Our Final Day in Iceland

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Last Monday was our last day in Iceland. (A tear.) We had had an absolutely amazing time up until then, what with making friends and seeing the Northern Lights and watching a geysir explode and eating some delicious food. But we had something on tap for Monday that, if I’m being completely honest, was high up on my list of reasons why I wanted to visit Iceland in the first place.

The Blue Lagoon.

Let me tell you a little bit about this place, my friends. According to their website, “the Blue Lagoon was accidentally formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis noticed an incredible improvement in their condition. Over the years, the Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, Blue Lagoon is recognized as one of the wonders of the world.”

In other words, friends, the Blue Lagoon is straight up magic. The silky blue water is just warm enough that you never want to leave, but not so hot that you can’t stand bathing in it for hours on end. (We were there from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.) The silica mud — placed in little containers around the outskirts of the Lagoon that you can spoon out and spread on your body — makes your skin feel like perfection and gives you a glow that lasts for weeks for come. There is a swim-up bar with smoothies and wine and beer, a waterfall that you stand underneath whose pressure feels like the best shoulder massage you’ve ever had in your life, a steam and sauna room and so, so, so much more.

Oh, and it’s friggin’ beautiful …
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Photo 7^^ Us after spending four hours in that ridiculousness. See? Aren’t we resplendent ;)

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You can get lockers as part of your Blue Lagoon package (there are a bunch of different package options … we picked the cheapest one), and there is a space to store your luggage. The Blue Lagoon is about 20 minutes from the airport, and about a 40-45 minute ride from Reykjavik, making it the perfect activity either directly after arriving in Iceland or right before heading back home. You can book a package, like we did, that provides transportation to and from the airport and or your hotel.

A word to the wise when it comes to the Lagoon — this is no place for modesty, friends. Full showers are required both before entering the Lagoon and after, and this means sans bathing suit showering. Lots of naked people are gettin’ about in these Lagoon locker rooms, my friends, and there’s no use feeling awkward about it, because you’ll just be out of place. Another tip is to load your hair up with as much conditioner as possible — and leave it in, don’t wash it out — before heading into the water. Even so, you’ll probably end up leaving the Lagoon with a mess of mangled, salty hair, but it’s totally worth it.

And so that was about it. After four hours of relaxing in the Lagoon and the steam room, after smothering our bodies in what could only have been pounds and pounds of silica mud and after eating delicious smoothies, we headed back into the locker rooms to shower and dress and catch our bus to the airport to head home.

Iceland. Oh, Iceland. I had an idea of how amazing you were before I visited you … but I never in a million years could have imagined the impression you would leave.

If it’s within your ability to do so, I would highly recommend making the trip. Believe me … you’ll thank me later.

Bis bald, friends! A quick last-minute addition to my travel list for this year is a trip to Marathon Key with my bff for my birthday in early April. It’s a 10-day trip using her parents’ time share … and yes, I do believe I am one of the lucky ones.

Okay, now bis bald, friends!

 

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 3

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Last Sunday Chris and I were attempting to wake ourselves up at a reasonable time, after having partied until the wee wee (way past our bedtime) hours  the night before. Luckily for us, the hotel stopped serving breakfast at 10 a.m., a perfect excuse to make sure we got our butts out of bed in time for that.

We were lazy that morning after breakfast (Chris sleeping a bit more, me checking out this truly amazing record store that was on our street — if you love music and you’re in Iceland you must go here … ), but in the afternoon we had booked the Gulfoss and Geysir Express Tour , and I was dying to get out and see more of the Icelandic countryside.

I would explain to you a bit about the tour, but the explanation from the company site is pretty helpful:

“Take an afternoon tour from Reykjavik to experience geysers, waterfalls and some of the most exciting natural phenomena Iceland has to offer. In just six hours you’ll visit the country’s best known historical sites and natural wonders perfect if your time in Iceland is limited.

You will visit Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament Alpingi was established in 930. It is here in this geologically unique place that the slowly diverging tectonic plates of America and Europe meet. In 2004 Thingvellir was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The tour also takes you to the famous Gullfoss waterfall, the spouting hot spring of Geysir and Strokkur. Continuing your journey to Hveragerdi, a small but beautiful horticultural town, you will see how geothermal energy has been harnessed for the unique greenhouse cultivation of all kinds of vegetables, exotic fruit and flowers.”

Here’s a bit of what we saw on that trip …

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Photo 4^^ Shifting tectonic plates — how cool is that?! Directly across the water from us was the U.K.
And at one point driving on this tour you are on the North American continent,
then you literally drive over the line into Europe. I love stuff like that.

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Photo 7^^ Short, fat horses are everywhere in Iceland! Driving through the countryside
on this tour was absolutely breathtaking. One thing we learned about the horses, though –
if they don’t perform up to Icelandic standards, or aren’t of the right temperament, they get eaten.
Our tour guide would say: “Well, if the horse is mean or can’t get along with the other
horses, we have a solution for that …” Oh and also, riding horses is a perfectly
acceptable way to get around town in these smaller towns. So if you go to a bar,
you may see a line of horses parked outside because, as our guide says, they
have strict laws in Iceland about driving cars when you’re drunk … but  not so much for horses.

Photo 8^^ How beautiful is the Gulfoss waterfall? It was at the restaurant here that
Chris had traditional Icelandic Meat Soup with lamb and vegetables.
Our tour guide said this is something people from Icelandic typically eat every week.

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Photo 12^^ And the geysirs … the amazing, awesome geysirs.

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Photo 13^^ They had little signs next to each one telling you how hot they were.
This one was around 80 degrees. Hot!

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I should mention here a few things about Iceland that I haven’t yet. For starters, the water that comes out of their tap is natural spring water — some of the best water in the world. There is no need for bottled water or filters here. (Which is why when I tried to buy a bottle at the grocery store the night before, the clerk told me to put it back. “This is the same as what comes out of your faucets. A waste of money to buy this,” he said. Thanks for the tip, Mr!) The hot water is also natural, geothermally heated water, and it has that sulfer, rotten egg smell? You know the one I’m talking about? At first it’s a bit off-putting, but after a while you tend to get used to it and barely even notice.

It was on this tour that the guide talked to us about the economy in Iceland. Since the government went bankrupt a few years back, everything in the country had become astronomically expensive for the locals (which we can attest to), but much, much cheaper for travelers. For example — the dinner we ordered later Sunday night would have cost us $170 Krona, but we paid for it on credit card, and it only came out to $106. There is no minimum wage in Iceland, they pay 40% of their wages to taxes, and there are very few “good” jobs, with most of those jobs located in Reykjavik. This means many people can’t afford to actually live in Reykjavik, because it’s too expensive, but they have to work there to make even a decent wage — and they end up commuting hours every day, and working up to 10 hours a day, just to make ends meet. People are fleeing the country in droves, our guide said — to include important professionals, like doctors. To make matters worse, there is really no rental market in Iceland, meaning people are forced to buy their homes, even when they can’t necessarily afford to.

