Highlights… & Hindsights Making The Case for Repeat Destinations

I’m currently, ok always, considering my next vacation destination, and with so many amazing places in the world it’s hard to decide. Should we commit those precious vacation days to repeat destinations, digging deeper into what a city has to offer? If we do, what about all those wonderful new places just waiting to be discovered?

#jardindestuileries
Sailing ships! A highlight of our Paris visit!

When traveling, I’m torn between wanting to wing it and not wanting to miss anything, which definitely helps makes the case for repeat visits to certain destinations. For example, our recent trips to Paris, London, and Edinburgh were all repeat visits, we’d already checked off many of the main attractions, which enabled us to explore more freely. One point for repeat visits!

#bigben
Our tour of the Houses of Parliament was a definite highlight!

That said, one of my favorite things about traveling is the discovery of the new. The surprise and delight you feel when discovering something wonderful in a new place simply can’t be beat! These moments are one of the reasons I love to travel, the highlights of our adventures! One point for new destinations!

#arthursseat
We missed out on Arthur’s Seat during our first visit to Edinburgh.

However, being new to a place can at times be a hindrance. No matter how much research I’ve done, there are times when things don’t go quite as planned. Whether it’s accommodations, location, food, or timing, these are what I like to refer to as the hindsights of our adventure. These are things one can only know after time spent and often it’s too late… Another point for repeat destinations.

#brugge
This view from our hotel window in Bruges was a highlight!

Of course not everywhere has a hindsight and some places are just plain full of surprise and delight. I love surprise and delight! Looks like another point for new destinations!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast
Flying to Glasgow from Belfast we were treated to this fabulous view!

So, it looks like a tie between old and new, which means I’m no closer to working out where in the world, we’ll go next, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights and hindsights from our summer 2016 adventures in Europe!

Highlights & Hindsights

Dublin, Ireland

Highlight: Guinness Factory Tour

There were many wonderful moments during our visit to Dublin, however it was our visit to the Guinness Storehouse that came out as number one! Which speaks volumes, since I don’t even drink beer. All four of us absolutely loved this experience and if you should find yourself in Dublin I highly recommend you go.

#guinnessstorehouse

Hindsight: Popular attractions require advance planning

Our planned a visit to the  Kilmainham Gaol Museum went awry when we couldn’t print our tickets and unfortunately we missed out. We ended up visiting Malahide Castle instead, which was delightful, but lesson learned.

Cork, Ireland

Highlight:  The Blarney Stone

For more than 200 years people have been kissing the Blarney Stone and after some debate (it is the world’s germiest attraction) Simon and I decided to join the club!

Cork Blarney Castle
The Blarney Stone

Hindsight: Touristy doesn’t always equal bad

If only we’d known how much we were going to enjoy exploring Blarney Castle, we would have given ourselves more time.

Killarney, Ireland

Highlight: Killarney National Park

We spent three nights in Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry and the perfect little Irish town! Quaint, friendly and picturesque, it was exactly what I had pictured an Irish town to look like!

Killarney Ireland
Ross Castle is located inside Killarney National Park

Hindsights: Whoops, attention to detail is key!

Putting the wrong fuel in our rental car meant a drastic change in our plans. Instead of a visit to the Dingle Peninsula and Skellig Michal we spent a lovely day wandering in  Killarney National Park. If I ever find my way back to the west of Ireland a trip to the Skellig Islands will be my first order of business!

Limerick, Ireland

Highlight: King John’s Castle

We weren’t sure what to expect at King Johns’ Castle, but I do love a good castle and we had to stop for lunch anyway so why not just eat lunch at the castle?

#kingjohnscastle
King John’s Castle

Hindsight: There was none!

This was a bonus stop on our way to Galway, and we were delighted with the way this midday stop turned out!

Galway, Ireland

Highlight: The Cliffs of Moher

The spectacular Cliffs of Moher are a definite must-see if you’re visiting the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

ireland cliffs of moher
The Cliffs of Moher

Hindsight: Allow time for unexpected adventures

There is a walk along the cliff tops , but we were running out of daylight and weren’t really dressed for a hike, so we satisfied ourselves with a good long look over the edge.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Highlight: Everything about the entire visit

Our visit to the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland was by far the best day of our 12 day tour of the Emerald Isle, if not our entire summer abroad!

