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A Road Trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

May 21, 2020

If you are looking for a fun, beautiful, and historical trip to take this summer, a road trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia may be in the cards! Harper’s Ferry is situated right on the border where Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia meet. This makes it a convenient spot for a day trip or overnight from the Baltimore/DC area.

What you’ll find are gorgeous views, a quaint and historic town, beautiful nature, and the gateway to the Loudoun County wine region. My husband Mike and I took our road trip to Harper’s Ferry last September to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and had a wonderful time! It was so nice to drive less than 2 hours from Baltimore and find ourselves in a completely different setting.

**Please visit HERE for most recent updates involving West Virginia health and safety updates and regulations including
openings and closures.
Make sure to check individual business websites for the latest information and availability of service. **

Getting to Harpers Ferry

Taking a road trip to Harpers Ferry is very easy if you live in the Baltimore or Washington DC area! The driving distance is an hour and fifteen minutes from each place, making the perfect destination for a day trip or quick weekend getaway.

It is also easily accessible from other Mid-Atlantic Destinations:

  • Harrisburg, PA: 1hr, 30 min
  • Richmond, VA: 2hrs, 30 min
  • Philadelphia: 2hrs, 40min
  • Pittsburgh, PA: 3hrs, 30 min
  • New York City Area: 4 hrs

Note that there is limited parking in the town itself, with street parking only. You can try your luck with street parking, but you will find it extremely difficult, especially during busy times. The best bet is to drive to the National Park Service lot (171 Shoreline Drive) where there is ample parking. There’s a visitor’s center as well as a free shuttle bus that will take you to the little downtown area.

If you live in DC and don’t have a car/want to relax on your trip without getting behind the wheel, both the MARC Train and Amtrak have service from Washington DC.

What to Do in Harpers Ferry

The tiny town of Harpers Ferry is absolutely adorable – you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time! If you enjoy history, particularly early US History and Civil War history, you’ll definitely be in your element.

Walking through the town you will get a bit of a workout, as it’s perched on a hill (hence the amazing views of the surrounding landscape!) The town itself is very small with one main thoroughfare (High Street) filled with shops, restaurants, and historic sights. For a great spot to enjoy delicious food & drinks AND enjoy an amazing view of the valley and river, get a table on the deck of The Rabbit Hole (186 High St).

I would advise having lunch in the village versus dinner, as most restaurants close early. If you’re staying overnight in the area, there are a few neighboring towns that I recommend below.

After lunch, if you’re craving something sweet, head to True Treats Historic Candy Shop (144 High Street)! Even if you’re not a candy fiend, this shop is pretty much a museum, with typical candies dating back to biblical times, through the mid-1900s. There are also several other shops to browse along High Street selling locally made artisan items, historic knick-knacks, art, and other gifts.

If you continue down High Street you will approach the walk up to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, built pre-civil war, which has an amazing view over the entire valley. This church is also where the Ghost Tour meets if you’re interested in the spooky history of Harper’s Ferry!

You can continue walking up to Jefferson’s Rock, the lookout point where US President Thomas Jefferson once declared that the scene was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Harpers Ferry National Park

The town of Harpers Ferry is actually part of the Harpers Ferry Historical National Park! The whole park encompasses 4,000 acres and includes parts of West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.

In addition to the historic village, church, Jefferson’s Rock, and historic demonstrations & museums, the park also offers guided tours and several hiking trails.

Make sure to check with the National Park Service before planning your trip to get up to date information on access to the park and health and safety regulations.

Where to Stay

Harper’s Ferry has a number of quaint and affordable Bed and Breakfasts within the village itself. The Cantula Inn comes highly rated by guests and offers modern comfort in a historic setting. The Lily Garden Bed & Breakfast is another great option, with 2 adorable suites situated in an old carriage house. The Light Horse Inn is also a great choice, offering modern amenities with historic charm (no children).

If you wanted to venture out of the village itself, there are lots of options in the surrounding area. Nearby Charles Town has more of the run of the mill chain hotels and will put you closer to late-night dining options and the Casino and Inn at Charles Town Races.

If you want a completely unique and wonderful Airbnb experience, I would definitely recommend the Historic Maison du Soleil Retreat, where we stayed during our visit (see photos below). We stayed in a private room within the hosts’ house and felt complete privacy and freedom throughout our visit.

The outdoor barn area they have set up is a dream – so tranquil and beautiful, it was hard to leave it to go and sightsee. The hot tub was especially nice to relax in. It’s close to the attractions at Harpers Ferry, as well as quaint Shepherdstown and plenty of wineries and hiking. Your stay also includes a wonderful breakfast cooked by the host, Henk.

Surrounding Activities in Harpers Ferry

Charles Town

Charles Town is another historic town less than a 15-minute drive from Harpers Ferry. While the town is more commercialized and not quite as quaint, you will find more here in terms of larger hotels, food options, grocery stores, the casino, etc. We mainly spent time here because of our Airbnb location, but we found the downtown quite charming as well in its own way.

A few highlights of Charles Town included dinner and live music on the patio at Abolitionist Ale Works, and the beautiful mural by Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zager (below).

Shepherdstown

I LOVED Shepherdstown and would definitely recommend checking it out! Another unbelievably quaint town, located 20 minutes from either Harpers Ferry or Charleston. Definitely worth spending a few hours walking the main street and all the local shops. There are also lots of yummy and unique dining options should you choose to stay here.

For Civil War Buffs and history enthusiasts, Shepherdstown is also close to the Antietam National Battlefield (Sharpsburg, MD), the sight of the bloodiest day in US History during the Battle of Antietam in 1862.

Loudoun County Wineries

Just south of the Harpers Ferry area, Loudoun County, Virginia is a beautiful, sprawling, hill covered destination with 40 wineries! You could really spend your whole weekend just touring vineyards and tasting rooms, but it’s also fun to pop down here and have a relaxing afternoon at one or two of them.

Hillsborough Winery, Brewery & Vineyard is a great option if you are coming from Harpers Ferry or Charlestown, only around 20 minutes away from either place. The views were absolutely gorgeous and you can enjoy their wine and/or beer along with food selections they offer on-site if you sit on the patio or in the tasting room. If you choose to bring your own food, there is a picnic area where you can sit.

As you can see, this area area has a TON to offer, making a road trip to Harpers Ferry a great idea for this summer or fall! I hope you enjoy the local charm, history, eats and shopping of this beautiful place.

Looking for more local travel ideas on the US East Coast? Check out my Guide to Camping with Wild Horses on Assateague Island and my guide to Charming Photo Spots in Baltimore!

Don’t forget to PIN this article to help you plan your trip.

Maryland Travel USA

Camping with Wild Horses on Assateague Island

May 17, 2020

As summer approaches and the future of international (and even cross-state) travel remains uncertain, US travelers are itching to go somewhere, ANYWHERE where they can experience adventure. Now that National Parks are opening up, why not consider camping with wild horses on Assateague Island?

Yes, you read that right: you can camp with wild horses! A tiny strip of land that runs along the coast of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague Island is a unique destination that is easily drivable from the Baltimore/DC area, and an accessible summer road trip destination for most East Coasters.

**Please visit HERE for most recent updates involving park health and safety updates and regulations including openings and closures. **

Why Assateague Island?

Assateague Island is a haven for natural beauty. If your experience or impression of middle Atlantic beaches involve commercialized boardwalks, amusement parks, and overcrowded beaches, get ready for a breath of fresh air.

I have to admit, I haven’t had much experience camping but this place really blew me away! Sleeping in a tent over sand is much more comfortable than the hard ground, as the sound of the waves at night was so relaxing.

Sunrise at Assateague, near our campsite

Assateague State Park vs Assateague National Seashore

Assateague Island is home to Assateague State Park AND Assateague National Seashore. All camping is on the Maryland side of the Island. Camping is allowed in both areas but there are slight differences in pricing, amenities, and rules:

Assateague State Park

  • More crowded together campsites (less private)
  • Better amenities: Hot showers & Flushing Toilets
  • Electric campsites available
  • Bayside campsites only
  • NO Drinking Alcohol
  • Pets Allowed on Certain Campsites
  • Prices are $28 per site, $38 per electric site/per night

Assateague National Seashore

  • Campsites are more spaced out and private
  • More primitive amenities (non-flushing toilets and cold water showers)
  • No electric campsites
  • Oceanside campsites available (less buggy and right on the beach)
  • Drinking alcohol allowed
  • Pets Allowed, must be leashed
  • Prices are $30 per sight/per night

For all the rules and regulations as well as health and safety updates for each park, check out the links above.

