Blarney Castle

I’ve seen quite a few castles in my time in many different countries, but none are quite so charming as Blarney Castle in Southern Ireland. There’s a reason it’s one of the most famous castles in all of Ireland- a title which really means something in a country where there are literally hundreds of castles through the cities and countryside.

blarney

Blarney Castle, 2015. c. Leah Putz

The current castle as it stands dates all the way back to 1446, but it’s believed that there were fortifications on site as early as the 1100s. Since its construction, Blarney Castle has stood strong and nearly intact through the test of time. There’s something really magical about being inside or stranding upon a structure that has survived through so many years.

Blarney Castle Tower, 2015. c. Leah Putz

View of the Irish countryside from atop Blarney Castle, 2015. c. Leah Putz

The Blarney Castle grounds are enormous. Gardens cover every inch of the area, including the poison garden which features poisonous plants in large cages. If you’re planning a visit, I would suggest setting aside a whole day because it will take that long to explore the beauty of the various gardens as well as the castle itself. There are also many other historical features on the Blarney Castle grounds, like the noble horse graveyard and the Blarney House, a mansion which was built in the 18th century.

Gravestone of Tullig the horse, 2015. c. Leah Putz

Seven Sisters and other photos from the Blarney Castle gardens, 2015. c. Leah Putz

One of the most critical moments in the castle’s history is the placement of the Blarney Stone into the tower in 1446. People travel far and wide to kiss and stone and – according to legend –  receive ‘the gift of Blarney’ or the ‘gift of gab’. The origin of this magical stone is shrouded in mystery, making it all the more appealing to visit. One of the theories as to its origins tells of Blarney lord Cormac McCarthy, who kissed the stone that had been blessed by the Irish goddess Cliodhna and was thus able to convince Queen Elizabeth I not to deprive him of his lands. While kissing the stone yourself, try not to think about the fact that its been kissed by millions before you, and just enjoy the adrenaline rush of hanging upside down over a clear drop from the top of the tower of the castle to reach it!

blarney8

Kissing the Blarney Stone, 2015. c. Leah Putz

Summer in Winnipeg

A few summers ago, my friend Joe and I visited Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, and came to the conclusion that Canada is like the hybrid child between America and Europe. When driving into Canada, we didn’t notice a change geographically, but suddenly there was French on all the signs and British flags everywhere. There were differences culturally as well. Everyone we met was incredibly helpful and friendly- giving us loads of advice of what to see and do in Winnipeg as soon as they heard we were Americans on our first trip to Canada.

winnipeg5

Me with Canadian money right after arriving in Winnipeg, 2013. c. Leah Putz

One of our Winnipeg favorites was the Manitoba museum, which is part historical museum and part science museum. Within the historical museum is the opportunity to walk alongside time and see how Manitoba has changed throughout the years, taking the viewer from Jurassic times right up to today. Alongside the exhibits are numerous plaques and videos to help you understand the gravity of what you’re looking at. The science portion of the museum is full of countless interactive activities for all ages. Although this area is geared more towards children, we also had a great time experimenting with the different activities as adults.

winnipeg6

Joe and a giant sloth skeleton at the Manitoba Museum, 2013. c. Leah Putz

If you cross the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge from downtown, you will find yourself in the French Quarter, which is a very interesting part of Winnipeg. Foodies should definitely make a stop here. We had some amazing crepes and, of course, the Canadian delicacy poutine. This combination of cheese curds, gravy, and french fries is one of the greatest, most artery-clogging dishes created by mankind.

 

Me before the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge, 2013. c. Leah Putz

Poutine in the French Quarter, 2013. c. Leah Putz

The French Quarter is also home to Fort Gibraltar, Winnipeg’s reconstructed fur trade fort, which gives people a chance to step back in time to a key location for the Canadian fur trade in the 18th century. The fort is full of people wearing authentic clothing from the time the fort was active as well as completing authentic tasks so visitors can get a true sense of what life was like for fur traders. For instance, we got to see a woman making a mug out of leather and a blacksmith making tools. The experience in the fort was very interactive; the employees engaged us in conversation and had answers for every question we could come up with.

winnipeg4

Fort Gibraltar, 2013. c. Leah Putz

Consider Winnipeg as a vacation destination this summer. We certainly had a blast taking in the history and the culture, and we loved how many friendly people we met.

