When people think of Michigan, they don't think of a vacation destination. They think of Flint's water contamination and the failing auto industry. But Michigan is so much more than that.
An hour east of Redding are the towering volcanic peaks of the lower Cascade mountain range and green meadows of Lassen Volcanic National Park. One of the least visited national parks in California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an excellent choice for hikers looking to get away from the crowds of Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks. With a number of different landscapes to offer from sulfur vents to mountain peaks, Lassen is one of my favorite national parks.
Vietnam doesn't carry the same allure as other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. It doesn't have the well-worn backpacker trail, golden temples, or pristine beaches. Vietnam is not likely on the top of most people's lists for places they want to travel in Asia. The only reason it was on mine was one man: Anthony Bourdain. As an avid reader and watcher of his work, I became obsessed with going to Vietnam after listening to him wax poetic about it for years. This is how we spent our two weeks in that amazing country.
June brought me back to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit family. We explored the lower peninsula including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the largest Christmas store in the world, and Kalamazoo Nature Center. We ventured on the edges of the upper peninsula, staying the night in St. Ignace and visiting Mackinac Island for a day trip. June also brought new and exciting adventures in home ownership.
Iceland is a popular destination from North American and Europe, and with airlines like WOW offering rock bottom prices on flights to Europe with a layover in Iceland, it's popularity will only increase. Iceland is a magical place: waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, the northern lights. Its beauty is unavoidable. Here is how to spend five days in this small, adventure-packed North Atlantic island.
Day One “Reykjavik”: Most likely, if you’re coming from the States, you’ll be arriving in the early morning at Keflavik airport. I would highly recommend renting a car from Avis or Budget Rent-a-Car at the Keflavik airport. Make sure when you do rent a car you’re renting it from this location unless you want to be stranded at the airport without any way into Reykjavik like the poor women in front of us at the rental agency. Renting a car in Iceland is surprisingly inexpensive compared to California (less than $300 USD with insurance and extra damage protection for five days) and driving around the following recommended areas is surprisingly easy. Yes, there’s weather to consider and plenty of areas you should not take your rental car or any other non-ATV. Keflavik airport is approximately forty-five minutes from Reykjavik but it’s an easy drive.
Once you’re settled in and it’s at least nine in the morning (nothing really opens in Reykjavik before nine), head to Laugavegur shopping area in downtown Reykjavik for a cinnamon roll at Brauð and Co. Fluffy and tender on the outside and gooey on the inside without being overly sweet, these are the best cinnamon rolls I’ve had in my life and, sadly, it’s the best inexpensive food you’ll have in Iceland. If you’re looking for a more substantive breakfast, go to Sandholt Bakery for the simple yet tasty fare. After you slake your hunger, walk over to the Hallgrimskirkja, the towering organ shaped church you cannot avoid seeing. From the top of the tower, for a fee, you get some of the best views in Reykjavik, even on a day with near-hurricane strength winds and rain. I would just take this day to acquaint yourself with Reykjavik, discover the street art, and check out the main tourist spots: the Harpa, the Sun Voyager Statue, the Þúfa, and the Settlement 871 +/- museum. When you get hungry, head to a hot dog stand, it doesn’t have to be BAEJARINS BEZTU PYLSUR, which is the famous hot dog stand former President Bill Clinton ate at.
Day Two “The Golden Circle”: The Golden Circle contains the most bang for your buck in Iceland. There’s a number of ways you can visit the Golden Circle, a circular route through some of Iceland’s top natural tourist attractions: a small tour van, a large tour bus, or renting a car. Don’t be afraid of taking your rental car here and avoid having your schedule dictated by a tour group. As I wrote back in 2016, “The first stop on the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park. This national park is home to the first parliament in Iceland, truly the first parliament in the western world. When I think of this, what comes to mind is a line from the show Vikings ‘Are you going to the Thing?’ Because of this, Thingvellir was named the first national park in Iceland in 1930.” Thingvellir is not only an important historic site but an important geologic site. Next stop on your self-guided tour of the Golden Circle is the Haukadalur geothermal valley, home to geysers Geysir and Strokkur. If you’re hungry by the time you get here, then you can get lunch at Saup for a warm bowl of vegetarian soup. Your last stop of the day is Gullfoss, or golden falls, one of the largest and best-known waterfalls in Iceland. Typically, the water takes on a blue-green color but don’t be disappointed when it’s a murky brown. While there are prettier waterfalls in Iceland, this one impresses with sheer volume.
