When John and I moved from California to Texas last summer we decided to plan a 2 week long trip for us to come back over the next summer (2021). We figured that with COVID and moving we weren’t going to be traveling over the 2020 holidays and wanted to be back for our annual summer Tahoe trip with his family. So this past July we spent 2 weeks doing everything our hearts desired in California, from being in San Francisco to boat rides in Tahoe, to visiting family in Monterey and everything in-between. We even found our amazing wedding venue which I’ll write about in a different post. Needless to say it was a really great trip!
The first 5 days of our trip was spent in the city staying with our wonderful pals in our old neighborhood of Alamo Square. We settled in, got coffee and went for a stroll in our old hood, stopping by the old house and hanging out in the park. It felt like no time had passed while simultaneously feeling like I have grown into a new version of myself.
Because we moved during COVID when San Francisco was at the height of lock down, it was fun to be able to do all of the things we weren’t able to before we left. Eating at our favorite restaurants, seeing our friends, I even DJed one final time at GoBang! It felt like we were able to officially close a chapter of our lives that brought us so much joy and adventure. I even got a long distance run in Golden Gate Park in the schedule! My heart was so very happy. I MISS THE TREES SO BAD. John and I are definitely forest people, lol.
We spent the 4th of July with our friends down in Soquel, outside of Santa Cruz, with a heated pool and ocean side views. We loved being able to have so much time with our friends before we had family time. We got to see everyone we wanted which was so nice and just be together, dance, and laugh like old times.
We picked up our rental car and built some time for ourselves between our time in SF and Tahoe when we visited Monterey, having time at the coast and going out to eat between family visits. The California coast is the most gorgeous place I’ve seen alongside of the Pacific Northwest. It speaks to my soul. Which is why it was incredibly hard to leave but something I knew deep down that we needed to do. We are very happy to be getting married in the Carmel/Monterey area next summer though!
Truth be told, the last time we visited Tahoe in July 2020 it was a bit rocky as that’s when John and I told his family we were moving. There was a lot of shock, disbelief, and sad vibes which made the trip sort of a hard one. We wanted to be together and to tell them in person. But one whole year later, Tahoe 2021 was just what the doctor ordered. It was full of fun, surprises, family and friend time, and also healing. It felt almost like it was before we left which was so nice. For those of you who have ever moved away and done something different, you know what I mean when you go back for the first time. Although I had lived in California for over 12 years and was recently reconnected with my family in Texas, John has never lived this far away from his family so it’s a whole different experience for him.
Our Tahoe house was incredible with the most amazing views and patio. We had a party outside one night with a group of friends who came out for the weekend alongside John’s sister Rosie and Dad. Of course we went on our annual Tahoe boat trip which was such a ham of a time! Tahoe in the summer is gorgeous! I love it in the winter too but since I don’t ski or snowboard the summer is more fun for me. Def do a boat ride and kayak in the lake when you go!
We experienced the most amazing crisp, cool, and foggy weather, as well as the hottest weather I’ve ever experienced in California! On our drive out of Tahoe through Sacramento, the temp got up to 113 degrees! That was just insane. We stopped for wine tasting in a nicely air conditioned place to break up the heat!
After Tahoe we spent another couple days in Monterey again with John’s mom and finalizing things with our wedding venue. I am so excited about it! We are so happy to get married where we made so many memories over the years and share that with my family, who have never been to Monterey or Carmel areas.
The last 2 days of our trip was back in San Francisco. We dropped off the rental car, stayed 2 nights in a hotel in Union Square, and enjoyed our remaining time in the city. We had last rounds of drinks with friends and John and I explored North Beach as a date for our last day. North Beach was where I first moved way back in 2008 before settling in Alamo Square. It really brought me back to my early 20’s and just how different the city was then. There is a special place in my heart for North Beach, it was my first home far away from home.
We enjoyed the shit out of California on our trip. Made great memories, had nostalgic moments, made plans for our future wedding and future visits, but we were ready to come home to our life in Texas with our baby cat. It was a sweet goodbye.
California will always have my heart, and I’m certain we will live there again at some point in our lives. But we are enjoying the adventures and living in the moment and are excited to see where life will take us! Until next time, Cali ❤
I absolutely love visiting New Orleans! The culture and vibe of the people, food, and place make it all so unique and enthralling compared to the day to day of other cities in the US. Every time I go I learn something new, connect with something or someone different, and dive even deeper into the cultural melting pot of the south.
Since we’ve been in COVID over a year John and I decided to do a roadtrip from Austin, stopping in Houston to stay at my sister’s place, and continuing onto NOLA to basically eat ourselves to death. We’ve done the drive before and while although parts can be so unbearable, it’s much cheaper than flying. True story flights were $600 roundtrip when I checked out of ATX! Plus, the drive reminds us of True Detective Season 1 so we rewatched it prior to our trip for inspiration.
We went over Memorial Day weekend since we had an extra day built in, so we knew this was going to be a short trip. We loved staying over in the Irish Channel by the Garden District when we visited in 2016, so we opted for an Airbnb in the same area.
First thing first we hit up Mahoney’s on Magazine Street for some delish po-boys. I am not normally a po-boy type, but when I want one I want it while I’m in NOLA. The crispy crunchy shrimp with the fixins and soft bread with hot sauce and mayo. It’s amazing and trust me on this – this is one thing you need to try when you are there!
We then headed over to Frenchman Street once things started opening up around 5pm for early drinks before getting too crowded. We are fully vaccinated but most people in NOLA don’t wear masks, so we wanted to have time before things there got real crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the debauchery of my 20s and drunken nights in NOLA – but not this trip! We were going for a more casual day drinking vibe with chill nights at nice restaurants.
Maybe I’m older or maybe the pandemic had me feeling safe and sound in my clean home, away from all the germs, being around people felt super weird! Isn’t it strange the things we did all of the time before that feel dangerous now? Blowing out candles on a birthday cake that will be shared with others, working out in a gym and sharing weights, riding public transportation and holding onto the rail. It made being in the Frenchman district feel super adventurous!
After an interesting happy hour with a full cop arrest and intervention on the sidewalk, we walked through the art market, bought a few unique items, and then walked across the French quarter, window shopping along the way.
We made our way towards Lafayette park in the Warehouse district for dinner at Sofia, voted best new Italian restaurant of 2019. It didn’t look like much online or once we got there, as it’s more casual, but let me tell you this was the best pasta we’ve had in ages!
We still talk about how good Sofia was to this day! I haven’t yet found my place in Austin with delish fresh pasta that is to die for. But until then I’ll keep searching for the perfect noodle…
Afterwards we walked through Lafayette Park (which I had never done before) and snapped the most beautiful spooky shots. I love the mystery and magic of NOLA each and every time I visit. I always do a ghost or voodoo tour, but we didn’t have the time this go-around. But NOLA is so spooky you don’t even need to go on a tour to feel how vibrantly haunted it is.
