A Wild and Beautiful Ride Through Ireland

OH Ireland, you're such a beauty!
OH Ireland, you’re such a beauty!
The movie version of my trip to Ireland would be most similar to one of my all-time favs, Thelma & Louise minus the [SPOILER] tragic end where our heroines dive off the cliff and sadly no shirtless appearance by Brad Pitt.  I met my friend Amy in Dublin on a Sunday night and like our counterparts, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, we were ready to have a fun girl’s night out without any of the bad parts. We had a fabulous meal at the Winding Stair (thanks Katie for the awesome recommendation!) – it was my first sort-of fancy meal (“fancy” meaning it was a $20 entree) and I had the best smoked haddock with cream sauce (you’re not dieting in Ireland), mashed potatoes (obvs) and Duvel, one of my favorite but dangerous Belgian beers at 8.5% alcohol, causing the waiter to warn, “you’ll only need one of these” (he obviously doesn’t know how I roll.) Actually, he was right, I felt pretty drunk after one, but that didn’t stop us from having half pints of Guinness — my new obsession — at Temple Bar and listening to Irish tunes (which amazingly Amy knows all of the words). And in just two hours of being here, Ireland you’ve already lived up to your fun-loving and friendly reputation.

A gorgeous pedestrian bridge in Dublin.
A gorgeous pedestrian bridge in Dublin.
An important part of the Irish experience is an appreciation of Guinness, it's gorgeous color and taste and I can proudly say that I practiced this many times during my trip.
An important part of the Irish experience is an appreciation of Guinness, it’s gorgeous color and taste and I can proudly say that I practiced this many times during my trip.
Temple Bar, a popular spot in Dublin for drinks, food and Irish mayhem.
Temple Bar, a popular spot in Dublin for drinks, food and Irish mayhem.
Amy’s one of my closest friends from that crazy time in my life when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and lived in Ukraine; shot vodka like it was water (no chaser); spoke Russian with a dark and brooding accent; I had a dozen jobs volunteering with tourism, teens, seniors, and women because even under the oppression of a former Soviet state whose people patiently wait out 9 months of the most unforgiving and darkest winters, I still wanted to be an American optimist and overachiever. Amy’s the Louise of our duo. She’s logistics and logic, sometimes unexpectedly angry but always has a huge heart and is often the smartest person in the room and  the most well traveled (she’s been to EVERY country in Europe except for a couple that I didn’t even know were actual countries). Amy’s been to Dublin a couple of times before so she had a great plan (augmented by my favorite American Irish lass Adrienne) of what we should see in the 3 days we had together so she rented a car and we were off!

Thelma & Louise the happier Irish sequel
Thelma & Louise the happier Irish sequel
So we had a 3 day road trip around the south and west of Ireland and in typical Amy style, it was incredibly efficient without losing the best sights and we made time for a bit of tourism but more for fun. Our first overnight was in the Dingle Peninsula, near the south coast and from what Amy and her pal and travel writer Rick Steves says, is a mini version of the Ring of Kerry with far fewer tour buses and people. The actual town of Dingle is just as its name suggests, cute, quaint and makes you giggle just saying the word. And the peninsula and surrounding landscape are quite beautiful. There’s something about all of that rain that makes everything in Ireland look so many variations of green. We stayed about 10km just outside of Dingle and had the most ridiculous exchange with my Airbnb host Padraig, who despite multiple attempts to get the actual address of the home would only give me gems like COORDINATES to put into my GPS or Sat Nav that we didn’t have in our sweet VW rental. And when I plugged those coordinates into Google Maps, it said I needed to go to Manilla, Philippines. This was funny for the first few hours this was happening, Amy and I could giggle it off with things like “remember those crazy times in Ukraine like when you got in trouble for the way you danced? ‘Your hips moved too much’ [this was according to Vadim our PC language and culture teacher who later became a great pal]. Note, this is one of the reasons that I am the Thelma of this movie. And thanks to Amy’s incredible sense of direction and ability to covert metric numbers on the fly and my ability to curse and crack jokes, we found it in the dark.

