I Hate Brussels Sprouts – but not Brussels, Belgium!

While spending some time in England, with a friend in Germany, a decision was made to meet in the traditional location for the English and Germans to come together: Brussels. As the seat of the EU, Brussels is a place for international liaison. Perhaps Brussels was chosen for this because of its geographical location, or it’s grandeur. Either way, the single word I would use to describe Brussels is GRAND.

EUROPE

EUROPE

EU

EU

Brussels’ architecture is big, thick, imposing, regal, oppressive, impressive.

"Grand Place" or "Grote Markt"

“Grand Place” or “Grote Markt”

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My favourite building, however, is almost too big to be photographed. The Palais de justice (The Palace of Justice, the name of the Law Courts, which is pretty cool):

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Gargoyles!

Though they live amongst dark, heavy buildings, the Belgians in Brussels have a certain sense of whimsy that is undeniable and goofy. This is evidenced by their weird street art:

Trees…?

Trees…?

Rarely seen is the herd of wild wood buffalo and their young.

Rarely seen is the herd of wild wood buffalo and their young.

I…..

I….. I….

I don't even know. Like, not at all.

I don’t even know. Like, not at all.

Someone had to actually shape this magnificent bosom.

Someone had to actually shape this magnificent bosom.

Even the older sculptures are a bit tongue-in-cheek. The story behind this one goes something like this: a sculptor's son went missing. The sculptor vowed that if his son was found, he would sculpt him in whatever stance he was found in. The little boy was found taking a piss in a fountain. Hence "Le Mannequin pis".

Even the older sculptures are a bit tongue-in-cheek. The story behind this one goes something like this: a sculptor’s son went missing. The sculptor vowed that if his son was found, he would sculpt him in whatever stance he was found in. The little boy was found taking a piss in a fountain. Hence “Le Mannequin pis”.

Le Mannequin pis (loosely, the peeing young man) is often dressed up in seasonal outfits.

Le Mannequin pis (loosely, the peeing young man) is often dressed up in seasonal outfits.

Like many European metropolitan cities, Brussels is largely built of stone. Lots of grey and black… but my travel companion and I DID find some green!

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In a vast field, we could hear a highway, and it was the weirdest thing – the underground highway came up for air in the middle of it!

To be totally stereotypical, may I say: OH, THE WAFFLES. THE SWEET, SWEET WAFFLES!

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I’m so glad I was there before I found out about my gluten intolerance!

On this particular journey, I think I may have discovered the cause of WWII in the war museum:

SLYTHERINS!

SLYTHERINS!

That is all.

Snapshot of Dawlish, Devon

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Located in the UK near Exeter on the south coast of Devon, Dawlish is a brightly painted, extremely small, sunny stop on the coastal railway.

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P1040650_2P1040652_2 Though not necessarily a town worthy of “primary destination” status, if you’re in the area (or riding the train along the coast), it’s a cute wee place to have a quick walk around.

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P1040682_2P1040686_2P1040670_2 Down the centre of town is a river that doubles as a kind of bird sanctuary.

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The infamous Dawlish black swans.

The Dawlish black swans.

This ugly guy.

This magnificent dude.

And don't you dare disturb the river! Cedric patrols vehemently.

And don’t you dare disturb the river! Cedric patrols vehemently.

There’s a small possibly that Dawlish actually exists in a portal in time, where once you ascend from the raised train station platform, you step back several decades. My limited evidence:

Not so latent racism and misunderstandings of racial prejudices. I was too afraid to take a picture of the store that sells only golliwogs.

Misunderstandings of racial stereotypes. I was too afraid to take a picture of the store that sells only golliwogs.

Dated insistence on a product's "stylishness" to entice skeptical buyers.

Dated insistence on a product’s “stylishness” to entice any skeptical buyers. Also, holy cheap prices!

Certainly a curious place.

Has anyone else been to Dawlish? Did you see a different side of it?

Budget Travel Tips: 8 Desperate Ways to Finally Afford that Trip

Times are tight. I know it, you know it, we ALL feel it. Many people are opting out of travel altogether. So the question looms: is it still possible to travel on a tight budget?

I would argue that it is almost not.

It isn’t uncommon to see tips on travelling on a budget such as these from Reader’s Digest. Even though these can be valuable for a novice, comfortable traveller to cut down a bit on the overall cost of vacationing, they do not remedy the fact that travel is too expensive for most people these days.

