It all started when we took a train to Copenhagen city center to do one thing: a free walking tour at 3pm.
We found the main square and waited for 20 minutes. It’s an oddly warm day in Denmark, so we’re sitting and sweating. I’m admiring the 2-story Burger King on the corner, and Mark is observing this guy as part of some kind of stag party doing really socially awkward things to embarrass him.
We’re looking for a guide that, per reviews, is wearing a green shirt with a green umbrella. 3pm comes and goes with no mass tour assembling and no green t-shirt tour guide. According to Google Maps, the pickup point for the walking tour was at the entrance of a hotel. We go to the hotel and ask the lovely gent at the desk where the meet point actually is. He tells us to go out of the hotel and turn left, then we would see the meeting point behind the hotel.
We follow his instructions into a narrow pedestrian way that’s filled with the sweet aroma of hookah. Our eyes scan both sides of this walkway, and we don’t see any signage pointing to a walking tour. I’m well past frustrated and teetering on embroiled.
Mark checks the reservation and it says to meet at the steps of town hall. We go to town hall and wait for over 15 minutes. The original tour has long departed. We decide to wait for the next one, at 4. We go get overpriced froyo, sit on town hall steps and wait.
4pm comes and goes. No gathering of tourists. No guy in a green shirt. I go so far as to approach strangers in green shirts and ask them if they’re tour guides. We wander around a narrow street and into a shop with blue and white tourist info sign and ask about the tour. She lets us know that there wasn’t a walking tour today. Color me surprised.
We decide to take the high road and instead of chew this woman’s ear off, to go to Malmö, Sweden instead, since we’re in the business of collecting countries and all.
She shows us the schedule of the coach times to Malmö and transit times. It’s an hour to Sweden and an hour back to Denmark. While we can get to Sweden before day turns to night, the last coach back from Malmö departs 2 hours later, at 6pm. That didn’t work because we had an early am flight from Denmark the next day.
Disappointed by the lie that was the free walking tour and the unusable coach to Sweden, we schlepped back to the AC Bella Sky and enjoyed two Scandinavian priced (read: unreasonably expensive) appetizers.
Summary: If you want the walking tour, find the tourist office first and ask if they’re even doing a tour. And if you want to do a day trip to Sweden, leave Copenhagen before 9am. It’s $10 each way.
Starting in 2013, we began our journey by driving around the United States of America with the only intention being to gather pictures of ourselves next to each state welcome sign. That trip turned into something much more – it sparked the realization that as large as the United States seemed to be, we were missing out on something by staying within the bounds of our home country – a global perspective.
There are 24,642,757 square miles of habitable space in the world and 7.2 billion people living within 196 countries. With all of these people within all of these countries it doesn’t seem fair to be speed travelers spending two days in capital cities to make determinations about the world. Such quick stays are unlikely to provide much perspective on the way life is lived.
We want to experience difficulty communicating, difficulty getting around, and completely surrender of the congested, exhaust filled wide highways that belt the United States.
Over the past 2 1/2 years, we have traded in a life of huge highways for two lane roads that
In Costa Rica we drove on roads with potholes so large they could break axles.
In Bulgaria we have stayed in villages with less than 500 people and even fewer resources. Where the best internet we could update our blog from was a half lit connection from an iPhone nestled on the top of the roof, traded American standards of plumbing for long drop toilets and experienced what it meant to reuse and repurpose everything you buy and everything you produce.
We wanted the edge – where you’re wondering why you would ever sign up for a cross country bus with no toilets.
We have been robbed of sleep, found like-minded travelers, and met people living on less money than we made in a week in The United States, yet were a great deal happier and more giving.
While our travels have been filled with challenges and difficulties, we have also received some of the warmest welcomes from people in countries that notoriously ‘despise’ Americans. We have experienced first hand how schools in Finland are operated. We have learned of historic figures that have made pretty dramatic changes within countries that we would never have read about in our history books. We have seen landscapes that make you say, “Wow”.
It’s true, we have also participated in some of the touristy bits of travel, but that is just another part of the experience.
If anything, our appetite for travel has grown during the last 2 1/2 years. We have learned as much (if not more) about ourselves as we have about the world. Our desire to see the world has continued on an exponential growth curve as we have more experiences – ultimately filling us with a greater number and complexity of questions.
While we are not always sure where our experiences and journeys will take us, we will continue to eagerly pursue them.
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves.
If you’re a modest beer fan or with someone who is, the Guinness storehouse is a sensory overload. Six floors of beer and Irish history will fascinate and bewilder you. I wasn’t a fan of Guinness (too dark, too heavy, too bitter) until I took this tour. I’m glad Mark really wanted to go, and in a selfless act of love I went along.
