Guide to the Golden Circle, Deluxe Edition

What is the Golden Circle?

If you Google “Things to do in Iceland,” the Golden Circle will likely be one of your top hits. The Golden Circle is a trio of sites that can be seen in one day as you drive around in a circle. The three attractions along the Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss Waterfalls. The drive takes about 3 hours from Reykjavik!

Our Route

When we sat down to plan our trip around the Golden Circle, we decided to include a few more stops, that tend to be lesser known. Our route included a stop at the Kerid Crater, Faxi Falls and Friðheimar, which is a tomato greenhouse that also has a restaurant inside! If we were going to drive all day, we wanted to get the most bang for our buck! We also had Bruarfoss Waterfalls on our agenda, but the entrance was closed when we got there. Our total driving time was 3 hours and 23 minutes!

Map of Golden Circle route

Kerid Crater

The Kerid Crater was our first stop and probably the most aesthetically pleasing. The red rock contrasted with the turquoise water in an unreal way! The crater was formed from a volcanic eruption 3000 years ago. The water in the lake is pretty shallow, ranging from 7 to 14 meters! At the crater, you can take a walk around the top, then hike down to the bottom! There is an entrance fee of $3.

Kerid Crater
Bottom of Kerid Crater

Faxi Falls

We still had a bit of time before our lunch reservations so we drove over to Faxi Falls. These falls are lesser known, as evidenced by being the only car in the parking lot. There was a $5 entrance, but they do take credit card. The fall is connected to Tungufljót river and is about 80 meters wide and 7 meters tall. If you have the time, I would check it out!

Faxi Falls

Friðheimar

Finally, lunch time! I had been to Friðheimar during my last visit to Iceland with my family and remembered it being delicious. It did not disappoint! Friðheimar is a tomato greenhouse where can you also eat. Greenhouses are common in Iceland, as their weather isn’t very conducive to farming. Here, you can eat their famous tomato soup with fresh baked bread. They also offer tomato adult drinks and desserts, if you dare! The tomato soup buffet was about $20, and included unlimited tomato soup, bread and garnishes (sour cream, fresh basil you clip at the table, cucumber salsa and butter). If you don’t want to spend that much or if you know you only want one bowl, you can also order a single bowl for about $10. After lunch, you can take a stroll around and see the tomato plants they grow!

Sign at Friðheimar farms
Meal at Friðheimar
Tomatos at Friðheimar

Geysir

Next stop is the Geysers! The area has quite a few geysers! Many are dormant but one does go off every 5-10 minutes! In all honesty, this was one of the least exciting stops of the day but it’s still worth a visit! There is a large cafe and gift shop as well if you need a refreshment!

Geysir
Geysir

Gullfoss

Next stop – Gullfoss! Gullfoss means “Golden Falls” and is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Iceland. The water from the falls comes from the glacier Langjökull. There are several viewing points at this stop. You can take the stairs up and see the view from above or you can walk along the path towards the fall! Be prepared to get pretty wet!

Gullfoss Falls
Gullfoss Falls
Gullfoss Falls

Tungufljót

This wasn’t an attraction per se but as we were driving, we saw some cars parked along the side of the road and curiosity made us pull over to see what was happening! Turns out we were driving over the Tungufljót river! This river is full of salmon and trout, and very important to Icelanders for that reason.

Tunguflot

All over Iceland are these beautiful purple flowers. At the river, they were abundant as well! These are actually Alaskan lupine and were brought over to Iceland in 1945 to add nitrogen to the soil!

Alaskan lupine

Thingavellir

Our last stop of the day was Thingavellir Park. To be honest, we were pretty drained by then and didn’t want to continue to walk around so we stopped for a minute to see what it was about and got back in the car to head home. Here is the one photo of the park I got!

Thingavellir Park is a UNESCO site for it’s nature and because it is the site of the oldest parliament in the world! Iceland’s parliament existed here from the 10th to the 18th century!

