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Travel Archive

Friday

10

August 2018

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Iceland is Out of this World

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I’ve technically been to Iceland a handful of times, thanks to the low fares of IcelandAir, but I’ve never left the airport. The ground outside looked a bit like I imagine the moon would look if it had a few hundred folks living on it. Many friends have visited, and all have raved about it. This summer I finally got to bust out of the Reykjavik airport thanks to the suggestion that my sister, her partner, Austin and I all go together after they visited us in London.

Getting There
There are a few airlines that fly to Reykjavik, but let’s be real. If you’re going, you’re going on Iceland Air. And that’s just fine. It’s a budget airline, but not horrifying like Ryanair. Both our flights we just fine.

Accommodation
We decided to stay outside of Reykjavik, in the town of Hveragerði. The thinking was we didn’t want to be in the big city, but we did want to be along the Golden Circle (more on that later). My sister found a cute little guest house — we got the code for the front door and our rooms via email, and just let ourselves in. The rooms had fine bathrooms, very comfortable beds, a desk and small fridge. We were a two minute walk from the restaurants in town, as well as near some nature trails.

Food and Drink
Iceland is expensive — there’s just no way around it. That said, we were generally able to eat good food without spending all the money. We did eat every meal out, but that’s a bit of stretch. Each of the three mornings we were there, we went to the local bakery and got some Icelandic yogurt (skry – SO GOOD) and a pastry, and then would buy a sandwich to eat later for lunch. Then for dinner, we’d get something local.

Our first night we ate at a restaurant that uses the geothermal energy in the area to cook the food, and one of us ate horse goulash.

Our second night we were in Reykjavik, and thanks to my sister’s research we stumbled upon the Iclandic Street Food restaurant, which happened to be celebrating their one-year anniversary. There were balloons, and cake (so much free cake). They only have three items on the menu, but we each found something we wanted, and ate our food in the bar next door (same owner), as we were entertained by a live saxophonist playing along with 80s hits.

It was amazing.

On our last night, we got pizza in town at a very popular restaurant. That was the only time where the prices REALLY seemed a bit much, mostly because of the cost of the drinks. My gin and tonic was about $17 USD. Yikes. But the food was super good.

Adventures
We rented a car, which I strongly recommend. If you’re going to go in the high season (which is basically July – August), you can’t just wing it — you need to book ahead. And if you want to do any off-roading, you’ll need to specify that with the car you rent. Our car was a basic sedan, which could have been an issue when we ended up on a road that was definitely a road, but also not entirely paved.

The landscape of Iceland is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and yet every part of it seems familiar and bizarre at the same time. Like, there were parts that reminded people of Arizona, or Ireland, but at the same time were unique.

On our way to town from the airport, we made a stop at the Blue Lagoon. I mean, have you ever seen anything like this?

Me neither.

On our first full day we went to two major sites along the Golden Circle: Geyser and Gullfoss.

Geyser is a geothermal park with an active geyser. It’s pretty amazing.

Gullfuss is a giant waterfall more like Niagara Falls than, say Yosemite Falls. Think big, not tall. Also, think breathtaking.

On our way from Gullfoss to Reykjavik, we passed some Icelandic horsies that we could feed and pet. They were adorable.

Reykjavik was fine — I’d like to go back — but the highlight there was definitely the dinner.

On our second full day, we went to Þingvellir, a national park. Gorgeous and odd. It’s situated on the seven-kilometer split where the North Atlantic and Eurasian continental plates are pulling apart. We mostly just stopped to look at some of the natural beauty, although we did see the Law Rock. So, so cool.

On our last day, we drove to a couple tiny towns to get a sense of the country, then made our way back to the airport.

Three nights was obviously not enough. We lucked out and had fantastic weather, but we barely scratched the surface. I’d love to return and do the entire ring road of the island, taking a couple of weeks to really explore it better. But as a first visit? It was pretty great.

 

Thursday

9

August 2018

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Paris in the Summer

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Another cool thing about living in London is that friends will plan a trip to Europe and we can find a way to meet up with them. That was the case with Paris this summer, when our friends from Seattle visited Paris as part of a trip to France.

Getting there
Train travel is so romantic in my mind. Austin and I once took an overnight train from Paris to Munich, and it was both uncomfortable and amazing. Thanks to the chunnel, we can get from London to Paris in under three hours, and it’s amazing. We start out traveling through neighborhoods of London, which eventually dissolve into the English countryside. Then there’s the darkness of the tunnel (where I try to forget where we actually are), followed by the French countryside, and then finally the buildings of Paris. Gare du Nord is a fine station, and on this trip was on one of the metro lines that got us directly to our hotel.