Driving the Dingle
Driving the Dingle and hoping we find our guest house no thanks to Padraig’s coordinates to Manilla.
The absolutely adorable town of Dingle
The absolutely adorable town of Dingle
Dingle, not just a fun word to say.
Dingle, not just a fun word to say.
Driving the Dingle and sharing the tiny, winding roads with big ass tour buses.
Driving the Dingle and sharing the tiny, winding roads with big ass tour buses.
The next stop was Galway a smaller city on the west coast where we had a fun night of dinner, pubs with live music and stayed in an adorable B&B called Rusheen Bay just outside the city by the Galway Bay and its beach. 

One of the things about being on the road that hasn’t been the most awesome is sleep, or more precisely the lack thereof.  I’ve battled insomnia for years on and off and it’s most often due to stress, it’s another cool thing I’ve inherited from my mom. And you’d think all of this travel and incredible experiences would mean I get the best sleep of my life, right? Sadly, no, I’m averaging about 3-4 hours a night. What do I have to be stressed about? It could be happy anxiety when I know I’m going to a new place, or just arrived in one and trying to convince myself the “world is my bed” and “this mattress is as comfortable as my mattress” or “don’t be tied to worldly possessions such as high thread count sheets”. But I think the real anxiety is about the fact that although I am on a trip of a lifetime, the rest of the world and everyone I care about who is in it are dealing with their own stuff that includes the good and also the not so good. It’s so hard to hear sad news from home and be far away, but I also feel guilty because I feel relieved to be away from it and then I add more guilt on top of that because that makes me feel selfish. So I woke up after a not restful 3 hours of sleep and decided to go on an early morning walk on the beach before we got back in the car. During my walk,  I saw some people swimming in the freezing water including some seriously jacked older ladies who were probably in their 60s but looked like Olympic swimmers and I listened to Katy Perry’s “Rise” and I cried. At first I cried because I thought how unfair it is that I am having the time of my life and feeling so grateful for this, but then there are people I love who are struggling and feeling rundown by life. We are at polar ends of the emotional spectrum and I just wished that I could share the joy that I’ve been feeling since I’ve started this whole thing with them, that I would do it in a heartbeat and that I wished this feeling could be felt by everyone I love because don’t we all deserve to feel this kind of joy and hope? The walk didn’t answer my questions, but it did make me feel a little better and for those of us who believe in signs, some dolphins were swimming and jumping in the same direction as my walk and lead me all the way to the end of my walk (yup, that made me cry too).

Amy and I had a great Italian dinner in Galway aka home of aggressive seagulls. Here she catches me trying not to be sketched out by one.
Amy and I had a great Italian dinner in Galway aka home of aggressive seagulls. Here she catches me trying not to be sketched out by one.
A sunrise walk along Galway Bay where I was escorted by a kind dolphin
A sunrise walk along Galway Bay where I was escorted by a kind dolphin
Before we headed back to Dublin, Amy took us through Connemara, which turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. We were lucky to see Connemara in both its dark and haunted phase and then all green and blue magnificent in the sun. And thanks to Louise’s ability to navigate without the internet and her aggressive American driving through the tiny, winding roads, we got to see the whole glorious pass and she’s a BEAUTY. There were sheep everywhere, on the expansive fields, on the sides of mountains, a sight I never get sick of seeing especially when these sheep are like Spider-Man climbing perpendicular to the ground and looking fucking adorable doing it! There are lakes, wild flowers, mountains, rocks and green and yellow fields galore. We stopped for a quick bite and I got to chat with an Irish gentleman I’m pretty sure was flirting with me and was at least 80 years old.  He wanted to know where I was from and told me that you need “good rain shoes up here. I was stuck in my house for 3 days once because of the rain” as he stared with concern at my loafers.
The dark side of Connemara
The dark side of Connemara
And Connemara in the sunlight
And Connemara in the sunlight
My obsession with these guys in Connemara was so intense I wanted to buy anything with these cute sheep on them.
My obsession with these guys in Connemara was so intense I wanted to buy anything with these cute sheep on them.
We spent one last night in Dublin before Amy was to leave for Scotland and I would be off to Amsterdam the following day. So we ended the way we started, with good Irish food, music, Guinness and more laughs about PC Ukraine. I stayed one more day and was lucky enough to meet up with my pal Rob from XM to SXM days who was there with his gal Amy and her brother and sister-in-law. I went to the Teeling Whiskey Tour with them and pretended I was paying attention to the tour but our guide with his mind blowing hotness (plus hot Irish accent) was just too much and when this movie is made, he will be cast as Brad Pitt’s character. After the whiskey, we decided to stop by the “oldest pub in Dublin” for a beer and I had an exciting run in with Santa, who must’ve been taking a much-needed break of his own.

