July 2015

My dad’s grandfather came over from Denmark in the late 1920s. As long as I can remember, I’ve been told I take after this ‘Nielsen’ side of the family: tall with an athletic build, and thick and wavy light hair. I was excited to visit Denmark at the prospect of, for once in my life, feeling small.

Well, after boarding my flight from Ireland to Copenhagen, I got my wish. I didn’t feel small though really, just extraordinarily average. Never before had I been surrounded by so many other people with my same coloring and build! (My mom’s side has roots in what was once Czechoslovakia, with slightly darker coloring and slighter builds. Definitely no curly hair on this side!) For the remainder of my time in Denmark, this sense of belonging stayed with me. It was fun to imagine what life might have been like there for my ancestors…

(They probably didn’t eat as much candy as I do… Did you know they have salty gummies in Scandinavia? Mind blown.)

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County Kerry, Ireland, was easily another highlight of my trip so far. Of course I’m slightly biased, as we do share almost the same name, but it was really the beyond-beautiful scenery and perfect hospitality of the people there that made it a favorite.

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After a few days in Dublin we set out to see the real Ireland. I’d heard that the truly beautiful Irish scenery doesn’t begin until you reach the west side of the country and I found this to be true; if I were to do Ireland over again I’m not sure I’d even stop in Dublin, but might instead immediately rent a car and head for the hills!

This rental go-round we were lucky enough to get this little guy, pictured below. It didn’t have quite the same pickup as the VW we had in Scotland, but was an absolute dream when maneuvering between tight spaces and tour buses!! (= priceless)

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After the excitement of London and beauty of Edinburgh, visiting the capital city of Ireland was a different experience altogether.

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For anyone who has ever considered going to the Scottish Highlands I’d say this: go now. Pack immediately. (And bring a raincoat and waterproof shoes.)

Our three days in the Highlands has so far been the highlight of my trip – this area of the world, located in the most northwestern part of Scotland and the United Kingdom, boasts absurdly beautiful scenery in all directions, plenty of hiking, yummy food, sweet locals and a completely laid back way of life.

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They say that a person loves either London or Edinburgh, but not both.

Compared to the size and congestion of London, Edinburgh feels like a smaller, more mellow, though equally interesting step-sister to the north with a stronger accent.

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We stopped in York for just a short while on our way to Scotland. I’d wanted to see the Castle of York for years – located in the northern part of England, it was an especially important castle to hold in order to protect England’s interests in the north and is mentioned repeatedly throughout history.

Imagine my surprise then to arrive and learn the castle is no longer standing…

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Oh, London.

A little backstory: I first visited London over ten years ago when I was living in Spain for my college junior year abroad. My good friend, Iris, and I were lucky enough to spend the six weeks between semesters backpacking around Europe including five days in London over New Year’s. While I recall being impressed with the city’s sites and culture, its expensive prices and horrible winter weather left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth that lasted over a decade.

Only in the last six months, when daydreaming about this trip, did I finally come back around to giving the city another shot.

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I only spent a day and night in Windsor en route from Bath to London but am so glad I did!

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Bath; vaguely planned months ago as the first stop on my round-the-world trip, the extent of my knowledge of Bath was limited to the frequent references Jane Austen makes of it in her novels. Believing the baths to be similar to the pseudo-ancient Sutro Bath Ruins in San Francisco, I didn’t appreciate until arriving that this was actually an ancient city with history dating back almost 2000 years!

The Roman Baths (shown below) are one of Europe’s best preserved sites dating back to 70 AD.

Immediately upon arriving I understood why this entire city has been listed as a World Heritage Site.

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