AJ Travels :: London

London is one of the coolest cities I've been to. I love the juxtaposition of 1,000 year old buildings next to futuristic glass towers. It's only an hour flight from Dublin, so we decided to spend a few days exploring the city and being SUPER tourists.

We normally like to take a more leisurely approach to exploring cities, taking it a neighborhood at a time and just seeing where the day takes us. Since we only had four days in London, though, we decided to go full throttle and buy The London Pass for a few days of touristy fun. If you aren't familiar, you pay one price and have access to over 60 attractions including Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge. We bought the pass directly from the app on our phones, and pulled it up in Passbook on iPhone to get into all of the attractions we decided to visit. Often this meant skipping a long line, and since we just had to scan the pass and go, it was much quicker than checking out at every place. We saved about $50 or so on tickets doing a two-day pass. My only regret is that we didn't buy the three-day pass, since it was only £6 more. We could have fit another 1-2 places into our last day since our plane left so late.

Our first day, we checked into our hotel (Park Plaza Westminster Bridge - great location!) and decided to book a tour of The Palace of Westminster to learn all about UK Parliament. I highly recommend booking the guided tour - we got to access parts of the palace that the audio tours did not.

Our next day began our super tourist day, and the first day of using London Pass. We managed to fit a LOT into our day, starting with a trip to Shakespeare's Globe, a recreation of his theatre and museum. As a theatre nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed learning the history! Next, we made our way to the Tower Bridge, wandering through the Borough Market (it smells amazing!) and dropping into the Southwark Cathedral

Next up, a walk across the top of the Tower Bridge. You can walk across glass and watch the cars below, finishing your tour in the engine rooms to learn all about how they raise and lower the bridge. Our guide told us that during peak season in the summer, they can raise and lower the bridge up to 12 times a day!

Second stop: The Tower of London, which is absolutely huge and amazing. This is where they keep the Crown Jewels, which was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. There's so much to explore here, we spent over two hours there. By the time we had finished, it was getting dark so we decided to try The London Bridge Experience next, something we might not have discovered if it were not on the pass attractions. This was by far the weirdest thing we did - the tour goes through the tombs under the bridge, but is actually kind of hilarious. It ends in a completely unrelated haunted house. 

After so many unnecessary chainsaws (seriously, this tour was so weird), we dropped into The Shard for a few cocktails while taking in a gorgeous view of the city. Protip: It costs £26 to book a ticket to the viewing gallery, but for free you can get the same view at Aqua Shard, and enjoy a cocktail while looking down on the city. After a wine or two, we headed to Coppa for dinner. I highly recommend Coppa! In the winter, they put igloos on the patio so you can dine with a view, and their prices were extremely reasonable. The Crispy Fried Truffled Gnocchi was *SO* delish. Now that I've literally told you everything in the next story, see it for yourself:

We got an early start the next morning, heading to Westminster Abbey. I basically devoured The Crown the week before we left, so seeing the place of so many royal weddings and coronations for myself was absolutely amazing. We did the audio tour on this one, which my husband was a little skeptical of, but ended up thoroughly enjoying. It's insanely old and beautiful, and one of my favorite things we did in London. It takes about two hours to get through if you listen to all of the guides and really take your time to explore. 

After that, we headed to the Churchill War Rooms, a museum and audio tour through the WW2. Let me start by saying that this is a fascinating tour. I definitely was more interested after watching The Crown, and Winston Churchill was such an interesting man. That being said - we were in there for over two hours! I was not expecting the tour to take that long. You'll want to make sure you have a solid chunk of day to tackle the whole museum. 

After a full day of tourist stuff, we did the most touristy thing of all - Warner Brother's Studio Tour, where they filmed a large amount of Harry Potter. Nerd alert! It was, by far, one of the most magical things I've seen. They have a large amount of sets, props, and costumes from the movies, and the tour reveals all sorts of interesting bits of movie magic. We booked the last tour of the day - 6:30 - which actually was pretty nice, because as rooms cleared out, you could get really great photos (like the one we got in the Great Hall!). This tour takes 2-3 hours, and I'm glad we did a night tour, since most other attractions are closed at night. It, of course, deserved a story all its own:

Our final day in London was a little more low key. We ate some proper English pies at the cutest little pie shop: Pieminister (CUTE NAME ALERT), explored the Tate Modern, and then spent the rest of our evening in a cozy wine bar in Leadenhall Market: Broker's Wine Bar & Restaurant. The wine was cheap, the pours were good, and they played nothing but David Bowie and George Michael. Plus, the owner came around and gave us snacks after an hour or so, which is clearly the way to my heart.

I loved London, and cannot wait to go back. I have a long list of other restaurants, bars, and attractions I want to see on our next trip! If you need me, I'll be looking up tickets for the summer.

AJ Travels :: Dublin, Ireland

Ireland is known for a few things: its lush, scenic countryside, Guinness and whiskey, and its friendly people, all of which I got to know dearly over the few days we spent on the Emerald Isle. 