Afterwards we went to this snazzy little cocktail bar + lounge called Bar Marilou and it was the cutest lil spot! Due to COVID you had to make reservations in advance for limited capacity inside. I’m so glad we did this because this was one of the coolest NOLA bars I’ve ever been to. We got caviar and enjoyed the end of our day of driving and exploration before heading back towards Magazine Street.
After a long night of good rest we were pumped for a whole day of exploration in the Big Easy. We walked through the Garden District to admire the beautiful homes. Every time I’m in the area and see them I think about Anne Rice and Interview with the Vampire. She lived in the Garden District for a long time and then moved to San Francisco. And also – Interview with the Vampire was filmed in both locations! She must be a really neat lady. I love thinking about what a conversation with her would entail!
It was a hot day and many people were out and about. I initially wanted to go to Cafe Du Monde for beignets but the line was outrageous (and I mean, OUTRAGEOUS), so we checked out the view and decided to save the beignets for later.
The first thing we did was get a decent brunch in the French Quarter followed with a visit to the Museum of Death. I had heard about it and thought it sounded interesting, as you know I’m a huge fan of true crime documentaries. A good friend of mine created the Netflix docu-series about Henry Lee Lucas (The Confession Killer) and I knew there would be some weird gems inside that I had to share!
The Museum of Death was a bit more of a roadside attraction than I thought it would be. They did have some cool original artworks from murderers on death row, and more detailed information/police composite sketches/crime scene details that were interesting, but they also had a lot of campy stuff in poor taste that felt a bit strange. All in all it was $15, but it’s not someplace I would visit again.
Walking around Bourbon was so weird on a Sunday mid day, because it wasn’t really all that busy. We were able to walk right into the historic Pat O’Briens for a super-duper strong hurricane.
Of course, we explored all of the French Quarter, even walking by the infamous haunted LeLaurie mansion!
I love the architecture of old New Orleans. So much rich culture and history. It was founded by prostitutes and thieves from France and also burned down twice 6 years apart! So much mysticism exists it permeates from everything you come across.
We drank along our route in the French Quarter, as one does, exploring and shopping throughout the niche NOLA markets. We tried to get beignets several times but it just wasn’t in the cards for us that day. So many people were waiting in endless lines at every beignet cafe we came across! That city loves those beignets…
Meanwhile, our last night in NOLA was spent out on Magazine street – which I had never experienced before! We freshened up at our Airbnb before walking over to the cutesy neighborhood. We got a beer at the Bulldog Bar before heading to Cavan, an adorable vintage house-turned into bar and restaurant, for cocktails. While we only had cocktails, next time I come back I want to dine here. The inside was magical full of Victorian chandeliers and bright bold interior design.
This side of NOLA was way more my speed. It was cute, cozy, a bit more eccentric and less crowded / less touristy. I would 100% stay here and hangout here again. Our dinner reservations were just around the corner at Atchafalaya, a real NOLA creole & Cajun restaurant.
Everything was so damn delish! Eat here, you won’t regret it.
After several days and meals of Cajun and heavy cream southern concoctions, we slept like babies from food comas. Our last morning before hitting the long drive on I-10 back to Texas was spent waiting for those damn beignets (for 45 minutes!) and finally exploring some cemetaries. While John was pretty pissed we waited so long for those beignets, he loved their pillowy softness and totally would get them again.
Thank you New Orleans! We ate, we drank, we explored – we wore our masks when we could and we enjoyed the twisty winding roads of the old French Quarter and beyond. Thank you for always being a fun culinary hot spot! Until the next time we cross paths (probably in several more years)…
After a glorious few days in Portugal we made our way to Barcelona as the 2nd destination for our February 2020 birthday trip (before the world closed down). This is the second part of our birthday trip beginning with Lisbon + Sintra. We arrived later in the evening and checked into our amazingly central and affordable hotel, Hotel Ciutat de Barcelona, in the El Born district just next to the Gothic neighborhood. It was both John and I’s first time in Barcelona or Spain for that matter (neither of us ever studied Spanish and never studied abroad so we were pretty excited). I wanted to be in an area with tons of restaurants, bars, and shops in walking distance but I also wanted to be close to the Gothic area as it’s one of the oldest parts and most historic. El Born seemed really fun and our hotel was in the perfect location! We spent our first night walking around El Born, grabbing dinner and drinks and resting up for our big first full day of exploration.
The next day we walked over to La Sagrada Familia, stopping along the Arc de Triomf for some photos and grabbing croissants and coffee. Of course due to popularity we got our tickets in advance, but on a weekday in February it was not busy at all. We spent a good hour and a half walking around, exploring every nook and cranny and listening to the guided tour. It’s incredible the amount of work and planning for this cathedral and Gaudi’s vision! It’s absolutely beautiful inside – the beams and posts are similar to trees and looking up is like looking up in a forest. The lighting is gorgeous and it feels peaceful.
Afterwards we walked by Casa Mila and throughout the Eixample neighborhood. I almost thought about staying there as it’s more of a neighborhood and less touristy than Gothic/El Born areas, but since it was our first time we were happy with our hotel location and choose to explore other areas when we could.
Gaudi’s influence is apparent throughout Barcelona. It’s such a distinct vibe unique to the city and we were all about it. Just walking through different neighborhoods and checking out the eccentric architecture was a fun activity in itself!
After walking around for a good few miles we had a delicious lunch in the Gothic district with the most amazing croquettes. I became seriously addicted to croquettes on this trip and even now dream of biting into their golden brown cheesy deliciousness. We decided to explore the Barcelona History Museum for free and learn more about how Barcelona came to be a powerhouse in the Iberian peninsula. There are ancient ruins underneath the city that you get to walk through too!
We then grabbed some empanadas and went to Terrace La Isabella for a rooftop happy hour and saw beautiful views of the city. Absolutely stunning with our divine weather! Also there aren’t many skyscrapers in Barcelona, the views are mostly hills and cathedrals. However the 1992 Olympics brought some modern architecture into play.
But really, Barcelona is SO much fun! I was really impressed with the history, the AMAZING food, endless options, fun walks, good wine – the list goes on and on. I would gladly go back and spend more time there – the energy is great. Kinda reminded me of parts of Paris and also parts of NYC.
We ended the night with an AWESOME night out at the most adorable alley spot in El Born for happy hour followed by a delicious Spanish meal for John’s bday! Iberian ham is the way to go, especially paired with fresh sangria. I can’t remember the name of this spot we went to but it was both our favorite place during our trip.
Our next day we spent at the morning at Las Ramblas markets and then rode public transit up to Park Guell just north of downtown. It’s a big hill to climb up to get to the top but it was a super interesting view and experience. There’s also tons of performing artists sprinkled throughout the climb, so beware if you feel yourself getting lost – you can hear faint singing to guide you back to your path 🙂
Park Guell was Gaudi’s vision for a utopian neighborhood in the early 1900’s and it looks sorta like a surrealist wonder. You have to go as early as you can because it will be crowded and hard to get photos without too many people in the background, but definitely check it out! We didn’t get tickets in advance but we were able to purchase them on our phones in line for a quicker entrance.
In the evening we went on a walking ghost tour and it was one of our favorite things we did together! We ate in the Gothic area and met our guide outside the steps of the Cathedral de Barcelona for an adventurous evening.