Thingavellir

Tips

Overall, we had an amazing day. It’s bonkers to think that in just a few hours, you can see so many gorgeous sites! After exploring for the day, here are a few tips I would share:

  • Call ahead and make reservations for Friðheimar! I was lucky enough to be able to make reservations the night before but I know they can get packed!
  • Start early – you’ll want to take advantage of as many sites as you can! Keep in mind that some places have opening hours and some don’t so plan accordingly.
  • Be prepared for a foggy drive! If you need to, slow down while driving. The fog was unlike anything I had ever seen.
  • Use the restroom when you can! Gullfoss and Faxi did not have restrooms available.
  • Bring waterproof shoes to Gullfoss – you don’t want to have to sit in wet shoes for hours after!

Biggest tip though, is to go do the Golden Circle! It will not disappoint!

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Uncategorized

A Casual Day at the DMZ/North Korea

We have a scratch off map at home with all the countries we’ve been to, and I’m having a serious moral dilemma. Can I scratch off North Korea now that we’ve been to the DMZ?!

When we were in Korea a few weeks ago, we booked a tour to go to the DMZ – the area between North and South Korea that serves as a buffer zone. The tour included stops at the Doransan Station, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, Imjingak Park. The tour itself was $40 – so quite a good bang for your buck, in my opinion. Now let’s break it all down.

Dora Observatory

The Dora Observatory is an observatory (duh) that you can see North Korea from. Well, usually. The day we went was extremely hazy so this was the best that we could do.

View of Dora Observatory

According to our tour guide, on a clear day, you can actually see a North Korean town (although she claims it’s a facade and not an actual town). From the viewing deck, you can also hear North Korean propaganda music!

South Korean Artwork

Downstairs, they had videos playing about North Korea, as well as artwork made by South Koreans. All of the art centered around how it felt to lose family in the separation. The picture above was one of my favorite pieces. (For anyone looking for a latte – this is the one of two stops on the tour where you can get one. You’re welcome, in advance).

Imjingak Park

I will preface this by saying this is the second stop on the tour where you can get your coffee fix. Aside from that, this park is located in Paju, South Korea and is known for the Freedom Bridge there.

Train shot by North Korean military
A train that was shot by North Korean military that sits within the park
Train sign to North Korea
Prayer ribbons
Prayer ribbons put up by vistors
Prayer ribbons
South Korean army man
Obligatory South Korean cheerful army man near the entrance to the bridge

While Imjinak Park is an important landmark, as an outsider it was just an okay stop along the way. I think my favorite part would probably have to be seeing all those prayer ribbons, because it made the war and the separations that followed feel real to me. It made me understand that there are people, to this day, that are hurting because of it.

Dorasan Station

The next stop was a train station. Random, right? It’s actually the last train station in South Korea, and if trains were allowed, it would continue on to North Korea. Not so random after all, my friends!

Dorasan Station map

At the station, we learned that South Korea refers to itself as an island. If you look at the map above, if it weren’t for the inability to go through North Korea, you could hypothetically travel Europe via train from Seoul!

Dorasan station and tickets

At the station you can purchase a “ticket” to get inside the station. I guess it was cool to see where we would hypothetically catch a train to North Korea.

Ticket to Pyeongyang
The ticket – pretty official ya’ll

3rd Infiltration Tunnel

After the Armistace Agreement, South Korea found a series of tunnels that the North Koreans dug into South Korea. Most of them routed themselves to Seoul, making the South Korean believe that they were planning a massive attack on their largest city.

DMZ sign
Peep the soldier with the peace sign between the M

Interestingly enough, North Korea claimed they were mining for coal, and after getting caught, painted the interiors of the tunnel black to look like coal.

DMZ

We decided not to go down into the tunnel as it was incredibly crowded but did watch the video that South Korea made to discuss the tunnels. Holy propaganda guys! If you get the chance, go to the tunnels and watch the video. Bring some popcorn. It’s pretty damn amusing.

DMZ chocolate
Didn’t purchase this, but was mildly amused by it.

Also – pro tip, buy the hoodies at the gift shop there. They are the comfiest hoodies I’ve ever owned.

In Conclusion…

No travel post would be complete without a food pic, so here ya go! For lunch that day, we had a choice between bulgogi or bimbimbap. We both went for the bulgogi and it was surprisingly delicious. Lunch was served in what looked like an old government building and was buffet style. I would just like to point out that they had cherry tomatoes in the dessert section. I did not snap a pic because I was too infuriated by the fact that someone could call tomatoes a dessert.

