Five Must-Dos in Iceland

At the beginning of this month, we spent a wonderful week in Reykjavik Iceland. A vacation we’ve always been interested in taking, the off-season prices combined with an easy direct flight from Baltimore made December the perfect time to visit.

We arrived, bleary-eyed and jet lagged, at 5 a.m. local time. After a much-needed nap at our hostel, we hit the town in the afternoon. Reykjavik is an interesting city. Interspersed amongst the adorable brightly painted houses (that you see in all of the travel books and brochures) is a little bit of a run-down, dirty feeling. Abandoned lots, graffiti, and crumbling buildings were not an uncommon sight. Not to say we didn’t like the city—our love for New Orleans should show a little grime doesn’t bother us—but Reykjavik was just a bit rougher around the edges than we expected. It’s a case of remembering everything is not always as it appears on Instagram. dscn1797Throwing aside all expectations, Reykjavik was a beautifully unique city. You could be walking along a regular street, glance up, and realize that there are magnificent mountains just waiting to be gazed at. Read below to find out our five favorite activities in Iceland’s capital. dscn1876

Graffiti Gazing

 

Taking a leisurely stroll through pretty much any neighborhood in Reykjavik will provide views of  (undoubtedly) illegal graffiti and dozens and dozens of professional murals. It seemed like every neighborhood or section of the city had their own art thrown onto shops, houses, and government buildings. Set some time aside to just wander and you definitely won’t regret it.

Thufa Hill

dscn1904A hidden treasure in the city is Thufa Hill, which offers amazing views of Reykjavik and is a small adventure to get to. Tucked behind rows of shops and industrial factories, we had to use Google Maps to find this outdoor art installment. A spiral path of stepping stones leads to the top where a fishing shed and several stones sit. When we went, there wasn’t another soul in sight, giving us time to sit down and relax while soaking in views of Harpa concert hall and the bay. dscn1915

Sculpture & Shore Walkdscn1884

A popular path in Reykjavik, the Sculpture and Shore Walk is a lovely mix of natural and man-made beauties. Looking out over the ocean, the meandering pathway leads you by a collection of sculptures and famous landmarks. Along with taking in the view, it’s a great place to ‘people watch’ since a variety of tourists and locals alike frequent the area. Keep an eye out for natural hot springs areas where birds will hang out to stay warm.

Day Tours

dscn1966Outside of Reykjavik you can truly get a glimpse at the amazing beauty of Iceland’s landscape. Instead of attempting to navigate the public transit ourselves, we used the Gray Line tour company to easily book a day-long Game of Thrones Tour. We saw a multitude of waterfalls, snow-topped mountains, and even an abandoned ‘Wildling’ village. Whether it’s by tour bus or rental car, everyone should take at least a day to get out in the wide open countryside. dscn1954img_1149

Snorkeling

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Who would’ve thought that a snorkeling adventure was an option in such a cold country? Scuba Iceland offers a Silfra Snorkeling package that can’t be beat. During this particular tour, you’ll spend about 40 minutes snorkeling through the crystal clear waters of the Silfra fissure, which is between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. It’s a shockingly warm experience since you’ll be bundled up in thermal clothes and a dry suit. The package is reasonably priced in comparison to competitors and is incredibly easy to do since transportation and a friendly guide are provided. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

For other suggestions of where to visit, and eat, in Iceland, read my Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik.

Louisiana Renaissance Festival

Sorry for the lack of postings guys, I’ve had practically no free time to blog between work and school. But I’m three weeks away from freedom (aka graduation)!

Looking for a getaway, Peter and I, along with our roommate Connor, took a day trip to the Louisiana Renaissance Festival on Saturday.

Peter wore the chainmail he’s been working on for the last few months and I dressed up a mythical faun. DSCF6183Connor also wore a tabard and was rocking his Cthulhu hat. DSCF6187The festival was surprisingly large, with a sprawling map of vendors, performers, and events.DSCF6235We got there about noon but had waited to eat all day in anticipation for good festival food. We were not disappointed.

Connor got some beer cheese soup in a bread bowl.DSCF6190I was pleasantly surprised by there being a vendor that advertised having vegan food! Phil’s Mediterranean Grille had an item called vegan medley that could be served in a sandwich, on fries, or with hummus. They also had other vegetarian options like the black bean gypsy burger that Peter got.