Our tour guide was originally from Mexico City but also sort of grew up in the suburbs of Houston – and we bonded over Texas. She was so incredibly rad and was an awesome story teller – there are so many messed up stories she shared from Barcelona’s history. Like how the Opera house had burned down multiple times or the Vampire of Barcelona who kidnapped and murdered children. We really enjoyed walking around, exploring, and hearing more about the dark tales of the city. We ended the night with drinks and bites in a cute bar by the water. She offered us goat brain! (it’s a delicacy)
Our last day we were supposed to go on a fun excursion riding bikes along the water to the wine country, complete with tastings and lunch – however our trip was unfortunately cancelled last minute. We didn’t let this stop us, so instead John and I picked a winery that looked good, was open and didn’t need reservations, and booked a car to get us there. It ended up being the most fun day in Alella!
We opted for Alta Alella Vineyard because it had the best reviews and also didn’t require reservations. I’m not kidding the cab dropped us off at the end of a dirt road in front of their gate, driving off with dust in our faces. There was an intercom that I pushed to speak to someone and John legit turned to me and said “what if they are closed or won’t let us in and we are stuck here” and voila – they opened the gate and we walked about half a mile in to the tasting room where we enjoyed amazing Cava. It was such a funny moment. He was briefly scared I got us into a tough situation.
Originally we weren’t going to do a full vineyard tour, as there was already another group with a reservation with a private Catalonian tour. However they invited us to join, and they spoke both Catalonian and English so it ended up being the perfect experience!
When you are determined, anything is possible. I’m so glad we persevered and went despite our plans changing. I would recommend this experience to anyone who spends a few days in the area.
We enjoyed a 15-20 minute walk from the vineyard back to town for a bomb dot com lunch at Cal Barquer. Check out this amazing Iberian pork tonkatsu! It melted in my mouth.
After our fun filled afternoon in Alella, our last full day in Barcelona was coming to an end. We made one last stop at the Picasso Museum just a few short blocks away from our hotel, followed by our last meal.
Of course there was tons of things we didn’t get around to experiencing, like a Flamenco show. But I wouldn’t have changed anything about our amazing trip. We ate delicious food, explored art and historical museums, saw beautiful sights crafted by Gaudi, walked a ghost tour, bought some fun souvenirs, and enjoyed the culture.
Barcelona was a VIBE and we were there for it. I would love to go back to Spain and southern France on another trip because it’s just so gorgeous, a nice change of slower pace, and delicious food and wine for days. Here are some tips if you find yourself in Barcelona:
Endless food options! You can eat anything you want – we even had fantastic Thai. The food IMO was better here than in Portugal but I enjoyed cuisines from both countries.
Make sure you try Iberian ham, multiple times, in different forms! Also – the croquettes!!! I will not say it enough how good they are.
There is a lot of stuff to do in terms of nightlife, it’s sort of like NYC meets Paris – but chill. If you like those cities you’ll enjoy Barcelona.
They have a rich history and don’t really discuss WW2 or the 1930’s. In fact they refer to that time as the Struggles and it’s kinda kept quiet.
Spend time exploring Gaudi architecture and Park Guell!
The markets at Las Ramblas has tons of food options and tastings from all corners of culture – visit at least once.
Have few day drinks and then opt for a siesta.
The best shopping is in El Born.
We walked a ton and only rode public transit for our visit to Park Guell, so I can’t speak to the metro system but if you stay in El Born/Gothic area close to Las Ramblas you probably will walk to most things.
An old gal pal of mine from college, Alyssa, is a writer for Southern Travel & Lifestyles. We actually met in the dorms of Kinsolving way back in 2003 and we’ve stayed in touch on social media ever since. She commented on how much she enjoyed my photos of Texas and asked if I would be willing to publish a few and I said absolutely! I handed her a folder of photos from our recent camping trip and here is how they turned out:
When I get the hard copy I’ll share more on my Instagram – @djemils
I am so proud of myself! I love traveling and exploring new places – and I love sharing what I find through photos and writing. There is so much out there waiting for us! I can only hope that this is the beginning of many collaborations with travel groups, publications, blogs, etc in the future.
We were so incredibly lucky that we were able to sneak in our international birthday trip RIGHT before the world shut down from COVID. By mid-late January there was tension around the new virus and travel. We believed that we would be safe in Europe in early February, and amazingly we were. This is the first of a two part post from our incredible travel adventures to Portugal and Spain in February 2020.
We planned this trip through TripMasters, which is what my sister Bryana and I used when we visited Ireland in 2015. It’s a budget planner so you build a trip around the countries you want to visit, add in flights, car rentals if you want, hotels, and you get the biggest bang for your buck. The only catch is that you’re pretty much locked in after you plan, so there isn’t much room to make changes. I would suggest leaving plenty of room between flights if you are on a layover because we almost missed our flight to Lisbon out of NYC due to bad weather! However we made it on time (by the skin of our teeth) and things went smoothly from there.
We decided to get the Lisbon transit pass during our stay which included unlimited public transit, a free roundtrip train ride to Sinta, and discounts for museums. It was well worth it, I highly suggest! We easily and quickly rode from the airport to our destination hotel at the Esquina Urban Lodge in city center. This eco-hotel was absolutely adorable, modern, and in the perfect location! The staff shared great travel tips and told us where to find the city elevators, which I never would have figured out on my own (they are built into cliffs and will easily take you up 8 floors). Everyone said, “Lisbon is so hilly, blah blah blah” – but coming from San Francisco I thought I was good with the hills. “There is no way it’s hillier than SF, we are prepared” I thought. I was so wrong! Lisbon makes SF look flat! We used the city elevators a few times, mostly when we visited the Castelo de S. Jorge.
After checking in, we opted for lunch at a cute sidewalk cafe, visited the Azulejo Museum (wow these tiles were gorgeous), and then found the famous Ginjinha bar and loved the cherry shot. They were so delicious! We probably visited 3 times over our stay and I bought a bottle to take home.
After taking a quick nap for our jet lag, we got dolled up and went out for a Fado show at A Tasca do Chico because we saw that Anthony Bordain visited and he enjoyed it, so we felt like it would be a good spot (is that lame to admit?). It’s always busy there but it’s worth the wait. Order tapas and wine and listen to the powerful melancholy melodies of the Fado singers. It was a totally unique experience!
We got some drinks and explored the nightlife in the Biarra Alto neighborhood afterwards; I have the funniest video of John and I taking fire shots (literally the waiters lit them on fire). It was cozy exploring the bars and sidewalk cafes in the alleys. I am happy we experienced the area, but I’m also glad we stayed about a 15 minute walk away in an area that’s a little less busy at night.
After a wonderful night of rest, we visited the Sao Jorge Castle in the morning, explored the Alfama district with lunch by the water, rode transit to the National Coach Museum, the Jeronimos Monestary, and then rode bikes by the Belem Tower. It was a jam packed day and so much fun! I think we got in 11 miles walking alone. Are you tired just reading about all the crazy things we did in one day? (I’m tired just typing this!)