When to Visit Assateague

The park is open year-round, but the best and most popular time to go camping on Assateague Island is summer, to utilize the beautiful beach. This also means that it’s the most crowded time and campsites book up well in advance. You will definitely have to plan ahead if you want to make sure you have a campsite reserved, especially if you want to camp on a weekend.

Luckily, sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance! You can check availability and make your reservations HERE. While summer is the most popular time, early fall can also be nice with cooler temperatures and fewer crowds.

Getting to Assateague Island

Assateague Seashore is a great road trip destination from many spots on the East Coast! Of course the driving times below are approximate and don’t account for stops or traffic.

  • Baltimore: 2hrs 45min
  • Washington, DC: 2hrs 45min
  • Philadelphia: 2hrs 30min
  • NYC Area: 4hrs

The biggest obstacle for travelers from Baltimore, DC, or other parts of Maryland (minus the Eastern Shore) is the Bay Bridge, which often has large traffic backups, especially on the weekends. Consider going during a weekday if possible if you want to try and avoid this.

Closest Airports: BWI, IAD, DCA, PHL or SBY (Salisbury)

What to Do Around Assateague

The main appeal of camping on Assateague Island is to relax, unwind, and enjoy the natural scenery and wildlife. After you arrive and set up your campsite, definitely take advantage of the beach (if it’s early enough in the day), and enjoy the sunset over the marshy bayside if you can. Build a campfire, fire up the grill, and enjoy the food you brought with you, or as an alternative, you can drive 5-10 minutes offsite to the Assateague All You Can Eat Crab House.

Besides the obvious of enjoying your campsite and the beach, there are also hiking trails you can take advantage of!

Woke up for a Sunrise Photoshoot! Sadly no horses.

Wildlife at Assateague

In addition to the famed wild horses, Assateague is home to a multitude of species to observe. Deer, frogs, toads, several species of crabs and snails, shorebirds, and waterfowl all inhabit the island. Assateague’s waters and marshes are also home to many species of fish as well as the popular Maryland Blue Crab.

IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT THE WILD HORSES AT ASSATEAGUE

The horses you will see on Assateague Island are feral and have been inhabiting the island since the 1600s. All in all, there are about 300 wild horses that live on Assateague Island. There are a few legends about how the horses ended up calling Assateague their home, the most popular one being that they came ashore when a Spanish Cargo Ship sank. Another theory is that these horses are the descendants of the horses of early settlers that were allowed to run freely.

Please note that the horses are wild, so trying to feed or pet them is a huge no-no. They can and will bite and kick and could potentially carry disease. The Park Service regulations advise staying at least 40 feet away when viewing the horses. Personally, we didn’t see any horses on our campsite, we saw them closer to the other beach we visited that was open to daily visitors. They are beautiful and not scary (in case the above worried you a bit) if you maintain your distance and quietly observe.

There are also many signs throughout the campsite advising you to keep all your food in locked containers or in your car, as the horses will try to take it. They also advise to not give the horses any water. They have learned to adapt and thrive in their salty/marshy environment and have their own water sources. Humans feeding them could actually deter them from finding and protecting their own sources.

What to Bring to go Camping on Assateague Island

  • Bug Repellant
    • Now, most resources on Assateague and word of mouth information will advise you that the mosquitos on Assateague Island are BRUTAL. Personally, we did not have a big problem with them, and I think it’s because we got a beach/shoreside campsite in the National Park. It makes sense that the bugs would be more prevalent in the marshy bayside, so keep that in mind when making your reservations. It’s possible that we just got lucky. Regardless, make sure you bring good quality, strong bug repellant to ward off the pesky mosquitos and horseflies, should they be a bother.
  • Sunscreen
  • Layers
    • Prepare for it to get chilly at night, even if it’s hot during the day. Long layers will also help protect against bug bites during dusk, especially if you are planning on walking the trails.
  • Firewood/Starter Fluid for Campfires and Grills
    • Due to park regulations, all firewood must be purchased in the state of Maryland. You will see people selling firewood from their homes as you approach the park. There is a convenience store right before the entrance to the park to buy any camping supplies you may have forgotten.
  • Food/Water for the Duration of your Visit
    • There is limited availability to purchase food and water in the park, so it’s advisable to bring as much with you as you want. Make sure you are able to secure and lock your food, and wildlife will invade if it’s left unattended.
  • Portable Phone Charger
    • This is particular to camping in the National Park (no electric sites) or a non-electric site in the State Park. Service isn’t great but you will most likely want to take pictures of your experience and don’t want to run out of charge!

Ready to Go?

Whether you’re going as a couple, with friends or as a family, camping on Assateague Island is a truly unique experience for everyone. It is easily accessible from the East Coast by car and will provide lasting memories.

Ready for some other East Coast Travel? Check out my guide to Charming Photo Spots in Baltimore and a Neighborhood Guide to Hampden, Baltimore.

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Life Provence Whimsical Life & Home

How to Bring the Southern French Lifestyle Home With You

March 30, 2020

So, you’ve visited the South of France and now you can’t imagine living anywhere else? I can relate! From the first time I went to Provence I was enamored with the charming towns, gorgeous nature and that laid back southern French lifestyle. Freshly baked baguettes every day? Oui. 2+ hour lunches? Oui. Rosé? OUI!

I’ve since gone back many times and every time I fall a little bit more in love. But, if you’re like me, you can’t simply pick up and move to the South of France permanently (a girl can dream though, right?). I do however have some ideas to bring that southern French lifestyle home with you so you can feel like you are in Provence no matter where in the world you are.

the baguette, an essential part of french lifestyle

How to Bring the Southern French Lifestyle Home With You

Visit Your Local Farmers Markets

The local daily marches, or markets, are an essential part of the French lifestyle. Instead of heading to the mega grocery store chain and stocking up a week’s worth of food, many French choose to walk to their local outdoor market every day to get fresh and seasonal produce, meat, fish and fresh flowers.

While at home, you can visit your local farmer’s market to have a similar experience. It’s more pleasant than going to a regular supermarket, and you are also supporting local farmers, bakers, and artisans.

fruits at the market, an essential part of french lifestyle

Adapt Your Home Decor to the Southern French Lifestyle

One word that springs to mind when I think about Provence is “color.” The Provençal color palette is sunny and vibrant, with earth tones and accents from the surrounding nature. Bright yellow is the star of the show, along with baby blue, ochre, peach, mint green, lavender, and soft pink.

the color palette of provence, an essential part of french lifestyle
A perfect example of the Provence Pallette

If you’re not ready to totally re-do your house in a “French country theme” there are little accents you can add to bring in these pops of bright. The South of France inspired painters like Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh, and adding any of their works to your wall will help bring in this palette. Fresh flowers and indoor plants are also a great way to Frenchify your interior, especially if purchased at a local market!

The Provence interior often has rustic elements like stone walls and exposed beams, which are accented with modern touches. Antique and rustic farmhouse style furniture also adds a Provençal touch, or giving your existing furniture a distressed “shabby chic” makeover. Porcelain and ceramic accents (typically painted in the Provençal palette) are great ways to add color pops. Traditional textiles from the region, including bright table linens are are also a great way to bring in that color. You can pick some up at the market on your next trip to Provence, or buy online. Here are some beautiful options I found below:

french lifestyle table cloth from williams sonoma
french lifestyle table cloth from amazon

Get Really Good at Entertaining

The French love to entertain and gather in the home! When you visit a French person’s house, you will literally want for nothing. A huge element of the French lifestyle is entertaining guests, and they have really mastered it.

One secret to this is preparing things in advance. Do as much prep as you can before your guests arrive so you can really enjoy conversing with them and spend less time in the kitchen while they are over. Set the scene with fresh flowers and simple yet elegant table decor. Light candles. Leave nothing in packaging and serve everything in decorative bowls or platters. Serve French wine and French cheese.

As I will go over below, the typical French meal is a lengthy affair, and you want to make your guests feel welcome to linger over their food and/or drinks. Make sure they always have something to drink if they want by subtly refilling their glass or offering them options. Don’t rush to clear everything immediately and let people pause and relax between courses.

glasses of rose wine, an essential part of french lifestyle

Linger Over Your Meal

Perhaps my favorite thing about dining in the South of France is the way that they really sit, savor and enjoy mealtime. In America, it’s often rushed, with an emphasis on “to go” because we are always so busy. The French lifestyle really about taking it slow and enjoying all aspects of life, and a big part of that for them is cuisine!

