My Weekend in Brussels 

Hi, friends! As you can see from my pictures on my social media accounts, I spent my weekend in Brussels about a month ago! It was a wild little ride and a lovely solo trip after a long week. After a bus and an adventure to my next station in Paris, I was finally on my way to Belgium!

I got in at around 11:00pm on Friday night, and, luckily, was only a short one-minute walk down the street from the station to my hostel. I checked in quickly and was ready for bed in a jiffy!

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I woke up and was ready to get going. I walked the thirty minutes into the center of the city – the hostel might have been a short walk from the bus, but it was much further from the real attractions. Happily, this gave me a great chance to take in the stunning architecture along the way. I met for the start of the walking tour at the Great Market. Our delightful guide brought us all around the city, and challenged me to a game where everyone wins. He found me a beer. It was wonderful. It was a delicious cherry beer that tasted exactly like sour patch kids. Overall it was such a fantastic way to see the city, so thank you Sandman’s!

After the fun tour where I learned about the city and its history, I headed to go find fries. As potatoes are one of my favorite foods and God’s gift to humanity, this mission was of utmost importance to me. I made my way to Fritland and hopped in the long line to my destiny, only to find out that they only accepted cash and that yours truly did not have cash. So I went on a hunt around the block to find an ATM: mission accomplished. And those kind pals at Fritland let me cut to the front of the line. I then indulged in a huge pile of fries stacked on top of a baguette covered in house made tartar sauce. It was so disgustingly delicious that I don’t even know how to describe it. Not to mention, it was gigantic and I couldn’t finish it. After chowing down, it was time to walk off all of those calories. So of course I went straight to the chocolate museum.

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I had a fun hour walking around and learning about the production and marketing of chocolate…oh yeah, and the demonstration and tasting at the end. We ate truffles and even biscuits covered in chocolate from a chocolate fountain. Bonus: they even have a student discount! After munching on my chocolate, I headed to a Starbucks and got to work on writing a paper for school. My life is pretty exciting, huh?

So after, a fun, relaxing, informative, and delicious day, I headed back to the hostel where I promptly found that I lost my key. So after some panicking, I paid the 10 euros and got a new key. Then I went to sleep just about immediately.

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The next morning, I headed down to the cathedral to sit in on a service. It was an amazing experience and it was translated into French and Dutch! After enjoying that for a while, I went to spend the rest of my time split between the large beautiful park (before I got harassed by some dude who wanted to know my life story) and sitting on the steps overlooking the city. When it was time to head out, I began to walk towards the bus station, about a 20-minute walk. Not, of course, before grabbing a waffle for the road. Then I got lost. Of course. I wandered and panicked and couldn’t find my way around. I asked so many different people for directions, all of who were so kind and helpful. I was apparently just too dumb to follow directions that day and couldn’t find a cab.

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Well, I was in luck because after enough anxiety I called a cab and he rushed as fast as he could, weaving through markets and Sunday afternoon traffic, to get to the station. Where I found out I didn’t have any cash on me except for Canadian cash… But he took it, so we’re good? Oh well, on the bright side, I made it to the bus station, back to Paris, and back home to Caen. What a crazy weekend!

Leah

Food in Budapest

I will not claim to be an expert of food in Budapest as I did not have many meals here. That being said, I do have a few must-try places that you should add to your list! So without further ado, here is a short list of restaurants and bars that no itinerary would be complete without!

 1. Fanki Donuts

A chocolate lover’s heaven!


What better way to start your day or rest your tired feet than with donuts? Anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with donuts (and treats in general…). And, if you need any further convincing, just look at these pictures! Basically a chocolate lover’s heaven. The hot chocolate was very different as well with a very intense cocoa flavor.

2. Nagyi Palacsintázója

Delicious pancakes and potatoes with dill and ewe cheese!


This delicious pancake place is exactly what you need after a long day of walking in Budapest. It was recommended to us by the sweet woman who worked at our hostel. When she was younger, she and her friends used to go here on late nights out as it is open 24 hours a day. I recommend both sweet and salty pancakes…and those delicious potatoes!