It was so incredible how efficient the public transit system was. I think out of every place we’ve ever traveled, it’s up there next to NYC and London. You can always get anywhere you want to go without waiting too long, there are multiple routes, and it’s just so cute. The Alfama district is right next to the castle so we grouped those outings together and rode across town to Belem where the rest of our museum sights were set.
It’s so crazy to think that these magical carriages carried royalty over terrain centuries ago and here they are on display in their golden greatness. Can you imagine traveling like this?! They are so ornate; it’s something you don’t get the chance to see often, if ever, so definitely check this out.
The Monestary is absolutely gorgeous and really close to the coach museum. Pay attention to the details! The architecture is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. So amazing! By this time our feet hurt so we rented some bikes to ride by the water. The bridge even looked almost identical to the Golden Gate!
This was my favorite memory with John in Lisbon. It was just such a happy day, we had seen so much cool stuff, and we were so playful riding around in the sun. The only thing that would have made it better was if we were able to ride a sunset sailboat cruise, but alas they were all sold out. If that is something that interests you I’m sure it would be such an amazing experience on a day with great weather. But still this day was top 5 of all time days. ❤
We wound down by visiting the Time Out market for some delicious seafood pasta and wandered around the famous Pink Street for some shopping and drinks. It was a fun-filled day with many memories!
We used our roundtrip train ticket for Sintra, which is something friends of ours suggested and I’m so glad we did it! It’s about a 45 minute train ride each way and you must go early in the morning because it will get crowded. Everything I read said that you wouldn’t be able to do everything you wanted, so just pick 2 castles and make them your priority.
We grabbed some of these lovely Portuguese egg pastries (Pastéis de Nata) for breakfast and made our way via train. Ok these things were delicious and we had them every day!
Once we made it to Sintra, we bought the bus pass for the castle route that included Pena Palace. This is the most famous castle and it’s best to go as early as possible, it’s also pretty far (about another 25 minute drive) on very windy roads. Our bus driver was damn amazing taking our ginormous vehicle up huge hills on twisty roads. Thank god I didn’t get sick!
It was just so dreamy; almost like we were in a fairy tale. You could see awesome views of the Castle of the Moors from the top!
There are dozens of castles in Sintra, you could easily spend several days exploring them all. And you feel like you can do so many in a day, but really you can comfortably visit 2, maybe 3 if you aren’t relying on the train. Because everything is so spread out, you must factor in the time it takes to get from the train station to each castle and then the time spent at the castle grounds. After we had a drink at the bar on the castle roof it was already lunch time so we hopped on the bus towards downtown and picked a fabulous spot that I can’t remember the name of, the experience only lives in my memory. But the dish was delish! And so was the view 🙂
After an amazing meal we visited Quinta da Regaleira which was in walking distance from downtown. It was the perfect plan to start with Pena Palace because it was so far away and busy, once we were downtown we could take our time. I chose this castle because it looks absolutely ethereal, like Great Expectations or some amazing dream.
I loved this castle so much! It was the most picturesque. Talk about a dream come true! If you have an extra day in Lisbon it’s worth visiting Sintra! Also this is weird to say, but I love moss a lot and the greenery of this castle made my heart sing.
We finished up and headed back to Lisbon for our final night in the city. We were pooped! Lots of sight seeing was done in three days, but I always like to jam pack my visits with everything I can do because who knows when you will ever be back again! Our last meal was spent over by the Pink Street we visited earlier because we liked those dive bars the best. I think there was even one named “Bar Texas” – LOL.
Portugal was a blast! Here are some things to keep in mind should you find yourself there:
It is very hilly! Make sure you know where the elevators are and bring comfortable shoes.
Group things you want to see by neighborhoods. Pick the top 3-5 neighborhoods you want to explore and then create a list of things you want to see in each area.
Get the metro pass if you are there for 2-3+ days. It’s worth it!
See as many museums as you can because there are so many interesting and unique things to Portugal that I’ve never come across before.
Fado show is a must.
The food is great! Make sure to really explore the vast culture of the food. It did hurt my stomach a bit (but I have a sensitive tummy) so I would look up the best places and see what’s available (and also bring Pepto should you need it).
There are loads of guys that try to sell you drugs in city center – be aware!
You won’t be able to do everything you want – aim for your top picks.
I wish we did a sailboat cruise! If you want to do that you have to buy tickets in advance. Everything else you can just do whenever you want (which is so nice you can go at your own pace).
In July of 2019 we made an epic roadtrip with our roadtrip/camping besties Jenn & Ian (who explored Big Bend with us) to Crater Lake, Oregon. I wanted to see this National Park for many years so we all jumped in on an amazing campsite over July of 2019 to make it happen.
We decided to break up the drive so that we could explore more things along the way, so day #1 was from SF to just outside of Redding, CA. We made plans to visit the Mount Shasta Dam in the morning because, it was DAM TIME to see a dam! 😉 I hadn’t been to this part of CA before so it was really educational and fun to check out. Plus John + Ian bought matching dam t-shirts, so there was that.
After our time at Shasta we moved on to our awesome campsite at the Union Creek campsite just off the Rogue river. There are quite a few options to camp within Crater Lake, most of which didn’t provide reservations in advance, and since we were coming from so far we wanted a guaranteed spot and opted to stay just outside the Crater Lake limits. This campsite was EPIC. It had the biggest, most spread out spacious sites I’ve ever seen. And the Rogue river was literally right behind our setup so we could hear the rolling water which was very peaceful.
The Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful place in America, IMO. I miss it so much but appreciate all of the amazing adventures I was able to embark on before moving back to Texas. I know there will be many more in the future, but to me, there is nothing more beautiful than the misty fog over the oldest, largest trees in the country, surrounded by lakes, rivers, or the ocean, complemented with deep evergreen and mossy hues. It makes my heart sing and feels like home. John also is very much a forest person as well and it’s nice that we both feel that connection.
The funniest thing happened during our camping adventure. We had a mouse roommate who literally hung-out with us and ate pieces of our s’mores on the picnic table! He wasn’t even scared of us. He was our Ratatouille IRL.
The next morning we hiked and explored Crater Lake! One thing that was very surprising was that there wasn’t any place to buy water. Not in the gift shop, not in the cafeteria. It was very bizarre and we were SO HOT. I think I guzzled down 2 bottles plus Gatorade once we were able to get our hands on some, but note to self if you make it to CL bring your own H2O!
We hiked the Watchman Lookout Trail just on the outer rim. It got pretty steep at the end but once you made it to the top it was the best view of the lake. Crater Lake is the second deepest lake in America, right after Tahoe, and I love them both ❤
We said goodbye to Crater Lake and HELLO to the Umpqua Hot Springs, about an hour north. We wanted to hike in the Umpqua Forest and relax in the hot springs to really SOAK in the local culture <lol>. One thing we saw a lot of was naked people though, including sexy social media influencers – which was a bit strange to observe. We felt a bit weird and decided it was time to go, but luckily had enough time in the mystical area. Perhaps it’s a faerie thing?
