Stamp Collected: Italy

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Italy – August 2017
Flight: $629* (via Norwegian)
Hotel: AirBNB Rome ($79 /night) | AirBNB Florence ($93 /night)

*Price only reflects a way one ticket from LAX.

I knew I was going to like Italy, but I didn’t think I’d be coming home Googling “hairdressing jobs in Rome for English speakers… but also 9% fluent in Italian.” (Side note: I had spent the 3 months prior to this trip learning to speak Italian.) I fell in love with this country that is filled with tons of history… and just as much gelato — that didn’t make me sick. Not even once. Lactose intolerant who?

Even though I did end up getting sick — stress related, not dairy — I loved walking the streets and admiring all the gorgeous buildings, each city so uniquely beautiful. During our 5 days in Italy, we explored Rome, Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre. (That means 5 lands for all you non-Italian speakers. You’re welcome.)

Rome

Rome was definitely my favorite of the 4. Our AirBNB was in the absolute cutest neighborhood ever. Everrrr. Look at this street. Bellissima!

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We spent two days in Rome, and since we had tours booked for the second day, we went and visited all the typical tourist attractions during our first, starting at the Trevi Fountain.

Being the super-incredibly-single-nowhere-near-finding-a-boyfriend girl that I am, obviously, I had to throw the traditional three coins into the fountain. The first guaranteeing you return to Rome, the second a new romance, and the third ensuring marriage.

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The drunk text from a boy back home that I received seconds after wishing for love was the complete opposite of just that… so naturally I dove back into the fountain to reclaim my coin and took myself to Valentino to purchase a new pair of shoes instead — because, let’s face it, shoes over boys any day.

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With my new precious cargo in tow, we continued our sightseeing at the Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. Obviously, I had to include my shoes in the pictures before I tucked them safely in my suitcase for the rest of the trip, away from all the dangers of gelato spills and annoying British girls (See: Croatia).

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Later that night, we headed out for some drinks because… wine not? We ended up becoming friends with our waiter who showed us around the nightlife, which was great for me because, not only did I get free wine, I also got to use my Italian… The. Whole. Night. Either I’m secretly fluent, or I was too drunk to notice I wasn’t making sense. Pretty sure it’s the former, but I do know I accidently called some guy’s girlfriend a sweater. My bad, girl. 

With an early tour booked the next morning, it didn’t take long for me to regret all the free wine, but there was no way I was skipping anything on the itinerary. So, like the good Catholic girl I am, I got my — still slightly drunk — self out of bed and headed to the Vatican. Oh, forgive me Father for I have sinned. I was on my own for the first part of the day, and although wandering the empty streets in the early morning was oddly quite peaceful, it was also the moment I realized I’ll never be a solo traveler. Who am I supposed to talk to? Who’s supposed to take all my Instagram pics? Who’s supposed to make me feel better about having gelato for breakfast?

We had pre-booked a Vatican and Colosseum tour through City Wonders since this would allow us to skip the lines at both. Not waiting 5 hours in line, cool. The guy that wouldn’t stop talking, not cool. I understand this is the whole point of having a tour guide, but I would have preferred wandering Vatican City on my own. He spent too much time telling me why there was a bee on the wall drapery and not enough time letting me relax under a tree in the gorgeous courtyard.

After walking through all the museums, we entered the Sistine Chapel. It was way smaller than I had imagined, and more just a room rather than a chapel. I actually had no idea I was even inside the Sistine Chapel until I noticed everyone looking up. This is when the guide decided to stop talking?

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, we continued into the stunning St. Peter’s Basilica. The guide provided us with some brief history of the church before ending the tour and, finally, allowing me to wander on my own. Amen!

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(Tip: Although the tours are booked together, they are two separate tours. You’re required to find your own transportation between the two locations, which unknown to me when booking, are on opposite ends of the city. Be sure to leave an adequate amount of time to reach the second meeting point.)

After my nap and picking up my adventure partner, we headed towards the Colosseum. Walking around this part of Rome is almost unreal, being surrounded by so much ancient architecture. This tour will take you around the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill while your guide tells the stories of all the history that surrounds you. Since there’s a lot to see, there won’t be much time to stop and look around, so be prepared for constant walking.

