Bohemian Rhapsody in Prague

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I’m not referring to that awesome song by Queen, although that could be a fitting lead to the soundtrack of my time in Prague. Bohemia actually refers to the kingdom from the Holy Roman Empire that later becomes part of the Habsburg Empire.  However, I usually think about the word as defined by its adjective form Bohemian, “someone usually an artist, writer or intellect who lives an unconventional, wandering life.”  While I may not be an artist, writer or intellect, I can definitely relate to the unconventional, gypsy wandering part.  It’s week 3 of this insanely awesome adventure and I’ve been in 4 countries and traveled over 5000 miles, but it’s just now in Prague that it dawned on me that I’m not on vacation.  This is my actual life!

After spending a week here, I can fully understand the many reasons that Prague is on so many people’s list of favorite European cities.  Copenhagen set the bar so high that I wasn’t sure if I could enjoy the next city nearly as much and I am pleased to report that Prague is now also one of my favorite cities.  The architecture alone is just stunning with a combination of baroque, gothic and modern buildings living in harmony.  I was a super-Asian tourist in this city the first couple of days as I HAD to have my camera around my neck because there were simply too many beautiful things to take photos of here.  And each time I saw something that I was certain was the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen, around the corner something else would magically appear and be equally, if not more freaking gorgeous.

National Opera House. One regret: not booking tickets in advance to see an opera or theater here.
National Opera House. One regret: not booking tickets in advance to see an opera or theater here.
Wenceles Square in the Old City
Wenceles Square in the Old City
Tyn Church
Tyn Church
Dancing House
Dancing House
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The Gate from Old to New Towns

In addition to the incredible architectural delights, the city is full of parks, monuments, gardens, sculptures and bridges that are also simply jawdropping.  The central part of the city is broken into several different neighborhoods:

  • Prazky Hrad A Hradcany – Prague Castle
  • Mala Strana (“Little Quarter”)
  • Stare Mesto (“Old Town”)
  • Nove Mesto (“New Town”)
  • Josefov (“Jewish Quarter”)

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Czech Republic is famous for beer so I can attest it's damn good. Also, did you know that America stole the Budweiser name from the CZ? The exact name. WTF.
Czech Republic is famous for beer so I can attest it’s damn good. Also, did you know that America stole the Budweiser name from the CZ? The exact name. WTF.

I stayed in a couple of different Airbnbs outside of the center.  That’s become my preference not only because it tends to be cheaper to stay away from the center of town, but I enjoy being away from the mayhem of tourists and pretending that I’m a local.  It also gives me an opportunity to also buy some food and cook simple stuff so I don’t have to eat all of my meals in cafes or restaurants.  There are aspects of CZ that remind me a bit of my time when I lived in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  The language, food and people are somewhat similar, but the Czech Republic is far more developed and in my opinion, vastly more beautiful than Ukraine (sorry Ukrainian friends!).

And like the other cities I’ve visited to date, these areas are well mapped with public transportation options with metro, buses and trams.  But despite the completely logical and convenient public transportation options, like with the other cities, I spent a good amount of my time lost, wandering around the city.  And here’s the thing, being lost in a city is one of my favorite things, not only because I’m really excellent in this area, but also it’s lead to some of my favorite discoveries whether they’re places or people.

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One of my favorite places that I had to get lost to find is this beautiful garden. You have to walk from the city street into what seems like a random alley and then you stumble into this.
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I was definitely Alice in Wonderland in this garden. You have to eat the cake, walk right into the alley and then you stumble into this Eden.
Gorgeous view from the top of Vrtba Garden.
Gorgeous view from the top of Vrtba Garden.
Vrtbovska Zaharada - 17C baroque garden that totally made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Vrtbovska Zaharada – 17C baroque garden that belonged to a Count.
Franz Kafka sculpture - also an accidental sighting. This a moving piece of art but WordPress said it's too big to load. You should check it out online.
Franz Kafka sculpture – also an accidental sighting. This a moving piece of art but WordPress said it’s too big to load. You should check it out online.
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I climbed another 5k steps, narrowly escaped a head-on collision with a skateboarder and jumped a cement barricade to accidentally get to the National Memorial. And it was worth it.
Another fun surprise whilst lost in Prague.
Another fun surprise whilst lost in Prague.
Obligatory and mandatory gorge sunset photos
Obligatory and mandatory gorge sunset photos
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Prague also freakishly gorgeous at night