The French meal starts with an aperitif, which I suggest adding to your routine immediately. An aperitif is a “before dinner (or lunch) drink.” If you are in the South of France it’s typically Pastis (a licorice-flavored liquor from Marseille), a Kir or Kir Royale (white wine or Champagne mixed with Creme de Cassis Liquor), or fortified sweet wine or vermouth. The aperitif is served with a few small snacks like olives, nuts or chips.

an essential part of french lifestyle

Moving on to the meal, each course is served separately. The meal starts with appetizers, followed by the main course which is typically meat or fish with vegetables. The French, in contrast with how we do it in the US, typically serve the salad course AFTER the main course.

Then comes the cheese course, dessert, coffee, and sometimes an after-dinner drink. Make sure to have plenty of fresh bread, in baguette form. Wine is obviously served throughout.

cheese and baguette, an essential part of french lifestyle

A Few Typical Provençal Appetizers:

  • Tapenade or anchoïade on Toasts
  • Radishes served with salt + butter
  • Ratatouille
  • Charcuterie

A Few Typical Provençal Mains:

  • Bouillabaisse
  • Sea Bass with Vegetables
  • Lamb or Beef Stew

Find more inspiration here!

tapenade, an essential part of french lifestyle
Bouillabaisse, a typical southern french lifestyle meal

Change Your Tunes

Nothing sets the mood like a little bit of French music! Whether you’re throwing a little dinner party, having friends over for aperitif or just hanging out in your Maison, a great French playlist will have you daydreaming of sun-drenched lavender fields and drinking wine alfresco at a cute cafe.

Classics I like to listen to are Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand, Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, and Françoise Hardy. For a newer, chill vibe, Carla Bruni is also a great choice.

Here are some of my favorite Spotify playlists that will transport you back to France without leaving your living room:

Pamper Yourself with French Products

The South of France is known for its perfumes and soaps, so one great way to bring the French lifestyle home is to pamper yourselves with French-made products and scents!

An easy and affordable way to make your home life a little more French is to stock up on French soaps. “Savon de Marseille” is known worldwide and can be purchased for as little as 1 euro at the markets in Provence, so I usually stock up and bring a bunch back with me. I love putting them in my bathroom – it adds a nice little touch for guests. You can also buy them online here.

L’Occitane en Provence, while popular in the USA is also very authentically Provençal, with its headquarters in Manosque, France. Their products and scents will bring you right back to the lavender and sunflower fields of the South of France. Durance de Provence is another fragrance company from the South of France that you can incorporate into your decor and lifestyle.

If all else fails, a lavender-scented candle is an easy way to transport yourself to the fields of Provence!

savon de marseille soap, a french lifestyle product you can use at home

Ready to stop dreaming and plan your trip to Provence? Check out my guides for Visiting Provence in Autumn and My Favorite Spots in Provence

Allie Marie Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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France Provence Travel

5 Fairytale Villages in the Luberon, France You Can’t Miss

March 25, 2020
view of Gordes, one of the villages in the Luberon

Planning on visiting the villages in the Luberon? I approve! In my (biased) opinion, there is no other region in France more charming than Provence. If you’re planning a trip to this southern part of France, you would be mistaken to skip this beautiful little valley, filled with breathtaking hilly countryside and dotted with quaint perched villages.

Trust me when I say you will feel like you’ve been transported into another world as you wind down the country roads and take in the cobblestone streets and little corners of these fairytale towns. These are the scenes of Monet and Cezanne’s paintings and the backdrop for Peter Mayle’s bestselling novel, A Year in Provence.

Even though there are many quaint villages in the Luberon, I’m going to tell you about 5 you absolutely can’t miss on your trip!

Getting to and Around the Villages of the Luberon

The closest large airport to the Luberon is the Marseille-Provence airport (code MRS). Most flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling, and EasyJet.

There is also a high-speed train from Paris to either Aix-en-Provence or Avignon and both of these cities will put you in good proximity to the region.

One thing that I would say is essential is a rental car. Unless you pre-book some sort of a group tour, it’s pretty much impossible to explore the villages without one.

When to Visit the Luberon

While the Luberon is beautiful in any season, the obvious and most colorful time to visit would be late spring and early to mid-summer. The weather will be warm but not too hot and the hoards of tourists will not have fully descended upon the region yet.

These are the (approximate) seasons for the most popular blooms:

  • Red Poppies: May
  • Lavender: Mid June-end of July
  • Sunflowers: Late June-early August

Visiting in the early fall is also lovely. While you won’t have all the blooms, the weather is still pleasant and the tourist boom will be over. Hotel prices will also be lower and will have more availability.

Lavender field in the Luberon provence

5 Fairytale Villages in the Luberon, France You Can’t Miss

Ménerbes

Speaking of A Year in Provence, the village of Ménerbes was where British author Peter Mayle lived and documented his life in his 2 books based in this region. Due to the popularity of the books, Ménerbes experienced a boom of overtourism in the 90s from fans. Luckily, it has since calmed down and returned to the quaint and quiet Provencal village it once was. Famed artists Picasso and Nicolas de Staël also once owned houses here.

One of the many perched villages in the Luberon, the road to Ménerbes will take you around some twists and turns, so be prepared if you tend to get a bit car sick and just take it slow. Once you get to the top, enjoy views of the Luberon valley below, historic 18th-century buildings, preserved guard walls, chateau, and belfry.

Menerbes, a fairytale village in the Luberon

L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue

L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue is an incredibly charming town in the Luberon that is known affectionately as the “Venice of the Vaucluse (the department that houses the Luberon).” Named for the Sorgue river that runs through the center, L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known for its antique shops and markets as well as it’s charming canals and old fashioned waterwheels.

There is a big market every Sunday that brings with it antique dealers and local artisans selling the typical Provencal souvenirs. There many restaurants and cafes lining the river, and on a sunny day, you can sit outside, sip your coffee or wine and watch the ducks lazily float by. It’s unique, idyllic, and definitely should not be missed when visiting the villages of the Luberon! 100% right out of a fairytale.

Lourmarin

One of my absolute favorite villages in the Luberon, Lourmarin is a village you can spend several hours (or days) in! Oozing charm, it’s an amazing spot for shopping and dining as well. Located about a half an hour from Aix-en-Provence, it’s a great spot to hit up for a day trip.

At the edge of the village is a 16th-century castle, that was restored in the early 20th century. Today it is used as a concert venue. Trendy and unique shops and art galleries line the small streets, making it a great place to shop for souvenirs for yourself or others. The main square is adorable, with cafe terraces spilling out into each other filled with people on a sunny day.

Rousillon

Rousillon stands out among the Luberon villages due to the distinctive ochre cliffs surrounding it as well as it’s matching clay-hued buildings. It actually sits within one of the largest ochre deposits in the world, perched atop the red mountains and accented by green pines (and in the summer, lavender fields). It’s truly a sight to see and should not be missed during your Luberon trip.

In addition to walking around the colorful town and observing the gorgeous views, there is also a museum dedicated to ochre and the production of artists’ pigments you can visit. Rousillon also has plenty of gift shops selling pigments that you can purchase for yourself or as a unique souvenir from this beautiful village!

Gordes

Ah, the crown jewel of the villages in the Luberon: Gordes! One of France’s most picturesque perched villages, the breathtaking part of visiting Gordes will be your approach. As you drive up the hill and reach the lookout point (it will be obvious), you will see an amazing view of the perched village and the gorgeous valley below. This is where you will get your key photo ops. Going during golden hour will provide great lighting and a pinkish tint to the surrounding buildings. Magic!

Once in the village, it is mostly pedestrian and you will have your typical souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants. Gordes is also home to several luxury and boutique hotels and a Michelin star restaurant, making it a great place to stay if you want to pamper yourself. It is very close to the famous Abbaye de Sénanque which you will most likely recognize as the church among the lavender fields in countless Provence posters and stock photos. So, if you visit during the lavender season (mid-June through mid-July), your view will be extra special.

View of Gordes, a fariytale village in the Luberon

So there you have it, 5 fairytale villages that you can’t miss! While there are many more villages you can explore within this region, these are the ones I would recommend topping your list with. I hope your visit to the Luberon is everything that you’ve been dreaming of!

For additional information on visiting the beautiful Luberon, check out the official site of the region HERE for everything else you need to plan your trip!

