Europe

Iceland: A Five Day Itinerary

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.

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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: A 10 Day Itinerary

Croatia: A 10 Day Itinerary

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. 

I'm Sorry Budapest, But I'm Just Not That Into You

I'm Sorry Budapest, But I'm Just Not That Into You

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. 

Food Guide: Hungary

Food Guide: Hungary

Budapest is not just about traditional Hungarian cuisine. It's a city catering to thousands of international travelers each year, and the dining options reflect that. When looking for what to eat in Budapest, you'll find fine and low brow dining options, local and chain coffee shops, and international cuisines ranging from Japanese ramen to French bakeries. Food trucks are a hip new enterprise there and a number of restaurants cater to vegetarian and even vegan customers. 

Food Guide: Croatia

Food Guide: Croatia

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.  

Plitvice Lakes National Park: Croatia's Natural Wonder

Plitvice Lakes National Park: Croatia's Natural Wonder

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. 

Istria: The Region of Croatia You Have to Visit

Istria: The Region of Croatia You Have to Visit

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. 

The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia: It's Not Just About Dubrovnik

The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia: It's Not Just About Dubrovnik

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. 

Food Guide: Stockholm

Food Guide: Stockholm

I was unsure of what to expect with Swedish cuisine. I watched an episode of Chef's Table with some Swedish chef living in a very small town. He had long hair and there was a lot of snow. I know Marcus Samuelsson grew up in Sweden. New Nordic cuisine is a thing I've seen cookbooks for. I ate Swedish meatballs and apple cake at Ikea and enjoyed it. I watched Anthony Bourdain rant about ABBA, as if it were still relevant, and eat goose with singing. I knew hot dogs were a thing, as hot dogs or meat in tube form is a thing in most places these days. I learned from Girl with a Dragon Tattoo that there's a beverage called Aquavit and people drink it a lot. 

Experiencing Stockholm in Photos

My first impressions of Stockholm: European and cold. With time and the change in weather, the beauty of the city grew on me. 

Stockholm Waterfront sparkled in the autumn sunlight. Boats hawking sightseeing tours line the waterfront. I caught this in a moment of good weather on our way to Gamla Stan in the late afternoon before the sun set. 

Gamla Stan glows in the evening light. Home to the Royal Palace, Stockholm Cathedral, and the Nobel Museum, Gamla Stan is the old town of Stockholm. Founded in the thirteenth century, the area is charming and quaint with its butter yellow buildings, alleyways, and cobblestone streets. Check out the Christmas markets and get yourself a glogg (mulled wine, not a type of troll). 

Norrmalm constitutes the most central part of the city. Home to three thousand H&M stores, trendy restaurants, and hundreds of women wearing the same outfit: boxy peacoat, black skinny pants, and perfectly coiffed blond ponytails. My first hostel and hotel was in this area, and I spent a considerable amount of time working in several Wayne's Coffees in the area. 

Moderna Museet I didn't actually step foot in the Moderna Museet, the Stockholm modern art museum, but I did walk past these fabulous primary colored statues. I think it might be a statue of a chicken. A chicken that makes me really uncomfortable. 

The Royal Palace suffers by comparison to the palaces of Great Britain. When I was describing to a friend, what the Royal Palace looked like, I said, "Scandinavian minimalist Baroque." That is definitely an oxymoron, but there's no other way I can explain the architectural style and furnishings of the Royal Palace. 

Built in 1754, the palace continues to be used by foreign dignitaries and the royal family of Sweden today. With the general admission ticket, you can explore the guest apartments and the wedding dress exhibit. 

Djurgården is home to historic buildings, several museums, an amusement park, meadows, and forests. It's also home to this map and this arrangement of gnomes in front of this Benicio Del Toro horror film style building. Yes, multiple gnomes. 

Besides gnome decorations, Djurgarden is home to the Vasa Museet, a museum dedicated to Sweden's worst maritime failure. The largest warship ever built by Sweden, the poorly built Vasa sunk on its maiden voyage, taking thirty people down with it. Lost for three hundred years, Anders Franzen rediscovered the Vasa in 1956. 

On the island of Skeppsholmen, is the af Chapman, a hostel on a 19th-century sailboat. The novelty wore off pretty quick, and I found staying at the boat rather inconvenient. 

