Day 5 in Iceland

Day 5 in Iceland – Black Sand Beaches, Glaciers, and More Waterfalls!

Our 5th day in Iceland began just like our 3rd day – it was windy and rainy, but we nonetheless ventured out to meet our tour guide. This time, we would be touring Southern Iceland!

Our tour visited a lot of places and it was a very, very long day. Here’s where we went!

Reynisdrangar

Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks that stand under the Reynisfjall Mountain, at the end of a black sand beach. Reynisfjara beach, where Reynisdrangar stands, is considered one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.

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Our tour guide told us that legend says the sea stacks were formed when two trolls were trying to pull a three-mast ship to the shore. They were caught by the sunlight when the sun rose and turned into stone. They now sit on the beach forever as stone stacks.

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The beach itself is super beautiful. The waves are very dangerous here – they come up really high up on the shore so you always have to make sure you never turn your back to the ocean. The waves can suddenly come up and sweep you out!

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Sólheimajökull Glacier

Sólheimajökull is a part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the Katla caldera, a fierce volcano that will one day erupt. A visit to Sólheimajökull will show you that climate change is a real thing. Our tour guide told us that at one point, Sólheimajökull reached out into the parking lot. Now, it’s a solid 20 minute walk until you reach an actual part of the glacier. As you walk further in, all you see is brown water and dark ice bobbing in the water – a result of pollution and volcanic ash.

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When one thinks of Iceland, one thinks of glaciers. Sólheimajökull was the only glacier we saw during our trip (the road to Jökulsárlón closed midway through our trip). Despite the fact that it didn’t look like what most people think of when they hear the word glacier, it was a really powerful and striking image for me.

 

Skógafoss

Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in southern Iceland. It is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. According to Viking legend, the first Viking settler in the area buried treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. The legend claims that locals were able to find the chest of treasure, but was only able to grab the ring on the chest before it disappeared. I wonder if there’s still treasure back there?

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Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall in the Southern part of Iceland. It is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland – partially because you can walk behind the falls into a small cave. I think it’s really, really neat that you can do this. You do get super wet if you go all the way back there, so do go prepared.

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We went to about 4 waterfalls during our time in Iceland and I think Seljalandsfoss was my favorite one. It’s very subtle and small, but I loved how beautiful it looked in the sun. We even managed to catch a bit of rainbow when we were there.

Day 4 in Iceland

Day 4 in Iceland – The Blue Lagoon

There seem to be a lot of mixed reviews regarding the Blue Lagoon. Some people think it’s a huge manmade tourist trap that’s expensive and not real. Some people think it’s a really cool experience and would gladly pay the price to spend a few hours just soaking in some moisturizing silica water. I’m part of the latter. While I admit it is a bit of a tourist trap and very expensive, it’s something I think everyone should experience at least once if they go to Iceland.

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I had pre-booked our Comfort Package tickets online along with a roundtrip bus transfer. The trip itself took maybe an hour and we arrived just in time for our time slot. The lockers are a bit hard to figure out as you pick an open one, put your stuff in, close it, and THEN scan your bracelet. I have no idea how they know it’s your locker to your bracelet when tons of people are scanning their bracelets for lockers close to yours.

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You have to do a complete shower before you enter – I saw a ton of people showering with their bathing suits on, which you’re not supposed to do. I wish they enforce this rule a little better. After your shower, you enter the lagoon – either from the inside or by walking outside. There are hooks on the outside with numbers for you to hand your towel or robe. We brought our own flip flops so we left those by our towels as well.

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The water is so warm and so soothing. We ended up throwing our original plans out the window and saying for almost 5 hours. First we went for our silica masks, which I think is pretty darn amazing. My pores felt smaller and I noticed fewer blackheads after we used them. Our Comfort Package included an Algae mask as well, which is meant to brighten and nourish your skin.

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I wish there was something like the Blue Lagoon back home in NYC because I would be there all the damn time! It’s so relaxing and a great way to unwind during your vacation.

 

Day 3 in Iceland

Day 3 in Iceland – Waterfalls, Geysers, and Icelandic Horses

Our 3rd day in Iceland started off grey and rainy. Nonetheless, we bundled up and went out to meet our guide for our Golden Circle Tour. The Golden Circle is a very popular tourist route in the Southern part of Iceland, covering about 300km looping from Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back.