Want to do some more exploring in Provence? Check out my posts on  Visiting Provence in Autumn and My Favorite Spots in Provence

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Life Pregnancy Travel

Flying During Pregnancy: 10 Essentials You Need

February 17, 2020

So you got those two pink lines? Congrats! When I found out I was pregnant, I was literally booked on a flight that same day. While I wasn’t feeling the effects quite yet, flying during pregnancy was something I wondered about as I looked ahead to the next 8 months of my life.

Pregnancy If you’re a traveler like me (and I’m guessing you are because you are reading this article), you will probably be wondering about how your traveling style and needs will change, especially relating to flying during pregnancy. I planned to take both short-haul and long-haul flights and didn’t know how my pregnancy would factor into these plans.

Have no fear though! I have put together a list of the 10 essentials you will need for flying while pregnant so you can be the most prepared and most comfortable on your flight with your newly added carry on.

Flying During Pregnancy: 10 Essentials You Need

Comfortable Clothing

This may seem like a no brainer, but even early pregnancy brings on fun symptoms like bloating and extra gas. The last thing you want is tight jeans or uncomfortable pants digging into your waistline! To be honest, I think this is a good protocol even non-pregnant, as I always like being comfortable on the plane.

My standard go-to is a uniform of comfy leggings, flat breathable shoes, and a stretchy or loose-fitting shirt. Also, I would advise dressing in layers. Not only can the temperatures on an airplane fluctuate frequently during the flight, but pregnancy raises your basal body temperature about 0.4 degrees above the normal. Prepare for hot flashes by wearing a tank or short sleeve shirt under a long-sleeved layer in case it does get chilly.

Priority Boarding (And an Aisle Seat!)

Did you know that when you are flying during pregnancy that most airlines will give you priority boarding? Definitely take advantage of this to give yourself extra time to get settled. This really comes in handy when you are flying Southwest Airlines, which has a first-come-first-serve seating policy based on your boarding number.

Which brings me to the second part of this: make sure you get an aisle seat! As your pregnancy progresses, you will start having to pee much more frequently and also get increasingly uncomfortable. Having an aisle seat gives you easy access for when you need to get up and use the restroom or stretch your legs. Getting up and walking frequently is important especially on a long-haul flight because pregnant women are more susceptible to blood clots.

Compression Socks

When you are pregnant, your body is producing all kinds of extra hormones including in increased supply of progesterone. This overload makes your veins swell more than normal, which can be exacerbated by sitting for long periods of time on a flight. This can lead to painful swelling, varicose veins and, even scarier, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots).

Wearing compression socks can help alleviate this risk by putting pressure on your veins so the blood doesn’t pool in your lower legs and feet. Luckily nowadays there are a lot of cute and stylish options for compression socks, so they won’t be a drag to wear. Doing this, combined with taking baby aspirin (see below) before and after the flight can help reduce your risk of a blood clot. Always ask your doctor or midwife before taking any medication.

Travel Pillow

Another symptom of pregnancy (especially in the first trimester)? You are tired…all. the. freaking. time. It takes a lot of metabolic energy to grow a human, so even if you don’t feel like you are doing a lot, your body is working in overtime, It was amazing to me how I could sleep a full 8 hours and still be ready for a mid-day nap. What better time to get in some extra sleep than when you are stuck sitting on a plane?

Of course, a great travel pillow will make this a lot easier for you. You can buy self-inflating pillows which are a lot easier to carry on. This memory foam pillow adjusts so you can use it as a body pillow, back pillow or for neck support.

Water Bottle

Staying hydrated while traveling is always important, but when flying during pregnancy, it’s even more essential. Because your body is working extra hard to grow a baby, your water output is often greater than your water intake. This can lead to dehydration, which is no good for a mom-to-be. Add this to the dry air on the plane and trust me, water will be your best friend during the flight. (Again, make sure you have an aisle seat for frequent potty breaks!)

The best and most eco way to tackle the water situation on your flight (and throughout your travels) is to carry on a stainless steel water bottle that you can fill at the airport. This saves you from buying an overpriced plastic bottle and is more durable (and eco/health-friendly) for reuse. I love my Swell bottle and would definitely recommend investing in one or something like it for your trip.

Snacks & Hard Candies

Pregnancy nausea is a beast. I’ve read some women don’t get morning sickness, and I don’t know any of those women but all I have to say is that they are very lucky! My nausea reared it’s ugly head around 7 weeks and lasted pretty full force to the end of my first trimester.

Even within the second trimester, nausea tends to come back if I let myself get too hungry. Hence, the importance of SNACKS when you’re flying during pregnancy! Depending on what you can tolerate, I’ve found saltine crackers to be a pretty standard no fail to help curb nausea. During the first trimester, I would never leave home without a sleeve of those babies in my purse. Granola bars are also a good go-to and easy to pack, try to get some with protein as the carb/protein combo is helpful in combatting nausea as well and will help you feel more full.

Another thing that helped a lot was hard candies, specifically sour ones. I went through a few bags of Jolly Ranchers (sorry dentist!) as they usually did the trick to at least temporarily make the queasiness subside. I also invested in some Preggo Pop drops, which are a more natural option that also contain essential oils and vitamins.

Sea Bands

Sea Bands are another nausea remedy, working to keep constant pressure on your P6 acupressure point that relieves nausea and vomiting. I will say that these take some getting used to, as at first the bands can feel tight and the plastic knob pressure can be a bit uncomfortable.

However, I did find them to be helpful, at least for a few weeks. I have a theory that I started to develop a tolerance for them so they stopped being as effective, but who knows? Regardless, I would recommend that you give them a try because a lot of people have had success with them, especially when combined with keeping a full stomach and sour or ginger candies.

Eye Drops

Dry eyes are another symptom of pregnancy, brought on by, you guessed it, HORMONES! Your body doesn’t produce as many tears, making your eyes feel scratchy and uncomfortable. My eyes always get dry on an airplane anyway, so having this added change did not help.

You can help alleviate this by bringing along eye drops in your carry-on, whether you wear contact lenses or not. If you do wear contacts, you can always remove them during the flight as well, especially if you plan to sleep on the flight.

Baby Aspirin

My doctor recommended I take baby (low dose) aspirin for 3 days leading up to and 3 days after my long-haul flight to help prevent blood clots. You can find this over the counter in your pharmacy in 81 mg tablets. This helps keep the blood thinner and reduce the risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.

My doctor said that this is safe, but please consult your own doctor or midwife before taking any medications, as recommendations can vary.

Unisom (Doxylamine) + B6

During the first trimester, this was my go-to combo for nausea relief, especially at night. Unisom is an over the counter sleep aid that has shown to provide nausea relief when combined with Vitamin B6. It’s very important that you use the Unisom sleep TABLETS and not the gel caps, as the ingredient that is helpful is doxylamine which is not the ingredient for the gel caps.

Generally, the recommended dosage is 25mg by mouth 3 times a day of Vitamin B6, accompanied by 12.5mg of Unisom (half a pill) at night. I found this to be helpful. If you just have trouble sleeping on the plane, aside from any nausea, my doctor did say it was okay to take the Unisom alone.

Again, please consult your own doctor or midwife before taking any medications, as recommendations can vary.

So there you have it, my 10 essentials for flying while pregnant! I hope this helps you prepare for an experience a more comfortable flight, leaving you rested and refreshed to enjoy your destination. Safe travels!

Want to access all my essentials in one place? Check out my Pregnancy Travel Essentials list on Amazon!

Allie Marie Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

Also, don’t forget to PIN this post for future reference.

France Marseille Travel

10 Amazing Things to Do in Marseille France

February 17, 2020
Beautiful view in Marseille

If you’ve looked into visiting the South of France, there are no doubt places like Nice, St. Tropez, Menton & Antibes have shown up on your radar. But what about Marseille? While not as popular as it’s flashy neighbors, Marseille is a beautiful and complex city with a diverse culture. I’m here to tell you that you should definitely add this diamond in the rough to your list, and give you 10 amazing things to do in Marseille when you visit!

10 Amazing Things to Do in Marseille France

Visit the Vieux Port

It’s the most iconic image of Marseille and most likely the first picture that will pop up when you search “Marseille” in your browser: the Vieux Port. The Vieux Port or “old port” of Marseille is a bustling center of activity with picturesque views of the harbor and Marseille’s rolling hills. One of the first things to do when you arrive in Marseille is to head to the port for a Pastis (the local liquor) at one of the many bars or cafes that line the port and people/boat watch.