Traditional Korean lunch

At one of the many gift shops, we picked up a bottle of North Korean liquor. It was fine. It tasted like plum wine and communism.

North Korean liquor

That’s all folks! I personally enjoyed the tour, although I don’t know how much of that is just because I can now (kind of) say I’ve been to North Korea. If anyone is looking to book it, book it far in advance as they do tend to sell out! We went through a tour group called Kooridoor, although there are numerous other tours that go out that way.

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Travel

Discovering the Heart and S(e)oul of South Korea

After our brief visit to Singapore, we moseyed on over to Seoul, South Korea. Going into this trip, I had an idea of what most of the places would be like, but Korea was an unknown for me. If you asked me what I knew about Korea, the most I could give you would be a list of assorted food items that I’d seen at the Asian market growing up.

Our flight to Korea was about 6 hours long. We flew Singapore airlines, which I had heard rave reviews about. The airplane/airport geek in me was pumped! My short review? Good meals for economy. Decent leg room and seats that were as comfortable as an airplane can get. Great service. Insanely clean bathrooms.

Upon getting on the flight, we met our seat mate. His name is Jin, but he goes by Jimmy. Jimmy chatted with us throughout the flight, and essentially made us feel like unaccomplished humans. He had been in the Olympics as a judo fighter (I’m not 100% sure if it was judo or some other sport but I am 100% sure about the Olympic thing). He also had completed his mandatory 2-year service in the Korean army. What was Jimmy doing now? Training to be a commercial pilot. Jimmy gave us a little crash course into Korean life and described how insanely long days are for both children and adults. If anyone would like to follow our homie Jimmy on Instagram, click here. (You’re welcome Jimmy).

On to Korea.

Day One

We took a cab from the Incheon Airport into Seoul. Cabs are pretty affordable in South Korea and saved us the headache of trying to figure out the bus system. To be honest, we used cabs to get pretty much everywhere while we were in Seoul because #affordableluxury.

We stayed in an area called Myeong-dong, which is known for it’s shopping and K-beauty (neither of which interested me). For our first night, we wandered the streets near our AirBnB, and ate our little hearts out. The area was fun to wander through because of all the little side streets that kept leading you to more food! Scroll on for the grub from that night 😉

Buchimgae – Korean pancake
Kimchi
Banchan 4 life
Cute rice balls for the banchan
Hot pot

Day Two

The next day, we had meandering on our schedule, as well as a kimchi making class. Whilst we meandered, I made a few observations…

  • Public bathrooms were a bit hard to come by – as were garbage cans
  • Americanos were not very good at all!
  • Air was dirty. Dirty enough that I longed for that presh Chicago air. Yes, it was really that bad!
  • Everyone is incredibly nice. Reflecting back on it now, I can’t determine if it was genuine niceness or just a politeness that we don’t have at home.
Google Translate: if I buy you a bouquet, will you be mine?
#kawaii

Meandering was fun, but the streets were incredibly crowded and the air was not the best, so we were ready to go indoors for our kimchi class. Kimchi is something that we eat frequently – we’re all about those probiotics! During the class we learned so much about the history of kimchi and what it means in Korea. Essentially, kimchi is a staple in Korean daily life. Families even get together annually for an event called Kimjang, in which they make kimchi all day long. People even get the day off of work for this! We also learned about the million and one types of kimchi, as well as how kimchi ages (similarly to wine I suppose).

If you’re curious about the process and history of kimchi, take this class! It was taught by a husband and wife team, and not only did we make kimchi, but we also had a homemade meal together! I would recommend it 100%!

All the spices!
Smug mug
Dinner! Bossam (boiled pork), buchimgae (pancakes) and rice cakes!

Day Three

The last thing that we did in Seoul proper was a city walk. We booked a tour off of AirBnB and our host was great! We met at the Seoul Cinema, where he began by talking about the history of the Korean language. Fun fact alert: did you know that up until the 1980s, Mandarin Chinese was a common language for Koreans? I didn’t!

We continued on our tour by visiting what was the first shopping mall in Seoul. It has since been converted into electronic shops, as well as studios for young artists, who can receive funding from the country for an apartment and studio space! In front of the building was a statue of a robot, which symbolized the creation of new technology that occurred there.