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Tip: When we first visited the Trevi Fountain around noon, we found the place completely packed. Before leaving Rome, we went back early morning around 7:45 a.m., and this is when we were able to snag all our pictures since it was practically deserted.
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Florence

Our next stop was Florence, and since the Italo train leaving from Rome takes about 1.5 hours, we made sure to catch the first departure in the morning. (Tip: I highly recommend purchasing these in advance. We had waited until we arrived at the train station that morning and ended up not only not having seats together but also in different train cars.)

By the time we reached Florence, we were exhausted, mostly because we had woken up at 6 a.m., and I was too busy guarding my shoes that I couldn’t take a nap on the train ride. So after grabbing a much needed caffè, we headed out to explore the gorgeous city.

Our sightseeing started at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Since we weren’t dressed modest enough to go inside, we had to admire this beauty from the outside only. Can’t say I was disappointed, though.

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Next, we headed towards the Duomo, which came highly recommended by my friend Brenda, and she’s Italian, so I was going to do anything she said. She could’ve told me to drink water from the Trevi Fountain, and I’d be like, “Well, if this is what Italians do….” 

Anyway, Brenda was right. The Duomo is gorgeous, but make sure you buy tickets in advance if you plan on going up inside. They were sold out until giovedĂŹ, which means Thursday, and I don’t know what day we were there on, but Thursday wasn’t anytime close, so, unfortunately, we were only able to admire this beauty from the outside. However, Brenda reassured me the outside is far prettier than the inside. Phew!

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Continuing on through the city, we headed towards Piazza della Signoria. Here you’ll find Neptune’s Fountain and a fake Statue of David — the real one is in a museum with a line going down the street. Pass. Sadly, the Statue of David was under construction, but that didn’t stop me from taking a super mature Snapchat zooming in on his privates. Oops. 

After stopping for another gelato, we made our way to Ponte Vecchio, which literally translates to old bridge — the oldest in Florence to be exact — and is known for the many jewelry shops that line it. Too bad I had spent all my souvenir money on shoes, so window shopping would have to suffice.

Once crossing the bridge, we continued down the street until we came to Boboli Gardens. There are a few different entrances to the park, including the main entrance at Pitti Palace, but our GPS took us to a smaller entrance a little farther down the road. Being so hot, we found a shaded bench to rest under before exploring the gardens, eventually heading up a hill and finding ourselves in Piazzale Michelangelo with a view overlooking the city. (Tip: We exited the park through Pitti Palace and noticed a rather long line at this entrance, as opposed to walking straight in at the smaller one we used.)

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We finished up our day exploring this beautiful city with dinner at Quattro Leoni, another recommendation from Brenda. Duh! All I have to say is to order the pear pasta. It sounds bizarre, but trust me. Delizioso!

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Venice

For our 4th day in Italy, we booked a round-trip train ticket to Venice through Italo. With not many huge tourist spots in this unique little city, we were able to just walk around without a list of things to get done, which was a nice change for me, the self-appointed tour guide of every trip.

However, there was one thing we needed to get done, though, because you can’t go to Venice and not take a gondola ride through the canals. No matter where you are in Venice, a gondola ride is the same set price – 80 EUR. So this means that when you find the one cute young gondolier in the sea of old men, you chase him down and ask for a ride. Those arm muscles — swoon! Too bad I noticed a wedding ring, so guess I’m still waiting for that whole Trevi-Fountain-will-find-you-love thing… Fingers crossed he’s Italian.

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The rest of the day we walked around exploring the streets, stopping in stores, avoiding all the dirty pigeons in Piazza San Marco, and, of course, eating gelato. After wandering aimlessly all day, it was quite the journey to make it back to the train station. I’m the queen of GPS, but I could not figure out how to get us out of those canals; what looks like a through street on the map, ended up being cut in half by a canal of water. Eventually, we made it out without having to swim upstream. On second thought, maybe we should’ve found the cute gondolier to row us out.

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Cinque Terre

On the last day, we finally headed to Cinque Terre. To reach this region of Italy, requires a 2-hour bus ride from Florence, so we booked an all-day tour through Ciao Florence. I had read mixed reviews, some saying it’s great, others saying you need more than a day to explore all the towns, but since the towns are small, there actually isn’t much to do in each one, aside from walking around or swimming… or eating gelato, so a day trip sounded perfect for us.

