Author Archives: Andrea

About Andrea

I am a museum educator at Kennesaw State University with my master's degree in Heritage Preservation. I taught fourth grade through middle school for several years prior to museum work. I live in Atlanta with my husband, dog and cat. I am a lover of travel, wine and good food on a (20-something budget!) so hopefully my blog will provide you with some of my travel tips that I learn along the way.

Lovely London!

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I’ll admit it…for basically my entire adult life, I’ve been acting like a snob towards London. I never really “cared” to go to London before now; Cities like Paris, Istanbul, Munich and Hong Kong seemed must more interesting, I guess.

I WAS SO WRONG. London is one of my favorite cities to date and here is why:

  1. London has so much history. I’m the ultimate history nerd, and London has so much to offer for someone like me. Three of my favorite spots were:
  • The Churchill War Rooms (Winston’s war bunker/control rooms underneath the city AND a Winston museum)
  • Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, a pub down an alley whose patrons include the late Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. You can literally smell history while drinking a pint (well, smell as in the burning hearth and old wood)
  • The Tower of London – just because I love some good family drama and the Tudors had PLENTY of it.  Also, there were some AWESOME views of London Bridge.

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I am going to have to go back to London to experience more of the history in this amazing city. We also stayed in a historic hotel which just tickled me to pieces. Finding a decently-priced, nice hotel in a good location was a bit of a challenge. We chose the Georgian House Hotel, a boutique hotel in Pimlico. $220 a night included breakfast and a nice room. We usually never spend this type of cash on a hotel room when we are sightseeing, but compared to most nice places, this was a good price. London hotels are just expensive, so be prepared.

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Georgian House Hotel

2. London has an awesome public transportation system. Using the Tube saved us so much money since our hotel was close to Victoria station. One thing we struggled with a bit however was cramming onto the crowded Tube with our luggage. Consider budgeting for a taxi/Uber to and from the airport (lesson learned!)

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3. London is such a melting pot, so the food is yummy. Our best meal was Indian food at a restaurant called Dishoom. Also, I never felt like a foreigner in London since there were so many people from so many walks of life, and I really liked that.

4. For the non-history buffs, there are still so many fun things to do. We especially enjoyed seeing Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre (we got tickets at a discount booth called TKTS the morning of the show and got really good seats for $40), and we also loved having afternoon tea at 108 Pantry . The scones and clotted cream – I’m still dreaming about them ::swoon::

We did other things that were completely worth our time which include: Westminster Abbey, Portobello Road Market on Notting Hill (go on a Saturday before dark!), and the British Library.

One thing that really disappointed me was the 2.5 hour line to take a picture at Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. After standing in line for hours at the airport the day before we arrived, I couldn’t stomach the wait, but I took a picture of the platform anyways; I just wasn’t in the picture myself! If this is important to you, be prepared for a line.

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A couple other things to note: We went in November so it was pretty chilly and misty, but I was comfortable with my coat. Personally, I’d rather be chilly than super sweaty, and the cold made pubs pretty cozy. Also, be prepared to walk…a lot, so comfy shoes are a must!

I’d move to London if I could; I loved it that much. I can’t wait to visit again.

Cleveland Rocks!

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My husband has family and friends in Cleveland, so we decided to spend a fall weekend there to visit with everyone and check out the city! Cleveland was in the news quite a bit recently because the city hosted the Republican National Convention (RNC). Cleveland did a really nice job sprucing up the downtown area to prepare for the RNC – most Cleveland residents are hopeful the city will maintain the fresh look.

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At the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument

Although most of our time in Ohio was spent visiting with family, we did get to explore a bit. I had no idea Cleveland’s downtown was so nice! Restaurants abound! There were hundreds of places I wanted to try in cute neighborhood pockets all around the city. The city is definitely going through a revival. One of the better meals we had in Cleveland was at a restaurant called Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th Street. This pedestrian alleyway had a ton of bars, restaurants, and shops; I’ve been told that it is PACKED on game day (Browns/Indians). We went for brunch, but the dinner menu looked delicious, too! The Brussels sprouts and animal fries were especially tasty.

Kevin’s cousin Tish drove us near Lake Erie and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so we were able to walk around and take some photos of the city and the lake. I love the water – one thing we miss out on living in Atlanta is being near a big body of water. This Chicago/Milwaukee gal surely misses Lake Michigan! We didn’t have time to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we did get to go inside Johnny Cash’s tour bus parked outside! Next time we visit, we HAVE to spend the better part of the day touring the museum.

