03 May 2017

LAS VEGAS (AGAIN)


We weren't planning to return to the Entertainment Capital of the World quite so soon after our quick weekend in Las Vegas last year, but we're suckers for a good promotion and couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit again. Two free buffets per day? Okay!

Vegas, as usual, did not disappoint. It was a whirlwind weekend with champagne, delicious food, and excellent weather. It served its purpose and let us enjoy a much needed distraction from real life - even if it was only for a weekend.



Takeaways: 1) It's worth the $30 fee for the guaranteed early check-in if you have an early arrival. 2) The hotel buffet is a decent breakfast option. Always take advantage of the chef stations. 3) There are designated Uber stations in the casinos now. 4) People bring their kids to Vegas - and it's not a bad idea. 5) It's worth the $6 upgrade for the unlimited mimosas at brunch. 6) Set an alarm when napping before dinner. 8) "Animal Style" burgers are better than expected.

Restaurant Picks:
Lunch::
In-N-Out Burger (try your burger Animal Style)
The LINQ
3545 S Las Vegas Blvd
 - 
2900 W Sahara Ave (Uber or taxi required)
-
4888 Dean Martin Dr (Uber or taxi required)

Dinner::
Mon Ami Gabi (try the onion soup au gratin)
Paris Hotel
3655 S Las Vegas Blvd

Trevi (try the roasted beet salad, pappardelle bolognese, lasagna pizza)
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
3500 S Las Vegas Blvd







^^ Tape Face - he gets points for taking selfies with fans before the show! ^^









Improvements from our last visit:
1) Extended the weekend by flying out Friday morning.
2) Checked a bag so we could bring (cheaper) alcohol from home.
3) Visited CVS for provisions (bottled water, snacks, mixers) upon arrival. 
4) Took advantage of the buffets that offered unlimited alcohol.
5) Packed less. And shared a bag to cut down on airline fees.
6) Stopped gambling after a big win.

09 March 2017

THE GOLDEN CIRCLE


We signed up for a day tour of the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in Iceland, during our stay in ReykjavikThe three primary stops on the route include: 1) the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur; 2) Gullfoss waterfall; and 3) Þingvellir National ParkIt was both a wonderful and miserable day.

It turns out the weather on this day tour was not the same weather we had been experiencing in the capital city. We had assumed we could dress as we did in the Reykjavik (wrong) and found ourselves hiking through ice and snow in the cold rain without adequate protection from the elements (we should have known better). We were cold and wet and miserable on this day tour. And it made for a long day.

Dress properly in Iceland, people.

{Photos below blurry from the rain.}













^^walking between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates^^






Recommendations: 
1) Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes. Be ready with your camera.
2) Geysir erupts very rarely. Don't bother waiting for it to erupt.
3) Don't touch the geothermal water. You will be burned!
4) Eat lunch in Haukadalur. The food is good and less expensive than the food at Gullfoss.
5) You'll need to pay to use the bathrooms at Þingvellir.
6) Bring water and snacks for the bus.
7) Dress properly for the outdoors. In the wintertime, wear boots and a warm, waterproof coat. Bring a hat and gloves/mittens.
8) Consider booking this tour in the summer months when there is more daylight and better weather.

23 February 2017

THE BLUE LAGOON



After landing in Reykjavik and dropping off our bags at our hotel, we headed straight to the famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. The Lagoon consists of a pool of mineral rich geothermal water located in a lava field, and it maintains a constant temperature of approximately 98-104°F year around. This is a MUST DO activity when visiting Iceland and was a heavenly experience after our overnight flight and the onset of jet lag.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE BLUE LAGOON:

Pre-booking is required.
Purchase your tickets in advance, and note availability is limited. We booked our admission and transfers through a tour company out of convenience. 

The Lagoon is closer to Keflavik Airport than Reykjavik. 
Consider visiting before or after your flight to save time and money. Travel time from the airport is about 20 minutes and travel time from Reykjavik is about 50 minutes. Storage for luggage is available.

You can stay as long as you want.
Your ticket is assigned an entrance time, but you can stay as long as you'd like or until the Lagoon closes. Don't miss your transfer, though. We spent about two hours here.

You don't need your wallet until later.
You'll be given a wristband that operates your locker in the changing room and allows you to obtain drinks and spa treatments in the Lagoon. You pay the balance when you leave. Also, there's a fee if you lose the band.

You're required to shower.
You must shower before entering the Lagoon. Soap is provided in the showers.