 

Best Traditional Foods and Drinks in the United Kingdom

Sausage Roll

As someone who is not usually a fan of sausage, it’s weird that I swear by the United Kingdom’s sausage rolls. But I do. Typically found in bakeries and breakfast shops, sausage rolls are comprised of warm , melt-in-your-mouth pastry wrapped around a soft sausage. It’s savory, tender, and delicious and makes the perfect bite for breakfast or side for dinner.

 

Scotch Egg

Commonly a picnic food, the Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg coated in sausage meat and breading and then deep-fried. Regrettably I have yet to try this classic dish with origins in 1738, but I’ve been told it’s not something to miss!

pimms

Me with my first glass of Pimms in the Kings Head pub in London, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Pimms

It’s Pimms o’clock! This refreshing summer beverage is perfect for a drink on a patio and enjoying the sunny weather that doesn’t often grace the United Kingdom. The drink is made with a unique combination: Pimms liqueur, lemonade, fruit (examples include strawberries, orange slices, lemon slices, and cucumber slices), and mint leaves. It’s my favorite alcoholic beverage I’ve ever had, and I highly suggest giving it a try. Even if you don’t make it to the U.K., it’s quite an easy drink to make at home!

meat pie

Meat Pie from Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn in Nottingham, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Meat Pie

Though immortalized in the legend of Sweeney Todd, you may not want to think about that story while digging in to your first meat pie. Meat pies are exactly as they sounds; savory pies filled with meat. It was a staple dish in the middle ages and it’s popularity has continued into the modern age, though I’m sure they probably taste a lot better today than they did 500 years ago!

 

Tea

Tea is a symbol of British culture worldwide. Having an afternoon tea meal has been a tradition since the 1800s. Though ‘afternoon tea’ is considered a meal mainly served between 3 and 6pm, many Brits choose to drink tea all day long, rather than only indulging once a day.

sunday roast

Traditional Sunday roast in a London pub, 2017. c. Leah Putz

Sunday Roast

If traditional is what you’re after, you won’t find much that’s more traditional than a Sunday roast. A standard Sunday roast is comprised of yorkshire pudding, greens and vegetables, roasted meat, and gravy. It originated as an after church meal on Sundays and dates back to medieval times.

fish and chips

Fish and Chips in Windsor, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Fish and Chips

Fish and chips are synonymous with the United Kingdom, and for good reason. With hundred of coastal fishing villages, fresh fish easy to come by. The large piece of fish is traditionally fried and often served with homade tartar sauce and thick, savory chips (aka fries to Americans). You definitely can’t take a trip to the U.K. without trying this classic dish.

An Art-Lovers Guide to Minneapolis

When you think of artistic cities, Minnesota doesn’t usually come to mine. But maybe it should. Minnesota has a history of producing brilliant artistic minds such as Prince and Bob Dylan, and there are many places in the city of Minneapolis to see beautiful and famous works of art. Here are the Twin Cities’ top five places to see works of art and architecture!

 

  1. Basilica of Saint Mary

 

Reminiscent of the catholic cathedrals it’s modeled after, the Basilica of Saint Mary can’t be missed amongst the modern buildings of downtown Minneapolis. Built in the early 1900s, the building belongs to the National Register of Historic Places as it was the first basilica in the United States! Since the 1990s, an annual weekend music festival called the Basilica Block Party has been held at the Basilica.

