A Vegan’s Guide to Niagara Falls, NY

For those of you who may not know, I spent about a year in college being a vegetarian and six months of that time being a vegan. During this time, I learned a lot of neat recipes, and found many different delicious vegan friendly restaurants.

When I first went vegan I thought going out to eat would be inconvenient for me because I would be limited to a short menu and wouldn’t be able to get something I actually wanted. I am fortunate to say I found myself proved very wrong, and found several places that had the most amazing vegan food and other restaurants that were more than accommodating.

So for all you lovely vegans looking to visit the Buffalo Niagara Falls area, this one’s for you.

  1. Orange Cat Coffee, Lewiston, NY

IMG_2625This cafe is a simply vegan heaven. The reason is simple, everything on the menu is vegan friendly. The cool part? You wouldn’t really immediately know. In fact, here’s a funny story. I went here with a couple of friends (while I was vegan) to grab some coffee, sit down, and just enjoy time with one another. About half way through some of decided we had a sweet tooth and went to find a pastry to split. At the time we were completely unaware that any of the decadent cookies, scones, and muffins were vegan friendly, so we just stuck to our coffees. Well maybe a week later I happened to find out that everything was indeed vegan and my life has forever been changed. To this day, I still have yet to find a bake shop that sells a better snickerdoodle cookie, vegan or not. I dare you to go here and not indulge. Best part? A coffee and a cookie comes to less than 4 dollars… can I get an amen?

2. Mario’s Pizza, Niagara Falls, NY

IMG_3352Mario’s Pizza is located right downtown in Niagara Falls on Old Falls Street right across from the state park. Although Marios is not necessarily a vegan restaurant, the do offer the option to make a Pizza with vegan cheese. This isn’t just any old pizza either. This is literally the best pizza I have ever had. The downside is that I you are going to need to buy a whole pie if you want vegan cheese instead of just ordering by the slice. However, eating a whole vegan pizza may not really seem like a negative for most of you. What are you waiting for? Get yourself to Mario’s for the best vegan friendly pizza and eat the WHOLE thing.

3. The Griffon Gastropub

This restaurant has several locations, but the ones I have been to are located on Military Road in Niagara Falls by the outlet mall, and in Lewiston on the Main Street.IMG_1936 This restaurant makes the list thanks to its mouth watering veggie burger. I know what you’re thinking…  a veggie burger really? This is probably one of the most generic options for a restaurant to include on their menu if they want to be able to say they have vegan/ vegetarians. However, this burger is by no means generic. This burger is flavorful, and filling, and not like every other veggie burger on every other restaurants menu. I promise you, I do not mess around when it comes to delicious food. Don’t believe me, guess you’ll have to try it for yourself.

4. Brickyard Barbecue, Lewiston, NY

IMG_1907In the middle of a meat lovers paradise you’ll find another lovely black bean burger that tastes out of this world. I will say, if you are a vegan who really doesn’t like being around meat, I would not go here. Perhaps, though, you are traveling or visiting with friends whose dietary preferences range from carnivore, to vegetarian, to gluten free, to vegan… Brickyard Barbecue could be the spot for you. So sit back with friends, in a place where you can enjoy a wide variety of beers made right next door and enjoy that delicious veggie burger.. Maybe even split a fried pickle appetizers… just be cautious about the sauces.

5. Downtown Niagara Falls Indian and Halal food trucks and restaurantsIMG_2962

One thing Niagara Falls does not seem to be lacking in is Indian and Middle Eastern Food. If you find yourself wanting to be a little more courageous when it comes to dining this is the option for you. One of the favorite things to do when I worked downtown was during my lunch break I would grab a veggie or falafel gyro from the yellow halal food truck on old falls street and then go sit in the state park and enjoy my lunch or dinner. The food was made fresh right before me in the cart and came out hot and ever so flavorful. If you don’t know what something is on the menu I find the workers are more than happy to always explain dishes and recommend options you may have not tried otherwise.

6. Alz Rootz Cafe at Soma Cura Wellness, Grand Island, NY

Inside my favorite hot yoga studio in the Niagara region sits a small little cafe where serve smoothies, juices, and a small menu. I haven’t tried much from this menu but I am still obsessed with the smoothie I got from there. The smoothie contained something along the lines of banana, spinach, cinnamon, oats, almond milk, and drum roll please… sweet potato. This smoothies was as rich and delicious as the best custard I have ever had. In fact, it was so good that I literally stopped at Wegmans on the way home to buy sweet potato so I could remake something similar for myself at home.

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So if you are vegan/ vegetarian and looking for a cool weekend getaway head to Niagara Falls where you can indulge and not have to worry about feeling limited in your options. In fact, you may even notice your carnivorous friends eyeing down your vegan friendly treats.

~~han

Niagara Falls and Buffalo for the Breakfast lover

This one goes out for those of you who go a restaurant and consistently choose from the all day breakfast menu. From one breakfast snob to another I have compiled a list of my favorite breakfast spots in the Buffalo/ Niagara Falls area long enough that you could literally plan a weekend getaway around eating breakfast foods.

Niagara Falls:

  1. Power City Eatery

IMG_2626Power City Eatery is a local gem in Niagara Falls, just outside of the hustle and bustle of the main touristy area. This cafe keeps there menu simple and delicious featuring pastries, coffee, lattes, egg sandwiches, soups, salads, and sandwiches. The cafe is counter service style and then you can enjoy your food to go or stay for a while at one of the many tables in the cafe. I have mentioned this in other posts, but my favorite thing about this cafe is that it is so spacious. For me, when I go to a cafe I typically go by myself to work from my computer for at least an hour at a time. Sometimes local cafes are too crowded or just too small that it either makes you feel awkward or even claustrophobic. At Power City Eatery you can enter without having to worry about it feeling too crowded or like another patron is reading over your shoulder the entire time.

  1. Third Street Retreat

Just off Third Street and Buffalo ave, almost right across from the Casino, in the bottom of the Jefferson Apartment Building is where you can find this hip little hidden gem for an excellent breakfast. There menu is pretty standard as far as breakfast goes but they definitely do it well. My favorite thing about this restaurant is the decor and the vibe. This small restaurant is decorated in kind of an old school music vibe and it looks really cool from the inside. When I travel, I would always prefer to eat somewhere local rather than the same chain restaurants I have at home. So if you are in Niagara Falls and are trying to avoid eating a $20 bunch buffet at TGI Fridays, look no further than Third Street Retreat!

