2. Save More, Spend Less. I have been doing good on the saving part this past year, but now it is time to start looking at my spending habits and seeing what I can do to spend less. I've already started doing some bulk cooking on weekends in hopes that it will decrease the amount of times I get delivery or eat out. It seems to be working so far. Then, there is stuff. I need to work on acquiring less "wants" and focusing more on quality needs.
3. Writing. I want to finish the first draft of my book by the end of the year. This means that I need to write more, get writing group back up and running and to make writing more of a priority in my week. One of my ideas involves setting aside two hours every week, kind of like a class, so that I'm always writing after work on Mondays (or whenever). Another idea is to try to write a little bit each day, even if it is just one paragraph or editing something I wrote earlier that week. This helps to keep the story fresh on my mind every day. It would be nice if I could convince myself to do this every morning. Maybe I could get out of bed at 7am, feed the cats and then spend a half hour at my desk writing. I may consider getting a full-sized blue-tooth keyboard for this goal.
4. Volunteering. I wanted to make this a priority last year and it didn't happen, so I am rededicating myself to this goal. I'm not sure where I want to volunteer or with what frequency, but I would really like to make an effort to find something meaningful and where I feel valued.
5. Eat better. This means not eating as much crap food, not drinking as much alcohol and try to eat as much fresh/organic food as possible. I have been quietly trying to eat more vegetarian dishes, which has been going well. It forces me to be more creative and to make better choices.
6. I don't have any specific travel goals yet, but I want to travel as much as possible. Maybe I will go on a trip by myself this year. I definitely want to go somewhere new and Vermont in two weeks will fulfill that category. Anyway, the overall goal is to have some adventures and see some awe-inspiring landscapes!
2. Torment by Lauren Kate
3. Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
4. Passion by Lauren Kate
5. Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning
6. Faefever by Karen Marie Moning
7. House Rules by Chloe Neill
8. Andrew Jackson: His Life & Times by H.W. Brands
9. Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning
10. Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning
11. Gatsby Girls by F. Scott Fitzgerald
12. Divergent by Veronica Roth
13. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (x 2)
14. Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
15. Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer
16. The Transfer: A Divergent Story by Veronica Roth (Short Story)
17. Free Four by Veronica Roth (Short Story)
18. Biting Bad by Chloe Neill
19. William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins
20. Shadow and Bones by Leigh Bardugo
21. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
22. John Tyler by Gary May
23. Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman
24. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk by Robert W. Merry
25. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
26. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Despite the fact that I've been sick the past two weeks with an upper respiratory infection, it's been a good end of the year for me. I have been able to work from home, which was a bit of a lifesaver. This allowed me to work, take naps during the day and not get behind on my projects. We also had a project launch just before Christmas that was crucial and successful.
Christmas Day was very pleasant. Casper and I slept in a little bit and then I made us some breakfast. Just after noon, We gathered up all of the gifts and made our way to my brother-in-law's house in Bethesda. We enjoyed the usual Uhl Christmas with the family. This includes much gift giving and receiving between family members. I received some wonderful Williams Sonoma kitchen items from Mum Uhl. We then are dinner and the adults did the white elephant gift exchange. I ended up with a Fandango gift certificate this year, which will definitely be put to good use. Afterwards, there was more socializing and also dessert. I made gobs this year and everyone seemed to enjoy them! We then went back home, ordered and pizza and cuddled on the couch while watching Despicable Me 2. Totally fun movie!
This past weekend, we went up to Philly to visit with the Zeisses. Sheridan keeps getting more adorable every day. She really is a great, kind kid and I love seeing her blossom. We had lots of fun adventures. On Saturday, we went to Sky Zone, which is an indoor trampoline park. It was way fun bouncing around for an hour and amazing exercise. I really want to go do it again. Thankfully, there is a place in Columbia, MD and it looks like they are going to be opening one soon in Montgomery County, so maybe I can go more regularly then. After Sky Zone, we went to Busy Bees, which is a paint your own pottery place. We spent a good three hours there. It turns out that it is one of Ryan's favorite activities! I made a light switch cover and a water bowl for the kitties. THEN we went to this amazing homemade chocolate and ice cream place for dessert. It was super delicious. I definitely have to put it on my list of places to go back to when I'm in town.
We had more adventure on Sunday, as we went into the city to see Disney on Ice. The show was pretty cute and kind of like a musical on ice. The best part, however, was experiencing the unadulterated joy of a five year old watching Disney princesses skate around the arena. I had Sheridan on my lap the whole time and it was one of those magical experiences for both of us! After Ice, we went out for a leisurely lunch at Copabananas, which was really good. I had some of the best tacos that I've ever eaten! We also got some really good margaritas!