There is usually a lot going on here, with boats coming and going to and from the Calanques and Frioul Island (see below) and there are a ton of bars, restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. If you go really early in the morning you can see the fisherman selling their fresh catches, and there are often also other little markets that pop up throughout the week.

The Vieux Port is easily reached by Marseille’s metro, which saves you the hassle of trying to find parking or paying for it in one of the garages. Day or night, this is a can’t miss thing to do in Marseille!

Take a Calanque Cruise

The Calanques are a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. If you like hiking, nature, and beautiful beaches, this is a must for any trip to the Marseille area. Most of them are only accessible on foot or by boat. The Calanques that you can hike to in Marseille include Callelongue, Sormiou, and Morgiou.

A great way to see many Calanques at once (and if you are limited on time to spend hiking to each one) is to do a Calanque cruise, which you can take right from the Vieux Port. The Croisières Marseille Calanques offers options to see all of the Calanques, the main Calanques, or organize a private group tour if you prefer. Departing from the corner of Quai des Belges and Quai d’Honneur, the price and duration vary depending on how many Calanques you want to see and what time of year it is. 

Taking a Calanque cruise, one of 10 Amazing things to do in Marseille.

See the Sunrise Over Sorimiou

Sormiou is one of the Calanques in Marseille and one of my favorites to visit. During peak season, May-early October, the narrow winding road that leads down to the Calanque is closed due to fire risk. Because of this the only way to reach it during this time is by parking at the top of the hill and walking the rest of the way down for bout 45 minutes of easy to moderate hiking.

We discovered, however, that if you go really early in the morning for sunrise, the gate is open you can access the road down to the Calanque and park there. To make it worth your while, the sun rises directly over the rocks and water of the Calanque, making for a truly stunning sight. It’s so peaceful in the morning before all the tourists arrive and to watch the sun come up and the colors change and reflect in the water is magnificent.

Make sure to leave yourself some extra time to stop at a boulangerie and pick up some breakfast treats to enjoy while you watch!

Sunrise at Sormiou, one of 10 Amazing things to do in Marseille.

Go to the Chateau D’If/Frioul Island

Both just a quick and inexpensive ferry ride from the Vieux Port, visiting the Chateau D’If and Frioul Island are 2 great things to do in Marseille. The Chateau D’If is a former fortress and prison and was used as the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo. You can tour the fortress (which takes up most of the small island) which has been preserved as a museum. Even though the novel is a work of fiction, there is a cell that is designated to have belonged to the Count.

The Frioul Island is a bit further and has several nice beaches to explore. When you arrive at the small port there are a few snack bars and then you can walk to whichever beach you choose. Calanque de Morgiret beach (pictured below) is adjacent to the port and a short walk. If you are willing to walk a bit further to Plage de Saint-Estève turn right and follow the map path for a 20-minute walk to this beautiful beach (there are maps and signs). You will arrive at a beautiful rocky beach with crystal clear water. On the way, you will also catch scenic vistas of the Marseille skyline.

You can reach both destinations via the same ferry service from the Vieux Port. You will find the ticket station at the southeastern corner of the Vieux Port, which is also where the boat boards. Make sure you look at the different fairs, as you can get a ticket to either destination + return or a combo ticket + return if you want to see both. There are several departures throughout the day.

See the View from the Notre Dame de la Garde

Want to see the best view of Marseille? No contest, the Notre Dame de la Garde church offers the most stunning views of the city, mountains and the beautiful Mediterranean sea. Affectionately called La Bonne Mère (the good mother), the church is visible from most points in Marseille perched atop its hill, watching over the city.

It’s no wonder that the church is Marseille’s most visited tourist attraction, and you definitely have to add it to your list of things to do in Marseille. The church itself is gorgeous, constructed in the Byzantine revival style during the mid-nineteenth century. The interior is particularly unique with a maritime theme, filled with artwork on the walls depicting ships and even has wooden boats hanging from the ceiling.

In addition to the impressive church, the views surrounding it are just unreal. On a clear day, it feels like you can see forever. You can reach the church by driving and parking in one of the lots, walking up the very steep hill from the Vieux Port or taking one of the quaint tourist trains (also from the Vieux Port.) This is a spot that can’t be missed during your visit!

Try the famous Bouillabaisse Marseillais

When you mention that you went to Marseille, an inevitable question you will receive is, “Did you try the Bouillabaise?” Undoubtedly the most iconic food of the city, Bouillabaisse is a traditional fish stew consisting of rich and herbaceous broth, fresh seafood and served with a rouille (mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and saffron).

Traditionally, the soup was a poor man’s fisherman stew, using the fish that they couldn’t sell at the market that day. Ironically it has now become a fine delicacy that is served in fine restaurants at a high price point. Some restaurants (arguably the only ones that are doing it right), will require 24-48 hours notice if you will be ordering the bouillabaisse! The broth, rouille & crusty bread, and the fish is all served separately. The seafood part of the soup varies by what is available but must contain at least 4 of these fish: rockfish, spider crab,  red mullet, conger eel, and red scorpion fish.

Now, many places will advertise having “authentic bouillabaisse”, but you should be choosy about where you dine in order to ensure you are getting the real deal. Chez Fonfon is one of the most famous and recommended restaurants in Marseille for authentic bouillabaisse, as well as Chez Michel, L’Epuisette & Le Petit Nice. But beware, if you’re paying less than 50 euros per person, you’re just getting regular fish soup.

Go to an Open Market

One thing you must do in the South of France is to visit an outdoor market, and Marseille has some great ones! There is the fish market at the Vieux Port as I mentioned above. There are also often other little markets selling crafts or clothing that will set up around the Vieux Port on various days.

My favorite and most consistent/all-encompassing market though is the Marché Avenue du Prado. Here you will find everything from local food, fresh-cut flowers, clothing, accessories, jewelry, household goods and, of course, the famous Savon de Marseille (handmade soaps).

The market stretches down the Avenue du Prado to the Castellane metro station and is full of open-air booths and vendors waiting to bargain with you. This is where I buy my best souvenirs for others and for myself! What’s great is that it’s open every day (except Sunday) from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, so you can always go back to get that one thing you forgot the day before. It’s a really fun experience and a great way to get your shopping done economically as you can get some really great bargains.

Check Out the Street Art

Marseille has some AMAZING street art, so naturally one of the best things to do in Marseille is going mural hunting! Fortunately, you don’t have to look too hard, as it seems like every corner you turn there is a colorful display covering a wall.

My 2 favorite neighborhoods in Marseille for street art are the Cours Julien and Le Panier, both with some amazing pieces. The Cours Julien has great shopping and restaurants as well and a fun hipster/boho vibe. Each alleyway you turn down is covered in pretty art and there is color everywhere.

The same goes for Le Panier, a neighborhood just adjacent to the Vieux Port. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Marseille, Le Panier has a distinctly old fashioned feel. Tiny streets with colorful facades and shutters, laundry hanging out the windows, endless street art…it’s a visual wonderland for photographers. 

Have a Picnic at the Beach

While Marseille is home to some amazing restaurants (and a few Michelin stars), my favorite thing to do in Marseille at mealtime is a simple picnic by the beach. There’s nothing better than stopping at a local boulangerie for sandwiches and quiches and heading to a Calanque or beach to enjoy a meal by the water.

For an extra-special picnic, stop at a Carrefour or Auchun (the 2 major grocery chains in Marseille) and also add olives, tabouli, a baguette and oozing creamy cheese to the mix. Oh and don’t forget the bottle of rosé!

Luckily Marseille has plenty of beaches to enjoy your picnic. There are the Calanques and Frioul Island which I mentioned above, as well as Les Goudes which is a small fishing village on the outskirts of Marseille towards Cassis with a small Calanque. Plage de la Pointe Rouge &  Plage du Prophete are the main beaches within the city of Marseille, which have more of a “city-beach” feel vs the nature of the Calanques.

See a Soccer Game at the Stade Vélodrome

The last but not least of the things to do in Marseille that I will recommend is to go see a soccer game at the Stade Vélodrome! The local team, Olympique de Marseille, are the soul of the city with the loudest and most loyal fans. If you haven’t been to a European soccer game before, I would definitely recommend it as the fans get really into it which makes it so much fun.

The stadium, Stade Vélodrome, is beautiful and newly renovated. The partial roof was added when France won the bid for the 2016 UEFA Euro Cup, finishing construction in 2014. Its unique structure stands out as part of the Marseille skyline and can be viewed from many spots throughout the city.