Oregon is GORGEOUS. Explore Crater Lake. Get in the hot springs. CAMP. You won’t be disappointed! Our journey back to San Francisco ended with an overnight stay at a quaint cabin in the woods style Airbnb in Dunsmuir. This town was so adorable! And our cabin was very close to the famous Mossbrae Falls, we just walked down the train tracks for this SPECTACULAR view.
Mossbrae Falls is truly breathtaking! We probably stayed for an hour enjoying the sights. It’s pretty closed off from the public, you have to know where it is and walk the train tracks to get there – it’s not accessible from the road. I heard something about them creating a public entrance after we visited, but not sure if that happened.
We had the most fun making the best memories with our friends. If you feel compelled to discover Oregon or the PNW I highly encourage you to check something out!
It’s such a cool feeling to cross something off your bucket list. Here I am taking in the views and connecting to the environment. Here’s to the next item I can check off…
Before we officially made the move across country, our good pals Jen and Ian (who also moved from SF to Austin about 6 months before us) asked us if we would join them in Big Bend National Park for a week in November. I never visited before so of course we said YES PLEASE and let them do all the planning. You know how it goes, things book up 6-8 months in advance and especially during COVID everyone wants their fair share of exploring the outdoors, so they jumped on an awesome campsite for part of our travels, and also successfully secured us a two night stay at the newly finished Basecamp Terlingua bubbles 🙂 . Read along to hear how this group of new Texans navigated West Texas!
To break up the trip we decided to spend about 5 hours driving on our first day and stayed in a hotel in Fort Stockton. There wasn’t anything particularly special about this except that we had some of the most bomb dot com Mexican food since we moved. After a fresh night of rest we drove through Marathon down to our campsite at the Rio Grande Village, where we met up with another couple friends. This campsite is the closest one to the actual bend in the Rio Grande river and was definitely a different experience than California camping. Like for example, the wild javalinas (otherwise known as wild hogs), roadrunners and endless amounts of spiders present. One would never hear 2 wild hogs mating in the wild in the redwood forest!
After checking out the visitor center, talking to the rangers and seeing dinosaur fossils on display, we explored the quick trail at the river and were practically in Mexico! There were lots of local folks along the way selling cute art and cold coke-a-colas. I totally got both on our way back as the roadrunner figurine was adorable and as it was hot AF in mid-November, I needed a cold refreshing Mexican coke (which are the best cokes out there IMO).
We also experienced the most breathtaking sunset hike just a short walk from our campsite. It was so nice, John and I did it TWICE.
It was a bit strange to not be able to have a camp fire as we’ve pretty much always done so in California, but we still had a blast and saw the stars like never before! I was actually surprised at how chilly it got because it was very hot earlier. How do people camp here in the spring or summer? I have no idea – but if I were you I would book a fall/winter trip.
The next day we hiked the famous Lost Mine Trail, which is just under 5 miles roundtrip and one of the few moderate options in the park. There are tons of hard and easy hikes, but not a lot of middle of the road options, so this trail has a lot of traffic. We went after breakfast and completed the trail in about 3 hours. I had no idea we were basically hiking to the tip top of the viewing point, so the first 75% of the hike seemed totally normal to me but the top was very steep and a bit nerve wrecking, but once I made it all the way it was so awesome! I am getting better about handling my anxiety around heights and “falling off a mountain top” but each and every hike like this where I push myself outside of my comfort zone only makes me stronger. And like Miley Cyrus sings, “it’s the climb” – both literally and figuratively.
After dinner, we drove off road to see Ernst Tinaja, a geological formation and walk that a Park Ranger told us was a must see for geology lovers. After taking about an hour to actually drive there off road (it was only 6 miles!) John and I ran out to see it RIGHT before the sun went down and man we are so glad we made it happen! We were able to spend about 20 minutes before it was total darkness and another 45 minutes to an hour drive back. If you have a great car for off roading, do it!
It was an incredible day of seeing new things and exploring a whole new side of Texas with our best friends.
After our last night camping we packed up and drove across the park to the famous divide. We had planned to do some light hiking but we got a late start and we didn’t have a lot of food on hand so we opted to save our energy. We still explored tons of rocks and found boundless quartz and rock crystals without having to venture too far out. It was so cool to see upclose and personal.
And after we left the park we drove to Terlingua and made it to our famous bubble!
It was incredible to be able to see the stars and actually capture them with a camera. We used our Canon DSLR via long exposure and had a few great selects.
The town of Terlingua is so cute and small but just the perfect vibe to spend a few night glamping after tent camping in the park. The bubble was interesting, it had a small room outside of the bubble with two doors and a whole system of opening one door and closing the other because if both doors closed, the bubble would deflate. And yep it happened on accident! However, once we figured it out the bubble quickly filled up with air again. It was quite comical but amazing the time we live in.
Our last day was spent exploring Terlingua and Lajitas where we had more delish Mexican food and did some boutique shopping and graveyard exploring before spending the last night in the HOT TUB, drinking wine and watching the stars.
I was a bit sad when we came to the end of our trip out West. I had never experienced West Texas before in my previous life as a Texan. I think it was just so far away from everything at the time, my family didn’t plan trips that way since our relatives were always east of us (being in San Antonio). But I would definitely go back and want to explore more parts of Texas that I’ve never been!
We drove off back towards Austin through Alpine where we got one of the last photos of the Alpine Target. It was demolished a few weeks after our visit because it was found structurally unsafe (eeee!) but at least we got to see it. We decided not to go to Marfa because it was out of the way and our trip was already so long, plus we heard that it’s not much different than Alpine or surrounding areas – it just has this hipster art label and a fake Prada. Maybe one day we will go back and see it, but unless it’s along the way of something else we are doing I don’t think I would go out of my way.
Next on our list is Palo Duro, Sam Houston State Park, Garner State Park and Guadalupe Mountains (and hoping for Carlsbad Caverns if we’re out there). Hoping we can get 1-2 of those off our list by end of year!
I hope you get the chance to explore Big Bend National Park and West Texas at some point in your life, it’s such a unique place and charming vibe. I also threw up some shots into my store so if you’re interested in having a little piece of West Texas in your home ❤
We knew we wanted to ship about 60% of our stuff, specific furniture that we loved that had sentimental value, all of our art (we own TONS of nicely framed unique artwork), clothes (again, MANY boxes were comprised of clothes, shoes, and jackets alone), and random nick-knacks and things we couldn’t part with. We also knew that we didn’t personally want to drive our stuff across multiple states via U-haul. While we wanted to do a cross country drive with our cat Beatrix, the pressure and stress of tugging our stuff was not appealing and we quickly decided on a pod type move. I made a few calls and got quotes, both from PODS and UPack, and we decided to use UPack because they were a bit cheaper and quicker. While on the phone to both companies, representatives at each place told me that this was the last reservation available for 6 weeks out and that the #1 place they were moving people to was…Austin. Interesting! My intuition was correct. Folks were leaving SF by the droves and also heading to Texas.