Very sad.

Oftentimes people who work in one place and live in another hitch rides with the tour buses for free if there is extra room. We ended up giving a young girl a ride from her job at the geysirs to the town where she lived about 25 minutes away. It was all very interesting.

Back in Reykjavik we decided to head out for our last night on the town. We made our way back to Bunk (which, if you’ll recall, we had tried the night before but it was closing), and really loved it. It had a very low-key, laid back vibe, and was the perfect place to relax before heading out to dinner.

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Photo 24^^ Andddddd, we tried Brennivin — aka Black Death — Iceland’s signature distilled Schnapps liquor.
It was …. strong! And gross. But when in Iceland …

Photo 25^^ We passed this little sign of loveliness on our way to dinner. Oh Iceland — you’re simply the best.

We headed to Snaps for dinner around 9 p.m., and the place was finally starting to slow down. We had a perfectly lovely (if somewhat forgetful!) French waitress, who said hello to us in three languages (since in Iceland you never really know where people are from). Throughout the night (which was a really long one, since we’re pretty sure she never thought we wanted to order dinner and it took us about an hour of being there before we finally tracked her down to tell her we did, in fact, want to eat), we discovered that she has a Norwegian Forest cat, just like we do, that she was from France, she was engaged, and that she wasn’t really a waitress by trade — she normally gives hiking tours of volcanos … how cool! — but that she had a friend who worked at Snaps and she was just helping out. We ordered wine and this to-die-for zucchini and cream cheese appetizer, and I ordered mussels and frittes (you have never seen a plate of mussels like this before!), and Chris got the lamb steak with bearnaise sauce, which he says was delicious as well.

All in all I we give Snaps a 5-star rating. Tasty. Fun. Great place to people watch. If in Iceland, you must go here.

Of course our filling meal didn’t stop us from stopping back at the hot dog stand on the way home. I ordered the hot dog bun with the works, sans hot dog (which the man who made it for me promised was not a weird order) — and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

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We took our one and only cab ride home that night, and ended up with a Russian driver who told us he used to be a professional hand ball player, and that he had family back home in Russia he was trying to support, but basically backed up everything our tour guide had mentioned earlier about how hard it is to make a living wage in Iceland. Poor Russian cab driver — we really do wish you the best.

And that was Sunday, my friends. The next day, our last day, was spent at this amazing little place called The Blue Lagoon — ahhhhhh the Blue Lagoon! But more on that later …

Bis bald, friends!

Remember When It Was Day 2 in Iceland …

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Last Saturday night Chris and I boarded a bus with Icelandic Excursions and set out in search of the Northern Lights.

Here’s something that I’ll say about chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland. In February. No matter how rugged up you think you are — you are not. If you think you have too many pairs of socks on … you do not. Do whatever you can to stay as warm as you can while you’re out there, because you could be out there for a very, very long time.

Icelandic Excursions was a great company to ride with. They only take their tour groups to spots where there’s an area to grab a coffee or hot chocolate or beer and go to the bathroom, and they’re willing to stay out pretty much for however long it takes to find you those dang Northern Lights.

(P.S. I’m no scientist, but this is a pretty great explanation of how the Northern Lights come to be … you should definitely check it out. Nature is amazing.)

Back to Saturday. So we traveled about an hour outside of Reykjavik to this huge field where we all disembarked and waited. And waited. And waited. We were here for about an hour or so before my feet started to feel like they were going to fall off and I needed a hot chocolate and a bathroom break.

The lights here were …. well … pretty fantastic friends.

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Photo 18But they were about to get even more fantastic. Our amazing tour guide had told us on the ride to the first spot that if they got word of a better siting of the lights elsewhere, we would all hop on the bus at a moment’s notice and speed off to said second site — and that’s exactly what we did. Chris and I were warming up on the bus for a second (so nice they keep the heat on!) when everyone else started piling on. For a second we thought we were done, but it turns out we were just moving to our second place.

We actually started to see the lights pretty brightly from on the bus as we were driving, so the driver did the quickest parking job he could and we all raced off the bus and into the field and started snapping away ….

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Just magnificent, people. The light Gods were with us that night, and it was an experience we’ll absolutely never forget.

We arrived back in the city around 12:30 that night — just about the perfect time to get ready to head out for the night! You guys, I’m not ashamed to say that on a normal night, by 12:30 I’d be well into my slumber. We’re talking deep REM sleep, friends. So it turned out that it was a good thing we waited until Saturday to go out, because coming off our Northern Lights tour I was still revved and excited and raring to go — much different from the night before when we had had maybe four hours of sleep.

So we drank some of the wine and beer we had purchased the night before and ate some of the cheese, uploaded some photos of the Northern Lights to Facebook and Instagram (I’m only human), and headed back out into the night around 1 a.m.

And it. Was. Bumpin’! These Icelanders are serious about their partying, and they do not mess around! Our waitress from Mar earlier in the day had recommended that we start off at a place called Bunk, but when we went in a little after 1 it was getting ready to close. Lame. (Don’t worry, we made it back there the following night.)

So onto the bar next door — Boston. I’d say we were here for a little over an hour, and it had a really nice atmosphere. It wasn’t crazy crowded, and everyone seemed happy and friendly and a bunch of the girls were dancing around. It was dark and homey, and there were two floors, one with oversized comfy couches and chairs and the other more of a party area. We liked it here. Boston was definitely a good find.

Then, friends, we made our way over to Prikid. By now it must have been around 3 a.m., and the line was starting to grow at this particular bar. We didn’t have to wait long — although the bouncers did card every single person who entered before us, stopped and looked us up and down, and then let us right in sans being carded.

Ouch. Guess we’re old looking.

I should preface our Prikid experience by saying that we had stumbled upon this bar guide of Reykjavik before our trip, which is amazing. You may notice that under the explanation for Prikid they say that the atmosphere is “Homey; low key,” and:

“Primary reason to go there To
find a mate; to chat with friends; to
bolster an image; to pretend to work
on your book of poetry; to toke on a
doobie.”

Photo 24^^ I took this photo of Prikid much earlier in the night the Friday before, simply because I
thought the place looked cool. It’s pretty low-key around 9 p.m. Not so much around 2:30 a.m.

And while I guess I could sort of see how the doobie part is accurate, the last thing I would call Prikid is “homey”, nor did I consider it a good place to “pretend to work on my book of poetry.”

Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun. We met a really young looking kid wearing two hats and a sweatshirt who told us his name was Massimo and that he was a professional some-sport-or-other that was just shy of being an Olympics-approved sport. He was from Boston, but he had lived in Iceland for three years, and he absolutely loved it there. He owned three snowmobiles and he showed us pictures of him riding them.

These are the things you talk about at 3 a.m. at a bar in Iceland to a random stranger when you are slightly intoxicated.

He was with a girl who seemed really annoyed the entire time we were with them. When I asked her if Massimo was her boyfriend, she scoffed and said no, they were just friends. Please, lady. I can smell a crush from a mile away.