Condition your hair.
Use conditioner before and after you enter the water to protect your hair from drying out. Conditioner is provided in the showers.

The silica mud mask is free.
The standard entrance ticket includes the silica mud mask. Find it at the Silica Bar.

Other amenities are available at a price.
Towels, algae masks, drinks, robes and slippers are available at an additional cost. There's also a restaurant on site.

The water isn't blue.
The water is cloudy - not blue! The color comes from the silica in the water and the reflection of sunlight.

Pack the basics.
Be sure to pack a swimsuit, waterproof camera, sunglasses, and a wet bag.








This place is one of our top ten travel experiences. We will definitely visit the Blue Lagoon again if we find ourselves in Iceland. 

21 December 2016

REYKJAVIK IN WINTER



Iceland in winter? Why not? A winter sale highlighting a three-night trip to Reykjavik from NYC passed through our email, and it was booked the next day. Sure, Iceland in late November was dark, with daylight only from 11am-4pm, and there were some miserable weather moments involving cold rain, but in the end, we still wished we could have extended the trip.

We spent our four days in Iceland walking around downtown Reykjavik, shopping for unique Christmas presents in the shops that line the main street, sampling pylsurs (hot dogs) from street food carts, tasting Icelandic beers, and learning about Viking history at a few of the many museums. We also took advantage of Reykjavik's proximity to the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle and booked day trips to those locations to change up the scenery and check out the island's volcanic activity.

Accommodation: Center Hotel Plaza

Adventures: Reykjavik Grand Excursion Tour {Hallgrímskirkja Church, The Pearl, Höfði House, The Sun Voyager sculpture}, Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, The Golden Circle Tour, The Settlement ExhibitionNational Museum of Iceland

Takeaways: 1) November might not be the best time to visit Iceland in terms of weather. We'll admit we were cold and wet (i.e., miserable) on one of our tours. 2) English is widely spoken. No language barrier here. 3) Free wifi is everywhere - even on the tour buses. 4) The darkness is a bit strange at 10am. 5) Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere - even the street food carts would accommodate plastic payment. 6) The weather needs to be favorable (cold with clear skies) to see the Northern Lights, which isn't favorable for tourists. Our tour was canceled on all three nights. 7) There's something special about being in Reykjavik during the holiday season. 8) Food is expensive. 9) The city felt like our hometown in Michigan with its prominent downtown bar and restaurant scene.

Memorable Moments: 1) Applying silica mud masks at the Blue Lagoon. 2) Checking out the local goods at the grocery store. 3) Sampling Icelandic beers and pylsurs.










Foodstuff:
Reykjavik offered a large assortment of international eating options, but we mostly survived on fish and chips, lobster/lamb soup, pylsurs, and skyr.
  • Pylsurs are Icelandic hot dogs made with lamb, pork, and beef and served with ketchup, sweet brown mustard, fried onions, raw onions, and remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Locals eat them with the works (Icelandic: með öllu).
  • Skyr is a soft cheese with a consistency similar to yogurt. It's amazing stuff and eaten alone or as a sauce.
Tourists will also find fermented shark (hakarl), puffin, and whale on the traditional restaurant menus. We opted out of these dishes this time.

Restaurant Picks:
Street Food Carts//Snacks or Lunch::
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur ("the best hot dogs in town")
Tryggvatagata 1, 101

Pylsuhúsið (hot dog house)
Ingólfstorg Square, 101

Dinner::
Tryggvatagata 11, 101

Reykjavik Fish Restaurant (try the fish and chips with lemon-pepper dill sauce)
Tryggvatagata 8, 101

Saegreifinn (order the lobster soup!)
Geirsgata 8, 101

Drinks:
The Drunk Rabbit Irish Pub (order the pizza romana if you're hungry)
Austurstræti 3, 101

^^Icelandic mustard.^^


Recommendations:
1) Consider taking advantage of the Icelandair Stopover program on your next transatlantic trip.
2) Stay in downtown Reykjavik.
3) Don't bother exchanging a lot of money. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere.
4) Pack and dress in layers. Pack boots, a hat and mittens, and a warm, water-resistant coat in the wintertime.
5) Eat from street food carts and visit the grocery store to save money.
6) Consider renting a car and exploring the countryside.
7) Visit the Blue Lagoon.

Next Time: 1) Sign up for another Northern Lights tour. 2) Sign up for whale watching. 3) Climb the Hallgrímskirkja Church Tower. 4) Visit the Iceland Phallological Museum.

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