#dark Hedges

Hindsight: We should have stayed longer.

Having no idea how much we would enjoy our visit we only booked three nights, but easily could have spent twice that many exploring Belfast as well as the amazing natural beauty along the Northern Coast.

Glasgow, Scotland

Highlight: Mural Trail

A very happy accident, we discovered Glasgow’s Mural trail on our way to another destination!

#hiphopmarionettes

Hindsight: Glasgow deserves more time!

Two days just wasn’t enough in this walk friendly city brimming with architecture, art, music, and shopping!

Inverness, Scotland

Highlight: Urquhart Castle on the Shores of Loch Ness

Having missed out on a visit to Loch Ness on our previous trip to the Highlands, we decided to make it a priority. A highlight was exploring the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle, located on the shores of the lake.

#urquhartcastle

Hindsight: So much more than a monster!

Our visit here was wonderful and exceeded our expectations in every way.

The Highlands of Scotland

Highlight: Eileen Donan Castle

A last minute decision to see Eileen Donan Castle did not disappoint. It’s no wonder that Eilean Donan is the most photographed castle in Scotland, it’s setting in the middle of three lochs is stunning!

#eileandonanbagpiper

Hindsight: The Isle of Skye

There is never enough time in this magical country. We got a small taste of what the Isle of Skye has to offer and I’m definitely going back for more!

Edinburgh, Scotland

Highlight: Everything

Have you ever visited a place that felt so right, so special that it was almost painful to leave? Love at first sight? That’s exactly how I felt about Edinburgh from the very first moment.

#edinburgh

Hindsight: I’ve realized my Edinburgh list will never be completed

Although we didn’t have time to go inside the Writers Museum, we did spend time in the courtyard reading the tiles, which are inscribed with lovely quotes written by some of the city’s most famous writers. All of them about Edinburgh of course!

Hadrian’s Wall

Highlight: A dream come true

I know that for some, what basically amounts to a crumbling brick wall in the middle of nowhere England might not be interesting, but for me, a history loving anglophile, this was an absolute dream come true!

#hadrianswall

Hindsight: Walk the Wall Hike

It’s quite popular to “walk” the Wall and I would have liked to, at least for a little while, but serious rain was threatening and after a few minutes the boys abandoned me for the shelter of the Housestead’s Museum.

York, England

Highlight: York Minster

It made sense that the center piece of York, York Minster, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, would be our first stop. We were not disappointed!

#yorkminster

Hindsight: There wasn’t one!

The rain fell hard and steadily during our visit, but thankfully we still managed to enjoyed this lovely city.

Nottingham, England

Highlight: THE Nottingham!

Yes, that Nottingham, home of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men!

#robinhoodnottingham

Hindsight: Sometimes the weather wins

Sadly, extremely heavy rain put us off from a visit to Sherwood Forest.

London, England

Highlight: Camden Market

My highlight is also a hindsight!  I can’t believe the Camden Market wasn’t already on my radar, It’s right up my alley and reminds me a lot of Venice Beach, California. Fun & quirky!

#camdenlock

Hindsight: Top of the Shard

With my love of photography, I regret that I didn’t take the time to visit the observation deck at the Shard. Greenwich is also high on my list for next time…

Brugge, Belgium

Highlight: Beautiful Medieval Town

I was delighted by the incredible beauty of Brugge, a quaint little medieval town. I immediately fell in love and spent the better part of my three days there taking endless photos.

Bruges Canal

Hindsight: Why didn’t we eat more chocolate?

The question is: With endless chocolate shops around every corner, why didn’t we visit more of them? I’m afraid that’s a question, I’ll never know the answer to.

Ghent, Belgium

Highlight: Graffiti Street

Wanting to see something a bit off the beaten path and big fans of street art, we were excited to learn that Ghent has a dedicated graffiti street called Werregaren straat. We really enjoyed this and loved the idea of a dedicated place where anyone can express themselves freely.

