I am an unapologetic nerd. I was born and raised into a nerdy family, and it’s just who I am as a person. When I travel, this spills over into my itinerary. I love visiting places that have literary significance, historical significance, or just allow me to buff my nerd knowledge. MOST of the time these places are museums, so I thought I would share my top five favs so if you happen to be planning a trip to Europe you can stop by some of my favorite spots. Tell them Emilee sent you. JK I definitely don’t have that kind of sway…yet.
1. Parlamentarium | Brussels, Belgium | FREE
This museum is AMAZING. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t even a part of the EU. At the beginning of your tour you’re given a headset that walks you through the history of the EU, where it came from and how it functions today. I honestly never knew any of this information and it was such an amazing lesson in world history, and also in current economic situations in Europe. There’s obviously a bit of a bias, but I felt like overall the structure of the museum was amazing and very interactive. I think I spent 2-3 hours in there.
2. The Louvre | Paris, France | $18.50
I’m sure all of you are SO SURPRISED to see this one on the list. But, really. The Louvre is one of my favorite places on the planet and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for people to visit it. It honestly will change your life. One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make about The Louvre is that they go in for an hour, walk around two floors and say they’ve “been” to the Louvre. You’re cheating yourself with this approach. I would say take a couple of days to go to the Louvre. Go a morning on one day and just sit and look at paintings. Go an evening another day and walk through the lower levels of The Louvre. Look at the Middle Eastern exhibits (which, by the way, barely anyone knows about). There is so much history in this museum it really is a must-see multi day/hour visit. While I lived in France I think I went 6 or 7 times at 2-3 hours a pop…and I still haven’t seen everything.
3. The Sherlock Holmes Museum | London, England | $21
This might be the nerdiest one on the list, but I’m a pretty hard core Sherlockian, and I absolutely loved being able to visit the real 221B during my first trip to London. This museum is essentially set up as the house of Sherlock Holmes with a Victorian style guard at the front door, three levels of Sherlock Holmes related artifacts, and an over-priced gift shop. Everything you could ever want, right!? If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan like I am I would definitely recommend visiting the museum for photos if nothing else. The whole museum takes about 30 minutes to an hour to go through.
You think you know about the Titanic because you’ve seen the movie? Ha. Try reliving the entire experience from day one as an immigrant in the early twentieth century to the day the ship sinks. WARNING: This museum is REALLY emotional and there is a really high chance of you feeling feels. One of the coolest parts of this museum is that the admission ticket is made to look like the tickets that were originally made for the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Since I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic since I could read, this museum was absolutely amazing to go through. It’s several floors and takes about 2-3 hours (at least) to walk through.
5. Van Gogh Museum | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | $22
Can I tell you how much I love Van Gogh? If you know me well, I probably already have…but here we are again. I distinctly remember the first time I saw an image of a Van Gogh painting. It was the same feeling I had when I first heard French. So right, and a forever part of my identity. The Van Gogh museum was a sacred space for me. From the first moment I slipped on the headphones for the self-guided tour I was completely immersed and could have been in that world of Van Gogh for forever. Not only is this museum the world’s largest installment of Van Gogh paintings, but it’s also such a personal experience since it’s in the home country of the artist. Must see. I think I spent 2-3 hours in the museum.
6. Natural History Museum | London, England | FREE
This is actually one of my most recent visits, and GUYS, THEY HAVE DINOSAURS! I’ve been to London three or four times before, but I had never visited this museum until November and it was so cool. Basically everything natural history related is in this museum, and it’s broken down into geology, biology and just general awesome. We actually got kicked out of this museum because it was closing, to be sure to get there early. You could easily spend 3 hours in this spot.
And that’s the best of the best! What are your favorite museums? Let me know in the comments!
I didn’t have to think very long to come up with a title for this blog post, because the second part of our Belfast tour almost ended abruptly with us falling our deaths, into the Irish Sea. That’s right. Dead.
After the museum, and the chilling winds that we fought on our way back to the bus, the skies around us were gray but they started to clear, letting us see some patches of blue. Relief at last, we thought, climbing off the bus. All I have is to laugh, now looking back.
I have never felt rain so hard that it hurt. Until Northern Ireland. I don’t know how fast the winds were blowing, but what I will say is that we were the last group let across the popular Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge (aka the bridge of death). A little history about this bridge:
It was built in 1755 by fishermen
It was probably not intended to last hundreds of years, and have people walking over it
The bridge leads to nowhere extraordinary, it’s just something to check off the books
Peer pressure makes you do stupid things.