Highlights of October 2016

October 2016 was an awesome month for travel. Here are the highlights and stats. 

  • Week long trip to Iceland, which included crossing off two items on my bucket list: hiking on a glacier and visiting the Icelandic Phallalogical Museum (thirty minutes of my life I will never get back *shudder*). 
  • One roundtrip transatlantic flight. Two airports visited: SFO and Keflavik. 
  • Day trip to Muir Beach and the Pelican Inn
  • Two separate day trips to Santa Cruz: one to Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (pretty much my favorite place in Santa Cruz and California) and one to the city of Santa Cruz proper. 
  • Food highlights include the best cinnamon roll I've ever eaten, Icelandic hot dogs, hot chocolate from Chocolate at Santa Cruz, and milk chocolate almond toffee from Donnelly's Fine Chocolates. 

Five Quick Things Americans (And Others) Should Know Before Going to Iceland

The quirky country alone in the North Atlantic has had numerous bloggers wax poetic about the beautiful waterfalls (including me), Viking history, and quaint customs, such as half of all Icelanders believe in elves (this is actually not true). While this is fun and cute, here are a few facts that tourists, particularly American tourists, should know before going to Iceland.

Iceland is Hella Safe

One of the refrains you will hear as a traveler coming from the States is "be safe!" Coming from a large city where people regularly threaten to kill me then ask me for money on my way to get my morning coffee, this is somewhat humorous for me. Traveling is probably a safer option for me than staying where I am. 

Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. According to the Overseas Security Advisory Committee, Iceland does have outlaw biker gangs affiliated with the Norwegian Hell's Angels. I learned about this on the popular Icelandic police procedural Lava Fields. 

Credit Cards are Accepted Almost Everywhere

While you should definitely have some cash, in this case ISK, on hand, almost everywhere in Iceland accepts credit and debit cards. Like the majority of Europe, Icelandic credit cards use the chip/PIN system but this shouldn't be a problem in Reykjavik. Outside of Reykjavik be prepared to enter a 4-digit PIN. Also be aware that many banks will charge fees when using your debit/credit card outside of the country. And always let your bank/CC company know that you are out of the country. 

Don't Be Afraid to Drive

There are blogs out there warning about driving in Iceland because of the variable weather. I am sure in some areas, such as parts of the highlands where you must have a 4x4, and in the winter this may be an issue, but Reykjavik has almost no traffic and the roads in the more rural areas are in good condition. Most rental cars are standard transmission so be prepared to pay more for an automatic if you are renting a car. Iceland, like almost every other country in the world except the USA and Myanmar, uses the metric system and speed limit signs are in KMH. Be aware of the one lane bridges with the pull over spots. Signs with EINBREIÐ BRÚ will warn you of this. 

Bring Your Own Condoms

If you're a condom user (i.e. you're planning on hooking up with some Icelandic lady or gent, or use them regularly with your partner), you should definitely bring your own. They can be difficult to find: we had to go to three different stores to find them; the chain pharmacy didn't even carry them. They can also be very expensive compared to prices in the United States. However, Iceland does have these amazing souvenir condoms with hilarious packaging. I might just order some online. 

Iceland has a fairly open culture toward sex, but according to The Reykjavik Grapevine, Iceland has the highest rates of chlamydia in Europe. Don't be too worried, though: it's higher in the United States. 

 Tipping is not a Thing

While it is not considered rude or illegal in Iceland to tip, it's not really done. Unlike in America, Icelandic restaurants pay their employees a relatively decent wage. Some places will include a service charge if you are eating in so you may pay less if you order to go. If you would like to tip your guide or waitress, you can do so but they may give you an odd look. It is expected to be pleasant and hospitable as part of the culture, not something you need to be paid for. To learn more about tipping behavior, I recommend reading this post from I Heart Reykjavik. Actually, I recommend reading through that blog if you are planning a trip to Iceland. 

Service may be a little different than what you're used to in the United States. You will probably need to ask for your check at a restaurant, at least this was our experience. Your server will probably not ask you at most restaurants how your meal is going. You take your receipt up to the register and not to your server. 

 

There is much more you need to know about Iceland before going, but these were just a few things that I thought it important to share. Have you been to Iceland recently? Is there something that you think people should know before coming? Did I commit egregious slander against Icelandic people with this post? 