Lewiston:

  1. Syros

Just off the main street in Lewiston lies my go- to and absolute favorite breakfast spot in the Buffalo/ Niagara Area. Prior to Niagara Falls I lived in the Philly area, where I never understood how lucky I was to have diners on almost every corner. IMG_2526After moving to Western New York and realizing that this was not such a thing there it took me a little to find something that compared. Thanks to a lovely Lewiston Local, my family and I were introduced to Syros.

Syros became my go to for breakfast and brunch because it has that diner charm combined with food that makes my mouth water from nearly 400 miles away. IMG_2525At Syros, no matter what you choose you cannot go wrong. If you find yourself unable to decide I would 100% the gyro omelette, which features gyro meat, and feta cheese along with a side of tzatziki sauce. The day I make the trip back to Niagara Falls this will be my first stop.

  1. Brickyard Brewing Company

Brickyard Brewing Company, or BBC is my go to option for a delicious, boozy, Sunday Brunch. Working in tourism I often have to work every weekend, however; any time I was off on a Sunday you bet I could be found at BBC sipping on Bottomless mimosas and enjoying food just as good as their regular menu. So if you can’t guess already here’s why I love BBC for breakfast: the food is incredible and they offer bottomless mimosas along with other drink specials. The only downfall is that they are only open Sundays for brunch, so it can be easy to accidentally miss it. However, I think part of the reason why it is special is because you could only get brunch on Sundays– otherwise Syros would have a tough competitor. When you go here I recommend the breakfast burger if you are looking for something savory or a stack of doctored up pancakes if you are looking for something sweet.

  1. Villa Coffee House

This sweet little breakfast spot has a more hidden location just off main street. The restaurant has a super small town meets diner vibe and features a standard, yet delicious breakfast menu. Villa Diner is an excellent choice if you are looking to spend less money because they offer pretty good specials, which including a tip, would set you back no more than $10. My go to option here would be to get a create your own omelette with bacon, mushrooms, cheese, and onion, and most importantly, DiCamillo Bread. The simplicity of this restaurant is what sets it apart and makes it a wonderful spot to catch breakfast.

  1. Orange Cat Coffee

IMG_2375I have written about Orange Cat Coffee several times now so there is no hiding my love for Orange Cat! Although this not going to be a sit down breakfast option, this is the perfect place for those looking for a grab and go coffee and a delicious pastry. In my opinion, there is nothing to not love at Orange Cat. Their prices are really good, there pastries are delicious, they have rotating coffee flavors, and every time I go in there everyone is always smiling. If I had to give a downfall I would say that if you were trying to sit in during a busier time sometimes it can be difficult to find a seat. If that happens to you, I recommend taking your coffee and pastry to go and walking down main street to the waterfront and enjoying your coffee with a view instead.

Buffalo

  1. Perks Cafe

To be honest, I really have only been here one time and that was right before I moved back to Pennsylvania. That being said one time was all it took to turn Perks Cafe into a place I am looking forward to one day returning to. Towards the end of Elmwood sits Perks Cafe where inside you will find a cute little cafe/ coffee shop. The coffee and lattes were delicious, the pastries looked mouthwatering, and they did have small menu with a couple good looking food options. The thing I found most intriguing was that most if not all the tables had several outlets, so this would be a wonderful spot if you were looking to get some work done.

  1. Spot Coffee

Spot Coffee is kind of like a local chain cafe in Buffalo. The one I went to was the Elmwood location and kind of reminded me similar to Power City Eatery in Niagara Falls. The Cafe was plenty spacious so among all the other 20 some year olds on their computers I did not feel claustrophobic or awkward, and the menu was vast with many tempting options. This is a good option because if you find yourself loving Spot Coffee, there are several different locations so you can go to whatever location is most convenient to you at the time.

  1. Ashker’s

IMG_2864I initially found this restaurant during my hunt for a juice and smoothie bar. Little did I know I would find a lovely little cafe with not only delicious smoothies and juices, but also a fantastic menu for breakfast and lunch. I wish I remembered what the name was but my favorite was this fluorescent pink smoothie which I think had beets, peaches, and a couple other things. I would combine this with a breakfast quesadilla and then go about my day knowing that if everything else where to go wrong I had made at least one healthy decision.

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I don’t know if breakfast tourism is a thing, but with this lovely list you could make a long weekend out of traveling around Buffalo and Niagara Falls just eating breakfast. I really truly hope you enjoy these recommendations and much as I do and please please please leave a comment if you have any other local breakfast places you love so I can go try it out as soon as possible. Disagree with one of the suggestions leave a comment anyways have a super wonderful day!

xoxo han

8 Tips for Cruising on a Budget

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St. Thomas, USVI

Nowadays when it comes to vacationing it seems almost impossible to get away without throwing away your entire pit of savings. Recently, my family and I have really enjoyed cruising because you get to see many different places, there’s always something to do, and there always seems to be something to do that appeals to each of us.

The only problem with cruising is somehow no matter what we do, we always end up with some sort of ridiculous bill at the end. I would say that is the biggest downfall to a cruise vacation, for what going in can seem very budget friendly (if you can find a cruise special for under 300 and flights for 200 or can drive to port you could potentially go on a 5-7 day getaway for around 500 per person).

That being said, as I stated earlier, cruises always have a magical way to get you to fork over ridiculous amounts of cash. More recently it seems as though around every corner on the boat there is some sort of costly temptation whether it be drinks, excursions, gift shop, sweet shops, or specialty dining.

Because of this, I have compiled a list of ways to enjoy your cruise and not break the bank and or potentially not spend any additional money.

1. Look for Cruise Specials

Okay so this one is obvious, and often times this isn’t really an option for everyone because most of the time the sailing date is often at a weird time. However, if you find yourself with a flexible schedule, you may be able to find a cruise that may cost $500+ during a summer month for $200-$300 per person in January. If are traveling with let’s say a family of five, saving $200 per person could save you $1000 in the long run.