We hit some great pubs and caught fun live Irish music our last night in Dublin. Thank you, Amy (my Louise) for an amazing road trip.
We hit some great pubs and caught fun live Irish music our last night in Dublin. Thank you, Amy (my Louise) for an amazing road trip.
This is the tour guide at Teeling Distillery who will be cast as my Brad Pitt.
This is the tour guide at Teeling Distillery who will be cast as my Brad Pitt.
Santa could also be a possible love interest candidate.
Santa could also be a possible love interest candidate.
Thanks Ireland for a great time and for Connemara one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. And special shout out to Amy/Louise for taking us on a wild, fun and unforgettable ride.

Scotland IS Magical

Ahhhhhh the sunsets in Edinburgh.
Ahhhhhh the sunsets in Edinburgh.
I almost lumped in Scotland with my London post, but that would have been a major disservice to a country that has a history of fiercely fought independence and a spirit to match. Scotland is absolutely breathtaking — the landscape, the architecture, the colors are some of the greenest and greyest I’ve ever seen.  And as if that’s not enough to convince you about Scotland’s awesomeness, did you know their national animal is the UNICORN?! That strikes deep in this child of the ’80s  whose favorite sweatshirt of all-time is the rainbow colored unicorn with glittery horn and still obsessed with the unicorns in that wacky film Legend with Tom Cruise.  Scots have a great sense of humor blending warmth and sarcasm, their accents are probably my favorite to date, can sometimes be difficult to understand, but it is always a pleasure to listen. My time in Scotland was spent meeting up with old friends (my college roomie Asha and my friend Amy’s mom Irina), making new friends and feeling an incredibly deep satisfaction with my time alone.

View from my amazing room at Igor's. If you go to Edinburgh and want a unique experience, stay here.
View from my amazing room at Igor’s. If you go to Edinburgh and want a unique experience, stay here.
I started in Edinburgh, the gorgeous capital city and stayed in New Town at an Airbnb hosted by my new pal Igor. Only in a city as old as Edinburgh could a part town that was built in the 18th century be called “New Town”. Climbing a shitload of stairs within the building and eventually to my room, I was rewarded with the most magnificent view of the city and beautiful church from my bedroom window. I’d spend every night that I was there staring outside of that window and each time stood in awe as I was mesmerized by the slow, luxurious sunset after 9pm.  Igor is an artist who is mostly focused on documentaries, but has a natural curiosity about everything from history, carpentry, design, macrobiotic diets and much more. I have a natural soft spot for artists because of my sister Sylvia whose artist’s mind makes her equally passionate about 3D modeling to the differences in paper textures, as she is about breeding pet crawfish (this is a real example so if anyone has an interest in a pet crawfish, please don’t hesitate to ask me about this).