Check the schedule before your trip to see if there is a home game and if there is I would suggest trying to get tickets. You can buy them easily at the stadium or through a resale site called Viagogo. Tickets will cost between 20 and 40 euros retail and you can either sit in the stands or behind the goal with the huge block of fans (these are the less expensive and much rowdier seats).

Even though there are countless things to do in Marseille, these 10 things will really guarantee you have an amazing time and get the most out of your visit! Bon Voyage!

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Ireland Travel

Traveling Ireland By Bus: Your Guide

February 9, 2020
The old head in Kinsale Ireland

So you’re planning to go traveling around Ireland by bus but you don’t know exactly how it will work? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Ireland is a gorgeous country and a very popular one to visit. With its beautiful scenery, rich and haunting history, and friendly reputation, it’s no surprise Ireland boasts over 11 million overseas tourists per year!

While a lot of those tourists rent cars to drive around the country sightseeing, not everyone is comfortable doing so, especially if you are from one of the 66% percent of countries that follow right-hand traffic laws. If you are one of those people, you might be wondering if it’s possible to have a rich and fulfilling trip to Ireland without driving a car yourself.

Before going to Ireland last spring, I wasn’t sure how to go about researching this and didn’t find a lot of helpful things in existence on the internet, which prompted me to write this post. I’m here to tell you that yes, you can, in fact, get around Ireland solely by bus and public transport and guide you through the process.

Traveling Ireland By bus

Traveling Ireland By Bus: Your Guide

Benefits of Traveling Ireland by Bus

If you’re not completely comfortable with the idea of driving in a foreign country, let alone a country where the entire traffic system is set up opposite of yours, traveling Ireland by bus is an appealing alternative. Luckily, Ireland has a pretty extensive public transportation system that is easy to figure out and use.

You’ll find that by traveling by bus you will have fewer worries and stress because you won’t need to worry about adapting to their road system. Also, depending on where you are traveling, it’s not always easy to find parking (particularly in larger cities like Dublin or Belfast). Traveling by bus will eliminate this stress.

The only downside is that you are limited somewhat in where you travel. Ireland has a lot of tiny rural towns that you will only be able to visit by private car. You are also committed to the bus timetables vs your own schedule.

That said, I spent almost 2 weeks in Ireland traveling solely by bus and was still able to see many amazing sights! You will just have to weigh these factors when deciding for yourself how you plan to travel around Ireland.

The dark hedges in Northern Ireland, one of the places visited by bus
The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

Traveling Ireland by Bus vs Train

Why not do your traveling in Ireland by train? While it’s true that in a lot of European countries it’s much easier to travel by train, in Ireland the buses are a more convenient (and more affordable choice).

The train network in Ireland is mainly between the larger cities, so even if you do travel by rail between major points, you will still most likely have to include a bus ride as well. The one advantage of the train is that it’s generally faster with fewer stops. If you need to make a quick trip (for example, to or from Dublin) for your plane or to catch a bus to a smaller city, then a train might be more convenient.

map of Ireland

Self Guided Bus Travel

A fairly easy and inexpensive way to see Ireland by bus is to travel by way of large bus companies that run between the major hubs in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is also sometimes called “hub travel” and is the best way to see the country on (somewhat) your own terms without renting a car.

The national bus company of Ireland is Bus Eireann which provides transportation throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. They have a very extensive route map with hubs in the larger cities of Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Derry (Northern Ireland) and Belfast (Northern Ireland).

During our 2 week trip to Ireland, we took Bus Eirerran from Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Belfast and had a great experience. It’s easy to check the time tables online so you can plan your trip, and you can generally buy your ticket right at the station before you depart by cash or credit card.

The only thing to be aware of is that you will have to line up in order to board your bus and the line is first come, first serve. Catching our bus from Cork to Galway I was a bit worried we wouldn’t make it on because the line was really long (it was a Sunday). To be fair, they may have added a 2nd bus but I wasn’t sure and it made me really nervous! I would definitely recommend getting to the station early to give yourself time to buy your ticket and get a good spot in line, especially if you are traveling on a weekend day.

Other main bus services include:

  • AirCoach, which mainly runs between the Dublin Airport and other locations such as Dublin City Center, Belfast, Cork City, and smaller Dublin suburbs
  • JJ Kavanaugh, another bus service that caters to routes between the Dublin Airport, suburbs and other city hubs.
  • CityLink, offering routes between Dublin Airport & Center to Cork Airport & City, Limerick, Galway & Clifden.

You can check each company’s individual website to see if they offer the destination you are trying to reach. Some smaller or more remote destinations will be impossible to reach solely by public transport, but by getting yourself to a hub you will have the option of doing a private tour or taxi from there.

The Old Head of Kinsale

Bus Tour Groups

Another option of traveling Ireland by bus is going on a pre-arranged guided tour bus. This is not an option I prefer because I like the freedom of choosing my own timetable and having a bit more flexibility. However, if you do enjoy not having to think about or plan your trip in great detail, this might be a good option for you!

If you go with this option all you have to do is book the tour, pay a deposit and wait for your trip to begin. With this option, your daily schedule, hotels, and even most dining options will be pre-planned for you. Internet searches will bring you countless options for routes and itineraries and you can choose a tour that caters to your personal needs and interests. Make sure to spend time looking through your options and reading reviews of former participants to see if the tour is a good fit.

If you are solo traveling, a tour can also be a good way to not feel so alone and meet other travelers. If you’re worried about traveling with others in your own age range (stereotypically bus tours are known to attract older travelers or young families only), check the reviews to see if there is any information about the age of the average participant. TourRadar is a website where you can search tours specifically by age range to find something that suits your needs.

Another option would be to combine hub travel with a tour if you want to mainly travel between major cities but want to also include a trip to a more remote spot with more guidance. For example, while we took a public bus from Dublin to Belfast, we also did a Game of Thrones Tour from Belfast for a day with a large group and were able to see more sites this way like the Giant’s Causeway and Dark Hedges. We also learned a lot from our guide!

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Sample Ireland Bus Trip Itinerary

If you’re still not sure if and how traveling around Ireland by bus can be done, I also wanted to provide you with a sample Ireland Bus Trip Itinerary! This is based on the route that my friend Molly and I took last spring and I felt we were able to see a lot of the country this way.

Destinations: Cork City, Kinsale, Galway, Belfast, Dublin

Day 1: Arrive at Dublin Airport
Take Bus Eireann from Dublin Airport to Cork City
Spend the night in Cork City (Stay: The Townhouse)
Dinner Recommendation: Market Lane

Day 2: Spend the morning in Cork City
Lunch Recommendation: Tara’s Tea Room (Cork)
Take an afternoon bus to Kinsale from Cork City Bus Station (Parnell Place)
Sleep in Kinsale (Stay: Kinsale Cosy Studio)

Days 3-6: Kinsale
See my post on A Getaway in Colorful Kinsale, Ireland for all the details of our Kinsale stay!
Morning of Day 6 take a bus to Cork City.
Grab lunch on the go in Cork City (depending on the timing of your bus)
and take bus from Cork City Bus Station (Parnell Place) to Galway

Days 6-8: Galway
We spent our whole time in Galway in the city but from Galway you can also take a group tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher, Burren, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, and the Aran Islands.
Morning of Day 8 Take a bus from Galway Coach Station to Dublin Airport (Express), then bus from Dublin Airport to Belfast (Express). Note this was our longest travel day at about 4 hours of travel total.

Days 8-10: Belfast
See my post 2 Nights in Belfast for all the details of our Belfast stay, including information on our Black Taxi Tour and Game of Thrones tour.
We returned to Dublin by way of our Game of Thrones Tour, which originally left from Dublin in the morning and picked us up in Belfast. We stayed on the bus at the end of the tour, saving us a separate bus ride to Dublin.

Days 11-12: Dublin
Day 12: Depart from Dublin Airport

Whether you’re planning on spending days or weeks in Ireland and don’t want to rent a car, I hope this guide is helpful and shows you that it is not only possible to travel Ireland by bus but also recommended if you are uncomfortable driving a car there. Go n-éirí an bóthar leat (may the journey be successful for you)!

Visiting the town of Kinsale while traveling by bus in Ireland
View of Kinsale

Don’t forget to PIN this post for when you plan your bus trip through Ireland!