So there’s nothing to do but give up, lock yourself in a dark room, sit in a corner, listen to Coldplay and sulk about your immobilizing debt that prevents you from experiencing life, right?

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That completely depends – how badly do you want it?

If you want it bad enough here are 8 things to consider to maybe, actually, potentially make travel a possibility for those with the dark cloud of financial hardship raining overhead.

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1. Convenience and Comfort? Ha!:

If you have the luxury of being time-and-place-flexible, there are sometimes affordable deals to be had!

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Flying to cool places

Do your research. Look at multiple airlines and their options, check out the budget airlines and where they fly. What time of year is cheapest? Peak-season travel is sickeningly expensive, so look at off-peak flights.

Try Skyscanner– they will give you a good idea of what the cheapest available options are, but do your own poking around too!

Bring only carry-on luggage (preferably a backpack!! For the reasons, see this post). There are many budget airlines in Europe and the UK, but they often charge a significant fee for checked baggage.

IMPORTANT– Speaking of budget airlines: be wary of them! Some do not have assigned seating and will OVERBOOK their flights ON PURPOSE in order to make more money (*cough* Ryan Air *cough*), and they count on the fact that someone won’t show up or will be late. ARRIVE EARLY, and be aggressive when boarding. You’re welcome.

One of the biggest expenses when travelling is food. The best way to cut down your food budget is to grocery shop rather than eat at restaurants or pubs. In the UK, for example, many shops have a £3 “meal deal” where you get a sandwich, bag of chips and a drink. Not the healthiest way to sustain yourself abroad, but certainly one of the cheapest!

2. Scrap Your List of Destinations:

If you have considered travel, ever, you probably have a mental list of the top places you’d like to visit. Murphy’s Law demands that these will likely be the most expensive places to get to. Throw it out. Embrace the possibility of new places!

For example, Brussels is somewhere I never expected to go, but I enjoyed it! (Not exactly a dirt cheap example, but the best personal one I have!)

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If I hadn’t gone to Brussels, I wouldn’t have seen street art like this:

What?

What?

Or this:

WHY?!

WHY?!

If, during your travels, you are lucky enough to find yourself nearby a more expensive destination that you MUST see (for example, Paris is a popular and pricey place to lust after), then spend as little time there as possible. 2-3 days is sufficient to explore a city-centre by foot.

3. Terrible Transportation:

Direct flights are lovely, but awful meandering ones are generally cheaper. Decide how much savings your time and physical comfort is worth (if you can’t bare the thought of embarking on a 1-2 day flight-hopping spree when the direct flight is 8-hours or less, you don’t want it badly enough).

Also, flights that leave at horrible times like 4am are generally cheaper than pleasantly-timed flights.

"Friends Fare" is a thing in the UK... if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

A “Friends Fare” discount is a thing on UK trains… if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

If you are ‘on the road’ and travelling from city to city, there are multiple options available to you (especially in Europe). There are flights, trains, coaches and…. BUSSES. Pick the bus that takes about ten times longer to get to your destination than any other method of transportation, and it’s likely the cheapest.

I once took a city-style bus in England from Exeter to Poole (a distance that should take less than 2 hours by car, but took over 5 hours by bus – with no stops!!! How is that even possible?!). City-style bus means NO TOILET… again, with no stops. It was an excruciating journey. This should be illegal – but at a fraction of the cost of the train, it was the only option in my range of affordability.

When in a location, WALK EVERYWHERE. Transportation within cities is so expensive, especially to and from airports. Use it as little as possible.

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!
Arthur’s Seat Summit, Edinburgh

4. Travel with a Buddy:

Try to find a friend to go with that is in the same situation (or at least very open minded). This can be a challenge, but in the end you can both save money than if you were alone. Of course, the simplest reason for this is room-sharing, but also watching each other’s backs.

The biggest savings when travelling with a buddy (and I hate to say this) is HITCHHIKING. As a woman, I would never hitchhike alone. As a snobby person, I would never hitchhike at all. If you play it safe, however, you can get far on very little money. A friend of mine recently admitted their travels included a lot of hitchhiking, and this warmed me to the idea. Use common sense and be picky – don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, and don’t hitch at night! Check out these tips.

5. Consider Long-Term Travel:

Find work, meet people, couch surf, move on.

