the food to what we are used to having in the US. In my opinion the food was comparable, just not filled with salts and heavy sauces. The sauces were quite light. 

On one of our tours we found that based on the region of China you visit, the food varies. In the north (Beijing) the foods are more salty and fried, in middle/east region (Shanghai) the foods are more spicy, and in the south region the foods are more filled with rice and organic veggies. All of which were palatable and tasty. But, not what we are used to tasting in a US Chinese restaurant.  

2. If You Plan on Visiting More than One Chinese City, Use a Train!

Prior to visiting we knew that we were going to visit three different places throughout China. Similar to the US there are methods of airplane from one part of the country to the next, but can be quite expensive. We found that taking the train was the most cost effective and time saving option. 

We took a train from Beijing to Shanghai, then from Shanghai to Guangzhou. From Beijing to Shanghai the train was about 4 hours and cost approximately $200USD, and from Shanghai to Guangzhou took about 8 hours and was about $300USD. 

1. Arrive to the Airport Early, I Recommend at Least 3 Hours

To have more peace of mind I recommend that before you go to your flight make sure you call your airline and retrieve the ticket numbers, and your airline carrier name. Most people at the airport only speak Chinese so figuring out that these are the two things you need before you arrive will save you an hour; or at least that’s how long it took my mom and I. 

My mom and I had booked our flight to/from using Delta, however, when arriving to the Guangzhou airport we found out that “Delta” did not exist. Instead the carrier name was China Eastern. Once we found this out we thought our hurtles were past us. Come to find out that the American flight confirmation is not enough, the ticket number is also needed; which isn’t known until seat assignments have been arranged. Calling your flight carrier to retrieve this information is easy, so long as you have cell service. 

*Helpful Tip: You can not check-in if you are within 45-minutes of your flight, you are too late. And, you can’t board if you’re within 15-minutes to your gate.

Guest Blog- Italy!

All About Italy!

Guest Blogger: Jen Elmore

Ever since Pinterest was created in 2010, I have spent countless hours scouring through the travel boards and daydreaming about the picturesque images of Italy. Every village looked like a postcard, every meal looked divine, and every dreamy little beach screamed romance. My husband and I finally booked our dream vacation to Italy and traveled there in 2016. The trip was perfect, however, the planning and preparation getting to that point was less than seamless just because there was so much to see! Therefore, I could not be more excited to be a guest blogger and put together my ideal itinerary if you want to try to see all of Italy on a tight timeline and do not want to spend hours on research.

Capri

JenO1Capri

Capri came highly recommended to me by multiple friends, and after spending three days there, I PLEAD with anyone going to Italy to please spend time there. I have been very fortunate to travel to amazing places on this earth, and Capri is by far the best place I have ever been. To get to this beautiful little island, fly straight into Naples and take a 40 minute high speed ferry into the island. The island itself is small and you can explore the entire place in a few days, however I would spend a week there if I could. We stayed in Capri 3 nights today – spent 2 days in Capri and then took a day trip to Positano.

Where to stay:

The island is split into two parts: Capri and Anacapri. Capri is full of nightlife, shopping, and fun town squares. Anacapri is quitter and more laid back. We stayed at an exquisite Airbnb in Anacapri, which is on the far side of the island and away from all of the touristy crowds. I have never seen sunsets so vivid and views so beautiful that I have from the front door of our Airbnb. The owner Genny and his family live in the main house and built the entire home from hand. They were exceptional hosts and I am so happy to have met such a wonderful Italian family.

http://www.villadalessandro.it/

What to do:

Capri is an island of relaxation and romance, but there is still plenty to do and explore.

  • The Blue Grotto: This is world famous and something that was at the top of my list and was conveniently just steps away from our Airbnb. It is a cove with white sand on the bottom so the rays from the sun make it appear bright blue. The waves are crazy so you need to take a boat into the cove but then you can get out and swim around. It was one of our favorite memories together!
  • Private boat rental: We got a cute little private boat (http://www.giannisboat.com) and absolutely loved it. It was an adorable boat with pillow beds, coolers full of wine and beer, and an extremely knowledgeable captain. This is by far the best way to see the entire island and its secret coves. We did lots of swimming and snorkeling and saw some of the bluest waters either of us have ever seen!
  • Hike and get lost in the winding streets: One of our favorite things was just walking and exploring the beauty of this island. You can take a chairlift to the top and take in the views, or you can hike it yourself I you are feeling adventurous.

Where to eat:

Pro tip – Italians eat LATE. We never made reservations because every time we ate around 7 or 8pm, we were the only ones there! Also, Italian house wine is GOOD and cheaper than water. So don’t be shy, indulge!

  • Da Paolina: This was the best meal of our life. The restaurant itself is the definition of romance and is in the middle of a lemon tree forest! Their specialties are lemon sauce and lemoncello! We also had the best caprese salad of our life here (hint…caprese salad was created here)
  • Da Digiorio: This was steps from our Airbnb and overlooked the ocean and sunset. They had extremely fresh seafood and it has just come in from their fisherman, so we got to go into the kitchen and literally pick our fish out!
  • Ristorante Matertita: We loved this adorable restaurant. It was right in the Anacapri square in front of a beautiful church. We ate vodka sauce gnocci here that was out of this world and had some of the best Rose we had in Italy.