We had to
There were public rooms where you could listen to a collection of records!
They had rooms throughout where people could meet and work!

As we delved deeper into the buildings, we came across stores that sold all types of obscure electronic pieces. The tour guide told us that the government paid for training so that these store owners could keep up to date with current technological needs!

The interior of the buildings
The view from the top floor, which had been renovated as a meeting space for locals

After exploring the buildings, our tour guide brought us to a fun little coffee shop in the design market. In Seoul, businesses that do similar jobs are located near one another. This coffee shop was in an area that had many businesses that did graphic design and packaging for goods. Clearly, the coffee shop had a great design team behind it.

The coffee shop!

We continued on with a walk through the Gwangjang market, where we saw stands selling custom made hanbok – traditional Korean dresses.

We ended our tour in the street food section of the market. Our tour guide got us bean sprout pancakes, as well as gimbap – Korean sushi rolls, and we went on our merry way to explore the market on our own! The tour itself was great, and I would highly recommend it! If you’re interested, this is the one we took.

Now here’s the exciting part! Guess who we met? GUESS? No, it was not the dude who sang Gangnam Style. It was mother fracking Yoosun Cho from Netflix’s Street Foods! Of course we stopped for a bite to eat and a selfie with the noodle queen!

Day Four

We ended our visit to South Korea with a day trip to the DMZ (which I’ll obviously need to dedicate an entire post to), and a day in Incheon where we ventured to a Korean spa. In all honesty, I don’t get the hype about the Korean spa. It had a bunch of different saunas at different temperatures and purifying elements (like a sauna full of charcoal and one full of amethyst). It was cool, but one sauna room would have done the trick as well.

Reflection

Overall, South Korea gave us some great times, some good laughs and tasty food. Coming from the U.S., it was hard to ignore the level of conformity that existed (a lot of websites were blocked – like Reddit) and the insane hours of work that people put in. At the end of a visit to a new country, I like to reflect and think about if the place I visited was a place I could imagine myself living. While Seoul was fun, it’s a hard no for me. The air quality was terrible (which is huge for us) and the idea of being a “company man” would never be appealing to me. Korea was fun to visit, but I’ll keep it at that!

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Travel

Things We Did and Ate in Rome (in Pictures)

This post is delayed but this week has been busy, so it is what it is. Plus, I’m sure there is not a single soul on this earth who has been waiting at the edge of their seat, so it’s all good! We started our trip off with several days in Rome. It was nice, but that’s all. I will say – Rome has some delicious cheeseboards though. I think the more we travel, the more we’re learning that cities aren’t really our jam. We live in a city. A nice, big, crowded one. When we get away, we crave the outdoors. I digress. Keep scrolling for some photos (and words) about Rome, in no particular order!

Our First Roman Meal

When we first got to Rome, we headed straight for our AirBnB to drop our luggage off then headed out for our first *true* Italian dinner. We didn’t head far – the restaurant La Forchetta d’Oro was right across the street from us! The prices were reasonable and the food was pretty good!

Bruchetta
Seaweed salad
Beef carpacio
Cuttleink pasta
Tiramisu

That pretty much ended our first night. We wanted to take a walk to see the Colosseum at night, but the rain wasn’t cooperating!

The Macro Museum

While Rome is know for their classical art, we ventured out to the Macro Museum. I’m a huge fan of modern art. I think it’s just so much more fun than painting of sad old people and bowls of fruit. Call me uncultured, that’s fine. Unfortunately, this museum was a bit lackluster. There weren’t all that many exhibits. On the bright side, it was free.

Ten bonus points for having a super modern bathroom

The rest of that day was rained out. We had bought tickets for a hop on/hop off bus, but the rain stopped us from hopping off. Eventually, we got dinner, and called it a day.

Checking Out the Colosseum

It wouldn’t be a trip to Rome without a visit to the Colosseum. I strongly advise getting tickets in advance. We went pretty early in the morning (8:30) and there was already a line of probably a few hundred people trying to purchase tickets.

Is it terrible that I wasn’t super impressed? Okay, the fact that they built a thing like this back then is cool, but IDK. It was just a building.