Downstairs the bar was pumping the rap and R&B music, it was crowded and dark and the bar tenders kept swinging these low-hanging lamps that were all around the bar so that there was this constant feeling of movement right above your head.

It was …. really fun! At one point a very drunk boy at the bar came up to Chris and asked him for money for a drink (we did not oblige), and while I was waiting in line to use the bathroom a very nice young woman who looked to be about 19 or 20 started talking to me for no reason. Just because we were standing there. And she was nice. And that’s what Icelanders do.

Oh Iceland, how I love thee.

After Prikid we headed over to Baejarins beztu pylsur.

Did you get all that?

Anyway, it’s the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland (some say it’s even the best restaurant there), and Chris got a hot dog with the works.

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The thing about my husband, you see, is that he doesn’t even really like hot dogs. However, this hot dog, he says, was the best hot dog he’d ever had in his life. I guess for a person who doesn’t like hot dogs that isn’t really saying much? He seemed happy about it though, and the line was long to get one, so they must be something special. (Don’t worry, I tried one the following night, sans actual hot dog, and at least I can attest to the fact that “the works” part of the hot dog was pretty great!)

And that was about it friends. Our Saturday in a nutshell. The Northern Lights, bar hopping and hot dogs. We headed home around 5 in the morning (but not before stopping at the grocery store to pick up cup of noodles and some caramel chocolate to eat when we got home … geez I must have been drunk!), feeling happy, buzzed and alive.

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Bis bald, friends! Tomorrow it’s on to Day 3.

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 2

I’m baaackkkk! So Day 2 of our Icelandic Adventure really was quite the day my friends. It was the day that Chris and I got to take part in something that a very limited number of people will ever get to see. Like, ever.

I’ll give you a hint.

_DSC5209^^ Oh my!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We started the morning and early afternoon off by renting bikes from this very Harley-looking dude on a very dilapidated street with lots of graffiti that was only a few blocks from our hotel and only one street over from one of the main downtown streets.

And it may have been freezing that day (and in some parts treacherously icy!), my friends, but the views were still absolutely glorious. We rode around the entire rim of the city from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., just taking it all in …

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Photo 6^^ One of the natural thermal beaches that you’ll find all around Iceland. Pretty amazing.

After our ride we were both eager for some coffee to warm us up, and I really wanted a tasty treat. (You know me!) So we stopped by C is for Cookie Cafe in the downtown area for some coffee and the most delicious (and expensive at $8 for one slice!) warm apple pie and whipped cream.

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Here is where I need to make note of something that totally and 100% intrigued me. When you are in a new place, one of the most amazing things is to note the cultural differences. What’s considered totally normal and average in one place could be considered inconsiderate or rude in another. So when we first approached the cafe, I noticed that about three or four strollers were parked outside next to the big windows surrounding the place. So they don’t bring strollers inside places, I thought. Interesting.

It didn’t end there, though. As it turns out, it seemed to me that, at least in this one particular instance that I saw, babies who were asleep when their parents arrived were left outside. In the carriages. All bundled up and sleeping soundly away. One mother inside had a baby monitor at the table with her, but I didn’t really think twice about it … until I later realized that the reason was because her baby was asleep outside in her stroller!

Amazing!

My first thought was about the cold, but in the days since I’ve seen this and have mentioned it to people, the first thought that springs to most people’s minds is the fact that crime must not be a big issue here. That’s promising, I guess? As blown away by this realization as I was when I first understood it, it’s as I said — what’s considered commonplace in one country can be completely baffling in another.

So much to learn about this world.

Anyway, moving on. After the coffee we decided to kick it up a notch to beer. Chris used his Happy Hour app and discovered a happy hour happening at Mar, a fancy little restaurant near the water with maps on the wall showing you all the different countries from which they draw inspiration for their cuisine.

We didn’t do cuisine though — we just did drinks ;) And we chatted up the bartender to no end about the ins and outs of going out on a weekend with the Icelanders. She suggested good bars for us to visit (one of which was prikid, which I have so much to say about!), and confirmed to me that yes, things do indeed tend to get a bit crazy on weekends in Iceland and yes, drunken shenanigans most definitely would ensue.

At least I was prepared.

After Mar we headed towards the water to climb up a hut made out of hay which is used to dry fish and take pictures of the water.

Weird sentence — but that’s exactly what we did.

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Photo 9^^ Silly husband. I think those aren’t for riding.

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Photo 12^^ See. A hut of straw that you climb up.

photo 1 (56)^^ See. Dried fish guts inside the hut.

photo 2 (60)^^ Top of the hut.

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Walking home from our hut adventure we stopped by The Kebab House for dinner (see review here), which was decent but not all that memorable. Chris got the fish and chips (said he’s had better) and I got a veggie pita, which was pretty okay. Wouldn’t be the first on my list of dining recommendations for Iceland, let’s just say. Although there was a group of rowdy men drinking beer at the table behind us for a while when we first arrived, and at one point they broke out into Icelandic song. So that part I really enjoyed!

So that night, friends. That night. It was the night of all nights. It was the night of our Northern Lights Tour, as well as the night we went out into the town.

There’s so much to say about both of these amazing things, and I’ve already written so much for today — I’m making an executive editorial decision to cut our Day 2 in half. Yup. Just decided.

Tune in tomorrow, my friends, for an update on our Northern Lights Tour and our adventure with the crazy Icelandic party animals!

I guess in that case the first photo I shared with you was a tease. Oh well, what can you do! Bis bald!

P.S. I’m noticing in my dashboard that I’m getting some readers from Iceland on both this and yesterday’s posts — Hi Iceland! So happy to have you!

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 1

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Hey friends,

As you all know by now, Chris and I returned home from our (awesome. amazing. unreal. fantastic. insert-fabulous-adjective here) trip to Iceland late last night, and I’ve been busting to share the info and photos with you. Alas, a full day of work has kept me from doing so until now.

Anyway, moving on. Coming home from a trip like this. just. plain. sucks! But going through all the photos and writing down the memories here to keep forever … well that’s just really fun.

Here we go! Day 1 in Iceland began last Friday, at around 6 a.m., Icelandic time ….

After a quick (and somewhat cramped) overnight flight from JFK, we landed at Keflavik Airport a little before our expected arrival time of 6 a.m. Which was actually 1 a.m. NY time.

Who needs sleep when you’re young?!

We had booked a shuttle transfer from the airport to our hotel, the Best Western, ahead of time, which I would highly, highly  recommend since it was so easy and cheap (approximately $15), and you do not want to get to Iceland and have to worry about how you’re getting to your hotel, since if you’re staying in Reykjavik, it will probably be about an hour away. Like I said, we stayed at the Best Western Hotel Reykjavik (Trip Advisor reviews can be found here), which was a tad off the beaten track from downtown Reykjavik (about a 10 to 15 minute walk to the city center, I’d say) — but the front desk ladies were always completely lovely and extremely helpful, and a decent breakfast was included, and the price was right … so really, I’d say if you don’t mind walking a bit to get to the really hopping part of town, it’s worth staying at the Best Western.