Positano

JenO2Untitled

When I close my eyes and imagined Italy, I imagined Positano. We knew we wanted to go to Positano, but we didn’t have the time to stay everywhere, so we ended up making Positano a day trip out of Capri and it ended up being perfect! You can take a 30 minute ferry out of Capri in the morning, and then take a ferry back in the evening. It ended up being plenty of time to see everything and truly feel like we got the Amalfi Coast experience. In a lot of ways, I preferred this because Positano is a major hub for cruise ships, so it was extremely crowded with tourists and it was just a chaotic feeling. Also, it is extremely expensive to stay there, so a day trip was the best of both worlds.

What to do:

  • Wander the streets: If you are a big shopper, you will love it here although it is very high end. The streets wind like crazy so we loved just getting lost and exploring. Walking around was the best way to take in the sights and see the beauty.
  • Have lunch at Le Sirenuse Hotel: This place is PRICEY…however, it is very well known because it has the best view of Positano so tourists flock here to take pictures. It was worth it. When I walked out on the balcony of the restauraunt I literally gasped in awe….there in front of me was THE Pinterest picture I had seen so many times and imagined how awesome it would be to see it in person. Well there I was, seeing it, and it was so special.
  • Rent a beach bed and relax: Laying around people watching was one of our favorite things to do. Completely surrounded by beauty and drink in hand, we spent hours just doing nothing and it was the best.

Rome

Rome

Rome was an absolute must see for my history obsessed and very catholic husband. Even though Rome is a big city and there is a ton to do there, I recommend spending only 2 days in Rome as it is more than enough time to see everything you want to see.

Where to stay:

The best neighborhood to stay is a cute little area called Trastervere which translates to “the other side of the river.” While it is pricier than most areas, it is very quint, trendy, and has some of the best restaurants in Rome. It is also centrally located to most of the big sites to see.

What to do:

  • The Vatican: This is an obvious one, but if for some reason you feel like it might be overrated and not worth the hype, wrong. It is worth seeing. My husband loves the catholic church so we went all out and did the 3 hours tour which takes you through the basilica and the museum. It is very long so if you are not extremely interested about the Church, I would skip the tour and just walk around yourself through the church and the square.
  • The Colleseum: Another “worth the hype” experience. It was unbelievable to see the ruins and imagine how the romans were able to build such massive structures.
  • Trevi Fountain and the Parthenon
  • largo di torre argentina: This is a ruins site that Caesar was murdered at, but now it is an actual cat sanctuary for the city cats. I am obsessed with cats so of course I had to see it, and there are literally hundreds of cats who live in the ruins and are fed and vaccinated by the city. Even if you don’t like cats, it was actually a really awesome sight to see!

Where to eat:

  • Dar Poeta: Our favorite pizza in Italy!
  • Ristorante Della Ricciotta: This was the cutest boutique restarautant in Rome. Very small and it felt so personal, we also had some of the best pasta here.

Florence

JenO3JenO4

Florence is the definition of an Italian city. We spent 5 days here total, however only 2 of them in Florence but then 3 of them as day trips out of Florence. It is a great home base for day trips because it has a great central location. I recommend doing day trips to other cities because that way you don’t have to deal with the hassle of packing and checking in and out of hotels so much.

What to do:

  • Ponte Vecchio
  • The Duomo: This is the giant church in the main square, and by far the prettiest church in Italy. Make sure you climb the tower all the way to the top for INCREDIBLE views of Florence.
  • The David: I hate museums, but wow. David really was overwhelming. The statue itself was MASSIVE and extremely intricate, it is absolutely worth it to see.

Where to eat:

  • Bucca Mario: Florence is very well knows for Florentine steak and this place does it the best. The steak itself was bigger than my head and it was worth the price.

Day Trips!

Day Trip- Tuscay

Wine.png

I am a huge wine lover so I knew I wanted to see Tuscay, however we just didn’t have the time to really do it, so a day trip was the perfect solution. I recommend using Viator.com which is a website that has a tour for anything you could think of. We ended up doing an entire day tour that took us to multiple wineries in Tuscay where we could tour and taste the wines (https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Taste-of-Chianti-Tuscan-Cheese-Wine-and-Lunch-from-Florence/d519-5070CHIANTISAFARI)

This was one of the highlights of our trip and I am already planning on coming back just to spend time in Tuscany.