Food Guide: Iceland

Food Guide: Iceland

Cinnamon rolls and hot dogs may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of food in Iceland. Known for traditional delicacies such as fermented shark (the food item that Anthony Bourdain says is the most disgusting thing he's ever eaten), puffin, and minke whale, Iceland may not seem like a food destination. And truthfully, I would not consider it a food destination the way I did Vietnam. 

Waterfalls and Glaciers: A Day Trip Along Iceland's South Coast

The Golden Circle gets a lot of the glory in Iceland, but the south coast is a truly exceptional place. With barren volcanic landscapes, countless waterfalls, and one of Europe's largest glaciers, this area is a must-see for any visitor to Iceland. 

Seljalandsfoss

An unexpected side of the highway waterfall. Okay, maybe just for misinformed rubes like us. This is apparently one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. Yeah, I wish I lived in a place where I'm driving and all of a sudden there's a gorgeous wall of water tumbling over a green cliff side. Seljalandsfoss is visible from Route 1, otherwise known as the Ring Road. We originally mistook it for Skogafoss, which is larger and further down the highway. 

This 60-meter waterfall has a cave behind it that can be reached by stairs. Just be careful with your camera and be prepared to get wet. 

Skogafoss

It's hard to believe that we mistook Seljalandsfoss for Skogafoss (travel noobs we are) when looking at the photos. At over two hundred feet high and eighty feet across, Skogafoss is a beast of a waterfall and one of the largest in Iceland. The waterfall marks where the coastline used to be; the coast is now about 3 miles away. Legend has it a Viking buried treasure in the cave behind the waterfall, but I wasn't brave enough to go looking for it. 

The hike up to the top is on a metal staircase. It's quite a trek but totally worth it. Just hold on as the stairs can get quite slippery with the rain and mist coming from the waterfall. 

River Foss

This part of Iceland does not fail to deliver on the pretty factor. The River Foss was an unexpected beauty. We were driving then saw this aquamarine torrent tumbling next to the road. We immediately pulled over and crossed the road. This was one of my favorite things about Iceland: seeing absolutely stunning countryside and natural wonders required almost no planning since it is just there. 

Skaftafell and Vatnajokull Glacier

Now we get to the best part of our entire trip: hiking on Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest glacier by volume in Europe (Austfonna in Svalbard is larger by area).Through most of our trip we avoided guided tours, but this is the one thing I would highly recommend doing with a guide, especially if you're not familiar with glacier hiking. We decided to go with the Glacier Wonders hike with Glacier Guides. This was a three-hour hike with a guide, ours was a Slovakian man named Marek, in a group of about ten. 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. 

Being a complete gear nerd and wannabe mountaineer, I was super fucking excited about getting to use crampons and ice ax for the first time. Our group was small and a mix of people from all over the world: two young women from Scotland, a couple from Holland, several people from Taiwan, a woman from South Korea, and a woman from Japan. Everyone in our group was most likely under the age of thirty-five. It was interesting to see so many young people traveling, especially in October. 

The large tour bus drove about fifteen minutes south from Skaftafell and dropped us off near the base of the glacier. We hiked for about fifteen minutes through volcanic rock and across some sketchy makeshift bridges over a glacier lagoon. The glacier has receded drastically in the last twenty years and most likely will continue to recede rapidly. I considered it a great privilege to be able to see it. 

When we reached the base of the glacier, Marek taught us how to properly attach our crampons and how to hold the ice ax. If you are looking for a tour where you learn how to arrest using an ice ax, this is not the tour to do it. If we had more time, I would have loved to do the ice climbing tour or the longer glacier tour but the glacier was a four-hour drive from our AirBnB and we wouldn't have had time. 

Our guide took us to see a number of crevasses and we drank water straight from the glacier Viking style. Put your ice ax across a stream, hold on, lower yourself in a push-up position and drink from the water. One of the people on our trip tried it twice and fell on her face both times! 

Iceland's south coast is wild and worth the long drive. Next time I would plan to stay in Hofn so we could have more time. Other things to check out are Reynishverfi Beach (the black sand beach with basalt columns), the Westmann Islands (perfect for puffin spotting), and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. 

