Ice Ice Iceland Baby

Iceland is hot hot hot right now, and I don’t mean the temperature. I think 1 in 3 people I know have traveled to Iceland in the last 5 years. Welp, I jumped on the bandwagon and now I totally know why. Let me humor you…

  1. It is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.
  2. The people are so incredibly nice and thoughtful.
  3. The Icelandic hotdog is orgasmic.

While I highly encourage a trip to Iceland to indulge for yourself, you might consider waiting until they have the infrastructure to support all of us. The locals shared their stories of both excitement and fear of the increasing tourist destination. At this point, it is fairly untouched by man. Sure there are waterfalls with somewhat of ‘steps’ built in to get to the top, but for the most part, you are really off-roading to get to the most scenic parts of the country. Something I hope stays that way for a long time.

We stayed 6 days and 5 nights, but really we could have eliminated an extra night spent in the godly expensive city of Reykjavik. If you go into the trip with the expectation that you will spend no less than $40 a meal, then you coo. I mean think about it, they have to get everything shipped in…they can’t really grow anything on the land. (Luckily we had the pleasure of celebrating Beer’s 30th birthday after the ban while in town.)  It all makes expensive sense.

A few tips from our jam-packed, yet perfectly relaxing itinerary:

1. We flew Icelandair, and if you forget your previous decade’s earphones to watch TV in the seatback, you can fork over $8 USD. If you are hungry, you can buy your food for $10 USDno free snacks for you! Overall it was a decent airline and we found a good flight deal.

2. Most flights are going to drop you at about 4-8 a.m. local time from North America. To rudely ignore the jetlag, I suggest going right to the Blue Lagoon when you land. We rented a car and snagged it from the airport and spent the next three hours with our bodies in a balmy 100* germ-infested bathtub rubbing mud on our faces with about 75 of our closest friends.

But seriously, the Blue Lagoon deserves its own paragraph. The lagoon is pretty, and warm, and a must-see I agree, but it is not all glamorous. Aside from it being right next to a plant with smokestacks of some sort ruining the view, it is quite expensive for what you get. The changing rooms, while organized as best they can be, are kind of a cluster. Water everywhere, small lockers that can’t fit winter coats, not a whole lot of space to change while hundreds of people come and go and again, water everywhere. We invested in the towel, robe and flip flop package – worth it! (at least in March) The ‘relaxation room’ likely is a magical place when there is no drunk, angry, lying old men. When you walk downstairs it is a free for all with hooks for your belongings. Don’t forget a water case for your phone and ladies, keep your hair up! The food at the restaurant on site, Lava, was tasty with cute décor. Only thing missing was…well, people’s clothes. (You were allowed to eat in your bathing suit/robe) If you want to do a real Icelandic lagoon…read on.

3. Car rental was clutch. We stayed in Reykjavik for two nights in this airbnb perfectly situated walking from the hustle and bustle, with easy street parking and plenty of space. The following morning we drove along the South Coast. You do have to pay to park at some places, but it is an all-day pass, so just make friends with people leaving and then pay it forward.

4. The South Coast drive with our own car made this part of the trip really flexible and relaxing. We didn’t feel rushed to get to one place, or leave another – everything was on our time. Be sure to visit:

5. Once in Vik, we visited a few local places. Few = the only ones available. It was slim pickings, but boy were they phenomenal.
Local brewery: Smiðjan Brugghús
Family restaurant: Halldorskaffi

After a day of chasing waterfalls, we tucked ourselves in to the cutest airbnb ever: Götur Cottage 1. I would live here. You can’t ever forget waking up to the breathtaking hills of Iceland, and the peaceful sounds of…nothing! While we didn’t get to meet Simba the family dog, we sure loved our stay here, tucked away in the middle of nowhere. Speaking of middle of nowhere, try to arrive before nightfall.

6. We woke up in Vik and went on a volcano ice cave tour! We booked through Glacier Guides and it was perfectly organized, worth the cost, and frankly quite the experience! I would highly recommend for a winter activity. We were there in March and it was starting to melt, so plan accordingly. You offroad to get to the glacier (duh), so if you get weezy easily, take some dramamine. We met for our van in downtown Vik at the Ice Cave Bistro, which had some tasty pastries.

On the drive back to Reykjavik there weren’t too many options for food. We had purchased some sandwich fixings earlier in the week and they came in handy during our South Coast adventures.