Accommodation
We wanted to be near our friends, so we picket Hotel Victoria Chatelet (http://www.hotel-victoria-chatelet.com/en/). It was absolutely fine for what we needed — centrally located, with a fan (which was much appreciated during the hot summer), a comfy bed, and breakfast (though we didn’t partake). I don’t know that I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t tell people to avoid it, either.

Food and Drink
I mean, it’s Paris. Breakfast every day was a pastry, lunch was a sandwich, and dinner was something French and delicious.

Adventures
Our friends recommended we get a museum pass, since it would keep all of us from waiting in lines. I’m so glad they did, because it was delightful to just show up at one of the dozens of included locations, pass through security, and head in. Especially given how hot it has been in Europe, not standing in long lines was priceless. For the most part, we joined our friends on their adventures, but we also explored the city a bit on our own.

We started out visiting the Louvre. We avoided the most crowed parts, but still managed to see Napoleon’s apartments (he also knew how to throw a dinner party) and the French crown jewels.

We spent a morning at the Rodin museum with our friends – the sculptures there are beyond fascinating.

We also explored the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I finally got to explore the Paris sewers — kind of a must-see for any fan of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It smelled down there.

I’d never been to the Pompideu Center, as modern art hasn’t really been my thing, but I’m glad we went. It was funky and interesting and also a million degrees inside the escalator tubes.

We went to Shakespeare & Co. to buy books.

Saw the Orangerie and the Musee D’Orsay.

Wandered around the Latin quarter, visited the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle.

As always, I cannot wait to go back.

Wednesday

8

August 2018

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Lisbon is Amazing (Ryanair is Not)

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Part of the appeal of moving from Seattle to London is the ability to travel all over Europe fairly easily. Our first attempt to actually do this was thwarted by a snowstorm in March (we promise we’ll get to you some day, Belgium), so we decided that our five-year wedding anniversary would be the moment. We picked Lisbon as the spot, as it was a country that neither of us had been to before, and booked five nights away.

Arriving
Lisbon has something I appreciate whenever I travel: an easy way to use public transportation to get to and from the airport. Upon exiting baggage claim at the Lisbon airport, you’re literally facing the entrance to the subway. Tickets were easy enough to procure, and the one transfer we needed was simple to follow (the train lines are color-coded). It was then just a short walk to our hotel.

After we were settled, we decided to walk around, and realized that we were in town on a religious holiday. Corpus Christi is a Catholic holiday, and in Lisbon they close of streets for a processional, and they also pump the mass audio out into the streets. We were beyond confused at first because we didn’t realize what was happening — we were just hearing choir music all around. A little Googling helped us determine we hadn’t wandered onto a movie set.

 

Sleeping

Because this was an anniversary trip, we went a bit overboard in hotel selection, picking Hotel Corpo Santo which is currently #2 in Lisbon. It was amazing. It’s a new hotel, and not overdone or absurdly fancy — it’s just a lovely place to be, in an excellent location. The staff were delightful, our room was comfy, the shower had lighting and music displays that you could choose to accompany your time in there), and the windows blocked out all the noise. We were only a couple of floors above the main street, and we could hear nothing. Glorious.

Eating
It might be a questionable choice, but the first place we got food in Lisbon was at a Mexican restaurant called Mez Cais, which was just across from our hotel. I enjoy eating local food, but I also think it’s kind of fun to try food from other countries while traveling, to see if it similar to what I expect of such cuisine in my own neighborhood. This was delightful — the margaritas were excellent.

In fact, throughout our time in Lisbon, we had some very good meals, and some fine ones. On the day we visited the castle (more below), we were hot and exhausted and ended up at an Italian restaurant. Their A/C made it one of the best meals I’d had in awhile.

(Side note: has anyone figured out how to do lunch when traveling? I’m always exhausted from site-seeing, cranky from waiting too long, and overwhelmed by options.)

We sampled from the Confeitaria Nacional, which had some tasty (and some odd) baked goods.

We went to the beer museum where I got green wine and accidentally ordered cod cakes.

But honestly, our best meal was probably our last night, which was at the hotel! I know, hotel restaurants aren’t usually the stuff of memories (well, good memories), but this was great. The food was delightful, the waitstaff were so so nice, and the suggested wine pairings were spot on.

