Europe Day 4: Edinburgh

Day 4 of our European Adventure! We woke up at the flat we shared with an extremely nice English family and got ready for our outing. We started with Espresso (clearly) at the Brew Lab in Edinburgh and headed towards the middle of town.

The Brew Lab: I loved the periodic menu.

Next, a walk around town and a trip to the Art Museum. We saw an amazing impressionist display by Van Gogh, Daubigny, and Monet.

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Layers and layers of paint.

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The museum! This was a must.

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Outside of the museum. We would have taken more photos inside, but… we were not allowed. Dang security! We then wandered around a bit, before going to the Castle for a tour.

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Amazing pizza for lunch, street performers, coffee artists, and alley graffiti.

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Next was the Edinburgh Castle tour. What a monumental and historic place to go! I mean, Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth here…

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Pretty sure we are standing in the arena where they had jousting battles.

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To quote Hermione Granger via Harry Potter 3: “Is that what my hair looks like from behind?” Didn’t realize I was so curly!

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Scottie dog cookies in the Castle Cafe.

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The famous IRN BRU. It tastes like orange soda had a baby with bubble gum. Still don’t get why Scotland is so obsessed with this drink. It’s the number one soda in Scotland and considered “Scotland’s other national beverage” aside from Whiskey.

After the castle, we HAD to do the Scotch Whisky Experience. We read about it before we went there, and it did not disappoint! It was like a theme park ride, with barrel cars you got into, and you got a guided tour from a “ghost” teaching you all about how whiskey is made.

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Our ghost tour guide! He showed up to teach us all about whiskey.

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In the tasting room!

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Our scratch and sniff cards. Yes, I kept mine. Yes, it still smells great. (Bring me that Speyside!)

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The room of 3000+ whiskey bottles!

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We left the Scotch Whisky Experience feeling great (for obvious reasons) and headed to find some food to fill our newly boozed stomachs.

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I don’t smoke. But Sean Connery is my vote.

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Dinner at the Last Drop was amazing, and this place was not named for the last drop in the bottle, but the last public hanging site in this neighborhood… Needless to say, this place was haunted.

Last, but NOT least, we found a Big Lebowski’s themed bar! An entire menu of White Russians, American music, and Lebowski art, YES.

GOODNIGHT Edinburgh!

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A little window display we passed on the way back to the flat for a good night’s sleep!

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Europe Day 3: Scotland, Edinburgh

Day 3! We woke up in Aviemore and drove to the Cairngorm Mountians for a little more hiking, which was really just like walking on a big open trail. No trees, no hills, no steep climbs or scary rock edges.

Caringorms 4Caringorms 8After we left the Cairngorms we drove to Aviemore to an ADORABLE village where we stopped for lunch at the Mountian Cafe. We had no idea what we were in store for, but the food was beyond amazing, delicious, fresh, and the pastry selection would make anyone drool.

This cafe was having a “name our cookbook” contest. I put my slip in, for a name, and totally forgot about it. Then I was searching for a wedding present 11 months later for my friends that got engaged in Scotland and went to see if the cookbook existed yet, and it did! They got “The Mountian Cafe Cookbook, a Kiwi in the Cairngorms” for their wedding and were thrilled, since they too, forgot about the cookbook.

After lunch, we were off on our way to Edinburgh! We found our loft where we rented a room in a very generous English family’s house and then went off on a street adventure.

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As beautiful as Edinburgh is, it was beyond crowded for the Fringe festival, and really needed a good pressure washing.

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One of our first stops was to “The Black Cat”, a Whisky bar suggested to us by our water at the Red Skye restaurant in Skye.

Our first Whisky in Scotland! Next, we went to a place called “Dirty Dick’s” for dinner. We mostly picked it due to its humorous signs outside and the fact that they had a deep fried Mars Bar. Which happened to be a big thing in Scotland.

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Genius Marketing at Dirty Dick’s.