 

Iceland's Golden Circle

Iceland's Golden Circle

If you have only a short amount of time in Iceland, then the Golden Circle is the adventure to go on. There are several ways you can visit the Golden Circle: a large tour bus group, a smaller tour van, or rent a car. We opted for renting a car through Budget for our Iceland trip since we are super-independent travelers who don't particularly like people. Okay, we're anti-social and we like the privacy of being able to swear and say terrible things. However, if you're more of a tour group person or don't want to dare driving in a foreign country, then there are plenty of tour groups that go out to the Golden Circle. 

7 Spots You Have to Visit in Reykjavik, Iceland

Have a 24 or 48-hour layover in Iceland? Completely jet-lagged from your seven-hour flight and 4 am arrival time, then spend your day wandering around the small, quaint capital of Iceland: Reykjavik. For a city of only 120,000 Reykjavik has plenty to offer tourists even when the weather is crappy. The city is walkable from any neighborhood you would likely be staying in and we found it pleasant even in pouring rain and 30 mph winds. Here are seven things to do, and one place to skip, during your time in Reykjavik. Think of this as not an exhaustive list, but a jumping off point for your own adventures. 

Þúfa by Ólöf Nordal

This outdoor art piece was something that we noticed on our first bleary-eyed morning in Reykjavik. A large grass dome at the edge of the harbor, this art piece provides spectacular views of the city and the mountains across the bay. At the top of the dome structure is a small shed for drying fish, and, in our case, a sheep's head. 

The Harpa (opera house) and the rest of the Harbor from the Þúfa .By the way, that letter at the beginning is pronounced as a "th."

Reykjavik from the Þúfa. 

Drying animal parts aren't creepy at all. Seriously, they would make a lovely addition to more public art pieces. :) 

The Harpa 

Once the only construction project in Iceland, the Harpa or opera house was completed in 2011 and not without controversy. The building is the most expensive in Iceland which sticks out when you think about how it was built during the economic crisis. Icelanders are still divided about the building, both as a symbol and the actual aesthetics. Personally, I think the genius and beauty of the building is best appreciated from the inside. Maybe that was because the outside was obstructed by an Icelandic conference on emergency and rescue vehicles while I was there. 

Beautiful geometric windows and a mirrored ceiling make this building a stunning retreat from the cold outside. 

Mult-colored panes make for the world's most modern and pretty glass beehive. 

Hallgrimskirkja

Possibly the most famous building in Reykjavik, the Hallgrímskirkja is the sixth tallest structure in Iceland. It stands out in the skyline and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city. The outside of the church resembles the prow of a Viking ship and appropriately, a statue of Leif Eriksson stands in front of the church. The inside of the church houses an enormous organ, but is otherwise rather spartan especially compared to the grand cathedrals of Europe (it is a Lutheran church, so this makes sense). You should absolutely pay the seven dollars to go to the top of the church; you will get some of the best views in Reykjavik. 

The view from Hallgrimskirkja. We went on a day with 50 km/h winds and got blown back from the windows. I'm sure on a nice clear day the views are even better. 

The Sun Voyager 

Designed by sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason, the sculpture commemorates the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik. Located down the street from the Harpa, the sculpture depicts a Viking ship and was conceived as a symbol of hope, progress, and freedom. From the pictures I had seen, I thought it was going to be much larger than it was, but is worth checking out on a walk from the Harpa to downtown along the waterfront. 

Tjörnin Lake

 

Okay, calling it Tjörnin Lake is redundant since "tjörnin" translates to "pond." This small lake in central Reykjavik is perfect for an anytime of day stroll. Frequented by 40-50 different species of birds, including enormous evil swans, it is an excellent spot for bird watching. At the south part of the lake is Tjarnagarthur, a statue garden. The city developed around the lake and you can spot prominent buildings such as the supreme court, the Reykjavik Art Museum, the National Museum, and the Parliament building. A late afternoon stroll provides excellent lighting on the water. 

The Settlement Exhibition 871+/-

Discover the history of Reykjavik at this small exhibit. Home to the oldest human relics in Reykjavik, the exhibit is built around the archaeological site of a longhouse built around 871. The museum features technologically enhanced interactive exhibits such as a touch screen table that provides specific information on each part of the longhouse. Personally, it was not my favorite museum in Iceland (that goes to Viking World) and, like many things in Iceland, it was overpriced (1500 ISK which is around 13.07) for a one room exhibit. 