Our bus trip back was a little annoying because the bus was over an hour late, so we were out in the cold standing in line for almost two hours. :(. Fortunately, one it did come, the ride home was quick and painless. I have already complained on the Megabus Facebook page, so we will see if anything comes of that. I wasn't so much annoyed at the lateness of the bus, but that no one told us what was going on or when they were expecting it tot arrive. A couple people even gave us false information. I may just stick to Boltbus from now on. Regardless, it was a really great, if exhausting, weekend. I really enjoy spending time with the Zeisses and look forward to many more years of family fun together!
Saturday was our travel day from London to Paris. We were booked on the 11:30am train, so we had plenty of time to get up and pack and enjoy breakfast at the hostel before heading out to the train station. We were staying just a few blocks from the station, so it was nice to be able to head there on foot and say goodbye to London.
This was my second time going through the Chunnel, but I sure do love train travel. It is often quicker and more efficient when traveling to nearby locations. We arrived at Gare du Nord in the early afternoon. Getting Metro tickets was a bit of a pain in the ass. There was only one ticket machine, so there was a bit of a queue. When it was finally our turn, we tried to buy three day passes, but the machine wouldn't read any of our credit cards. In the meantime, we were targeted by some pickpockets, and even though we didn't have anything of value that was easily grab-able, we were thankful that the police caught whiff of a scheme and grabbed one of them while his scouts fled. Anyhow, we eventually just used cash to get single tickets and we were on our way.
Our hotel was just two blocks from a metro stop, and on a really cute street with a boulangerie (bakery) directly across the street. The room was pretty basic, but very clean and comfortable. It was nice to have a private room again after being at the hostel for four nights. While Casper showered, I took the opportunity to acquire some bread from across the street and immediately had a food orgasm in my mouth.
After getting ourselves settled in the room, we headed out for an evening walk around the neighborhood. We walked down the Main Street of the south bank, St Germain des Prés for a bit, until we settled upon Le Mondrian café for dinner. I got to use my French language skills and we ate some good steak frites.
After dinner, we continued with our walk and crossed the river and headed towards the Champs Élysées. Our plan was to walk down the boulevard, which we did, and end the evening atop the Arch de Triumphe. However, the Arch was closed that evening, so we just walked around the bottom of before taking the metro home.
First Full Day in Paris
We again patronized the boulangerie across the street for breakfast, which pretty much became a theme. We then set out for a walk in the westerly direction towards the Parc du Champs and the Eiffel Tower. When I was in junior high and high school, studying French, the Eiffel Tower was a symbolism of love and romance to me and for much of my life, seemed unattainable. I felt so excited and giddy as I was finally striding towards this famous landmark with my love.
We were briefly accosted by some Kenyans who were weaving a bracelet around my arm before I even had a chance to say no to them. We tried to walk away without giving them any money, but I made Casper give them one Euro just to get them to leave us alone. Then, just as we were about 50 yards away from the Tower, a sudden rain shower sprung up. We rushed towards the ticket booth and managed to get tickets and get inside before getting too wet. We waited out the rain (about 10 minutes) and started climbing up the stairs. You can only walk up to the second floor, which is about the middle of the Tower, but damn, that's a lot of stairs!
We went out and enjoyed the view for a bit, took some pictures and the found the elevator to the top. It was a bit breezy outside, but we had a clear view of the city. I was worried that the rain would have brought some clouds through, but it was perfect. It wasn't even that crowded due to the earlier rain shower, so we spent a good half an hour or so at the top, enjoying the view and each other's company. Out of my three visits to the Eiffel Tower, this one was easily my favorite. Tower schmoozing is the best.
After our descent down the tower, we took our time wandering home, stopping in a few shops along the way. We grabbed a sandwich at our local Boulangerie and then went back to the hotel for a nap.
The evening's activities started off with a metro ride up to Montmartre. We found a corner cafe just off the "strip" and had a nice dinner and some wine. The waiter didn't agree with our original wine order and insisted that we have something else, so we obliged. We liked his choices, but they weren't anything magical. We had a nice casual dinner, although it's hard not to have a casual diner in Paris.
During the trip, I had been paying for everything with my American Airlines credit card, so that I could rack up miles. Apparently, it is a little more unconventional for the woman to pay in Europe than the U.S. We got a few surprised looks throughout the trip, but the waiter at this restaurant highly amused us when he handed me the receipt and said, "Oh, femme capitalist!" Imagine that in a strong French accent. It was the best!
After dinner, we did a bit of bar hopping and window shopping down the street before heading to the main event. We had tickets to that night's show the Moulin Rouge. As we were ushered into this grand ballroom, I couldn't help imagining how much it had changed since Toulouse Lautrec's days and how I wish that I could have transported myself back to the 1880's to experience the original Montmatre and the can-can dancers of the Moulin Rouge!
Anyhow, after much fanfare and photos, we were seated in the middle of the ballroom with a good view of the stage. We were seated next to a couple from Borneo, who were also on their honeymoon. I was quite embarrassed when they started talking about current events in D.C. (the furlough) and I had to admit that I wasn't quite sure where Borneo was, let alone what was going on in that part of the world, aside from the typhoon in the Philippines.