Day Three “The South Coast”: While the Golden Circle is more well known to people outside of Iceland, the more remote South Coast is home to truly stunning scenery. With barren volcanic landscapes, countless waterfalls, and one of Europe's largest glaciers, this area is a must-see for any visitor to Iceland. The highlight of the day will take some planning ahead: reserve a spot on a glacier tour at Vatnajokull Glacier. I would recommend the Glacier Wonders hike with Glacier Guides. This is a three-hour hike with a guide in a small group. The tour costs 10,990 ISK per person. If you want to rent boots, a fleece, or a waterproof jacket they cost an additional 1,000 ISK. They provide you with crampons and an ice ax. Hiking on western Europe’s largest glacier by volume is an incredible experience and a privilege; the quickly receding glacier will not be here much longer. The drive to the glacier is approximately four hours and along the way you should stop at both Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. One word describes this drive: majestic. At one point my vista was a rainbow, romping Icelandic horses, a waterfall, and a glacier, the definition of majestic.
Day Four “The Snæfellsnes Peninsula”: Now when we were in Iceland, we were hit by the tail end of a hurricane on the day we wanted to go to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This area is not the type of place you want to drive in windy conditions and we stayed inside watching fifty mile per hour winds cuddling with the neighbor’s cats. From what I’ve heard it’s beautiful and a great place to view puffins and other seabirds. I Heart Reykjavik has a great post on how to drive through the area yourself and is a great resource for travelers to Iceland.
Day Five “The Blue Lagoon” or “Reykjanes Peninsula”: Everyone who has thought about going to Iceland knows the Blue Lagoon. With over 600,000 visitors a year, it is Iceland’s most visited tourist attraction. It does take some planning ahead, reserve a time slot before going, and it can be difficult to get a good time slot during more popular times of the year. We made the mistake of not planning ahead on this and ended up not going. Plus, it’s pretty expensive and crowded. Instead, we opted to drive around the Reykjanes Peninsula. On the Reykjanes Peninsula, where Keflavik Airport is located, you can visit Iceland’s oldest lighthouse Reykjanesviti, view the Bridge Between the Continents or hike around one of Iceland’s largest nature reserves, Reykjanes Nature Reserve.
On any of the above nights, try driving outside of Reykjavik to view the northern lights or book yourself on a northern lights tour. Remember the days are long in summer and your likelihood of seeing the northern lights in the summer is minimal. The best times of year to see them are from September to mid-April.
Croatia could fit into California three or four times. It's a small country and when people visit they spend most of their time in Dubrovnik or along the Dalmatian coast; they might even take a day to venture into Plitvice Lakes National Park. In this itinerary, we're going to skip Dubrovnik; there's plenty of guides out there for it already. For this ten day itinerary, I'm going to try to give you a bit of everything: the capital of Zagreb, Istrian countryside, Dalmatian beaches and an island, and the waterfalls of Plitvice. Croatia has so much to offer that ten days is not nearly enough to experience its natural charm and beauty.
Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe I was hoping for something that doesn't exist. Growing up, Budapest seemed like an exotic bridge between the east and west. In reality, Budapest is decaying, gray grandeur, an ode to a lost empire overlayed by years of communist oppression and the current right-wing fascist government. There was an air of unease and overwhelming tobacco smoke, anti-government graffiti poking its head around the corner. And in between the mildewed and dirty wedding cake of Austro-Hungarian buildings were tour busses and backpackers choking the alleys.