Laugavegur 

Normally, shopping is not an activity that I look forward to, and I still didn't do much of it in Iceland since the prices are so expensive. However, I did enjoy wandering around Laugavegur and its surrounding streets. Laugavegar is the major shopping street in downtown Reykjavik with many shops for tourists (i.e. at least fifty puffin related stores). If you're looking for famous Icelandic knitwear or puffin related merchandise, then this is the place to go. There's also a number of smaller art galleries and non-puffin related stores. There were several bookstores in the area, which is something that is becoming a novelty in the United States. This is where most of the restaurants in town are located and where you can spot the Wall Poetry from my other post on Reykjavik street art. 

 

These seven tourist spots are just some of the places and attractions you can find in small, but mighty Reykjavik. There are numerous museums, the Grotta lighthouse in Seltjarnes, and the Pearl, but we didn't have a chance to check those out. Well, we went to Grotta but only at night so there were no pictures. Now, onto one place to skip. 

The Icelandic Phallological Museum

I have to admit that the Icelandic Phallalogical Museum was on my list of must-dos in Iceland along with the northern lights, hiking on a glacier, and eating an Icelandic hot dog. I was pretty damn excited by the quirky museum dedicated to all things to dick, but like a lot of my early relationships, I was disappointed. 

At first, I thought oh cool, enormous whale penis in a jar. That's kind of neat. But after the fourth or fifth hacked-off cock in formaldehyde and the cod-piece made of whale penis skin, I was done. It honestly made me a little queasy and this is coming from the person who looked at every single agent orange aborted fetus at the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam. 

I wanted the museum to be cheeky fun but it just felt like someone's creepy basement collection. 

The Wall Poetry of Reykjavik in 25 Photos

With around 120,000 people, Reykjavik would not register as a city in California, but this capital of the North Atlantic nation of Iceland is the country's largest city and cultural hub. At first glance, Reykjavik comes across as a quaint Scandinavian mid-sized town, but looking past the clean Nordic lines and colorful houses, Reykjavik's art scene makes its mark around the city center and outer neighborhoods. 

Around almost every corner a mural popped out at me and took me by surprise. Mostly completed in 2015, much of the artwork was for the Wall Poetry for the Iceland Airwaves Festival. You can learn more about the specific artists and artwork at this post from I Heart Reykjavik

Right down the street from our AirBnB in Old Town. Erotic street art on a large scale. 

Bender laser beam eyes and a volcano. Found on Laugavegur in downtown Reykjavik. 

Intergalactic rainbow unicorn not far from the Reykjavik City Hall in the Old Town area. 

I think this one was on the side of the Bergsson RE building in the Harbor. 

This was one of my favorites. A girl riding a moth and tearing it apart at the same time. In the Harbor. 

The side of a sushi restaurant in the Harbor. The roof had an octopus birthday cake statue. 

Side of a house in the Old Town area near our AirBnB. 

This is certainly not a lie. 

Beer can street art. This was located in the main shopping area of Reykjavik. 

Vomit or spitball? In the downtown shopping area of Reykjavik. 

Angry chimpanzee holding a streetlight pitchfork. Possibly. In downtown Reykjavik. 

Puritan meets gangster. 

Stairway to FISH.

I think it says Glacier RWS. Yeah, don't know what that means. 

C is for Pineapple. No, that doesn't work. 

Very Picasso meets spray can. 

Inside look into a downtown Reykjavik building. 

I think many American tourists have this misconception that Reykjavik and Iceland are this pristine Nordic fairyland. I was certainly under the impression, from watching such shows as No Reservations, that everything was clean, straight lines and perfectly painted buildings. The empty lots and tagging relieved me in a way. 

A piece by the Ugly Brothers from a parking lot. It reminds me of Marvin the Martian, but on acid. A lot of acid. 

One of my favorites. It reminds me, most likely mistakenly, of Freyja. It completely wraps around to the front of the building. 

Frankenstein vampire. A mash up of 19th century Gothic novels. 

A depiction of Fenrir, the son of Loki and Angerboda. What is more metal than street art meets Norse mythology? Love it. 

My boyfriend dubbed this one "sad pigeon."

