Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Traveling Solo - How I chose my accommodations

One of the questions I've been asked the most since returning from my solo vacation was 'how did you decide where to stay?'

There are so many different options for you to choose from, Air BnB's, Bed & Breakfasts, hostels, hotels, boutique hotels, etc. It all depends on your personal preference, budget, and how you would like to spend your time.

Since I was never spending more than two nights in one location I decided against an Air BnB. Most of the Air BnB's I found were room rentals and I didn't feel comfortable staying in a strangers home as a single lady traveling alone.

There are an abundance of hostels throughout the UK + Ireland that come in all different price ranges. I wanted a place where I could unwind alone at night and have the freedom to shower with my bathroom door open. There are plenty of hostels where you can get a private room with a private bathroom, but I noticed that those would be just as much, if not more, than a regular hotel room.

Bed & Breakfasts seemed to be the way to go in the Highlands and traveling around Ireland, but they will typically be in the country which requires a car. Even though I rented a car during my time in Ireland, I didn't want to have to worry about going out to dinner and enjoying a drink or two and driving. 

When it came to hotels, I didn't want to stay in a Holiday Inn and my budget wouldn't allow me to stay at the Ritz Carlton, so I had a list of must have's, created maps of sites I wanted to visit in London, Edinburgh and Ireland, and worked from there.

Must have's: WiFi, comfortable bed, hot shower with strong water pressure, central location and a 3+ Trip Advisor rating.

Airways Hotel Victoria London ***
Single Room $130/night
I stayed at the Airways Hotel Victoria which put me within a 1-2 mile walk to every destination I wanted to visit. My room was small and simple, but the room was clean, the bed was comfortable and the shower was exactly what I wanted after an 8+ hour flight and walking around all day.

The location was perfect for me with a main train station just down the street and several bus stops near by. I only took two taxi's while in London, one from the airport (about 40 min away) and one to my train station to take the train up to Edinburgh (about 20 minutes away).

The Place Hotel ****
Single Room $104-$110/night
The Place Hotel is listed as a luxury boutique hotel for the Georgian style building it is located in. The room layout was very similar to my room at the Airways Hotel, small room, single bed, but clean and with basic amenities like shampoo, soap, body lotion and an electric kettle for tea or coffee. 

There was also a restaurant and bar in The Place Hotel that had very good food and a full bar selection. I took advantage of the onsite restaurant after returning from my bus tour and being in the rain all day, I just wanted some comfort food and to crawl into bed with a cider :) 

The Waverley Train Station is where my train dropped me off from London and that was just a three block walk to my hotel. The beginning of the tram is also right outside of The Place Hotel which made getting to the airport a breeze. 

Fort Williams:
Guisachan Guesthouse ****1/2 
Single Room $50/night
The Guisachan Guesthouse was booked for me through the bus tour that I took to the Highlands. We had an option to choose a hostel, hotel or bed & breakfast and I opted for the bed & breakfast. Once again, the room was small with all the same amenities as the hotels I had stayed at. I really appreciated the makeup remover wipes and Q tips. They also included free breakfast that smelled amazing but I had to skip out on since my alarm didn't go off and I almost missed the bus.

The House Hotel ****1/2 
Standard Room $160/night
I have to say, The House Hotel was my favorite hotel of my whole trip. I had a car at this time and there is a car park about 1/4 mile down the street to park and the hotel will give you a discounted rate.

This was the first elevator I had encountered on my trip and I was surprised to see such a spacious room with a King size bed. This was also the first hotel that provided free bottled water and conditioner. There was an onsite restaurant and bar that I took advantage of at the end of the night and they made one heck of a ham and cheese sandwich.

The House Hotel is just a block off from High Street, a pedestrian street lined with pubs, restaurants, shops and street performers.

Foley's Guesthouse **** 1/2
Deluxe Single Room $79/night
When I originally decided to spend the night in Kenmare I had booked a bed & breakfast outside of town. I'm happy that I found Foley's because it was raining the whole time I was there which meant there was only one thing for me to do...try every pub.

Foley's was listed as a luxury hostel all with individual rooms and bathrooms. My room had a Queen size bed and all the amenities of the previous hotels I had stayed in, but it was upstairs from a pub. Win win!

You can't beat it's location and with having a car, there was an abundance of free parking lots, and I was able to leave my car on the street overnight with no issues.