We started in Manarola and had maybe 15 minutes to wander around. Good thing it only took 7 minutes to walk from one end to the other, so we sat by the water for a while before catching the train to the next town.

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When we reached Vernazza, we headed up a path on our right side that would overlook the town. We were able to walk right through, but on our way out, we did notice a ranger-type guy taking tickets, so perhaps we lucked out by walking by when no one was working.

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The next stop was Monterosso. This was one of the bigger towns and where we would spend the most time. Here we were able to have lunch and take a swim in the ocean — the very salty ocean. We spent our extra time lying by the water, while others hiked up to the castle above the town.

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Following our relaxing lunch break, we took a boat to the final town, La Spezia. This town is rather tiny and has a super steep hill to get to the church at the top. Considering it was the end of the day and we didn’t have much energy left, we skipped the hike and sat and people watched for the few minutes we had before the long ride home.

It didn’t take much for Italy to become one of my favorite countries, between all the gelato, pasta and, of course, menwine… I mean, history. Everything about this trip was magical, and as I continue to sit here searching for new jobs, I’ll be dreaming of Italy and counting down the days until I can return again. Arrivederci, Italia.

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For Ships & Giggles: The Yacht Week Croatia

img_2509-1Croatia – August 2017
The Yacht Week

When I was told this would be the best week of my life, I didn’t quite believe it. I’ve had some pretty amazing weeks in my life so far, but as I sit here, literally crying on our flight home writing this, I can hands down say it’s been the best week yet, and I’m not sure if another trip can top it. (Except maybe our Yacht Week reunion that we made a pact to do when we’re 60.)

I’ve left with bruises, I’ve lost my voice, tons of sleep, and even maybe some of my dignity; but there’s something magical about spending a week on a boat with 8 people you’ve just met. I’ve left with memories I’ll never forget and with new friendships I’ll cherish forever.

Would I do this all over? In a heartbeat — even if I’m stuck with the dinner table as my bed again.

For those that don’t know what The Yacht Week is, it’s a week you spend on a yacht (duh), sailing alongside 20 – 30 other yachts. My crew and I sailed through the beautiful islands off of Croatia, which is the original route started by the company. Each town offers a new adventure, a new party, and a chance to meet new friends. TYW sets up an itinerary that your skipper will follow throughout the week, like swimming in the crystal blue waters and meeting up at night to dance under the stars.

Everything is booked through The Yacht Week website, and you can choose to book a cabin on a yacht with complete strangers or gather a group of friends to book your own boat. I did the latter, except we didn’t initially all know each other, but all had one mutual friend that brought us together for this experience. You’ll be assigned a skipper through the website and also a hostess, if you have signed up for one. We requested one too late, which meant we’d be on our own for the week cooking meals and cleaning the yacht. It wasn’t so bad, but with how often other boats confused me for Diridonda’s hostess (our boat’s name), I’m confused as to why no one left me a tip at the end — Ha ha. Just kidding.

More booking info here. | Suggested packing guide coming soon.

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(Note: There’s two different routes for Croatia, so not all itineraries will be the same.)

Day 1: Setting Sail

Our crew all arrived in Split, Croatia, the night prior to The Yacht Week check-in. I highly suggest getting an AirBNB or hotel for Friday night to catch up on your post-travel Z’s before getting minimal sleep over the next week. You’ll need it.

Check-in won’t be until the afternoon on Saturday, but we, luckily, were able to have a later check-out at our AirBNB before we headed to the marina. Access to your boat won’t be available until 6 pm, so this is a good time to grab groceries, floaties, beach towels, or anything else you may have forgotten.

After loading our boat, by crossing the scariest little plank of my life (Side note: It didn’t get less scary over the week), we set sail to Supetar, where we had dinner and kicked off the week at the opening party. Our skipper let us know there was a pool, so a few of us went prepared for a midnight swim.

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Day 2: Hvar

Most of you know I’m not a morning person, but waking up with the sun and setting sail each morning quickly became my favorite thing. I was even the first one awake most mornings — probably because I slept in the kitchen and didn’t have a way to block out the sunlight, but still. So we set sail early towards Hvar and stopped midmorning for a swim along the way. You ever pin drop off the side of a yacht into the Adriatic Sea? ‘Cause it’s the best.