For positive and real-life tales of SUCCESSFUL long-term EXTREME budget travel, check out the supremely cool Wandering Earl! He’s much more experienced at all of this than I am!

Earl, wandering.

Earl, wandering. My lil’ bro met up with him on his travels and he’s apparently a really cool guy 🙂

6. No Partying OR Partying for Board:

Choose one of these things. If you have all of your accommodation booked in advance, no alcohol, no partying. If not, choose bars and clubs with no cover fee, and then meet as many people as possible to find an available couch!!

I have never partied to find a place to crash... it sounds dangerous.

I have never partied to find a place to crash… it sounds dangerous.

7. Forfeit the Tourist Attractions:

CN Tower, Toronto: $32- $89cnd

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Eiffel Tower, Paris: €15

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

Big Ben, London: £15

This is not the tower of London, but it's a nice picture.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but these admission prices could also be your food budget for a day or two! Save it for when you’re rich.

8. Hostels vs. Hotels:

Hostels can be hit or miss. Again, do you research! I use hostelworld.com and have never been disappointed. Look the cheapest available of course, but use the Internet to check where the hostels are located so you aren’t booking something in the middle of nowhere.

A small but very good hostel.

A small but very good hostel.

Normally the more beds in a dorm the cheaper it will be per night… so mentally prepare for 12 other people ruining your sleep schedule, coming to bed at 4am, getting up at 6am etc. Bring earplugs.

Don’t assume hostels will be cheaper than hotels. Of course, they normally are, but when my lil’bro and I recently went to Paris, we booked a one-star hotel, as it was cheaper than Parisian hostels. There’s an option on Hostelworld for hotels.

It’s very important before booking a hostel to read some of the customer reviews. Hostelworld is great for accurate reviews! If the reviews terrify you, don’t book the hotel. It’s usually fairly obvious when someone has just had a bad experience, ie. noisy streets on a weekend (duh), people drunkenly having sex or masturbating in the same dorm, loud snoring – these things aren’t the hostel’s fault. Bring earplugs. BRING EARPLUGS.

Check for bedbugs when you arrive, then forget about how awful the rest of it is.

HOW DOES THAT SOUND?

Does thinking about these things give you a tingle of excitement? Or does it inject fear and bitterness into your beautiful dreams of travel?

Do YOU have what it takes to be an extreme-budget traveller?

Enjoy your travels, be they desperately budget or gloriously comfortable, because travel is the best and most enjoyable education.

Penzance and Marazion: Home of St. Michael’s Mount

In Cornwall, England, you can find the most wondrous places.

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At the Southwestern most tip of the island that is Britain resides a town called Penzance. Larger than most seaside towns, Penzance lacks the dated and tacky tourist arcades and pseudo show-gardens like its smaller counterparts (for example, Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth – more on them another time!).

Penzance High Street

Penzance High Street

It has a more actually-lived-in feel, which I prefer to the ghosts of seaside towns past. Penzance is a strange blend of English and ‘tropical’. There are palm trees everywhere! It’s an odd phenomenon. It felt wrong, but somehow right.

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And of course the beach was fantastic. Long and sandy, very characteristic of Southern England.

High tide, so no beach at the moment!

High tide, so no beach at the moment!

There is, however, something that makes Penzance extra-special. The next town over, called Marazion, is the home of the fantastic St. Michael’s Mount. Marazion is within walking distance of Penzance – though I would recommend taking the bus if you are on a schedule!

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The Mount is another plateau (somewhat similar to Tintagel) that rises from the sea just off shore. It is accessible on foot at low tide via causeway. At high tide the only way out is by boat. Why would you want to go out there? Because there’s a castle on it!

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Due to its unusualness and its stark beauty, the Mount has been used for myriad things dating back to the 5th century, including army barracks, a monastery, and a wonderfully defendable castle.

The castle on the Mount

The castle on the Mount

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The views from atop the castle were stunning.

You can see the submerged causeway!

You can see the submerged causeway!

The gate.

The gate.

The gardens have a separate entry fee, which we skipped.

The gardens have a separate entry fee, which we skipped.

When I visited the Mount in the spring of 2012, they were setting up to film a movie called Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box which is due to be released in 2013….

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The old-time style set.

The old-time style set.

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The coolest part about the filming was watching the amphibious bus/terrestrial boat ferry cast and crew back and forth from the set to the mainland.

