Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Dublin 101: Irish Charm!

Ah, the Emerald Isle! Americans stamp their passports here more than any other country. Why? Because there is simply nothing like the charm and friendliness of Ireland. The Irish are famous for their hospitality and “come join us” attitude. It’s this amazing spirit that allows for so many opportunities to learn and enjoy. The nation’s capital, Dublin, is full of amazing sites and experiences. But, what is actually worth it? We’re here to tell you what to get to fast, what to pass on, and what to see instead. So, pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, and let’s get to the craic!

Guiness and Jameson’s

The storehouse experience is literally the most visited tourist attraction in the country. Spoiler alert: they do not make beer here. They also do not make whiskey on Bow St. when you visit Jameson’s Distillery. I know!!!!! I’m sure the beer and whiskey enthusiasts would love it but if that is not your cup of tea, consider whether your time is worth it.

guinness glass filled with beer
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  • Verdict: Pass on Ireland’s, number one tourist draw. Instead hit up the Smithwick’s tour in Kilkenny and the Jameson’s distillery in Cork.

Book of Kells at Trinity College

The story of this illuminated manuscript is one of legends. From the age of Saints and Scholars, monks toiled over the pages to create this work of art which is now beautifully enshrined in the grand library at Trinity College. The setting is gorgeous the exhibit is first class. But if you don’t know why monks coloring pages in a bible is important, is this for you?

brown book page
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  • Verdict: Pass if it’s not your thing. Go if you are enamored by art that was created with love under such dire circumstances. Above all, know the story.

St. Patrick’s and Christ Church

Religion can be a touchy topic in Ireland. While troubles were certainly centered in Belfast for years, make no mistake, Dublin was the original epicenter of uprising. What’s this got to do with churches? Many Irish Americans go to pay their respects to their Catholic ancestors who left Erin’s green shores on coffin ships during the famine. These are not their churches. In fact, they are not Catholic churches at all! Don’t get me wrong, they are stunning. However, their architecture is easily found and centered in places like London. Is it worth your precious time?

low angle photo of blue concrete building
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  • Verdict: Pass, unless churches and their architecture are your thing. For those of you looking honor your Catholic roots, check in at Our Lady of Knock Basilica or Croagh Patrick in the west.

EPIC

Speaking of your Irish roots, so many visitors strive to understand the journey of there to here. In fact, the umber one reason people visit Ireland is to trace their roots! Dublin has heard you all and EPIC is certainly the place for you. This modern immigration museum traces the history of the Irish population throughout the world and strives to connect you to your heritage and culture.

brown brick road
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  • Verdict: A must! If you are looking for a place to start understanding your roots, this is stop number one. Leave with the name of a town in a county and set out to find your people.

The GPO

What 1776 is to Americans is what 1916 is to the Irish. It was here at the main general post office that 16 brave men started taking action towards British independence. In short, the story of a free Ireland starts here with the Easter Rising.

The Irish Declaration of Independence
  • Verdict: A must! To go here is to understand Ireland. There are no substitutes for this impactful piece of history.

Kilmainham Gaol

Once you finish at the GPO, head towards Kilmainham. The jail that housed those 16 men until they were all executed by the British authorities. The story is powerful and the building is an interesting mix of tragedy and splendor. you may even recognize some of the areas from famous movies.

hallway with window
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  • Verdict: Top of my list! If you see nothing else in Dublin, see this! History buffs, proud patriots, architecture hounds, and movie maniacs will all connect.

Temple Bar Pub Crawls

If there is one word that should be central to your travels in Ireland, it should be storytelling. And while pub crawls in the US tend to be full of uncontrollable debauchery, this is not the case in Ireland. Yes, you’ll have a drink, yes, you’ll go from pub to pub, but that’s where the similarities end. Pub crawls showcase, music, storytelling, dance, literature, history and more. They are a super fun way to get your bearings on the town and enjoy all aspects of culture.

assorted liquor bottles
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  • Verdict: Certainly! Isn’t this why you came to Ireland anyway? Find a pub crawl to match your interests. If you can think it up, it probably exists!

Dublin Castle

The castle on Dame St. is a conference center, an administrative government building and a tourist attraction. With ornate English state rooms, there is a bit to see with the required tour guides. At 700 years old, there’s no doubt the castle has tons of stories and I’m all for that!

administration architecture building castle
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  • Verdict: Pass, Ireland is full of lots of castles, is this really the one you want to see? Wait for Kilkenny Castle and Blarney Castle. Then stay the night at a private castle found in many places including Air B and B. Better yet, try out fancy schmancy Ashford Castle from the Guinness Family.