Planning the trip, you’ll do best allowing three hours for it. Stepping into this building is like stepping into a time machine. You’re lost in the process, the maze that is the storehouse, and after enjoying the best Guinness you’ll arguably ever have, you’ll probably not want to leave.
Entry is 10% off if you book online, which we did. I was surprised this isn’t a guided tour. Everything is self guided and at your own pace, which is typically disappointing to me because I remember less if I’m reading it. However, Mark’s wealth of knowledge made it seem like I had one anyway. At one point, he was explaining the process of where the stout goes after its different stages and a small crowd had gathered around him. I was disappointed that an audio tour wasn’t available in English either, but it is for eleven other languages. Complimentary of course.
At the entrance is a piece of paper in the floor with thick glass covering it. That is Arthur Guinness’ 9,000 year lease in the 1750s. Can’t imagine what people are going to make of this note when it expires though.
Then the tour begins! There’s a huge area of barley which I could not resist running my hands through and feeling the texture between my fingers. Videos of the barley growing/ collection process play on overhead projectors. There are a LOT of people. I didn’t really grasp why organizations limited the number of visitors to a place until we were in here. The line moves relatively quickly, through the general fermentation process.
This storehouse, St James’ Gate, is absolutely enormous – 55 acres of dark, beautiful Guinness-brewing sensationalism. The public is allowed through six floors, but they’re not fooling me – I know there’s much more to this enterprise than Guinness lets on. Over three million pints are made here – DAILY. That’s a modest amount of Guinness, right? Nearly 75% of all of Ireland’s barley goes to making this iconic stout – the most popular in the world, in fact.
It could be a little bit of madness, but I swore up and down I would never enjoy a Guinness, and yet here I found myself, next to Mark, enjoying a properly poured Guinness at the ever-impressive yet crowded Skybar.
This four part series is a compilation of something both memorable and shocking for each of the countries we have visited. Alas, the first of an ever evolving set of self-reflective, preparation posts for the questions that I’ll inevitably get when I return home:
“What’s changed?” and “Do you feel any different?”
And I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis: Day to day, nothing seems different, until one day you look back and find that everything has changed.
This is more a fun, haphazard collection of preconceived ideas, romantic fantasies and expectations of easy living I had before and during the visits to the following countries, along with their earth-shattering thought replacements:
There are absolutely zero downfalls of public transportation! – England
Or so I said, before visiting London, which is really a country in itself. Not only does it get uber smelly on the underground, which is always busy, even at 1pm on a Wednesday, but tube strikes are not uncommon. Have you ever been to London when there’s a tube strike going on? The giant sidewalks aren’t big enough for the throngs of people waiting for the buses that are already full of smelly people nor are the roads able to afford anyone unlucky enough to be driving a car during a tube strike any traveling space. The tube strike that happened in July cost London nearly $500 million.
New thought: Sometimes, public transportation and the throngs of people in your personal space actually really sucks.
Every capital city is worth going to. – Norway
Norway, for at least one year out of the past five, was the most expensive country on the planet. And we were warned that Oslo is perhaps the most underwhelming capital city Europe has to offer (We’ve since found one worse). Go to Norway? Yes. Go to Oslo? Hell no. Save yourself. Go anywhere else in Norway. Don’t go to Oslo.
Pub dinner: $110 Oslo’s version of Chipotle: $38
How can I eat my way through culture when every time I take a bite money actually ejects itself from my wallet and self-destructs?
Please don’t visit Oslo. Seriously.
New thought: After a dozen or so capital cities, they all really look the same. Fly into a capital city, and establish an adventure base elsewhere.
The United Kingdom totally drives in kilometers per hour just like the rest of the continent. – Scotland
One of those situations where I would have bet money that I was right and I would have lost the bet. Funny story, abridged:
We rented a car in Edinburgh and got on the motorway (highway for us Americans) and came to a sign that says 70, so we do 70 kph. We approach signs telling us speed cameras. Other cars flash high-beams and swerve around us. We think all those people are stupid and are all getting speeding tickets. Next day, we confirm Mark’s suspicion. The UK drives in MPH, not KPH. The clincher? Distance is measured in meters, as in, “Hotel, 800 meters ahead.” Way to be confusing, Britain.
New thought: UK (and Ireland) drive on the left. Rest of Europe, on the right.
Ireland is the place to get drunk on the cheap.
With the reputation that Ireland has of being a nation in perpetual drunkenness, I definitely thought that it would be ridiculously cheap to drink here – say 2 or 3 euros for a beer.