On my 3rd day here, I met a woman from London named Annie who was traveling alone for the first time. We bonded for a bit before her group tour at a Starbucks in close proximity to Prague Castle.  She was really excited to have the opportunity to talk to someone because she felt quite alone and isolated and Czech people generally aren’t going to initiate conversation with you, many don’t speak English.  Annie and I laughed about being lost so frequently and while she was really frustrated with herself about it, I told her it’s actually a part of my travel repertoire that I’ve grown to love. And when I asked her about how she was enjoying her first solo trip, she replied with trepidation, “I’m not sure I like it.  It’s lonely and kind of hard.”  And I listened while she shared some of her stress with me.  After she finished, I told her that I agree that solo travel has its moments of loneliness, but that I bet when she’s done, she’ll find that she loves it.  I went on to say “it becomes kind of addictive.  Your schedule is all yours.  You wake up when you want, eat whatever you want, go wherever you’d like and when you’re on your own, every once in a while you meet some pretty great people who may not have approached you if you were with someone else.”  She smiled in reply and said, ” you know, you’re right.  And I feel kind of like a badass warrior doing it on my own, don’t you?”  Yes, Annie, I do.

The Korean Danish Girl

I’m going to start with a critical fact:  Danish men are HOT.  If you need irrefutable scientific evidence to support this claim, see below a photo of Danish hunk Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka Jamie of House Lannister/the “Kingslayer”.

The definition of hot
Copenhagen pile-up

Beyond the fact that Danes are incredibly attractive, they’re warm, friendly, well-spoken, and funny people with really great  calves (note to self:  ride more bikes).  I initially planned to be in Copenhagen for three days, being open to the idea of staying longer, but also a little concerned that my time in the Scandanavian countries was going to deplete my “Where In the World is Sandy” budget. It’s funny how you get an immediate feeling from a new place and by the time you leave you’ve either confirmed your spidey-senses are spot on, or that your first impression instincts are off.  As soon as I stepped out of the Central train station, I got a really good feeling about this place and it wasn’t just because of the hot Danish men and the fact that there’s an amusement park (Tivoli) literally across the street in the middle of the city.

I stayed for the first 3 nights in the city center at Andersen Hotel, a boutique hotel with a room that makes my NYC apartment feel like a giant mansion in comparison.  As I walked toward the hotel, there were the beautiful old European buildings you’d expect, but there were also strip clubs, bars, some drunks and general grittiness that wasn’t visible to me in Stockholm.  I felt completely safe and candidly, more comfortable among all of the imperfections of the city residing along with the beauty.  Perhaps that’s what ultimately made it challenging for me to connect to Sweden; it’s just so perfect.  It could be the same reason that Martha Stewart didn’t appeal to me, she was a reminder of a perfection that I not only couldn’t relate to, but just didn’t really appeal to me.  I can admire it from afar, but being among the imperfect felt much more familiar.

I made a new Danish friend named Coronja on my first full day in Copenhagen.  After wandering around lost for a few hours, but not really upset about it because no matter when I went, there was something cool to photograph and observe and I’ve also rediscovered podcasts.  I highly recommend the Revisionist History podcast hosted by Malcolm Gladwell, which links an event in history with a current political or social issue.