Anyhow, they were a lovely couple and the show was much fun. In additional to all of the dancers, there were some acrobatic acts and a really funny ventriloquist. The music was half French and half English, although the ventriloquist was mostly English. The dancers were really good and we had a fantastic time. We've both always wanted to see a show there, so there's another checkmark on our bucket lists.
We were both rather tipsy after the show. In addition to the drinking beforehand, they served us each a half bottle of champagne. We stopped in for some pizza a few doors down and then ended the evening with a crepe. So good! We were pretty exhausted and fell asleep nearly as soon as our heads hit our pillows.
Another Day in Parisdise
We had a good (although short) night's sleep and somehow managed to get up early and make it to the Louvre by 9am in order to pick up a two day museum pass. We had both been in the Louvre before, and we didn't want to get stuck there, so we had a quick plan of attack. We went to the top floor to look for any Toulouse Lautrec paintings (there is only one, it turns out) and then we walked through one of the sculpture rooms on our way out.
The rest of our morning was dedicated to the Musee d'Orsay. Compared to the Louvre, it's a small museum, but I really loved it. There was an entire wing dedicated to impressionist painters of the late 1800's. It was here that I discovered a new to me painter that I really love, Alfred Sisley. He does a lot of landscapes and they all just spoke to me. They all seemed like places that I would want to go. I also enjoyed seeing all of the Monet paintings and the famous Degas ballerina.
They also had a really great sculpture hall and then my favorite part, an entire room dedicated to the works of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. We spent quite a bit of time in this room and I also saw some other works on the same floor that I really liked. I spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop there, as well. I think it may be my new favorite museum in Paris.
We were pretty hungry, so I looked for a good lunch place on Trip Advisor and ended up at a fancy restaurant nearby called Bonne Excuse. The recommendation was spot on and the food was amazing. I had an egg/ham appetizer and we both had this super delicious pork for the main course. We then split a caramel banana dessert that was just divine. This may have been my favorite meal in Paris.
At this point, our minimal amount of sleep from the night before was catching up to us, so we hurried home in order to take a mini nap before our afternoon tour. We then rushed down the street to the Odeon metro (between the Sorbonne & the Latin Quarter) for a walking tour about the French Revolution. I was still pretty exhausted, but I pulled through and we learned quite a bit about Robespierre and Marat and their part in the Revolution of the late 1800's.
We then acquired some pastries and hot chocolate and went back to the hotel for a much longer and much needed nap. We slept for about two hours and were still a bit exhausted. It was day 12 of our honeymoon and our bodies were protesting. However, we got up, showered and scooted over to a local cafe for an appetizer and some caffeine. It helped immensely, although we were then in a rush to get to the Arch de Triumphé before it closed, so we paid our bill and hopped in a cab.
We made it there with about five minutes to spare. The Arch is open until 10:30pm, but the last admittance is at 9:45. It worked out perfectly because it wasn't crowded at all. We did walk up all of those steps to the top, but the view was more than worth it. It was a very clear night and the city was all lit up. As we discovered earlier in the week, the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour and we got to see that and had lots of good schmoopy time together. The photos we took up there are some of my favorite. I have discovered that the Eiffel Tower is best done during the day, but the Arch at night gives you the most magnificent view of the city.
Since we had such a long nap, we were ready to have a late dinner on the Champs Élysées. I ended up taking Casper to a restaurant that Kaite, Mark and Becky and I went to the last time I was in Paris. The food was very good and it was the first place that I had my now favorite Zubrowka vodka. After dinner, we walked down the Champs again, hoping to be able to visit some of the booths that were set up for a holiday market/festival, but we had waited too long. It was approaching midnight and they were all closing up shop. We also missed riding the ferris wheel by about five minutes. However, we had such a magical evening already, so we just enjoyed the half hour walk back to our hotel, hand in hand, relishing in our love for each other and the amazing honeymoon that we had been having. I went to sleep with a very full heart that evening.
Last Day in Paris
We let ourselves sleep in until 10am on our last day in Paris. We had an amazing honeymoon, but we were also doing so much stuff every day, so we were kind of exhausted. I don’t think we could have gone much longer without a complete rest day.
Anyhow, after finally getting out of bed, we walked down to the Rodin museum. This is another museum that we’d both been to, but not together. Rodin is one of Casper’s favorite artists and I really love the sculpture museum there. It’s a small museum, so we only spent about an hour there, had a snack and then went to Invalides to see Napoleon’s tomb. This was something that I had seen on my first visit to Paris over ten years ago, but I have a much greater appreciation for history now, so it was pretty neat to see this museum again.
I was on a hunt to find the boulangerie that we had eaten at on our first day, as it had these amazing mini cookies. Luckily, my spidey senses sniffed it out and we went there for lunch and cookies. We walked back to the hotel and Casper went upstairs immediately for a nap while I went to check out this paper/card store on our block that I had been eyeing for a couple days. It was a super cute store and I ended up spending nearly $100 in there! After all of that hard work, it was clearly time for my nap, so I snuck up to the room and slipped under the covers with my snoozing husband.