 

  1. Cathedral of Saint Paul

 

Overlooking downtown St. Paul stands the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Paul. This Cathedral is one of the largest in the United States, and it is a signature of the St. Paul skyline. Though the current cathedral wasn’t open until 1915, a chapel has been at that location since the early 1800s when St. Paul was a small community known as ‘Pig’s Eye.’ The Cathedral itself is a beautiful work of art, complete with rose windows and a bronze baldachin over a statue of Saint Paul. There is also an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Cathedral, so if you’re unable to make it to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it may be easier to get to St. Paul to see the replica of one of the most famous and moving sculptures of all time.

 

  1. Walker Art Center

 

This modern art museum is home to many well known works of art, such as Andy Warhol’s 16 Jackies and one of my favorite paintings, Chuck Close’s Big Self-Portrait. It’s location near the Basilica of Saint Mary and the Sculpture Garden make it an ideal place to visit as you can see many different things in this one block area.

 

  1. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

 

Right next door to the Walker Art Center and the Basilica of Saint Mary sits the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Functioning as a sort of outdoor museum, the Sculpture Garden is home to countless famous works of art, the most well known being Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg, which located at the center of the garden.

 

  1. Minneapolis Institute of Art

 

My personal favorite on this list is the Minneapolis Institute of Art, locally known affectionately as the M.I.A.. One of the largest art museums in the country, I still have yet to see all it has to offer despite having been there countless times. The museum has a large collection of paintings, prints, and sculptures from all over the world and often features temporary special exhibits. Right now it is housing the Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibit until the end of May, which allows viewers to catch a glimpse into the brilliant director’s mind.

Schloss Heidelberg

Nestled into the hills of Western Germany sits the medieval town of Heidelberg. The town is home to Germany’s oldest university, Heidelberg University, which was founded in 1386, and is a popular tourist destination as well. Tourist flock to the Altstadt (aka the Old town) to admire the baroque architecture, wander through the cobble-stoned streets, and see the imposing Heidelberg Castle.

heidelburg

Me delighting in what I called a ‘Hobbit door’ in the Altstadt, 2013. c. Leah Putz

heidelburg1

View of Schloss Heidlelberg from the Altstadt, 2013. c. Leah Putz

For me, the castle was the main attraction. Heidelberg Castle is situation high on a bluff, overlooking the town, and has stood there since the 1200s. Throughout the hundreds of years it has existed, it’s been damaged and rebuilt many times by fire, weather, and war, but has ultimately stood the test of time.

heidelburg9

Powder Tower, destroyed in 1689 by the French, 2013. c. Leah Putz

The castle ruins are actually comprised of two different castles, the latter being an expansion built nearly a hundred years after the construction of the first castle. The joint castles were turned into a proper fortress in 1401, when King Ruprecht became king of Germany.

The view of Heidelberg Altstadt from the castle, 2013. c. Leah Putz

Due to the length of time the castle has stood and how often sections had to be rebuilt, there are varying forms of architecture that meld together beautiful. The castle maintains a cohesive look due to the various sections are all built using the same color stone, which gives it a unique red-toned look. Germany’s history is also displayed in the castle, as some of the main buildings in the interior have countless statues depicting many of Germany’s past kings and rulers.

heidelburg7

Wall of Schloss Heidelberg and statues of kings, 2013. c. Leah Putz

To this day, I think Heidelberg Castle is the most majestic structure I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. There is an overwhelming sense of beauty and history in this ancient structure, and if you find yourself in West Germany, I highly recommend making a stop in the captivating city of Heidelberg.

My Cardiff Top 5

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, was a only a small town until the 1800s, though its origins date back to Neolithic times. In the 19th century, the Cardiff port began to bustle and the city grew until it became the largest in Wales. Today, it’s known for it’s bustling metropolitan area, and it’s capacity to preserve Welsh culture. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cardiff, and have compiled a list of my top five places to go if you find yourself in this beautiful Welsh capital.

cardiff

Cardiff Central Square, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay the area surrounding the water fed by the two rivers in Cardiff. The area around the bay is beautiful, with many shops and restaurants nearby, and is a focal point for many events in Cardiff.

cardiff5

Cardiff Bay, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

Cardiff Story Museum

The best way to get to know a city is to explore its history, especially a city with as long and rich a history as Cardiff. Thankfully, you can visit the Cardiff Story Museum to learn all about Cardiff through the ages, complete with numerous artifacts and objects to view.

cardiff4

Wales Millennium Centre, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Wales Millennium Centre

Fans of BBC show Torchwood will recognize the Wales Millennium Centre. Comprised of multiple shops, restaurants, and arts centers, it’s the perfect place to stop and shop in the Cardiff Bay area as it also features the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre.