After we sold off the stuff we could and gave the rest away to Goodwill, we packed our things very tightly, literally putting EVERYTHING in bubble-wrap. You see, UPack is just a storage container-shipping service, so packing is completely left to you (and you can’t claim breakage if you packed poorly). You also have to hire movers separately if you need and because our SF apartment was on the 2nd floor with a winding staircase, we opted to pay movers to help lug our stuff down into the containers. Boy were they especially quick and experienced! The next day, UPack came to pick up our stuff and it was en route to Texas, we would see it in about 7-10 business days. The rest of the week we slept on an air mattress and worked from our folding camping chairs, and stayed a few nights with friends.
The morning of our big departure we walked through Alamo Square for the last time. The air was thick and foggy, and also incredibly smokey from the wildfires – making it hard to breathe. I cried and felt incredibly grateful for my time here and very hopeful for our future. But I also had so much adrenaline to get going – and get to Texas! We threw our last remaining items out, tidied up the apartment, got our rental car, and packed up with Bea and were off!
We chose a one-way car rental from SFO airport to the Austin airport over about 5 days. We already had plans to buy our friend’s car in Texas, so this was the most efficient way for us to move across country. Our car was packed with a few suitcases of clothes, our computers and camera, a handful of items we wanted to personally hang onto (like paperwork and family heirlooms) and of course our baby cat. The plan was to drive down the 5 to Bakersfield and hit Las Vegas, then through Utah to stay in Moab, cross into Colorado and stay in Denver, drive down through Colorado Springs, cross New Mexico and into Texas to stay in Amarillo the final night, with the last day driving through until we reached Austin. We did this route because both of us recently spent time in New Mexico (and I in Arizona) and neither of us have really explored Utah or Colorado – so we wanted to go where we could explore more things, even if it did take a little longer.
I didn’t book us any hotels in advance. And luckily, we drove through states where they weren’t implementing quarantine for COVID (another reason we didn’t stay in New Mexico, they were more strict in the pandemic). We took turns driving our fun Hyundai Sante Fe mid-size SUV which was perfect for us. Keep in mind, I haven’t owned a car in 12 years and I didn’t drive much in California, so I wanted something that I felt comfortable in and this car was amazing. We agreed in the future if we ever saw a good deal on this vehicle we would get it! So smooth and safe. Two thumbs up from us!
The first day of the trip was the WORST. I knew it was going to suck hard, not only because of being emotional saying goodbye, but it was the longest drive of the whole trip, it was hot en route to Bakersfield which also isn’t a super interesting landscape, and we knew Bea was going to have a really hard time. For about 2 months before we left, John practiced taking Beatrix for drives around the city, although in shorter spurts of 30 minutes. It got a lot easier for her after a few times, but that was no where close to being in the car for 8 hours or so. We had a flexible cat carrier and I put a sweater of mine down that she loves to sleep on, and brought toys and treats. We had a travel liter box as well and kept her in a cat harness the whole time she was in the car. Initially we wanted to keep her in the middle seat, but she cried way too much and I put her on my lap. It was a LONG drive. We passed through burn scars from the fires on the 5, only 2 days after it was put out! It was a chaotic time to leave and the energy was crazy. Bea wouldn’t stop crying and once we made it to Bakersfield, we decided to stop to let her walk outside in the park on her leash – she did NOT like this at all and immediately ran back into her cat carrier, and we didn’t hear a peep from her the rest of the drive.
We finally made it to Vegas. I booked us a room at the La Quinta over by Red Rock Canyon because they are pet friendly with no additional charges (other hotels wanted anywhere from $20-$100 extra and half of the hotels didn’t even allow animals). The first night I really questioned our driving plan. I seriously thought about just going through Arizona and NM and getting to Austin ASAP because Bea had such a hard time and I was worried about her. John assured me everything was going to be ok, and once I had a good night of rest I would want to proceed with our plans. Boy was he right! The next morning, we left Bea in the hotel so we could go explore Red Rock Canyon on our own and enjoy what we could while she felt safe. It was so beautiful! It took about 45 minutes for us to do the scenic drive and we were only about 5 minutes from our hotel. We decided to keep this strategy for the rest of the trip: pick a place we want to explore in our destination, find a La Quinta nearby that location, leave Bea in the room and go explore in the morning, checkout by noon, and onward to the next location. This was AMAZING for us and worked well. And Beatrix was in much better spirits on the second day, she loved exploring the hotel room.
I really wanted to see the Hoover Dam while we left Vegas but it was closed due to COVID. I looked up if we could see anything driving by, but others had attempted the same thing on TripAdvisor and confirmed no dice. So I just drove us straight out of Vegas, through the corner of Arizona (for about 30 minutes, hey at least we saw the backside of the Grand Canyon!) and into Utah. I visited Salt Lake City in high school once but never spent time in southern Utah. Man, it was GORGEOUS! Wow. We stopped almost every 30 minutes to take pictures because the geology was so unique and constantly changing. It was the best part of our drive, the most mesmerizing and gorgeous.
We made our way to Moab and checked in to La Quinta, dropped off Bea, and went to a lovely dinner on an Italian patio on the main strip. The food was good but the atmosphere of Moab was amazing. What a cute place!
While Bea was curled up by the window, we spent the next morning at the Arches National Park, just a 10 minute drive from our hotel! If you are ever in Utah, this is a MUST DO! It was INCREDIBLE. Words can’t describe being surrounded by the beautiful GINORMOUS red rocks. You stayed in the car (hey, a great COVID activity!) and drove to each point of interest where you could get out for photos. It was one of our favorite things we have ever done together. It really felt like Land Before Time.
After the park we grabbed some delish quesadillas and did a little shopping on the main street for some cute Moab shirts, souvenirs for family, and an ornament before packing up and making our way to Denver. We also saw that there were fires in western Utah and eastern CO, so they were basically everywhere this point in the summer (hey climate change is real)! We left behind red rocks and arches for trees and mountains, and lots of super windy roads.
An old college roommate of mine lives in Denver and we made plans to meet up for a beer at the local brewery, so we opted to stay at the La Quinta in Lakewood. It was great to see Jessica and her beautiful family! And the beer was as good as they say it is in Denver. 🙂
The next morning we explored downtown and Sloan’s Lake. We got coffee and vegan donuts and walked around Confluence Park and saw the city before making our way to the peaceful lake. This was the only time we were able to see views of downtown and they were really nice. I also felt a bit out of place because I was dressed up a bit in boots and a skirt, while literally everyone around me wore workout clothes by North Face or Patagonia, LMAO.
We packed up Denver and made our way to Colorado Springs for a picnic lunch in the park and some boutique shopping. I always heard the best things about Colorado Springs and it didn’t disappoint – I actually liked the vibe more than Denver, personally. The shops were adorable and I scored a few things like a crystal candle, moon earrings, and a tie dye scrunchie. And just look at our adventure cat enjoying the town square!
I drove the next stretch down southern Colorado, across New Mexico and into Texas. It was extremely flat in the panhandle and I had never seen that part of Texas before! Crossing the state line made it the more real that yes, we are Texans now.