Our Golden Circle tour hit several spots –

Þingvellir

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is perhaps best known for the Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. The park is also known for sitting in a rift valley that was caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates. The rift valley marks the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate.

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It is a really, really pretty place to visit and it really gives a lot of history on the beginnings of Iceland as a country. The Öxarárfoss Waterfall was the first waterfall that we had seen in Iceland and while it is on the small side compared to a lot of Iceland’s famous waterfalls, it was no less beautiful.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. The best way to approach Gullfoss is to start from the viewing platform at the top. This really gives you an idea of what the entire waterfall looks like.

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Then backtrack to the stairs that bring you all the way down to the falls itself. You can get really super close to the top of the waterfall, but you do need to be careful as there are no official steps and the rocks are wet.

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The power of the waterfall is truly amazing and at the top, you can really feel the rumble of the water crashing down.

Strokkur

Strokkur is a fountain geyser located beside the Hvítá River in the southwest part of Iceland. It is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers. It erupts almost every 6-10 minutes, but I saw it erupting earlier and later than both of those time ranges.

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Kerið

Kerið (Kerid) is a volcanic crater lake located in south Iceland. It is believed that Kerið was formed by a huge volcanic explosion. Once the volcano erupted and emptied out its magma reserve, the cone of the volcano collapsed into the empty magma camber.

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Kerið was one of my favorite spots on the Golden Circle tour route. The colors of the lake are really spectacular. The red of the caldera offers a really beautiful contrast to the blue of the lake. We had walked all the way down to the lake and you just feel so small standing in such a huge crater that used to be a volcano.

Faxi Waterfall

Faxi Waterfall is located on the Tungufljót River. It’s fairly close to Gullfoss and Geysir, so a lot of tourists stop here after visiting those two sites. According to our tour guide, the waterfall is full of salmon and is a very popular spot for fishing.

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Pit stop to pet some Icelandic horses!

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Days 1 + 2 in Iceland

Days 1 + 2 in Iceland – Northern Lights, a tall Church, and Bonus Supermarkets

Our trip to Iceland started off with us landing at 6am in Keflavik Airport, which is about 45 minutes away from the city of Reykjavik. Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, we made our way to the FlyBus for our ride into the city. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel (quick shout out to Centerhotel Midgardur, which I really loved), we set off on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik, to look for breakfast.

I highly recommend Sandholt. They open super early and stay open later than a lot of the shops and cafes on Laugavegur, so I really like them. We would often stop in for a mid-afternoon or post-dinner treat since they sell all sorts of goodies – sandwiches, bread sliced to order, pastries, desserts, etc.

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After breakfast, we ventured down to the waterfront towards Harpa, which is a really pretty concert hall/conference center. It’s beautiful during the day, but absolutely stunning during the night when all the colors are reflecting off of the façade. It features a very distinctive colored glass façade that was inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. The inside is free to visit and explore and there are several gift shops inside as well.

 

We spent the rest of the day exploring Laugavegur and doing some souvenir shopping. Yes, that’s right, we started souvenir shopping on our very first day!

The rest of our first night was Northern Lights hunting! The forecast for the night was between a 2 to 3, which is about a mid-range forecast. We drove out about 1.5 hours away from Reykjavik before we could see it. And when we did, it was glorious. I can’t believe we were so lucky to see the Northern Lights on our first day! Being from the city, I have also never seen quite as many stars as I had that night in the middle of nowhere Iceland. Truly a beautiful and unforgettable night!

 

Our second day in Iceland started off pretty late. We had breakfast at the hotel and made our way down to the waterfront to check out the Sun Voyager or Solfar. It is described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. It’s really cool and very large. I enjoyed seeing it.

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We then made our way to Hallgrímskirkja, one of Reykjavik’s most iconic sites. You can see this church from a lot of places in Reykjavik. It’s pretty striking when you’re walking up one of the side streets from Laugavegur and spot it on the hill top. At 74.5 meters high, it is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures as well. The structure of the outside of the church, in my opinion, is the most interesting part of visiting. It is said to have been designed to resemble the trap rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape.

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You can visit the top of the church to get a fantastic 360 degree view of Reykjavik. It costs 900KR.