 

Bute Park

Once a part of the Cardiff Castle grounds, Bute Park is a whopping 130 acres of park and gardens. It was originally landscaped in the 17-1800s and sits near Cardiff Castle and along the River Taff. The park is dotted with sculptures, bridges, and immense natural beauty that is rare to find in the heart of a city.

cardiff2

Sculpture on the street in Cardiff, 2014. c. Leah Putz

 

Cardiff Castle

If you’re going just about anywhere in the UK your trip isn’t complete without a visit to  a castle, and Cardiff is no exception. The castle, which was built by the Normans in the 11th century, can be found in the city centre, along with a Victorian mansion. It’s not only a main attraction of the city of Cardiff, but of Wales as a country as well.  

Top 10 Things to do in London for First Timers

london

London Bridge from the River Thames, 2016. c. Leah Putz

River Cruise with Afternoon Tea

Taking a river cruise on the Thames is a great way to get another view of London, as well as learning a bit of her rich history. It provides excellent photo open opportunities as well as the chance to sail beneath the famous London Bridge. Book a tour that provides afternoon tea as well to get a taste of British culture.

 

london2

Tower of London, 2016. c. Leah Putz

Tower of London

Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, ‘The Tower’ is one of the oldest buildings in London. From its perch upon the Thames, the Tower has witnessed history for almost 1000 years, from the murders of two young princes, to the imprisonment and beheading of a queen, and much more!

 

london3

Trafalgar Square, 2016. c. Leah Putz

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is a large public square in Central London that is within walking distance of many major attractions, including Big Ben and Piccadilly Circus. There are many public sculptures, museums, and restaurants off the square as well, which makes it an excellent stopping point.

 

london4

Side Entrance of Westminster Abbey, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Westminster Abbey

Fans of the royal family can’t miss Westminster Abbey, where most recently Prince William and Duchess Kate had their nuptials. The Abbey is also the burial place of many well-known royals, including Queen Elizabeth I and her half sister Queen Mary (better known as ‘Bloody Mary’). The Poet’s Corner is also interesting to see as it’s the resting place of many of England’s literary greats, such as Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer.

 

london5

St. Paul’s Cathedral facade, 2015. c. Leah Putz

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral to see and climb one of the highest domes in the world. The cathedral has held the funerals of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, the jubilees of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, and the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

 

london6

View of the Houses of Parliament from the London Eye, 2014. c. Leah Putz

London Eye

The London Eye is one of the newest attractions on this list, having been just built in 2005. As Europe’s highest ferris wheel, the London Eye offers excellent and fare-reaching views of London.

 

london7

British Museum, 2014. c. Leah Putz

British Museum

Two million years of human history from all over the globe is housed at the British Museum. World-renowned artifacts held there include the Rosetta Stone, the pediment from the Parthenon in Athens, and much more!

 

london8

Buckingham Palace, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Buckingham Palace

What better way to take part in British culture than to see the home of the Queen? See the famous Royal Guards and tour the palace to get a glimpse of what life in the royal family might be like.

 

london9

Hyde Park, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is perhaps the largest and most well-known park in London. It’s home to the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, as well as numerous beautiful gardens. It’s also home to the Marble Arch.

 

london10

Tower Bridge, 2016. c. Leah Putz

Tower Bridge

Often mistaken for London Bridge, Tower Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in London. Built in the late 1800s, the Bridge has a Tower Bridge Exhibition to be seen in the engine rooms for a small fee, or you can stroll across the bridge free of charge!