7. Our next stop was back to Reykjavik. Unfortunately in winter, the other half of the country is closed because of bad road conditions…we will go back during summer! While in downtown, we stayed at the Ion City Hotel. It was centrally-located, decently-priced, good-sized room for two and quite contemporary feeling. Our first night back to the city we signed up for a Northern Lights tour through Viator (Gray Line Iceland) and the first night it was cancelled because of weather. Second night two additional groups stood outside for 2 hours waiting in the cold and the bus never showed up. Apparently it was cancelled and they forgot to tell us. I fought, fought hard, and won. Don’t use them. Opt for what my friend did and book the private jeep excursion, they give you hot cocoa too.

8. Now you know someone who actually stayed in the bubble. Yours truly booked the Golden Circle Tour and it was AMAZING. Our guide made the trip enjoyable and kept us laughing the whole time.

First stop: Thingvellir National Park
Second stop: Haukadalur Geysir
Third stop: Gullfoss Waterfall
Fourth stop: Secret Lagoon
Fifth stop: Restaurant Mika
Sixth stop: The bubbles

Wind is strong on this adventure, layer up, even if it doesn’t feel like you need to. I preferred the Secret Lagoon over the Blue Lagoon- less crowded, cheaper, muddy, felt more natural. Restaurant Mika was super tasty, great hospitality, and they make their own chocolate! The bubbles were exquisite, complete with a view of the Northern Lights! You have a short walk to a shared bathroom and each bubble has a heater for winter time and an electrical outlet should you need it.

9. And finally back to Reykjavik where we walked around and checked out some cool places that are def go-back-worthy:
Bastard Brew and Food
Sæta Svínið Gastropub
American Bar
Prikið
Slippbarinn
The Drunk Rabbit
Apotek Kitchen
Boston Reykjavik
Lebowski Bar
The English Pub
Café Paris
Sandholt Bakery
Bryggjan Brugghús
Harpa music center

Some pro tips:
. Bring your own toilet paper or plan to purchase some at public stops.

. Try the Gull beer.

. They don’t really accept tips, and were kind of awkward when we tried.

. Airport transfer was easily booked through Airport Direct with simple logistics.

. Icelandic customs ask you detailed questions before departing the country, the hardest ones I have ever been asked! “How much did you pay to park at Skogafoss Waterfall?”

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Greek Islands Livin’

I am obsessed with Greece. I am psychotically watching flight alerts for me to go back and check out more of what the Grecians have to offer.

This girls trip was the latter half of the UK royal wedding trip, so not only were we on a high from spending the day in Windsor with our fascinators on, but I don’t think the weather could be any more perfect. The number of times people warned us about the upcoming ‘season’ I couldn’t begin to tell you. They were fearing the cruise ship infestation that was about to succumb their lives (and islands) in just a few short weeks. Soooo what lesson did I learn here? MAY is the time to go. It was ’empty’ according to the locals and honestly it was the best. There were still tons of people around, the freshest of foods, availability in the hotels, 75* weather every day and tons and tons of wine. May is where it is at.

This trip we visited two islands- Santorini and Mykonos. I am looking forward to checking out Crete, Paros, Syros and Symi next time.

We arrived in Santorini first, welcomed by our driver who took the sharp turns and steep rocky roads to our wonderful hotel – San Marino Suites in Fira. Complete with a blow-up flamingo in the pool and a tasty daily breakfast, San Marino Suites was perfect for three of us. It is difficult to go to one of the most romantic places in the world and find a hotel room for three friends. This hotel is walking distance from ‘downtown’ Santorini and we visited it regularly.

In Santorini we had a packed schedule – all of which I would do again – including walking alongside the donkeys that pretended their calves weren’t hurting as much as ours on that incline. Must do’s –

Santo Winery – go for the wine, stay for the sunset
Two Brothers – take an ibuprofen, put the helmet on and take a shot, or two
Santorini Sailing Cruise – don’t go under water if you recently had your hair colored
Hike from Fira to Oia – it is three hours along the waterfront and worth every second, bring water (for you and any furry friends you make along the route)
Drink Yellow Donkey beer – brewed on the island and so far I have not found it anywhere in the states and am super le sad about it
Murphy’s Bar – because obviously I find the Irish pub, wherever I am
Argo – for yummy food and the best sunset (make a reso!)

Santorini was definitely for lovers and there was a honey-moonin’ couple everywhere we turned, but like we always do, we made the best time out of it!

Pro-tip: whatever you pack in that giant suitcase of yours…you gots to carry that thing up and down hundreds of stairs, hills and streets with inclines bigger than what the guys from Jersey Shore are bench pressing on. There is not an elevator in sight – be mindful while packing.