We were on a mission to get to Amarillo (by mornin’…) to check into our final La Quinta and grab a chicken fried steak. And FANTASTIC chicken fried steak we had! Bea even got accustomed to hotel living, she was a real great indoor house cat on our journey.
Our last night was spent on the west side, 10 minutes away from Cadillac Ranch. John brought his own spray paint just so we could tag the cars. I had no idea how many people actually tagged this art installation every day! Less than 2 weeks before we went, Rhianna was there and left a tag that said “Fuck Trump” and put a picture of it on her Instagram. All of the local Trump supporters immediately went and painted all the cars red with pro Trump slogans. By the time we got there, everything was completely covered with various tags – you would have no idea that this even happened. (also SO MANY spray paint cans on the ground which I wasn’t a fan of, we took ours with us)
After breakfast we loaded up and began our journey to Austin. We had to stop in Lubbock though because John’s dad has a romanticized view of Lubbock from previous work history and we needed to send him photos. I went to Lubbock only two times before, once for a UT football game where I got hit in the head with a dried up tortilla (yes, Texas Tech does this and it makes no sense) and the other time was to visit a friend after college. John’s reaction was “that’s Lubbock?” – LOL.
The last day was another hard one for Bea. At this point in the trip she was over the car. And we were about 7 hours away from Austin so it was almost as bad as day 1. But we persevered! I had never driven through that part of Texas before and wasn’t used to the rolling hills. That’s not the Texas that I am familiar with, but it was cool to see! What WASN’T cool to see were the buttload of Trump signs. But as we got closer to Austin those became less frequent. Our last pit stop was in the town of Ballenger where I grabbed us amazing Mexican food to go, and we ate in the town gazebo with Bea. (man I SO WISH I got a picture of this moment!) Our new home was so close!
Five days and 7 states later, we arrived! We dropped off our things at our new house, returned the rental car, and stayed the next few days with our friends Jen and Ian until our stuff arrived from UPack. What an incredible journey! Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly we made everything happen. And Bea loves the new place! She has more rooms to explore, more windows, and more sunlight (which she LOVES to bathe in and never really got to do much in SF as we didn’t have much natural light in our place). She watches the grackles chirp each and everyday from her cat tower and the back kitchen door, peering into our backyard. Being in the car for multiple days in a row is a very distant memory for her.
There will be more posts from my new perspective in Texas in the coming months. I loved our time across country and will cherish those memories forever. But to be back, see family, and have new energy and state of mind is such a great feeling! It was DEF the right move. Texas, Texas…yeehaw!
Edinburgh, Scotland was the second portion of our European birthday trip from February 2019 (we traveled in Iceland prior to arriving in the UK). John and I have our birthdays 4 days apart in early February, and over the years we’ve created a tradition to explore someplace new together. We had a tiny layover in London after departing Reykjavik but it was a smooth travel experience and we made it to our AirBnb in Old Town Edinburgh by 5pm, just in time to have celebratory shots with our neighbors before hitting up a pub for dinner and drinks! (Seriously this never would have happened in Iceland, as mentioned, folks are a bit more to themselves. First thing we heard after opening our door was “Hey are you visiting? Want to come take a shot?” – talk about contrast!)
We stayed a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Edinburgh Castle and had the most beautiful views from our AirBnb. The next morning we made our way over to the castle for a tour and high tea service. It is one of the touristy-historic things I had on my list and worth it! We got our tickets online a few days before, but it wasn’t busy at all when we were there.
After the castle tour, as we walked down the street, we passed a man with an owl named Genevieve and she took a liking to John. We didn’t even ask to hold her, she just flew over to him as we passed by (I’m sure it’s a scheme but I sorta have this idea that birds flock to John because he’s some sort of secret Disney prince, like what happened when we were in British Columbia).
Victoria Street is the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter! It is adorable and full of cute boutiques. We got everyone in the family plaid scarves for a real deal. I scored local watercolor art prints of the castle. And John got a cute old-timey Scottish cap.
Remember how I mentioned that you had to plan everything in Iceland? Well, Scotland was the opposite and in the evening we had time to explore something random in the moment, so we ended up going to see this local Sherlock Holmes improv troupe at the Monkey Barrel! It was fun to see their interpretation, complete with a PIANIST who also made up the melody as the story evolved? Hands down some of the most fun we’ve ever had. This was our favorite day on our whole week’s long trip. A little bit of structure but time to adapt to our surroundings and also spontaneously see something new. AND LAUGH! It was a creative show and only $5!
We also explored the area around Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park. I wanted to climb to the top but totally wore the wrong outfit: pink corduroy pants with fancy booties. When in doubt, choose functionality over fashion in Scotland <lol>
The next morning we wanted good Scottish comfort food and enjoyed Mum’s for shepherds pie. GO THERE! One of our favorite things to do is ask the locals places they enjoy to frequent: bars, restaurants or shopping areas. This is how you find the best gems that are not always obvious to the tourist (or even on Google). She guided us to a fun underground bar called Bramble. It was actually underground, had the most creative cocktails, and a DJ spinning hip hop records. We loved it and still talk about it to this day! We even went twice…hehe.
Afterwards, we made our way to Craigmillar Castle where I had a crazy paranormal experience. I felt some intense negative energy downstairs in the wine cellar that stuck with me for 2 whole weeks. (Intense demonic dreams, severe stalking and harassment from men, just general unease). After researching I found out that King James III kept his brother prisoner in the wine cellar where he died, after being accused of witch craft. And I also found out that there was a secret entrance to a Hellfire Club down there in the 18th century. These clubs were super misogynistic and anti women’s rights – so basically that energy did NOT like me while it had no problem with John. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. I saged regularly for 2 weeks before I felt myself again.
Oh also, they filmed scenes from Outlander there.
After the castle we walked around the city some more and had a delish pasta dinner before going to the haunted underground vault tour. We read this was one of the most unique things to do and wanted to end our journey with this experience. It was creepy but also amazing to see this bizarre old underground vault, literally UNDERNEATH Edinburgh. Def recommend!!
I love how old the city is. Around every corner there is an awe of Gothic architecture. It literally feels like Hogwarts. It’s actually where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter (we even visited the cafe where she wrote the books). The buildings are so incredibly old and BOLD. It has a VIBE.
Fun things about Edinburgh:
The city is built on top of itself, so there are layers of streets on top of each other – making GPS hard to follow in certain areas.
The people were the nicest folks we have ever met in any country. Very friendly and warm, but not too much into your business, but also willing to get to know you and hear your story. I felt incredibly safe.
It has a vibrant arts scene filled with poets, writers, comedians, artists – it felt amazing to be encompassed in creative energy.
I have a habit of going on ghost tours every time I travel. I can say, hands down, Scotland is the most haunted place I’ve EVER been.
It is our favorite international city we’ve explored, and we would love to live here! Words can’t describe how at home we felt being in Edinburgh. It’s chock full of amazing history, architecture, an expanding arts scene, and visually stunning nature. We didn’t get to make it outside of the city but can’t wait to eventually explore the Highlands and surrounding islands. It’s a breathtaking country that we feel called towards.