Our first day in Dublin, we hit the ground running. After a relatively short red-eye flight (compared to Japan - only about 6 hours!), we dropped our luggage off at the Tipperary House, a darling hostel that felt more like a B&B than a grown-up dorm. I'd highly recommend the accommodations for budget travelers - we had a private room for four nights for less than $300. It's close to Heuston Station and a LUAS stop, and most everything is less than a 3 km walk away.

On the agenda for the first day: exploring the city and getting the groundwork of our neighborhood, a jet lag induced nap, then our first pint of Guinness (EVER!) at an adorable neighborhood pub, Nancy Hands. Their Garlic Cheese Chips are among some of the best things I had the whole trip.

Day two was all about Guinness. We spent over two hours exploring the seven story Guinness Storehouse, a museum within the brewery. Over 1.2 million barrels of Guinness are brewed each year, making them the largest stout producer in the world. While tickets are a bit pricey (especially if you aren't a beer lover), there's plenty to see on this tour. We actually got to pour our own pint of Guinness - which takes two minutes from start to first drink - and learned all about the glass and proper pour. We became expert tasters in a private tasting room, explored the history of their advertising, and topped the day off in a spectacular bar at the top of the Storehouse, which provides a 360° view of Dublin.

While New Year's Eve wasn't an all-out crazy event like we celebrate in the States, we still rang in Day three and 2017 with a bang. NYE we had an amazing dinner at The Bank, a restaurant built in...you guessed it, an old bank. The inside is absolutely gorgeous, super cozy and romantic. The Goats Cheese Mousse was by far my favorite thing we ate there. After that, it was pretty standard, toasting with prosecco at a trendy pub, hanging out in a cozy wine bar and danced in the streets with some Irish women, the Macarena at a completely nuts latin club that I'm still not sure how we found.

New Year's Day was fairly low-key, thanks in part to many places being closed to celebrate the holiday. We did a tour and tasting at Teeling Distillery, which I highly recommend to whiskey fans. No trip to Ireland is complete without dropping into Temple Bar, especially for first timers. I'm SO glad we didn't let reviews scare us off - many people said it was too touristy. Tourists or not, it was a blast. 

Our last full day in Ireland was a big one. We decided to hop on a bus for a day tour to the Cliffs of Moher. I wish we'd had a few more days to explore the countryside; Ireland's landscape is some of the most beautiful I've seen since my trip to New Zealand. While we toyed around with renting a car and doing Galway and the Cliffs on our own, I'm kind of glad we did the bus instead. The roads are scary narrow and curvy. We traveled with the Dublin Tour Company, which made several stops along the way. The guides were informative and entertaining, and we had plenty of time to see a LOT in a day.

Honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of Ireland. When we make a repeat trip some day, I plan to spend a lot more time on the west side of the country. Also a very useful fact: Western Ireland would be a great place to wait out a zombie apocalypse. There are rocks everywhere to trip them, hardly any people, and you'd see them coming for miles. If stuff goes down, that's where you'll find me.

I loved Ireland. The people are some of the kindest, funniest people I've encountered on my travels. They're friendly and warm, and so excited to share their beautiful country and heritage with you. I honestly could get quite used to spending my evenings in cozy pubs, making new friends everywhere I went. Seriously, every place we went we made some friends; one couple invited us to summer in the midlands with them.  

Each of these stories above was made with Steller, a fantastic little storytelling app. Click through and explore each of my days in more detail, and tomorrow I'll be posting all about the second half of our trip: London!

AJ Travels :: 9 Hours in NYC

I'm back! I'm back in the land of muggles and currently experiencing some serious post-departurem depression while I adjust back to the real world. My husband and I just got back from two weeks over the pond in Ireland and England, which I'll be recapping a bit over the next couple of days. It was my first jaunt to Europe and I found it just as magical as it looks in the movies.

Not enough time to drop in for Hamilton this trip, sadly. Still one of a million things I haven't done.

Not enough time to drop in for Hamilton this trip, sadly. Still one of a million things I haven't done.

In preparation for the trip, I did what any normal person would do. I watched a ton of Rick Steves, that movie "Leap Year," and bought as many sweaters as I could possibly fit in my bag. 

This trip was a bit of a last minute deal, because I found roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Dublin for just $400. The catch, of course, was that we had a 9-hour layover in Newark, New Jersey. We planned to hang out in the United Club for part of that time and drink as many vodka sodas as possible, but even in the comforts of the club nine hours would prove trying. So we decided to hop in a cab and drive into NYC for the day while we waited for our plane to Dublin.

I created a little story about every day on our trip using Stellar, a pretty nifty little storytelling app. Here's our first adventure!

Next up: Our adventures in Ireland! Rather than drag this out over a few weeks, I'm planning on posting one post per country, with all of the Stellar stories embedded so you guys can peruse them at your leisure. And if you just can't wait, you can see them all on my Stella profile now. I hope you enjoy!

"Outfit" Details from this story:

Coat: Zara
Tote: Briggs & Riley Large Shopping Tote
Boots: Ugg Adirondack II in Otter
Vest: Uniqlo Ultra Light Down
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