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I really enjoy the vibe of “smaller” big cities like Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. Now I can add Cleveland to my list!  Kevin and I will be back to see what else Cleveland has to offer and maybe catch a glimpse of King James!

Independence Day in Philadelphia!

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A couple days after returning from Europe, my husband (Kevin) and I flew to Philadelphia to celebrate a dear friend’s wedding. We decided to extend our trip to Pennsylvania for a couple of days to do some sightseeing since I haven’t been to Philadelphia since I was little.

Kevin spent Saturday with the wedding party, so I had a whole day to myself. We had a rental car, so instead of hanging out in our hotel (The Desmond, where the wedding was), I decided to treat myself to Chipotle and an afternoon at Valley Forge! I am a “history person” so going alone and experiencing this American gem at my own pace was great. I highly recommend independent outings – you can do whatever you want, whenever you want! I started out in the visitor’s center where they have a gift shop and some exhibits, but I eventually made my way to the museum theater and the guided walking tour of some of the grounds. This only required about a quarter-mile walk, but the park ranger was very knowledgeable, and I learned quite a bit about Valley Forge’s contribution to the Revolutionary War. I even stuck around for a musket demonstration. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with the historical context of Valley Forge, this was the winter encampment, 18 miles northeast of Philadelphia, of General George Washington’s Continental Army in 1777-1778.

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General Washington’s Headquarters @ Valley Forge

After the walking tour, I drove and listened to the audio tour. I stopped at General Washington’s headquarters to take a quick self-guided tour inside. I had to be back in time for the wedding, but if I had more time, I probably would have taken the trolley tour instead of driving myself around. If you’re interested in early American history, this National Historic Park is a must-see.

After the wedding (congrats Greg and Denise!), Kevin and I drove downtown and stayed at the Doubletree on Broad Street. This was a good location and was walking distance to quite a bit of the action. Since it was 4th of July weekend, downtown was hoppin’ with food trucks, people, and live music. I was really glad we made early reservations for our tour of Independence Hall. The tour itself was free, but space is limited so I would certainly plan ahead and make a reservation. You know you’re a REAL history nerd when you get goosebumps in the room Jefferson, Hancock, Franklin, and many other founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. The room is smaller than one might expect, but it was such a cool experience to be there while celebrating our nation’s birthday! Afterwards, we decided not to wait in the two hour line to see the Liberty Bell – instead we walked to the side of the building and saw it through the window. Worked for me!

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Our day @ Independence Hall!

Then of course, we had to have a Philly cheese steak. After getting a couple of recommendations from a local, we decided on Steve’s Prince of Steaks. So, so, so, so delicious.

On the 4th of July, Kev and I waved our flags at the parade in the morning, and we visited Ben Franklin’s museum and grave site (Ben is probably one of my favorite historical figures – three-year old me named my pet fish after him). The museum was more interactive than artifact-based, and there was a small fee to get in, but I had fun! Kids would enjoy it, too.

I loved getting to spend the weekend in Philadelphia. They city was getting ready for the DNC, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of homelessness I saw or the muggy July weather HOWEVER it is Mecca for American history, and I really enjoyed my time there.

 

Besties in Wien! (Vienna, Austria)

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Vienna (Wien) is such a delightful place. I posted about Salzburg a couple of years ago, and while Vienna is not considered Bavaria (you won’t have the mountains in Wien like you do in Salzburg), it is still very beautiful in its own way. After leaving Paris, Lynnsey and I flew KLM to Vienna to visit a friend, Beth, who lives there. We flew round trip from our hometown (Atlanta) to Paris, so we purchased an intra-European flight from Paris to Vienna. One difficulty we had was luggage. Since we flew internationally we did not have to pay to check baggage from Atlanta to Paris, but on the KLM intra-European flight, they charged to check a bag which increased the price of our tickets. If you are traveling this way, be sure to check baggage fees (which normally DO apply within Europe) and plan accordingly.

As soon as we arrived in Vienna, our first stop was for Wiener-Schnitzel. For it to be TRUE Wiener-Schinetzel, it must be from Vienna. The traditional Wiener-Schinetzel is tender calf’s meat served with potato salad (which is different than American potato salad – no mayo). The restaurant & brewery Beth took us to was called Salm Brau. The food and beer were delicious and the servings were huge…I could only manage to eat half of my meal.