Instead of ending up at the boat tour, I wandered into hippy Shangri-la, a place called Christiana. This town was founded in 1971 and has only about 850 people living in it, but it’s a totally “free society” where all decisions about the town are made and voted on by the entire community.  They have stores, including a very cool, all female Blacksmith shop, cafes, street art, music venues, but the big draw for locals and tourists is the Green Light District where you can openly purchase marijuana and hash.  There are only 3 rules in Christiiana:  don’t run (it’s not legal to buy/smoke in Copenhagen, but they do it without much police interference), no photos, and no “hard” drugs. Apparently in the ’90s, the hippies threw out the Hells Angels and banned hard drugs and the area has been crime-free ever since.  These are some badass hippies.

Entrance to Christiana

Coronja and her friend Panelja sat by me on a bench outside of a cafe and she was so direct, smart, opinionated and had a wicked sense of humor.  I liked her immediately.  We talked about everything from travel, tips on what to do and see in Copenhagen, terrorists (it was the morning of the horrific Nice attack), politics and honestly, poked some fun at Swedish perfectionism. I’d learn later, that the Scandanavians have a friendly competitiveness between the different countries.  Coronja and I set a date to hang out for dinner the following night and I was excited to meet my first real travel friend.  We spent quite a bit of time together while I was in Copenhagen and I referred to her as my Danish Fairy Godmother because she was so cool and helpful.  And in turn, I ended up spending a day/evening helping her move out of her apartment into temporary housing. When she told me she was moving and didn’t have much help, I felt major empathy having just gone through a move myself a couple of months ago and I had the benefit of movers, friends and family who helped and it was still an epic nightmare.  Just imagining being 52 and because of a complicated housing system that I frankly don’t understand, she did not have a new apartment lined up and so she was putting her stuff into storage (sounds familiar) and would be staying in a small mobile home.  Helping my Danish Fairy Godmother felt more important that seeing one more museum and I’m happy I did it. I have a feeling she and I will stay in touch and hopefully see each other during while we’re both wandering Europe.

In addition to moving Coronja, I got to see some pretty amazing and fabulous places in Copenhagen.  There are museums, castles, canal tours, gardens, theaters and so much more.  I’m going to only highlight the few things that I felt were the standouts for me, and candidly, I took the tourist-mode down a level and did less visiting sights and more just wandering around and hanging out with my local friend.

The places I highly recommend includes Tivoli Garden – this is the Disney of Denmark, but less commercial and more charming.  Yes there are rides and carnival games, but there are also white peacocks, beautiful flowers, random Taj Mahal-like building, and much more.

Copenhagen Boat/Canal Tours – a great way to see some of the beautiful homes, major tourist attractions without having to go in and the ride is about an hour and good way to get a feel of the city.  I continue to be in envious awe of the multi-lingual nature of the Scandanavians as my tour guide seamlessly gave the tour in Danish, German and English with seemingly perfect accents all around.

Classic Copenhagen
Smallest house in Denmark
Opera House
The Little Mermaid’s back
Seriously low bridges

My last day in the city was spent in my favorite place in Copenhagen, the Botanical Garden. This is a free sight, which is a treat since Denmark, like it’s Scandanavian cousins, ain’t cheap.  I spent over $50 on city transportation passes.  The fact that it’s free doesn’t take away from its value — this place feels like Eden.  The flowers, ponds, landscapes and there’s a seriously peaceful vibe that permeates the entire grounds.  Danes were spotted all along the grass, having a picnic or just taking an afternoon nap.

