Western Europe

Country #94 - Portugal

The European Balcony

I woke up around 9am and had another great breakfast at Dar Ayniwen. The weather was not as nice today so I ate inside but it was still quite the beautiful setting. After breakfast I met with Stephane again, this time to take some pictures. I also met his assistant who was so nice as well! They gave be a necklace as a goodbye gift and, though I hated to say goodbye to such a magical retreat of a hotel, I headed off to the airport. The Marrakesh airport is brand new and has a very cool and modern design. I sat in the reclined chairs in the lounge for a few minutes before heading to my gate to go to Lisbon, Portugal!

I absolutely love Lisbon and am very excited to be going back on this trip. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful capital cities in all of Europe. My flight was a few hours and I arrived in Lisbon around 2pm. Immigration was a breeze and so was taking the metro. It’s nice to be in a city that I’ve been in before because I know what I need to do to get around and enjoy the city and I also know the general layout of the city. I arrived at my beautiful hotel, Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel, which was right in the heart of Lisbon. My room was stunning and was the perfect place to relax. Though I had time to get out I decided to spend a few hours just getting caught up on everything and planning for the next few days that I would again be in Africa. I loved relaxing in the room and enjoying the absolutely ideal weather. My room had European balconies and I left the doors open while I worked. It was really quite perfect! Thank you so much to Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip.

I headed out for dinner a few hours later. I had developed a bit of an upset stomach (I’m assuming from all of the weird foods I have had over the past few days) so that was another reason for staying in today. I hadn’t eaten all day and was really craving a burger so I ate at a nice burger spot called The B Temple. I had a burger, good fries, and amazing aioli sauce. After dinner I walked around the area for a bit. I was wondering why it looked so familiar at first, and then I realized it was right by where I stayed in Lisbon two years ago. On my walk I grabbed some gelato which was my first gelato in quite some time. Boy, do I love Europe and its plethora of gelato! The nice weather made it extra enjoyable. I also stumbled into the world’s oldest operating bookstore, Bertrand Bookshop, which was a random but interesting find. I headed back to my hotel to get what would be my last good night of sleep for a few nights. Tomorrow I will spend the morning exploring Lisbon before I head to Guinea-Bissau!

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The Belém Tower

I got a great night of sleep and then had a tasty breakfast at Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel before heading out for the day. I only had a few hours in Lisbon so I decided to head to my favorite part of the city, Belém. Belém has many famous sites and is a great place to spend a day or more exploring. I took the tram from the city center all the way to Belém. I got off in front of the famous Jerónimos Monastery. It was so tempting to go inside and see the beautiful monastery, but I had a different plan for the day. I walked towards the water where I passed the Padrão dos Descobrimentos statue (you can go to the top for a great view of Lisbon) and the Museu Coleção Berardo. Museu Coleção Berardo was one of my absolute favorite parts of my last visit to Lisbon and I really wish I had had more time to visit it today. It is an incredible modern art museum!

I continued to walk along the water until I reached my destination, Belém Tower. I saw Belém Tower from the outside last time on my last visit but it unfortunately closed right as I arrived last time. So, I was determined to see it today! Belém Tower was built in 1519 for defensive purposes. It is truly amazing how preserved it is! When I arrived I was so close to being put off by the long line, but I am very glad that I stuck with it. The line didn’t move at all for almost twenty minutes, and then all of the sudden I was inside.

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Belém Tower was so cool on the inside. There were multiple floors but the best part was the top. It was amazing that a tower built as a defense system could be so beautiful, but it truly was. I really enjoyed walking all through it, and luckily it did not take too long as I had to start heading back to my hotel as soon as I finished. I took the tram back, grabbed my things, and then took the metro back to the airport. When I got to the airport I waited in Lisbon’s really cool lounge for a bit before I headed to board my flight for Guinea-Bissau. It was a short but sweet visit to Lisbon, and I can’t wait to visit again soon!

94 countries down, 103 to go.

For more information on Portugal click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel click here.

Country #91 - Malta

The Church View

It was quite the busy ordeal to get to Malta today! My day started around 4:45am when I met Duncan downstairs at Spirit of the Nights Boutique Hotel for a goodbye orange juice. He was so kind and packed me a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast! He was also super helpful in carrying my bag to the main road over the cobblestones, something I was not looking forward to this morning. After reaching the road and saying goodbye I walked to the bus station to head to the airport.