Day Trip– Cinque Terre

Day Trip

Okay so I know I say a lot of things are my favorite part of my trip, but this is one of my favorite parts of our trip! Cinque Terre translates to “5 towns” and essentially is exactly that. There are 5 towns all lined up along the coast and each one is the cutest Italian village you could ever imagine. We took a tour to see it all (tours are the way to go) and were so happy we did. Each town is connected by a train or a hike. The views were absolutely spectacular and I highly recommend you add this to your trip! https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Cinque-Terre-Full-Immersion/d519-6274P35

Day Trip– Venice

DayTrip1

I always knew we wanted to go to Venice, but I had friends actually tell me they didn’t like it so I worried scheduling it into our trip. Again, that is why day trips are perfect. We booked a train ticket and it was about 2 hours to Venice. I literally want to stop being friends with the person who told me not to go to Venice, because it was the absolute best way to end our trip. We had nothing planned in Venice, you simply go to get lost in the streets. There are no cars there so no streets. Streets are canals and the entire town is a maze full of turns and dead ends. We explored for a full 6 hours and stopped as cute cafes for lunch and drinks. PLEASE GO TO VENICE. Every corner was cuter then the next and I constantly had to stop for pictures, I wanted to gag it was so cute. I am so happy we got this memory, especially and it may not be around in the future as it is actually sinking.

We trained back to Florence that night and flew home the next morning. All in all our trip was 10 days. A lot to squeeze in, but it can be done. Italy is magical and if you have the opportunity to go there, do it!

 

Do You Need a Travel Visa? Tips if You Do!

Although your passport takes you to 174 of the 195 countries in the world, what do you do when you want to visit one that doesn’t meet the mark? Apply for a visa!

When I first started traveling it was easy to select places to go that required only a passport, I mean 174 countries should be easy. And, I’ll be honest I’ve feared booking a trip and then finding out at the airport you’re denied access. Come to find out when you book your flights it will tell you before you checkout if a visa is required, and that’s what happened when booking for China.

Some of the countries that require a tourist (“holiday”) visa no matter how long the stay include the following:

  • China
  • Algeria
  • Brazil
  • Egypt
  • Nepal
  • Vietnam

Before planning your next visit, check out this link to see if the country you’re visiting requires a tourist visa. Also! There are some countries that require a visa is staying an extended time, so be mindful of that as well.

Know, that that you have to have your itinerary complete, with flight and hotels booked before applying for a visa. Sounds odd that you’re investing in a trip before granted access, but it’s true. I have some recommendations:

  • Pay the extra $10 when booking your hotels for the cancellation insurance
  • Purchase flight insurance
  • Plan ahead! For me this was somewhat difficult because I like to plan tours, etc. as I near a trip when I’ve done more research, but this becomes pivotal because planning logistics will become important for presenting your itinerary. Essentially, the embassy is looking to be able to find you and know that you have accommodations in advance of approving you.

What I didn’t know when deciding on China is how much a holiday visa costs! And, it’s not cheap. Especially considering that everything needs to be booked in advance. Prices for visas ranged from $250-600 depending how quickly you needed your visa, and depending on which company.

After doing some research I chose Passport & Visas.

The company had good reviews that mentioned two key words for me… “reliable” & “responsive.” As a frequent traveler, these two words become pivotal in making big decisions. I placed my order 12/2 and received 12/28. There were some questions back from the company during the interim regarding our accommodations and letter of referral (required if you’re not a part of a tour group). The company had very quick response times when following up on my order, and had a good tracker on their website to let you know where my application was in the process (similar to when you order a pizza). Was really quite impressive.

After you’re approved they return your passport with the visa sticker in your passport. Just like that!

Other random facts: 

There’s an expansive list of things you have to have before you even start the application process. I recommend acquiring all the documentation you need before you purchase your order, so that the estimated return time is actual. I found it taking me a half day in getting everything situated to submit for ordering, they included:

  • Small passport photo taken within 6 months– you can get this done at Walgreens or CVS for $20
  • Have to provide your passport, & they will return back after approved or denied access (Passport has to be valid and not expire within 12 months of your visit)
  • Copy of your drivers license
  • Itinerary of where you’ll be on what days and where you’re sleeping
  • Proof of accommodations (that it has been paid, or booked)
  • Completed electronic visa application for the country you’re going (be mindful of what color your ink has to be)

*Some of the requirements may be different based on where you’re going

I will report an update to this post when I return from China, on experience through customs using a visa. But, assume you just have to show evidence of what was presented for visa application!

Subscribe for Bi-Weekly Travel Tips!

I admit, I have two problems when it comes to my travel blog. First, it has been difficult to tell when I am going to post, because I have been solely posting after my recent trips which vary throughout the year. Second, I’ve been aiming my posts more toward my experiences, when a bigger passion is to give helpful tips and trips for people looking to share similar experiences. In good news… I have solutions to these problems!

Starting now I will be posting on the 1st and 3rd Monday (@12pm EST)! My posts will include not only my experiences, but keeping you all a part of the process of how I pick places I visit, how to plan for those places, how to pack, and complications with solutions that arise while traveling! I am hopeful this will result in more viewership through trusted reliance for when to check my blog, and to provide diversity in what I am posting. And, drumroll, I will continue to take suggestions through comments on my posts, and direct to me at Jackie14Craig@gmail.com.

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