O’Connell and Grafton Streets

The two major streets of Dublin, each has quite a distinct purpose. Look towards O’Connell Street to give you a sense of history and Grafton Street to get your shop on. You are bound to wind up here for a bevy of reasons, just enjoy!

The charming streets of Dublin
  • Verdict: Sure! You’ll enjoy both in equal measure.

Croke Park and Aviva Stadium

It’s time to get your sport on! Choose a stripy scarf and join in the team spirit. It really doesn’t matter what side you root for, just enjoy the fun like a temporary local. If there is no game scheduled, take advantage of the stadium tours which wind up being far more interesting than first meets the eye.

man in blue and white striped soccer jersey playing rugby
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  • Verdict: Have some fun! Cheer along with modern Ireland.

Arlington Hotel’s Celtic Nights

Kitchy? Yup. Full of tourists? Uh-huh. So-so dinner? True. Go anyway! This is a great, old school first night stop. Get a table close to the stage so your mashed potatoes clatter in time to the dancer’s feet.

Irish musicians
  • Verdict: Yes, only if you have a sense of humor and you’re looking to unwind a little. It’s a great stop to help get rid of your jet lag. Otherwise pass for one of the more serious options above.

St. Michan’s Church

I love Irish humor. And this might have been one of the funniest stops I’ve ever made. St. Michan’s is an active church with a little bit of a skeleton in the closet. Each day, visitors can take a look down in the crypt at the amazingly preserved residents. What makes it so much fun? The guy taking you on the tour has a great Scooby-doo quality that just can’t be ignored.

low angle grayscale photo of empty brick stairs
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  • Verdict: Enjoy the storytelling with no crowds then hit the pub afterwards to reflect on the surreal experience! It’s a quick stop to fit in.

Viking Boat Tour

Dublin, above all else, is a working city. With the River Liffey running through it to create north and south banks, getting out on the water may seem like a fun time. but make no mistake, the banks are not filled with charming sites or historical buildings. Instead, you get a great look at the back side of the studio space U2 use to record some music.

bridge under the blue sky
Photo by Lucian Petronel Potlog on Pexels.com
  • Verdict: Pass. The WWII duck boats are unique but it’s not worth the time to make the splash.

Leprechaun Museum

There’s no doubt that Ireland is connected to the grumpy little fellows along with fairies and banshees. This lo tech stop will have the kids finding that ever important storytelling aspect of Irish culture. Make no mistake though, Americans link leprechauns to the Irish far more than the Irish do! (The same goes for green beer and 4 leaf clovers.)

green and brown floral ceramic vase
Photo by Lucian Petronel Potlog on Pexels.com
  • Verdict: Take the kids, pass with the teens, get a pint with the adults.

When all is said and done…

Dublin is a dynamic springboard to a country full of unbelievable things! Northern Ireland, The Wild Atlantic Way, and Southern Counties await you. Be sure to balance your time and not put all of your eggs in one Dublin basket. Enjoy with balance. Dublin can be enjoyed in about 3 to 4 days.

Use these apps to hear stories about all of the different public art throughout town. Try, also, the 1916 historical walking tour.

Art Trax

Storymap

Notes on Planning and Packing

Travel Tech 101: Travel Apps

By far, out of all of the travel tech gadgets and gizmos that are out there, the most important one is my phone. I keep everything digitally and I use many of its features to keep me organized and on top of all of my travel plans. My iPhone is a little upset with me these days. There never seems to be any downtime for the poor thing as I am constantly downloading and deleting apps to check out which ones are worth it and what I can pass on. I recently had the pleasure of listening to a great talk by someone who spends a ton of time on this very topic and I learned about a whole bunch of very interesting travel tech that could totally make your trip a better experience!

person taking photo of cars on road
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TripIt.com

This app syncs with your e-mail and collects all of your reservation information and turns it in to one linear itinerary. It’s perfect for a weekend or for a couple of weeks. The app keeps track of everything and is organized in an easy to use manner. You can add everything from your flight info to a dinner reservation through the e-mail auto upload or manually. It works whether you are using a travel agent or you are a DIY planner. Share your plans with your traveling group and keep everyone in the know. You can try it out for free and if you really love it, you can upgrade to pro.