Of course getting in at 6 a.m. and arriving to our hotel around 7 a.m. meant we couldn’t check right in. Instead we stored our bags and hit the streets! The cold, dark streets. Neither one of us really had any idea where we were going (and it stayed that way for about a good 20 minutes, I’d say. Why didn’t we just ask for directions?!), and the sun doesn’t rise until about 9:30 a.m. in the winter in Iceland, but none of that mattered — we were on an adventure! We spent the morning walking around downtown, drinking coffee at Te & Kaffi (also read about it here), stumbling upon the most adorable and classy violin-making shop I’ve ever seen (note to self: take up the violin again), and checking out some of the local stores in the downtown area, most of which don’t open until the sun has fully risen by 10 a.m.

Photo 1^^ The gorgeous church that pretty much starts the main drag of downtown Reykjavik.
Also, this picture was taken around 8 a.m. Nary a glimmer of sunlight in the sky!

Photo 2^^ Umm, right?! How amazing is this violin studio??

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photo 4^^ One of these things is not like the other …

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During our wanders we also happened upon The Laundromat Cafe, which I had read about and knew I wanted to visit. The place has a seriously adorable, 70s-style laundromat downstairs, while the upstairs doubles as a restaurant by day, bar by night, and all-around bookstore (they color code their books, like I do!) and people-watching heaven.

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Oh, and my eggs and tomatoes weren’t too shabby, either. (As it turns out, Icelanders are pretty proud of their tomatoes. They consider all other tomatoes grown from outside of the country to just not be good enough … and after tasting theirs, I can see why.)

By the time we made it back outside it was snowing gently — the perfect Icelandic weather! We made our way slowly back to the hotel (not before picking up some wine at the local store for later) to finally check in and take a nap before heading back out into the day. (As a side note, I’ve already mentioned that the sun doesn’t rise until 9:30ish in the winter in Iceland, but it also sets around 5 p.m., so if you’re a daylight lover, you really need to plan your time wisely to make the most out of what little you’ll get of it if you travel here in February. I wasn’t quite sure how I would take the fewer hours of daylight. As it turns out, I didn’t mind it even one tiny little bit.)

After our nap, we headed over to Cinema No: 2, which I had also read about, to take in two videos — one on the formation of Iceland and its geography and people, and another on the Northern Lights (for which we would have a tour to try to find ourselves the following night). The Cinema was small but super cozy, with couches and an old-school popcorn machine and a lovely man in a warm sweater to take your money at the door. The “movie screen” is really a projector screen, and the videos themselves seem pretty old, but it doesn’t matter. The history of Iceland and its nature and the Northern Lights have been set for years, so there’s really not much updating that needs to be done. On the other hand, it’s a bit expensive (about $30 for both of us) … but it was worth it. A very nice thing to do on your first day in Iceland. Just be sure to double-check the times if this is something you’d like to do on your own trip. The Cinema isn’t open all day (I believe we went around 6 p.m. to catch our movies), so it would be a shame to head all the way over there and miss them.

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After the movies we went straight to Micro Bar, a tiny little bar located behind the lobby of The Center Hotel, practically directly across the street from The Laundromat Cafe. (Also check it out in this list of the 11 coolest bars in Reykjavik, which I really wish I had seen before we left for our trip. But that’s okay … I think we did just fine. The trick is to just ask the locals … but more on that later!) This funky little place is actually a microbrewery, and we were able to sample four of their most delicious beers for the low, low price of $20.

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I think here might actually be a good place to mention prices in Iceland. Ummmm …. they be expensive!!! And we live in Manhattan, friends, so when someone from Manhattan calls another place expensive? Well, you just know it must be true. I’ll get a bit more into the finances of Iceland (or lack thereof) in day three, though, because that’s when we learned all about it. For the purpose of today’s blog post, let’s just put it out there that if you travel to Reykjavik, be prepared to drop some cash, friends. It’s one of the best places I’ve been in the world (What?! Did she really just say that?!), but it’s no cheap place to visit.

All of this detracts, however, from the awesomeness that is Micro Bar. It has such a homey, low-key vibe, with subdued lighting and tasty snacks and lovely bartenders, and the most adorable paintings of mountains (each with something tiny and surprising to find that makes it different) on the walls — this is a must while in Iceland.

I guess here is also a good place to tell you about what our original plans were for Friday night. As anyone who has ever read anything about Reykjavik or has been there will know — on the weekends, these people know how to party! They party hard and loud and long into the night. Like, they start the bar hopping around 12:30 or 1, friends. This is no joke. So knowing this was a Reykjavik ritual that we would most definitely be partaking in, we thought we’d grab a quick drink and dinner early, then head back to the hotel with some wine from the local liquor store (conveniently located near Micro Bar), some snacks from the grocery and take a quick power nap before heading out again around 12:30 or 1.

For dinner, we had originally tried to make a reservation at Fridrik V, but unfortunately we couldn’t get in. Then we read about Snaps (which also made that top beer places list I linked out to above), but they were pretty booked when we tried there as well. (Don’t worry, we did make it to Snaps, eventually.) We instead stumbled on Noodle Station, a hole-in-the-wall Thai soup store that smelled delicious and had lots of locals eating there. So that’s where we ate our first night, and it was spectacular, friends. To be fair, I’m going to go ahead and just say that we didn’t eat anything bad, per se, at all on this trip. (You can pretty much assume this means we didn’t eat any traditional Icelandic food — like whale, or Puffin. Ummm…needless to say I’m okay with that, and so is Chris.) So the Noodle Station on Friday night was delicious, but it wasn’t our best meal. Still, it’s worth a shot for lunch or if you’re in need of a quick nighttime meal, for sure.

On the way back to our hotel for some wine and our (what was meant to be a) power nap, we stopped at the grocery store for some cheese and crackers. We were also hoping to find some playing cards (which we without fail always forget to bring on trips), and when they didn’t have any for sale, the lovely man behind the counter who rang us up actually ended up pulling out a pack from behind the register and just giving them to us completely for free. I mean … how lovely! It was really a small act of kindness that made our night.

So that was pretty much our first day in Iceland, friends! I’m going to spare you the expense and just say we never made it out Friday night (100% my fault), but did get out with the crazy crowd on Saturday night … and it was every bit as much fun as everything I had read.

But more on that tomorrow. (That and a little thing called the Northern Lights!)

Bis bald, friends!

 

The Year 2013: A Review

Hi friends,

Well it’s that time of year again — the one where everyone takes a couple minutes to take stock of how the past 12 months have gone? This year has been a particularly important one for myself and Chris. It was our first year of married life. It was a year spent celebrating our marriage around the world with family and friends. It was a year that we made some pretty big decisions about our future (not yet shared here!), and one that had a lot of amazing traveling in it …

February
In February we took an amazing weekend trip to Tarrytown for our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, where I had one of my absolute favorite meals of this entire year.