The airport was small and not very busy, and before I knew it I was taking off for Athens yet again. When I landed in Athens I was able to use my new Priority Pass membership for the first time. This will come up a lot over the course of my trip from here on out so I’m going to try and explain it here. Basically, I applied (and was approved for) a new credit card that includes an unlimited Priority Pass membership with the card benefits. Priority Pass will allow me to go in airport lounges around the world for free! I should have thought of this much sooner as it will make my life much easier. I’ll have a nicer place to wait, free food and drinks, and just overall better airport experiences from here on out. It’s not like I have had bad experiences, but I calculated today that I have flown over 130 times so far as part of my trip, so i just need a change of pace and a more relaxing environment if I’m going to keep spending so much time in airports. So at this point Priority Pass seemed like a no brainer and I look forward to using it over the coming months.

The lounge was nice, almost empty, and had many good breakfast options. I was able to work in peace and quiet for a few hours before boarding my next flight to Rome. The flight was not too long but was a bit strange as when I landed I was dumped out into baggage claim instead of into the terminal, so I had to go through security again. Luckily the line was nonexistent and my next flight was running a few minutes late so I made the connection in time. I had enough time, in fact, that in my ten minutes in the airport in Rome I bought both pizza and gelato. It is legitimately impossible for me to enter Italy and not do so. It was a pretty good gelato, too!

My flight to Malta was a little longer than I was expecting but not too bad. I arrived in Malta around 3pm and took a public transit bus to where I’m staying in Malta, Pergola Hotel. The drive was very winding and the island was quite conflicting. I was not a fan of the architecture on Malta at all, but then it also had amazing views of the water. Another thing that I immediately noticed about Malta was the sheer volume of British tourists. It was January but they were everywhere! It seemed like literally everyone was British.

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When I arrived to Pergola it was just right across the street from the bus stop. I took an elevator up seven floors to reach the reception desk where I checked in and was given a room on that floor. My room had an incredible view! Straight ahead was the town of Mellieha and the beautiful Parish Church of Mellieha stole the show. It was quite the site to have right off from your balcony. And to my right was the water and the beautiful coast line. It was a view that will be hard to beat! Thank you so much to Pergola Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip and for giving me some great views. The best part was that I arrived right at sunset so it was even prettier than I could have imagined.

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The unfortunate part of arriving at sunset, though, was not having enough time to go walk around as everything was already closed. At least I was able to see a lot from my room, I guess. I explored the hotel for a bit before Facetiming with my mom to show her the view and then heading to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant with an equally great view. I had a good burger before heading back to my room to work on a few things before tomorrow. I will be heading to Algeria tomorrow and won’t have reliable cell phone service for the next few days so there was quite a lot to prepare for and check on.

It was a nice and relaxing evening in Malta before another early morning and a crazy next few days. Tomorrow is my first African country and I am really looking forward it!

91 countries down, 106 to go.

For more information on Malta click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Pergola Hotel click here.

 

Country #82 - Austria

The Hauptplatz

I arrived in Austria around 4pm and headed straight from the train station to my first hotel of the trip, Hotel B&B Graz. I’m so excited to sleep in a real bed tonight you don’t even know! Hotel B&B Graz was only a five-minute walk from the train station which I really appreciated. When I arrived I was greeted so warmly! I had my picture taken checking in and in front of the Hotel B&B Graz sign. Everyone was so welcoming and I really appreciated the warm welcome! Thank you so much to Hotel B&B Graz for sponsoring this night of my trip. After receiving my key card I was so tempted to literally just collapse into my bed, but after realizing how late it already was and that there was a chance of rain later I toughed it out and headed back out to see Graz!

It was about a ten-minute walk from Hotel B&B Graz to the city center. My first stop was Kunsthaus. Kunsthaus was such a cool building! Its design was incredible and it also lit up at night in different patterns which was so cool. The inside was neat as well, but unfortunately, the exhibit hall was already closed for the night so I just visited the museum store instead. From here I walked over to see Murinsel, which is basically a man-made island in the middle of the Mur River that, once again, had such a cool design!

My next stop was to walk past the Clock Tower that sits on top of the hill (I was way too tired to climb up it) and then I headed into the heart of the Old Town. I walked past The Hauptplatz which was the main square in the center of the town, and from there I headed inside of Kastner + Ohler, the big designer department store in Graz, to warm up! It was really pretty inside and made for a great pit stop on my walk through the Old Town. From there I walked up Sporgasse, the main Old Town street, which very picturesque. My last stop was to walk by the Glockenspiel. I was not about to wait outside for over thirty minutes in below freezing weather to see the Glockenspiel actually run, but it was a beautiful building!

I walked back to The Hauptplatz where I grabbed a burger to go from a food stall and then headed back toHotel B&B Graz. I was very glad to finally be headed to get a good night’s sleep! I ate the burger very quickly and literally just fell into the bed at 7pm. I haven’t been that tired in a while, but at least I was able to get a ton of sleep tonight!