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Once we reached Hvar, we had some time to explore and use the, ahem, public showers before getting ready for the party that evening at Hula Hula. This party is open to anyone, not just Yacht Week goers, so be ready to make even more new friends. Following the party, we stopped for dinner before checking out a few other bars and, eventually, heading back to our yacht where we all stayed up and laughed the night away together.

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Floaties are a must at The Yacht Week, and that was our favorite, Alvin, who we eventually lost later in the week post-raft party. RIP Alvin.

 

Day 3: Hvar

With all day partying being the main agenda for the trip, I had drunkenly agreed to sky diving the night before. Once sober, I wasn’t quite sure this was the best way to spend the day, but, nonetheless, I had already paid and was on the water taxi to the airport. I may have cried, but nothing can compare to the bird’s-eye view of the island that you could only see by jumping out of the tiny plane with a large Croatian man strapped to your back.

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The uncool, safer options for the day include a morning yoga class hosted by The Yacht Week, hiking, a beach club, and other water sports, like jet skiing or paddle boarding, but make sure you’re ready to party that afternoon because you won’t want to miss the famous White Party at Carpe Diem. This party ends early, so there’s time to get dinner before heading over to the after-party held on a little island off Hvar.

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Day 4: Komiza

We started the day by meeting up with the other boats to create the iconic circle raft. This is when all the boats tie up together creating a floatie party in the middle. So grab your beer and your float and get ready to party. (Tip: Dont be the guy who tried jumping off the top of the boat and missed the water, though.)

img_2510Not pictured: Our awesome Relaxation Station that all 8 of us could fit in, along with a cooler for instant drink refills. Also great for standing up in and calling out other floaties for not being as cool as ours… I had great pride in everything Diridonda did.

 

The sail to the next destination is a long one, and, in our case, a rough one too. Half the crew got sick due to the rocky waters on our 3-hour trip to the next stop in Komiza. Since there’s no dock here, you’ll stay on the boat all night and take a water taxi to the party. Boat hopping drunk to get home sounded like a disaster for someone clumsy like me, so I used this as my night in to catch up on some sleep.

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img_2514I can’t even take credit for these awesome pictures. I came home with 15 pictures total from the whole week. Good thing Jay sent me all 654 from his phone. @alayonroams

 

Day 5: Vis

We headed out early, again, and this was by far my favorite morning. By the time I woke up, we were already in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. Sitting alone in silence watching the waves pass by was, on its own, enough for me to claim this as the best week ever. We made our way to Vis before 9 am and had the whole day to explore. Some of the crew opted to book a tour to explore the island by Jeep, while the others stayed in town to just wander and lay by the beach.

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Later that night, hosted at Fort George, is what’s considered to the best party of the week, the Tropical Retro Party. Per recommendation of our skipper, we had dinner near the boat, opposed to at Fort George, i.e. over-priced food for what is being served.

This location was magical and definitely the prettiest of all the venues for the parties, but like most nights, our crew left early — more specifically, I left really early because lots of alcohol at once wasn’t the best idea. Sorry, mom.

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Day 6: Green Caves and Float Party

I might be a little biased, but I really think we had the best skipper of all of The Yacht Week because he always got us places at the perfect time. We started our 6th day at the Green Cave, completely alone. Only our crew and our floats inside swimming, and we were ready to leave just before the tour boats full of people started pulling in. Such an amazing experience.

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After, we headed back towards Hvar where we stopped for awhile to swim before heading to the huge raft party.

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Luckily, we were one of the last boats there, so we were able to be on the end away from the crazy. In the middle, it was full of people on floaties in the water, boats packed with people dancing on top, and a DJ in the middle on his own boat. Everyone is yacht hopping from boat to boat and swimming across the raft to meet people on the other side. It had started to get chilly by this time, and our skipper had told me all the boats’ bathrooms drain into the water (Can you say poop water? Gross.), so I gave myself a 2-hour period of partying before taking my fat ass back to the boat to make dinner — a decision I don’t regret at all.