That's Arthur's Seat behind the small area of town.
That’s Arthur’s Seat behind the small area of town.
Two of my favorite days in Edinburgh involved starkly contrasting experiences. The first was going on a couple of “walks” in the city. These “walks” are really a misleading term because they involve some serious and treacherous climbs up these massively mountainous hills that formed after volcanic activity. I did two of the most famous walks in the same day, a miscalculation on my “no planning necessary and be spontaneous” part that had me climbing over 1100 feet that day. But I’m so happy that I not only climbed up Calton Hill, but followed it up by the much more challenging Arthur’s Seat climb because that kind of physical exertion when rewarded by astounding views makes you feel like a goddamn SUPERHERO. There were moments during the Arthur’s Seat climb when I would stare at the completely vertical, unstable and rocky trail and think, “I don’t think I can actually do this. I’m not strong enough. I’m in terrible shape. Why didn’t I work out more before I left NYC? OMG, my knees are going to collapse and some kind stranger is going to have to carry me down or Edinburgh rescue will have to send a mule up to get me off this MF mountain.” But then I decided to take the climb up with the way approach I think we should be moving forward in life: one strong step at a time and not too focused on how much longer it takes to get to the finish. And after I expended as much sweat and fear as possible, I made it to the top and I high-fived myself.

Ruins at the top of Calton Hill.
Ruins at the top of Calton Hill.
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Monument atop Calton Hill. And yes, climbed to the top of that bad boy too.
Holyrod Park leading to Arthur's Seat
Holyrod Park leading to Arthur’s Seat
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Sweaty satisfaction on Arthur’s Seat.
Some gorgeousness coming down from Holyrod
Some gorgeousness coming down from Holyrod
My other favorite day was spent on a spontaneous art tour with Igor and his friends in the city. I was lucky enough to get to Edinburgh right at the beginning of the famous Fringe Festival (for those unaware it’s one of the largest international arts and cultural festivals in the world). But Igor wanted us to go take the lesser known and free Art Festival tour so he, a lovely Lithuanian musician named Zurida and Pat his friend from St. Andrews University all followed along. While the art tour itself was fine
but the real fun was after when Igor who has a deep pride and enthusiasm for the city wanted to take us on what I would call the “Detour Tour”. The Detour Tour included pit stops for Thai food, beers, a visit to a bar where you can literally just lay down while having your drinks (formerly a brothel so yuck, I didn’t lay there), a visit to a tiny secret garden (possibly trespassing on private property), Igor’s attempt to get inside the city morgue (we were denied and I was relieved) and the best was a visit to Pat’s family in their beautiful home where we had dinner and drinks. We were originally just dropping Pat off as he was visiting his dad and stepmom and siblings from South Africa, but the Detour Tour lasted much longer withhis parents generously offering us wine, dinner and a hilarious and lively conversation about everything from Brexit to Trump (I’ve become an international anti-Trump apologist being asked in every country about how this could happen), travel, how Pat’s dad went to school with Tony Blair (whom pretty much every British person seems to dislike immensely), Pat’s teenage brother who looks like one of the leads in One Direction or whomever is the most popular Brit teen boy band talked to me about how he doesn’t want to visit the US even though he likes Americans because he can’t drink alcohol which is something he’s done responsibly with his family and friends since 14. There were really no topics off limit. This was a gorgeous, smart, connected, well traveled and hilarious family and by the time we left, a little buzzed on wine and excellent conversation, I wanted to be adopted.

Super host and new friend Igor
Super host and new friend Igor
Highlight of the Detour Tour was visiting this awesome family.
Highlight of the Detour Tour was visiting this awesome family.
In Edinburgh, you walk through all of these cool dark alleys with great names like Tol
In Edinburgh, you walk through all of these cool dark alleys with great names like Tol
While I was in Edinburgh, I got a Facebook message from one of my old college roommates Asha whom I haven’t seen or heard from in a decade and invited me to come and see her in Aberdeen just about 2 hours north of Edinburgh. That’s the thing about social media, I used to think of it mostly as a tool for work and for feeling annoyed about inane posts about the sandwich you’ve eaten that day, but it’s really become a lifeline for me. I’ve come to appreciate how it can be such an invaluable tool to feel connected to friends and the people who love you when you’re out there alone, they share tips, cheer me on, like my inane posts about food and it feels for the first time since I’ve used Facebook, a real way for me to catch up with people I care about. So when Asha invited me up to visit, I knew I had to do it.