Leiden Netherlands Travel

5 Reasons to Visit Leiden, The Netherlands

January 27, 2020

It’s almost springtime! (kind of). If you’re heading to The Netherlands this April to check out the tulip fields, I’m sure Amsterdam is on your agenda. It might even be where you decide to stay for your trip. While Amsterdam is amazing (see my guide here), I want to introduce you to it’s smaller, academic little brother: Leiden. I stayed 3 nights in Leiden when I visited The Netherlands I’m going to tell you 5 reasons why you should visit Leiden.

1: The Location

Leiden is located only 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train and only 20 minutes by bus to the famous Keukenhof Garden in Lisse. This makes it the perfect spot for you to set up camp if you want to check out the tulips. It’s also only 15 minutes from The Hague by train which is also worth checking out.

It’s proximity to Keukenhof makes for an easy day trip. During tulip season there are busses that leave regularly from the Leiden Central Train Station. You can buy a bus ticket + garden entrance combo online here for €27.50. If it’s peak tulip season, there will be a line but they run things pretty efficiently. Also be prepared for traffic approaching Lisse.

2: The Size

Leiden’s population is 120,000, making it about 1/8th of the size of Amsterdam. This means that you get the beautiful canals, boats, architecture and charm of a Dutch city, but in a much more manageable size. Once you’re in the center, the city is very walkable. It’s easy to get happily lost amongst it’s cobblestone streets.

Trust me: if you visit The Netherlands in April it will be crowded! After a day at busy Keukenhof, it was nice to come back to a smaller and less crowded city like Leiden vs. Amsterdam.

3: The Market

Leiden has a large market every Saturday and Wednesday that brings a large number of vendors selling traditional Dutch food and other goodies. Cheese, stroopwafels, herring? It’s all there! Even if you’re skeptical, trying Dutch herring is a right of passage you should not miss. Order it with onions and hold the whole fish (don’t worry, it’s small) by the tail as you strip the meat from the bone with your mouth. This is the Dutch way, I was told. Or, you can play it safe and just eat it with a little fork like I did!

4: The Vibe

20,000 of Leiden’s residents are students, thanks to the large university in the city. This gives the city a vibrant and youthful energy that you feel when you’re walking around. I happened to visit on a bank holiday and I loved watching all the boats come through the canals with students and young professionals celebrating their day off.

Perhaps because of it’s student population, Leiden has no shortage of bars, pubs, cafes & restaurants to choose from. Also, Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, so make sure to try Indonesian cuisine while you are there.

5: The Wall Poems

Another unique feature of Leiden is it’s collection of wall poetry! Thanks to a project initiated by the Tegen-Beeld Foundation, over 100 poems in several different languages decorate Leiden’s walls & buildings. There is a map on the foundation website where you can find specific routes to view the poems, or you can explore and stumble upon them on your own if you prefer.

Ready to Go?

Well, there you have it: 5 Reasons to Visit Leiden in The Netherlands! I hope this makes you consider making Leiden part of your Netherlands trip this spring!

Looking for a place to stay in Leiden?



Booking.com

If Amsterdam is on your agenda as well, don’t forget to check out my Solo Girly Guide to Amsterdam.

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Baltimore Travel USA

Hampden, Hon: Your Guide to Baltimore’s Quirkiest Neighborhood

January 26, 2020

What do you think of when someone mentions Baltimore? Inner Harbor? (sure.) The crab cakes? (duh!) The Wire? (probably.) I’m going to tell you about a little pocket of the city you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Charm City: Hampden, Hon. I’ve made a guide to Hampden, Baltimore’s quirkiest neighborhood, which also happens to be my home.

Guide to Hampden: Some History

Before I get into my guide to Hampden, Baltimore I wanted to start you with a little history. Hampden is an enclave north of downtown that was originally built around the mills along the Jones Falls and millworkers that settled there. You can see evidence of this today in the old mills that have been restored into local businesses.

In the 90s it began to undergo a transformation when artists started moving in, making the neighborhood their own. Eventually, 36th Street, known to locals as “The Avenue” or simply “The Ave” filled with restaurants, hip boutiques, and thrift shops.

Today Hampden is known as Baltimore’s hipster haven and center of kitsch, where there’s always something fun going on and something delicious to eat.

What is this “Hon” Thing?

“Hon” is short for “Honey” and is an affectionate term made Balti-famous by the working-class women of the 1960s. A stereotypical Hon has the beehive hairdo, cats eye glasses and bright attention-grabbing clothing (think: Hairspray).

Hampden embraces this kitschy image and even pays homage in an annual HonFest every June, where women dress up in full “Hon” regalia and celebrate all that makes the neighborhood unique.

Honorable mention goes to the plastic Pink Flamingo: Hampden’s unofficial mascot.

Hampden Eats

First on the agenda in my guide to Hampden? Eating of course. This is a tough one because there are just so many good options! It’s really hard to go wrong, but I’ve listed some of my favorites below, categorized by meal.

Brunch/Lunch

Gertrudes | 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218 (Inside the Baltimore Museum of Art)

Open for also for dinner but brunch at Gertrude’s is a real delight! Beautifully set within the museum, the menu focuses on farm to table ingredients and local Chesapeake flavors. If you go during the spring or summer definitely try to sit outside where you’ll have a nice view of the BMA sculpture garden.

Chuck’s Trading Post | 1506 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

Chuck’s is a unique and casual spot – part grocery/general store and part restaurant/bar. Brunch delights like creative skillets and colossal pancakes are served in cast iron pans. A real local gem.

Golden West Cafe | 1105 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

A kitschy neighborhood staple where your wait for a table on the weekend will most definitely be a long one. Once seated though you’ll have a multitude of tasty options to chose from. The restaurant prides itself on “Southwestern comfort food” and it also has a large amount of vegan/vegetarian options. Come hungry!

Artifact | 1500 Union Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

This aesthetically pleasing coffee shop/cafe is close to the Woodberry light rail and worth the extra walking. Featuring local baked goods, sandwiches, salads and a full coffee bar, it’s a great spot to have a cozy lunch.

Dinner

Grano Pasta Bar | 1031 W 36th St Baltimore MD 21211

Once featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-ins & Dives, Grano is my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood which is why it tops my list on the guide to Hampden. Super simple menu (pick your pasta, pick your sauce…voila), quaint interior and friendly staff, you can’t go wrong. Oh, did I mention it’s BYOB? Yep! So grab a bottle of your favorite vino and your date or friend and enjoy it. Just be prepared, for interior dining most tables are only for 2 people, there is one table for 4 and it’s first come/first serve. They’ve added more outdoor seating for warmer months for bigger parties.

Dylan’s Oyster Cellar | 3601 Chestnut Avenue Baltimore, MD 21211

“Oysters & Booze” is what this restaurant is all about with it’s sustainably sourced seafood and creative craft cocktails. The menu is small but mighty, obviously heavy on the seafood but they do feature a burger. I go for the small bites (the anchovy on baguette bite is my favorite!) and oysters of course.

Birrotecca | 1520 Clipper Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211

Rustic Italian with local ingredients, Birrotecca is housed in an old stone mill and has a cozy festive vibe. The food is phenomenal from it’s interesting pizzas to unique plates of pasta and everything in between. They also have quite a variety of craft cocktails and a HUGE wine and beer list.

Clavel* | 225 W 23rd St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Okay so this restaurant is not technically in Hampden, it’s in the sister neighborhood of Remington. I know, I know, this is a guide to HAMPDEN.

But since it’s so close and SO good, here it is. Clavel is a “family-owned Taqueria & Mezcaleria serving food deeply rooted in Sinaloan ritual.” It’s interior is sophisticated industrial chic and its margaritas are the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few). It’s INSANELY popular with a no reservation policy so always expect a wait. My trick is to go for happy hour during the week (5-7) and enjoy $4 off margs and queso fundido.

Sweets

The Charmery | 801 W 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

If you do one thing in Hampden, make sure you stop at The Charmery. Their ice cream is handcrafted from “super-premium” ingredients and is quite frankly delicious. They have their staple flavors (Old Bay Caramel anyone?) and then they switch it up with weekly and seasonal flavors. Some are somewhat standard and some are SUPER out there like Ritz Cracker. Either way, you’ll be able to find something that you love, and they let you sample as many as you want before making your final decision. During summer expect a line that wraps around the block.

Quality Snowballs (Seasonal) | 1014 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Quality Snowballs was new last year and features TONS of variations on the Baltimore classic dessert: the snowball (shaved ice with toppings.) You can do a regular snowball with syrup or a more involved snowball with a variety of toppings. Some examples include Cinnamon Bun & Salted Caramel Shortbread. Only open in Spring and Summer.