Color me surprised, it’s not.
It’s about 5 or 6 euros for a beer, and more in the touristy Temple Bar area, which is definitely not acceptable for drinking on a budget.
The tour of the Guinness Storehouse did shine a bit of light on a Guinness pour: if you get your stout less than two minutes after you requested it, the bartender poured it wrong. There’s mad science behind all of this which Mark is slated to explain.
New thought: Get drunk in Prague. Cheaper and more interesting a crowd.
Living above restaurants is awesome and I want to have the life Marshall & Lily have. – Belgium
Wow, I was dead wrong on this. We stayed at an Airbnb that was up 8 very dark flights of stairs. The building apparently had no lights. The entrance opened up into the street with a restaurant to the left and to the right. I’m not a morning person, and I am very used to a long wake-up period. Not so in Brussels. As soon as we opened the door people were milling about in front of it from dawn to the middle of the night. After our evening meal and drinks, near the wee hours of the morning, we had to push people out of the way to get to the front door. Once we traipsed up eight flights of stairs in total darkness, we thought we’d be in the zone to sleep, but we couldn’t, because it was so dreadfully hot we had to leave the windows open and thus gave us an earful of the drunken commotion happening below.
New Thought: Overhearing yelling, screaming, fighting and crying until 3 or 4 in the morning is definitely not my idea of a good time or a good stay.
Have you been to any of these places? What were your experiences? Send us a shout in the comments below.
In a universe far, far away, the Colosseum isn’t a hive swarming of tourists without deodorant. It isn’t in an awkward stage of half renovation where one side of the amphitheater looks completely fake and the other is a historic wonder of the world.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that universe. I’d love to visit the Colosseum in those circumstances. Begrudgingly sometimes I go to such iconic places because it seems to make every life that visits it so. much. better.
The Colosseum is impressive. It is worth visiting. Because I know you’re going to go, here’s seven survival tips to make it much more enjoyable.
7. If you’re going between April and October, go to your Dollar Store/ Poundland and buy handheld fans.
Otherwise you’ll melt. Honestly. Imagine a human current that takes you to different places and you’re shuffling along (and not in the cool way). There’s no way to not sweat. Bring a handheld fan and not only do you get to keep cool but you also get to accidentally hit stupid people that intentionally block your photo.
6. Toilet before you walk.
Toilets are by the audioguide pickup which is really inconvenient to get toonce you’ve started walking around, that is. You have to walk downstairs (or through a hallway) and then you have to shuffle and scoot past the people that are trying to enter and shuffle and scowl at the people crowded around the audioguide pickup because the concept of a queue is lost here.
5. BYOB. Water bottles, that is.
I did mention it gets atrociously hot. Put some water bottles in the freezer and take them with you in your satchel/ man purse/ backpack and by the time you get into the Colosseum you’ll have about half a bottle of water to drink.
4. Buy your tickets here. Don’t be a dimwit and think you want to buy them at the door. Breezing past all of those people makes you feel like:
And who doesn’t want to feel like that?
3. Pack a 4-liter bottle of patience. Or maybe just bring a flask to tolerate the very annoying groups.
You know, the kind that everyone loves that amass a group of about 20-30 people and then STOP RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALKWAY AND DECIDE TO GIVE A TEN MINUTE DISSERTATION ABOUT BRICKS.
Lovely, jovial older Italian gentleman who cracks jokes and has a sweet smile. They have little croissants for 3 euro and some really good espresso and Mark ordered lasagna which was divine and then some. Oh and for all my fellow AC-loving Americans, they have real air conditioning!
1. Get up at 7am and take the first uber there around 8am.
Thank God Uber is here! The Colosseum is worth losing sleep to get even an hour without the droning and humming of the mid-morning tourists.
If you would like a quick look at the interior, from our perspective while we visited, see below!
Exploring the Highlands, if only for a day, is a must for any itinerary to Scotland. Deceivingly, they look much closer than they actually are. This is because in order for the Highlands to be Highlands, they have to be mountainous, rugged terrain, that’s what makes them Highlands. Navigating a road on this terrain is no small matter, and neither is driving on it.
Most people opt for the road-more-traveled: a day trip in a coach where you are comfortable and a driver takes you right to the scenic area, you take a dozen snapshots and return to your home, satisfied.
That’s not how we travel. We like to do things on our own.
I would have loved to do this drive by myself except manual transmissions and I don’t always get along. In some cars, like Hondas, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to drive. But the car we had wasn’t a Honda. It was a manual transmission car on the opposite side of the road with the driver’s seat where the passenger seat usually is. So Mark had to do the driving. All six hours of it.