While I was sitting on a bench in a wooden part of the garden, I was listening to the TED Radio podcast episode titled “Becoming Wiser” which was a discussion about what makes us grow wiser, whether it’s aging, life experience or more.  One of the guests, Boyd Varti, a South African conservationist and author of The Cathedral of the Wild shared stories about growing up in his family’s wildlife reservation, having Nelson Mandela come to their park, being rescued by his hero, an African guide and the story that had me in tears was about a deformed elephant named Elvis.  She is a female elephant that the guides named Elvis because her deformity gave her a walk that resembled the slow side-to-side sway of the King himself.  Boyd talked about how he was certain that Elvis wouldn’t make it very long and that all of the locals were so happy to see her five years later at a waterhole with a herd that had adopted her.  And when Elvis was trying desperately to push herself up a steep hill and kept sliding back, one of the adolescent elephants came behind her to lift her up with his trunk.  And the matriarch would leave branches on the ground for Elvis.  The herd, according to Boyd, slowed down to allow her to stay with them.  This was all in explanation of the concept of “Ubuntu” a Zulu phrase that means “I am because of you” meaning we are truly ourselves when we connect with other living beings.  It’s this EXACT thing I felt when I went to Africa in July 2014.  I recall coming back from that trip feeling so humbled at what I saw among the animals and the people who live in a way that’s so natural and connected.  It’s simple, sometimes brutal, but undoubtedly connected.  I never knew this feeling I experienced had a name and an idea that so perfectly captures that feeling.  And that feeling is so powerful, it’s what perpetuated me into this life-altering experience.

Ubuntu is not only why I’m doing what I’m now doing, but also why I felt such an incredible connection to Iceland, being in a place of where nature is everything and also in Copenhagen where I could feel connected to the natural beauty, but also to the people.

Here’s a link to Boyd Varti’s TED talk that does a much better explanation of Ubuntu than I’m doing here.

Coronja my Danish Fairy Godmother
One night there was the most incredible sky

A ginger squirrel enjoying some of my apple
Me getting all National Geographic with the bees and flowers

I mean, this is insanely beautiful right?

Sweden: More than Dancing Queen & IKEA

It seems that my pattern upon arriving into a new country is to be as sleep deprived and delirious as possible so Sweden would be no different.  The flight from Reykjavik to Vestras, which is one of the small, regional airports was quick and painless at just under three hours.  I am becoming a fan of WOW Air, not only because of the exceptionally attractive flight team, but if y0u’re going to be that tired, it’s somehow comforting to be surrounded by that much purple. Also great was that we were the only flight to land at Vestras at 5am and so there were no crowds or lines, in fact, we entered the country without passport or customs checks.  And the bus from Vestras to Stockholm was also an easy hour ride, clean and had wifi.  So far, so good Sweden.

I came to Sweden knowing very little about the country other than a few random bits about Swedish pop culture (i.e. ABBA, the Swedish Chef and some DJs that my former boss and the rest of the world are obsessed with).  I’ve expanded my knowledge about the country and people significantly thanks to some time in a few of the many museums and cultural centers in Stockholm.  Stockholm is a beautiful city with about 900k beautiful Swedes living here and is comprised of a bunch of small islands that are connected and that you can drive, walk, bike or ferry across.  The public transportation system here is incredibly efficient, inexpensive (I had an SJ Pass that gave me unlimited metro, bus and ferry access for 72 hours for about $3!) and easy to navigate.  The many transportation options were key during my few days here as it rained almost every day.

View to Gamla Stan “Old City”
Walking from Gamla Stan to Normmalm
Ferry from Slussen to Djugarden

The first couple of days I stayed at The Story Hotel, a small boutique hotel in the Sundbybergs neighborhood, which was quiet and not touristy, which were two qualities I appreciated. When I first got out of the metro, I was lost and ended up at what seemed to be a deserted business park.  There were no people.  Just empty buildings.  Thankfully, a kind and lovely woman named Sylvia (same as baby sis) helped me out of there and walked back toward the metro in the direction of my hotel.  Sylvia is Serbian and came to Stockholm about 3 years ago and works cleaning office buildings.  She’s saving money and waiting for her resident card, which takes about 4 years so she has just 6 months left.  She seemed almost as excited as I was to have someone to talk to, I have a feeling she doesn’t get too much of an opportunity to do that cleaning offices.  When I asked Sylvia if she liked Stockholm, she looked at me, smiled and said, “Not really.  It’s a big city, expensive and too many people. All I can do is work all the time.  I make money to send to my family and I miss nature.”  I hear you, Sylvia.  I know exactly what you mean.