#wergeranstraat

Hindsight: Maybe next time…

Elliot really wished we’d had a can of spray paint or two, so he could contribute.

Amsterdam, Holland The Netherlands

Highlight: Everything about our visit!

A lovely and walkable city with no shortage of interesting sights and streets to wander we made the most of every minute of our visit in Amsterdam.

#nightcanal

Hindsight: We visited Amsterdam and didn’t ride a boat or a bike, what?!

We made the most of every moment while visiting this fabulous city, but still ran out of time before ever stepping onto a boat, or peddling a bike. We did see some windmills though! If I had to do it over again I would stay on a houseboat!

Zaans Schans, Holland

Highlight: Windmills

I felt I couldn’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill up close and personal! I know, I know, that’s a very touristy thing to do, but hey, sometimes I’m a tourist!

#zaanseschans

Hindsight: Why didn’t we rent bikes here?

If we ever find our way back to this wonderful place we will be sure to rent bikes. The wide pathways and lovely scenery would make for a perfect bike ride!

Paris, France

Highlight: Sainte Chapelle

As I emerged from the doorway into the main part of the chapel my mouth literally fell open. I was completely surrounded by jaw dropping beauty. How did I not know about this amazing place?

#saintechapelle

Hindsight: Accommodations

While there wasn’t really anything wrong with our hotel, I’ve yet to really hit the nail on the head as far as Paris lodgings go… hopefully next time!

Versailles, France

Highlight: Marie Antoinette’s Gardens

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Petit Trianon, the home away from home of Marie Antoinette, who apparently wasn’t so enamored with the main Palace and preferred to spend her time elsewhere.

#petittrianon

Hindsight: An evening visit might have been better

We should have considered going later in the afternoon for the musical fountains show and evening fireworks. We might have been able to beat the crowds, and the heat.

London, England

Highlight: Hyde Park

London’s parks are the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon just like the locals do! They are beautiful, vast and filled with activities for every interest.

#serpentinepavilion2016

Hindsight: Do we really have to go home?

Even after six weeks of travel, I wasn’t ready to go home.

Nothing makes me happier than discovering new places with my family and sharing them with all of you!


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Day Trippers: An Afternoon in Ghent

#gravensteencastle

Determined to see as much as I could during our visit to Belgium, we chose Bruges as our home base with a plan for quick trips to other nearby cities. Ghent, The 2nd largest municipality in Belgium, not only has beautiful architecture and a large medieval castle, but it was only 30 minutes away, making it the perfect day trip destination.

Getting There

#stnicholas
St. Nicholas’ Church

Purchasing our tickets at the station the day of, we traveled from the Bruges Station to the Gent-Sint Pieters Station. If you’re traveling with kids, keep in mind that under 12s are free on the trains in Belgium. Upon arrival to the Ghent station there are multiple ways to get into the city center, we chose to ride the tram.

Tram tickets are available outside from a machine or at the Ticket/Information office inside the Gent-Sint Pieters Station. Advised by the clerk to purchase one 10 ride ticket, all four of us rode roundtrip for a total of 14 euro. As soon as you board the tram you’ll validate your ticket once for each passenger and use the same ticket again on the way back.

#ghent

Our stop was the Korenmarkt, which is the center of town. Immediately upon arriving you’ll see the St. Nicolas’ Church and the Belfry, and if you look a bit further down the street you’ll see St. Bavo’s Cathedral too! These three tall towers on the same street are quite fittingly known as the Three Towers of Ghent! The very modern Ghent City Pavilion located between the Belfry and St. Nicolas’ Church is used for public gatherings.

Gravensteen Castle

#gravensteencastle

Our first stop was Gravensteen a medieval castle. Although there isn’t a lot to look at inside, as most of the castle is empty, there are brief explanations of each room along the way and the numbered path is very clearly laid out. The visit was only about one hour and for me the highlight was walking the castle walls with views of the canals and city rooftops. Simon enjoyed the weapons exhibit quite a lot. Admission prices are 10 euro per adult and kids under 19 are free.