The good news is – we didn’t die, but we were completely soaked and freezing cold by the time we made it back to the tour bus.
Our last stop was at the Giant’s Causeway, which has a really awesome story, but which I didn’t go to a) I was freezing cold and soaking wet b) I know I’ll go back to N. Ireland, again c) I was freezing cold and wet. Instead, I ended up at the most beautiful hotel, and enjoyed one of the best Irish stews and brown bread that I’ve ever had. It was absolute heaven. Here are some of our pics, all of which were taken dangerously, with the potential for my camera (or me) falling into the sea. P.s. Don’t be fooled by the blue skies – it was FREEZING.
Did you know that there are two Ireland’s? It may sound humorous, now (since I’m developing quite a reputation as Irish obsessed), but I had no idea of that fact when I first landed in the Northern one. During my first backpacking trip to Belfast, back in 2013, I made the terrible mistake of thinking Northern Ireland was just an extension of what is formally referred to as the Republic of Ireland. True story. Now thinking back, it’s pretty ridiculous given that you would think that I had learned about Northern Ireland’s history at some point in school. But either I didn’t, or I retained none of it.
Luckily, a rather tart bus driver was more than willing to educate me on the difference as he kicked me off his bus for trying to use the wrong currency (N. Ireland = Pounds not Euro). There’s nothing quite like learning firsthand from the locals.
That was then, this is now. And on our two week backpacking trip me and one of my friends decided to take a day tour up to Belfast to visit (what turned out to be) one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever been to. I didn’t get a picture of the outside of the museum but you can see, thanks to the interwebs, what it looks like, above. It’s absolutely immense, and you go through each level learning about a different aspect of the Titanic – from concept to construction to catastrophe. If you’re ever in Belfast I CANNOT recommend the museum enough – it was breathtaking.
In addition to sponging up as much information as possible, the overall bus tour itself was also great (despite the weather, which we’ll talk about in Part II). I’ve done three tours, now, with WildRover tours, and I’ve loved every single one. It really is one of the best ways to learn about the history of Ireland while seeing the countryside. Here are some of my favorite pics from this part of the trip!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that people are people. It sounds like a no brainer, but the number one concern I hear when I say I’m going to travel places, is that I should be careful trusting the people there. What’s funny is… they probably say the same thing about us.
From traveling, I’ve learned that humanity is broad, colorful, diverse and beautiful. There is evil in the world, yes. Some governments are oppressive and some cultural norms stagnate the possibilities for individuals to rise to their true potential. But I will never allow the aspects of darkness to outshine the good. The people who are selfless, stubborn and that build lives of beauty in places you might never consider beautiful are my heroes. And to celebrate THESE people. I’m going to share some stories of some awesome individuals I’ve met while traveling.
1. “Your Accent Is Cute.” – London, England
As an American traveling, it takes every ounce of self control not to fake a different accent. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m ashamed of the way I speak…only that I think it should stay on the home front. When I first arrived in London, England I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was using different money, there were way too many people everywhere, and I arrived at night – meaning I didn’t recognize anything the next day. On top this, the streets are backwards – which, honestly, almost cost me my life more than once.
When I first arrived in London I stayed about 30min north of the central city with one of my lovely couch surfing hosts. The second night I was out until after dark (which was like 6pm) and had no idea how to get back to where I was staying. Deciding to just try my luck, I jumped on a bus that looked like it MIGHT be the same number that I came down on (it wasn’t) and then rode around in it for twenty minutes.
At this point I literally had no idea where I was. So brilliantly, I got off the bus and tried to use the map on my phone*. After wandering around in the cold a bit, I finally found a bus stop and waited until the bus came. Happily climbing on, it wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized it was taking me BACK the way I came. So, getting off that bus, I got back on another random bus headed in the right(?) direction. At this point I was actually lost in London. My host wasn’t able to figure out where I was because I wasn’t able to figure out where I was, and I was sending frantic text messages. Fun times.
Finally I swallowed my shyness and asked the bus driver for directions.
He told me I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be going…but to go sit down and wait a while. I thought he was going to tell me a connecting route, but as the bus emptied of its last passenger, other than me, he called me to the front of the double-decker, after pulling over. He then whipped out his smartphone, and punched the address into his GPS. After finding the address on his phone, he pulled out of where he had parked and started driving and talking to me about where I was from. I told him Seattle, to which he said, “American? Well, I like your accent, it’s super cute.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is a sentence every American woman wants to hear from an attractive British man.