Some pretty birdies. 

Creepy child mural in a park. 

This is an exhaustive collection of the Wall Poetry of Reykjavik or its street art. I loved walking around the city and finding these around almost every corner. I felt like I was on the hippest treasure hunt. 

London: Cultural Voyeurism and the British Museum

assyrians.jpg
Courtesy of Designhotels.com
Courtesy of Designhotels.com

In December, my boyfriend and I went to London. Boyfriend was on a work trip and we stayed at Eccleston Square Hotel, a swanky establishment in close proximity to Victoria Station. Our exorbitantly priced boutique hotel room was like being stuck in a poorly designed iPad app: slick looking with a plethora of gadgets that did not work consistently or at all. Sometimes the light switches turned on the bathroom lights, sometimes they turned on the towel warmer, and sometimes I couldn't figure out if our door was locked or not.

The bed was completely adjustable and vibrated, which was relaxing after a day of sightseeing or in the case of boyfriend, working. The continental breakfast provided by the hotel was delicious: a selection of cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, croissants (butter or chocolate), cereal, yogurt pots with fresh fruit, and other breads for making toast. Plus coffee or tea or juice. The coffee was fantastic. In fact, I would say that coffee was one of the best damn things about London: not a drip brew in sight, all espresso.

Oh, and the elevators are extremely closed in and have about twenty television sets.

Enough about our Big Brother hotel. I want to talk about my absolute favorite place in London: the British Museum.

I have many mixed feelings about the British Museum, and museums in general: awe at the history, panic at the number of people and exhibits, and guilt, angry guilt mixed with overwhelming passion for all things old. I went three separate times on my week long trip and I want to go back again. A junkie, wanting to relive the first overwhelming awe of staring at thousands of years of history in the face.

Let me get back to the guilt. The British Museum is an ode to British Imperialism and Colonialism. It screams: look at all the places we conquered and subsequently stole from. Cultures reduced to reproductions of architecture, post-it note summaries, and exhibits to be gawked at by thousands of tourists. Cultural voyeurism. At times I felt like I should be wearing a pith helmet and bringing out my smelling salts.

In front of the British Museum.
In front of the British Museum.

White, western guilt aside, I loved the British Museum. A free museum, it is very crowded especially during the holiday season and on a Sunday. It was filled with tourists from all over Europe, particularly Russians, Italians, and Spaniards. While English culture is not far removed from my own American (particularly Californian) culture, my experience as a tourist in Europe was a lesson in cultural differences regarding personal space and public niceties. A few things I encountered in the British Museum and London in general: people get very close to you, such as almost on you; people do not hold open doors and if you hold the door open for them they do not thank you or acknowledge you; and people never seem to say excuse me if they ram into you, cut in front of you, or open a door into your face (all things which happened to me). I suppose one could argue this is big city behavior, but this is not what I experienced in Vancouver, New York City, or Edinburgh. Just London.

I could tell you about everything that I saw in the Museum, but you could get that from a guide book. And really it's worth more to see it yourself. These were my favorite parts of the museum. I apologize for the poor photo quality; I took these with an unfamiliar tablet camera app.

I'm super impressed with the beards
I'm super impressed with the beards
  • Akhadians: All things cuneiform and beards!
  • Façade replica of the Nereid Monument in Turkey.
    Façade replica of the Nereid Monument in Turkey.
  • The Monument of the Nereids: No wonder Cassiopeia said Andromeda was more beautiful. They don't even have heads.
  • Replica of rare Saxon helmet from the Sutton Hoo burial
    Replica of rare Saxon helmet from the Sutton Hoo burial
  • Sutton Hoo: A Saxon Treasure Ship
  • Tablets on Gilgamesh, how to read tablets, and a thesaurus
    Tablets on Gilgamesh, how to read tablets, and a thesaurus
  • Cuneiform Tablets: Tablets about how to read a tablet. I took this photo on a tablet.
  • This cup: "East India Sugar: Not Made By Slaves"
  • blue cup
    blue cup

    I also loved the Ghana coffin, African textiles, and Buddhist statuary exhibits. The Japanese history exhibit was also greatly enjoyable. But seriously, how can you beat a tablet that's about how to read other tablets? Did I mention I went here three different times during a week trip?