My first night I was too tired to do much exploring, so I stumbled around Sundbybergs, which was mostly residential with large apartment complexes.  I noticed quite a few Indian restaurants and when I was hungry and saw a Chinese place, I decided my first night in Sweden, I would be eating Chinese.  My transition to becoming my mom is near complete and I cannot go a week without rice and some form of Asian food.  Thankfully, the place was good and most importantly they had spicy pepper sauce.  It turns out there is a pretty significant  Asian presence in the city.

The next morning, I woke up earlier than I hoped and set off for Gamla Stan, the “Old City” which was just a short metro ride from me. While the city is absolutely beautiful with its cobblestone streets and stunning architecture, there were way too many people.  Perhaps it was coming from Iceland where I always felt there was plenty of room to breathe and stretch my arms, this felt by comparison, a bit too claustrophobic.  That said, there were some great things to see:

  • The Royal Palace – the official residence and workplace of the King and Queen.  I didn’t go in but you can wander the public spaces including the courtyard.
  • Deutschland Kirsche – the German Church a 17th C church and as with so many countries, some of the most beautiful buildings, art and stained glass can be found in these old churches.
  • Nobel Museum – my favorite place in Gamla Stan.  The museum is a manageable size and does nice job of balancing the educational and interactive aspects all with impeccable Swedish design.  I learned about Alfred Nobel who was a fascinating man who loved travel as much as science and human advancement.  I also observed that women are far underrepresented in the Nobel Prize area, but like with everything else in the world, let’s keep hoping that changes.
Deutsch Kirsche “German Church” on a rainy afternoon

Fountain in Kungstragarden
The Royal Palace
Palace guard very excited to have his photo taken
Palace courtyard
Inside Royal Palace

Narrow streets of Gamla Stan

Just following in Alfred’s footsteps
Outside of Nobel, it’s starting to get crazy crowded
Leon Lederman, Nobel winner for Physics in 1988 showing that there are apparently Nobel Prize groupies
I was excited to show mom the former Korean President as a Nobel winner. Her reply, “He Communist! He give lot of money to N Korea. He’s bad.”
Malala a very deserving and young Noble Winner

Next is Skeppsholmen, a small island where the Moderna Museet (Modern Museum) is located.  It was pouring so I and several others were disappointed to find that the museum and all of this island’s museums are closed on Mondays.  I didn’t let the rain stop me from enjoying some of the fun outdoor sculptures outside of the museum.

The Four Elements

I moved from The Story to an Airbnb in Hornstull in a different part of the city.  I stayed with a nice and quirky woman named Jeanette who gave me really helpful tips and made me feel very welcome in her home.  I wanted to see another part of town and save a little $$ as Stockholm is a pretty expensive city.  A modest meal is going to run about $25-30 so I did a lot of grabbing snacks from the grocery and saved
the dining out for dinner.  I know the city is well known for its fine dining, but I was pretty happy with my local and more modest joints.  The Swedish meatballs are pretty damn good.

Note these are the Swedish meatballs with DIY “mashed potatoes”

I went back to Skeppsholmen because I really wanted to see the Moderna and I’m so happy I did because it was my favorite site in the city.  I LOVED the Yayoi Kusama exhibit which was very much like the Japanese pop artist herself, colorful and unique.  There was also a “New Human Exhibit” which wascomprised of

mixed media art from various artists from different countries presenting political, social and cultural statements about the current state of humanity.  I know that sounds serious and there were certainly aspects that were super heavy, but there were also some pretty hilarious and irreverent parts too.

Narcissus Garden. She did this originally in the ’60s.