As we kept driving, he let me know that we would be there soon. And only then did I realize I was being driven in a double decker bus, as the solo passenger, to the place I need to go. He dropped me off at the corner of my street, and drove away, waving goodbye. I’m probably never going to see that man again, but as far as I know, if it wasn’t for him I might still be lost in London. A cosmic “Thank you, sir.”
* Note: iPhone 4’s DO NOT work internationally unless you’re on WiFi, which doesn’t help if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
2. Never Euro In N. Ireland – Belfast, Ireland
If you’ve ever been to Northern Ireland you’ll know that tension flows through the air. I never really understood the stubbornness and hot headed nature of my Irish blooded family until I visited Northern Ireland and met the people there. Not to say this is a bad thing, but just that it was my observation.
When I was traveling around the UK, Belfast was the first stop on my backpacking adventure. I had travelled 20 hours to get there including two planes, a train and a two buses. FINALLY, when I got to Northern Ireland, I groggily hopped on the bus I was told would take me to my hostel. It was the wrong bus. So I hopped on another one the bus driver told me to take. It was ALSO the wrong bus. Finally, with 30 lbs of luggage on my back and 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours, I got on the right bus and pulled out my wallet to pay.
The bus driver looked at me as though I was trying to pull a practical joke. “How much is the bus?” I asked. He looked at me one more time as though I was joking, and then frankly told me that they didn’t take that kind of money, and to get off the bus and go exchange it. I had just used the money in Dublin, so I was confused for why it wouldn’t work.
Note: Trying to pay with Euro is a “political statement” in Northern Ireland. Don’t do it.
Stumbling my way around the city, I finally found a place to exchange my money and went out to wait for the next bus. I FINALLY I got to my hostel. At the brink of tears, because I was so exhausted and my back hurt so much, I asked the front desk staff to check me in. But, (surprise) they also didn’t take Euro and I hadn’t exchanged enough money to pay the other half of the room bill. Completely out of my control, my eyes filled as I tried not to cry. The woman told me I couldn’t check in – which meant going back to the city center, finding another bus, coming back on another bus, and carrying my pack around for even longer.
At the same time, a guy in his 20s hopped down into the room and asked what was going on. The lady explained the situation and I just stood there trying not to cry. He reached down and handed me a key. I took it without asking any questions. The woman and I both had shocked faces as he told me to just pay the next time I went out and got change – an exception which was, apparently, totally against protocol.
His act of kindness was probably one of the best things during my trip; not because it was the grandest gesture, but because it was a small act of kindness in a moment when I just needed a break.
3. Ten Hours With A Stripper – Missoula, MT
In four years of college and my entire life before then, I never pulled an all-nighter. (And to preface the sentence I’m about to say – don’t jump to conclusions.)
The first time I did, I was with a male stripper.
His name was Hank. He was tall and military trained and we met on the way to Seattle on a Greyhound bus. I had been staying in Missoula, MT for the week before and was coming back heartbroken and tired. Also, for reference, the Greyhound bus ride from there to here is about 11+ hours. So, about to fall sleep on my way home, I was suddenly interrupted by a guy across the aisle way. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but suddenly he was talking to me about my hat and how much he liked it. I’m pretty sure it was just a plain beanie.
We talked for a few minutes, but I was less than enthusiastic since I just wanted to curl up and sleep/die (heartbroken.). After the bus switch a couple of hours later, I walked back on and found that the girl I had been sitting with had left at that stop. So, I took my seat and the trek back began. Soon after, I heard someone trying to talk to me from the back of the bus. I turned around – him again. “I’m just going to move up there so we can talk easier.” And Hank popped into the seat beside me.
After a while we started talking pretty naturally, mainly because I was by the window, and there was nowhere to go with a 6’6″ man sitting next to me. Over time we started talking about relationships and how we were both just getting out of some pretty swampy territory. We talked for 10 hours straight about everything from favorite movies to quotes we liked and political views. But, mostly, about our mutual broken hearts.
We were both crushed that things didn’t work out between us and our significant others, and sat there for hours talking through things, encouraging each other (not the fake kind) and figuring things out.
I honestly can say, it was better than any counseling session I’ve ever had. I was crushed when I left Montana, and by the time I got to Seattle I felt so much better. All of my problems weren’t solved. But having a stranger sit and talk to me about them for that long was insane. When I got off the bus at the last stop I couldn’t find Hank to thank him. I’ll probably never see him again, but the kindness of a listening ear is something I’ll never forget.