Now it is party time.

The Hellenic Seaways ferry took us from Santorini to Mykonos and was perfect – organized, fast, smooth, clean and comfortable. The next day, the ferry operators went on strike – so be sure you have a plan B in case this happens on your travel day.

Livin’ Mykonos was the best hotel. I would recommend anyone to stay here. Welcome drinks all around! (and we kept ordering them at the bar the next three days after our official ‘welcome’ was over) Livin’ was not on the ocean so we saved a bit of money not being ‘downtown’. However, we were a short ride to/from everything. The hotel was super accommodating, the food was amazing and the pool was clutch. There are a total of seven taxis on all of the island – plan accordingly.

Mykonos was a dream. An expensive dream.

Favorite bar: Alley Cafe and Cocktail Bar 
Favorite bartender: Leo
Favorite bar cat: Bobo
Favorite day club to see Mike Ross from Pearson Specter at: Scorpios
Favorite food: Tie between Jimmy’s street gyros and the hotel’s bread and butter basket

Mykonos did not disappoint. Tons of cute shops, beautiful sunset views, sexy men, $20 cocktails at every bar – but hey, they give out free shots?? The music scene is lit – a lot of dancing and all around everyone having a great time! Just watch out for the chandelier that is about to fall off the ceiling onto your head.

The Mykonos airport has one terminal and cold pizza. They do not, I repeat DO NOT, accept euro that has a torn corner.

I highly recommend Santorini and Mykonos for a relaxing vacation and some fun in the sun.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Grazie, Florence and Tuscany

Florence, Italy – beautiful, yummy and small enough to knock it out in a few days. Florence has a unique existence – full of culture and well, leather. Tons and tons of leather. The streets (can you really call them that when a car can barely fit down them?) are made of stones – making it difficult to travel with suitcases. Once a tour bus hits town, make your run for it! Small airport, small bus station, small everything that makes it even that much more special. By staying true to its roots, it keeps this sense of mystery, that I truly love.

We stayed in this airbnb right in town. There appeared to be more of those available over hotels during our visit. The climb up the stairs with 50lbs of luggage was the only downfall (I think I actually did fall down once or twice). Oh, and the AC doesn’t turn on until 11 p.m., but the host is awesome and flexible and the location can’t be beat!

Bring an empty suitcase to fill with leather products – there is plenty to choose from. Check out the rows and rows of local market.

The city center is very pretty and there are outdoor cafes all around to stop and grab a bite or drink. It is also home to the Santa Maria del Fiore, the third largest church in the world.

David is at the Accademia Gallery. He coo. Buy your ticket in advance with skip the line, walk in, take your picture, walk out. Boom 8 minutes flat.

So much yummy food, but I strongly suggest making a reso at Trattoria Gargani.

We booked tickets to the Uffizi Gallery, but ended up not going to it after hearing feedback from tourists and review sites of just ‘meh’. But check it out for yourself if you are into that kind of thing!

Tuscany, Italy – we were spoiled with a fabulous bride and groom that booked the most beautiful villa and had the most perfect wedding. Shout out to the Tuscan Mommy’s for keeping our bellies full while we laid by the pool sipping that glorious Italian wine. The Borgo is a b+b on site of the villa and was simply adorable.

A day trip from the Villa/Borgo is the town of Volterra. Tons of little jewelry shops, wine and cheese stores and sites for days. Don’t drive downtown in the city center. Trust me.

Italy has so much more I need to explore, hopefully there is another Italian post in my near future.

Addio!

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Oui, Paris

I must say, I didn’t have the Paris experience that most people come back talking about. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely glad I went and had the chance to indulge in the French culture, but three days there was MORE than enough.

We stayed right downtown in the hustle and bustle at the Paris France Hotel. They were very nice and it was centrally located. It was extremely old and, well, small.

The Notre Dame Cathedral is beautiful, not air conditioned and REQUIRES you to leave your passport with the old lady volunteers in exchange for your audio guide. Shawls are available at the mart down the street – because as of the day right before we were there in Summer 2017, shoulders must now be covered to enter. Also, buy in advance through Get Your Guide, and skip the hour wait in line.

I wake up salivating from dreaming about the crepes at Au P’tit Grec. It was worth taking the Metro 45 minutes out and getting lost on the way through the stone-street alleyways. This street food puts street food out of business. Must. Go. Back.