Don’t be surprised when this is my next Halloween costume

Couldn’t get enought of this this room surrounded by water on both sides
This artist captured internet chat date audio (including the sex talks) with these adorable animations.

This little Syrian girl drew a series of pictures describing the horror of escape.
Xanadu was a fascinating mix of anti-religious fanatacism and anti-war set to Britany Spears, Donna Summers and Olivia Newton John music.

I spent my last tour day on the island of Djurgarden, home of the famous Vasa Museet, ABBA Museet, Nordic Museet, Skansen and Grona Lund a family theme park.  It was the first day that it wasn’t raining so I wanted to take advantage and be outside as much as possible so I opted to walk around the beautiful gardens and go to Skansen the “open air folk museum”.  The Vasa is the most popular museum in Stockholm and although it looked super cool, the line was longer than anything I’d seen and unless the tour ended with me being captured by an actual Viking, I felt like I could skip it.  The Skansen was interesting, a mix of colonial Swedish life complete with young people in costume (shout out to Colonial Williamsburg!) and Swedish wild life.

View from Djugarden
Lovely cemetary and Nordic Museum in the backdrop
Grona Lund

Front: Traditional Swedish Folk Costume. Back: Traditional Tourist Costume.
Swedish Elk
No, I’m not in Hamilton.

Overall, I thought Stockholm was an amazing city that offers so many things to do and places to see.  For me, it was almost too many places and things.  Not to complain too much since I’m so grateful to be on a trip of a lifetime, but all of this country and city hopping (especially on a lame ankle) is pretty exhausting.  And for those who’ve asked what it’s like to travel alone, I LOVE it, but it can sometimes feel a little lonely and I think that’s more evident when you’re in a larger city.  The Swedish people are attractive, active and seemingly really busy, but I don’t get the friendliest vibe from this place.  I don’t think it’s the people, I think it’s like any big city where everyone has somewhere to be and quickly.  So my new Serbian friend Sylvia is right,  I miss nature and a slower pace, so I foresee a small beach town in my near future.  But not until I see my last Scandanavian city, Copenhagen.

Leaving America and Hello Iceland

Before I get into the magical land of Iceland, I’m going to start with the end.  The end of my time in the USA.  I left on July 5th, after a month of spending time in DC with my family and friends and a whirlwind week in New Orleans < Florida < DC. It’s been two months since I left my job and the question most often asked is “how do you feel?”  It’s a pretty simple question, but honestly I had trouble saying anything more than a generic “great” or “excited” when the truth was I didn’t feel much at all.  To recap, I quit my job at a company I worked for on and off for over 15 years, left NYC, a city that I loved and feared at the same time (but LOVE my NYC peeps), moved my worldly possessions into storage and was about to embark on a trip of unknown length and undetermined destinations.  You’d think these actions would result in a deluge of emotions and descriptions beyond “great” and “excited”right?  

I shed a few tears saying goodbye to mom and sister Sylvia at the airport, but not until they left and couldn’t see me, but it was still subdued.  It’s like my human feelings adapter was disconnected from my body.  That was until the aptly named WOW Airlines flight (cheap tickets to REK and other European cities. Many people I’ve met did layovers here on their way to Europe) took off and then the feelings came in like a TSUNAMI.  I’m not a nervous flyer, in fact, I often find that during take off, I feel a sense of relief and excitement about wherever I’m going.  Tears fell so hard down my face and I tried desperately to muffle my sobs as I could sense that I was freaking out my seatmates, but I literally could not stop myself from crying.  After months of suppressing my feelings about making such massive changes in my life, I could no longer hold it inside and as the plane ascended, my feelings did too.  So I put my sunglasses on, placed my Bose (thank you Bil!) headphones in and LET IT GO.  I cried about leaving my family and friends.  I cried about leaving my job and people that I care about.  I cried about not knowing where my prescription meds are in storage.  But mostly, I think I cried because I was actually doing this

