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Polaroid of the week: Cycling through Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week berlin cycle tourApologies for the lack of updates in the past couple of weeks – I’ve finally tackled the big website update that has been overdue for months, but the transition to my new mobile-friendly site design didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped for. Please bare with me as I am ironing out the remaining glitches, bugs and errors – I have plenty of posts waiting to be published.

After our amazing first weekend in Berlin, we continued our adventures with more street art, more German breakfasts, my visitor’s (and my!) first ever curry wurst (this was the first time I found a vegetarian curry wurst), sunsets over Tempelhof airport (one of my favorite places in the city), and an epic 20 mile bike ride through Berlin. The city is so enormously big that is impossible to explore it on foot, and since it is a really bike-friendly city with plenty of bike lanes, bikes are a great way too see Berlin. Tiergarten alone (Berlin’s version of Central Park) is big enough to spend half a day there  (or longer) walking along the trails.

We were blessed with beautiful summer weather, cycled from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburg Gate to Victory Column on one of Berlin’s main boulevards, along the canals, and all over Tempelhof which is another one of those places that is too big to be explored on foot. We did get our fair share of walking in this week, however, with the free history walking tour (I mention this tour in my quick guide to Berlin with a few other must-do activities) during which our guide brought us to the iconic Berlin landmarks such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlin Wall (again!) and the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt Square.

Highlights of the week? Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap (a Berlin institution, which I put on my Berlin Must Eats in 2013 and it still totally lives up to the hype), the Turkish market at Maybachufer (I went on both days, Tuesday and Friday), Street Food Thursday, and last but not least: watching Germany win against Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 soccer championship on the ‘Fan Mile’, a public viewing area with a giant screen right behind the Brandenburg Gate. Experiencing a soccer game with thousands of other fans is such an incredible experience – I am definitely happy to be in Germany for the Euro Cup after watching the last two World Cups in New York where soccer is just not as big as here in Europe.

I didn’t make it to all of my favorite places in Berlin just yet, so stay tuned for next week’s Polaroid with another update from Berlin, and my monthly round-up with all of June’s highlights in more detail.

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Polaroid of the week: Breaking Through The Berlin Wall

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week berlin wallApologies for the lack of updates in the past couple of weeks – I’ve finally tackled the big website update that has been overdue for months, but the transition to my new mobile-friendly site design didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped for. Please bare with me as I am ironing out the remaining glitches, bugs and errors – I have plenty of posts waiting to be published.

Hello from Berlin! Just like New York, Berlin now feels like home to me. I spent enough time in the city over the past few years to know my way around, to navigate the comprehensive transportation network (buses, trams, overground trains, underground trains) without getting lost, I have favorite coffee shops and even a co-working space here. And this time, I even found the way to my AirBnb apartment without a map after my Google Maps app stopped working. I’d almost say that after New York, Berlin feels like my second home now.

And just like last summer, I proudly showed off this awesome city to a visitor – my first of two visitors from NYC! And this one is joining me for the fourth time this year, which I am stoked about! We must have walked at least 20 miles all over Berlin this weekend, exploring my favorite neighborhoods, devouring traditional German breakfasts, strolling over weekend flea markets and taking in German history at the Berlin Wall. And the best way to learn about Berlin’s complicated history? In combination with some street art! A walk along the East Side Gallery, Germany’s longest still standing piece of the Berlin wall, nearly a mile long (1.3km) was of course the highlight for two street art lovers, and traveling with a fellow photographer also meant playing with our cameras a little more than I’ve been doing on recent trips, and I was excited to pursue a little Polaroid project that I had been wanting to do for a while – you’re getting a little sneak peek here.

The featured photo, a Trabant breaking through the car by artist Birgit Kinder, commemorates the car that was ubiquitous in East Germany as well as the opening of the wall, and is one of the most iconic murals on the wall which was painted by artists from 21 different countries. Each artist expressed his or her reaction, thoughts and visions after the historic changes in 1990 and the painted wall was made into an open air gallery, the East Side Gallery, which is now one of the most visited memorials in Berlin. This is the first time ever that I’ve seen this and other famous murals not being covered in silly scribbles and drawings by tourists eager to immortalize themselves on the Berlin Wall – usually it looks like this. But this year, I happen to be in town while the wall is getting its annual clean-up and renovation. I am curious to see what the freshly cleaned murals will look like in a couple of weeks when I am taking my next visitor there!