Hampden Drinks

There’s also no shortage of watering holes in Hampden, and many of the places I’ve mentioned already have excellent cocktails and wine lists. There are a few places I’d recommend especially for the drinks though, and I’ll share them below:

Bluebird Cocktail Room | 3600 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

I’m obsessed with the interior of Bluebird – like a gorgeous library where you can talk, drink and eat. Their cocktail menu changes seasonally and always has a literary theme to its drinks. Expect to pay between $12-18 for a cocktail but it’s all part of the decadent experience. They also serve food and lite bites if you feel like nibbling.

De Kleine Duivel | 3602 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

Below the Bluebird, this unassuming Beer Hall with a nice atmosphere serves only Belgian beer from an extensive list. They also have a nice selection of wine and often have events such as live music or discussions.

WC Harlan* | 400 W 23rd St, Baltimore, Maryland 21211

Another Remington Gem from the same owner of Clavel, WC Harlan is a unique speakeasy in a rowhouse with a door simply marked “Enter” in chalk. The Victorian decor is right out of Edgar Allen Poe’s era, giving it a cozy and spooky vibe. A great spot to grab a craft cocktail while you’re waiting for your table at Clavel.

Hampden Shopping

Clothing & Gifts

Next on my guide to Hampden, Baltimore? Shopping! Don’t come to Hampden with an empty wallet, that’s for sure. From home decor to clothing, to vintage finds, this neighborhood is a great spot to shop for yourself or for gifts.

Trohv | 921 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Your first stop if you need to buy an amazing gift – Trohv is a curated selection of home decor, stationery, housewares, books, art, bath, and beauty…the list goes on. There are two floors filled with unique merchandise, a lot of it locally made. But be prepared to drop some serious cash.

Brightside Boutique | 915 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

A store with attitude – in the best possible way! Women-owned and one of several locations in the area, Brightside has a great selection of on-trend fashion (for men and women), accessories, cards, jewelry, and gifts. The store just makes you happier when you walk inside and I consider reason enough to check it out.

Double Dutch | 1021 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

Another unique boutique with brightly colored pieces & accessories, they also sell locally made beauty products, apparel, and stationary. There is a small vintage section as well alongside the new items.

In Watermelon Sugar | 3555 Chestnut Ave # 1, Baltimore, MD 21211

Another favorite spot for gifts, this store has a beautiful inventory of high-end bath and beauty products, books, candles, stationery and kids items. During the holidays they stock up on gorgeous decor and ornaments which they display in the most beautiful way.

Milk & Ice Vintage | 833 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

One of several vintage shops on the Ave but this one I think has a particularly curated and special stock of clothes that they merchandise really well. They also have a small amount of other (non-clothing) vintage items for sale.

Food & Beverage

The Wine Source | 3601 Elm Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

I’d be remiss if I left out the glorious Wine Source from my guide to Hampden. Not just a wine store, it’s stocked with a wonderful selection of beer, liquor, cheese, gourmet foods, locally baked bread and of course wine from all over the world. There’s also a tasting bar where you can sit and have a beverage and the staff is super helpful. A great spot to pick up a bottle to bring with you to BYOB Grano (see above).

Annual Events in Hampden

HonFest

As mentioned above, HonFest occurs every June and pays homage to the neighborhood and city’s “Hon” culture. The Avenue is blocked off with food and craft vendors and 3 stages of live music as well as a “Hon Pageant”. Expect to see lots of beehive hairdos and feather boas.

HampdenFest

A smaller version of HonFest, this one takes place in September. The Avenue is still filled with vendors and live music but the main show here it the “Toilet Bowl Race” (I told you Hampden was quirky!) where locals craft “racecars” out of toilets and compete in a dash down Chestnut Avenue. If you don’t believe me, check it out!

Miracle on 34th Street

Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving, the houses on Hampden’s 34th Street between Chestnut and Keswick are fully decked out in lights and holiday displays. It’s a magical spot (although I admit as a resident the extra cars during this time make parking pretty difficult). It’s certainly something to see during the holiday season. On New Year’s Eve, the whole neighborhood + visitors gather for a mini ball drop which signifies the end of the lights.

Visiting Hampden

Hampden is located north of downtown Baltimore. You can get there from downtown by hopping on Interstate 83 and taking exit 8: Falls Road. This will bring you right to The Avenue (36th Street). If you’re traveling by light rail, exit at the Woodberry Station which will leave you a 10-15 minute walk from the Avenue. If you’re taking the train down from New York or up from DC, Penn Station is also only a 5 minute Uber Ride from The Avenue.

Whether you’re a local who’s never been or a first time Baltimore visitor, I really hope you’ll consider heading to Hampden to experience its unique culture and amazing eats, drinks, and shops. I hope this guide to Hampden helps you plan your visit.

If you’re planning on exploring more of Baltimore, check out my Baltimore Street Art Map and my guide to my 5 Favorite Photo Spots in Baltimore.

Don’t forget to PIN THIS to help you plan your trip!

Baltimore Travel USA

5 Charming Photo Spots in Baltimore, Maryland

January 25, 2020

Looking for the most Charming photo spots in Baltimore? Look no further!

Baltimore is the largest city in the US State of Maryland, and is also the place I call home. Despite it’s gritty reputation, Baltimore is a lovely “small city” with character and lots of charm. I love the diversity, quirkiness, art scene and waterfront local…not to mention the famous crab cakes!

I’m going to share some of my favorite photo spots with you, along with a map so you can find your way.

Fells Point

I love the Fells Point neighborhood for several reasons – one being it’s amazing waterfront location. You get great views of the Baltimore Harbor as you make your way down it’s quaint cobblestone streets.

One of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods and was once inhabited primarily by pirates! It’s also home to some of Baltimore’s best pubs & taverns and adorable boutiques (as a reward after you finish your photo session.)

Some of my personal favorites for photos:

  • Urban Garden near the corner of Thames and S. Ann Street
  • Row of pastel houses on South Ann Street between Alicanna and Lancaster
  • Thames Street storefronts
  • Sagamore Pendry Hotel (Courtyard & Pool Area)

Hampden & Woodberry Murals

Okay so I may be a bit partial because I live in Hampden, but I think we have some pretty amazing photo spots! Hampden is a quirky hipster ‘hood north of downtown.

Come to take photos and stay for the food because we also boast some of the best restaurants in the city (Woodberry Kitchen, Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, The Food Market, The Blue Bird, just to name a few). The thrift and vintage shopping is also on fire here, so don’t forget your wallet.

Hampden & it’s sister neighborhood have plenty of murals to keep you busy. Also check out the huge flamingo facade on Cafe Hon, it can’t be missed.

Favorite Hampden/Woodberry Photo Spots:

  • Baltimore & Charmery Wall Murals
  • 38th Street Pastel Houses
  • Creative Labs & Surrounding Walls

Graffiti Alley

It’s no secret this is one of my favorite photo spots in Baltimore, as it’s appeared several times on my social media feed. Graffiti Alley is in the Station North neighborhood, nestled slightly north of downtown (close to the train station and Maryland Academy and Institute of Art.)

The name says it all: it’s literally a tiny alley where graffiti has been made legal, making it a super colorful background for photos. Afterwards you can stop at the Showroom Bar for a drink or head to Joe Squared for amazing pizza.

Seton Hill Historic District

Seton Hill is one of my newer discoveries, although it’s been around for quite awhile!  

It’s located between Mount Vernon and Heritage Crossing, Seton Hill was also once known as the “French Quarter” of Baltimore, founded by priests fleeing the French Revolution. You can still see the influence in the Parisian style lampposts that dot some of the streets!
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There is an adorable row of pastel houses on Jasper Street, between Druid Hill Ave and George Street. You can also find some pretty colors on Druid Hill Ave between North Paca Street & Jasper Street.

Highlandtown Arts & Entertainment District

Another graffiti mecca, Highlandtown Arts & Entertainment district is a bustling part of the city plenty of colorful spots to photograph. It’s a large area that actually encompasses parts of several neighborhoods including Greektown, Patterson Park, Highlandtown and Canton.

It’s also home to the performing art space venue The Creative Alliance, which is definitely worth checking out.

Ready to go exploring? Check out this handy map for easy reference:

Want to find even MORE charming photo spots in Baltimore? Check out my Baltimore Street Art Map which I try to keep current with murals and colorful spots I find.

And don’t forget to PIN this for future reference: