A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland - Day 2

Hella

sunny 53 °F

Today we started with breakfast at the hotel. It was very good - except for the scrambled eggs. I'm not sure what was going on there, but the flavor wasn't right. They had a nice spread of hot and cold options and a beautiful view. After breakfast we went to the valley of Gjáin - the Game of Thrones episode where Arya and the Hound were walking through the countryside was filmed there! On our way to the site we pulled off to take some pictures - it's so hard to not pull off at every turn.

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If Tim hadn't done the research on Gjáin I would have thought we were going the wrong way. We turned off a paved road and onto a gravel road....and from there, through a lava field. What??? I'm glad we had a high-clearance vehicle and 4WD. It looks like you're driving through dead nothingness - even until you get there. Then you get out of the car and look down into the canyon and wonder how this beautiful landscape turned up in the middle of dead. We spent a lot of time at Gjáin. We hiked, took pictures, checked out the scenery and ate lunch in front of a waterfall. All in a days work.

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On our way back we stopped at a resconstructed old farm, Stöng, from between 1100-1200 AD. It is estimated that Mount Hekla erupted for the first time in historical times on 1104 AD, completely devastating 20 settlements in the area, including this farm. The area was excavated and in 1974 Stöng was reconstructed. After a quick stop, we were back on the road with our "Cool American" Doritos.

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Next up was Geysir. This geysir is the reason for the name "geysir". This was the first spot we've seen Iceland (for lack of a better phrase) "cash in" on tourism. There was a brand new building with three different restaurants and a gift shop. This is significant because most of the places we've visited didn't even have a garbage can. Strokkur, the only geysir that currently erupts, is definitely the main attraction - there were so many people there. Strokkur usually erupts every 10-15 minutes but was going off every 2-4 minutes while we were there. In other spots of the park there were some inactive geysers. Seismic activity can make them active again. Geysir, the original, goes long periods before erupting, at one point sitting dormant for 70 years. While we were at Geysir we had dinner at Geysir Glima, the restaurant on site. I have to say, we planned for expensive food here in Iceland but we underestimated the cost. Granted, this was a tourist spot so it was a little more expensive. Since breakfast is included with our hotel and we brown bagged lunch, it stings a little less, but FYI for anyone traveling to Iceland.

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Also, can we talk about the paprika? It's on everything! I don't hate paprika but it's in the soup, it's sprinkled on sandwiches and pasta, it's a pringle flavor - it's everywhere! Also everywhere? Something we are lovingly referring to as IMT's (Icelandic Monster Trucks). We've seen so many converted trucks and SUVs with HUGE tires, lifted, and with snorkel exhausts. Guess it's necessary depending on what lava field you live in.

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The last stop of the day was at Gulfoss. This is another area that Iceland is improving, in terms of tourism. There was a new cafe and gift shop, and they were in the process of building new steps. But enough about that, let's talk about Gulfoss! We've seen some amazing waterfalls and I can honestly say all of them are different and unique. Gulfoss is located on the Hvita river which is fed by Langjökull, the second biggest glacier in Iceland. It was very impressive and worth the trip. Bonus: we saw two rainbows!

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After Gulfoss we called it an evening and went back to the hotel bar for drinks and a snack: cured salmon on toasted bread. We finished out the evening with a dip in the hot tub. Before we knew it, it was 10pm. The day really gets away from you when it stays light so late!

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We can't wait to wake up and start our next day. Until tomorrow!

Posted by juliejakicic 17:34 Archived in Iceland Comments (1)

Iceland - Day 1

Hella

semi-overcast 50 °F

Velkomið to our Iceland blog! We did so much today and have a ton to share. We arrived at Keflavik Airport at 6:30am and picked up our rental car. "A quick 3 minute walk" per the rental car website. A not so quick walk, in the rain, with no sidewalks - is what it should have read. But we were happy to get a Hyundai Tucson...a big upgrade from our tiny purple Pixo in Ireland! Heated seats, heated steering wheel - it's nicer than our cars at home. The weather started out very foggy and rainy, but cleared up as the day went on.

Our first stop on the agenda was an elfin park called Hellisgerði in Hafnarfjörður. We are using GPS while here and sometimes Heather (yes we named our GPS) is awful at directions. After driving around for a while, we finally found a car park and set off to find the elves. Spoiler alert - we didn't see any. But the park was beautiful anyway. It was misting/drizzling and the moss was so green. It was in the middle of a residential area, not far from the harbor.

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Is that a giant elf?

Elf home sighting?

Elf home sighting?

After striking out at the elf park, we swung by the harbor and then headed to the grocery store. One of the grocery chains is called Bonus and the logo is a pink pig. We picked up some PB&J essentials for lunches, took some pictures of food we found interesting, stopped at a coffee shop for a snack and then made our way to Valley of Reykjadalur to start our first hike of the trip.

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The hike was 4 miles round trip, out and back. The out was up, up, up. 2 miles felt like 7. This hike had a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - hot springs! The trail was a lot more crowded than we were expecting, but then we remembered it's Saturday and a lot of locals go to the springs. The hot springs are what's left of the geothermal activity from an extinct volcano from 120,000 years ago. There were fissures billowing steam around every corner. At many sections the water underneath the ground was so hot it was bubbling to the surface. One sign said 100+ degrees Celsius, which is over 210 degrees Fahrenheit! Along the way we saw signs of horses and sure enough, partway to the springs there was a corral of Icelandic horses!!! We stopped to pet them and then continued on. There was also a beautiful waterfall.

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The closer we got to the springs the warmer the water was in the creeks coming down the mountain. At the springs there are stands to put your clothes on - most everyone brought bathing suits and they were soaking in the creek. We didn't bring our suits so we settled for soaking our feet. We started to go in higher in the creek but a nice woman warned us the water in that section was really hot. We thanked her and moved down lower where the water had some time to cool off, but was still very toasty. It was such a neat experience. Even if I had my suit I don't know if I would have gone in unless the outside air was a little warmer. We hung out in the water for a while and then packed up our stuff and headed back down.

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On our way to the next site, we stopped at a gas station for an Icelandic hot dog we keep hearing about. Unfortunately they didn't have any. We've seen several people along the way eating the gas station sandwiches so we figured they were safe. I had a delicious ham, egg and lettuce wrap. I asked the attendant if he had any condiments or mayo for the wrap. He looked at me funny and then pointed to some condiments on the counter. I pointed to the one that looked the most like mayo. It ended up being a mix of (I'm guessing) mayo, paprika and tartar sauce??? Icelanders love their paprika. We even saw paprika Pringles at the grocery store.

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Our next stop was a GIANT waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. Huge, and it's right next to Ring Road (aka Route 1 which circles the entire country). There isn't much to say about it - the pictures explain it all. Look for the people in the background of the pictures for scale.

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By this time it was 5:00pm and we were exhausted from fitful airplane sleep. We drove to our accommodations, Stracta Hotel in Hella, and took a nap. Our room is very nice and the hotel grounds have hot tubs and saunas. We had dinner at a restaurant called Arhús (fresh salmon!) and called it a night. And by a "night" I mean, an evening. This time of year it doesn't get dark until 12:30am and at 2:30am the sun comes back up!

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Stay tuned for tomorrow's adventures!

Posted by juliejakicic 15:56 Archived in Iceland Comments (1)

Las Vegas - Day 4

Viva Las Vegas

Check out was set for 11am on our last day, but even a late night yesterday couldn't stop us from visiting the famous Garden of the Gods pool deck at Caesars before we left. Julie and I grabbed our complimentary coffees and took in some early morning pool time. This pool area is without a doubt one of the nicest I've seen in person. A large lap pool, a circular pool complete with columns and fountains, and several other smaller pools made it all very unique. Even though we were there early, it started to fill up fast. If you want a full pool day with a good spot I'd recommend getting there no later than 9am.

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After that refreshing start we packed our bags and checked them for the day, as we were not flying out until that evening. We met up with Phil and headed next door to The Mirage for breakfast. You wouldn't think it would be hard to find late morning breakfast in Vegas, but it is actually a bit of a challenge. However, Pantry in The Mirage just opened recently and serves breakfast 24 hours a day, so of course that was our destination. BACON! It's a neat restaurant set up to look like a family kitchen and has a fairly decent menu. Though there were what appeared to be several available tables, the wait to be seated was much longer than expected. Since we were starving, we decided to sit at the bar area which had immediate seating. Breakfast was good, and I was happy to discover they serve La Colombe coffee (we love the show Dangerous Grounds!). I had the white chocolate brioche French toast with berry compote and whipped mascarpone. Julie had the Black Forest sandwich with scrambled eggs, truffled mushrooms, and smoked Gouda on toasted ciabatta. I thought Julie's was much more flavorful than mine. Though breakfast was fine it was overpriced, which is sort of the theme for Vegas.

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We left The Mirage and hit the strip for some gift shopping back at Margaritaville, The Sugar Factory, and inside the Paris shops. Of course we weren't going to miss out on the ice cream sandwiches at The Sugar Factory this time! You get to pick what kind of cookies you want, as well as the flavor ice cream. We chose the s'mores cookies and sea salted caramel ice cream. WOW! Messy but worth it!