Follow my Berlin adventures in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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7 Fun Facts About Copenhagen (& Why You Should Visit Denmark’s Capital!)

Sunset

Last year I used Skyscanner’s regional search function to find a cheap flight to the U.S. You simply type in the region that you want to fly out of (or into) and hit the search button, and it shows you the cheapest options. In my case, that was ‘Europe’. And there it was, a flight from Copenhagen to L.A. for $249. Perfect! CopenhagenNot only did I score a fantastic flight deal, but I was also excited that I’d be able to check out a country I’d been wanting to visit for a while – ever since I’d read that Danes were rated the happiest people on the planet (two years in a row, by the way!), and since I’d learned about ‘hygge’, which I think is pretty similar to the German word ‘Gemuetlichkeit’, coziness, but a little bit better. It translates to ‘cozy feeling of togetherness’. No wonder that Danes are the happiest people on earth, when they have this cozy feeling of togetherness all the time. I wanted to experience it for myself, and I was happy that I had an excuse to finally visit Copenhagen.

copenhagen churchAnd because I think Copenhagen makes for a perfect city break, I want to share some quirky facts about Denmark’s capital with you that I hope will intrigue you to visit Copenhagen:

copenhagen mermaid

1 Cycling is huge in Copenhagen

55% of Copenhageners commute to work by bicycle. 55%!! Isn’t that amazing? And that’s not only during the summer months – that’s year round, rain or shine! The Netherlands might be known as a cycle nation, but the Danish are just as active as the nearby Dutch. And it’s quite a sight to see the mad traffic in the bike lanes during commuting rush hour!

copenhagen bicycle

2 Copenhagen has a self-governing freetown

The autonomous ‘Freetown’ Christiana is home to about 1,000 residents and is a self-governing part of Copenhagen that sits just outside the city center. Christiana residents don’t pay taxes and run the ‘freetown’ according to their own laws, most famously the selling and using of marijuana. While visitors are welcome here, cameras and cars are not allowed inside.

Copenhagen lovelocks

3 The longest pedestrian shopping street in the world

Copenhagen is home to the longest pedestrian shopping street in the entire world, Stroget. You’ll find plenty of international brands here, but also smaller Danish chains, where you can pick up some unique souvenirs from Denmark.

Copenhagen Denmark

4 Green Capital

That sure goes along with the aforementioned cycling – Copenhagen is incredibly green, as in eco-friendly. So much so that it was rewarded with the title of Green Capital Of The Year in 2014. The city actually aims to become the most cycle-friendly city in the world! And it doesn’t stop there: Copenhagen aims to become the world’s first CO2 neutral capital by 2025. Around 64% of the city’s hotel rooms are certified as eco-friendly, and ¾ of food served in public institutions is organic.

copenhagen spring flowers

5 You can’t pay with Euros

Surprisingly enough, Denmark is part of the EU, but they don’t use the Euro. Isntead, you pay with Danish Krone.

copenhagen colorful houses

6 Canals galore

Another similarity to the Netherlands is that the city is ringed by canals. Nyhavn is the most famous one, but the area of Christianshavn has so many canals that it carries the nickname ‘Little Amsterdam’.

copenhagen

5 Fifteen (!) Michelin Stars

For a city of its size – Copenhagen has a population of just over half a million – Denmark’s capital has a surprisingly high number of Michelin Stars – 15 altogether! The most famous Michelin Star restaurant is Noma, which serves exquisite new Nordic cuisine and has been awarded the title as the best restaurant in the world four times! If you’re a gourmand, make sure to reserve a table well before you get here.

copenhagen denmark

6 An amusement park right in the city

Tivoli is Denmark’s second oldest amusement park (the oldest one, Bakken, is about an hour north of Copenhagen) and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The rides here are all old-school – the oldest roller coaster is over 100 years old – making it the most endearing and charming amusement park you’ll ever visit.

copenhagen denmark

7 Danes are coffee lovers

On the list of countries with the highest coffee consumption, Denmark takes #7 with 5.3 kg per capita, which comes to about 1.5 cups per day. This explains the high number of excellent coffee shops in Copenhagen – make sure to stop at one and have a cup of outstanding coffee – like most of Scandinavia, Denmark’s baristas take pride in preparing exclusively high-quality cups of Joe. And if you are a coffee lover too, here are 8 coffee shops in Copenhagen you need to visit!