3. Ice Bar Budapest


Admittedly this is a bit of a tourist trap, but it was so fun (and cool, badum-tiss) that it deserves a mention. When you walk in you are immediately handed a menu and you can choose from an array of alcoholic or non alcoholic beverages. Then, you don on your giant poncho and head into the ice chamber! It is full of beautiful ice sculptures and everything is made of ice-including the glasses.

4. Ruin Bar


And finally, one more bar. The Simpla Bar is absolutely a must see. Think of Ariel’s treasure trove from The Little Mermaid as you walk in. It is filled with the most quirky and random items, surely you’ll be charmed-and maybe a bit confused- by this 2 story bar. It also has many bars that serve alcohol and non alcoholic beverages alike, hookah and food!

Thanks for tuning in! Where would you like to go? Anything you would add to the list?

Etretat 

Hi y’all! Welcome to my very first photo blog post! I’m clearly not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination. However, I wanted to give you all a glimpse of my time in Etretat and Honfleur. These French cities are simply too lovely and charming not to share photos from!

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Sorry mom, I definitely had to pass the guardrail for this shot!

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If you’re looking for a sandy beach, this is not your destination. However the large rocks are surprisingly comfortable to sprawl out on!

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My wild hair sure loved the wind on top of the cliff.

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What other places would you like to see photo posts from?

Leah

 

10 Things to do in Brussels 

So you’re heading to Belgium for the weekend or a layover and need to know how to spend your precious time? Well, I am here to help! Thanks to a lot of searching and talking to guides, I have a lovely little guide for you to use and adapt to your needs!

1. Get a Guide

 The city is small and the must-see tourist attractions are in easy walking distance of each other. Brussels is a city full of history and this is a great way to learn about them! Click here for the company I used-I LOVED the tour and highly recommend it! 

2. Food and Drink 

This is easy: drink one of the many Belgian beers, eat a waffle, and chow down on those fries!

Sampling Cherry Beer


3. Chocolate Museum 

If you have an extra 45 minutes to an hour to kill then please go here. I had a blast learning about the history and production of chocolate. Oh, and tasting it along the way! The tour ends with a demonstration, and a tasting. What more could we ask for? Bonus: 6€ for adults and only 5€ for students!

4. Les Galleries Royales

Personally, I couldn’t spend too much time here, but it’s worth a mention because it is so. beautiful. It is also a shopping center, but don’t get too distracted by the many chocolatiers!


5. Manneken Pis

Probably the most disappointing tourist attraction ever – other than the Mona Lisa, sorry- but when in Brussels. Fun fact: they have no idea how it got there and anyone who tells you differently is lying. 

6. Mont des Arts

This is simply a gorgeous view of the city. It is near the park and the Place Royal, and an easy way back into the city. It is also great to check out during the day and around sunset. 


7. Brussels Park

This park is so large and beautiful. It is a great space to relax in the sun! There are paths, sculptures, benches so you can enjoy the nature in any way you’d like!

8. Grand Market

This is arguably the most beautiful place in Brussels. The magnificent buildings resemble nothing of its namesake as a past market. Not to mention, one of Victor Hugo’s homes is here to see. Another fun fact: the city hall isn’t symmetrical because they made it up as they went along. #Inspiration 


9. Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

This beautiful cathedral is in honor of the city’s two patron saints- St. Michael and St. Gudula. The second has such a lovely story of service. As the story goes, each morning she went out with a lantern before sunrise and each morning the devil blew out her candle, but she always relit the candle and dedicated her life to service. Well, at least she got to share the name of a beautiful church? 

10. Royal Place of Brussels 

Just on the opposite side of the park is the Royal Place. While you cannot go inside, the architecture is simply stunning, and it is definitely worth a visit!
What would you add to the list?

Leah 

Bayeux & Normandy 

It was a cold and rainy morning in Normandy when I went to Bayeux and the Beaches of Normandy. Not atypical to the region. We hopped on a bus and made our way over to Bayeux to first see the tapestry. Fun fact: it’s not actually a tapestry, it’s an embroidery! This ancient tapestry is incredibly long and stretched throughout a dark room on display. 


The tapestry is beautiful and the audioguide helps you to understand what you’re actually looking at beyond the fact that it’s something old and lovely. After the length of the embroidery, we were guided to the museum area to learn more about the history of this ancient object. In afdition to the museum itself, there was a small theatre within to describe, in even greater detail, the story and time period.
Afterwards, we walked around in the drizzle to admire the charming town and its grand cathedral. Note: they have great sandwiches there. It’s a fact, so please try one. 