The people running it were extremely friendly and hilarious to listen to. They were also very knowledgeable about what was vegan-friendly.DSCF6197I went with the Greek fries option (which were tender red potato fries with seasoning) and asked the server to top it with everything vegan, which I expected to be two or three things. Because of this mistake glorious accident I ended with a smorgasbord of toppings. DSCF6203Here is my monster of a meal (which I struggled to finish half of) with the toppings of black beans, curry rice pilaf, steamed vegetables, sauteed onions and peppers, and fresh tomatoes.

Oh my gosh, so much food and so good. Honestly it wasn’t a bad deal either for $10, because most festivals you get half the amount of food for that price.DSCF6206After stuffing ourselves, we wandered around the rest of the areas.DSCF6194There were plenty of shops selling various wares (dragon puppets, glass trinkets, drinking horns, etc.) and several weapons shops too. DSCF6211DSCF6218One of the best things about Renaissance Fairs is the constant streams of music coming from different performers. We saw people playing lutes, pipes, guitars, bagpipes, and even didgeridoos.DSCF6269A dueling competition took place. It looked very similar in technique and rules to the fencing I did in high school, just double the fun because of the two swords.DSCF6230DSCF6224We decided to try out some weapons of our own at the crossbow shooting range. None of us had used one previous, so I’m sad to say Connor is the only one who managed to hit a target.DSCF6255DSCF6260DSCF6261This festival had more learning demonstrations than any other I’ve previously visited. There was a blacksmith forge with people creating knives, horse shoes, and jewelry. The young girl below was a silver smith creating a key.DSCF6239My favorite demonstration was the woman making natural dyes. Everything from turmeric to onion skins to ground acorns. We stood and talked for a while as she dyed yarn and learned about different techniques and easy beginner projects.DSCF6248DSCF6254The day had a grand finale with a performance by Paolo Garbanzo, a comedic juggler who we’ve previously seen at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

Armed with juggling pins, flaming sticks, a lobster hat, and D&D jokes, Paolo had us laughing until we were in tears. A great way to finish a fun-filled day and we wouldn’t hesitate to return next year.DSCF6275

Five Must-Dos in Liverpool

Although my first two months of working abroad through Workaway were spent mainly in Ireland, I took the time to visit parts of the UK also. The first place I saw was Liverpool, England. I was a bit intimidated before arriving because several people said “You’re going to Liverpool? Alone?!” when they found out I wasn’t going for a visit with friends or family.

It all turned out well though, because I had a blast in Liverpool. There were plenty of things to do, places to see, and vegan food to eat. Plus any time I got lost (which I’m embarrassed to admit happened a few times), passersby were always happy to help and point to a spot on the map or tell me that Google Maps had sent me the wrong way.

Museum of Liverpool

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The Museum of Liverpool, is a great free place to explore the city’s past. Their exhibits are extensive and include the history of several people groups (the Irish, black, and Jewish communities), along with a large feature on the LGBTQ movement. My favorite part was their highlight on transgender individuals.

Albert Dock

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Albert Dock is an adorable little area that holds several entertaining spots. From independent shops to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, there’s something for everyone here.

While wandering around the dock, I was drawn into the Quay Confectionery shop due to their amazing jelly bean portrait of The Beatles (who originated in Liverpool). Inside, there were plenty of vegan-friendly sweets options.

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The Wheel of Liverpool (also known at the Echo Wheel) is nearby and definitely worth a ride. Although I’m not a huge fan of heights, I got on it anyway and had a great time being terrified of the squeaky ride.

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Western Approaches

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For any history buffs, or even those with a mild interest in WWII, Western Approaches is a must-visit when in Liverpool. Tucked away in the center of the city, the museum is inside the underground command center used during WWII by the Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Much of the same furniture and equipment still exists, so you can view the war cabinet’s telephone, the code deciphering room, and even a disarmed German bomb.

Walker Art Gallery

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With one of the largest art collections in England, visiting Walker Art Gallery is a great way to see pieces dating from the renaissance all the way to modern day. During my visit, I was amazed by the exhibit displaying some of the gorgeous quilts by Grayson Perry. Since the collection is so large, it took me about two hours to wander through the entire building.

Street Art

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It’s hard to turn around in Liverpool without seeing some sort of street art. From professional murals to impressive graffiti, the city streets almost always have some colorful message to convey. While there, I saw one of Banksy’s originals (see above) without even realizing it at the time.

20140727-183854-67134564.jpgBonus: An adorable yarnbombing I saw at St. John’s Gardens.

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