82 countries down, 115 to go.

For more information on Austria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Hotel B&B Graz click here.

Country #78 - Ireland

The Airports

My mom and I woke up at about 3:30am this morning, making it without a doubt our earliest morning of the trip. We took a taxi to the Budapest airport (BUD) where we had to go through immigration as we were leaving the Schengen Zone. It didn’t take too long and we were soon on our first (of three) flights of the day, this one being to London Stansted (my least favorite airport, of course). The flight took about two hours, the first of which I blogged and the second I slept. When we got to Stansted we had purchased fast track passed for both immigration and security as we had a really short time to transit. Immigration was pretty simple (we just went straight to the front of the line), but security took a while longer.

The fastpass line for security was almost empty, yet somehow it seemed like almost every person in line had to have a bag go through extra screening. So we were through security in like two minutes, but along with everyone else had to wait over twenty minutes. I get it, but also there is a limit – if your systems can’t handle the extra screenings effectively then something needs to be done, and if I’ve learned anything through my travels it’s that Stansted Airport can literally handle nothing effectively. We finally got our bag (which wasn’t even checked, just randomly selected when there was already a line of twenty bags), we then grabbed a quick snack at Pret and headed to our gate.

It took a little bit to board but even longer to actually leave. We sat on the tarmac for over an hour, eventually arriving an hour late to Dublin on what was only itself an hour-long flight. When we arrived we then had three hours until our next flight instead of the four we had originally planned on. I know that sounds incredibly early, but Dublin has a different system than any other airport I have ever flown to the US from. It is called US Preclearance, and you actually go through US Customs and Border Patrol in Ireland. So then when you land in the US, you are treated like a domestic incoming flight – you just walk right out of the airport. Anyways, I had no idea how long this process would take, so we were trying to be extra early.

Exit immigration was annoyingly slow as they only had two desks open for a very long non-EU passport line while they had at least twenty EU lines open. We got through after about twenty minutes, and then had to switch terminals. We checked in to our Norwegian where this time they thankfully didn’t weigh our bags, because they without a doubt would have been overweight. I am actually amazed that we fit everything in our bags to get it back home – it was definitely a struggle, though! I got witnesses to sign for Ireland as well at the check in counter, and then we made our way to round one of security.

You have to go through security twice when flying to the US through somewhere that has US Preclearance. The first is the airport’s basic security, and the second is a TSA level security screening. I was randomly selected for extra screening today which wasn’t too exciting, but the line was actually shorter than the regular lines so I ended up finishing at the same time as my mom. The next step was immigration, which was a breeze as always for me thanks to Global Entry – I’m so glad they had it at US Preclearance! It took my mom twenty minutes in the regular line while I was done in maybe two at the most. I waited for her on the other side before we bought a few snacks and made our way to our gate.

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We boarded and were off without issue. Takeoff was actually pretty exciting as there was a bunny right by the runway! That's definitely not something you see every day. Once we were in the air there were enough seats for us to move and each have an entire row right across from each other – it was so nice, especially after such a long day! When we land in New York we are being picked up in Newburgh by my Aunt Dana, and are then headed to eat dinner with my cousin Robert who is a freshman at West Point. It will be so nice to spend time with them both, but especially to get to see Robert as he doesn’t get too many Alabama visitors so far from home!

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I know that I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Ireland, which was definitely sad for me as it is one of my favorite countries that I have visited before starting this trip, but my main reasoning was that I just spent so much time here last year. I spent a week traveling all throughout the country only eighteen months ago, so of every country that I have skipped through quickly, it was one of the less painful to do that for. I’ll definitely post some pictures from my actual visit though! I spent time in Belfast (it’s in Northern Ireland, so technically the UK), Dublin, Galway, Killarney, and Cork, and it was a great introduction to just an amazing place. Some of my favorite stops were the Titanic Museum in Belfast, spending a few days in Dublin, the natural beauty of Killarney National Park, being poured rain on in Galway, and kissing the Blarney Stone in Cork. If you want to learn more, check out my Ireland guide. I had the most incredible time on that trip (I travelled most of it by train), and cannot wait to visit again in the hopefully very near future!

This trip to Europe for the past two weeks with my mom has been so much fun and really just the best time. I travel by myself so much that it was so nice to have someone to share things with, even if only for a little while! Solo travel and travel with others are just so different but I love them both so much. One of the best aspects of this trip was that we visited many places that I had been before, so I was able to share my favorite things from those places, but then we also did so many new things and visited even those places that I had been before during an entirely different time of year. The Christmas Markets were an amazing part of our trip, and I highly recommend you take a trip to Europe to see and enjoy them. My favorites markets were Helsinki and Prague, my favorite street lights and decorations were Amsterdam, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg, and my favorite light show was hands down in Brussels.