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We then walked around a bit, came across the Elephant House, a cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter!

I did not go in since the crowd was HUGE and there was a fee for people just walking in… So Reanna walked right in, ducking into an Asian tourist group, and took photos of the graffiti in the bathroom.

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We rubbed the nose of the Grayfriar’s Bobby, the statue of the loyal dog on our way back to the loft for the end of night 1 in Edinburgh, day 3 of the trip.

Europe Day 2: Scotland

We woke up actually pretty alert for a melatonin induces sleep and started our day ready to go! We took turns showering in the TINY bathroom/shower combo room and packed up our bags. We went across the water from the Cowshed Boutique and grabbed some coffee and after a rude interaction with a local bakery owner (who kicked us out for having someone ELSE’S coffee in hand, when he didn’t open for another 20 minutes as he explained when we ran into him outside so we decided to go get our coffee at the Isle of Skye Brewing Company and come back for his pastries, and we didn’t even end up with his delicious looking baked goods since he told us to leave…), well, once all that happened, we were ready for the day.

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A real Scottie dog, in Scotland!

Stop #1 in the itinerary was the Fairy Glenn. Again, a place with NO Fairy history or lore, just a cool looking natural formation. My travel mates got engaged at the top on this trip!

We then headed to Duntulm Castle, a super haunted crumbling structure in the Trottenrish, near the Isle of Skye. It was very windy and very steep to the bottom to get a good look, so we didn’t stay long before heading to the Quiraing for some hiking.

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Thank GOODNESS our travel companion Dennis was a professional photographer and took some amazing shots of our adventures!

After hiking, we drove towards Aviemore to get some food and find our AirBnb and HAD to pit stop in Loch Ness. We did not see Nessie, but we saw a LOT of tourist gift shops.

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We found a great pub called “The Ashes of the Phoenix” to get some much-needed dinner of Haggus Pot Pie and beer (and it was good!) We headed to Inverness to get some sleep.

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My adorable Scottish room! The wallpaper was little deer that were wood grained. I want it. Tomorrow: Day 3 and the drive to Edinburgh. Happy Travels!

Europe Day 1 – Scotland and the Isle of Skye

Day one of travel was us driving to Canada, and flying out of Sault St Marie, transferring in Toronto, and flying into Glasgow. The first thing we did was (use the restroom, hello 8-hour flight) and pick up our car at the Enterprise station in the airport. Thankfully Dennis was willing to drive because neither Reanna or I wanted to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road. On the wrong side of the car.

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The first place we went was Loch Lamond, to get a view of one of the many the Scottish Lochs. We stopped at a few gift shops in the strip mall located there and had a taste test of ice cream before heading back to the car for more driving.

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We, of course, had to make a stop at the Glenfinnan Monument, to get a glimpse of the train bridge from Harry Potter. And get more coffee.

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Next, we stopped to see Eilean Donan Castle (below). We did not take a tour, or go in, but we stopped for some photos and got more coffee. Eilean Donan was a pivotal part of Scottish History, some major players of royalty and even Vikings used this castle.

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Next! We headed up to the Isle of Skye to see the Fairy Pools. I did some research and found out there is NO relation to anything mystical or magical. It’s just waterfalls and clear pools of water at the foot of the mountains. Once you drive up a very scary ONE CAR WIDE ROAD (where there were small spots for you to pull over and let someone go past you every so often) we parked in a gravel lot and made the 45-minute jaunt to the pools.

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The Scottish scenery was so gorgeous and lush and green, it was just amazing. I mean, we could have (and probably did) take 1000+ photos and it just barely touched on how beautiful it was to drive through Scotland.

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Scenery 13Scenery 14For our first night, we stayed at the Cowshed Boutique on the Isle of Skye. We found them on Airbnb, and it was so adorable and affordable for the 3 of us. It’s a Hostel setting, with the main room where you can cook, play games, use the internet, and meet other people staying at the Cowshed Boutique.