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img_2930There’s an app for The Yacht Week that only people who attended your week have access to, and you can message and share pictures. So shout out to the guy with the drone who posted this for me to steal. Our huge float made our boat the easiest to spot. We’re on the far right heading in.

Day 7: Regatta

Personally, I think this event needs to be at the beginning of the week because our crew was so dead, we barely managed to put our costumes on. The idea is to race all the boats, and those with the best energy and costumes win a table for the closing party. It has nothing to do with who crosses the finish line first, but we did; and, therefore, we were the winners in my eyes. We also may or may not have left the motor on and technically weren’t even sailing. Oops.

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img_2935Like, we couldn’t even pull ourselves together enough to get a decent picture.

Following the regatta, we stopped for a final swim on the way back to Split for the last night. Although it began to drizzle on our way, it was the perfect final sail home before ending the best week of our lives dancing the night away at Club Vanilla. And the best part of the night? Half the crew left to stay in an AirBNB, so I got to sleep in an actual bed instead of the table bed again. Holla!

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Even as the best week of my life, there are a few things that I would do differently next time.

Only go to The Yacht Week. We had spent the week prior in Italy, which resulted in more clothing, a bigger suitcase, and me constantly kicking strangers off our boat so no one would accidently spill a drink on my new Valentino shoes. Sorry not sorry to the annoying British girl. When I read to only bring a duffle bag, I should’ve listened. By adding another stop to the trip, I was forced to pack more than just bikinis and take the suitcase that was bigger than the entire boat. Big mistake.

Skip the food package. We had opted to purchase the food package to minimize our grocery shopping, but, the truth is, I still did daily grocery store stops, and although the package comes with alcohol and 4 apples (that actually ended up being nectarines), we were left with food we didn’t use, and we probably could’ve bought it all on our own for cheaper. (Side note: If you get a hostess, it might be helpful to purchase the food package, though.)

Stay an extra day in Split. I can’t express how much I wish I stayed a night in Split before leaving. I slept maybe 8 hours total throughout the week, and def needed to catch up on some more before conquering that long flight home. *Cue meltdown number 4 of the trip.*

This one week of my life felt like 10 years. It lasted forever, and still wasn’t enough. We started the week as strangers and ended as family. Every day was filled with new memories that will stay with me for a lifetime — especially that time Keith used pepper instead of instant coffee in the morning. That’s one way to wake you up. Yuck.

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Iceland: The Golden Circle


If you’re headed to Iceland, chances are you’ll be spending a day exploring ‘The Golden Circle,’ a 190-mile loop through the country circling from ReykjavĂ­k and back.

After some major Pinterest research, I found these to be the most popular stops:

  1. Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir National Park)
  2. Laugarvatn Fontana
  3. BrĂşarfoss
  4. Geysir – Strokkur
  5. Gullfoss
  6. The Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)
  7. Kerid Crater (KeriĂ°)
  8. Hveragerdi (HveragerĂ°i)

We opted to not visit two of the geothermal pools since we had already been to The Blue Lagoon earlier in the trip, and I have far too much energy to spend time just sitting in a body of water. I’ve provided links above for the attractions we skipped over, but keep reading to find out about the places we did stop.

Don’t worry about mapping out each location because the road, basically, only goes one way, and each tourist attraction is well marked with a red sign pointing you in the right direction. So once you’ve decided on your stops, fill up that gas tank, get a super early start (aka 9ish), and on your way out of the city, make sure you stop and get yourself a cinnamon roll because those things are seriously amazing in Iceland.

Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir National Park)

This was our first stop along The Golden Circle, and it will probably be yours too since it is one of the most popular tourist attractions. Although entrance into the park is free, this is one of the only spots we had to pay for parking – 500 ISK. We spent about an hour walking around and exploring all the park has to offer. If you’re feeling crazy and want to swim in 39° F water, here you can choose to snorkel in the Silfra Fissure, a divide between two continental plates. This California girl was not down for that, and after seeing the divers getting out of the water, was happy about her decision. Major props to my cousin who had done it the previous spring because I was barely able to hang in the 18 layers of clothes I had on.

Fun fact: I’m pretty sure I’ve been to more National Parks out of the country than I  have within the US.