You might be asking yourself at this point, did she eat anything good in Hungary? The answer is yes! I ate an incredible meal in Eger, Hungary. Eger is located in the heart of wine country, about two hours east of Budapest. While I would not recommend going to Eger unless you're a true wine lover, if you are out there I suggest eating at Macok Bistro.
It's hard to put my finger on why I dug Zagreb so much.
If you couldn't tell from my numerous posts on hiking or my love of all things tree, I love nature and green spaces. Zagreb is full of parks and tree-lined walkways.
Whenever I'm in a new place, I love walking through the streets and discovering street art. It's one of my favorite things to photograph and gives me a real feel for a place. I found the street art in Zagreb to be playful with its palette of primary colors.
Zagreb isn't slacking in the architecture department either. It's an interesting mixture of Austrian, Italian, and eastern European influences.
Zagreb has the most diverse food scene in Croatia, as well as the staple caffe bars, gelato, and pizza joints.
With its excellent fresh seafood, expertly grilled and roasted meats, and quality ingredients, Croatia is a food lover's paradise. Whether you're looking for a luxurious truffle-centered feast or a simple sausage and bread sandwich, Croatia delivers delicious food. Eating in Croatia is an experience and as a diner you should take your time to experience the culture around eating and food.
When people think of visiting Croatia they think of two things: Dubrovnik and the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park. With crystal clear blue waters and countless waterfalls, Plitvice is unbelievably beautiful and a must-do on any trip to Croatia.
I've never been to Italy; it's never been high on my bucket list. However, when I think of Italy I think of hillside villas surrounded by rolling green vineyards and gorgeous sunsets while eating pasta. This is what Istria, the region of Croatia closest to Italy, is: your dream of Italy but without the tourists and the tourist prices.
When you mention going to Croatia, everybody asks: are you going to Dubrovnik? The red tile roofs and white walls of the city are easily the most identifiable landmark in Croatia and its main tourist attraction.
Separated from the rest of Croatia by a strip of Bosnia-Herzegovina, going to Dubrovnik often means skipping the rest of a beautiful gem of a country. While I would love to go back to Croatia and visit Dubrovnik, I'm perfectly fine with not visiting it the first time around. The red tile roofs and crystal clear blue Adriatic are to be found all along Croatia's Dalmatian coast.
March and April were slow travel months. In March, I didn't leave the state and opted to stay local to the bay area and southern California. In April, I left the state once to attend the Women in Travel Summit 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I wanted to keep it slow these past couple months to give myself enough energy to handle the travel heavy months of May and June; I will be flying out to Croatia in a couple days and will be in Eastern Europe for most of the month. In June, I will be spending half the month visiting with family in Michigan. It's going to be a hectic few weeks.
This last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Women in Travel Summit 2017 put on by the travel organization Wanderful. This industry event caters to women in the travel industry: tour guides, travel bloggers and influencers, and tourist industry representatives. Hilton City Center Milwaukee hosted the event. While I've attended education and teaching conferences, I've never attended a travel industry conference. Here's what I learned.
My time in Ventura is coming to an end. I will be gone for almost the entirety of May visiting friends in Croatia and we move up to the Redding land in June. With my move-out day growing closer, I wanted to write a smidge about my time spent eating in Ventura. While the list is not exhaustive of every place I've eaten here, it's pretty close. If you're not up for an extensive review of seventeen different Ventura restaurants then I would skip this post. Or if you're hungry and the only thing left in your cupboard is an expired can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.
Hiking is my favorite form of exercise. I can't think of anything better than enjoying beautiful nature, breathing fresh air, and the exhausted feeling of accomplishment when I finish. I don't hike nearly enough anymore. The rain this season put a hamper on a number of weekend days that I could have been hiking. Then there's my general laziness since I got a desk job. The only way to remedy that is to get out and do it more.