The Temple Bar Inn ****
Double Room $140/night
I picked the Temple Bar Inn for two things. It's location smack dab in the middle of Temple Bar and it's price for the location. It was on the trendier side like The House Hotel, and I loved it. The bathroom was spacious, the bed was incredibly comfortable and it was stocked with shampoo, conditioner, soap and body lotion. Because the hotel is right in the middle of a very busy area, there was a door man/security on duty 24/7. I never felt unsafe, but it added that extra level of security.

Because Temple Bar Inn is in such a busy area, the room came with ear plugs which I never had a need for since the windows seemed to keep the sound out. This was also the first hotel that had a stoked mini fridge.

I booked a majority of my hotels through Travelocity since I received a discount after booking my flight through them and the discount would get a little better with every hotel I booked.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

UK + Ireland Part 3

I think I've left you in suspense long enough. Here's my final recap of my trip to the UK and Ireland.

This is a tough one for me to write because my feelings are all over the board as to how I felt about my time in Ireland.

Ireland was the whole reason this trip even happened, and now that it's all said and done, I didn't give myself enough time to see and do everything I had hoped to see and do. Now I know what not to do for the next time I visit the Emerald Isle.

The view leaving Edinburgh was absolutely spectacular.

From the moment we were above the clouds the shadow of our little plane was in this sun rainbow. As a person who doesn't absolutely love to fly (it was also 9/11), it was almost a sign of saying everything will be ok. The landing was a tad rough due to the gale force winds, but we landed safe and sound.

 Once we landed I picked up this beauty who would be my traveling side kick for a couple of days. As a pro little car driver and someone who's mastered Minneapolis snow and ice covered streets, driving on their tiny roads wasn't as difficult as everyone scared me in to believing.

 On my way to Galway I stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs of Moher weren't something I thought I'd have to see until I arrived and realized just how amazing they really are. I thought I'd walk up, snap a few pictures and be back in my little Mii and on my way.  I hopped a fence with about a hundred other trespassers  and walked along a muddy trail next to an electrical fence that may or may not have given me a nice little jolt as I reached out to grab my balance. 

Considering the alternative, that little jolt of electrical current rushing through my body wasn't so bad.

It felt like every step I took was a completely different view and constantly had me swearing to myself in awe of just how massive these cliffs are.

The winds were incredibly strong to the point that people were losing items left and right. Something flew out of my pocket as I was trying to walk up some steps. Good news is, I haven't realized I'm missing anything, so it must not have been very important.

 I had to force myself to leave since I still had a bit of a drive in front of me and I wanted to have enough time to explore Galway.

No one really knew what the meaning of this was. There were a lot of hair ties tied to this fence which was at the end of the trail I was on.

When I got to Galway, I checked into my hotel, The House Hotel. It was a pretty cool hotel right in the Latin Quarter.

 It was pretty nice to have a hotel with an elevator...excuse me, a lift, and a king sized bed. They had free wifi and water in the room which I made sure to drink. It was absolutely lovely.

 After I was settled in my room I hit the pavement and explored Galway. 

 I walked up and down the streets, popping in to different shops and grabbing ciders and food along the way.

 The music scene in Galway was one of the best yet, from the folks playing on the street, to the bands in the pubs, I couldn't get over all the amazing music!

The next morning I woke up with the plan to drive the Ring of Kerry. I had mapped out my drive and saved the route in Google Maps. I clicked on The Ring of Kerry and was off!

About two hours into my drive, I started to have second thoughts about driving another three hours in the wind, rain and fog. Somehow, the universe was with me because I checked my GPS and instead of taking me on my planned Ring of Kerry drive, it was taking me to the store, Ring of Kerry in Kenmare where I was staying the night.

I took that as a sign and continued on my way to Kenmare.

Kenmare was everything I had hoped it was going to be. It's just a triangle with all one way driving. The streets are lined with colorful pubs and shops.

From the moment I arrived in Kenmare, it rained.

I was already soaking wet so I ventured slightly outside the triangle and found this beautiful church.

What most people don't know is that this area of Ireland is actually a sub tropical environment and there were palm trees/bushes everywhere! I was told that the weather they were having that particular day was similar to a winter day for them. Lucky me!

Market in Kenmare.