#gravensteencastle
View from Gravensteen Castle

We walked along the River Leie on our way to lunch and although it was a really pretty walk there seemed to be a lot of construction going on, so I didn’t take many photos. We enjoyed a lovely lunch right on the river bank, but I was so busy enjoying my meal I forgot to take any photos. Oops!

#riverlys
Walk along the River Leie

Grafitti Street

#werregarnstraat

Wanting to see something a bit off the beaten path and big fans of street art, we were excited to learn that Ghent has a dedicated graffiti street called Werregaren straat. Really more of a pass through or alley than a street, its pedestrian only, and if you like street  art definitely worth a look.

#wergeranstraat

Due to the temporary nature of street art and graffiti the walls of Werregaren straat are constantly changing. We really enjoyed this and loved the idea of a dedicated place where anyone can express themselves freely. Elliot really wished we’d had a can of spray paint or two, so he could contribute. Maybe next time!

St. Bavo’s Cathedral

#stbavos
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

If you’re an art lover you might like to visit The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432. This important piece of Flemish artwork has survived mostly intact throughout quite a turbulent history which includes, Protestant Iconoclasm as well as seizure by Napoleon, and the Nazis.

For the past 50 years it’s been hanging right where it belongs in St. Bavo’s Cathedral.

The painting can be viewed for a fee of 4 euro, but if you’re not interested in paying the fee there is a replica of the painting (which worked perfectly for my needs), inside the cathedral, which can be viewed free of charge. There are many other works of art, some more modern (one is pictured above), throughout the Cathedral.

St. Nicholas’ Church

#stnicholaschurch

Much less ornate on the inside than St. Bavo’s we also visited St. Nicholas’ which was undergoing some renovation, but beautiful nonetheless. After our long day wandering we opted not to climb to the top of the Belfry. Instead, we stopped for a soda and a rest in a little shop nearby before boarding the tram and heading back to Bruges.

#ghentbelfry

We really enjoyed our afternoon in Ghent and would have loved more time in this lovely city. An evening walk along the canals to see the award winning lights would be at the top of my list!


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Three Days in Brugge

Bruges Canal

Having done very little research prior to my arrival in Brugge, I was surprised and delighted by the incredible beauty of this quaint little medieval town. I immediately fell in love and spent the better part of my three days there taking endless photos (sorry in advance). In hindsight, I’m not sure how this gem of a city wasn’t already on my radar (oops!), but thankfully it was on Tim’s… And apparently everyone else’s!

Brugge Belgium
The view from our hotel room.

Yes! Bruges is very touristy, but even in the height of tourist season the city quiets down after dinner when all the daytrippers head out of town, and if you’re patient you’ll have the entire place to yourself! Of course Brugge is more than just a pretty face and we enjoyed exploring and tasting everything it has to offer.

#brugge
The Venice of the North

Getting There

Departing London after a three week road trip through Ireland and the UK, we traded in our rental car and set off for Belgium via train. The entire ride takes around three and a half hours, including a transfer in Brussels. Purchasing our tickets at St. Pancras Station one day prior to departure, we were really lucky to find seats together. An added bonus: we got table seats, meaning the four of us could sit around a table and look at our electronics and not each other. HA HA!
#Brugge

Three stops and one hour later we’d arrived!

#bruggesunset
Rozenhoedkaai View

My first impression upon our arrival to the center of the city:

Suddenly we were in one of the most beautiful cities I’d ever seen! Seriously! It’s not even fair to other cities, which don’t even stand a chance against the beauty of this place!

hotel-window-brugge-4969
The view from our hotel room.

Arriving in time for dinner, we chose a little place just off The Markt, the city center and main square. Mussels, frites and of course a Belgian waffle were on our menu!

#themarkt
The Markt

Brugge is a great place to wander, and although the chocolate shops (there are so many!) had all closed for the day we enjoyed window shopping and wandering through town before heading back to enjoy the amazing view from our room at the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce!

We loved this little hotel, and if you’re interested in a splurge I highly recommend it. The accommodations, location and service were all perfect! They even have their own box of cookies!