I found Asha and she's in Scotland! We're on a walk in Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle. #TribePride #ChiO #CaryStreet
I found Asha and she’s in Scotland! We’re on a walk in Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle. #TribePride #ChiO #CaryStreet
Beach in Aberdeen
Beach in Aberdeen
According to Asha, these guys make up Aberdeen's largest population.
According to Asha, these guys make up Aberdeen’s largest population.
This cute guy came right up to me during our Dunnottar walk.
This cute guy came right up to me during our Dunnottar walk.
I tried so hard to get a better shot of these Scots in their kilts -- HOT!
I tried so hard to get a better shot of these Scots in their kilts — HOT!
Aberdeen is the 3rd largest city in Scotland and it became immediately apparent that the city and its inhabitants suffer from a bit of low self-esteem, I think because Edinburgh is so damn beautiful and cultured and Glasgow has become a hip and more happening city. Well, let me tell you that I found it charming and the darker grey granite buildings weren’t depressing but added to the mystery you sense in Scotland and candidly, it didn’t matter because I’d hang out with my girl Asha anywhere. Asha and I had an epic catch up over wine, beers, great Scottish whisky and lots of food so clearly not everything changes after college. We did a day trip to acharming town called Stonehaven set on the coast, home to some adorable cows and the famous Dunnottar Castle. A note on Dunnottar, it’s a 15th Century fortress where some films were shot, including Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet made in 1990 starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close. My taxi driver to the airport was Gibson’s body double for all of the horse riding scenes in that movie and had a 3 month brush with the Hollywood life and shared that “Mel Gibson’s a bit of an asshole (probably an understatement), Glenn Close was as nice and as professional as could be (TRIBE PRIDE!) and Zeffirelli was one of the nicest, kindest and most generous people. The driver also told me another incredible story that Zeffirelli was a POW during WWII and his cell mate was a man from Aberdeen whom he hadn’t seen since their release and the driver took him to see this man who still lived in Aberdeen and the two of them had the most emotional reunion!  Zeffirelli, a legendary filmmaker claimed it was the highlight of his life.  And while my reunion with Asha was certainly not as long awaited nor as emotionally charged as Zeffirelli’s, it was still pretty damn special and so worth a trip to the great city of Aberdeen (I’m leading a pro-Aberdeen campaign).

I really loved Scotland. The experience is bit like drinking their whisky, it feels warm, a little dizzying and you leave wanting a bit more.

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Living La Vida London

It’s hard to believe that this was my first time in London since it’s one of those cities that everyone seems to have have stories about visiting or living there for what they’ve often described as one of the “best times of (their) lives”.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

But before I share my own London tales, I have to begin with what was my most bizarre passport control situation to date.  I arrived in Standsted Airport, one of London’s smaller regional airports, which is often preferable especially when Heathrow is a notoriously challenging airport to navigate.  The line was short and there was only one baggage claim area, so I was feeling pretty great about Standsted.  That is, until I got to the passport control window and the immigration officer began asking me a series of personal questions that I found not only intrusive but downright ridiculous.  Here’s an annotated version of our exchange:

Officer:  “So, I see that you’ve been traveling the past few weeks.  What brings you to London?”

Me:  “Yes, I’m lucky enough to travel in Europe for the summer!”

Officer:  “I see.  What is your occupation?  Are you married?”

Me:  “Well, I worked for a media/entertainment company, but I don’t anymore.  Um…no not married.”

Officer:  “Why did you leave your job? Do you have a boyfriend? How long are you traveling?”

This interrogation  went on for about 10 more minutes until I found myself confessing to this officer about how hard it is to meet a good guy and that it was a really tough decision to leave my job but it felt right and as if that wasn’t enough, I also had to let her know how much money I had in my personal bank account.  WTF!! I realize that everyone is locking down on immigration, but this seemed over the top.