Cow Shed CabinCow Shed InsideCowshed 6The view at night was amazing overlooking the Isle of Skye. To get to sleep we had to pop a melatonin, since 11:00 there was 5 pm at home, and we somehow were not tired. Our flight got in at 6:45 am and we were ready to go even though it was like 1am at home. But getting to sleep… not easy.

Cow Shed 9Cowshed 2End of day 1: sleep and earplugs and sweet dreams! Next: Day 2 had a whole new list of activities in store for us!

Packing for 11 Days Abroad

Since I’m a planner, a goal setter, a master budgeter, I think I had just as much fun planning for this trip as I did actually taking it. Ok, that’s a stretch, but I did enjoy planning for this trip a LOT. We had only 10 months to plan, which is plenty of time, but we had fun every day hunting for deals. We got these amazing backpacks during a REI deal of the day for just $40 and decided it was the only bag we would take. This one is similar. We got that and a purse for a carry-on. Make sure your purse is safe for travel, it zips in every area, and you can wear it cross body. No easy reach in spots, no strings as straps that can be easily cut. We had no trouble with thieves but I read horror stories. Be safe!

Clothes to pack for 11 Days: I also got mesh sacks to keep categories separated so I didn’t have to dump everything out at once. Lifesaver!

  • 4 bottoms. This counts hiking leggings, 2 pairs of jeans, and shorts.
  • 3 kinds of shoes. Ballet flats to dress up or down, sandles, and hiking shoes that were also walking shoes.
  • 2 workout shirts/tank tops. We hiked a LOT. So remember: cotton is rotten (stinks fast). Bring synthetic fiber shirts.
  • 6 tops total. 1 fancy, 2 tanks, 1 t-shirt, 2 undershirts.
  • 1 dress. Something that rolled up small, and didn’t wrinkle.
  • 7 undies & 3 bras. (We did do laundry on day 5 thank goodness.)
  • 1 pair of tights to wear under a dress or under my shorts.
  • 1 Swimsuit (that didn’t get used.)
  • 1 set of PJ’s. Which was just leggings or spandex shorts with tank tops.
  • 1 scarf. It was August but the plane was COLD. My scarf doubled as a travel blanket.
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 Jacket for accessorizing
  • 1 Lightweight raincoat for hiking. (We got ours for $20 a piece! Steal!)
  • 2 Sweaters. I chose 1 black hoodie and 1 black cardigan
  • Small, roll up, quick drying, microfiber towel.
  • Smaller Fold Up Purse – Cross Body – for small day trips.
  • Baggu Bag for shopping around town – no plastic wasted or needed!

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PRO TIP: Wear your heaviest and bulkiest items on the plane so you don’t have to pack them!

I researched Pinterest and many travel blogs and came up with what was needed for the plane Carry-on:

  • Book to read / Sketchbook / pencils & pens
  • Water Bottle that doubled as a hot mug. I got this one.
  • Chargers / Headphones
  • Travel Plans / Printed Itinerary
  • Sunglasses / Eyeglasses
  • Earplugs / sleep mask / inflatable pillow (which I barely used)
  • Gum and mints (you want to feel fresh after a 10-hour flight)
  • Wallet / Passport / Cash / Cards
  • Snacks and Teabags
  • Extra Zip Lock bags for convienience.

In a smaller zip up bag inside my carry-on/purse:

  • Bandaids
  • Dramamine
  • Tums
  • Asprin (all pills went in a small ziplock – no bottles)
  • Contacts / Case
  • Tissues
  • Plug in Converter
  • Small Lotion
  • ChapStick
  • Emery Board – cardboard. I HATE having chipped nails.