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After our visit to the church, we checked into our AirBnB, which I am linking here, because I absolutely loved it and want to share it with everyone. It’s just a short 5 minute walk from Hallgrímskirkja, meaning you can use Bus Stop #8 for any drop offs or pickups for tours.

After settling into our AirBnB, we made our way over to the Bonus supermarket. I am completely in love with Bonus. I love their logo. I love their prices. I love their selection. I just love everything about them!

The prices are legit about half of the prices in all the other stores in Reykjavik and most of the time the selection is exactly the same. They sell pretty much everything that you need – except maybe razors. I’m the type that loves to buy candy and snacks back as souvenirs for friends and family and Bonus was THE SPOT to do it. They had all sorts of local Icelandic candies and snacks.

 

 

Labor Day Weekend in Chicago

When it came time to plan our activities for September, we figured we could work around Labor Day and do a small trip somewhere close to Michigan. We bounced a few road trip ideas around and settled on Chicago since I have never been. It’s about a 4 hour drive from Dearborn, Michigan, so not too far but also not too close.

We began our drive on a Saturday morning and arrived in Chicago around 11:30am – we had not accounted for the one hour time difference! Our first stop was Superdawg’s Drive In, which was a recommendation from a coworker. She highly recommended Superdawg’s for a Chicago-style hot dog. It was pretty darn good and I am also highly recommending it!

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We hit the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory after a quick lunch since our AirBnB was in the Lincoln Park area. Linking it here for anyone who’s interested because we had such a nice stay there, I feel like I need to tell everyone about it!

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The Zoo and Conservatory are both completely free, but you will have to pay for parking if you cannot find street parking. You can probably spend a solid 3-4 hours at the Zoo – there is so much to see!

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Our second day in Chicago began with a visit to see the Cloud Gate, or the Bean, in Millennium Park. We tried and failed to take some selfies. Much fun was had.

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We then wandered to Grant Park to check out the Buckingham Fountain, which is HUGE! If you’re into fountains, I highly recommend this.

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Then we walked some more and got to Museum Campus for a visit to the Shedd Aquarium. Bank of America actually offers free general admission to the Aquarium for the first full weekend of every month, so we took advantage of this. We spent about a solid 3-4 hours in the Aquarium and thoroughly enjoyed our time.

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After a brief break, we headed over to the Field Museum, which is a natural history museum. If you’re a fan of totem poles, you’re in for a treat! There is a lot to see at the Field Museum, so plan to spend at least 3-4 hours here.

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Dinner that night was one of our only sit-down meals of the trip. We went to The Purple Pig on a recommendation of a friend and had a lovely meal. Definitely get the Uni Toast and the Chocolate Blackout Cake!

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Our last day started off with a nice walk along North Avenue Beach, which is a beach along Lake Michigan in the middle of Chicago! The walk was really nice and we wished we had brought our bathing suits!

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We ended our trip with lunch at The Little Goat Diner, which was jam packed! We split an order of their Dark Chocolate Crispy Pancakes and a Goat Patty Melt, which were both delicious. Ask for their special condensed milk creamer for your coffee, you won’t regret it!

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We had a lovely time in Chicago and I definitely wouldn’t mind going back to check out a whole bunch of other attractions we had missed. Until next time!

Weekend Trips to Michigan

Since the BF lives in Dearborn, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Southeast Michigan lately. Before we started dating, I think I had Michigan as a state I would probably fly or drive by, but wouldn’t visit on my spare time or for vacation. But you know what? It’s slowly growing on me – there is actually quite a lot to do here and a lot of really good food.

At the time of this post, I would’ve spent 6 weekends in Dearborn, Michigan. We usually try to do at least one activity outside each day, although sometimes it just means grabbing lunch and seeing a movie. Most of the credit goes to X since he’s the one who plans our activities!

So what is there to do and eat in the southeast part of Michigan? Read on to find out!

One of the very first places I visited was The Henry Ford, which is Dearborn’s biggest attraction. The Henry Ford is a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex. It consists of the Museum, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory. I have yet to do Greenfield Village, but the Museum and the Factory Tour are both stellar activities. The Museum has a little bit of everything – apparently Henry Ford liked to collect a lot of random items! The Rouge Factory Tour, however, is my favorite. You get to see how a Ford F-150 is made from the beginning to the end. It’s an actual factory that produces F-150’s, so you really get to see everything.