We then made our way to the beaches of Normandy. Most of our time was spent traipsing along the beaches themselves. At other times, we explored the old bunkers abandoned in the hills.


Finally, we boarded the smelly, damp bus, and made our way to the American Cemetery. There are many elements to take into account when visiting here, but I’ll keep it simple for the moment. If you are going here in search of someone, go to the museum first. I would suggest going to the museum first in general, but especially if you’re looking for a specific person. They have databases to tell you exactly where to find their plot in the cemetery. There are several monuments within the cemetery itself and they are beautiful and worth checking out. Many of them also contain maps to get your history lesson in for the day. 


This area itself is gorgeous and very ready for a picnic, so if you’re planning on making a day of it, a picnic by the sea could be a lovely break! 

Paris Nightmare Part 2

I’m sure you’re dying to hear the other part of my story, so here you go! 


After a wonderful day spent roaming the louvre and wandering Montmartre, it was time to head back to Caen. We had ended our time in the center of Montmartre at a small restaurant overlooking the square of artists. We checked the time as we finished our crepes and found that we had an hour until our bus left. Our naive selves thought this was plenty of time. We paid quickly and left the building. We realized that we had no idea where the nearest metro stop was and it turned into quite an endeavor filled with many stairs and many cars nearly crashing into us before we finally made it. We found our metro and to our dismay it was clear that this was going to be a long ride. However we didn’t start worrying until we realized that our bus left five minutes sooner than we originally thought. Frantically we looked back and forth between the metro stops and the time. It wasn’t long before we knew we weren’t going to make it. After what felt like the longest metro ride of my life, we got off with only ten minutes until our bus left. And we had no idea where the bus station was located inside the bustling metro station. We ran up and down to different floors and across the building a couple times – I realized that I needed to work out more – before we finally made it to the correct bus stop with a minute before the bus departed. There was no bus. About three minutes later, a bus pulled up next to us…as it turned out, the bus was late, not us! Finally we were able to settle in, hearts still racing, and go home to Caen. 


But the story doesn’t end there. When we returned we had to wait for about 15 minutes for the next tram. So we waited. And by the time the next one came, one of my travel pals felt too uncomfortable about getting on this bus and wanted to wait for the next one-in forty minutes. So we went to a kebab place and got some french fries as we waited. Eventually it was time to go back out, but when we got to the stop, a few guys started harassing us. I spoke german to get them to leave and eventually we just walked back anyway. So, at long last, we all made it home safely. 
Do you have any ridiculous travel stories? Share them in the comments!

Paris Transportation Nightmare Part 1

Let this story be your warning that, while booking last minute can work out fantastically and save a lot of money, use caution when you decide to do last minute trips. It was one of my first weekends of my study abroad experience and I wanted to travel. Rounding up any new friends I could, I tried to plan a trip to Brussels, but alas, by the time people committed it was simply too late.


Eventually, we decided that Paris would be just fine the day before we left. So, I booked the bus tickets mere hours before we left. Oh, and I couldn’t book a hostel or AirB&B, so a friend ended up booking us a hotel before just before we left.


We got to the bus station without a hitch and prepared for our three hour bus ride. Eventually we arrived in Paris! Unfortunately it was farther away than where we anticipated. We bought metro tickets and tried to get on. Until a man told us that it wasn’t going to work until the following morning. So we gave up and got a taxi.


I struck up a conversation with the man, and we had a great chat! He warned us that the area of our hotel wasn’t very safe and to be careful because we were nice girls. As it turns out we were in the red light district right near Moulin Rouge.

We went to the hotel and found out that it was fully booked and that our American credit card payments didn’t go through over the phone. So this man told us that his was the only safe hotel in the area, and to take the metro to Gare du Nord to get a hotel there as it was close to 1am at this point. After much insisting he still wouldn’t call us a taxi, and we ended up walking until we found one.


We ended up in Gare du Nord where we got french fries, and then walked around until we got a hotel. It was there that our guardian angel hooked us up with a great room and a great deal.