If you’re in Glasgow and you want to get a taste of the Highlands, go to Glencoe. You don’t need to drive to Inverness or even Cairngorns National Park, though both of those are beautiful beyond belief and you could spend a week in either location.
Glencoe is a good introduction to the Highlands that will leave you salivating for more.
Getting through and out of Glasgow is a pretty boring, but once you leave the area, the road starts winding and taking sharp turns, twisting and the roads are narrow. Not just American narrow, but barely enough to fit two cars around the corner. There’s no room for error. It’s difficult to shift, keep your eyes on the road, and take a sip of water, so for the driver, it’s generally a stressful drive. About 40 minutes north of Glasgow, we lost cell phone service and entered Loch Lomond.
One of the things we look for is a waterfall. Whenever we land in a new place, we immediately go on a waterfall hunt. We heard that a waterfall existed in Loch Lomond National Park (Which you have to drive through to get to Glencoe) but we weren’t really optimistic about spotting it since there were no exits off of the road. However, a lovely, poorly marked sign indicated a parking area for us to pulll off. We did, if for nothing else than to take a quick hike down to the river and take in some of the gorgeous scenery. What we found was Falls of Falloch, a lovely waterfall hidden nested back at the end of a moderate hike.
Once we got out Loch Lomond, the scenery becomes much more dramatic and more beautiful.
The problem with doing a self-drive in Scotland is there is virtually no where to stop for a picture. Miles and miles of breathtaking, jaw-dropping lush green and towering waterfalls and there is nothing to travel on but this narrow two-lane road.
So when we finally saw a parking lot to stop, we slammed on our brakes for it. We missed it and decided to pull off on the side of the road, as it appeared to have a shoulder. We do not recommend doing this. Once we pulled over, the rocky terrain grabbed the tires and cut them to the left. The car sank into the mud. The entire left side of the car was in the mud. Tires spinning, clutch burning. I was definitely convinced we were stuck. We were hungry. Gas was nearly empty. It seemed like the beginning to a Stephen King novel. I tried to lift the car out of the mud (most European cars can be lifted by a person of moderate strength), but I couldn’t get a grip on what needed to be lifted up. So Mark trusts me to operate a left-hand drive car while he lifts the car up and out of the goo and…well, forty minutes later, we were back on the road.
Extraordinary right? I couldn’t get enough of it.
Another couple of hours later, we arrived into Fort William. I expected more of a town than It actually is, but on one side of the road is a row of bed and breakfasts, and on the other is a beautiful lake and mountains.
We are looking for a place to stay, or get information, but things aren’t very well marked out. Apple Maps finally makes a comeback, as we haven’t had map service since Glasgow. What a relief. I find the tourist information center and the woman there recommends a park called Glen Nevis. Says it has some waterfalls and a few nice hikes, best part of everything? It’s free! Off we go to Glen Nevis.
Glen Nevis really is like walking into the wilderness of the Highlands. It’s one-way dirt roads with pullouts to let the other cars pass by. We drive 7 miles on this narrow, gritty dirty road all the way to the end and get out. There’s one waterfall at the end of the trail so we follow it. The trail starts out pretty easy but gets pretty dramatic. Water trickles over exposed rocks and the air begins to thin. Elevation gains are made quickly but the scenery is breathtaking. Strongly recommend hiking boots or strong sturdy hiking shoes.
The trail opens up into a field, where you’re in the valley of the Highlands and you can see the waterfall. It’s possible at the end, to get closer to it, and you can climb over the rocks, I recommend you bring food, at least a few snacks, to sit on the rocks and enjoy the picnic time and the view.
We brought cheerios and we wish we had brought more. Keep in mind this is a national park of sorts, so there’s no trash or rubbish bins. There’s a rope bridge, which looks a lot like a tightrope, you can cross, if you dare. It’s a bit scary, the first few steps, but as long as no one else is on it, shaking it or moving it about wildly, it’s an exhilarating experience. It’s also a lot higher up than it looks from the underside of it.
However, once you get to the other side, there isn’t much to see, there’s a house, but not much after it. We thought we could get closer to the waterfall and wound up stepping into a bog and getting covered in mud up to our knees.
The hiking back as or seemed faster than it actually was to get to the waterfall. Maybe it was because I was tired or maybe it was easier after the hike there. There are plenty more things in the park to explore. It’s worth at least two full days, as there are waterfalls in nearly every corner and dramatic drop-offs everywhere you look.
It’s no small task to visit the Louvre. Spoiler alert: this is not a leisurely stroll where you can really absorb what you’re reading. Why you ask? Unless one of your languages is French, you won’t be able to read any of the signs for the artwork. I don’t understand why other museums around the world can post signage in two or four languages, but for some reason the Louvre has decided not to do that.