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Dearborn is very close to Detroit proper, so a trip to the city is always a good outing for the day. There is a lot to see in Detroit – and even more great places to eat. A visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts is a great way to spend the day. In particular, I quiet liked walking down along the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor. On a nice day, it’s really pretty place to go for a walk after lunch or brunch!

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The Detroit Zoo, which is actually located 2 miles north of Detroit proper in Royal Oak, is another great place to spend a nice day. The Zoo is reasonably priced and very well-kept. The exhibits are pretty big for the animals and there is a lot to see. There are also a lot of picnic areas for people who want to pack a lunch and make a day of it.

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Dearborn is also very close to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. It’s a very cute and quaint college town, with amazing restaurants. I’ve been to Ann Arbor a few times – sometimes just to eat and other times to just walk around. It’s a really cute place to just stroll through the streets. Stop by Zingerman’s Delicatessen for a delicious Reuben sandwich or Frita Batidos (in downtown Ann Arbor) for some delicious Cuban-inspired street food.

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Zingerman’s Delicatessen
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Frita Batidos

The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens is free to visit and a great place to spend the day for plant lovers – or just people who like looking at pretty things like us! The Gardens includes botanical gardens, natural areas with trails, and several research-quality habitats, which means you can spend a few solid hours here.

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Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

When it came down to planning the BF’s birthday weekend, I wanted to do something fun and go away for the weekend. Since we only had 2 days and 1 night to spare, it cut down a lot of options. I toyed with the idea of going away to the shore for the weekend, but most B&B’s won’t let you book for only 1 night during the summer season. A co-worker from Michigan clued me into Cedar Point, an amusement park located on a Lake Erie peninsula in Sandusky, Ohio. It’s apparently the, “Roller Coaster Capital of the World”, according to their slogan.

So on a Saturday morning, we piled into the car to drive 2.5 hours out to Sandusky, Ohio. The drive wasn’t too bad – and a lot of it was quite quaint and scenic. We arrived at about 11am and cruised right in with our prepaid online tickets. There is a TON to do at Cedar Point, even if you don’t ride roller coasters (like me). It’s also very kid friendly with Camp Snoopy, Planet Snoopy, and Kiddy Kingdom areas filled with rides.

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They have a pretty nice Ferris wheel, the Giant Wheel, which goes up 136 feet. It’s considered one of the tallest wheels in North America. The view from the top of the wheel is quite spectacular.

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If you’re not afraid of heights, they also have a tower swinger ride, the WindSeeker, which goes up 300 feet in the air. You’re not allowed any loose items, but it offers THE BEST view in all of the rides at Cedar Point, in my opinion.

The BF went on the Blue Streak, their oldest operating roller coaster, the Raptor, and the Rougarou (pictured below). He was on line for the Top Thrill Dragster, which was the tallest and fastest roller coaster when it opened in 2003 (before being replaced by Kingda Ka at Six Flags as the tallest and 1 Formula Rossa at Ferrari World as the fastest coaster), but then it broke down and wasn’t back up for the rest of the day. It looked like a heart attack waiting to happen to me!

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I had pre-purchased a Souvenir Bottle Drink Plan online, which entitles you to free refills on your first day. It was so worth it because we refilled our bottle about 10 times during the entire day! We also split an All-Day Dining Plan, which allows you to get an entrée and a side every 1.5 hours. Since we split the plan, we ate about half a meal every few hours, which ended up being worth it in the long run.

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We spent the night at the Farrell House Lodge, which is located in Sunnybrook Trout Club. We were arriving past check-in time, but they were super nice and pre-checked us in and by the time we arrived, our room was ready to go. It’s a super cute B&B close to Cedar Point with very reasonable rates. Our room was clean and comfortable. We met their night manager the next morning when we stopped by for breakfast, which is included! They have an assortment of cereals and pastries but also had hot breakfast made to order. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and would return if we’re in the area again.

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From http://farrellhouselodge.com/

All in all, I think we had a great weekend at Cedar Point. It was large enough to spend the entire day – but not so large that we felt like we couldn’t do all that we had wanted in one day. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a fun weekend trip.