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Leah

 

Why You Need to Visit the Secret Lagoon

I see the Blue Lagoon spa in Iceland on nearly every travel bucket list, and for good reason. It’s gorgeous, relaxing, and fun! It is a great option for short layovers, like when I went, because of its close proximity to the airport. For a longer trip, though, you have some other options that are not quite as publicized or as expensive.


Going to these pools is actually a very common cultural part of Icelandic life and many pools are free! There are multiple throughout Reykjavik teeming with locals, if you’re feeling adventurous enough to make friends. Be aware that most of these require you to get fully naked to shower before entering the pristine water. There will be people there ensuring that you are thouroughly clean. It’s only as weird as you make it, but remember this is normal!

This brings us to the Secret Lagoon. The Secret Lagoon is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland dating back to the early 1900’s where children learned to swim. It is indeed a secret as it is located deep into the arctic circle. There is a small lodge where you can warm up and cafe where you can purchase drinks and some food. There is a lovely changing area complete with showers and hair dryers (and no one to supervise your shower if that was an uncomfortable prospect).


When Kaelyn and I went, we were terrified of the cold and I had to give Kaelyn a pep talk to even get out of the little lodge. We ran out screaming, like the Americans we are, not realizing everyone was staring at us until we were safely out of the cold and in the steaming pool. The other pool goers continued to stare at us for about 10 minutes whilst in the water, but honestly I don’t blame them. We then witnessed others gracefully and silently making their way into the pool, glasses of wine and beer in hand. Far more sophisticated than we will ever be, so just know that this place includes everyone!

This was the perfect place to end our tiring day around the golden circle! What pools have you been to in Iceland?

 

Big and Little Went to Iceland

Hi friends! I have officially been out of the country for over a month now! Though many days and adventures have passed, I’m going to start with the general story of my adventure with Kaelyn in Iceland. Don’t worry, there will be many more specific posts about Iceland, but for now we’ll keep it simple for a good update!

Leah and Kaelyn!

This story actually begins before we even left the state. Shout out to my mom for putting up with me. We left the house to go to the airport, and we were close to half an hour away when I realized I forgot my boots and had to turn around. So we definitely didn’t get to the airport with the two hour time allotment (oh yeah, and the weather was awful, and the traffic was insane). Again, sorry mom. Thankfully, we made it to the airport, there were no lines, and we got through without a hitch.

The Coocoo’s Nest

Finally, we boarded our plane. Of course I sat next to the two pretentious hipsters. It was awesome.

After our six hour flight, we landed in Reykjavik at 6:30am and took the fly bus to what we thought was the center city. As it turned out we were at what was basically a bus station where we sat for about 20 minutes before deciding to rent a locker there and find food. Kaelyn went all wild-woman and guided us with the map. I was like Merriweather-Leah and she was Sacagawea-Kaelyn. Except that neither of us actually knew where we were going, and there was a city right down the road, and Kaelyn is white…sorry this was a bad analogy.
Well, Kaelyn, the fearless leader, guided us straight to the Laundromat Cafe. (One of the few places open that early in the morning. Side note: the whole day seems early in the morning when the sunrise is at 10:30.)  As we munched on our delicious breakfast, we searched through a drawer near our table full of letters, notes, advice etc. After getting our fill we booked a free walking tour for about half an hour later. I must also mention that the garbage can in the bathroom was shaped like a rocket ship. That really stuck with me.

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Hostel Views


We roamed around, basically walking up and down the same street eight times before we saw a group of people gathered around a monument. They definitely saw us struggling too so that’s slightly embarrassing. Our guide’s name was Marteinn and we were completely obsessed with him. C’mon, he was smart, funny, handsome, and Icelandic, what more could we ask for? Sorry ladies, he’s engaged. We had an incredible tour of the city, learning so much more than we ever thought there was to know about Iceland and the city of Reykjavik.

After this, we did our own little tour of the city. We took pictures of the mountains, Kaelyn ate a hot dog (apparently it was a really good hot dog), and we went the the large church with the most beautiful panoramic views of the city. It was breath taking. Eventually we made our way back to our bags, and we took a taxi to our hostel. Our hostel was in a pretty random location, but from our window we had views of the city, ocean, and mountains. I don’t think we could’ve beat that.