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Since we still had a lot of time left in our day we headed back to The Mirage to see the tiger and dolphin exhibits at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden. At first, the $20 admission seemed a bit much. However, it turned out to be much more interesting than we had expected it to be. There was a short dolphin show soon after we arrived, and there was also the ability to view them underwater. The young dolphins (which had their own habitat) were extremely playful and fun to watch. Though the tiger and lion exhibits weren't huge, it was still impressive to see these enormous creatures up close. With it being mid-day and super hot we didn't expect to see them doing more than sleeping. However the tigers were very active, and we even got to see them playing with each other. It was just like watching our dogs play at home, if our dogs weighed 600 pounds that is. Their growl is so loud it's quite startling. We also got to see one of the 5 month old cubs that were recently brought there from South Africa. One of the trainers was trying to get him to play, but he seemed very uninterested. Probably the coolest part of our visit though was getting to meet Siegfried in person. Apparently he is there every so often to visit the animals.

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We left the tigers and stopped in the Forum shops to see their animatronic show that plays every hour. Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill was close by, so we stopped in for one final drink and appetizer before officially saying goodbye to Caesars and to Las Vegas.

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After a shared taxi ride to the airport, we said our goodbyes to Phil. We were so thrilled by his surprise visit and so happy at the chance to spend some time with him. In Julie's first ever post here she said that part of us doing this blog was to share our moments with family and friends and that hopefully they would get excited enough by it to join us sometime. So glad Phil was the first to do so. So ends the latest edition of the TIMMY TAKEOVER, and we look forward to our next adventure. Who knows, next time YOU might the one to join us!

Posted by juliejakicic 17:00 Comments (0)

Las Vegas - Day 3

"Did Caesar live here?"

After a late night, some extended sleep time was definitely in order. Julie was up and at 'em early again, but only had to work a few hours before she closed up shop at the conference. Since her time was now up at The Venetian we had to switch venues for our last night. So we packed up and hoofed it over to Caesars Palace. We were able to check in early and even received a complimentary room upgrade. Talk about being spoiled this week!

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Once settled in we met up with our newest travel companion Phil, who was also staying in Caesars. We hit the casino floor for lunch at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill. The place is really cool. It has a European pub feel, but includes typical household furniture like lamps and lounge chairs. Lots of great beers on tap as well. The wait staff was very helpful and service was prompt. I had the pistachio pesto chicken sandwich on zucchini cheese bread and Julie had the BLT. The homemade ketchup that was served with the fries was fantastic.

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From lunch we decided to head to the Miracle Mile Shops, which is a part of the Planet Hollywood resort. Our goal? Magic. Tricks to be exact. There's a Houdini Magic Shop there and we were looking for a birthday gift for someone. After sampling a few tricks from the resident magicians, we made our selection and headed for the Sugar Factory. This store is wall to wall candy and candy themed merchandise. They also create made-to-order ice cream sandwiches the size of hamburgers. We were still full from lunch, but might keep this in mind for later. From there we decided an afternoon nap might do us some good, so we headed back to Caesars to rest up for the evening.

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After some needed recoup time, we were ready for dinner. We met Phil and headed to Trevi, an Italian restaurant located in the Forum Shops adjacent to Caesars. We had a table reserved, so we were able to sit on their patio next to one of the large Forum fountains. It was a great outdoor-like setting to enjoy dinner. The food was delicious. We shared some fried eggplant chips while we waited for our entrees. Julie had the Italian chopped salad and I had the penne diavolo. Our waiter was great, sharing stories and funny banter. We really enjoyed the meal. We then explored Caesars for bit, including one of their roulette tables.

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Since it was quickly evident that luck wasn't on our side at Caesars we headed over to the Margaritaville Casino located inside The Flamingo. Maybe some of our Florida mojo would surface and bring us some luck. After trying out a few different tables we settled in at blackjack table with five dollar minimum bets. FIVE DOLLARS! That's almost unheard of in Vegas anymore, especially during peak evening times. Julie was tired from her early start that morning, so she did a lap through the Margaritaville store then called it a night and headed back to the hotel room. Phil and I stayed for quite a while playing. We had some really great dealers and some fun table mates that came in and out through the night. One British couple in particular was very friendly and spent most of the night there with us playing and chatting. After our time in Margaritaville we checked in with Julie to see if she wanted to rally and meet us for a drink. She was still exhausted, so we spent the rest or our night/morning at a blackjack table in The Flamingo main casino.

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Another late Vegas night in the books. Tomorrow we check out but since we have late flights we have a whole day of Sin City left to enjoy!