2. Find a Departure port within driving distance

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Charleston, South Carolina

Once again, this option may not really work for everyone. If you are departing from a city in the middle of the USA it may just not really be possible to make the drive to a port city. That being said, I know I would personally be willing to drive max 10 hours away, so in that situation I would actually have a lot of options. Although you would still have to pay for gas tolls etc. that would probably maximally come to about $200 total. Once again, if you think about a family of five going on vacation and you get a flight for anywhere from $200 to $500 per person, you could potentially save yourself anywhere from $800 to $2300 dollars.

3. Fly out of a major airport

So this is for those who driving really isn’t an option to. You can save a lot of money on flights if you simply just fly from the nearest major airport to you. Living near Philadelphia I kind of luck out that within two hours I have several major airports. However, let’s say you live in Rochester New York, I can almost guarantee you that if you that if you look to fly out of the local airport it is going to cost you. Instead be open to flying out of other airports such as Buffalo, Syracuse, Toronto, or even the Niagara Falls Airport for flights with discount airlines such as Spirit or Allegiant. If you are willing to drive around two hours to an airport you could save a significant penny.

4. Look for cruise ports that won’t require you to book an excursion

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

This a really big one considering excursions can range anywhere from like $30 per person to $200+ per person. That being said I have done excursions that were worth every single penny– but that is not the point. The point of this is sticking to a budget. A couple of ports I would recommend would be Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; Isla Roatan, Honduras; Havana, Cuba; Nassau, Bahamas; Catalina Island, California; San Juan, Puerto Rico, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; or any time the cruise ship mentions going to their private island. These ports have either had a beach or the city right there so you can just get off the boat and immediately be right where you want to be and explore without having to spend an extra dollar.

5. Be careful at the bar

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Charleston, South Carolina

Okay I’ll be honest this one can be tough. Obviously the most cost effective solution is to not drink but as most of us are cruising for vacation, this really isn’t an option. I have seen drinks at the bars on boat range anywhere from around $7 to $11+. If you choose to pay for drinks as you go you could save $100+ just by getting one of the less expensive drinks on the menu. Another option the cruise is going to tempt you with is going to be to buy a drink package. Basically, you would pay around $55 dollars a day and you get like 10 or 15 drinks a day included. I would definitely recommend this if you plan on getting at least 7 drinks a throughout the course of the day or if you enjoy really fancy drinks such as martinis.

If you plan on going on a vacation where you are going to be drinking quite a bit, cruise lines such as Norwegian now have some cruises where all the alcohol is included. So you literally just walk up to the bar and they give you whatever you like. Or anytime a server comes by with a tray of drinks you can try whatever you would like to try. This is also nice because if you get a drink you don’t like you don’t have to feel so bad about not finishing it.

6. Eat On-Board when you are at port

The best thing about the cruise is that you literally have unlimited food within an arm’s reach ALL THE TIME and…. IT’S FREE! So if you want to save a chunk of money on your days at port simply eat on the boat right before you go, explore– maybe get a small snack, drink, or a local favorite, get back on the boat and then fill up on all that good free food again. Going back to my family of five scenario, let’s say for everyone to get lunch at port it costs $100. If you go to three different ports you could save yourself a good $300 dollars.

That being said, I do understand that some places you go there are food you are going to want to try. However, if you opt for a couple small snacks, this little trick will still save you a lot of money!

7. Only allow select members of your group spending privileges

This one more pertains to families, but when you are on the boat your room key becomes your form of payment. When you book your cruise you will have the option to choose who in your party has the ability to make charges on their card. My next tip will kind of get into this more but the boat is going to have a lot of ways where it is easy to swipe your card and pay for something stupid and if only one or two people have access to making charges, it is a lot easier to control what, when, and how money is spent.

8. Avoid all the ‘extras’

This one could probably be the most difficult. Like I stated in the beginning, every corner on the boat there is some sort of option to spend extra money. This can include but is not limited to shopping, specialty dining, a sweet shop, arcade, a casino, and even classes. Long story short, if you want to save a good amount of money I would just straight up avoid all the above because I can tell you from experience you really aren’t missing much.

So if you are planning your next vacation but finding yourself on a rather tight budget, cruising could be a really great option for you! By following the tips listed above you can make sure you actually stick to that budget.

Got any other suggestions or think I’ve made a mistake? Leave it in the comments?

Need help planning your next vacation??  Leave me comment!

xoxo

 

11.26.2016 Four hours in Graz, Austria

Where do I begin, while I was in the planning process of this trip I was messing around like crazy with how I could see as many places as possible for cheap and ultimately stumbled upon the website buscroatia, because I was initially looking to see a town or two on the coast.

Ultimately, I realized that this bus company would not only take you to places in Croatia, but also towns in countries near by. After more searching I found the Graz, Austria was basically a 3 ish hour bus ride AND, the round trip ticket was in my opinion cheap. So I went for it kind of having this idea of what to expect but also at the same time having no clue.

The morning of the 26th I walked myself to the bus station to catch my bus that left between 8:30 and 9:30. Like I said, it was around a 3 ish hour ride, which I thought was very reasonable.

The bus first cut the corner through Slovenia, and then crossed the border again into Austria. Almost immediately after crossing the border, our bus made a little pit stop where we could use the bathroom and get a snack if needed. I noticed that in order to use the bathroom you needed to pay 50 cents, which I wasn’t about, so I just figured I’d hold it.

Well I guess I jinxed myself because I went upstairs to buy a little snack. While I was eating my soft pretzel I ate a little bit of mayo (mind you I am still really not used to dairy) and within five minutes I found myself sick to my stomach. In that moment I knew I was going to throw up and needed to get to a toilet basically as fast as possible. So here I am trying to not to make a scene speed walking down the stairs, to the restroom and trying to get the pocket change out as soon as possible. I’m still not really sure why this happened now, because I had been eating dairy in bigger quantities previously on the trip but oh well. Here I was, somewhere in Austria throwing up in a rest stop bathroom… sorry if that is too much information.

The rest of the trip I was absolutely fine but for some reason that mayo just wanted to do me dirty.

Alright so once we finally arrived I had a really good idea of where I was going, but I had the same problem with the fact that the screenshots of maps I had on my phone didn’t exactly have the street names on them.

