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. 

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. 

May Travel Round Up

May Travel Round Up

May found me visiting friends in Croatia and Hungary. It was my longest time away from the United States since I studied abroad in Costa Rica twelve years ago. The trip brought some major ups and downs but I can't wait to go back to Croatia and explore more of the small yet diverse country.

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. 

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. 

So You Think You Can Work Remotely

You try to quit your job, but your boss doesn't want to let you go. He or she offers to let you work remotely, gives you an eleven percent raise, and thousands more shares in the company; you think you've captured the goose that lays the golden egg. You don't have to wear pants to work, you can do laundry during the work day, and you can work from anywhere including Stockholm, Sweden, where I put remote working to the test. Here's what I learned. 

Not Every Place Has Great Wi-Fi

So your hostel says it has free Wi-Fi. It's posted everywhere. You think, great, I won't have to schlep my enormous and heavy laptop all over town and pay for expensive ass coffees and work in noisy cafes. Wrong! Both hostels I stayed at during my stay in Stockholm advertised
free Wi-Fi, and yes, there was completely free Wi-Fi. The first hostel, City Backpackers Hostel, had spotty Wi-Fi that bumped you every few minutes or so back to their homepage. That's fine for when you need to do some casual browsing for which overpriced bar you want to get sloshed at next, but not for when you're trying to get hours of work done. The second hostel I stayed at, af Chapman, didn't have Wi-Fi in the boat section of the hostel where I was staying. However, the main part of the hostel on land had great Wi-Fi, and I was able to work there until the cleaning crew came through. 

So when you give up on your hostel's Wi-Fi, you go in search of a cafe. Go into a cafe where it says FREE Wi-Fi on the door. Purchase an overpriced beverage then get set up. Oops, sorry! They were just kidding about the Wi-Fi. Wayne's Coffee did have reliable Wi-Fi and plenty of space to hang out in, so I didn't feel like an uber weirdo hanging out
Norrmalm writing multiple choice questions. 

Time Zones Are A Bitch

Your boss requires you to check in on Google hangouts every morning so he can keep tabs on how many hours you're working, but you sort of told him you were going to be in Michigan, not Stockholm, Sweden so you have to make sure you're on Google hangouts at a time that is reasonable for the eastern time zone when you're really nine hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. You get your eight hours of work done before your team is even starting work. 

Everything is Shiny and I Want to See All of It But WORK

So you're in an amazing place you've never been before like Stockholm, Sweden. I had never been to mainland Europe before, let alone Sweden, and I was pretty damn excited. I went over Thanksgiving break but I had to keep working. I've got a deadline coming up, several articles to write, and my own website to maintain. Mostly, it's the forty hours a week job though that I have to keep up with. Because my hostel doesn't have Wi-Fi, I go out to work and then have to come back a couple hours later to charge my laptop. Most of the cafes here don't have outlets and being a complete idiot, I forgot the laptop charging cable for this laptop and ended up bringing my old one. Add on top of that I forgot an international converter and had to buy one, this hasn't been the ideal situation for trying to get a solid eight hours of work in. Plus, there's the wanting to go and check things out. I paid all that money to get here. I'm paying all this money to be here; I should go out and see it! Thankfully, in a way, Stockholm just isn't that interesting to me, and it's as cold as a witch's tit here, so I want to be inside. Just not working. Preferably looking at photos of corgis. 

Travel Plan Hijackers

A couple of weeks before my trip, my friend messages me and asks me if it is okay if she tags along on my trip to Sweden. She already lives in Europe and would be making her way back to Croatia from Italy. It turns out to be cheaper for her to fly from Italy to Stockholm then to Croatia than it is for her to take a bus. I tell, of course, that will be fun. I don't know when I would ever be seeing her again, so it would be a good idea to take the opportunity to see her. Also, our other friend that she had been traveling with was also going to be there. The only downside: the days that she would be there were pretty much my only free days. Turned out to be way more fun exploring with her than it would have been doing it alone but not ideal conditions for creating an efficient life/work balance. 

London: Cultural Voyeurism and the British Museum

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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?