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We were blessed with excellent weather for our day trip to Penzance, but I think that even with grey skies, this spot should be on the list for anyone travelling in the UK!

On the train-ride back to our home base, a man was playing harmonica and his dogs were singing along. Oh, Cornwall!!

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http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk

London Calling: The Beauty of British Stereotypes

Big Ben, The Royals and Harry Potter

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What do you think of when you think of England? If you’re not English that is…

Well, when people think of England, they inevitably think of London. Big Ben, the River Thames, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. These sights are certainly popular for a good reason. They are iconic, beautiful and British! B LOVES London, so we train’d on down to London-town for a four-day visit.

Soooo excited to be in London!

Soooo excited to be in London!

We saw all the usual places, as listed above, with the addition of Whitehall (one of my favourite buildings, probably in the world!), Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and many more!

Big Ben

Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

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Buckingham Palace, obvs.

Whitehall as seen from St. James Park

Whitehall as seen from St. James Park

Tower of London

Tower of London… now this was the first time I’ve seen this, which is amazing considering how many times I’ve been to London. I had no idea that it’s actually the whole structure that boasts the name “Tower of London” – there is no single tower-structure!

This is TOWER Bridge. Often mistaken for London Bridge, which is just a boring, concrete thing. London Bridge was, hilariously, bought by an American rich dude who thought it would be sweet to own London Bridge, thinking it was THIS iconic British landmark. If this is true, I lol.

This is TOWER Bridge. Often mistaken for London Bridge, which is just a boring, concrete thing. London Bridge was, hilariously, bought by an American rich dude who thought it would be sweet to own London Bridge, thinking it was THIS iconic British landmark. If this is true, it’s the best thing ever.

St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

B, being a major fan of the Royal family, took me out to Kensington, an area of London I had never explored. It was gloriously posh and gorgeous! Kensington Palace is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will and Kate themselves. We circled Kensington Palace and walked for hours in Kensington Gardens.

Me at Kensington Palace!

Me at Kensington Palace!

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Kensington Gardens

I never knew a place like this existed. If there’s one thing I can really say about London, it’s THEY KNOW PARKS!

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We were there all day. When we finally began to think about heading back, B suggested walking up the driveway of the Palace one last time. She was determined to give Kate-spotting a good go. Walking back down the driveway, we heard an approaching vehicle. We turned, and B squealed with stifled excitement, “It’s a black Range Rover! That’s THEIR car!”

This is exactly where we saw her! Image via https://www.facebook.com/WhatKateWore

This is exactly where we saw her! Image via https://www.facebook.com/WhatKateWore

Lo and behold, I got my first glimpse of Royalty, and MAN, were they beautiful! B was in total denial… a dream of hers had just come true and was gone so quickly she could hardly believe it. It happened, B, it happened!! Let it in, live it, love it.

Of course, for two massive Harry Potter fans, no trip to London would be complete without a visit to the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour that opened last year. This trip MAY have been my second time at the Studio Tour… but we don’t have to talk about that. I love Harry Potter!

Enter the Great Hall!

Enter the Great Hall!

Imma be the BEST at potions with this copy of Advanced Potion Making!

Imma be the BEST at potions with this copy of Advanced Potion Making!

Sleeping portrait of Stephen Fry in Dumbledore's office! I adore Stephen Fry.

Sleeping portrait of Stephen Fry in Dumbledore’s office! I adore Stephen Fry.

Finally, I'm at Hogwarts!!! But I'm too big to fit inside. Oh, the tragedy!

Finally, I’m at Hogwarts!!! But I’m too big to fit inside. Oh, the tragedy!

Wonder Witch products from Weasley Wizard Wheezes. I need me some of those Flirting Fancies! Need evidence? See my conclusion in this post: https://amblingalana.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/five-places-not-to-meet-guys-in-edinburgh-place-5-and-a-conclusion-of-hope/

Wonder Witch products from Weasley Wizard Wheezes. I need some of those Flirting Fancies! Need evidence? See my conclusion in this post.

After a very full trip, I drove us home in my car. It’s a flying blue Ford Anglia.

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For me, a trip to London is a trip fraught with British stereotypes. But why have they become “stereotypes”? I would argue that the sights we visited are iconic rather than stereotypical, but tourists often limit their idea of English identity to include only what they see in London. Though I still love visiting London, England has a huge variety of beauty to offer.