Basically as I walked out of the bus station, I proceeded straight to where I had saw there was supposed to be a river, as well as the old city. This was a good frame of reference because I knew if I was walking in this direction for more than 15-20 minutes and didn’t hit water I would have to turn around.

After walking for probably 15 minutes I noticed the steeples of a church peeking through the tops of building, so I headed in that direction. Another tip for you, if you ever feel like you may be lost in a city just look for tall churches or landmarks and they will probably help bring you to the right direction. This literally could have worked in every single city I visited this trip and in fact was how I went about my walking tour or Riga, I just followed buildings that looked interesting… but you can read about that later.

Okay. So once I got to these steeples I saw a little bridge to cross the river and Voila! I had reached the old city.

Immediately, I noticed this staircase going up a huge hill/mountain, which appeared to have some sort of castle on top of it. As I got closer and closer I knew I wanted to go up, I just didn’t know exactly how to go about it. For example, was it free, did I need to pay, if I needed to pay where did I pay, what ACTUALLY was at the top, etc. I ended up noticing the entrance to the staircase and just decided to go for it.

This climb was definitely far more stairs than it appeared because I didn’t really realize the sort of winded left and right up the mountain. The good thing about this is now I had absolutely no shame in eating two pastries for breakfast that morning. As well, as you can probably image the view was outstanding the entire time.

As I was walking up I became very oriented with where I would later walk around, as well as which direction I had come from. I noticed all the brightly colored building topped with rusty orange colored roofs and the many steeples of huge churches. I noticed the somewhat hilly landscape, which was well accompanied with just the perfect amount of fog kissing the tops of the hills. There was something oddly mesmerizing yet so dizzying at the same time in regards to the way all the rust colored roofs lined up and created shapes that could only be seen from the air.

When you reach the top the first thing you will see is a little bell tower and then signs pointing out where the couple of restaurants were, as well as a couple other landmarks atop the hill. I took a little walk around appreciating the variety of views and the architecture of the different buildings up here. After a bit I headed down because I wanted to see the main square area, and also make sure I would have plenty of time to get back to the bus.

I walked back down the stairs and proceeded left, if your back is facing the steps you just came from. This is another instance where following the metro tracks, or just the people at this point, will take you to where you want to go, also it kind of helped that I could see the square from here. I took a lap around looking for a place to maybe grab a coffee, but also admired not only the architecture, but also the way building were decorated.

Buildings were brightly colored, but some of them were also finished with intricate designs on them, which I found extremely beautiful, as well as interesting. It is interesting to see how place to place the architecture seems generally similar, yet each place has their own unique take in regards to color choice as well as subtle design differences.

I wound up at this cute little coffee shop called AUER where I treated myself to a cappuccino and small sandwich, which I had the luxury of eating outside facing the square, so I could people watch a bit.

After taking my time eating and enjoying watching the hustle and bustle of square, I started back for the bus station, because my biggest fear was missing my bus.

Well, typical Hannah fashion I was there was too early. The only really cool part was the bus station happened to have a little grocery store in it so I took a little walk around and ended up buying a juice. I am very proud to say that I successfully used a self-checkout that was not in English. I carried my juice and receipt out like one of those trophies you get after a soccer season as a child that you don’t realize until years later your parents paid for. Needless to say, imagine the five-year-old smiling ear to ear holding up this new trophy as their newest prized possession, that was me with a two euro juice.

I took a quick walk over to where the bus was supposed to pick me up from and got on shortly after. The one really nice thing about this bus station was that it was super easy to navigate, as well as be able to tell where you needed to go with only a little bit of the necessary self doubt.

I have to say it was a great day spent in Graz, Austria. I would 100% recommend coming here for a day or weekend trip!

Anyways, have a great day!

Xx Hannah

11.26.2016 Zagreb Croatia

Okay, so I have taken yet another hiatus from finishing these posts. To be honest I didn’t really realize how fast this semester was flying by until right about now, as I have less than a week of classes less this semester. That doesn’t really excuse my lack of writing but I think I just kept telling myself I had more time and well, now here I am.

So let me take you back nearly six months to the time I spent in Zagreb, Croatia.

This one is a slightly more complicated because I really only was in Croatia for evening time, so unlike the others, there was no daytime exploring happening and I can’t say I ventured too far but I absolutely LOVED my time there. Seriously, I have completely fallen in love with this little city!

So back to the start.

I arrived in Croatia a little bit before dinnertime. First off, I had sort of forgotten that they do not use the Euro here so I made sure to stop at an ATM in the airport and get a little bit of the local currency.

I had read online that my best bet to getting into the city was to take this shuttle to the main bus station, which was only a short walk or metro ride to where I needed to go.

There wasn’t really any place to pay before hand so I approached the bus sort of looked at the man and made sure this would take me where I needed to go, which he responded yes. At this point I had still yet to pay for the transit, nor did I know how much it would cost. But, I continued on the bus and plopped myself down in a chair. After everyone who would fit on the bus for the given departure time was loaded on, the driver started towards the back of the bus appearing as though he was checking tickets and I sort of had a little panic because there wasn’t one other English person on the bus, everyone seemed to be speaking Croatian, so I really wasn’t sure what the driver was checking until he had got to me. I had then found out that this was when I was supposed to pay. Unfortunately I don’t really remember how much it exactly cost me but I want to say it was between 20 and 40 Kuna each way.

So as the bus is going it makes its first stop and I start to realize that I am actually not 100% sure what my stop exactly is. I knew it was the main bus station area but I didn’t really know after how many stops this would occur and I seem to always have this persistent sense of self-doubt in me.

Eventually I got to the station, which was pretty obviously identifiable. As I am typing this I am trying to look for some sort of picture so I can better describe it to you but I really can’t find one. All I can say is just trust your instinct, you’ll know.

Once I got off the bus I technically had these screenshots of maps of Zagreb, as well as directions. However, as soon as I got out of the station I had this gut feeling that the directions were leading me in the wrong direction. So I followed my gut and honestly prayed that my instinct was going to take me in take me to the correct place (spoiler alert for my worried mom probably reading this: it worked out).