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Irvington

my dessert

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March
In March I took a relaxing trip to visit my best friend in D.C., where we practiced wedding makeup for Chris and my upcoming wedding party in April.

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Walk1

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April
April was a holy-cow-of-a-month for us! First, I turned 30 (ah!), and we celebrated with a gorgeous hike up Breakneck Ridge with friends.

Thanks for going along with my crazy idea, gang!

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Holy rock climbing!

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Then Chris’s parents came for a visit, and we all took a trip to London so that Chris could run the 5th race in his World Marathon series.

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Geared up!

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We also celebrated our marriage at Magnanini Winery in upstate NY with friends and family in April, but I didn’t blog about that because I didn’t have photos for a long time. I have them now, though! Here are some of my faves.

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June
In June we celebrated our wedding in Jersey with some close friends and family. Here are some of my favorite shots from that party:

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July
In July we took a trip out to Charlotte, N.C. and Arizona to visit an old, old friend of mine.

^^Bloody Mary's in Charlotte on our pit stop to Phoenix.

^^Man and wilderness.

^^Cheers to you, Arizona!

^^Bye-bye Sedona. It's been real.

^^Canyon Breeze views.

^^Sedona hike--unbelievable.

^^Catching up with the person who is probably my oldest friend.

^^Shrimp tacos=heavenly.

August
In August I took another trip back down to D.C. for a “sprinkle” baby celebration …

^^The beginning stages of lemon bars. Can you say yum?!

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^^ Blueberry Crumble for the dessert bar.

^^We also made these to-die-for apple crumble bar with cinnamon. The sign in the back was a piece of corkboard that Lisa painted with chalkboard paint and strung some twine across. People wrote notes on little cards and placed them on the twin for Alison and her new baby boy.

and we visited what has now become our new favorite upstate winery — Warwick Valley Winery.

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Glasses

Summer Happenings
I feel like I should take a moment to pay homage to all of the activities we took part in this summer that were right here in New York City, like seeing Shakespeare in the Park, hosting my nephew’s very first trip to NYC, riding bikes through the park, seeing the NY Philharmonic in the park (are you sensing a “park” theme?!), checking out the Met, going for a sail from Pier 25 on the west side and strolling around DUMBO, Brooklyn … to name a few.

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^^ I seriously forgot how many hills there are in Central Park. I had to take a break about 3/4 of the way through.

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^^Stolen from Istagram, thank you very much.

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^^ So -- what's the theme? Can ya tell? Hint: I'm wearing a red wig!

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^^ Freshman year JMU roommates -- go Dukes!

September
September was another busy month for us. First we took the ferry out to Governor’s Island to go exploring.

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^^ Carousel ahead!

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We also headed to St. Augustine, Florida for the Gentleman of the Road Mumford & Sons tour for Chris’s Super Secret 30th Birthday Trip … (also talked about here)

^^View from the Beachcomber. Not too shabby.

^^Chris with the Castillo de San Marcos fort in the background.

^^Check out all the wrist tags we needed! Shuttle. Concert. Drinks. Boat. Check!

^^This last photo was actually from Saturday night's show when Mumford was playing and it was lightning in the background. But we'll get to that ...

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October
We headed to Australia (also here) at the end of September and into October to celebrate our wedding with Chris’s side of the family, as well as to take a honeymoon trip to The Great Barrier Reef.

^^What bride gets to wear her wedding dress three times? This one, that's who!

^^ Mom and baby. Man I'll never stop loving it when I see these guys!

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^^ The Sydney Harbour's a real beaut - isn't she?

November
I headed to the suburbs of Philly in November to visit an old friend and her family, and we took a trip out to the Philadelphia Zoo while I was there …

^^ I was about to delete this photo of the Clown Fish because I had better ones, until I saw the Fish Photo Bomb.

^^ This little guy is a Red Panda, and she'll be making an appearance in my children's book very soon!

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^^ Rhino!

and we celebrated Thanksgiving in both Newburgh and New Jersey.

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December
This month we surprised my stepdad with a Super Secret weekend trip to Syracuse, his alma mater, for his 50th birthday.

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And we took a Christmas trip to Stowe, Vermont with some family

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And that about sums up 2013, friends! On the docket for 2014 so far is …

  • A trip to Saratoga Springs the first weekend in January to celebrate our one year anniversary. I’m particularly excited about the hotel where we’ll be staying — Saratoga Arms it’s gotten amazing reviews.
  • Iceland in February!
  • Denver in April with my sister and her boyfriend
  • A trip out to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding (not to mention lots of other friends’ weddings scattered throughout the year!)
  • A potential 1.5-3 month trip in South America at the end of the year. Lots more on this to come.

Bis bald, friends! And may your new year be filled with fun travels, great friends and awesome experiences!

The Inspirational Animals of My Travels

As I sit here working on a passion project of mine — which, to be fair, I’ve been working on for the better part of a year now — I realized that I’ve up until this time passed up a perfectly lovely opportunity to give thanks to all the inspirational animals I’ve come across in my travels. These animals have been so much fun to meet and learn about, and I’m so grateful to them for being a part of the learning process that is traveling.

So without further ado, please meet some of my favorite animals I’ve met on my journeys:

Shawn_the_Koala^^ This is Shawn the Koala from the Koala Park Zoo in Sydney.
He’s the animal that started my whole project idea.

Shawn_talks^^ Can’t you tell he’s just whispering amazing ideas in my direction!

Kookaburra_Bird^^ This is a replica of a Kookaburra bird in the
Museum of Natural History. They’re known for their good-natured,
hysterical laugh, which can sound a lot like a human’s.

Red_Panda^^ This is a red panda — let’s call her Jia. This photo is from the
Philadelphia Zoo, which is sort of cheating because my real
inspiration came from the red pandas at the Central Park Zoo.
This was a better photo, though.

Pigeons_London^^ These are pigeons. And while yes, these pigeons are in London,
let’s be honest — the real inspirational pigeons live right here in
good ole’ NYC.

Chasing_Pigeons^^If we’re being even more honest, my true obsession with pigeons began
when I was a toddler and my parents lost me in the Piazza San Marco
in Venice because I was chasing them. That’s why I took this
dorky photo when we were back there in 2012.

What inspires you when you travel?

Bis bald, friends!

For the Love of Spontaneous Travel ….

Hi friends,

It probably shouldn’t come as a huge shock that I’m a sucker for anything that seems like a good travel deal. So when I saw a Travelzoo deal posted yesterday for 5 days in Iceland–including hotel, air and a Northern Lights tour–I just felt like we really had to go for it.

A little over a year ago now, a couple of co-workers from my previous job all took a trip together to Iceland, and from everything I heard, it’s pretty amazing. Reykjavik itself is well-known for its night life, the Northern Lights (aka the Aurora Borealis) would be absolutely amazing to see and, let’s be honest, if I could plop myself in the Blue Lagoon for the rest of my life … I think I’d be one happy lady.