Tunnel Bear

This app creates a VPN which enables your phone to mask itself while on public wifi’s. This is a “must-do” if you plan on going on airplane mode during your travels. One person who takes VPN and wifi safety seriously is Angel Castellanos who runs a great travel website. Read more about VPN’s and iPhone safety here

Rick Steves’ Audio Europe

This app has extremely informative walking tours of museums, galleries, city centers and more for almost every destination in Europe. If you are looking for the nuts and bolts tour, this is your app. In Milan and want to know about the art in the Duomo? Rick’s your guy. Interested in a walking city tour of the architecture in Prague, Rick’s got you covered. Rick will walk you through the Louvre and the canals of Amsterdam. His pitch is pragmatic and no nonsense. It’s self paced and available for download to use sans wifi.

woman in red coat and black hat standing on gray concrete floor
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

The Chick Fil A App

Did you know that you can order your food from a local Chick Fil A and THEY WILL BRING  IT OUT TO YOU??? It’s true. If I’m on I-95 and the kids are getting cranky, we can all pass the phone and order. It will be ready 3 exits down the road. This can be a lifesaver on a road trip. In addition to the typical rewards that can be earned, you can also earn a free tour of Chick Fil A headquarters in Georgia. Just remember that you can’t order on Sundays!

Twitter

I know, I know, me either! Twitter is not the world’s most user friendly site but it does have it’s perks! I was attending a travel talk with Samantha Brown and she mentioned the invaluable perks of live customer service via twitter. You can use the live conversation option (circled in the picture below) to talk to airlines, hotels, or anyone else you can follow on twitter. If I lose my suitcase in O’Hare, I’d rather text via twitter with an airline rep than stay on hold for eight hours while I’m overseas. Very helpful!

iExit

Attention road trippers! Choose your highway, search the exits, get what you need!! This easy to use app was obviously created by someone who had crying kids in the car and was desperate for a solid Wawa or Hampton Inn. Find gas, fast food, supermarkets, lodging and more exit by exit (and left or right). A bonus? They even have roadside attractions if you’ve got the time!

teal volkswagen beetle
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STEP Program

The State Department is the government agency that issues passports and puts out official travel alerts. To keep in touch, they’ve developed the STEP program that sends out alerts pertaining to the travel that you’ve registered with them. It’s a quick direct line to the information you need.

My TSA and TSA on Instagram

It’s nice to see this serious work take a break and smile a little! Follow TSA on instagram for funny posts about who’s trying to bring the most ridiculous things onto a plane and a few cameos from their faithful furry sidekicks. Then swap over to the app to see how long the lines are at any airport in the states. Very helpful!!

A few other apps and sites you may want to look into…

suitcase with straw hat in corridor
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Notes on Planning and Packing

Travel Gear Test Drive

It may happen soon! We may actually be able to plan a carefree vacation so we can enjoy everything the world has to offer. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how to make my travel wardrobe strategy work better. How could I ensure that I got the most out of the clothes and accessories that I pack in my suitcase? It’s time for a travel wardrobe test drive!

Let’s Start at the very beginning…

A very good place to start! One of the first things I need to look at is how fit my plus size stuff in my suitcase. Which suitcase works best for me? I’ve been through quite a few and I’ve narrowed down my choice to one that makes me happy in looks and function. Drum roll please! My favorite suitcase is the Samantha Brown’s 26″ spinner. (It’s on sale right now over at HSN!) I find the wheels are spot on and my packing cubes work like a dream in this bag. I know, I know, 26 inches means it’s a check only bag but perhaps her smaller spinner is for you.

Here’s what makes me happy about this particular bag: the bag weighs next to nothing, it has a perfectly designed lining, and its companion under the seat bag fits perfectly on top and the wheels are a dream. I’ll leave it to Samantha to explain the rest. Comment below with your favorite bag and I’ll check that one out too!

Game Changers: Packing Cubes

I bet you are on board with packing cubes. They are the biggest change to packing strategy since wheels were added to the bottoms of bags. In short, there are two kinds that exist: cubes with sides that work like building blocks or compression cubes that start like blocks but zip down on the sides to compress what you’ve put inside. I’m a fan of both and use a mix in my bag. I like a few different ones including the Rick Steves’ standard cube but my favorite affordable set is this one easily found on Amazon. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Fill ’em up!