Hey! The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. You’re welcome. Not to fret, everything looks the same inside and she is about 8.5 x 11 that you can go within 15 feet of. We walked in 15 minutes before it closed, went right to Mona, pushed our way through selfie sticks to get a look of her behind a foggy piece of plastic and walked out with 5 minutes to closing. Boom. Efficiency is my middle name.

Through the previously mentioned Get Your Guide, you can get a three-in-one pass and skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Siene Cruise – which was so extremely worth it in dat summer heat.

Speaking of the tower…the guides all make fun of all the tourists because it was just a prop for the International Exposition, or World’s Fair of 1889, which was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The French wanted a monument to be built to celebrate the greatness of France. Alas, we just keep going back. And paying a pretty penny to see it in fact. If I have one word of advice it is: stairs. Take the stairs down, do not wait for the lift. You will be waiting a week to get back down.

Naturally I was le thirsty after the climb down, so grabbing a beer at an outdoor café with a tower view was in order.

The beggar and peddler game is strong around town. It was rather aggressive and irritating, they actual touch you, put a bracelet on you forcefully then scream at you telling you you now owe them money. Dislike. Be careful.

The River Siene is so peaceful and I encourage you to take a tour through it. You can even use it as a taxi service if you want. I fell asleep on the back of the boat at one point it was that smooth and quiet. I took a run along the river one morning and that made the trip worth it. Until I tried to get back to the hotel and almost got hit by two cars, a scooter and burned by someone smoking a cigarette al fresco on the 3-inch wide sidewalks they have all over Paris.

I tried to speak French when ordering food at restaurants and the locals were so rude to us it was not even worth the attempt to be respectful. Apparently they don’t like the money that tourism brings in.

I would for sure say go to Paris, at least once, and experience this for yourself. But next time I get the chance to go to France (hey, that rhymes!), it will be elsewhere.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Feeling Lucky in Ireland

Ah, the homeland (well half of me anyway). I’ve gone to Ireland twice now, and glad I did because it takes a few weeks to see and do everything. If you think you will only go once in your lifetime, go for about two weeks and familiarize yourself with driving on the other side of the road. I was lucky enough to have a native the second time around who had the whole ‘stick shift on hills’ thing mastered.

While we can’t all be welcomed by Gaelic-speaking locals who will make you eggs, sausage and potatoes for breakfast every morning like I did, below is a must-see itinerary to check Ireland off your list whilst a Guinness foam stache on your upper lip. Side note: this list does not include Northern Ireland – it is different than the Republic of Ireland. (Not making that up, read this.)

Pro-tip: Indulge in the Older than Ireland documentary before you go.

Both times I flew in and out of Dublin, no complaints on the airport at all. I do have one simple request though, can a girl get handed a Harp while waiting in the customs line please? Sláinte!

Dublin is fantastic – full of booze, culture, booze and more booze. Turns out the locals can’t tell the difference between a well-trained Irish dancer, and well, me. I made everything up from a few moves my childhood friends taught me and welcomed the rest of the nights’ free drinks that moment forward.

Some fun activities I did beyond the obvious pints at all pubs:

Pro-tip: invest in an aran wool sweater and a knot back claddagh ring – I get tons of use out of both.

Most folks are overly friendly and very hospitable. I didn’t run into one irritated soul. They have a cheery demeanor and a dry sense of humor. The Irish like visitors and love to show tourists a good time. Prepare for a bit of departure from technology – minimal-to-no wifi, old school ticketing processes, cash-only places, cobble roads and tons of fish ‘n chips.

I enjoy a good ode to my heritage wherever I am, but having it fresh and pouring it myself just can’t be beat.

<insert Irish goodbye here>

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

 

Damnnn, Amsterdam

I did Amsterdam sin hookers and drugs, and I can’t wait to go back! This experience was like no other. The city just has some kind of chill factor- sadly I will never be that cool.

We stayed in an airbnb right in city center, it was perfect for walking to and fro. ‘Twas a bit chilly/rainy in October when I was there, but if you can join the other 881,000 bikes on the streets of Amsterdam, do it up! (proof I didn’t make that number up)

The best advice I can give you is to book your tickets in advance for the following tourist traps attractions (all of which were really exciting and I would recommend):

  1. Van Gogh Museum
  2. Heineken Experience
  3. The Anne Frank House
  4. Canal Boat Tour (we went at night!)

Without booking in advance, you will wait for at least an hour outside in a line at each location, says the people not traveling with me that got mad when we walked right past them.

Cheese is amazing and there are cheese stores on every corner. Like giant wheels of cheese. Also samples. Lots and lots of cheese samples.