Foley's Guesthouse is where I spent the night. Since some of the pubs and restaurants were already implementing their winter hours, the evening was rather quiet but it was still fun to pop into different pubs since every. single. pub. had live music and/or dancers. When I headed back to Foley's, I was pleased to see that they had two different performers for the night so I bellied up to the bar, enjoyed my four favorite foods/drinks, cider, potatoes, bacon and cheese before climbing the steepest three flights of stairs to my room.

I was feeling pretty good about how the day turned out so I thought I'd get my Irish music set up to play while I took a quick shower. To amplify the sound, I tried to put my phone in the water glass next to the sink. Well, turns out the glass was a tad small, my phone didn't like that, and plunged into the toilet. Luckily, the toilets in Ireland don't have nearly as much water in them as they do in the US, so I was able to snatch it out rather quick, let it dry and after a couple hours it was as good as it was before it took a dip.

All that rain from the day before made for quite a beautiful morning. As I was walking to my car, I turned around to find this amazing rainbow coming out from this shop down the street. It was fading fast as the sun was rising, but it was quite surreal how close and vibrant it was.

It was time to say goodbye to Kenmare and hello to Dublin, but first - a stop at the Blarney Castle.

I arrived just past 9:00 AM when the castle opens which had me feeling like I had the grounds to my self.

The castle was pretty neat to explore and I really liked that there was one set of stairs to go up and one set to go down. Until someone gets three steps from the top and decides they can't go any further and uses the up stairs to go down.

 The folks at the top of this picture were kissing the Blarney Stone and I did the same. Bought the super flattering picture as proof. Another bonus of arriving when the castle opened, no line and waaaay less lips had touched the stone.

 For a castle, I was surprised at just how small the rooms were. Maybe I've been watching too much Game of Thrones, but the rooms were similar size to a King sized bed.

I walked through the castle, read a few plaques, snapped some pictures and headed back to my car. As I was walking out, waves and waves of people were walking towards me and multiple buses were pulling into the parking lot. 

By this point in my trip, groups/tours were not my friends.

I checked and double checked that my directions were in fact taking me to the Dublin airport to drop off my rental car. After a near run in with a horse, I found the tollways, returned my car with no extra scratches and all it's mirrors and doors, called a cab, and headed into Dublin.

 As soon as I arrived in Dublin I met up with my cousin who showed me around.  We came across this statue of Molly Malone and she somehow convinced me that it's good luck to rub her breasts so I obliged...just waiting for that good luck to kick in!

 Cousins in Dublin!

Mattie and I did some cousin bonding over a few cocktails. She took me to some of the pubs she likes to visit...

...and Whelans from P.S. I Love You!

After my time with Mattie I grabbed some dinner which was just mozzarella sticks because I was going through withdrawls and I needed fried cheese. stat.

I bopped around Temple Bar for a bit before meeting up with an old co-worker who has been living in Dublin for a while. He was entertaining some colleagues that were in town from Minnesota so I tagged along with them and had a great first day and night in Dublin.

 Day two in Dublin and my last day of vacation was a pretty relaxed day. I wasn't feeling super hot, chalk that up to walking around in wind and rain and a late night out. I walked around checking out different menu's and was sold as soon as I saw Guinness Beef Stew at the Old Mill Restaurant.

Not sure what to do with myself, I signed up for a Vikings tour that took us around Dublin and finished in the canal. Of course it rained the whole time and my seat was one that wasn't under the roof. 

 After the tour I walked around some more, bought myself some wool items to take back with me and decided I would have an early night in.

On my walk back to the hotel I stopped in a small Italian restaurant called La Gondola and ordered one of my favorite meals that doesn't consist of meat and potatoes. Caesar salad and alfredo. It hit the spot and I was able to leave pleasantly stuffed.

 The iconic Temple Bar. 

  I had some euro's left over that I didn't want to bother exchanging so since I was going to have an early night in, I popped into the Tesco next to my hotel and picked up some snacks and a three pack of mini proseccos! Why don't our liquor stores have these amazing concoctions? 

It was finally time to bid farewell to my home in Dublin and head back to the U.S. 

Well there you have it. 10 days, 3 countries, 8 different modes of transportation and a whole lot of memories.

Ireland, I will definitely see you again and for a much longer period of time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

UK + Ireland Part 2

Welcome to Scotland!