copenhagen kaffe

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My favorite place in Iceland: The Ice Diamonds Of Breiðamerkursandur

jokulsarlon iceland diamond beach4

Steaming geysers, thunderous waterfalls, breathtaking canyons and vast lava fields – I saw more stunningly beautiful places in my week in Iceland than in any other country in such a short time. But my favorite place? None of those. My favorite destination was the place that puts the ‘ice’ in Iceland: Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon, and even more so Diamond Beach, just across the street from the glacier.glacier lagoon ice icelandWhen I parked our car in the little car park right on the black sand beach, I understood immediately why it was called Diamond Beach: like bright diamonds in different shapes and sizes, dozens of chunks of ice litter the beach, giant waves crashing against them, moving the smaller ones around, and forcefully repelled by the bigger ones.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachWalking towards the water, I started seeing more icebergs floating around in the ocean, being tossed around by the waves as if they were paper boats and not bulky chunks of ice.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachIt is a spectacular sight, and I don’t think there’s anything like Diamond Beach anywhere else in the world (correct me if I’m wrong!).jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachThe icebergs in the water are chunks of ice that broke off the glacier and then slowly floated down towards the ocean through the lagoon and a short river that connects the glacier lagoon with the open sea.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachThe lagoon was formed by the receding Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, of which massive chunks of ice break off regularly. There are dozens of them floating in the lagoon before they slowly glide out into the ocean.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon icelandEven though the sea is cold, the water here is warmer than in the icy lagoon. And so the ice chunks are thrown around and smoothened by the waves, and eventually they are thrown back at the beach.jokulsarlon iceland diamond beachYou can’t help but wonder how old the ice is that has been washed ashore – these pieces had been part of the glacier for centuries!jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beach - CopyThere aren’t two days when this beach looks the same – every day, new chunks of ice arrive, and others melt, and all of them are changing their shapes all the time during the melting process and the constant washing of the waves.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachBack in the lagoon, in between the ice chunks, you can spot seals that make their way into the lagoon from the ocean, curiously inspecting the massive blocks of blue-ish ice.glacier lagoon ice iceland sealThe light blue color of the ice was one of the most fascinating things about Jökulsárlón – the only other place I’ve seen ice like this was at Puerto Moreno Glacier in Argentina.jokulsarlon icelandYou often only see a tiny fraction of the entire iceberg – the bigger part are usually underwater. Some of them are as big as small houses!jokulsarlon glacier lagoon icelandJökulsárlón translates to ‘glacial river lagoon’ and only appeared in 1935, due to the melting of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Over the years, it has become Iceland’s deepest lake, currently 814 feet (248 meters) deep. The lagoon has fourfold since the 1970s, to give you an idea of the current rate at which Iceland’s glaciers are melting.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon icelandJökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach are the one place in Iceland that I really want to return to – with more time to photograph this spectacle and ideally during the winter months, when the sun rises and sets late. Because apparently, seeing this place during sunrise (the sun rises over the ocean) is even more magical.jokulsarlon iceland diamond beach

Practical information

How to get to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik: There are organized tours from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón, but renting a car would be preferable, especially if you want to take your time to take photos. The drive from Reykjavik takes just under 5 hours (231 miles /372km), and from Vik just over 2 hours (119 miles /192km).

