Half a Day in Dublin

We only had half a day in Dublin before Mark took us on a whirlwind tour of Western Ireland. M decided to cram as many museums and religious sites into his morning as possible and Mark was happy to tag along (sucker!)

As for me, I relished the opportunity to wander mindlessly around Dublin, taking pictures, popping into shops, and seeing Dublin at my own pace.

My impression from one slightly rainy half day: Dublin is full of old European charm with a patina of grit. There are cobblestone roads, cute cafes, shops, bridges, curvy streets that lead to castles, churches, and other important historical sites.

****IMG_7794At the right time of day, the reflections on the Liffey River are a photographer’s dream.

***IMG_7801***IMG_7818***IMG_7830Dublin Castle is an imposing building in heart of town. Until 1922, it was the seat of U.K. government in Dublin.

***IMG_7640*IMG_7680***IMG_7723***IMG_7778I popped into the Chester Beatty Library to escape the rain and catch up on some work.

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Welcome to Ireland!

When we got to Ireland, we were in the trusted hands of Mark, my boss/friend/professional partner-in-crime. Mark loves Ireland, so we let him plan the entire trip. Plus, he offered to drive on the left-side of the road, and that’s an offer I can’t refuse.

First up, Mark took us to New Grange, a neolithic burial mound. We drove to the visitor center, where you have to sign up for a specific time slot to see New Grange (and other sites if you’re so inclined). You can’t actually got to New Grange on your own. At your allotted time, you climb into a shuttle bus which drops you off at the New Grange site.

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Once at New Grange, there isn’t a lot to see. The scenery is beautiful, but otherwise, you’ll come face to face with a massive stone-enclosed mound. The guide split the group into two due to space constraints and took us into the site a group at a time. NO PHOTOS ARE ALLOWED INSIDE… which made the whole thing a lot less fun for me (unless you’re my husband and you don’t believe in rules).

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Next up, Mark drove us south of Dublin to one of his favorite sites, Glendalough, a sixth century monastery site with lovely ruins, walking paths, and a small museum (which was closed when we got there).

The scenery is gorgeous and feels authentically Irish. It’s the kind of place you can spend a leisurely afternoon, walking through history and soaking up the lush backdrop.

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This is one of my favorite pictures of Mark from the trip.

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Of course, this being Ireland, it was way past time for some drinking. There is a hotel and bar on site, and Mark and M got right to it. As for me, I like to think of drinking as a spectator sport (unless it’s a diet coke).

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Review: I Flew Wow Airlines and Survived

There is only one direct flight from Reykjavik to Dublin, and it’s on Wow Airlines.

I expected the worst. I scoured the internet for reviews and advice about packing. My bags were on the heavy side, since I was traveling with quite a bit of camera equipment. I had nightmares of having to unpack my suitcase in the airport and wear five sweaters onto the plane.

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None of that happened. It was actually a relatively painless experience – except for the fact that our flight was at 6:30 a.m. in the morning.

I purchased one checked luggage ($40) and and two carry-on luggage pieces ($20/each) in advance. This is essential if you are carrying anything more than a normal size backpack. I also purchased extra leg room for us since the flight was three hours and we were exhausted. At $20 a pop, that was totally worth it.

When we got to KEF in Iceland, we weighed our checked luggage ourself, printed out the tags, and brought it to an agent to check. The computer didn’t like the shape of our suitcase, so we brought it to the odd-sized luggage counter, and the agent there checked it without a problem.

Then, we headed to our gate. The doors to the gate area didn’t open for a while, so there is a lot of waiting around on the floor, or you can go downstairs and wait on couches. Once the doors opened, the line was long, but it moved quickly. There was no weighing or measuring of carry on luggage. In not more than 15 minutes, we were seated in our extra leg room seats.

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The flight itself was totally fine. We were so tired, we both dozed off and woke up to views of Dublin.

 

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Review: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica

There are not many points hotels in Reykjavik. You have two Club Carlson options and two Hilton options. Hilton offers the older, cheaper Nordica and the newer, more expensive, and more centrally located Canopy. Since we were low on points after our December Spain trip, I was able to make the Nordica work for $71 and 16,000 points a night.

Pros: Nice hotel; affordable price; large, upgraded room; club lounge access; pretty views.

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The Nordica lounge

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View from the lounge

Cons: A 30-minute walk from the center of town; lounge is on the small size.

Hotel map

All in all, we were happy with our choice. The walk into town forced us to do quite a bit of walking and see more of the city. Our first day in Reykjavik, we walked more than seven miles! While the lounge was on the small side, it was still lovely to have access to free food and drinks (mmmm, diet coke), and the views were nothing to sneeze at. Finally, the free parking was useful once we rented our car. If you’re planning a trip to Reykjavik on points, the Hilton Nordica is a great way to keep costs down.

