Reaching toward all points of the compass in search of adventure
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First Impressions – Paris

Have you ever had one of those trips that you’d planned for so long that, once it was actually upon you, you were totally incredulous that is was even happening? Sort of like a dream – you’ll wake up and still have a week till you leave. This was going to be that trip for me, I could feel it. Paris was just a myth.

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My husband Ben and I were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary (a year and a half late). He had always spoken about how he would love to take me to Paris some day and share the places he loved from his time there in his early 20’s. I had never been to the City of Light. This is where we decided to celebrate ourselves and the 2018 winter holidays. We gave ourselves 11 months for planning. I don’t know about you, but I can stay excited about a trip for much longer than that. Ben, however, was not excited until about a month out. This made the planning for me a bit tedious. What did I do to combat this humdrum mood of his? I just let him be and planned this one 90% on my own. He was so busy with work and I wanted to keep up my mood and my momentum.

It really is a lot of pressure to plan a trip exactly how you want it and know that another person is depending on you to plan something they will love too. But I promise you, it is possible! It’s like baking a cake – do it with LOVE (cliche, I know). Since this was an anniversary trip I got to plan with the accomplishment of 10 (11.5) years of marriage in my mind. And since it was Paris, there was really very little I could get wrong. But 11 months is a long time to research, book, cancel, re-book, and second guess yourself.  That’s okay. Plan with your love of whatever is prompting you to travel and everything will fall into place (and whatever doesn’t, it was not your fault).

The trip solidified into a night in Paris by the Eiffel Tower, eight days on a boutique river cruise along the Seine, five more nights in Paris, taking us from December 19th to New Year’s Day. What a magical holiday it was going to be.

San Jose to Heathrow; Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle. I highly recommend British Airways. Both flights were very comfortable, even in economy. Plenty of legroom, very attendant staff, and even tinted windows. I also could not get enough of Heathrow Airport in London! It’s not the easiest to navigate, but they sure know how to catch your eye and your wallet while you wander around in search of your gate. Just make sure you have a nice long layover.

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Us joking about how I sometimes get sick on planes

Once we landed in Paris, we took the Metro into the city center. It was fast and easy. Until we got off at the wrong stop. After seeing that the escalators back down to the rails were not working, I vowed to not carry my luggage back down by hand. No worries, Uber can save the day in Paris! It also turned out to be a great way to see the city and take in a few sights. Our driver’s name was Ben, same as my husband, and he was happy to point our all for the sights and answer my litany of excited questions as I caught my first views of Paris from his backseat. The first thing I saw when we got off the train was Notre Dame Cathedral. I just about peed my pants!

20181219_192930In the Uber, we saw the Louvre across the river, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Grand Palais. But I was totally unprepared to see the Eiffel Tower out of the window. I mean, I knew it was going to be there, but it still took me by surprise. Bright and tall and demanding your attention.

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Just a few short blocks from the tower, we were dropped off at our accommodations for the night. We were staying at the Hotel Eiffel Seine. Decorated with Gustav Klimt prints and a classic Art Nouveau style, the hotel welcomed us warmly. They even have a resident cat that lounges in their lobby. Our room had a view of the Seine river and a busy street corner featuring public art works and people selling tiny miniatures of the Eiffel Tower for your desk or your keychain. The room was small in a European way, but very comfortable. There was a French balcony that I hung out of to greet the city I’d been waiting so long to get to. Cherry on top of this hotel, you ask? Free European breakfast when you book through them! They have, by far, THE BEST orange juice I have ever had in life. I am not exaggerating; I don’t even like juice very much and this OJ was beyond delicious.

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Lobby of the Hotel Eiffel Seine
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Balcony view

The night was young so we asked the concierge for a dinner recommendation in the area. He sent us to an off the main drag locals’ haunt – Comptoir Principal. Our first Parisian cafe experience. I tested out the little bit of French that I know and failed miserably. Our server didn’t speak much English, but we stumbled along together. I have a gluten intolerance that makes dining a challenge for me, especially in places where I can’t exactly read the menu. If you have a food allergy, be sure to learn whatever phrases you need to know to order smartly in whatever country you’re visiting. In France you can say “Je suis sans gluten.” This means “I am gluten free.” At this, I must take my own advice. The dish I ordered seemed like a safe bet, alas, it was not. Ben ate a fair portion of my meal. Nonetheless, our meal was very tasty.

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Comptoir Principal

We went for an after dinner stroll around the most famous landmark in the city so we could get an up-close look. The Eiffel Tower was just a few blocks away and the night air was calling.