 

Drinking
On our third night in Lisbon, there was a friendly football match that we wanted to catch. We initially were in a place called the American Bar. We left at the half because folks were smoking inside. And I’m so glad we did, because next door was Crafty Corner Beer. They serve local beers, have one giant bottle of cider if beer isn’t your thing, and a small bites menu that comes from next door. It’s a relaxed environment that we returned to each night because we could grab a drink, settle into a chair or stool, and just read or relax.

We also got drinks at one of the outdoor cafes along the Tagus. It was beyond relaxing to sit at a shaded table on a sunny day, just sipping something cold and reading a good book.

Exploring
June is when the Festivities of Lisbon take place, so there were little pop up markets in many of the city parks. The one across from our hotel featured some traditional Portuguese singing one night – everyone in the area was singing along and having a blast. It was delightful.

There is a ton to do and see in Lisbon — here is a sampling of what we did.

We visited the old palace, which is now open to the public as a museum. They did not fuck around with their dinner parties.

We enjoyed walking around that neighborhood because it wasn’t as tourist-focused as some others, at least not on the walk from the palace to the river. It felt more like just a normal place where people live.

Also, there were peacocks.

So. Many. Peacocks.

By chance an M. C. Escher exhibition was in town, and we stumbled upon it as we were exploring the Alges area.

We also looked at the monastery from the outside, but the line to get in was a bit long.

Instead, we went down to the river and spent a little bit of time puzzling over this giant monument. The focus on exploration as a very Portuguese thing is understandable, but there wasn’t a lot of acknowledgment of the whole colonizer thing…

We walked up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which gives you an amazing view of the city.

We walked back down, and saw some shops (include bookshops!)

We strolled through back streets and visited church ruins.

We also visited the museum celebrating the works of Jose Saramago, who wrote my favorite book – Blindness. (That’s his Nobel Prize!)

Overall
Lisbon was a lovely place to visit, and I think the five nights we spent there were enough to get a small taste of the full city. We’d like to come back, but this time rent a car and travel out to some of the nearby cities and parks to see more of Portugal beyond the city limits.

Air Travel
Only read this if you have a strong stomach…

We made the rookie mistake of booking Ryanair for our travel. It was the cheapest, and had some good travel times. But we failed to factor in the fact that you have to FLY RYANAIR. Which is really never what anyone wants.

Our flight to Lisbon was slightly delayed, but that was fine. It was the return that was awful. It was pretty toasty in the airport (we were in the ‘budget’ terminal, which includes some chairs, some gates, and a McDonalds), and once we were scanned through to board the plane, there were no screens, so we had no idea what was going on. At one point we were close to our departure time and still smushed into this little unventilated part of the airport. So I called Ryanair.

Me: “Hi, we’re boarding for the flight to Heathrow but we have no idea what is going on. We’re through the gate but not to the plane and there’s no information. Is our flight delayed?”

Them: “You should talk to the gate agent.”

Me: “I would, but you see, we can’t get to them, because we’re already through the gate.”

Them: “Oh, well I see that there are some thunderstorms in the area, so maybe you’re delayed by like an hour?”

Me: “Maybe? Or is that actually what is happening?”

Them: “I don’t know, I’m just saying the weather might cause a delay.”

Me: “Okay … I’m calling though for actual information, not guesses. Can I speak to your supervisor please?”

Them: “Ha ha. No.” Click

Yup, Ryanair hung up on me. I was flabbergasted. But then we were released to board the plane. When Austin went to put his seatbelt on, we discovered … vomit. Vomit on the seatbelt. Vomit on the seat back that had been sort of wiped off. Little bits on the floor. You see, Ryanair is so fucking cheap that they don’t even have seat back pockets, which means they don’t have barf bags, so if someone lets loose, it’s going everywhere.

We told a flight attendant who came back with some cleaning supplies but then said “nope” and told us to “find other seats.” Um, what? Austin was able to find one, I was not, so I sat next to vomit for the two hour flight.

I complained to Ryanair. They basically told me to go fuck myself. So yeah, I don’t care if they are paying me, I’m never boarding one of their planes again.

Thursday

26

July 2018

0

COMMENTS

Iceland by Andrew Evans

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Four Stars

Best for: Those traveling to Iceland who want some more history beyond a couple pages in the back of the book.

In a nutshell: Author Andrew Evans provides a (more than usual) in-depth history of Iceland before sharing standard guide-book fare.