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Impressions of Iceland

Iceland is hot these days – figuratively, of course. The weather is quite chilly, even in May. Here are some of my thoughts on the trendy destination.

  1. Iceland is beautiful. No question about it, Iceland is stunning, and we only got to see a small part of it. With more time (and money), I’d recommend renting a car and doing a loop around the entire country. The further in you go, the more stunning and unreal the scenery gets.
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  2. Iceland is an ethereal experience. From the ashy grey skies, to the insane winds, to the 11 p.m. sunsets, experiencing Iceland is unlike most other traveling experiences. Even walking down the street in Reykjavik, I felt the remoteness of the island. Of course, we experienced Iceland on the cusp of summer. I imagine the winter is a similar and altogether different experience at the same time.
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    Black sand beaches!

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    Geothermal activity

  3. Iceland is expensive. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. The cost of enjoying the country was definitely a downer, and would make me think twice about going again (unless I win the lottery). I’m all for splurging on vacation, but Iceland made me feel like I was emptying my bank account in one week. By the end of the trip, it would piss me off every time I had to pay $4.00 for a diet coke. And sure, I can forgo diet coke for five days, but why in the world would I want to???As I understand it, the cost is due to the inflated value of the Krona, the fact that Iceland is an isolated island, and extremely high taxes. While this is great for people working in the tourist industry, it’s not so great for the tourists (or the rather large percentage of Icelanders working in the export industry).
  4. Iceland is worth a trip – at least once. The relatively short flight and the proliferation of cheap airfare makes Iceland more accessible than ever before. Even with the high cost, it’s definitely worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime.
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Iceland Must Do: Hike a Glacier

If there’s one thing you do in Iceland, hike a glacier. It’s worth it.

We almost didn’t do it because it’s a costly venture for two and half hours of walking on ice, but M convinced me with some sound logic: How often do we have the opportunity to hike a glacier? Answer: Not often.

I used our Chase points to allay the costs – about $240 for the two of us with Arcanum Glacier Tours. Iceland is filled with amazing glaciers, but most of them are more than a day trip’s drive. Sólheimajökull glacier is a two hour drive from Reykjavik, giving us some time to stop along the way back for additional sightseeing.

Our group was just four people and our guide – us and another couple. It’s about a 20 minute walk from Arcanum headquarters to the base of the glacier. We stopped to put our ice clamps on our sneakers, and then we began to climb.

@IMG_6747@IMG_6783@IMG_6959***IMG_6765***IMG_6871***IMG_6965**IMG_6687**IMG_6694**IMG_6751I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never even seen a glacier before. But I quickly discovered two things. One — glacier hiking is a workout! Not only was I climbing an ice mountain, I was doing it with clamps strapped to my shoes. Two — it is so damn beautiful, I quickly forgot about the effort. Once we got up onto the glacier, it’s just ice for as long as the eye can see. Ice and sky and waterfalls. Every couple of minutes, I’d look around and wonder: How in the world am I here? 

**IMG_6804**IMG_6849**IMG_6880**IMG_7034If you’re really adventurous (and trained) you can spelunk your way into an ice cave. We stood on the sidelines and gawked appropriately.

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Hiking a glacier is a singular experience, and one of the coolest things I’ve done. Put it on your to-do list asap.

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Make A Golden Circle

There are two ways to see Iceland: Rent a car or take a tour. Both are expensive, but renting a car was actually cheaper for the two of us and allowed us the flexibility to do what we wanted (like take a nap on the side of the road while M painted).

We rented from SAD Cars which, in addition to having the greatest name ever, rents used cars at low (or lower) prices. We rented a basic automatic car for two days for $200. Filling up the tank ran us about $80 — expensive, but that’s Iceland for you. Overall, we found the process very easy. Our car was actually quite nice (heated seats, thank you very much), and driving was a pleasure, minus the hour of torrential rain with extremely limited visibility.

One of the most popular scenic routes in Iceland is the Golden Circle which is a loop outside Reykjavik that hits some amazing sites. Our loop ended up being more of a straight line because we got a late start and were a bit tired by the time we reached Gulfoss. The alternative circular rout takes you south on route 35 to Selfoss and back to Reykjavik on route 1. We had plans to hit route 1 the next day, so we drove back the way we came.

Golden Circle Tour

We hit Iceland’s big three: Pingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss Falls.

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At Pingvellir, you can go snorkling between the Silfra fissure – a crack between the North American and Euroasian continents for a hefty sum of money.

By far, my favorite was Geysir. I’ve seen geysirs before in Yellowstone National Park, but it was just as fun as the first time. Just be prepared to share the fun with a throng of other tourists.

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There are also smaller bubbling pools that are adorable in their own right. Meet Little Geysir.