#brugge

Day One

By the way is it Brugge, Bruge, Brugges, Bruges? You say tomato…

Our first day in town also happened to be American Independence Day. I must admit it felt a bit funny waking up in another country where the 4th of July is just another day. I’m not one to make too big a fuss over The 4th, but as we wandered through town, on our way to the laundromat, we noticed a number of rib restaurants and decided it would be fun to have an “American dinner”. We choose a place called Ribs n’ Beer (Really!), made a reservation for later, and set off to explore until dinner.

#brugge

With no real plan beyond enjoying the city, we spent the afternoon wandering in and out of shops, many of them selling chocolate, visited a park and went on a boat ride through the canals.

Boat Tours

#bruggeboattour

When in Brugge a boat tour of the canals is pretty much a must do, after all they don’t call it the Venice of the North for nothing. No need to plan ahead as there are several companies offering tours and the stops are conveniently located.

#bruggeboats

The ride was lovely, though at 30 minutes, a bit short. The guides speak English, French and Dutch, however when our guide spoke English, he affected such a funny accent we had no idea what he was saying. Afterwards when we asked him a question he sounded completely regular. We decided giving the same tour every thirty minutes all day long must be somewhat tedious and that he was entertaining himself with funny voices.

#bruggehotel
View of our hotel from the boat tour

Boating, Beer and BBQ

#ribsandbeer
Ribs n’ Beer

Our meal at Ribs n’ Beer was delicious and after our day of shopping and “boating,” Simon was delighted to discover they were all you can eat! We’d enjoyed three popular american favorites, boating, beer and BBQ, making our 4th of July celebration a complete success!

brugge-sunset-4958

Continuing our tradition of sampling cocoa in every new country, we found ourselves a table at T’ Klein Venetie a little cafe overlooking the famous Rozenhoedkaai View. We met some lovely people visiting from Mexico City and Tim chatted with them in Spanish while I took more photos. A lovely end to a great day!

#cocoa

Day Two

#belgianwaffle

Starting our day off with waffles, we sampled two kinds. The boys were interested in waffles on a stick, which were then dipped in chocolate and coated with the topping of their choice (marshmallows), while Tim and I went for a more traditional style.

Brugge Museums 

#brugge

If you’re planning more than one day in Brugge you might consider purchasing the museum pass, which will give you access to 14 of the city’s main attractions. Over the course of our visit we saw The Belfort, the Archeological Museum, Brugse Vrije, O.L.V-Kerk. Sint Janshospitaal, and the Stadhuis.

#michelangelo

Highlights were the city views from The Belfort, viewing Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady (O.L.V- Kerk), and the apothecary museum at Sint Janshospitaal.

#sintjanshospitaal

After a long day of museum hoping we found ourselves at Brasserie Souffleur where we enjoyed a lovely meal before heading out to see Brugge at night.

Day Three

#themarkt

Starting our day off with a visit to the Wednesday food market in The Markt, we picked up some fruit and a few other snacks to enjoy while wandering up and down the aisles. Many of the vendors displayed their foods in glass cases built right into the trucks they used to transport their wares.

Brugge is not only famous for chocolate, but also diamonds and we visited both the Choco Story Museum and the Diamond Museum.

#chocostory

Highlights were the chocolate making demonstration with yummy samples and the learning the fascinating science behind diamonds including interactive exhibits.

#chezvincent

Recommended by a friend as the best place for frites in Brugge, our next stop was Chez Vincent. That said, we enjoyed our fries, and the many dipping sauces available, but I’m not sure they were the best. The hours are somewhat erratic and because of its popularity there are a lot of rules…

Brugge at Night

#rozenhoedkaaiview

If you do plan a day trip to Brugge, I highly recommend sticking around to see it at night. The lighting is absolutely stunning, which makes for some pretty great photos!

#belfort

#bruggenight


Take me with you!

Would you like directions to all these fabulous places? Why not take me with you! you can download this and other fun hilarystyle articles using the GPSmyCity app!

#gpsmycityhilarystyle