Even though I napped for at least 45 minutes, it seemed too short. However, I hopped in the shower and loaded up with some caffeine and we were off to the Jardin de Luxembourg. This park is sort of like a small version of central park, just about a half mile from our hotel. We really enjoyed the stroll through the park, checked out the statues lining the pond and spent some time taking photos of this famous fountain/statue called the Fontaine Medicis.
Next, we were off to Notre Dame, as Casper had never been inside and he’s looking for some inspiration for a part of his book that takes place in a large gothic church. Well, we took a bit of a scenic detour, as I walked us the wrong way for about six blocks before thinking that we should have been there already. So, back we went the other way.
We quickly came upon the Latin Quarter and decided to stop for a drink and a pastry. I had some more of my beloved Zubrowka vodka and probably the best crepe we had in Paris. A few blocks later, we finally made it to the Ile de Cite, which is the island where Notre Dame is located. We actually arrived at the start of Saturday evening mass, which was kind of cool to see. We saw a bit of the opening processional and go to hear the organ and chorus work their acoustics throughout the church. It was interesting, as they still allowed tourists in to roam the sides of the church while mass was going on. It was a neat experience to see in such a famous church.
Since we weren’t up for a full mass, we left after about 15 minutes and headed back to the Latin Quarter for some more drinks. We found this great bar called Piano Bar, which had a jazz trio playing when we were there. We found a cozy table in the back, listened to the music, enjoyed the ambiance of a quintessential French jazz bar and had a couple drinks.</span>
All too soon, we had to leave in order to make our dinner reservations. For our last night in Paris, I had made a reservation at Allard, which I had been to the last time I was in the city, for a fancy dinner of amazing French cuisine. We got some wine and shared a full roasted chicken. It was delectable! We took our time eating, because, really, you don’t have any other choice in Paris, and savored our last evening in this romantic European city.
When I had checked in on Facebook at the Piano Bar, a friend of ours had commented about a swing dance club that was nearby, so we quickly decided to make that our next destination. It was a great little bar, just across the street from Piano Bar. It had an upstairs bar and then a cave-like downstairs with a stage and a dance floor lined with seating. This place was packed! The live band was fantastic and we immediately started dancing with the others. We also watched for a bit, as there were some amazing dancers on the floor. It was a really fun end to our night in the Latin Quarter.
Eventually, my energy petered out, we left the club, got ourselves another crepe and headed home. It was a nice (and quick) walk home and we were soon off to the land of happily exhausted honeymooners nestled comfortably in bed.
London Day 1
I really loved our hostel. The beds were very comfortable, everything was very clean and tidy and they had great security. We got up around 9am on Sunday and took our time getting ready and had breakfast at the hostel. They have a £4 continental breakfast, which was just mediocre. We ate there the first day, but bought groceries for the rest of our stay.
Our first item on the agenda, for the day, was to walk about a mile to Leicester Square to acquire same day, half-price tickets (TKTS) for a show that evening. Being the good husband that he is, Casper agreed to go see Dirty Dancing. After acquiring tickets, we scooted off to The British Museum.
Just about everyone I know who has been to London told me to go to this (free!) museum, and it did not disappoint. The building's architecture is gorgeous and we were a bit wowed just walking into the main entrance area. Of course, the first thing we saw, which is the main thing that the museum is famous for, was the Rosetta Stone. It's a pretty awesome relic to see in person. We then browsed all of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman art and artifacts. I really loved the Egyptian hieroglyphs. We also bought tickets to one of the special exhibits, Japanese Shunga, which is basically intricately drawn porn from hundreds of years ago. The art was extremely impressive. I was only sad that they didn't have prints of my favorite pieces. I took some decent photos, though, so perhaps we can make our own.
After a bit of souvenir shopping at the museum store (Rosetta Stone socks!), we headed back to the hostel. Casper napped while I wrote out some postcards. We took this time to relax and then get ready for our evening activities.
We met Mandy at 4:30 at Bea's of Bloomsbury for afternoon tea. This place was recommended by a coworker and we had a great time. We each got a little pot of tea and the first course served was three types of miniature sandwiches. Next, we got a large tray of miniature desserts as well as one cupcake each. There was so much food, we couldn't even finish it all! It was great to be able to meet up with a friend and chat with her about living in Europe and just general catching up with each other.
Next, we were all off to the Theatre district for Dirty Dancing. The show was nearly verbatim of the movie, but it was fun seeing it on the stage. Also, unlike most theatres in NYC, you can bring your drinks into the theatre. After two glasses of wine during the second half of the show, I was feeling pretty tipsy. We headed to a pub nearby for another drink and ended the night at our local Indian restaurant, Tavistock Tandoori. I have definitely gained a taste for Indian food during this trip. Eventually, Mandy had to head home and we were asleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows.
London Day 2
We slept in a bit on Monday and basically skipped breakfast in order to catch up on some sleep. Once we dragged ourselves out of bed, we were off to the Hyde Park area for a fish 'n chips lunch. This restaurant, The Golden Hind, was highly recommended by a coworker. I got the haddock and Casper got the cod. We both thought that the food was good, but nothing exceptional. We did end up chatting with an English lawyer, who spent some time in the States defending American banks that got screwed over by some kind of scam at a British bank. He says that he won the case and probably saved this bank millions of dollars. We talked a little bit about American finance and politics and it was, overall, a delightful conversation. It made me feel very grown up.
After lunch, we zipped across town to the Tower of London. This is the tower that was built hundreds of years ago by William the Conquerer of Normandy. It's a very impressive structure, filled with old pieces of armour, artiliary, weapons, etc.There's a short tour where one of the guards, known as Beefeaters, gives you a brief history of the Tower. We also saw an exhibit about some of the kinds of torture that took place there and we ended the day at the Crown Jewels exhibit.
At this point, we had some time to kill, so we had a leisurely dinner and then found a bar to have a couple drinks and relax. Our evening activity was a "Jack the Ripper" tour with the London Walks company. Our tour guide was really great and we learned quite a bit about "Ripperology" and various theories about who Jack might have been. We learned about the poor and seedy community that made up the East End of London in the late 1880's and we saw some of the murder sites and learned a little about the investigations into them, at the time. It was a damp and foggy London evening, so it was fitting weather for this tour.
We headed towards home after the tour and discovered a local chain called Pizza Express. They make something called Romana style pizza, which has a really crispy and thin crust. We both thoroughly enjoyed it. At this point, it was nearly midnight, so back to the hostel for sleepytimes.
London Day 3
The first thing on our agenda for Tuesday was an East End tour at 11am. However, as we were getting dressed, we decided to scoot down to Leicester Square and see what half-price shows were available for that evening. We ended up getting tickets for a musical version of From Here to Eternity. Neither of us had read the book or seen the movie, so we were excited that it was a new to us story. With tickets in hand, we jumped in the Tube and headed over to Liverpool Street station for our tour.
Luke, our tour guide was a delightful British man about our age. We had a great tour group of just eight people, which included Canadians, a Brazilian, a Dane and a guy from Greenland. All were lovely people, most of whom had been traveling around Europe for a few months.
We learned a little bit about this History of the City of London vs. the boroughs around London. The Queen actually has no jurisdiction in the City of London and The Lord Mayor, who represents the rich, rich bankers of the City, basically has control over what Parliament can and cannot discuss. I totally had no idea about this, but Luke told us that most Londoners aren't aware of it, either. We got to see a part of the original wall of London and got a short review of Jack the Ripper stuff. He talked a bit about the Cockney language and how the East End has always been the home for most immigrants. This led into a tour of Bangletown and the famous Brick Lane. This is where we got to see some amazing street art, including pieces by Banksy, Space Invader and Shep Fairy. At the end, he invited us to join him for lunch at his favorite Curry place and we obliged.
Just about everyone in the group went to lunch, so we had some great discussions with the other travelers. I tried some vegetable samosas and chicken massa. They were both delicious. I'm really going to have to seek out some Indian food when we get back to D.C.
After this tour, we scooted over to Waterloo for some cheesy touristy fun on the London Eye. It was a much bigger tourist taro than I thought it would be, but we enjoyed our ride and the views of the city. At this point, we're were both falling asleep, so it was back to the hostel for nappytimes.
We got a bit dressed up for our show that evening and walked the mile to the Shaftesbury Theatre. Our tickets were in the sixth row, just off center. TKTS never disappoints! The show was really, really good and we both loved it. It got quite emotional at the end and all of the actors were fabulous! We both agreed that the production value was quite above Dirty Dancing, so I'm glad we decided to go back for a second show.
We ended our evening with dinner and drinks at a pub in Leicester Square. We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to explore this great city and both agree that we could totally live there. Everyone we encountered was extremely friendly, they have one of the best, if not THE best public transportation systems in the world and it's a city filled with amazing culture and diversity. While NYC is the closest city in the U.S, to compare it to, I found that it doesn't have quite the same franticness of that city, which is part of what makes me like it better. We will definitely be back here some day, although it is unclear whether it will be as tourists or residents. :)
We did manage to get a few hours sleep after partying hard in Reykjavik. We managed to get up at 9am and had some breakfast before going back outside. We spent a couple of hours walking around the city and saying goodbye to one of my new favorite places on Earth. We went back to a few of the shops we stopped in on Wednesday and purchased some gifts. I also treated myself to some lava jewelry from my favorite jewelry shop on the strip.
After the shopping, we headed back to the apartment to pack. As I left the keys behind and walked out the front door, I was full of confidence that I would be back. Iceland definitely took a bit of my heart.
The bus ride to the airport was uneventful, passport control was a breeze and the two hour flight zoomed by quickly. We watched the opening scene of Prometheus on the plane as it featured the Gullfoss waterfall that we saw on our Golden Circle tour. We also got a treat as we were coming into London, as they were celebrating the end of Guy Fawkes week with fireworks. We saw over two dozen fireworks shows from the air. It was pretty cool!
Once we got to England, the airport stuff was a breeze and we bought Oyster cards and hopped on the Tube. There was a bit if a snafu at this point, as some of the stations on that line were closed, so we had to hop off and take a bus to the next open station. We accidentally got on the wrong bus, so we just got out at the next stop and found a cab into the city.
We are staying at the Generator Hostel, near Russel Square. It's a great neighborhood, right downtown, but not too close to the hustle and bustle of the theatre district. We got all checked in and then went up to our room to unpack.
The best way to describe this hostel is that it is very similar to life in a college dorm. Our room has four beds (two sets if bunks) and then an under the bed locker for each bed. They did a great job of making efficient use if space. The room also contains a small sink. There are centrally located men's and women's bathrooms/showers on each floor. On the main lobby level of the building, you'll find three different dining areas and two lounge areas. There is a cafe/bar, a small travel store/concierge, and a small dance club. It's really a great place to stay in central London at a low cost. We paid just $45/person per night, and if you are willing to stay in a dorm with more beds, it's even cheaper.
Anyhow, after we unpacked, it was after 10pm and we were starving. Luckily, there is a small Indian restaurant across the street, so we headed out for our first taste of the famous English Indian cuisine. I got a chicken curry and Casper got a Tikka masala and they were both amazing! I don't eat Indian food much, so I don't have a good comparison in D.C., but I'm gonna have to look into that when we get home.
We ended our night there and headed back to the hostel for a good night's sleep before our first full day in London!
I don't mean to pat myself on the back (just kidding, of course, I do), but I planned one hell of a trip! While we had a great night's sleep, we woke up a little tired and sore from the previous two days activities. So, of course, I had properly scheduled our day at the Blue Lagoon!
We had breakfast at a bakari on the corner of our street while we waited for our bus. It arrived exactly on time, of course. I can't say enough good things about the Icelandic travel and tourism industry. They really have their shit together and I'm a very tough critic!
We arrived at the Blue Lagoon about a half hour later and were already awed by its milky blue beauty and puffs of steam that we had see from the road. We splurged on the "Romance Package", which meant that we had a personal host for the day. His name was Brandon and he was from Cleveland. He's half Icelandic, though, so of course, he is beautiful and reminded me of Lynk. He showed us to our private dressing area. It included a shower, sink, benches, robes, towels and flip flops.
He then took us to the the VIP lounge, which served fresh fruit, chocolate, coffee, tea and water. It also had a call phone with direct access to Brandon. Seriously, you just picked up the phone and Brandon's cheerful voice was immediately on the other end asking what he could do for you.
The VIP lounge also had a fireplace, a private indoor thermal pool and swim access to the lagoon. It was pampering at its finest. We chatted with Brandon for a bit about Cleveland and the states and how he ended up in Iceland and how he's Lynk's doppelgänger.
We then went and changed into our bathing suits and swam out into the blue lagoon. From that very first moment of sinking into the hot milky blue water, I was at peace. The Blue Lagoon seems to have a magical quality within those lava fields that exudes a calm wonder. This experience was un-earthly. It was really easy to feel like you were on another planet.
We swam around the lagoon for about an hour, being all awed and schmoopy. Then, it was time for our massages. OMG! Let me just tell you that I've had countless massages in my life and this was, by far, the best experience I've ever had. They have thin rafts that you lay down in, in the water, and the masseur puts a warm towel on top of you and dips you in the water every five minutes or so to keep you warm. It's a freaking floating massage! I laid there in pure bliss while getting my back, arms, neck, shoulders and head massaged. When I opened my eyes, Casper was "parked" beside me and we held hands as we extended this pure moment of nirvana.
Eventually, we had to get up, but it's not so bad when that involves wading into the lagoon and back to the VIP lounge. We then rung Brandon, who brought us some sparkling wine and beer. We spent time time cozied up in our robes by the fireplace, chatting with a delightful Norweigan couple, who were there for their first anniversary.
We eventually did have to pack up and leave the VIP lounge, but we then got back into the lagoon for a bit before changing for dinner. We ate at the Lava restaurant there and it was pretty delicious. By the time dinner was done, it was dark out, so we changed back into our suits and spent some more time in the lagoon, all romantic like. We did get kicked out at 8pm, showered and changed and caught the bus back to our apartment.
Once back at home base, we switched gears from relaxation mode to party mode with a vodka cocktail in our room. Casper had read the city paper and picked out a fun bar to go to and Brandon confirmed that it was the happening place in Reykjavik on a weekend night. So, off we went to the Lebowski Bar!
We started by scoping out the place and then grabbed some drinks and people watched. After about an hour, the dance music started and the DJ was playing some great 50's music to which we could swing dance. So, we started dancing and didn't really stop much for the next few hours. We did take a couple breaks to refresh our drinks and chat with some of the locals, but there was much dancing. The 50's music eventually warped into 80's music and the energy on the dance floor was contagious. I haven't had this much fun at a bar/club in ages! I did tire out around 2:30am and I had to drag Casper off the dance floor to take me home. It was a fun, fun night and I can't wait to go back and do it again!
We got up early on Thursday morning so that we could eat breakfast and be ready for our tour pickup at 8:30am. Soon, we were bundled up and off with Arctic Adventures for a day of glacier hiking and ice climbing.
It took a little over two hours to drive out to the glacier that we were hiking in southern Iceland. The scenery on the drive was just amazing. I am finding it hard to come up with enough descriptive adjectives to do this beautiful country justice. We got to pass by the volcano that erupted in 2010. Apparently, that volcano is a feeder into a big mama volcano named Catla, which is due to erupt any day now. Our guides had a satellite radio with them just in case the warning came in, as we would only have four hours to evacuate. This eruption will cause major flooding and destruction of farmland in the country, but will thankfully not reach the capital city.
We learned from our tour guides how amazing their search and rescue and emergency management teams are in Iceland. When the E15 volcano erupted in 2010, it caused plenty of earthquakes, which caused many of the main roads to crack and pull apart. They had all of the roads patched in TWO hours!
Anyhow, once we got to the ice, the guides gave us our gear and showed us how to put it on. We had crampons for walking on the ice and harnesses for ice climbing. We also got pickaxes. Nothing makes you feel hard core like carrying around a pickaxe!
We had a little bit of wind and snow at the beginning, but that subsided quickly. Our guides were amazing and they did a great job of instructing everyone how to walk on the ice and then making sure no one died when they didn't follow instructions.
The view was breathtaking. It was an experience that I never thought I'd have and yet I felt so at ease and peaceful. It was definitely an awe inspiring and life affirming experience. At one point, as we were cuddling on the ice, I turned to Casper and said "My heart is bursting with happiness."
Once we got near the top of the glacier, the guides found a small crevice (about 50-60 feet down) where we could hike down and then ice climb up. We got a short lesson in ice climbing and we were off. There were three lines going at once, with a guide belaying at each one. When it was my turn, I traded my pickaxe for two ice climbing axes. I had already watched several people go and it didn't look too hard. However, it was definitely quite challenging! You don't actually need a whole lot of strength, but there is some strength involved and lots of skill. I didn't make it quite to the top, but I got about 75% of the way there before my arms tired out. Then, you lean back in the harness and belay back down the ice wall.
Wow, what an amazing experience. I absolutely can't wait to do it again! It's so easy to see why everyone in Iceland is so fit and athletic! I then watched Casper go up (he made it to the top) and then we cuddled on the ice until everyone else was done. Oh, also, I got to drink ice water directly from the source! If I ever become a rock star, my rider is going to include bottled Icelandic water.
The climb back down from the ice was relatively easy. We then took our gear off, washed it in a pool of clear glacial water and collected some volcanic rocks/sand as a souvenir. The tour company was exceptional. They had sandwiches, pastries and juice boxes waiting for us back on the shuttles. We all chowed down and napped on the way to the next destination.
We only had one stop on the way home, but it was glorious! We stopped at a large waterfall and got to walk up directly to the bottom of the falls. It was very majestic. Once, we got back on the bus, I checked my email to find out that the northern lights tour was ON for the evening!
We were so stoked! We had just enough time to get dropped off at our hotel, make some sandwiches, change clothes and run to grab the bus for the lights tour. We were lucky in that we got our first glimpse of the lights just a half hour outside of city! The bus quickly stopped off in a parking lot and we got off and saw a band of pale green light in the sky. It was just an arch of light, kind of like a rainbow, but more like the Milky Way, if you've ever seen that. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed. We all got back on the bus and drove a little bit further into the country and stopped at a big field with a bar. It was the same, just a band of pale green light. We warmed up with some hot chocolate and were happy that we got to see them at all.
However, we were soon in for a treat!!! On the way home, the lights started to get brighter and dance across the sky. Our driver pulled over as fast as possible and we all got off the bus for a show of a lifetime! There were bight green and teal lights just dancing and swirling all across the sky. There were also points when they were shimmering. Some bands of light would show up really bright and the disappear quickly. Other bands just danced and shimmered for an hour, lighting up the night sky like a magical Norse ballerina. Casper and I just stared and stared. We couldn't believe our luck! It was one of those moments in life that I will remember forever. We were already having such a magical honeymoon, but the show that the sky graced us with was an experience beyond my wildest dreams.
Eventually, we had to get back on the bus and drive back into the city. We got dropped off at our hotel and just floated into bed. I didn't need to dream that night because I had spent my day living out a fantasy with my amazing husband by my side.