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From Geysir, we headed to Gulfoss, a massive waterfall about 20 minutes past Geysir.

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On the way back, we stopped for a photoshoot with Icelandic horses. How cute are these guys?

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Take a Hike… In Iceland

Iceland is heaven for hiking enthusiasts. The natural landscape is so different, so breathtaking, it’s pretty much an outdoor playground.

While there are many full- and multi-day hikes for serious trekers, there are also plenty of hikes for the exercise challenged/couch surfers (who could she possibly be talking about??). One such hike is just a short drive outside Reykjavik.

I discovered Reykjadalur Hot Springs on one of my many stumbles around the Internet, and our new Icelandic friend decided to take us there by a happy coincidence.

Reykjadalur, which translates to “steam valley,” is an aptly named 3 km hiking trail outside of Heverageroi. As we began, we were accosted with lush fields, fresh springs, and steam swirling up around us.

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Then, the trail gets steep. Luckily, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to distract me from my huffing and puffing.

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As we neared the end, the steam grew intense, fogging up my camera lens.

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The water is literally boiling, and there are signs warning not to touch it.

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Watch how thick the steam is in this video!

Finally, the trail turns into a boardwalk, and you can even take a dip in the geothermal springs if you are so inclined. While I had absolutely no desire to strip in 45 degrees, plenty of locals and tourists spent the afternoon in the warm, soothing waters – accompanied by bottles of beer, of course!

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Searching for Puffins in Iceland

I was convinced we would  get so close to the puffins I could reach out and pet one. Not that I wanted to pet a puffin, but I did want to photograph their adorable little faces up close and personal. That’s what I thought when I booked a puffin tour for the two of us from Reykjavik.

Wrong.

I suppose it’s not the tour company’s fault. They took us out on an express boat to an island 20 minutes off of Reykjavik’s old harbor. The boat’s ability to get close to the island depends on the weather and the tide – neither of which were in our favor that day.

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I got super excited until I realized this is NOT a puffin. This is your run of the mill seagull.

The tour company offers a 100% success rate. But I guess it depends on your definition of success. We certainly saw puffins – or specks of birds that resemble puffins. I brought my telephoto lens specifically for this task, so you can actually make out the orange-beaked birds in my pictures… barely. But this was a far cry from the tête-à-tête I was expecting.

***IMG_5306***IMG_5329***IMG_5456**IMG_5259Are these guys not the cutest?

Our puffin disappointment aside, it was nice to be out on the water, watch the city grow ever smaller, and stare up at the mountains that seem to go on forever.

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But if you want to see puffins, skip the $50 express tour in Reykjavik. Drive south or west to one of the puffin colonies that offer a much better chance at a face-to-face meeting. Iceland Magazine has a handy map. Hopefully your puffin search will be more successful than ours!

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A Hate Letter To New York City

Dear New York City,

We’ve had our good moments. In my youth, I spent a good six years roaming your streets, soaking up the thrill that only you seem to offer.

Maybe I am just getting old, and that’s not your fault. But, with age comes crankiness, impatience, and a need for a modicum of personal space. As I sit on a non-air conditioned subway car, clinging to a pole for dear life with five other passengers, listening to the conductor blare for the fourth time: “Ladies and gentleman, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us,” I can’t help but think: Thank God I don’t have to do this every day.

When I was young and sprightly, your quirks were charming. Newsflash: It is no longer charming when maneuvering up 6th Ave. feels like an episode in the Hunger Games. I am not certain about much in life, but this I know: That is not a normal way to live.

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When I was young, you were exciting and accessible. Who wants to get something to eat at 11:30 p.m.? Who wants to take a 3 a.m. bus to Washington D.C. from Port Authority? Why? Because we can. This is New York City for goodness sakes.

You are never boring, and there is something to be said for that. I’ve enjoyed your museums, your restaurants, your soaring buildings, your constant indulgence for more, and the shopping – we can’t forget the shopping. I’m still very much a city girl. I like the options, the hum, the productivity – and did I mention the shopping? – that comes with city life.

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New World Trade Center Oculus transportation hub

But you are the edgy, sullen friend that appeared oh so very cool when I was in high school. Now, you are just a colossal pain in my ass.

Or maybe – in the spirit of “its not me, its you” – you are the one getting old. Your arthritic infrastructure heaves and sighs beneath the weight of eight million people competing for meager crumbs of space. Maybe your subway tracks need a new jolt of life (or a complete overhaul). Maybe you need a custodian (read: mayor) more concerned with livability than ideology.

Either way, we will be forced to grow old together. You are home to my favorite people in the world, and so this relationship will carry on. I’m sure we will have good moments ahead of us and many more f-bomb laced bad ones.

Sincerely,

Nam

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