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BrĂşarfoss

This stop is the one exception to the rule of being easy to find with a red sign. It’s a more unknown waterfall, and GPS isn’t going to get you to where you need to be. The GPS directions we had told us what turn to take off the main road, but that’s about it. (Note: If you use Apple’s map, it brings up a different location, so Google “Bruarfoss” and use the directions from there). Luckily, the extensive Pinterest research I had done beforehand got us the rest of the way. Once turning left off the main road, the best advice I have is to just follow the path and keep left. It’s a dirt road, and your tiny rental car is going to feel like it’s about to break down, but just keep going anyway. Eventually, you’ll start seeing some cottage-type buildings with areas marked by numbers, followed by a handmade PVC pipe sign labeled “Bruarfoss.” If you drive past this, you’ll reach #14 which will open up to larger area where you’ll be able to park your car. Head back and follow the marked foot path down over the small bridge. Once you cross the bridge and see the giant puddle of mud, be smarter than we were, and use the plank to the left to get past this. Trust me, no matter how fast you try to walk through it, you’re going to sink knee-deep in mud. Still blaming that one on karma from the toast we stole for breakfast. (Story to be linked later.) Continue on the path to the left for 5-10 minutes until you reach the falls. I will point out that this isn’t a waterfall you can walk up to, which is something no one else had mentioned when I read about it. I’m sure there’s a way to climb down to the water, but we clearly weren’t having the best of luck at this point and just stayed on the bridge to view this beauty.

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Geysir – Strokkur

Our next stop through The Golden Circle was Geysir. You’ll know you’re getting close because that super wonderful rotten egg smell due to all that sulphur. I recommend parking in the parking lot on your right. It’s much bigger and more organized compared to the madness happening in the lot to your left. Once parked, you’ll need to walk farther up past the building and cross the street to reach Strokkur, the active geyser of the two. It erupts every 6-10 minutes, so wait a little before you freeze your hand off recording nothing while waiting for it to erupt. Hey, anyone want to watch the 8 minutes of blank footage I have, though? Before you head to the next stop, I highly suggest grabbing some lunch here. There are tons of options inside, and I don’t remember passing much else as we continued on our route.

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Gullfoss

I only have one word for this stop: freezing. We spent more time looking for parking than we did looking at the actual waterfall. It’s big, beautiful, has a rainbow, and did I mention it’s cold? At least I got a work out in with how fast I ran up those stairs back to the car.

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Kerid Crater (KeriĂ°)

This is the only stop we visited that we had to pay an entry fee – 400 ISK. We didn’t walk around the top of the impressive crater, but did walk down to the bottom to admire all the beautiful colors. I really suggest not missing this stop. I could have stared at it for hours.

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Hveragerdi (HveragerĂ°i)

We had trouble finding the trailhead for this hike. The full trail is 11 miles out and back starting near the entrance to the city and, let’s be real, nobody got time for that. Instead, to start your 4-mile hike, take the first right at the roundabout into the city (assuming you’re on your way from Kerid). Continue on this road until it dead ends at the main trailhead where you will see a dirt lot to park and a coffee shop. Hopefully, you’ve already changed into your swimsuit because your only option at this point is a porta potty or the car. This hike is fairly easy if you don’t get caught in a snow storm with terrible winds like we did. It’s steep in the beginning, but levels out as you enter more into the hills. We definitely considered turning around a few times because of how bad the winds were, but the end was extremely worth it, and we reached the hot springs as the storm settled. The area we chose to hang out in wasn’t very deep, maybe a few inches, but that seemed to be the standard for other areas along the river as well. After hiking what felt like the equivalent of Mt. Everest, give or take some drama there, it was nice to relax in the hot springs before jumping back into 25Âş F weather and heading back to the car with frozen icicle hair. No drama there. My hair literally froze into icicles.

PS: If anyone knows how to pronounce this city’s name, you give me a call.

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We were lucky to be visiting at a time of year when Iceland has long hours of daylight, so we never felt rushed if we wanted to stop randomly along the way to check anything out or pet the horses. The route we traveled took about 12 hours total round-trip, so we arrived back in ReykjavĂ­k as the sun was setting, just in time to enjoy some whale for dinner – but  if that isn’t your protein of choice, you can decide on a more familiar option.

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