We finally got a full night's sleep! For me, it was my first full night's sleep in weeks. I woke up at 9am refreshed and ready to tackle the day! Casper wasn't quite there yet, so I let him sleep in while I did some research on Trip Adviser and then I made us breakfast. We ate heartily, showered and then bundled up for the day.
Today was our "free day", so we spent it walking around the city. We started with the downtown shopping area. We browsed in a bunch of shops and I bought a few souvenirs, a hat, a wool dress and some super cute tights. We stopped at a pizza place for lunch and it was pretty delicious. Next, we walked across town a little bit and found a public park. Much to our delight, there was a free little zipline! It was so much fun and we zipped down about a dozen times. We also see-sawed. We then walked through the rest of the park and found that it ended at an art museum. We went on and looked at some mediocre art. Upon leaving, we realized that we were supposed to pay. I felt bad and bought a $7 souvenir.
We then walked back via a trail on the shore. We had a beautiful view of the mountains on a nearby island. We stopped to take pictures of the sculpture of a Viking ship. It was a really nice walk and I feel like we got to see a good portion of the city.
We then went back to the hotel and I made us a dinner reservation. Then, I wrote out postcards while Casper napped. We went out to dinner at a place called The Pearl. It is a large glass domed restaurant on the top of the hill. The restaurant also rotates, so you get a full 360 view of Reykjavik. We were lucky enough to be there during the one month out of the year that they serve a wild game buffet! I tried so many new things! I had smoked wild goose, pate, smoked zebra, grilled zebra, grilled reindeer, reindeer meatballs and grilled moose. My favorites were grilled zebra and moose. I couldn't even swallow the goose. It was pretty gross. Casper tried some additional stuff, like whale, eel and cavier. He says that the eel didn't taste like much, but he didn't like the other two. It was a really fun and unique dining experience!
It wasn't even that cold out this evening, so we really enjoyed the mile and a half walk to and from the restaurant. Tomorrow, we are off to the south shore for glacier hiking and ice climbing!
We got up at 7am this morning and I started getting breakfast ready. I love having a kitchen during travel! Casper had a BEC sandwich and I had a dippy egg with toast and salami. Coffee and tea were had while we bundled up for the day's adventure.
Our tour shuttle showed up at our hotel right on time and after picking up everyone else, we were on the road for the Golden Circle tour. On the way to the first stop, we saw some gorgeous snow capped mountains. Our tour guide was amazing and gave us a great speech about the history of Iceland and her people. We learned everything from genetics to economy to politics to language to geology. Our first stop was a small waterfall, which was beautiful. However, the second stop was the most famous waterfall in the country, Gullfoss. We spend a good 30 minutes walking up to the falls and taking photos. It was absolutely gorgeous. It was cold and very windy on top of that mountain, but at least it wasn't blizzarding.
Out next stop was unplanned and quite a treat. The tour guide stopped on the side of the road where some horses had gathered. They were fenced in, but came running up to us as so as they saw us coming. I got to pet and feed these gorgeous purebred Nordic horses that apparently fetch a pretty penny on the International horse market. I was pretty elated about the whole experience.
The next stop on our tour was to see some geysirs and hot springs. They were cool, but just don't hold a candle to the ones in Yellowstone. After grabbing a bite to eat and some souvenirs, we were on our way to our final stop, which was Thingvellir National Park. It's a UNESCO National Heritage site, as it used to be used as a meeting place for all of the Tribe leaders back in the Viking days. It's also the exact spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and you can see how the plates shift every year! It seemed like a very magical place.
Side note: When Casper and I were standing around waiting for one of the geysirs to blow, I spouted "Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn and caldron bubble." Casper looks at me and, is like, "What is that, Harry Potter?" Totally cracked me up. :)
Anyhow, we were driven back to our hotel after the tour. The lights tour was cancelled again, so we decide to just cook dinner, have a quiet evening at home and the go to bed early. I made some ham tortellini with red pesto sauce and some haricots verts. Everything was tasty, Casper cleaned up the dishes and we were in the shower when we heard some banging on the outside door.
Our room is on the bottom floor so after no one answered the door, they also banged on our window. I thought it might be someone who accidentally locked themselves out, so I sent the husband to see to it. Well, it turned out to be some young college age kid looking for someone who had his drugs. He told Casper that when he found him, he was going to kill him and he was coming back in an hour. So, that made me feel a bit anxious, even though Casper was pretty sure that it was just some kids messing around. Still, better safe than sorry, so we called the hotel management. They called the police and the the police called us to get a report. They basically just told us to call back if they showed up again. I was still feeling uneasy about being on the ground floor, so we called the manager back to see if we could switch to another apartment on a higher floor.
Well, it turned out we could and he drove in from home to let us into our new one bedroom suite on the second floor! Our old room was awesome, but this new one is extra amazing! We now have a couch, a desk, a separate bedroom with double bed and a much larger bathroom. I could have done without our evening scare, but this apartment sort of makes up for it!
It's now sleepy time, as we ware exhausted and tomorrow is our free day to walk around the city!