If you’re driving Icleand’s Ring Road (Highway 1), you’ll pass Jökulsárlón anyway – the lagoon and the beach are literally a stone’s throw from the road.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachIf you’re driving all the way from Reykjavik, plan in some extra time for the drive because you’ll want to stop several times along the way to photograph waterfalls, black sand beaches and the breathtaking Icelandic scenery – trust me. It’s a lot of time in the car for a day trip, but it can be done, if you are pressed for time.jokulsarlon icelandTake into consideration though that in the winter time daylight is limited to six hours, so you’d be driving in the dark for most of the time, and roads can be icy. In the summer months you’ll be driving back to Reykjavik in daylight even if its 9 or 10pm! Also remember that in Iceland the weather is extremely unpredictable and can change rather quickly.jokulsarlon iceland diamond beachOther things to consider: Be careful when you photograph the icebergs right by the water – the waves can be quite high and unexpected, and several people got their cameras wet (I almost lost my phone when a wave caught me unexpectedly, and both of us got wet feet!)jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beach and iceDuring the summer months, you can take a boat ride across the lagoon. That’s something I’d definitely want to do when I return to Iceland. There are two kinds of boat rides – an amphibian boat (35-40 mins, ISK5,000 /US$40), and a zodiac boat (45 mins, ISK8,500 /US$69), that goes almost all the way to the glacier.jokulsarlon icelandThere is a small café in the car park of the glacier lagoon – after a couple of hours of photographing or simply marveling at the lagoon and the ice bergs on the beach it’s nice to be able to warm up with a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.jokulsarlon iceland diamond beachAllow about two hours to visit both Jökulsárlón and Diamond Beach – if you’re a photographer, you’ll probably want to plan in even longer than that. Make sure to dress accordingly, there’s an arctic breeze here, especially on the beach, that’s quite chilly.

dani jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice iceland beach1
This would be an example for what NOT appropriately (i.e. warm) dressed looks like!

All images were taken on the Highlights Of Iceland self-driving tour by Icelandic Farm Holidays. Icelandic Farm Holidays provides you with a rental car and an itinerary for every day, but you can decide individually how much time to spend in each suggested stop, or add additional ones. Accommodation is provided in a mix of Icelandic farm houses, B&Bs and hotels.

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Six reasons to visit Tirol in the summer

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Here’s something you might not know about me: Many many years ago, I lived in Austria for a while. My main reason to move there was a job in the hospitality industry which would pay for Business School later on. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the mountains, but that’s exactly what happened. I lived in Tirol, Austria’s third largest province and most popular tourist destination. Why? Think picturesque little mountain towns and rugged peaks, glaciers and waterfalls, a winter wonderland for half of the year, green rolling hills the rest of the year.

It is hands down one of the most beautiful regions of Austria. I was lucky enough to experience the mountains snow-capped during the winter and lush green during the summer – and while I initially thought I’d be whizzing down the ski slopes and turn into a winter sports fanatic, I realized that snow isn’t my best friend (which hasn’t changed until this very day!) and that I prefer walking with my own two feet instead of two wooden boards strapped to my feet. I love hiking in the mountains, and I have been returning to Austria regularly ever since my first visit to Tirol, the last time in spring 2011 (maybe it’s time to return this summer?!) and let me tell you: there’s so much more to Austria than skiing and snowboarding.ZugspitzeIf you’re still not convinced – here are six reasons to visit Tirol in the summer:

1 Have your very own ‘Maria experience’ in the mountains of Tirol

Dancing in the green fields in the mountains, face towards the sun, a big smile on your face? That’s the dream of every The Sound Of Music lover, and believe me, it’s as awesome as it looks in the movie. Of course you won’t only dance in the mountains and sing your favorite The Sound Of Music songs, but also hike along one or two or five of the hundreds of hiking paths. Tirol has nearly 15,000 miles (24,000 km) of marked hiking paths! The hikes don’t cost a thing, and the views are priceless – there’s just nothing like a good mountain hike. Some of the best hikes in Tirol? The dramatic Wilder Kaiser mountain, the Seefeld plateau near Innsbruck, the Ziller Valley and the Oetztal Valley, both filled with waterfalls, glaciers, little villages and breathtakingly beautiful mountain vistas.Mountains &meadows

2 Experience quaint little mountain towns

There are dozens of towns and villages in Austria that tick all the boxes of a picture-perfect mountain town: wooden or half-timbered houses with balconies overflowing with colorful flowers, a gorgeous church, a mountain backdrop and enough hiking paths to keep you busy for a month. One of my favorites? Seefeld in Tirol, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region both during the winter and summer months. In the winter, ski and snowboard fans come to enjoy the slopes, and in the summer months, mountain bikers and hikers come to enjoy the many trails, but it is also a great place for families. There’s a series of lakes that you can hike to, there is a castle ruin (Schlossberg) and a stunning pilgrimage church, and there several spas and indoor pools.bad kohlgrub houseThe mountains around Seefeld are Gschwandtkopf (1,495m), Seefelder Spitze (2,215 m), Härmelekopf (2,224 m) and Reither Spitze (2,374 m) – you can climb a different mountain each day, if you want to!