We had originally planned to try to head out over Thanksgiving break, but we waited too long to book it, so the trip will now be the weekend before Valentine’s day of next year. That’s okay, though. With Australia and The Great Barrier Reef coming up, plus Chris’s Super-Secret-30th-Birthday-Trip, we’ve got a lot on our plates this year.

Huzzah for new, fun trips to look forward to!

Bis bald, friends!

London 2013 and Chris’s 5th World Marathon Complete!

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Oh hey there, London.

Hi friends!

Oh. My. Goodness. What a whirlwind! So Chris and I just said farewell to his parents who, luckily, we’ll be seeing again for our wedding celebration in Australia in just five months. This apartment always feels so sad and lonely when they leave.

While they were here we took a trip to London, Chris ran the marathon and we headed upstate for a little Magnanini Winery wedding celebration with my mom’s side of the family.

It was a fast and furious two weeks, to say the least!

And that’s why I’m a tad late on my London posting. Of course it’s nowhere near faded from memory yet, but I do like to get my thoughts down on the blog as soon as possible, so I don’t leave any details out.

So about that, it was late last Thursday when we left for our little journey ….

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The Excitement of Upcoming Travel

Hi friends!

Well we’re firmly into the second quarter of 2013 here, and it’s time for me to start getting excited about some of the trips we have planned for the rest of the year.

So let’s see. For starters, my in-laws will be making their way to the U.S. the week after next, and Chris and I will be heading to London with them to watch Chris run the London Marathon:

100_6027^^A little flashback to when Steph and I first visited London back in 2010

Then, Chris and I booked a trip out to Arizona to visit an old friend of mine for the weekend of July 4th. Neither one of us has been before, so we’re super excited. We’re going to go camping and hiking, and visit Lake Powell and Havasu Falls:

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September will be a big month for us, too. We’ll be heading to Australia to celebrate our wedding with Chris’s side of the family, and then taking a couple-day honeymoon to The Great Barrier Reef:

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^^A little memory from our last trip to Australia (written about here and here). That’s Shawn the Koala, the subject of my soon-to-written children’s book series. Seriously. It’s coming.

There will be another trip in September two weekends before Australia, but that’s super secret for now, as it’s a surprise trip in honor of Chris’s 30th birthday. Let’s just say—I’m super excited about it!

And that’s about it (for now)! Bis bald, friends! I’ll catch up with you again super soon …

Rome–Our Fourth and Final Destination

Well, here we are friends. We’ve arrived, at last, at our fourth and final destination of our little European adventure from a few weeks ago–Rome.

Now, you know my love of Rome. The ancient architecture. The amazing artists. The un-replicatable (is that a word?) food. It’s all just amazing. But you know something that’s kind of even more amazing than all that? Sharing a place that you really love with someone you love.

Awwwww–aren’t I so sweet? No but really, guys–I was beyond excited to visit Rome with Chris and to see if he would fall as in love with it as I did.

And the verdict? Well of course he did!

So let’s go…back to Rome… Continue reading

Me, Dragging My Feet …

Hi friends,

Sorry it’s taking me so long to wrap up our little European adventure–you know how I feel about writing my last post about a vacation. It just makes it so real that it’s over (not that being home for the past week hasn’t made it real, as well).

Anyway, I’ve been a bit busy, but I promise, promise, promise to get to my fourth and final post–Rome! Sweet Rome!–written some time this week.
Until then, look at this pretty, pretty picture while you wait …

Who couldn’t love Rome? I mean, really …

A Gorgeous (and Expensive) Drive Through the Alps

Hi friends,

So back to last Wednesday morning, Chris and his dad left the hotel early to pick up our rental car so that we could get on out of Munich. We would be driving about 2 hours from Munich to Salzburg to drop Chris’s parents off (it was so sad to say goodbye!), and then Chris and I would be continuing on to Venice.

We knew that we were starting off with an expensive journey, since renting a car in one country and returning it in another is, you know, not that cheap.

Little did we know that was just the beginning …

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A Hop, Skip and Jump to Munich

Hello, Munich. How I’ve missed you!

Hi friends,

So part deux of our European adventure story starts off in Munich, where we stayed at the Citadines, which are more small apartments than hotel rooms (meaning we had a little kitchen and a living room, but no one to clean the place up when we left for the day.)

The location was perfect for Oktoberfest–it was just a short walk to the grounds where the tents are. It’s not the best location if you’re in Munich mostly for the city center, though, like to visit Marienplatz or stroll through town. (For that type of trip, I’d highly recommend the hotels I stayed in during this trip to Munich a few years ago.)

Lucky for us, we were there for Oktoberfest, and our adventure began that Sunday night …

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Last Thursday, When We Were Berlin-Bound

It’s hard to believe this wall ever divided Berlin. So sad.

Hey friends! So it’s Monday, October 8th, which can only mean one thing–Chris and I are back from Europe.

Cue the violins.

Seriously though, this was one stellar, awesome, amazing trip. In what amounts to 9 full days, we managed to cover Berlin (where Chris ran a marathon), Munich (where we had so much fun at Oktoberfest!), rent a car and drive from Munich to Salzburg to Venice for more than $700 (that story will come later), see Venice in less than 24 full hours and hit up Rome for all the classics.

That’s a lot.

But despite the fact that it was a whirlwind…it really didn’t feel that way. I felt like we were able to spend a good amount of time in each place, and I actually did end up feeling rested and relaxed when we arrived back last night.

So anyway, without further ado, how about I take you on back to last Friday, when Chris and I arrived in Berlin at around 8:30 a.m…

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Diary of a Traveling Friend: Tuscany

 

Amy in Siena Square

Welcome my friend Amy, who just returned from a well-deserved trip to Italy.

 

Thanks for the post, darling!

I just got back from a five-day trip to Florence, and one of my favorite parts was a day trip to Tuscany. I booked the trip (Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour) through Viator, and the tour guide, Becky, was awesome. We left Florence at about 8:30am and drove through the countryside.

Our first stop was in Siena, a beautiful medieval town. We walked through the town, first stopping to see the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest surviving bank in the world. We also ventured through the Siena Duomo, where four statues are attributed to Michelangelo. We also saw the Piazza del Campo, which our tour guide told us is the third most beautiful square in the world. (Piazza San Marco in Venice is supposed to be the second most beautiful, and I can’t remember what No. 1 is!) We got a bit of free time to walk around the city, and I bought a beautiful cutting board made of olive wood and some homemade doughnuts. Yum!

We then drove to an organic farm and vineyard called Poggio Alloro, in San Gimignano, another small Tuscan town. We did a wine tasting of four wines and had an amazing lunch of homemade pasta, cheeses, and salads. The food was so fresh, and we had a typical Tuscan dessert (almond biscotti dipped in dessert wine). After lunch, we drove to the town of San Gimignano and had some free time to walk around and view the amazing scenery.

Our last stop was Pisa, which is much more touristy than the other towns—but it was so much fun to see the Leaning Tower. All in all, the day was filled with great scenery and great food. I definitely recommend taking this tour if you have an extra day in Florence!