In a small bag inside of my large backpack for toiletries:

  • Travel sized toothbrush
  • A half used tube of toothpaste
  • Face Moisturizer, sample size
  • Daily Vitamins
  • Travel Hair Spray
  • Mini Straightener
  • Travel Sized Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Hair Ties / Bobby Pins / Cotton Balls
  • Face Wash and Face Wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Makeup Essentials – just a few items, not the whole bag.
  • Deodorant – Travel Size
  • Hair Comb

I hope this helps some people planning a long trip abroad or with limited space! What could you not live without on a long trip?

Europe: Planning for 11 Days Abroad

Last August my best friend, her boyfriend, and I set out to take an 11 day trip around Europe. It started with a simple question the in November 2015 “You wanna see a play in London next August? My friend accidentally got too many tickets.” (By the way, the Play was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it was amazing.) And without hesitation, my answer was YES. We decided to ask the boyfriends, but my relationship did not last much longer so I ended up going solo, and hers turned into an engagement while on the trip (more on that later) and a wedding just last weekend.

So since we had a mere 10 months to save, plan, and book things, we got cracking! We started a joint Pinterest board on places to see, and destinations to visit advice from locals on bars and restaurants, and advice on what to pack. Since the trip centered around London for only a 1-day long play, we decided to stretch the trip to 3 countries, and 3+ days per country. We all agreed that less than 2 weeks was good with our jobs, and our budgets. We started in Scotland (her boyfriend’s bucket destination), renting a car and doing a full on Scottish road trip, went to London for 3 days, then Paris (my bucket list) for 3 more before flying home. He planned Scotland, we all planned London together, and I planned Paris’s destinations. This took the heat off of butting 3 heads together. If we had a bucket list item, we aimed for it, all else was fun, and we kept things open.

Here’s how the planning went:

  • First of all, get a notebook/binder to write things down, keep print offs, maps, lists. We had our itinerary, calendar, lists of clothing, what to pack in a carry on (all in future posts). It was great to have it all in one spot. We got our cute tiny sized binders at Target in the $3 spot.
  • Flights: We got our flights from the google flight matrix. You’re like, what is that? WELL friends, thank me later. It finds you the absolute cheapest flight out there. Better than ANY travel site. My travel companion did a search for at least 5 hours away from Green Bay and instead of flying out of Chicago, we flew out of Sault St. Marie, Canada (same drive distance, WAY less hassle) we found plane tickets from Canada to Glasgow, then Paris back to Canada for only $800! Round trip!
  • Lodging: ALL of our rooms were booked through Airbnb. The site is so easy to use, easy to communicate with homeowners, and we found locations exactly where we wanted to be, and prices split between the 3 of us made each room an average of $30 per day. Sure we checked travel sites for hotels, but the Airbnb was cheaper, and we got rooms to ourselves and met locals who gave us advice on places to see and eat.
  • Car: We knew we wanted to drive around Scotland from Glasgow, then up and around clockwise, ending in Edinburgh so we got a tiny car with Enterprise. This was the only time we rented a car, the rest was on foot or via Uber around town. We only needed to take 3 uber rides total, which was really cheap in Europe.

  • Trains: We planned to get our train tickets early once we locked down an itinerary, and booked our train from Edinburgh to London via Virgin Trains and then booked our train from London to Paris via Euro Star and printed ALL confirmations and kept them on us. We checked the difference between flying between these destinations, taking a bus, renting a car, but all in all, the trains were the best choice financially.
  • Passport! Make sure to apply for your passport early, if you don’t have one. They can take up to 4 months to arrive! And make the appointment with your post office ahead of time also. (Which is how I got mine)
  • Budget: I set a “this is probably going to cost me xxxx dollars, we leave in 10 months, so I need to save xx each month to get there” rule. This kept me from spending too much in the months leading up to the trip. I would constantly ask myself things like: “Do you need to spend this $5 at Starbucks or do you need coffee in Paris?” That helped me save my money!

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  • Guide Books: These were the BEST travel books we found! Tiny, light weight, and we were ablt to take them with us. There are color-coded neighborhood maps, and pull out street maps in each guide with recommendations based on where you are. We got Paris and London.