Worth quoting:
“Iceland is the most literate country in the world and one out of every ten Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime.”
“Also, don’t bring a pair of shorts just in case it gets warm. It won’t.”

Why I chose it:
I’m heading to Iceland for a long weekend next month.

Review:
As I write this it is currently 94 degrees outside. In London. A place roundly mocked for being rainy and mild year round.

Ninety. Four. Degrees.

What I’m saying is, I CANNOT WAIT to get to Iceland, where it’s going to be in the low 50s. It’s possible I will be cold again soon.

Anyway, I bought this book awhile ago and then realized the trip was coming up quickly. I am not familiar with Bradt guides, so I figured I’d try it out on a low-stakes weekend away to see if it’s worth seeking out for longer trips in the future.

It definitely is.

I think I’ve said before that I appreciate guides that provide more than just the tourist info. And I don’t mean that I need hidden gems or whatever; I mean I want to know something about the place I’m going. And this guide delivers. The first four chapters – nearly a quarter of the book – focuses on the background, history, natural history, and practical information one needs when visiting Iceland.

The book then breaks the country down into a few regions, focusing on how to get around and then providing details on the towns in the region. The only area that took some getting used to was the “things to do” piece isn’t broken down the way it normally is. Instead of little chunks of info listed out (like the accommodation and restaurant sections), it’s more of a narrative, with the needed details (like opening hours) includes in parenthesis. Not my favorite way to get information, but a little easier to read.

 

Monday

26

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

Time Out Brussels

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Two Stars

Best for: People who like Time Out guides, I’m guessing.

In a nutshell: Mostly your standard travel guide, but with really tiny print.

Worth quoting: Not so much a quote, but apparently the women didn’t get the vote in Belgium didn’t get it until 1949?

Why I chose it: We’re going to Brussels this weekend, and this looked to be one of the better options for guidebooks at the shop I went to.

Review:
I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a Time Out guide, and now I know why. I’m not a fan. This one isn’t bad, it’s just not good. The 2-star rating probably suggests its worse than it is, but for me, 3-star reviews are for books I’d still recommend generally, and I can’t recommend this one.

I generally don’t have an issue with small fonts, but this book seems to be pushing it, especially in the large blocks of text that start each new neighborhood / section. I get the need for an overview, but I didn’t like how these ones were done. They were hard to get through, and I don’t generally feel like I retained any good information from them.

The sections on different attractions / shops / restaurants are useful, and I especially appreciate the mentions of places that don’t accept cards. There seem to be a LOT of cash-only establishments. My partner really doesn’t like using cash, and sort of side-eyes me when I insist of getting some from the ATM so we have some, but at least now when we get there I have proof that to do the things we want to do, we’ll need some Euros.

I appreciate there is a history section, but I tend to like that up front, not shoved in the back. I also liked that it included some detailed information on the main architecture and art movements in the area. The maps aren’t great and are oriented in the book oddly, which makes them hard to read and hard to use.

I’m usually not this critical of travel books, but this one just really didn’t work for me, and I’m assuming it’s an issue with the layout and style choices of the Time Out brand, not this one author.

Monday

28

March 2016

0

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Eyewitness Travel: Costa Rica by Christopher P. Baker

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Three Stars

My husband visited Costa Rica about a month after we started dating, and he’s wanted to go back ever since. He asked that instead of my regular planning, that I just get a guidebook and let us see what happens when we get there. So, I bought this one.

It’s fine. I don’t know how to review travel books – I think I should always wait until I get back, but by then I’ve moved on (I try to always review books within a day or two of finishing). This book seemed a little light though on what I think I need. Maybe it’s because it’s my first time going to a country I’m really unfamiliar with, so everything just bleeds together. I can’t tell any of the national parks apart, so I’m not really sure which ones I want to try to see.

But maybe that’s a good thing. We’ll pick a place on a map, find a bus that goes there, then open up the book and see what we’ll see.

Tuesday

7

October 2014

0

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New Orleans Day 5 – One Last Hurrah

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Thanks to the kindness of the person who owns the house we stayed in, we didn’t have to race to vacate the place by noon. Instead we were able to wander the city one more time, taking in Armstrong Park, a little bit of Treme, and one more visit to a couple of the bars we really liked. Today was very, very warm and humid, and a good send-off, as I am very much looking forward to Seattle’s cool fall weather.