Okay, I’ve got my gear and I’m ready to test drive my wardrobe. I start with a few basic rules. Maybe you consider these things too:

  • Everything is iron free. Everything.
  • Everything does double duty. Everything.
  • Everything works in layers. Everything.
  • The very best shoes that I can find. Well worn and nothing new.

I know I need a few basics to make this pack successful. Things like one dressy outfit, work out gear to combat all the good food, and washable undergarments to stretch my wash week. Again, since I’m pus sized, my packing is a bit more than others but basically, I pack with the part lightweight-part comfort goal in mind.

several bags on trolley near train in station
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Will it work?

My plan is to be in Europe for one month. I’m spending three days in Amsterdam, 14 days on a Rhine River Cruise, a few days traveling north by train, and the remainder of my time at an Air B and B in Krakow, Poland. I’m out to test drive the clothes I’d like to pack to check them out for wear, wash, photogenic quality, and longevity.

  • A jumpsuit from Lane Bryant made out of comfy cotton with the feel of sweats and the look of a put together evening look. But will it look nice enough and wear well enough to be my sole evening option?
  • Two sets of workout gear including tanks, leggings, socks, and bra. I try to get a run or walk in as much as I can. Will two sets get me through each workout? Can I wash and air dry these garments and have them ready to go in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Underwear that is comfortable and can be hand washed in the sink. Will I feel like these items are clean after handwashing?
  • Capris and tops for touring and relaxing. Will they look good after a few hours of touring a borg or berg in hot weather? Will I be able to wear it again?
  • Shoes that are comfortable and lightweight. Will they make my feet feel good after a couple of cathedrals? How about a multitude of art museums?
  • Will it all fit correctly and work the way I hope it will?

The Challenge

I have a few errands to run in South Florida and I plan to take my test items along for the ride. Why South Florida? It’s hot, humid, and will be the most like those hot Summer days in Europe that I will be enjoying. So, I have 9 days to see if my travel choices are winners or losers. Ready?

  • Bombas Socks: Part of my workout gear, Bombas are my go to socks for everyday use. I love the support and the comfort. They did the workout job but did not feel “clean” after my soap and water treatment in the shower. I’m going to need to circle back for a better choice or pack more socks.
  • Bamboo Underwear. Winner! These lightweight underwear did a great job during the day and washed super easily in the shower at night. They were dry in the morning and felt super clean and ready to use.
  • Leggings and tanks. Winner! I purchased my leggings through Dia.com but my tanks came right off of Amazon and they washed and dried perfectly. Check them out below.
  • Running shoes. I ordered the seaglass blue Under Armour HOVR Infinite 2 running shoes and I love them. But could they travel? Yes they can! Stylish enough to wear while touring but sturdy enough to run on cobblestones, these shoes took the pounding and kept on going.

The Game Plan continues…

Next on my list were some outfits. I needed to see what mixed and matched and what “wore” well. What lasted more than one wear and what looked good at the end of the day. Here we go!

  • That Lane Bryant Jumpsuit… LOVE! Super comfy and dressed up with jewelry and cute sandals, it’s an easy breezy look that’s a dream to wear. I may wear it on the plane home.
  • Capris to wear two times each. Some winners and some losers. By far the best pants were from the Livi line courtesy of Lane Bryant. They weren’t wrinkly at the end of the day and felt great during the second wear. A definite must in black to wear with any printed top.
  • Tops that need to last the whole day. I test drove quite a few and, again, had a few hits and misses. All in all, I definitely had some that made the cut and enough to choose from as I gear up for fun days ahead.

Yay! I feel so much better about how my clothes and gear will work. I don’t think I’m overpacked and I definitely was able to figure out what was missing. Here’s how you can do the same…

How can you test drive your travel wardrobe?

Check out these easy steps to test drive your gear.

  • Pack. Yes, that’s right, pack your bag the exact way that you think it will work. Use all those cubes and all those folding tricks. (Even if you use an old curling iron as a stand in or use other items just to check in on suitcase fit that’s okay. Just use your actual clothes.)
  • Wait a week. Let that suitcase sit packed for a week so that you can see exactly how those clothes come out of all those packing cubes. Is everything nice and neat? Is it a wrinkly mess?
  • Wear just these clothes for the week and see if you are comfy for the week. Can you use everything more than once? Do things wash in the shower? Are your shoes doing the job you have selected?
  • Make your final picks and decide how long you will use your clothes before needing a proper laundry service. (Be sure to track that down!)
  • Leave your travel clothes alone now. You want them looking great and you want to be excited to use them!

Happy travels!!!!