Kex hostel
Gorgeous glaciers
Icelandic folklore. that these rocks are trolls trapped in the ocean by the sun.
geyser just before it goes crazy
Lief Erikkson

Like so many of my family/friends, I live a life of constant responsibility, obligation and regard for doing the “right thing” and as an immigrant, I think even more so.  I cannot remember a time in my life that I didn’t work.  When we came to America I was just 5 years old and I remember working at my family’s dry cleaning business.  I knew how to run a cash register before I knew how to ride a bike.  And every spring, summer and winter break involved working with mom at her store.  And then at 15 when I could legally work, I worked at Ben Franklin and helped women find their potpourri and make crafty albums.  So fast forward to 2016 and I’ve been working for over 37 years of my life and by Social Security standards, I still have 25 years to go.  I just knew if I didn’t hit pause and took a break, I might break. 

And so I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it and as so many people have said, brave enough.  I kept hearing from  friends words like “brave” and “proud” to describe what I’m doing, and I don’t think it really connected until the plane lifted and I knew that I was leaving not just America behind, but everything and everyone I knew.  And for maybe the first time in my life, I was doing something that was purely for ME.  I wasn’t joining the Peace Corps (been there and done that in 2003 during my other non-break) to better the world.  I was choosing to seek pleasure and joy for myself and do something that was just for me.  And how rare is it that we do that?  So I think that’s why I cried so damn much.  

 Enough of the feelings stuff.  Let’s get Iceland!  I arrived July 5th and spent 5 days in Reykjavik.  I’ve had other friends come here and I’ve seen their photos and heard their stories, but it’s really something that if you can, you should experience yourself.  It’s an island of just 300k people, 70% of whom live in the capital area.  I arrived just two days after their soccer team’s triumphant return from Eurocup (damn!), but the feeling of pride and excitement is definitely still palpable.  And there are giant photos of the (HOT) soccer players all over the city.  I scored with weather as it was pretty warm and sunny up every day I was here!  Names of streets and people are pretty much unprounciable, but everyone is patient and quite friendly and thankfully many are fluent English speakers.  The women are gorgeous – fair, blonde/ginger supermodels with narrow faces and long, lean legs.  I obviously blended right in. The men are totally men, some serious Viking beards, non of that pretty hipster manicured facial hair here.  

I’m here at the height of tourist season, but it still isn’t crowded anywhere.  I stayed at two different places in the city, the first was Capt. Reykjavik’s Guesthouse, which was super low key and incredibly clean.  I had a small room and shared bathroom, which is honestly not an inconvenience since everyone’s out all day/night.  Connie who runs the place is smiley and polite and makes fresh bread for breakfast.  The second place is called the Kex Hostel, it’s trendy, social and there’s a huge restaurant/bar area where many locals come to hang out. I splurged for a private bathroom in this place.  For those planning to come here, yes it’s expensive.  The rooms where I stayed ranged from $180-$250/night and that’s for guest houses and hostels people.  But you don’t need a luxury hotel b/c you’ll want to be outside all of the time.  And with nearly 24 hours of daylight, it’s easy to be outside.  Less easy to sleep, but that’s OK because I’ll sleep in America.  

The city is small and clean and super easy to get around because everything is pretty walkable.  When I arrived sleep-deprived and delirious at 4:55am, I couldn’t check in to my place until 2pm so I walked around and checked out some of the local sites.  My favorite things in the city:

  • Solfar, the “dreamboat” that faces the water and stands for undiscovered places, the promise of hope, progress and freedom.  I couldn’t have stated my current experience better than that.  
  • Hallgrimskirkja – the church and tower which is the 3rd largest building in Iceland
  • Icelandic Phallogical Museum – how could I possibly miss this? A museum collection of over 200 mammalian penises. That’s one of the things I love about this city, there’s a sense of humor and quirkiness here that’s so natural and inherent to the people and culture.  