OK, back to the part where I love London.  Thanks to Facebook, my old high school friend Tuyen generously connected me with her sister and I stayed the first couple of nights with a wonderful couple named Jolie and Zack and their adorable baby girl Lavender.

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Westminster Abbey is enormous, impressive and makes me want to speak with an English accent.
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I mean, look at this place. It’s incredible.

It’s easy to see why so many people, especially New Yorkers, are obsessed with London.  There’s a familiar energy,  incredible ethnic diversity (in fact, I’m pretty sure I saw more interracial couples here than any place I’ve ever been), the hustle of people rushing through the streets, theater everywhere (side note:  if you’re wondering what The Game of Thrones cast does when they’re not shooting the show, they’re performing in London theater), restaurants and bars and yes, it’s expensive so it felt a bit like home, but much more scenic.  Sorry NYC, it’s just the truth.

Here are some visual highlights to my time in London Town.

Drinks at Gordon's Wine Bar and a delish dinner at Barrafina with the lovely Cassie Bowman!
Drinks at Gordon’s Wine Bar and a delish dinner at Barrafina with the lovely Cassie Bowman!
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The incredible gardens at Regent’s Park.
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Queen’s Garden inside Regent’s Park had the most insanely gorgeous rose garden I’ve ever seen. And yes, I did stop to smell the roses!

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Black swans!
Black swans!
Tower of London!
Tower of London!
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These houses inside the Tower square belonged to the Tudors
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This is where you can see the Royal Jewels.
This is where Anne Boleyn was executed by Henry VIII who was a total womanizing lunatic.
This is where Anne Boleyn was executed by Henry VIII who was a total womanizing lunatic.
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Camden Market on a typically dark cloudy London day
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The British Museum is enormous and free!
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Look kids, Big Ben (Parliament)!
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Inside the British Museum
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Trafalgar Square
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Bombay Pimm’s at the very delicious Dishoom recommended by literally everyone I know who’s ever been to London and now I will pay it forward and do the same.

I stayed a few days in Shoreditch, also recommended to me by many friends.  It’s a hip/happening neighborhood full of bars, street art, and as one friend described it “is bit more gritty” than other parts of the city.  I particularly enjoyed my lunch at Dishoom, an Indian restaurant that has an incredible local and US following and it did live up to the hype.  If anyone is visiting, I recommend you go to the one in Shoreditch for lunch where you’re less likely to deal with long lines.  I also made a new friend from Spain living in London and over a couple of beers we traded stories about work, travel, his love of Americans and our open/warm personalities, my love of Spain and what it’s like to live in London (not easy).

It’s impossible to see all of London in just five days, but I certainly got a good feel for the city thanks to new friends like Jolie and Zack who gave great recommendations, as well as so many of my friends from the U.S.  I’m excited to be part of the “I Love London” club and look forward to returning to this beautiful, big city.

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.  https://www.ted.com/talks/boyd_varty_what_i_learned_from_nelson_mandela

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! 

One Way Tickets


Hey Friends and Family,

I’ve succumbed to the pressure from friends and family to start a blog so that I may share my experiences during this exciting time in my life. I can’t make any promises about how often I will update this blog as I’m working hard to become  a true lady of leisure.

In just 12 days, I leave for Reykavic, Iceland where I hope to swim in the Blue Lagoon, admire the fjords, let my Game of Thrones freak-flag fly and maybe hang out with some fairies.  This is the first of what I hope will be a series of one way tickets and destinations TBD.

So if you’re wondering “where in the world is Sandy?” check back and look for updates. Special shout out to my pal David Pascual for building this blog and for making the hilarious “Get Ready” page.

And thanks to everyone for cheering me on and remember there’s an open invitation to meet me along the way.


Korean Khaleesi (@sassysandyg)



Get Ready for Sandy

GOOD NEWS Friends!

I’ve decided to wear a GoPro camera on my head during my future travels! This will allow me to share my experiences with everyone the second they happen! I’ll be posting results right here on this friendly blog.

Here’s a quick preview of what I’ll look like!


c a b