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After full bellies and a good night’s sleep, we decided to spend the day in Bratislava, Slovakia – about an hour and fifteen minutes from Vienna by bus. Round trip bus tickets cost about $30, and the bus had A/C and WiFi. I love going to a place that I don’t know much about, so I have no expectations and am never disappointed! Bratislava is a hidden European gem! The weekend we were there, the city was celebrating the coronation of Maria Theresa of Hapsburg, so there were food, drink and crafts tents in the main part of town. A half-liter of beer was only 1 Euro – what a deal compared to the expensive city of Paris just a few days before! We even had a good laugh about the “roast beast” cooking on the spit.

We spent the day wandering around the city, and we made the uphill climb to the castle. We didn’t go inside, but the views of the city and the Danube from atop the hill were worth the walk.  Bratislava was definitely a highlight of our entire trip to Europe. I have heard that it is a pretty sleepy town if a festival isn’t taking place, but the hustle and bustle of the center of town made for a really fun day!

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Atop the hill with the Danube River behind

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View of Bratislava

We talked about going to Budapest (a 3-hour bus ride) another day of the trip, and although we were very tempted, with only two days left in Vienna, we wanted to explore the city we were staying in, BUT know that Vienna is very centrally located. If someone were in the city for a week or ten days, it would be a great location for “home base” and from Vienna travel to Salzburg, Budapest, and/or Bratislava for day/overnight trips.

To get around in Vienna, we bought tram tickets. Tram-ticketing is basically done on the honor system – we paid, but no one ever asked for our tickets (this was the same in Prague). I wouldn’t advise jumping on a tram without paying not only because its dishonest, but you can also receive a ticket if you’re caught. For our tour of Vienna, Beth took us to Schonbrunn, a palace that was the former imperial summer residence. After taking an hour-long audio tour of the palace, we paid a small fee for a sample and baking demonstration of (crisp) apple strudel, walked up to the Gloriette for Viennese coffee, and took photographs of the lovely gardens. I really enjoyed this outing and is a must-see for Vienna. Be sure to wear good walking shoes!

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Strudel-Making Demonstration!

 

We spent our final day in Vienna looking at the city’s gorgeous architecture. That is probably my favorite part of Vienna…you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy European beauty. Just walking the streets/grounds is a treat because the city is so beautiful and clean! So, we walked the grounds of the Belvedere and Austrian Parliament and took photos not only of the buildings but the statues and flowers. We couldn’t have asked for better weather in late June. WOW. Every picture I took looked like it came from a postcard.

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The Belvedere

We found a great spot for lunch in the Naschmarkt. The restaurant we ate at (Neni) was actually Israeli food, but the Naschmarkt area has many different options, and it was fun to walk around there! With a yummy lunch that we needed to walk off, we enjoyed going into St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a replica of the Parthenon.

I adored Vienna. It exceeded my expectations, and I can’t wait to go back for their famous Christmas markets someday! Until next time Wien, Auf Wiedersehen!

 

 

 

Fabulous France! Oh la la!

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*Disclaimer: My husband ran out of vacation days this year, and I had the summer off, so I was thrilled to take  girls’ trip to Europe with one of my best pals, Lynnsey! Here is the story of our girls’ adventure.*

To begin I will say this: Paris on a budget is EXTREMELY difficult. After traveling to Istanbul, Beijing, and Prague this year, the overall price-tag on, well…everything, was a bit of a shock. Food/shopping/tourism are generally very expensive, but there are some things travelers can do to cut costs. That being said, I would not recommend Paris if you are on a tight budget – it will be stressful.

My uncle and his family live in a hamlet (Ecques) in the Nord pas de Calais region. I wanted to see the family even though our trip to France was short, so my uncle picked Lynnsey and I up from Charles de Gaulle airport and brought us to his home about two hours away. Looking back, I wish we would have spent more time in the countryside, but this will have to be a trip for Kevin and I sometime in the future. We enjoyed some sightseeing in St. Omer (town nearby) and a home-cooked meal. The weather was chilly for June – I had to wear a jacket, so make sure to check the weather as France’s temp can be unpredictable.