Seefeld also makes a great base if you want to explore other parts of Tirol and is close to city life, with Innsbruck only half an hour away.

If you decide to base yourself in Seefeld, I recommend checking out Hotel Tyrol-Alpenhof, a gorgeous hotel that takes pride in its local heritage and is built in typical Tirol-style with wooden balconies and offers local specialties in its restaurant. The hotel also has an indoor pool and a sauna and is in walking distance from all the restaurants and shops of the village, and of course the trail heads! You can find a comprehensive overview of hiking trails around Seefeld here.Mountain & valley

3 Swim in mountain lakes

Around Seefeld, there are several lakes which make for incredible swimming experiences during the summer. There’s nothing more refreshing than jumping into the cool waters of a mountain lake after a hike through the valley, with the majestic Alps as a stunning backdrop. Lakes worth a visit: Lake Going, which was voted Tirol’s most beautiful natural swimming lake, the large Lake Achensee, Lake Natterer See, or the stunning Lake Plansee.Eibsee from Zugspitze

4 Adrenaline galore

If you’re as adventurous as I am, you’ll be happy to hear that there are a ton of adventure activities to be enjoyed in Tirol. Mountain biking, rafting and kayaking, ziplining, climbing – there’s something for everyone, and most activities can be enjoyed with kids. The Adventure Park Kaltenbach in the beautiful Ziller Valley for example offers some of the region’s most thrilling experiences: an aerial forest, outdoor climbing – including a waterfall climb – high ropes… if you’re an adrenaline junkie, don’t miss this park!

5 Combine culture & being active

All-inclusive resorts? Not for me. Sure, I love me some beach time, but after a few days, I get bored. I prefer being active, and I learn loving about local culture. An all-inclusive at a beach in Mexico does nothing for me. Climbing pyramids, however? That gives me the chance to exercise and to learn about the rich history and culture of a country at the same time. And that’s why I love the Culture Hiking Trails in Austria. There is a trail between the two small towns of Reith and Leithen, for example, on which you pass historical monuments and learn about history and culture while enjoying a walk through beautiful scenery.Innsbruck Inn & MountainsOr check out the Leutasch Spirit Gorge Trail, which is home to all kinds of secrets and mysteries involving dwarfs, ghosts and gremlins. Local folklore is a big part of every country, and when you can learn about it while marveling at waterfalls, bizarre rock formations and breathtaking views over a gorge? Priceless!

6 Spa & wellness

Tirol is known for its many spa and wellness facilities, and there’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a steam room, a massage, soaking in a whirlpool or a swimming in a pool after a day of hiking. Nearly every hotel has a wellness area, so you don’t even have to go far, but most towns also have public spas with larger pools. Seefeld for example has two indoor and four outdoor pools!

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The Most Epic Iceland Road Trip, Part III: Highlights Of Northern Iceland

iceland hverir geothermal field

After driving the Golden Circle with its geysers and stunning waterfalls, traversing southern Iceland with its glaciers and black sand beaches, and marveling at the Eastern fjords, I wasn’t sure if the north of Iceland could top what we’d seen so far. But of course it could – this was Iceland after all, where you have scenic vistas everywhere you look.icelandic sceneryUltimately, the north was the part of the country that had the highest density of awe-inspiring sights, and I am glad that our self-driving Iceland itinerary included a detour of the Ring Road which brought us to the Myvatn Peninsula. Most of the places that I consider highlights of northern Iceland are located on this little peninsula – like the grand Godafoss waterfall, the furiously fuming geothermal fields of Hverir or the rock formations of Dimmuborgir.iceland hverirBecause there are so many things to see in this area and we also wanted to enjoy some hot springs (we opted for the Myvatn Nature Baths instead of the Blue Lagoon – I’ll be sharing why later on), we decided to spend an extra night in the Husavik area instead of moving on the very next day, like we’d done in all the other places we spent the night at.iceland sunsetAfter driving through the vast barren landscape that is the Möðrudalur valley, a place that is completely uninhabited and made us feel as if we were driving on another planet, we left the Ring Road and turned right onto Road 864, which would bring us to Dettifoss waterfall, Asbyrgi Canyon to the fishing village of Husavik, and finally circle back down towards the Ring Road, to the small village of Laugar where we’d spend the night.godafoss waterfall dani and rease