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Snorkeling Site

That night we found a local hipster restaurant called the Coocoo’s Nest, perfect for us, honestly. And we had some darn good tacos there. Immediately after, we walked down the street and got ice cream. Typical. To be fair, it was Blueberry Skyr and Biscuits, an Icelandic dessert in ice cream form.

The next day was time for our snorkel adventure in the Silfra Fissure between tectonic plates. Contrary to popular beliefs you don’t swim between the two walls. It is actually a large area of no mans land full of both land and water. You can see the two walls of the North American and Eurasian plates when you are standing out of the water. We completely psyched ourselves out in a few ways. First of all, Kaelyn couldn’t read the 24 hour clock on the email and thought we missed our pick up time. Spoiler alert: we didn’t. It was scary and then funny. Then, once on the bus, we forgot our Wisconsin heritage and made ourselves believe this was going to be ridiculously cold. Now don’t get me wrong, it was super cold. But, we were wearing dry suits and were almost completely covered from head to toe. The only reminders of the cold were our hands and lips. It was very unlike snorkeling in tropical environments as it was rather desolate and eerie. That being said it was incredibly beautiful nonetheless.

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Our final day in Reykjavik consisted of another tour. This time, we went all over the Golden Circle. Honestly, the highlight of my day was seeing the OG, Original Geyser. This is where we get the word geyser for all others, and the first documented geyser. We saw other lovely sights likes a stunning waterfall, but let’s just take a moment to talk about the secret lagoon. This is an actual geothermal pool used by locals and it is the oldest public swimming pool where children actually learned how to swim back in the day.

On this day, however, the serenity of this pool was rudely interrupted by two loud girls named Leah and Kaelyn. Shrieking and screaming through the freezing air, we ran into this pool as everyone inside stared at us in disgust. The staring continued for the followed 10-15 minutes. We later witnessed people calmly and silently entering the pool. I still have no idea how.

Geyser Next to the Original Geysir

We ate again at the Coocoo’s Nest, and again got ice cream after promising we wouldn’t and had an early morning to catch our flights. I love my big and I love Iceland and I can’t wait for our next trip together!

2016 Reflections

Undeniably, this year has been a big one for all of us for many reasons. I mean, come one, the Cubs won! Overall, though, this year has turned me into a big ball of crazy stress. Through it all, I have learned a lot and I am ready to share my experiences and lessons with all of you. So get ready because I’m about to pour my heart out a little bit (my advice is to find yourself some snacks before you commit to this).

I learned a lot of lessons that I didn’t think I needed to learn this year, but God has a way of working on us all, huh?

I Learned to Trust Other People and Accept Help

Big Little Reveal!

This makes my heart smile just thinking about. I have made and strengthened some of the most beautiful relationships that I didn’t even know were possible. I made more friends this year who love and care about me than I ever have before. Proving once again that God always gives us the people we need.  (Shout out to all of my friends teaching me about love, patience, genorosity, resilience, and fun!) And, I got my little this year which was one of the best days of my entire life.

I Do My Best

Cat Cafe Love!


I like to say I have high standards, so I push myself. While that is true, I know that beyond that I pressure myself far more than necessary. Towards the end of this year, I have been trying to accept that whatever I have done, I gave it my all, and I tried my hardest. Rather than being discouraged, the priority is trying to be content with wherever I am at. Even though I have anxiety and depression, they do not make me who I am and sometimes, they make me a little less productive. It is my job to be respectful and kind to myself in light of all of this. Go Leah!

Food Does Not Define Me

POTATOES


2016 has been the year that I developed an eating disorder. I am working through it, and every day brings a new challenge. I have had body image issues for a long time. Just like all of the lessons, I learn this one more every day. This lesson is nowhere near finished, but taking a step is crazy. At first I learned that food is an enemy. Food has controlled my life. It keeps me from appreciating the joy of food. Food brings people together. Food nourishes my body to allow it to do amazing things. I fight my mind every day, but I made the monumental decision to acknowledge that food does not define me.

I am Beautiful

I promise this one is short. I am learning that I am beautiful on the inside and the outside!

 

I am positive I could come up with many more lessons I’ve learned this year, but these are the biggest ones that I see. Thanks for sticking with me, and I am looking forward to more lessons and joyful surprises in the year to come! I hope the new year brings you all love and peace, and I would love to hear all of your thoughts and reflections!