Roaming Through Trastevere

We also explored this neighborhood called Trastevere. It was filled with boutique shops, coffee, and all the cheeseboards you could want. In our three hour visit, we consumed three cheeseboards.

They have a cool hill in this neighborhood you can walk to and get a view of Rome from above!
This place was excellent! Check out Donkey Punch if you’re looking for a delicious meal!
La Prosciutteria

A Roman Cooking Class

We also participated in our first ever Air BnB experience: PASTA MAKING! We took this class and learned how to make several types of pasta. Making pasta was much easier than I had assumed it would be!

The finished product!

Overall, Rome was nice, but that’s all I can say. It didn’t blow my mind or anything like that. We ate some good charcuterie and saw some old buildings. Perhaps if we were history buffs it would’ve been more of a dream come true, but in all honesty, it was just a tad bit overrated.

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Sparking Joy

What Is Self Care?

We all get to that point where we’re tired, overwhelmed and don’t really a give a shite anymore. Sometimes it’s when theres a bunch of deadlines at work, sometimes it’s purely hormonal. So we have a chat with our friend that goes something like this…

Me:”Girl, I am SO tired. S.O.T.I.R.E.D.”

Friend:”Girl, have you been practicing self care?” [Glitter falls from the sky as the word is said]

Me:”Ohmygosh, no – silly me!”

Self care is a buzz word these days. Millennials flipping love self care. But what is it? The definition of self care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” Sounds legit but how do we do it? Is there a better way to care care of ourselves?

Am I self-caring yet?!?!

A quick search of self care routines leads you to over 2 billion results. Type self care into Instagram and you’re in a pool of photos of people with face masks on and rosé in hand. People are serious about this ya’ll. I found a reddit thread where people (mostly women, it appears) discuss their “self care routine.” Some women change their sheets every Monday, some women do a face mask once a week. One woman wrote that she wakes up an hour earlier than everyone else in her house to make sure her day runs smoothly. Another woman wrote “shower beers.” Is that a shower made of beer or a beer you drink in the shower? I’ve had my coffee in the shower before and it wasn’t all that relaxing but who am I to judge?

After looking into this topic more, I realize that a good amount of people have drinking listed as a self care technique. This raises a few questions for me. If self care, by definition, is meant to “protect your well-being” should drinking be allowed to fall into that category? When I think self care, I think yoga, skin care, and a lavender scented bath tub. Can drinking, which is a stressful thing for your body, be used to destress mentally? Or does self care just mean doing what you want to do, and what makes you feel happy in the moment?

Self care, and one’s self care routine is personal. What de-stresses me may not de-stress my friends. Here’s some insight into what I do for my own version of self care. I wake up every work morning about an hour earlier than I need to. I need that time to myself, to drink my coffee, to read (optimistically) or to surf the internet (more realistic). I’ve told my friends about my morning routine, and most of them look at me like I’m crazy. “You’d trade sleep for some quiet coffee and Pinterest?!?!” I actually don’t trade sleep. Sleep is very important to me. Ask any of my friends if I text back past 8:30pm. Nope! Why? Because ya girl’s phone is on airplane mode and my face is in a book, getting ready for a 9:30 bedtime.

Kombucha is deffo a form of self care for me

Sometimes I browse the racks of Salvation Army on a Saturday morning. There’s something about finding a great deal or a treasure that makes me feel happier. Books are also a huge source of self care for me (many of which I find at the Salvation Army – two birds one stone amirite?!) It can be a nice dinner with my husband or a just a long walk together. Sometimes, it’s a good cup of coffee and a long chat with a friend. A huge part of self care for me is exploration and trips. I find myself when I go to a place that isn’t home, and there’s a lot of value in that for me.

Sometimes, self care is a bee onesie, your best friend and hot cocoa

My point is, I don’t have a self care “routine” that I do weekly. I go by feel. I do what I need to do to feel good about myself, so that I can feel good about all aspects of my life and use my energy efficiently. For some people, a routine is what they need. Some people need some wine at the end of the day. Some people would say that a clean kitchen at the end of the day is their form of self care. Self care should be centered around your self, not what looks good on Instagram (although maybe, Instagram is a form of self care for you?) What do you do to take care of yourself? What are your thoughts on the concept of self care?