Posted by juliejakicic 17:00 Comments (0)

Las Vegas - Day 2

Surprise!

This is still a work trip for Julie and she had a super early start, so I joined her for a quick breakfast at Cafe Presse near the conference area of The Venetian. Very basic counter service breakfast with baked goods, fruits, and a limited sandwich menu. Though breakfast was lacking, the delicious Lavazza coffee made up for it. After I had the chance to catch up on some sleep, Julie was able to meet me on a break and we explored some of the shopping areas in and around The Venetian.

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After Julie was hard at work again, I headed to the casino floor to grab some lunch. I decided to try out B&B Burger & Beer, the collaboration restaurant from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. The food was excellent. Apparently the burgers are made from ground choice steaks that Batali has in his other restaurant here called Carnevino. I had the beef burger with Robiola cheese, caramelized onions, grilled treviso, and parmigiano-mascarpone cream. Even the shoestring fries were good, and there were a great selection of beers on tap.

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With a belly full of beef and beer, what better thing to do then hit up the pool next! The pool deck at The Venetian is pretty ordinary as far as Vegas pool standards go. One large lap pool, a small shallow pool, and a separate "beach club" pool connected to Tao nightclub complete with order minimums and European sunbathing. Julie's work day ended, so she was able to join me poolside. It was a scorcher today so we only stayed a short while.

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After some post pool primping, we headed out for the evening. First up was dinner at Grimaldi's. This Italian restaurant is known for their coal brick-oven pizzas. They started in Brooklyn and have opened several more spots all over the country. We got a small (actually the size of your standard large pizza) "quattro formaggio" pizza. It had Romano, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, and Asiago cheeses on a thin crust. It was delicious and reasonably priced (especially for Vegas). We were delighted to find out that there is one located in Denver, so future visits are very likely.

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From dinner we headed to Madame Tussaud's which is actually located right outside The Venetian. Though the price of admission was a bit high in my opinion, we had some coupons (thanks taxi driver!) and were intrigued. It was worth every penny! We spent a little less than an hour walking through, but had so much fun in the process. The detail of the wax figures is amazing. Since the place is very pro cameras, we took absolute advantage of it by posing with almost every figure in there. They allow you to be very hands on, and even have themed staging around and some props for you to use which was a nice touch.

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When Julie was here before she didn't get a chance to see the Bellagio fountain show at night, so that was the next stop for us. It was a really windy evening, so we took quite a bit of spray from the fountains during the show. From there we checked out Rhumbar at The Mirage. It has a small indoor bar and then a slightly larger outdoor patio which is where we chose to sit. They did a great job in creating a Miami vibe, and even had hookahs available complete with several flavor choices. Though we didn't partake in hookah time, we did partake in their signature rum drinks which were very good.

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Since we were already at The Mirage we decided to check out their outdoor volcano/fire show that plays every 30 minutes. It was an entertaining show, and further proof of how much effort casinos put in to grabbing your attention. Throughout the show I was receiving some cryptic text messages from our friend Phil who lives in Philadelphia. It started as a funny back and forth about how Phil was going to meet us for a drink later, but quickly turned into a mystery of whether Phil (who we assumed was sitting in the comforts of his home) was actually in Las Vegas at this very moment to surprise us and hang out for a few days. "There's no way" we kept saying, but we decided to call his bluff and wait in a spot we designated for him to meet us if he was in fact here. SURPRISE! He actually decided last minute to hop on a flight from Philly and come hang out with us in Las Vegas for a few days. Probably the coolest and most impulsive thing I've ever known someone to do. So we caught up with each other for a bit, but it was getting late and Julie still had one more early day at her conference. Since Julie was more than ready for bed, she was extra excited that Phil was now magically here to babysit me for the evening so she could get some sleep. So the boys were set free to hit the town.

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First we hit The Bourbon Room in The Venetian, a bar themed after the fictional bar in Rock of Ages. It was fun, complete with a crude MC in cheesy 80's attire and a bad wig who led the crowd in chants and air guitar contests. After one drink it was on to the next place, The Rockhouse. Also in The Venetian, they promote themselves as an "ultra-dive bar". We did not take part in their beer pong or mechanical bull riding, just simply used the 2-for-1 drink vouchers we were given and headed on our way. After walking the strip for a while, we settled in at a blackjack table in Ballys where we spent the remainder of our evening (...ahem, slash morning).

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It was a full day that stretched into the wee hours of the next, but what a great and unexpected way to end it. At this point, who knows what the next two days will bring!

Posted by juliejakicic 17:00 Comments (0)

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