Basically when you get out of the bus station you walk towards the underpass and cross the metro tracks. And make a left. Once you make a left you will be sort of on a road where the metro acts as the boulevard in the middle of the road, you’ll want to follow this until you reach a cute little series of green areas. At this point I was following my screenshots of the maps on my phone; however, the screenshots were too zoomed out to include what the street names were so I was just kind of following I guess you could say ‘regionally’ where it seemed like I needed to go.

Basically once I got to the green area between buildings I made a right and followed it what I think was three or four blocks, or however many was till you reached the end of it. After I made a left and walked for about another block and then a right which took me right to the main, old city square (this was where my hostel was located).

A little mid way disclaimer, I am sorry if there directions don’t really make sense. I sort of needed to make a game time decision and I sort of memorized my location based on visual references rather that streets. So don’t necessarily take my word if you are trying to use these directions. But a quick tidbit of advice that is if you are lost follow a metro line because those are usually the main areas where people will go and or will lead you to where people go.

So once I got to the main square, I had this idea of where my hostel (main square Zagreb) was based on where it was located on my map screenshot. However, little did I know was that some of the buildings had two floors, SO I did not conveniently run into it like I thought I would. Fortunately I looked up in the air at the right time and saw ‘Main Square Zagreb’ on a glass window about 2 or 3 stories up. This led me to a sign where I was which brought me to a staircase that took me straight to my hostel.

Oh my gosh was this hostel absolutely perfect and I would 100% recommend staying here! The staff was extremely accommodating and helpful to me, and also spoke great English, which was nice after a long day of travel and I guess what you could technically consider lost (but I didn’t feel lost). The man at the front desk gave me a map and marked some recommendations for food and also helped orient me to where the bus station was, which allowed me to visibly see what path I took, which was comforting because it was actually rather simple. As well, he also pointed out where everything was in the hostel.

My dorm room was super cool. All the beds were aligned on the wall opposite to the door and were situated in a way, which made each bed its individual cubby. As well everyone had his or her own locker, which was nice. I just really enjoyed how I could have my own little space with whatever I wanted right next to me, and didn’t have to feel like I was bothering others.

After I situated my stuff and took some deep breaths, I followed the front deskman’s advice for dinner. As I walked out of the hostel (to the outside) I took a left and basically followed it to where I found my restaurant for dinner. Along this road there are plenty of options for dinner I just sort of kept walking until I built enough courage to finally enter one of the restaurants.

I eventually found myself in a place called Village Tavern and was able to sit in a little covered, seated area outside, which had a heat lamp near by. This was nice because I was in a place where I could also people watch as I enjoyed my meal. I decided to try a soup (I think it was mushroom) to start, followed by a risotto as my main. The food was really great and the menu was in English, which was nice because sometimes after a long day of travel having something that is arguably convenient is really nice. After my meal I decided I would walk around a bit and explore. As I walked back the way I came I decided to explore other little streets that seemed interesting because I figured if I realize there is nothing interesting that way it is easy enough to just turn around and go back the way you could say I now know.

I got to see the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and take a quick peak inside. What an impressive cathedral! This thing is huge and the closer you get the more and more intricate detail you continue to notice. The archway over the main door you enter is absolutely breathtaking, there are so many tiny little carving, and it truly is absolutely incredible! I then continued left if you are looking at the road from the church which conveniently brought me into the actual main square area.

To try to give you a better idea of where I was in relation to where my hostel was, basically this main square is surrounded by buildings, my hostel is on an upper floor on one of the sides of the square, to get to dinner I went left through the underpass and followed the road, the square is on the opposite side. So basically from my hostel you can have a view of either the area I was for dinner on one side, and the other view is the main square.

I took a lap around the main square, enjoying everything it had to offer and eventually made my way back inside because now, it was safe to say I was pretty tired.

The next day I had planned to take a morning bus trip to Graz, Austria, which departed from the same main bus station I had arrived at and was already familiar with. So it kind of worked out that I was forced to figure it out the day before because I knew exactly where I was going this time.

I made sure I got there early enough so I could find my terminal and also have enough time to get a pastry and cappuccino. Everyone at the station was extremely helpful because instead of guessing where I needed to go, I straight up just walked to a ticket counter and asked which terminal my bus would leave from. I was not going to push my luck with this one.

I’ll write more about my time in Austria in another post but now I’ll bring you back to my final evening in Zagreb. I got home, once again, around dinner time and chose to walk around a bit before calling it a day, as it was a pretty tiring, long day of walking. I walked around the same streets as I did the night before taking in any little details I had missed the first time, truly. For dinner I just went to a simple walk up place that sold pizza basically right across from the cathedral right on the corner to the road that brought me back to my hostel.

The next morning I had planned a decently early morning bus ride to Ljubljana, Slovenia before I left for Poland. Although this had me up around 5:30 in the morning to catch a 7am bus ride I am so thankful I did it. Who would have thought walking around a town between 6 and 7 in the morning would seal the deal and literally cause me to fall in love with it.

Let me bring you into my world for a second.

There is something special about this time of day because only a few people’s days have started. The sky was still dark so all the lights set up for winter happened to still be illuminated. In fact, the park that I follow to get to the bus station had all of its trees and pathways covered in white lights which at this time of day with so few people out felt like a fairy tale. This feeling was very similar to my magical Eiffel tour feeling because indeed, the lights surrounding the pathway I was taking were glittering. I actually could have seriously cried in this moment, everything was so perfect.

After coming back form Ljubljana I stayed at the bus station and caught the next bus back to the airport, which was extremely easy to find because there terminal to get to the airport is in its own little area.

So that was my time untraditional time spent in Zagreb! Yes it was a little on the unconventional side but I tried my best to make it work and make the most of it and I am more than satisfied with my takeaway from the experience. My heart will always remember the magic of this beautiful little city.

Have a great day!

xxHannah

11.23.2016 24 hours in Athens

Alright, so the next stop on my little European adventure is Athens, Greece. Originally, Athens was just a side thought for me. I hadn’t originally planned to go here so that is why I only spent literally 24 hours here. Originally I had planned to fly straight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Paris France on the 23rd; however, me being me, I decided to mess around with flights a little bit and from what I found, it was legitimately cheaper for me to leave Sofia a day early and go to Athens, and then fly from Athens to Paris the next day. So as you can tell from me writing this post, I booked it.