The food is good here and yes also expensive.  You can’t get a sandwich and beer for less than $20.  I tried some Icelandic dishes including a breakfast of “mashed fish” on toast and it was delicious.  The name doesn’t do it justice.  And at Cafe Loki you can have their rye bread ice cream and also sounds weird but is super good. Seafood is obviously the mainstay, but don’t worry, there are burgers and fries too.  The lamb soup is also very delish.  

I could spend the next week talking about all of the incredible natural wonders of Iceland.  This place is truly magical and the Vikings who settled here picked one beautiful island in which to settle.  Here you can see rivers, lakes that look like mirrors, geysers, oceans with black sand, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, fjords and volcanoes!  Some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  If you come here, you must do that GeoIceland South Coast Tour.  That’s where you’ll see the mountain, glaciers and waterfalls.  Avoid the bigger bus tours, especially Grayline.  Too many people and the guide was somber, muffled and not the best English speaker, which makes for a long 9 hour day.  A lot of people rent cars and DIY, but these guys are incredibly knowledgable, passionate and environmentally conscientious and keep the tours to small groups.  My guide Grousif (sp??) looked like a supermodel and had the brain of a PhD anthropologist, plus a great sense of humor.  She told us about the history, the geology and culture, including a hilarious account of how a couple of Icelandic guys created an app for locals to date and also avoid “awkward endings” in case they’re too closely related!  Like I said, only 300k people here and everyone’s pretty hot.  Must sees if you tour:

  • Strokkur or the Great Geyser – the smell isn’t that bad and it’s worth seeing this big guy explode 
  • Skogafoss and Seljaleandsfoss – the waterfalls including one you can walk behind! 
  • Solheimajokull – GLACIERS!  My favorite and most incredible thing I’ve seen.  You can actually do a hike, but due to a lame ankle sprain, I settled for walking up to it and touching it and even that blew my mind.  
  • Reynisfjara – a gorgeous black sand beach and cliffs that look like the Iron Throne also home to puffins but those guys are pretty tough to spot.  

I skipped the Blue Lagoon, which is one of the most famous sites in Iceland, but it was mostly booked up and from what I heard from locals, I’d be better off going to a local pool so I did.  And instead of $90, I spent $9 and avoided the crowds and got to enjoy the awesome geothermal pools.  There is still so much I haven’t seen in Iceland, including the Westfjords and north, but I’ll be back.  

So to come back to the question of “how do you feel?”.  I feel lucky, energized and exhausted, thrilled, content and like I’m starting live full-throttle.  

And next up, is Sweden!  

Kex Hostel: Bar/Restaurant and lounge area
Double rainbow!
Glaciers! Btw, it was warm .
Black sand beach and those blurry fuzzy things are Puffins
I didn’t do this, but I’ll take the photo anyway
How Icelanders watch football
Cliffs a la Iron Throne
Remember that 2010 Volcanic Ash? It’s this guy’s fault.
Not an optical illusion. Lake you can see during Golden Circle tour
City center at midnight
Bathroom at Cafe Babalu. This is the quirkiness I love.
Got Milk? Sculpture Garden in Museum
Bjork sighting!
Go here for mashed fish and rye bread ice cream. Seriously.

Bae (“Bye” in Icelandic) America!

After a proper Fourth of July send off and celebrating America with BBQ, beer and Breaking Bad (mom’s current binge), it’s time to say goodbye to my family and friends and start this adventure. 

So many people have asked “what are you bringing? How big is your bag?” 

So to dispel the mystery, I’m bringing my carry on roller and a day pack.  The color matching was purely but fortuitously coincidental/kismet. I’ve limited myself to 3 pairs of shoes, t-shirts, a few pants, skirt, a couple of summer dresses, toiletries and some warmer items for Iceland.  And of course I’ve brought the many incredible gifts from friends who’ve given me phone cases, perfect pens, journals, self-addressed cards, bracelets and most importantly your love and support. 

Next stop, Reykjavik!