It’s an optic overload. The museum is housed inside of palace and that’s evidenced by the frescoes on the ceiling, the ornate gold on the walls and around the windows, and the sheer size of it.
Artifacts, paintings, and priceless memoirs of early human existence cover over 600,000 square feet/ 60,000 square meters of space. Three hours of moseying around this grand palace and my tootsies were getting very sore. There are ample places to sit, so they got that right.
Getting to the Louvre
Nearly everyone and their mom arrives via the subway/ metro, which dumps you into an exit where you arrive to the Louvre and you’re in fact surrounded by shops. This is really surreal, at least for me, because I literally uttered WTF while looking at the Apple Store – Thankfully it provides wifi. It’s just under the big glass pyramid.
Inevitably, there will be a long line jutting through the centre near where the two pyramids meet. This is the line to get through security. Note that if you are buying your ticket at the louvre, you must go through security first and then purchase your ticket at one of the counters that say, color me surprised, tickets.
Getting into the Louvre
Ticket machines and tellers are on the perimeter once you go through security. If you get lost look for the information desk, then focus your eyes past that and there’s a ticket area on the other side. Kind of brilliant really. If you have an international bank card that does not require a signature, you can use the ticket machines. Otherwise, you have to queue for a teller. Took me about two minutes on a Sunday afternoon, so not bad.
I picked up my ticket (€15 as of August 2015) and headed to the information desk to pick up a complimentary map of the museum. I thought it would be reassuring to know where galleries are at, but in fact it made me realize that there’s no way I could possibly cover it all.
So, focus on what you like. Do you like looking at marble slabs of rock hard abs carved by Michelangelo? Or would you rather see paintings? Or are you more interested in the Egyptian, Greek or Roman artifacts? (There are rooms dedicated to each). Pin this down before you get started to increase your odds of having a good time.
Then go to those first. I prefer looking at paintings so I can marvel at the texture, color composition, and the expressions on the subjects’ faces rather than Venus de Milo.
Disclaimer: Be honest with yourself. No matter how famous something is…if you’re not interested in that form of art, don’t spend the time, the patience and the energy looking for it and taking a mediocre picture of it. To take a picture and post it of something without knowing who the artist is or the inspiration of the work is a flimsy thing to do.
You don’t have to enjoy or give attention to every type of art.
Honestly, after about three hours I was “arted” out. And I like art.
I saved the Mona Lisa for the end of my trip becaus I knew once I bore the brunt of the crowds I would be done with the museum. Turns out I know myself pretty well. There is signage everywhere pointing you to the Mona Lisa. It’s on the first floor in, naturally, the halls of the Italian paintings. On very busy days you will see a queue to see the Mona Lisa.
In this case, a Sunday afternoon, I was lucky to have to battle an arc of people about twelve people deep. When I visited the Mona Lisa in 2007, pictures were prohibited. Anyone caught with a camera was escorted out of the gallery. Now pictures are allowed, but no flash is permitted. Great, you’re thinking, except now we live in a world of selfie sticks and people jousting one another to make room for them and their selfie sticks. Not to mention its August, so it’s hot, and people are sweating, and odds are if you visit from March to September it will be smelly. That’s not too pleasant. So there’s people being smelly and being shovey and making room for their selfie sticks selfishly and I kind of just wanted to hit them with it instead of admire the Mona Lisa.
I took my little picture of her cheeky little grin and found my way out quickly as the museum closes at 6pm (9:45pm on Wednesday and Friday).
I thought going a little more toward closing time would mean less of a crowd. Maybe what I experienced was a dwindle compared to what the day saw earlier, but half an hour to closing the place was still packed with people swarming everywhere like the Louvre is a hive. I stayed right until closing time and took the first metro home.
Tips to enjoy your visit:
Bring water and something to fan yourself with. The museum map works in a pinch, but in August it’s almost stifling warm.
Identify the art you’re most interested in seeing and start there.
Connect to the Louvre wifi and download the Louvre app. Plug in headphones. Insta-tour.
Carry some snacks to munch on while you’re browsing, because it’s a good ten minute endeavor to get from wherever you are to an exit.
When to go for budget travelers:
18-26 are free on Friday evening regardless of nationally
18-25 from EU, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are free always (bring ID)
Under 18 is always free (bring ID)
Regardless of age or nationality, first Sunday of the month from October to March is free
Have you been to the Louvre? Looking to travel to the Louvre? Wanting to score unbelievably cheap flights to your next destination- click here.