The next day, my uncle brought us into Paris to help us get settled and do some sightseeing. He suggested getting a week-long metro pass (basically unlimited metro travel for seven days). The cost was about 22 Euro (plus the cost of a passport-sized photo), but I am SO glad we did this. The Paris Metro was extremely navigable, and we never worried about how much it would cost to get from place to place. Do not waste money on taxis – take the metro, especially during the day. It is easy to buy tickets – most folks speak English. *Tip: Don’t assume everyone speaks English, but just say, “Parlez-Vous Anglais?” which means, Do you speak English? – most Parisians appreciate the effort.*

After getting our train passes, we spent the day walking (probably about 12 miles throughout the day) to see some places like the Arc de Triomph, grounds of the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Another way we cut costs for this trip was with lodging. I did my research to find a good Air B&B. A studio apartment ended up being $140 a night (so splitting with a friend was about $70 each). We weren’t in city center, but the apartment was located in a residential neighborhood in Paris (Louis Michel) right across the street from a metro stop. It was quiet, and I felt safe walking around. We found out VERY quickly that restaurant food is pricey, so we tried to save some money by buying some food items from the grocery store around the corner from our apartment.

Once Lynnsey and I were on our own the next day, we went to Euro Disney! We got there on the train using our week-long passes. Ticket prices were a STEAL since we got them in advance before we left the states AND we went before European summer holidays (which take place in July/August). We paid $60 each for a joint ticket to Disneyland Park & Walt Disney Studios. Lines were pretty short, and we made some new friends, like Aladdin! Highlights of the day included the Ratatouille ride (it’s France, duh!), Crush’s Coaster, meeting Minnie Mouse, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Our third morning in Paris was spent on the Seine. Paying for a boat cruise (about $35) was money well spent! We got some amazing pictures of the Eiffel Tower and other structures along the Seine. We were unable to go into the heart of the city on the river because of security concerns during the Euro Cup, but it was still a great morning.

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In the afternoon, we went on a quest for macaroons! We did some research, and the place with the best reviews was Laduree. Macaroons (or macarons) are not cheap (about $4 each), so we considered this a splurge. They were beautiful, delicious and worth every penny.

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I can’t wait to spend more time in France when I have more time (and money!). I would like to spend some time at Versailles & the Louvre in Paris and visit the countryside (including wine country!). Until next time…

Prost, Prague!

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Prost, Prague!

Prague in the Czech Republic is such a delightful place. Why, you ask?

Maybe it’s because the locals drink more beer (per capita) than any other country in the world. Or maybe it’s because of its amusing street vendors and quaint shops. Either way, Prague is a great city; one I’d recommend to folks that are new to visiting Europe. Here’s why:

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Looks just like a postcard!

*Compared to other big cities we’ve been like San Francisco or Hong Kong, Prague was relatively inexpensive – we could get a nice meal and beer (for two) for about $30.

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Goulash Stew in Rye Bread-Bowl from our favorite restaurant in Prague: Mlejnice

*English is all around – from the store owners, to the signage, to the tourists, but you still get a eastern European vibe.

*Public transportation (the tram) is relatively easy once you figure out where to buy tickets (go to the newspaper stand!). Walking is also a great option.

Kevin and I arrived in Prague after spending several days in the Middle East. We stayed at the Hotel Century Old Town – our room was clean and simple, and it was in a good location although it wasn’t the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at (which is Hotel Amira in Istanbul, in case you were wondering).

Our first full day we did a lot of walking. so I am glad I was wearing my Birkenstock sandals which happen to be my absolute favorite summer travel shoe! We started by taking the tram to Prague Castle – the largest castle in the world! One neat fact about the castle is that the President of the Czech Republic still lives there. Kevin and I paid the $15 for the audio tour, and I’m glad we had it because there was A LOT to see and hear. Sometimes it is nice to learn some new things while going at your own pace. A highlight within the castle walls was the St. Vitus Cathedral – the Gothic architecture was gorgeous, and it was interesting to see some of the preservation work they were doing there. One thing to prepare yourself for: visitors are charged a small fee if you want to take photographs inside the castle.

Kev and I also enjoyed walking around the gardens of the castle – it was a really nice day and wasn’t too hot for being early June.

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After spending the whole morning at the castle we walked around Old Town and walked across the Charles Bridge. It was extremely crowded, but it was good people watching and we eventually came across a great happy hour deal – only a couple Euro for a half liter of Pilsner Urquell!