My flight arrived into Athens at 12pm. My instructions to my hostel said that I was to get on the metro to get into the city and then get off at Syntagma square. Simple enough right? So I followed the signs for the train out of the airport, which was very clearly marked and easy to follow. When I got to the ticket booth the lady said something, which I could not understand; and then basically said, take bus.

I’m not going to lie, I had a little mini internal panic when I heard take bus. I know I sound like a complete chicken when I say this but there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to figure out taking a bus into the city. So I walked back into the arrivals area to try to figure out what to possibly do next.

The Athens airport is a little bit far from the city so I really was trying not to take a taxi, but with my chicken self that was really the only option for me. For the taxis, you basically just wait in a cue and then once you reach the front you get in the next cab. The taxis from the airport had a flat rate of 38 Euros one way, which I’m not going to lie is pretty pricey (my cab ultimately cost me 42 Euros… Gulp)

With that being said, my cab drive was super awesome! He gave me a lot of great recommendations of things to try in the city, which I actually ended up doing!

I stayed at the hostel called Dioskouros and for paying no more than 12 dollars to stay there for the night it was perfect! Location wise, it was basically a street back from the Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Zeus Ruins.

When I checked in there was another women in the dorm who was actually Greek herself who helped me out a lot in regards to navigating the city and more things to do.

My first stop of the day was the Acropolis. I was told to make a right out of our building and then a left once I reached the street with all the shops and restaurants, and then follow that until you basically run into it. And so I did until I saw an entrance.

When you get to the entrance you can either pay 10 Euros for just the acropolis hills or 30 Euros for a ticket that includes everything. I paid for the 30 Euro ticket because I thought to myself, well if I’m only going to be here for a day, better just see all of it. My advice, don’t buy the 30 Euro ticket, just purchase the 10. I could never find formal entrances to any of these extra things I paid for and my ticket was never checked again granting me special entrance to somewhere else. The 10 Euro one would have been just fine. Oh well, at least now I know.

Immediately upon entering you see ruins of different things from so long ago. The walk up is literally incredible because you literally feel as though you are stepping way back in time. As you walk up the hills the sites keep getting more grand. As well, the view as your are walking up (as well as from the top) is so incredible. After a fair bit of walking, but a very entertaining walk, you reach the top of the acropolis where you will see the Parthenon, the Old Temple of Athena, and the Erechtheum. I probably spent a good hour just marveling at all the columns and just the pure architectural magnificence of it all.

On top of all that, there is an absolutely brilliant, panoramic view of the city of Athens. Truly outstanding. I could have spent all day up here just taking it all in. But, as you read earlier In this post, I barely have a day in this city so once I had my fix it was time to keep going.

Now this is the part where I sort of search for the other things I paid for but never really found.

On the way down I followed signs to the Agora which brought be down a beautiful set streets. I stopped frequently because there were all of these adorable little cats everywhere that I just couldn’t resist.

As I was walking down the hill I had a moment of genuine happiness thinking to myself, wow Hannah you really did it, you made it. I never expected this trip to bring along such feelings of empowerment. In this moment I truly felt unstoppable. Oh what a great feeling. My whole body was filled with bliss and I just kept thinking to myself, you really did it, you’re here standing next to the Acropolis. Nothing like the feeling of having a dream and making it come true.

This is more than a moment I will remember, but truly a feeling I will remember. Even writing this now I’m not sure how to explain the feeling but I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt that way in my life.

Okay so eventually I ran into another set of ruins which I think was the Agora, but I simply just admired from the outside (partially because I was getting hungry). I then continued back up the huge hill toward the back entrance to the acropolis, and then back down to the street where I came in on, just a little further up.

As I was walking down the street to find lunch I came across a cute place that smelled very good, so I walked on in. I ordered myself a Greek Salad Sandwich and then once I finished, ordered a piece of Baklava to go.

Funny story about the Baklava. Every time I have ever had it I really don’t like it, yet it feels like everyone around me is always urging me to try it and eat it. So, my thought was alright Hannah, get a piece of Baklava so next time someone offers you some you can say something snobbish like, Oh I only eat Baklava when I’m in Athens…. What a fun thing to be able to say. Well, I took a bite out of that Baklava and it literally tasted so good. You see, now I’m in a pickle because I kind of want to see if I like the ones my family tries to make just as much, but at the same time, I really don’t want to spoil this association with Baklava.

I enjoyed this as I wandered down streets covered in shops and restaurants. I also tried one of the coffees the taxi driver recommended to me. I don’t remember the name unfortunately but I think the shop was called coffee island  and the drink is basically an iced cappuccino but the foam is like a very sweet, think whipped cream. Wow is this good! The cream is definitely very decadent but of so delicious and a very tasty treat! I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get home without all this amazing coffee. After a little bit of exploring in the Plaka area, crossed the street over to where the Hadrian’s Arch is.

I walked around here for a little bit and ultimately chose to not enter the Temple of Zeus ruin because I felt as though I saw enough from the outside.

After this I looked up at the sky and noticed the sun was starting to set. While I was getting lunch, I had wifi so I was able to quickly check some messages and noticed my friend who was in Athens last spring had messaged me and suggested to go to the highest point in Athens and watch the sunset from there. After reading it I had no idea what he was talking about and honestly wasn’t going to do it cause I figured I’d be able to watch the sunset from anywhere in the city.

Well, for some reason once I saw the color of the clouds in the sky starting to change from bright white to slightly more golden and pink hues, a spark ignited inside me and I became a women on a mission to find the best spot to watch the sunset.

I walked up the street to get to the Acropolis and started walking up those hills to see if I was high enough to see the sunset. From this point I was able to see it a bit, but not fully as though I had imagined I would have been able to. So I walked down and kept walking.

On the street you would take to get to the entrance of the Acropolis, if you keep walking you will get to the point where the road comes to and end and it looks like a round about with probably a lot of tour busses. It also looks like you aren’t allowed to go any further.

Well I decided to continue anyways because I realized there was a nice little path that take you all the way up the other huge hill you will see from the ground when you are in Athens. I think at the top of this hill is also what was said to be Socrates’s prison.

