Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Iceland

Iceland!

On a family member's bucket list - the Northern Lights.   Iceland is a great place to see the Northern Lights and Icelandair has some really affordable package tours.  I had a break in my school schedule so I invited myself to go along with two family members and a family friend.

Our package tour included a Northern Lights boat ride and a trip to the Blue Lagoon. We added a Northern Lights "hunt" by van and a trip to the Golden Circle.  You have to be very lucky to see the Northern Lights and we were able to see them on our first night (they were not visible the other nights we were there).





My sister took these pictures.  The camera captures much more color than you can actually see - the lights looked white to me.  The stars were incredible too - an amazing night.

I almost sat out the Blue Lagoon - something about the combination of wearing a bathing suit, darkness, cold, and freezing rain made me want to stay inside but I am really glad I went in the water. It was warm once you got in and being able to drink a beer while "bathing" was a nice touch. Fortunately the rumors about communal showering and cleanliness inspections are not true. (No cameras so there is no visual record of my visit.)

The worst weather of the trip was on the day of our Golden Circle tour.  There are three main stops on the tour -

Thingvellir National Park - two of us took a short hike up to a small waterfall.



Geysir -- all of us got to see Geysir erupt (sort of)



Gullfoss Waterfall


It was a fun day despite the weather and we were probably better off taking a tour than staying in town and being confined to our hotel rooms. 

Other activities included lots of shopping (very few purchases because of the prices) and a visit to the Reykjavik Art Museum where we saw a very entertaining exhibit by Yoko Ono. My sister and I also went to see Bjork's virtual reality exhibition at the Harpa Concert Hall, a really amazing building.  Our final stop was the Icelandic Phallological Museum.  Google it if you want more information.

Iceland is:
  • Only a six hour non-stop flight from Chicago.
  • Affordable if you don't eat anything other than the free breakfast at your hotel. We heard the food was expensive but it is really expensive.  It is hard to have lunch for under $25 per person and the large two topping, vegetarian pizza we had for our Thanksgiving dinner was $34. The best bargain - $8.80 for two beers during happy hour at our hotel bar.  The food is really good and we had fantastic fish at the Fishmarket and at Sea Baron.  
  • The most organized place I have ever visited - there are lots of tourists everywhere but all of the major attractions are well-run and everything is very efficient.
  • Very dark in the winter.  We averaged about five and a half hours of daylight during the five days we were there - I don't know how I would be able to handle it if I spent the entire winter there.  
  • Not too cold and snowy, at least in Reykjavik, but we had a lot of wind, rain, and sleet almost everyday -- I would love to go back in the spring or summer and see more of the country.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New England

I had a meeting in New England and decided to combine it with a visit to family, some hiking, and a trip to Boston.  I also tried out some new travel clothes in preparation for my next trip to Europe (I decided to stick with ExOfficio and Helly Hansen).

Northampton, Massachusetts

I had a wonderful visit with my cousin in Northampton.  I spent a day exploring the town, shopping, and eating at every local bakery.  A great way to start my vacation, topped off with a trip to Fenway Park to see the White Sox play the Red Sox.  The best part of the four and a half hour White Sox loss was this (which as far as I know is only available at Fenway Park):

Popcorn with Cheetos flavoring mixed with Cheetos
North Woodstock, New Hampshire (White Mountains)

Family visit aside, my trip to the White Mountains was the best part of my vacation.  I stayed at the Notch Hostel, a fantastic place which caters to hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  I went on a couple of beautiful hikes, visited the Flume George, and spent my evenings learning about hiking on the AT from Magoo and MR (not their real names - AT hikers adopt trail names).  Other than my visit to Polly's Pancakes, I didn't pay for a meal because departing hikers had left behind an amazing amount of uneaten food and leftover beer.

Cascade Park - North Woodstock, New Hampshire
Polly's Pancake Parlor (Sugar Hill, New Hampshire) was another highlight.  I ordered a sampler of six pancakes - you get to mix and match the batter and add-ins.  The best part is that they cook the first three and when you've finished, they cook the next three so nothing gets cold.  Great food.

Portland, Maine

The old port section of town is pretty nice and I found this wonderful museum.  I've heard the seafood is outstanding.




Boston

I attended summer school in Boston 46 years ago.  The only places that looked familiar were Fenway Park, my dorm, Harvard Square, Harvard Yard, and this place - the first bar I ever visited.


I spent two days walking around the city eating and wishing I had gone to New York.

Other Outstanding Food
  • Doughnuts at Tart Bakery, Northampton
  • Herrell's Ice Cream, Northampton
  • Beer selection at Jacob Wirth, Boston
  • Cannoli at Bova's Bakery, Boston
  • Gelato at Gorgeous Gelato, Portland
Things I Learned
  • I never need to return to Boston.
  • I think I could handle hiking the Appalachian Trail for a couple of days if  I don't have to pick a  trail name.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

By the Numbers/Summing It Up

This is the final blog post for this trip - thanks for reading.

Countries Visited:

Germany (transit only)
Slovenia
Croatia
Italy (24 hours)
Hungary (24 hours)
Romania
Serbia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Turkey
Israel
Jordan

Things Lost:

Two pairs of Target earrings
One bottle of contact lens solution 

Miscellaneous:
  • Number of days traveling - 121
  • Amount of time lost to illness - four hours
  • Best hostels - Hostel Bongo (Belgrade, Serbia) and Hostel Old Plovdiv (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)
  • Nicest and most helpful hostel staff - Hostel Tivoli (Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Hostel Franz Ferdinand - Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Most interesting city - Sarajevo
  • Most surprisingly wonderful city - Rovinj, Croatia
  • Most surprisingly wonderful country - Bulgaria
  • Country I would move to tomorrow - Turkey
Transportation:

11 trains
11 buses
Five minivans
Nine flights (total minutes late -  65, total minutes early - 66)

I should have:
  • Given up on my plan to only use public transportation and rented a car in Romania.
  • Not brought so much stuff.  I had a complete first aid kit (including syringes, cloth bandages, athletic tape, 100 alcohol wipes, etc.) which stayed in my suitcase the entire time. I could have bought anything I needed.
  • Found another volunteer opportunity.  I was very tired at the end of my trip and I think I would have benefited from spending more time in one location.
  • Not gone back to work so soon after I returned.
  • Brought more Pepto Bismol
I never thought the following words would ever come out of my mouth:
  • I don't think I'm getting enough sleep.
  • I don't think I'm eating enough.
  • Where is the H&M store?
  • Can I get that without the cheese?
  • I like staying in hostels.
Some pictures from the village of Csikszentsimon, Romania where I volunteered at a local school:









(Full disclosure - this picture was taken in a different village)
In addition to learning about the US flag, we made hand turkeys.

                         
         





I laughed every time I saw one of these lights - watch until the end. 






One more from Wadi Rum, Jordan

Finally, thanks to the many, many people who helped me with my suitcase.




Romania Part 2

During the last week of the trip I revisited Sibiu, Sighisoara, Brasov, Bucharest, and CsĂ­kszentsimon, the village where I volunteered as a ...