I had never taken a train before so I booked myself a first class seat on Virgin East Coast. From the moment I arrived at the correct train station in London, everything was smooth railing up to Edinburgh! 

First class single seat with all the outlets, free WiFi, and food & beverages a girl could ask for. It wasn't until I was served breakfast that consisted of a role stuffed with bacon that I really understood that these are my people.

The Waverly station seemed like a whole little city within a city and I found myself on these steps several times throughout my stay in Edinburgh.

I had two nights in Edinburgh on either side of my highlands tour and I decided to stay at the same place, The Place Hotel, both nights (green flags). I have never met a friendlier group of people that work in a hotel. 

I spent my first day walking around town, popping in and out of shops and pubs trying to escape the large crowds.

What they don't tell you about Scotland, or at least what no one told me, is that it's incredibly hilly! I'm pretty sure it didn't matter what direction I was headed, I was always going up.

Since there was one direction, up, I went as high as I could and checked out the Edinburgh Castle. I arrived just in time to catch the firing of the 1:00 gun and view the crown jewels and the stone of destiny. I'm not much of a history buff, or a fan of large crowds so I buzzed through a few more buildings before calling it good.

Edinburgh Castle

There was something about the city of Edinburgh that I completely fell for. It wasn't a place I had longed to visit, but now that I have, I know I will definitely be back in the future.

The Royal Mile/High Street

The Royal Mile/High Street

The Royal Mile/High Street

Victoria Street

 When you're in a pub, drinking a tasty new-to-you cider and you look across the street and see this, you know you've found your happy place.

On my way back to my hotel, I wasn't quite ready to call it a night, but wan't to find a place closer to home and stumbled upon a comedy club across the street from my hotel. I thought the Scottish accents would be really fast and thick and I wouldn't be able to understand much, but it was one of the funniest comedy shows I have ever been to!

Days two and three in Scotland were spent driving throughout the highlands. I booked myself a two day bus tour that took us from the east coast to the west (only a 45 min drive) and all the way North up to Inverness.

 The first day of the tour took us to Glasgow, Wallace Monument (two pictures above), the city of Killin, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe, Glenfinnan Viaduct and Fort William, where we spent the night.

Wallace Monument

 View from the top of the Wallace Monument

 Lunch stop in Kilmahog
This rascal ignored me until I turned my back to take a picture.

 These cows are some of the silliest looking things and I hope to have one grazing in my back yard someday. They also like carrots and potatoes just as much as I do.

Rannoch Moor

 Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter train bridge)

The white house was my B&B for the night in Fort Williams

I wasn't sure what my time in Fort Williams was going to be like. I was staying at the B&B by myself, the rest of my tour went to other hostels/hotels. After I checked in, I walked in to town which was about three blocks of closed shops and a few restaurants/pubs. I was lucky to get one of the last tables in a restaurant called The Tavern where I enjoyed my first fish & chips of the trip along with a Ben Nevis whisky. Remembered, I hate whisky.

I didn't want to sit at my B&B - the hosts were quite rude when I checked in, so I wandered into a few pubs before I found one I liked. It just so happened that I was also the only girl in the whole pub. There were a few futbol/football matches going on so it was sporty and lively, just the way I like it.

As I ordered what was to be my last cider of the night, two guys approached me and absolutely made my night! From sharing about our lives, what we do, asking questions about America and Scotland, it was exactly what I needed. They explained all the appropriate times to call someone a 'wanker', how they use the 'C' word in a completely different way than we do here, and also taught me a few phrases. Luckily I recorded one of them, but lord knows what the guy is actually saying.

Anyway, Dom & Rich from Inverness, thanks for showing an American girl a great time in a quiet Scottish village.

 Day two of the tour started out rainy and cold and ended rainy and cold. We visited the Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, and Ben Nevis before heading back to Edinburgh.

 I was slightly bummed out about visiting the Eilean Donan castle. It was very high on my list of places to see and unfortunately it didn't live up to my hopes and dreams of what it could be. Blame it on the recording of pots and pans clinking in what was supposed to be the kitchen, or the rain, wind and cold, I don't know. I think I had built it up so much in my head from all the movies I've seen it in that seeing the cheesiness of what they've done to it, just took all those special thoughts away.

 Just one of many full rainbows I was able to see. 

It's amazing what you can cram in to three days in such a small country.

My final leg of the trip is Ireland. Recap to come soon!