Our next full day was spent in the Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov. If you are a history/culture nerd like me, this part of Prague cannot be missed.  Entrance to the Jewish Museum, Cemetery and Synagogues was about $20 a person, and it was walking distance from Old Town. Kev and I learned so much about Jewish life and history, and we really admired the ornate decor of the Spanish Synagogue.

Many of Czechoslovakia’s Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and the Jewish Museum in Prague does a beautiful job of honoring the victims. We did not go, but I really wish we had carved out some time to take a day trip to the Terezin Concentration Camp.

We spent our afternoon taking a boat tour on the Vltava. The trip wasn’t far or long, but enjoying a beer and a mini-architectural tour of the city was an awesome way to spend a couple of hours! We also got some GREAT photographs.

All in all, Prague was a pleasure to visit. Three days was just enough time for us, but there is enough to do for people that wish to stay longer! Prost (Cheers), Prague!

 

Istanbul Not Constantinople!

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Istanbul Not Constantinople!

Quick history lesson: What IS the deal with Istanbul vs. Constantinople? To put it simply, Constantinople was the Christian name for the city, but the name changed to Istanbul when Islam became the predominant religion.

Istanbul, Turkey is the friendliest and most interesting place we have EVER been. I still can’t get over how amazing it was. While we did avoid group tours and large crowds, we felt safe walking around during the day and at night. The recent terror attacks are harming the economy of an INCREDIBLE city that depends on tourism, and our hearts go out to the Turkish people and all those in the world who are suffering at the hands of terrorism. Right now, we know Turkey is not the safest place to be, but if you EVER have the opportunity visit this city, go and you will have such an adventure.

Kevin and I stayed at the Hotel Amira in Sultanahamet (the old town). This hotel made our good Istanbul experience a GREAT one. Getting to the hotel from the airport was about 40 minutes and costed about $50. We arranged for transportation through the hotel. For $160 a night, we got free breakfast and afternoon tea, a rooftop terrace, and the best service we have ever had. The concierge (named AJ) who had perfect English sat with us on the terrace (after giving us a glass of wine) for 40 minutes to go over the city map and tips for our trip. Who does that?! So great. Our hotel room was spacious and they upgraded us to a balcony room. The hotel was also in walking distance to pretty much everything – 5 minutes from the Blue Mosque/city tram and 10 minutes to Hagia Sophia.

 

Like in the China post, I am going to post some must-sees/dos and some photographs underneath.

Hagia Sophia – Formerly a church turned mosque and now a museum. Get the museum pass if this is your first stop. If you go to at least 2 of the museums, it pretty much pays for itself.

Cisterns – This was a really unexpected, cool excursion. The cisterns are Roman-built and used to house the usable water underneath the city. This does not count as part of the museum pass, but is worth the money. This is right across the street from the Hagia Sophia.

Blue Mosque – This building is just beautiful, inside and out. If you are not wearing a long dress (females) or pants (males) the mosque will loan you clothing. Be prepared to take off your shoes inside. Wear socks.

Topaki Palace – This is included in your museum pass. It was so neat to see how the sultans lived. The tile-work is gorgeous. And the views from the palace are to-die for!

Grand Bazaar – You probably won’t get the best prices here unless you’re a master haggler, but it is definitely a fun experience and a must-see! It’s so cool to think that vendors have been selling there for centuries!

Bosphorus Cruise – This is the only “group” tour that we did. The cruise was amazing and probably our favorite part of the trip. We really liked seeing Asia on one side of the straight and Europe on the other! Our particular cruise also included a visit to the Yeni Cami Mosque and the Spice Market beforehand.

Restaurant Recommendations:

  • Babylonia in Sultanahamet
  • Fine Dine Istanbul – the view is the most incredible we’ve ever seen
  • Hamdi for kebabs

Some tips:

  • Turkey is still not part of the EU, so they do NOT use the Euro. Make sure you use Turkish Lira.
  • DO NOT take a taxi. Walk or use public transportation.
  • Be prepared to hear the Call to Prayer 5-6 times per day coming from the minarets of the mosques. Bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. It is such an eerie, beautiful sound.
  • Females, bring a scarf. Your head must be covered to enter mosques.
  • Dress conservatively. No tank tops. I wore short-sleeves and linen capris most of the time. Although Turkey is technically a secular country, it is predominantly Muslim in terms of population.

 

We hope to meet again, Istanbul.