 

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (the oldest surviving bank in the world)

 

a church

 

 

 

 

Nothing beats lunch in Italy

 

 

Michelangelo statue

 

 

San Gimignano

 

 

 

San Gimignano

 

 

What Travels Will 2011 Bring You?

So here we are in 2011, and in February it will be my one-year anniversary with this site—very exciting. I have definitely become a big believer in writing down the things that you hope to accomplish in a year, not so much as New Years resolutions, but more like mini-life goals. Last year London, Paris, Rome, and Oktoberfest trips were all on that list. So here I am on January 3rd, writing down my new travel goals for 2011. This year I hope to visit:

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in April

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in April

Switzerland

Greece

Jamaica in November

Jamaica in November

 

Let’s see how many of those travel resolutions I can keep!

Bis bald, friends!

Diary of a (New) Traveling Friend

The author and the object of her affection on a work trip in Brussels

Welcome my second guest blogger, my good friend (and travel buddy to Oktoberfest) Carla. After sharing this flamenco story with me via email, I felt like it needed to be shared with the rest of the world as well. So without further adu, here’s to Carla…

I’m currently sitting in my hotel room in Seville, setting of the famed opera Carmen.  This, one of the most famous operas of all time, centers on a feisty young woman whose name also begins with “C-A-R”.  There are slight differences between Carmen and me, as she works in a cigar factory, is known for her loose morals, and quite notably, stabbed her coworker in the face (actually, let that be a lesson…).

Anyway, aside from Carmen (and its famous barber, to cite another opera), the city is renowned for its flamenco.  So, I made sure to take in a flamenco show last evening, as it was my final night in the city.

But as I watched the dancers, my mind wandered back to New York City and back to a certain man, Stuart.

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In the News: Five Nights in Costa del Sol, starting at $729 with Air

Insert you here

There comes a time in your life, my friends, when you realize that you cannot possibly afford to take every single fantastic trip offer that finds its way into your dreams.

This is, unfortunately, one of those times. With all the trips for this year over, I’m looking forward to next year, but at the same time starting to think—at what point should I be putting this travel money towards something else? Something important. Something like a house. Or a new computer. Or any of the other myriad of grown-up ways that I could spend that money.

It’s not that I ever think travel is a waste of money (not even if the trip doesn’t turn out quite the way you thought it would)—it’s just something I’ve been considering, as of late.

Anyway, I digress. I can’t afford to take this trip, even if it seems like a great offer, but maybe you could. Thank you Frommer’s newsletter for sharing this interesting deal with me:

Gate 1 Travel is offering a five-night trip to Costa del Sol, including round-trip airfare from NYC, for a starting price of $729 (if you depart on Dec. 28 your price will be $729, other dates include mark-up fees). The fee also includes the choice of two tourist/budget-class hotels, daily breakfast and airline fuel surcharges.

If you’re still looking for New Years Eve plans, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Bis bald, friends!

Flashback to Salzburg

About a million years ago I traveled to Salzburg from Munich with my friend for a day trip. And even though I feel like I’ve waited way too long to share all of the long-forgotten details, I still wanted to share a few tidbits of info and some photos.

The first thing is a recommendation for the hotel we stayed—Annex Der Salzburger Hof.—because I loved it. Even though we stayed in the annex part of the hotel, which was across the street from the main building, the room was huge and very nice, and it was super close to the train station, which was exactly what we were looking for since we both had to take an early train back to Munich to catch our flights home. The breakfast was fantastic, and included in the price of the hotel, and the fact that the hotel had a channel that played The Sound of Music 24/7? Well that was just icing on the cake.

So for our first and only day in Salzburg, I was a bit skeptical when Carla recommended purchasing the Salzburgh day pass for 25 Euro. With that pass we would get free entry to all of the big attractions (cable cars, Mozart’s house, castles, a river cruise), and all public transportation would be free as well. But unlike the tours that I was used to, that meant that Carla and I would be in charge of finding our way around the city.

Turns out it was a great option. We got a ton done in just a few hours, and the money we saved on just the first two attractions made it worth it monetarily.

So, in photos, here was our day:

The hills really are alive in Salzburg

The view from the cable car

The view of the town from the castle

Spatzle is delicious

Mirabell Gardens

After a full-on day traveling around the city, Carla and I decided to make a pit stop in one last store before heading to dinner—except that when we came out of the store every restaurant was closed. Seriously. EVERY restaurant! We ended up back at the hotel for dinner, which was fine, but it’s just a note of advice for anyone else planning on traveling to Salzburg—don’t wait too late for dinner. Apparently everyone in Salzburg is done eating after 7 p.m.

Bis bald, friends!

European Adventure: Munich and Oktoberfest

Munich has more to offer than you could ever imagine

About three weeks ago now I set off on a trip that was really special to me for a bunch of different reasons. Firstly, I would be taking my first ever solo international flight. And on top of that I would be spending a good day a 1/2 in Munich all by my lonesome, and I was a bit nervous, to say the least. I wasn’t sure how I would end up reacting to that. Here in the city I never go out to dinner by myself. I never see movies by myself or get a drink all alone. Would I be able to pull myself out of my comfort zone and actually leave the room, by myself, in Munich?

Turns out, I learned a lot on this trip about myself. Firstly, taking an international flight all by your lonesome is totally easy—if not pleasant. When you’re with someone on a flight, depending on who said person is, you’re always left wondering how much of a conversation you’re going to have to make. Can you sleep when you want to? What if I just want to listen to my music or read my book or watch the same show on the free in-flight television over and over again? The only time that you can truly do all of this without any worry is when you’re by yourself.

And then, when you actually get to your destination, you alone are in charge of your itinerary. Feeling a big jet lagged and want to take a nap, even though you just arrived in this fantastic new place? No worries. Want to take a shower to wash off the plane before you head out into the bright new world you’re about to discover? No worries, take your time.

All of that was fantastic. The thing that I did miss, however, was the ability to share in the fantasticness with someone. When I arrived at the airport in Munich and heard the German announcements and saw the lederhosen and dirndls (yup, even in the airport), I was ecstatic. I was in MUNICH! And yet, there was no one to share in the excitement with. I remembered arriving in Heathrow with Stephanie back in May and how excited we had been. It’s great to be able to take in a new surrounding with someone. That part I really missed.

For the rest of it, though, there wasn’t a single thing negative I can say about it. In the end I totally made it out of my gorgeous hotel (after the jet lag nap and shower), and ended up discovering quite a bit on my own that first day:

Heading to Marienplatz, or the town center

The fantastic open air markets in the town center

Advertising in Munich=lots of pretzels and beer

Beer garden haven

After a Friday afternoon and evening discovering bits of Munich by myself, I headed over to the Deutsche Museum on a rainy Saturday morning. Thanks to my handy-dandy Foder’s Munich travel book I know that if you were to spend just 1 minute checking out every single exhibit in this amazing museum, it would take you over 300 days to get through everything. Anything you can think of—physics, automobiles, flight, kites, shipping, planets, animals…you name it, there was something in the Deutsches Museum pertaining to that subject. I even took in a planetarium show—in German. Can’t say I learned a lot from that, but it was pretty amazing.