I have salivating dreams to this day about the poffertjes a la mode with whipped cream and fruit from De Carrousel. It is a literal carousel surrounded by a restaurant. And it is literally amazing. I don’t think I have ever tasted something so sweet and luxurious in my life.

Until I walked to the Albert Cuyp street market the next morning and found my future husband, Mr. waffle maker. He doesn’t know we are getting married yet, but when he finds out, we shall celebrate with a chocolate drizzled, strawberry-topped waffle. Maybe two. The street market is adorable – got all my souvenirs there, amazing people watching, yummy food, cute clothes/scarves, and of course, my future waffle-making husband.

If you can help it, don’t get sick, it is…errr, an interesting adventure finding a doctor on the fly. Also, none of their medicine really ‘translates’ to American meds – no such thing as acetaminophen.

You have to pay for the bathrooms – and they take euro only, no credit card. I tried and got laughed at. Rude.

I would write a blog post about my trip to Copenhagen, but uhhh, it is just a more expensive Amsterdam with a moldy mermaid rock and some castles. Just keeping it real – please don’t be mad, Danish people.

Should have bought that pillow.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Crazed about Croatia – but why?

Is Croatia absolutely gorgeous?! Yes. Is it one of the most photogenic places I have ever been? Also yes. But what is all the tourist hype about? I am not sure actually.

Sadly this is one of those ‘ok, I crossed it off the list’ trips. Croatia (Trogir/Split) didn’t do it for me. At least not enough to go back anyway. I mean it was fun and all, but there are definitely way more interesting places to spend your time/money.

  1. The airport is old and small and have minimal flights in and out each day – they started to add a new runway but ran out of money and never finished it. Super sad if you ask me.
  2. The people were very blunt that they are so poor if tourists stopped visiting during the three months of Summer they would not survive. Mostly everyone is in hospitality come June. We tipped heavily.
  3. They joined the EU in 2013 – luckily they weren’t forced to use the Euro yet because the country is just so poor, they wouldn’t be able to keep up. In Split, they have one bridge that connects you to everything – they started to build a new one but ran out of money and never finished it (I feel like I have said that before).
  4. Speaking of the one bridge connecting the town – you wait in single file line for multiple hours to cross it each day. And by hours, I actually do mean hours. They were planning on starting uber boat when I was there in Summer 2017…
  5. The food is literally the same exact thing at every. single. restaurant. It was not even good, we tried the stew and fish and all the things they were known for and it was not that appetizing.
  6. The beaches are very pretty, but there is no sand, it is all rocks and they are sharp little suckers. DO NOT FORGET WATER SHOES or you will be so uncomfortable and not even go in the water to swim. We were in pain. Until we bought the shoes. For cheap.
  7. Ah right, the water. It is saltier than Charlie in The Santa Clause when he found out there was no chocolate milk left at IHOP. It burns any open wounds or previous sunburns and dries you out like a prune. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  8. All the islands look the same. We joined a boat tour one day and rented our own boat the following day – still, all the same – each island, just the same. Exactly the same. Again, they were all the same. Been to one, you have been to them all.
  9. The popular blue lagoon they are known for is really really pretty, but the trips that go and drop you off for hours at a time – not worth it. You snorkel for 45 minutes and you are ready to leave – there are no bars or anything on the island really. Maybe one here or there, but there was just no people. It was really odd.
  10. The country is mainly Catholic, there are some really beautiful and old churches to visit. And of course we did the Game of Thrones scene when the dragons come out of the dungeon thingy, or whatever.
  11. My favorite thing was our walking tour, ending with a food and wine tasting. This was absolutely amazing, tasty and informational. The company we used is called Sol Travel.
  12. Don’t drink the water. Everything is so cheap there though, so bottled water won’t hurt the bank.
  13. Most things take cash only (Kuna), some will take the Euro. You can’t get by with a credit card.
  14. We stayed in a cozy Trogir airbnb and the host was really nice. He owns a boat so we rented it (and him as a driver) for the day. He also drove us to the airport for a small fee – really a nice family!
  15. A lot of websites will tell you to go to the Krka Waterfalls – we bought a trip there and ate the money after finding out it takes an entire day to get to/from. Plan that out accordingly with your total time in the country.
  16. They do not use clothes dryers. Prepare for your undies to be flapping in the wind in public.
  17. The only thing you need are Lane biscuits. Eat all the biscuits you can.
  18. The sunset over the water made it worth it, and I had really good company. Thanks to Chuck, Swany and Negro for making the trip with us and keeping our yummy Croatian beer Ožujsko cold, ish.

 

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.