We CAN’T WAIT to come back. If there is one place to go in all of Europe, I highly suggest Edinburgh. You won’t be disappointed!
I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and in 2019 for our February birthday week, we made it happen (alongside a stop in Edinburgh, Scotland which will be a 2nd post). Here’s a trip down memory lane for our amazing winter experience close to the arctic!
One thing about traveling in Iceland that I didn’t expect was how much you had to plan everything you wanted to do weeks and months prior. Every excursion, car or bus transfer, even seeing the Blue Lagoon was timed via a ticket by the hour that sold out in advance, so we had to carefully plan each and every days worth of activities, which I normally don’t like to do. (Hello spontaneity!)
We had a non-stop flight from SFO directly to Reykjavik, which arrived early in the morning, and the first thing we did was head straight to the Blue Lagoon. Because of the proximity to the airport, it’s easiest to experience this national treasure either after arriving or before departing. Our arrival was so early and we couldn’t check into our Airbnb for hours, so we opted to do this first and really soak up (no pun intended) the Icelandic experience. We booked this service to take us to the Blue Lagoon from the airport, which also included a drop-off in the city after we were done.
The Blue Lagoon is incredibly accommodating for tourists. There is an area where you can store your luggage (since most folks come before/after the airport) and easily explore the hot springs. These phone case lanyards were very handy keeping our phones dry so that we could still take photos without worry. Our tickets came with a mask and a cocktail (but you could purchase more if you wanted) and the masks are AMAZING! My skin felt so nice I opted for another treatment. I researched beforehand and found that many people experienced very dry and brittle hair for days after getting it wet in the lagoon, so I pulled it up in a bun the entire time which I highly suggest (especially if your hair is colored).
After about 3-4 hours at the Blue Lagoon, we transferred to Reykjavik and enjoyed a very local lunch (including a smoked meat + fish flatbread) before checking into our Airbnb for a tiny nap. It’s hard to acclimate to the time change so we eased our way in by napping, exploring the city a bit and having a beer, followed by getting groceries to cook for a cozy night in and early bedtime. It snowed pretty heavily at this point and carrying our bags across the town square was quite comical.
Tip: eating out in Iceland can be pretty pricey due to the fact that it IS a remote island close to the arctic <lol> – I highly suggest renting an Airbnb purely for the ability to cook some of your meals. The grocery store isn’t actually that expensive, so getting things for breakfast and a dinner was what worked for us. Plus, Airbnbs are actually a lot cheaper than hotels in certain neighborhoods so this makes it a double win. (Here is where we stayed and loved it! This part of downtown was the perfect spot, it was a few blocks away from the bus stops, the church, and included walking distance to good bars and restaurants.)
This is the Hallgrimskirkja, the most famous church in all of Iceland and also the tallest building in the city (and one of the tallest in the country). We paid $6 to take the elevator to the top to take in panoramic views and snap these pics. I highly suggest doing this if you can!
Reykjavik is so quaint and beautiful. I adored the colorful homes and buildings and how they popped against the white snow canvas.
One of the most fun things we were able to experience was the Lava Tunnel, about 41 KM southeast of Reykjavik. Once again, tickets included roundtrip bus fair from downtown and was easily my favorite part of the trip. We saw the most wonderful sunrise with amazing pastel colors, it felt like a dream. Because we were so far north and in early February we had limited daylight. Sunrise actually happened at 10am and sunset around 3:30. For this very reason, and because of the unpredictable weather patterns (not to mention neither John or I are experienced winter drivers) we didn’t rent a car. Most all excursions include transportation from Reykjavik, so we were perfectly happy with this decision. Though we do want to go back in the summer time where we there will be more daylight so that we can rent a car and explore the rest of the countryside.
Upon arrival they gave us crampons for extra grip into the tunnel. We heard excellent folklore tales about the underground trolls and also the history of geology in the region. It was fascinating!
The next day for John’s 30th birthday we had PLANNED a full day at the Golden Circle, complete with 3 waterfall stops and ending with a soak in the Secret Lagoon. However, life had other things in store for us. The weather in Iceland is very unpredictable, especially in the winter, and we faced winds upward of 125 MPH. All excursions were cancelled and all roads outside of town were closed. We even tried looking into renting a car so we could go on our own but, NOPE. There was nothing we could do, and we couldn’t push this to the next day because we were flying to Scotland. I was understandably heartbroken. I think I cried for about 20 minutes and then pulled it together because, hey, we were still in Iceland and there were tons of other amazing things to explore inside town! (Again, why I hate having to plan an itinerary for this very reason! But it is the way it is in Iceland.)
It was John’s birthday afterall and the coldest and windiest day of our whole trip! So how did we start our day? By visiting the Big Lebowski Bar for some White Russians! Yes. There are about a dozen Lebowski bars in the world and one was just down the street. What a great way to turn around the energy!
We then went to the Perlan, Iceland’s natural science and geology museum, and got to explore an ice cave! There are so many geological wonders in Iceland, being able to take in the history was pretty awesome (I took a ton of geology in college and am a bit of a rock nerd). Plus the cafe inside has EPIC views!
It was FREEZING! Have you ever tried walking around in 125 MPH winds?! We found a brewery and restaurant by the water that sounded good for lunch and took the (yes, FREE) bus across town. The local fish fare is delish and you can’t go wrong with any local beers.
While we had lunch we looked up what was around us and saw that the Aurora Reyjkavik (the Northern Lights museum) was within walking distance. We weren’t lucky enough to actually see the real lights during our stay (again, hard to plan seeing the Northern Lights as there are many variables involved), so exploring the history and science behind them was the next best thing!
This is a big surprise, but for dinner we had the best thai food at Krua Thai (honestly the best food we had the whole trip – I know it’s weird because “good Thai food in Iceland?” – YES!!), visited Mikkeller & Friends Brewery, and then ended the night with a famous hotdog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It ended up being the most fun day! Sometimes where life takes you is better than what you plan for ❤ .
This was the end of the first part of our 2019 European journey. The next morning we had delish pastries from Braud, a bakery down the street from us, and flew to Edinburgh for the second portion of our trip. Here are a few takeaways from our time in Iceland:
In order to ensure that you experience most things, you MUST plan in advance.
The caveat is, the weather might turn on you and your plans may change – if you are able to leave a bit of wiggle room in-case this happens, the better.
Also, because of this, try pushing most of your “plans” into the first part of your trip so that if anything happens you can use your extra “non-plan” days as backup.
Most excursions include roundtrip transit, so you don’t NEED a car if you stay in Reykjavik.
Winter weather is unpredictable and you *probably* won’t see the Northern Lights.
It’s a very small country, population wise, and most people tend to stick to themselves. Folks are nice if you ask questions or need directions, but don’t expect to strike it up with strangers in a bar.
Go knowing that you likely won’t be able to do sand see everything you want, but it’s such an incredible place that anything you end up doing will be amazing!
Iceland is AWESOME and I can’t wait to go back!! You will want to go back.
Stay tuned for part two of our 2019 adventure into Edinburgh!