After spending a good 6 hours in the museum I headed over to my first hotel, Hotel Advokat, (I seriously recommend this hotel, absolutely everything about it was great. The rooms were tiny, but super clean and very nice—and the breakfast, which is included in your hotel fee, is absolutely on par with any restaurant breakfast you’ll get) to pick up my stuff and make the walk to our second hotel, Novotel Munchen City, where Carla would be meeting me in the afternoon.

I’d like to take some credit (any credit, really) for the hotel bookings, because both hotels were pretty great. Perfect locations, perfect prices, nice people, the whole shebang—but really, that was all Carla. Luckily this friend of mine does a lot of traveling in Europe and had been to Munich many a time before, so she was a bit aware of what we would need and want out of a hotel, and she did a great job picking them. (Also, we booked in February. Prices were drastically more expensive the closer it got to Oktoberfest, so who knows if we could have afforded the same hotels had we booked at a later month).

So Saturday night Carla and I met up and took a walk through the town center again to find a place for dinner. Being that Germans aren’t exactly known for their vegetarian fare, we ended up at an Italian restaurant, which was just as fab. It was also the site of my first ever “mass” beer:

Just trust me my friends when I tell you—it was nowhere near as delicious as it looks. I honestly don’t even know what type of beer it was, but let’s just say I had much better at later times in the trip, thank God.

After dinner Carla decided she could navigate our way to the Oktoberfest grounds, which she did very well (despite my teasing her whenever we would take a wrong turn here or there). What we found at the Oktoberfest grounds around 9:30 on that Saturday night was not for the faint of heart:

It had been raining for the majority of the day on Saturday, and the tents open around 11 a.m., so you can only imagine what thousands of drunken people can do to a campground by 9:30 at night. Still, despite the fact that it was muddy and we couldn’t get into a beer tent because they were all full and we were being groped by drunken men, I’d still say that Carla and I were happy to have at least seen the place lit up (neither of us knew that Oktoberfest is basically one big, huge fair ground with food and rides and games, and interspersed with 20 or so humongous beer tents).

So we stayed for a while and then headed back to the hotel, intent on starting over early in the morning and making it into a tent and having a fabulous time at Oktoberfest on Sunday before we headed off into the night on our train to Salzburg for our day trip. And that’s what we did:

Lowenbrau tent

Kiss, Yes! Cigarettes? No!

Prost! Drink! Yes! Cigarettes? No!

The first group we sat next to—the Italians

Part of the second group we sat next to—13 British boys on a bachelor party

The beloved pretzel lady who passed out the biggest pretzels you’ve ever seen in your life

the band

Oktoberfest is, in a nutshell, unlike anything else I’ve experienced anywhere. After our experience on Saturday night I was a little worried that it would just be one big drunken madhouse (which, to some extent, it was), and that Carla and I would have to be worried and on edge the entire time we were there—but it wasn’t one bit like that. At all. We met the most amazing and friendly people. We sang German drinking songs and danced in the aisles in between beer and pretzels. We screamed “Prost!” with thousands of others in our tent and cheered to everyone and everything. No one fought. No one was gross. The boys were all lovely (no, really!). I have decided that Munich is a place I could find myself living some day. And although my trip in Munich was short (only two and 1/2 days), I long for more of Munich, and I hope to get back there some day very soon.

But Sunday night found me pulling Carla away from the adoring Brits as we made our way back to the hotel (the second hotel in as many nights for me), to get our bags, grab a cab and head to our train to Salzburg.

But I’ll do Salzburg in another entry, because it certainly deserves that.

Until then, bis bald friends!

In Honor of Oktoberfest…

Oh Oktoberfest—here I come!

Well, my friends, tomorrow is the day of all days—the day that I’m heading off to Munich for Oktoberfest. So, in honor of the big trip, let’s do a little bit of research on the history of the festive event:

  • Oktoberfest is a 16-to-18-day festival held every year in Munich. It runs from late September to the first weekend in October, and it is one of the most famous events in Germany, and the world’s largest fair, with approximately six million people attending every year.
  • The festival is held on an area named the Theresienwiese, often called Wiesn for short, which is located near Munich’s centre South East of the main train station.
  • At the festival, participants eat Hendi (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (pork knuckle), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Wursti (sausage), Brezn (pretzels), Knodel (potato or bread pancakes), Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage), among other (a bit odd) things.
  • The original Oktoberfest occurred in Munich on October 12, 1810. It was part of a public horse race commemorating the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hidburghausen. It was so successful it was renewed in 1811.
  • Since 1950 there has been a traditional festival opening: A twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at 12 by the incumbent Mayor of Munich with the cry “o’ zapft is!” meaning “It’s tapped!”. The Mayor then gives the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria.
  • Horse races ended in 196o (that’s a shame!)
  • By 1960, the Oktoberfest festival had turned into an enormous world-famous festival. Since then, foreigners (such as myself) began to picture Germans as wearing the Sennerhut, Lederhosen, and the girls in Dirndl (which, by the way, I wore when I was born in Germany).

Bis bald, friends!

Munich Subway Madness

In anticipation of my first ever solo trip to another country [yes, I know. Technically I can't really consider it solo if I will only be alone for a little over 24 hours, but still...], I’ve spent the past two hours studying my Fodor’s ‘Munich’s 25 Best’ book, its maps, the subway…everything. And seriously—I’m getting pretty excited about it all. I’ve mapped out the route from the airport to the hotel, and then from the hotel to where I will start my walking tour for the day. And in honor of my new-found independence, let’s all marvel at the subway map that I figured out all on my lonesome:

It's not so scary when you stare at it for two hours

Bis bald, my friends!

Traveling Solo

Me, on my next vacation.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, it turns out that I will actually be spending a bit of time alone on my trip to Munich next week. I’ll be flying out myself, checking into the hotel myself, spending from Friday at 11 a.m. until Saturday at 6 pm. alone…

When I first found this out, I did everything I could to try to make it not happen. I tried desperately to convince sisters and friends to pick up the extra ticket and come with me. Last minute. Next weekend. To Munich.

As any sane person would mostly likely deduct, no one could make this happen that quickly.

And so, here I am. Traveling alone for the very first time. And I gotta say, as scary and daunting as it first seemed, I’m beginning to finally come around to it. So it will be an adventure. So I’ll be forced to figure out everything from flight transfers to directions to activities all by my lonesome. It will be the beginning of a new era—and if all goes according to plan, maybe this will become a new thing for me. Vacations just for me, only taking into consideration where I want to go? Could be that I’m on to something new….

Bis bald, my friends! (And I think I’d better learn a bit more German before I head off to Munich by myself next week than just that one phrase…I’ll have to work on that).