Never before have I ran so fast up a huge hill to make sure I didn’t miss the sunset. Running up this hill, quite literally chasing the sun, I know it sounds stupid, but I felt like I was Hercules going the distance. Here I am, running uphill on this path, yet smiling ear to ear.

The view from the top of this hill is one of those views that brings a person so much hope… the kind of view that makes you feel like anything is possible. From up here you can see the acropolis, a panoramic view of the city, and also the water. The sky was painted with all sorts of shades of blues and golden yellows. It truly looked like something that came straight out of a movie, only I’m fortunate enough that this in no movie but that life I am living. What a blessing and what a brilliant reminder of what our beautiful world is capable of. Once again, bliss.

As the sky started to darken a little more, I started my way back down the hill and back toward my hostel. I eventually got back around probably 7pm, had a shower, and then went to bed.

So here’s the part where it really sinks in that you are paying 12 Euros a night to stay somewhere. The shower that I used was one of the kinds that detach from the wall so you can move it around. The problem was that there was no place on the wall to attach it to. What I ended up doing was balancing it over the nozzles for hot and cold water, which caused me to ultimately shower kneeling.

One thing I have definitely learned from this trip is I surely do not need a lot of luxury in my life because this was just fine for me. Like I said, this hostel was perfect for everything I needed it for, what works for me doesn’t have to work for everyone else.

After a busy day, I fell asleep easy and woke around 9am to go on a mission to find Greek olives and see Syntagma square. Out of my hostel, I walked straight to the main road and then made a left.

It was pretty easy getting here because you can quite literally follow the street signs and then you’ll run into it (basically just walk straight).

I’m not going to lie, I thought that this square was gong to have a little bit more to it, so I didn’t really spend a long time here. I did, however, walk up and down the one street that had a whole bunch of trendy shops.

On my way back to my hostel to check out, I stopped into a juice bar, which appears to be a chain here, nova gea for a cappuccino and a juice, which was good. I then walked back to the area I was the day before with all of the shops because I knew at least one of them had these olives in a bag. When I got there I bought three different kinds. I will say though, I am a little upset that this was all I was able to find for Greek Olives. I kind of hoped I’d find a little stand with fresher olives but oh well, this is better than nothing!

After I walked back to a walk up restaurant on the road to the acropolis to get a falafel pita, which I ate on a bench right next to the Temple of Zeus. I had a couple of cats come and sit next to me, which I think I would be the only person who actually enjoyed that.

Once back in the hostel I asked the lady at checkout what the best way to get back to the airport was and she told me the Metro. Although hesitant, I went with it and walked back to Syntagma Square to where I would catch the metro to the airport.

I was very happy when it all worked out! I am the biggest chicken in the whole world when it comes to taking public transport so when I say that taking the metro into the airport was easy you can believe me. It cost me 10 Euros (much better than 42) and took me directly into the airport on the last stop.

I am so very thankful that I chose to spend a day in Greece! What a great place! I cannot wait to go back and explore the rest of the country.

As far as do’s and don’ts go, I would say do try to see the sunset from the highest point in Athens and don’t pay for the 30 Euro Acropolis ticket, just do the 10 Euro one.

Alright, hope you have a great day!

 

Hannah

11.22.2016 Sofia, Bulgaria: the start of my journey

On November 20th the start of my mini European journey began in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has been a little bit over 10 years since I had last been to Europe so this was a major thrill for me! The first thing I did once I got to Sofia was check in to my hostel… or at least attempt to.

So, as soon as I arrived the gate to the hostel was opened because people were in and out making deliveries. So I just proceeded up and into the building thinking that things would be laid out plain, simple, and easy to find. Let me tell you, it really wasn’t—at least for me. On the website there are no specific directions on what bells to ring or what doors to go through so honestly when I arrived here I was walking around this building for at least 20-30 minutes trying to find something that seemed like an entrance. I learned later, that when you come, usually the front gate is locked and you have to ring up (unless you have the key). Then someone will come, let you up, and check you in.

So, until then, I am trying to ask these workers who speak no English, where the entrance to the hotel is so I could check in and as you can probably imagine, none of them understood.

I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do but I decided that freaking out was the worst thing I could do so may as well go walk around outside for a little bit. Fortunately for me, all the luggage I had was a medium sized purse and a backpack so I didn’t look that stupid walking around. I eventually made it to where the German Christmas Market was and then walked back the way I came (take in mind I have no map at this point so I don’t really know where I’m going.

Anyways I walked back to my hostel and I am so thankful that this time, it just so happened another person who was staying there was walking in. This allowed me to get in easily and took a lot of stress off my plate. It turned out that for the first night I would be staying at the sister hostel, called The House, which was just down the street. This hostel was awesome, and similarly, in another awesome location just off the main shopping street Vitosha, which means it is also an easy walk to all of the main sites.

If you plan on coming to Sofia anytime soon, I would definitely recommend staying a block or so off this street because it puts you very close to many shops, cafes, and restaurants and all the tourist attractions are basically within what felt like only a 0 minute walk.

Well, my day basically ended as soon as I entered my hotel room around 3pm because within 10 minutes of sitting in my bed I fell asleep. Call me boring but nothing is fun when you are exhausted.

The next day I woke up around 8:40 am so that I would have time to shower and get something to eat before having to head back to Guest house 32 to check in again at 12. For my breakfast I decided I would basically walk up and down the Vitosha street until I built up enough courage to go in somewhere. I made my first attempt in this one cute café when I realized I could not pay with my card and needed Bulgarian currency. Stupid me though, did not convert any money to Bulgarian because for some reason I thought I read that using a card or Euros would be fine everywhere. Nope. IF you are going to Bulgaria do yourself a favor and get some of the currency so you don’t end up like me at an ATM withdrawing only one days worth of cash.

After my ATM stop, I was embarrassed to go back to that same café so I walked up into this store Rois, which sold fruit and nuts and got myself a medium sized bag of roasted walnuts. Let me tell you, I am not really a fan of salted nuts but these were absolutely incredible.

One of the challenging things about the language barrier for me here was that even though the language both looks and sounds completely unfamiliar, the people do not so there is still a small part of my brain thinking I’m going to here a hello when really the most familiar thing I overheard was some French. Another struggle I faced was when I would try to ask someone something or order something, people would come up to me and speak completely Bulgarian in fast sentences, which then caused me to have to explain I spoke English.