I did not set an “I will not spend over this amount of money on this trip” rule. I figured it was a once in a lifetime trip, just GO. Damn how much it will cost! But I’m also not stupid and didn’t want to go broke because of it. We were incredibly frugal, got great deals on things, and split costs 3 ways which made this trip doable. I DID set a budget on food once we got there and it wasn’t even a problem at all. We found grocery stores for breakfast items, packed snacks for walking around, and really only ate out for dinner and sometimes the occasional lunch, keeping spending low. We had next to NO room in our backpack to bring things back, so we kept souvenirs small. I also had my portion of the trip completely paid for when we got there and only used credit cards or a debit card once we actually got there for food or small items. That felt good, knowing the trip was paid for by the time I got on the plane!

Next time: How to pack for the trip in just one backpack! AND what we did each day. Happy travels!

New Fascination: Zero Waste

I saw a video on Facebook the other week from the blog “Trash is for Tossers” about fitting 5 years of trash into ONE TINY JAR. Like. I throw more than a jar’s worth of trash away in a day. My question is… HOW? The answer is simple and not simple. You have to change your lifestyle to be able to go “Zero Waste”.

What is Zero Waste? Well, friends, it’s when the life you lead doesn’t produce garbage or trash that will end up in a landfill. But Roxanne, (you’re saying to yourself), how will I buy anything ever? There’s trash connected to everything we buy. Food comes in packages, tags are attached to clothes, and electronics come wrapped in plastic, heck when someone gives you a present it’s wrapped in bows and paper.

The first step: Assess your life and think about what it is you are throwing away, and how to limit that. Are you getting food in wrappers that are thrown away on a regular basis, like chips, protein bars, and juice bottles? Well, make those granola bars instead of buying the box of individually wrapped ones. Buy and use fabric produce bags to prevent taking a plastic bag every time you need a few apples. It’s all about being conscious of what you are doing on a day to day basis and choosing different products.

It’s all about making better choices. Making smarter, healthier, and more earth-friendly choices.

The 5 R’s of Zero waste: 

Refuse: Just say NO! No to plastic bottles of water, wrapped candies, straws in your drink, plastic bags at the store. Say no to plastic cups of beer at parties. Yeah bringing your own jar for a drink might look a little weird, but you aren’t making trash so let them look at you funny.

Reduce: You can cut back on the trash that you accumulate by making some simple purchases, like the items in the photo below. You can get your produce from the farmer’s market and reduce the amount of packaging you throw away. Shopping in the bulk area of the grocery store, getting local soaps, meats, and other package free products are a great way to start.

Recycle: This is an easy one to understand. Get things in recyclable packages, and recycle. Make an effort to not throw your recyclables in the trash. Also, buy things that are compostable, biodegradable, or eco-friendly. Buying local products didn’t come from a large plant and use fuel emissions to get shipped to you is another smart choice.

Reuse: Looks like you’re gonna have to spend money to save money. Get yourself some “Zero Waste” gear. Get reusable produce bags, grocery bags, jars for bulk food, reusable water bottles. ALSO start getting cozy with your local thrift store because this will be the best way to find awesome gently used clothes, furniture, and other household items.

Rot the Rest: Start a compost bin! There are a ton of ideas on the web for composting in small spaces, in your yard, and how to get started. Keep your food scraps and make them into the dirt to grow some herbs and veggies if you have a small apartment patio, or make a larger compost pile if you have an actual backyard.

Follow the Litterless blog and check out this post on how to get started. Litterless also makes a great point here about why to go zero waste: “I think it’s really critical for several reasons. First of all, trash doesn’t decompose in landfills – instead, it sits there more or less unchanged forever, belching out greenhouse gases like methane.”

Follow my “Off the Grid” Pinterest Board for Zero Waste ideas!

Remember, you CAN make a difference. One person at a time!