It was truly just the best and it is a bummer to be going home, but at least we are headed home for an exciting few weeks around the holidays! I’m very glad to be home for Christmas with my family and both of my extended families before setting off again at the end of December. Also, fun side note, I am now officially 40% done visiting every country in the world!!

78 countries down, 119 to go.

For more information on Ireland click here to read my guide.

Country #77 - Hungary

The Fisherman’s Bastion

It’s a sad day as it is the last day of my trip with my mom through Europe. We had a full day in Budapest, Hungary though, so we definitely finished on a high note! We began the day with breakfast at our hotel, Fraser Residence Budapest, before taking the great public transit in Budapest over to Buda Castle. Inside Buda Castle we visited the Hungarian National Gallery for about forty-five minutes. It was really cool because almost all of the art was Hungarian and it covered Renaissance to Modern art. Afterwards we headed outside to watch the changing of the guard. It was definitely unique and I’m really glad we saw it. There were about ten men doing a drill with their guns to a snare drum.

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Afterwards we walked over to Castle Hill where we first visited Mátyás Templom. Mátyás Templom is a beautiful and very unique church that is one of the highlights of Budapest in my opinion. It is so intricate both inside and out, and I love how inside you can climb to the second level and go through a small museum. When we finished at Mátyás Templom we then did Fisherman's Bastion which was right next door. The architecture of the interesting structure that is almost synonymous with Budapest is fantastic as art the views out over the city from it. We walked along it before then buying a few souvenirs on our way to lunch.

For lunch we ate at one of the best restaurants of my trip thus far, 21 Hungarian Restaurant. I want to thank 21 so much for sponsoring this meal of my trip! It was an absolutely perfect meal. I started off with some yummy (and, more importantly, warm) hot chocolate. We had bread to start with a tasty local spread. Next, we shared a goulash and man it was so good. Like we could have stopped there with our meal and been more than satisfied! We kept going, though, and our main courses were exquisite. I had wiener schnitzel and my mom had chicken paprikash, though we definitely shared with each other. Mine came with creamy mashed potatoes that were so buttery and good.

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We were absolutely stuffed by the time we finished, but we ordered traditional Hungarian sponge cake for desert anyways. It was a good call because it was so tasty and a great way to finish off our perfect meal! 21 Hungarian Restaurant not only had great food but a great location (right by Fisherman’s Bastion) and a really cool asthetique as well. Thank you again so much to everyone at 21 - we had excellent service throughout our meal and could not have asked for a better lunch!

After lunch we took the bus over to walk along the water from the Chain Bridge and see the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, which is dedicated to those who were shot into the Danube during WWII. It is a really unique but very well done memorial, and you should definitely visit if you ever find yourself in Budapest. From there we walked to the famous Hungarian Parliament Building, which truly is one of the most intricate and beautiful buildings. We decided against visiting inside, though, because it was really quite expensive and there wasn’t another English tour for an hour. Our next walk was to St. Stephen's Basilica. On the way there we passed two of the cutest puppies playing together in a park and it was just really a cuteness overload.

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We arrived at St. Stephen's Basilica and found the first of two Christmas markets we would be visiting today set up outside. We went in St. Stephen's Basilica before doing the market to give ourselves plenty of time to shop. It is a beautiful church and the inside is so beautiful and intricate. The exterior is also the perfect backdrop for a Christmas market, and made the market all the more enjoyable. We visited all of the stalls and bought a few souvenirs before making our way to a second Christmas market located at Vörösmarty Square.

The street lights around Vörösmarty Square were so pretty and much more plentiful than throughout the rest of the city (there were lots throughout the city but this area wa especially well decorated). There was a cool light display on one of the buildings in the square, and we spent a good amount of time shopping through all of these stalls as well. Once we finished shopping we had a great Hungarian snack for a light dinner, as we were still stuffed from lunch, called a langos. Our langos (and what seemed to be the most basic offering) was basically a funnel cake covered in sour cream and shredded cheese and boy was it good. Someone needs to start selling them at home because I would definitely buy them! We also had mulled wine to drink which was good but more importantly warm.

After eating we walked back through the market and then took the metro back to Fraser Residence Budapest. It was relatively early but we have to be up at 3:30am tomorrow for a very early flight to start off our crazy long day of travel to get back home. It was a great last day of the trip, though, and a really perfect day spent seeing Budapest!

77 countries down, 120 to go.

For more information on Hungary click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Fraser Residence Budapest click here.