We got a last meal at the Napoleon House (red beans and rice!), walked through Jackson Square one final time, then visited the Carousel Bar again for Ramos Gin Fizzes and more good conversation. As we were leaving, we ran into a pretty famous pop star who was in town as part of her tour. It was pleasing to see that she seemed to be really nice to the wait staff.

We wrapped up our trip with a visit to 21st Amendment – the first bar we visited when we arrived on Friday. We had a great conversation with the bartender, then caught a cab with an extremely colorful driver. It’s hard to leave in some ways, but I have no doubts that we will be back. It’s a great city, with great food, drinks, music, architecture and people, and I can see why so many people choose to call it home.

Monday

6

October 2014

0

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New Orleans Day 4 – Rollin’ On the River

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Today was a busy day in the quarter. We got up and grabbed a quick slice (our first – and likely only – foray into one of the many Pizza + Daquiri joints on Bourbon Street) then caught a shuttle to Mardi Gras world. It’s one of the five companies that does props and floats for the two-week Mardi Gras celebrations for which New Orleans is famous. We ate King Cake (so good!) and learned some interesting facts. Like everyone on the floats pays to be a member of the krewe, and that each float costs $50,000-$80,000 up front, and then $5,000 t0 $15,000 each year to refurbish it. Or that the krewe members have to buy their own ‘throws’ (beads and other things they toss from the floats).

Afterwards we caught a ride on the Steamboat Natchez, which was pretty awesome. It gave some perspective about how the city really is below the river, and also showed us the ports along the way. It was a nice, relaxing way to see more than just the French Quarter.

For dinner we finally visited Frenchmen street. I was in charge of picking the restaurant, and it was (of course) our first ‘meh’ meal experience of the trip. But it was still good, because we got to enjoy some jazz during the meal. Then we wandered the street and caught an art fair and two fantastic bands playing on street corners. This is a Monday, and it’s still more lively than Seattle most nights of the week. It was amazing, and it will be hard to leave this place. Especially because of our last stop of the night – an dessert visit to Cafe du Monde for one more round of beignets.

Sunday

5

October 2014

0

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New Orleans Day 3 – So Much Deliciousness

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Today was a wandering day. We managed to get brunch at this fairly small place called Cafe Soule. Really great Louisiana / French food. So good. We explored the French Quarter a bit more, then found a very cute dress shop. Damage was done. Next up was Carousel Bar, where I got to taste a Ramos Gin Fizz (sorry bartender). It was pretty good, although too flowery for my palate.

Dinner was the highlight of the day. We ate at Commander’s Palace, which is known for being just fantastic. And it was. It was a leisurely dinner with fantastic service, great drinks and even better food. It’s a huge place and clearly the kind of restaurant where people go to celebrate anniversaries and such. Afterwards we wandered our neighborhood some more, stopping for a drink by Jackson Square, then popping into a jazz club for a couple of sets. Sunday night, 11 P.M. and it felt like a Saturday night at 10 P.M. anywhere else. Apparently they have to close Bourbon Street to traffic every single night. Fascinating.

We have nearly two full days left, and we have a lot on the schedule. A couple of museums and a steamboat ride are in our future

Saturday

4

October 2014

0

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New Orleans Day 2 – 10 Miles and Many Beignets

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It’s easy to be lazy here. It isn’t so hot at this time of year (thankfully) that we can’t move, but the place we’re staying is comfortable, so there was no need to race out the door. But once we were out, we were ready to take on the day. First up was Cafe du Monde for beignets. Delicious fried bits of heaven covered in tons of powdered sugar. They are open 24/7, so we might have to visit later one of these nights. You basically stand in a line (that moved surprisingly quickly), grab a table, they come and clear out the dishes before you and you order. The only options are beignets and either chickory coffee, black coffee, OJ or cocoa. So they can churn this stuff out pretty quickly. They deliver the food, you pay right then (cash only) and then start down the road towards a sugar coma. They are delicious.

We walked over to the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar after and hopped on for a very nice ride to the park. Then we turned right around to walk back. The homes on that street are ridiculous. Just ginormous, with huge porches and manicured landscaping. The sidewalks are not well-kept, however; we have running assumption that one of us will twist an ankle by the weekend’s end. But the walk was gorgeous and it was nice to be out in the world. After a break to rest we went out to a brewery and then dinner at Cafe Giovanni, a delicious Italian spot.

I’m really enjoying this city. The architecture is gorgeous and its so easy to walk around and just get lost. Also, the drinks are delicious 🙂