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Made for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower was designed by Gustav Eiffel. He also designed the interior support structure for the Statue of Liberty. What a guy! The Eiffel Tower has become the quintessential symbol of Paris, drawing visitors from around the globe to ascend its 324 meters. And though I’m happy to climb to great heights for a view, the view I would have been looking for would have been the structure I was in. I was content to look up from below at the amazing sight that had been criticized so harshly at the time of its construction. It it truly spectacular. Bonus? She’ll sparkle for you if you ask real nice.

 

We were off to an amazing start.

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Iceland – Part 1

So when you look at Iceland on a flat map it doesn’t look that far north or anything. But when you look at Iceland on a globe, it’s more like “damn, that is like the Arctic Circle!” In fact, just two longitudinal degrees short of the Arctic Circle in the capital of Reykjavik. I had the chance to visit this northern island with more livestock inhabitants than people, and I obviously was not going to pass it up.

I flew into Keflavik Airport on the red-eye and waited around for my co-adventurer, Kara (AKA Bae, bestie, wifey, giiiirrrrrll), to fly in from Dublin. I was feeling super intimidated to make my way solo into Reykjavik so I thought to myself, “three hours at the airport isn’t that long.” And if you’ve ever been to Iceland, I already know I should have gone to the Blue Lagoon for an after flight soak; this was my one bit of wasted time in my eight days in country, and after three flights I was bone tired. However I totally should have gone because while I was ordering a little nosh from a coffee counter, someone stole my jacket! At no point on this adventure did I feel unsafe, but a word to the wise: airports are not always full of welcoming locals, sometimes they are full of shifty thieves from who knows where; watch your things. I’ve never started a trip in a deficit like that, so I had to reach deep for some optimism and hope whomever is wearing my jacket actually really needed it (though I doubt it, and I hope they get out of the universe what they put into it).

Moving on, Kara landed, we screamed like little girls and got a car into the city. We spent the evening walking around Reykjavik, going into shops and eating traditional fish soup at Islenski Barinn which I highly recommend for the soup and sweet potato fries.

This is the picture I took of Bae sending a pic of me to her mom so that I could send this one to my mom.

So, after getting an evening of bestie catch up time, Kara went to work all week and I was on my own in a wild land as far north as I’ll probably ever get in my life. What to do?

Day One: The Golden Circle Tour

The Golden Circle is like Iceland Tourism 101. If you’ve never been to Iceland and you’re based in Reykjavik and you don’t have a car, reserve a seat with one of the myriad of companies that does a tour picking you up from your hotel. I chose East West Concept Tours and was SO happy with the experience! It is a smaller company that only does tours of 16 people or less. I was on a tour of four people with Ivar as our driver and it was amazing. We got so much personal attention with our questions and even got to make a few extra secret stops because we were such a small group. Small group tours are also a great way to make new friends when you‘re travelling solo (hey, Jason!). Here’s my Golden Circle hitlist:

  • Collecting ice cold glacial waters direct from a spring at some secret spot Ivar stopped at. When people ask what the best thing to eat in Iceland is, I say the water!
  • Þingvellir National Park – the site of Iceland’s first parliament and the rift between the North American and European continental plates.

  • Efstidalur Farm – a dairy farm that has a restaurant and an AMAZING icecream shop. And you can even visit with the baby cows!!! Needless to say, I ate the ice cream.
  • Geysir Hot Spring Area – so this is where the geysir is that the word geysir came from. This is a very active geothermic area with bubbling pools all over and an erupting geysir to boot.
  • My first visit with Icelandic horses – a hardy breed of little horse, they were brought to the island by Norsemen in the 9th century. Now Iceland has laws so that no other horse breeds can come into the country, so when in Iceland, every horse you see is a pure bred Icelandic horse.
  • Gulfoss Waterfall – a very dramatic stepped waterfall dropping through a canyon cut by the Hvítá River.
  • Faxafoss Waterfall – a serene setting with a wide waterfall that you might even see salmon running in.
  • Friðheimar Tomato Farm – acres of greenhouses growing tomatoes just below the Arctic Circle where tomatoes should not grow; really a feat of engineering defying nature. After a long day of sightseeing it was lovely to sit down in their restaurant over a hot bowl of fresh tomato soup and a bloody mary made with green tomatoes. They have tons of fresh baked breads to go with your soup and they even had gluten free bread for me!

I finished off day one with an evening walk and dinner in Reykjavik with Kara. Highlight though? That had to be the INCREDIBLE sunset we got to watch at 11PM. Being so far north you get something like 20 hours of sun in the summertime in Iceland. Getting to watch the sun go down an hour before midnight was the perfect end to a great day in Iceland.

Stay tuned for Iceland Part II!