So I then continued along the road again until I reached the café Shortcut, so I could hopefully get a quick coffee and sit outside. If there is one thing I have learned it is that if there was some sort of universal language, the word ‘cappuccino’ would be in the dictionary. As usual, the man behind the counter started speaking only Bulgarian when I looked at him and said cappuccino. Immediately he knew what I wanted and made it. I then took my drink and enjoyed it outside.

This cappuccino was incredible. Plain and simple. This is going to be one of those flavors that I remember forever. I ended up sitting here, eating my nuts, savoring the flavor of my cappuccino, and taking in the sights and sounds until about 12:00pm when I went back to my first hotel to check out, so I could check into Guest House 32. I was very impressed when I finally got in and was showed my room! The staff was very friendly and my room was perfect for everything I needed!

After I was checked in my goal was to go and see some of the sites, such as the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. I walked out of the hostel to Vitosha street and proceeded in the direction of City hall. I eventually reached an intersection where to the left is a huge column looking statue with a golden angel on top. Here I made a right. This road would apparently bring me to the Russian Orthodox Church (and many other things). As I was walking, I noticed I had passed the park with the German Christmas market in it, which helped to orient me.

I kept walking and eventually ran right into the church. It was so beautiful! The outside had these beautiful golden domes. The inside was painted so beautifully I wished I could have take a picture however, we were not allowed. The church is not that big so it didn’t really take a long time to tour.

Once I finished, I walked through a little park area to the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. This Cathedral is huge so by this point, you can see exactly where you need to go, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

This cathedral is absolutely breathtaking. It is so architecturally brilliant from the exterior, you would think it would be hard for the inside to compare. Nope, the inside is just as or possibly even more beautiful. The inside is painted from ceiling to floor with these brilliantly detailed murals—and like I said this cathedral is huge so these paintings are no joke. I think I must have lucked out with the time of day I chose to visit because along the right side all of this light was coming in creating the most spectacular green glow. I could have stayed in here for hours just staring and feeling so tranquil I literally had to force myself up to leave. Even once I was out I took another lap around the building just taking in the enormity and the beauty.

One thing to note is that you can take pictures inside this cathedral; you will just have to pay 10 lev for a photo pass.

After I was finished here, I walked around the area a little bit longer and then headed back in the direction of the Christmas market. I sat on the exterior for a little bit in the park just taking time to myself to journal and reflect. What a blessing it was to be able to say I was able to just casually sit in a park in Sofia, Bulgaria and Journal.

After I walked through the Christmas market to try to get a little snack for lunch time and ended up getting these sliced potato things. I don’t really know what exactly they were called because I honestly just walked to a stand and pointed at something since there was no hope for me trying to read the menu. Fortunately it was delicious!

After I made my way back to my hotel to take a little nap and rest my feet for a bit. It’s crazy how you don’t really realize how much walking you’ve done all before 3:30 until you find yourself stretching in your hotel room. Okay so my little nap is a bit of a lie. I ended up sleeping until about 6:45 and left the hotel again around 7 to see the monuments lit up at night.

Again, I was completely blown away by the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. If you think it is brilliant during the day I urge you to see it again at night. Seriously. You would think that because it was dark you’d be able to see less but for some reason the way the lights illuminate all the crevasses and created all these intricate little shadows it seems as though you can almost see more.

Once again, I had to force myself away, back the way I came so I could go and get dinner. I went into this restaurant called CORSO, which is basically right across from the Russian Orthodox Church. I went here because I noticed the menu had English on it and I saw something that said vegetarian options. For most of the options on the menu, this place did not really fit my budget; however, one of the vegetarian options was significantly cheaper than the others so it ended up being perfect for me!

I ordered the Eggplant bayildi, stuffed with Ratatouille and quinoa, which also had tomato sauce. When the waiter brought out my meal I think I quite literally drooled. I’m not kidding. This thing looked so good I could not wait to eat it. If this thing were to look as good as it tasted they would need to find a way to make it look even tastier. Did that make sense? Probably not—lets just say it tasted so good I was ready to order a second.

Instead I went for the dessert of the day, which was some sort of cake with mascarpone nuts, biscuit, and all sorts of deliciousness. Once again, delicious. If you are coming to Sofia I cannot recommend this restaurant more! All the waiters spoke good English so I didn’t feel awkward ordering. As well, they have sections of their menu where it lists Bulgarian dishes, which is awesome!

Once I got the bill I made my way back to my hotel and went to bed. By this time it was about 9:45 and I was honestly impressed with myself for making it out this late. My flight to Athens the next morning (or in about 20 minutes as I write this now) is scheduled for 10:40am so I planned on leaving my hotel at around 7am to make sure I could find a taxi and get to the airport early enough.

I was able to easily find a taxi on the end of Vitosha street (opposite the end where city hall is) and it cost me 20 euros (which I think was probably too much) to get to the airport.

I am so happy I got to visit Sofia—what a great city! I was genuinely surprised at how not touristy the town was! There was no trouble at all seeing the landmarks and it was crazy how you really did not overhear a lot of English at all!

As far as dos and don’t go I would say don’t think you will be able to get away with just using a credit/debit card. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way and will not make the same mistake again.

One thing I 100% do recommend to do if you go to Sofia is to walk the monuments at night. What would recommend is to walk down Vitosha street towards city hall. I am not sure what the exact street is but you’ll make a right when you see a huge statue of what looked like some sort of angel on top of a column on your left. You will end up walking between two beautiful, grand buildings. This street will ultimately bring you to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral nad the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral.

This is ultimately the same route I took during the day time; however, I would definitely recommend it for walking around at night because it truly is well lit, which is good if you are a little bit hesitant about going out by yourself at night.

As well, besides my little difficulty finding the entrance to my hostel at first, I would still definitely recommend it! The location was absolutely perfect and the inside was well kept and everything that I could have hoped for! I would definitely stay here again, and or recommend it to a friend!

If you are considering Sofia, Bulgaria as a destination stop on your next trip definitely just go for it! In my opinion, it makes the perfect destination for any day-weekend length trip!

Hope you all have a great day!

Hannah