Dettifoss Waterfall

Upon leaving the Ring Road, we found ourselves on an unpaved road – the first time on our trip. I was surprised that the road to an attraction as big as Dettifoss wasn’t paved, but our Volkswagen rental did a great job – renting a bigger car was absolutely not necessary for our route. Driving through no man’s land for hours made me realize what a sparsely populated country Iceland is – and without cell phone reception and barely any cars passing us I was praying to the vehicle gods that I wouldn’t get a flat tire up here.icelandic sheepWho knows how many hours we’d have to wait until another car would come to our rescue? And we were glad that we had carefully read the itinerary Icelandic Farm Holidays had provided us with, which breaks down day by day where you go and what you see and that had warned us to fill up the tank because we wouldn’t pass a gas station for many many miles – so we had made sure to fill up again at the gas station in Egilsstaðir, the last one before the desolate Möðrudalur Valley.icelandic moonscape8The part of the drive along the unpaved road, after Möðrudalur Valley, was probably the least exciting of the entire trip, but that’s where my iPhone came in handy, which I had not only loaded with podcasts, but also with Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance audiobook, and which kept us entertained during the many hours we spent in the car.iceland road at sunsetAnd finally there it was, the turn-off for Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The enormous power of the waterfall was palpable as soon as we got closer. Every second, over 96,000 gallons (363,400 liters) of water plummet from the top to the bottom of the steep rocks that border the waterfall on both sides. Dettifoss, 148 feet (45 meters) high and 328 feet (100 meters) wide wasn’t anything like the other waterfalls we’d seen in Iceland so far – until the very end, we never got tired of seeing waterfalls.dettifoss waterfall icelandI also loved the Jökulsa Canyon, through which the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river runs. Had we had more time, we could have gone for a walk along the steep cliffs of the canyon and enjoyed not only the views of Dettifoss, but also Selfoss, which is located just a few hundred meters upstream, and Hafragilsfoss, about 2 miles downstream from Dettifoss. To see all three waterfalls in one hike, plan in about 3 hours. The hiking paths along the gorge are clearly marked.iceland river1

Asbyrgi Canyon

From here, it was onwards to Asbyrgi, a horseshoe shaped canyon, over 2 miles (3.5km) long, 0.6 miles (1 km) wide and 328 feet (100 meters) high. The canyon can be visited from above and from the bottom, and sadly we only made it to the bottom of the canyon, because it was getting too late and we still wanted to see the fishing village of Husavik before it got dark. It would’ve been nice to have time to check out the hiking trails above the gorge, or you can even hike from Asbyrgi along Jökulsárgljúfur canyon all the way to Dettifoss, a 2-day hike that covers a total of around 22 miles (35 km). You can read more about that hike here. But if you only have a week to see Iceland, you have to sacrifice some things.Ásbyrgi Canyon dani (2)Seeing the canyon from below was still impressive, and we enjoyed the weird quietness of the place when we did a short hike through the woods to the silent ponds Botnstjorn and Leirtjorn at the bottom of the steep cliffs.Ásbyrgi CanyonAnother remarkable feature here was Eyjan, a colossal rock that rises up out of the ground across from the canyon. Only afterwards did I find out that it’s possible to climb Eyjan (follow the signs that say ‘Eyjan’ in the parking lot for the short hike there) for a panoramic view of Asbyrgi from the top of the rock.iceland rockWe reached Husavik just as the sun set – if you’re doing this drive during the winter months, when daylight hours are shorter, you might want to keep your roadside stops short or you will find yourself driving in the dark. I found myself driving the last few miles from Husavik to Laugar in the dark which I was fine with because by now, we were driving on a paved road again, but I am not sure how I would’ve felt in the dark on the unpaved road we’d driven most of the day on.husavik harbor

The Northern Lights

It was also here in the north of Iceland, in Laugar, where we finally saw the northern lights – it had been too cloudy in the previous nights, but of course I was hoping to see the northern lights in Iceland! And when I peeked out of the window at around 12.30am, there they were, dancing right outside our window. I quickly woke up Rease and got dressed to photograph the lights outside. I ran to the car to grab my tripod, which I had lugged around for weeks just for this occasion, and in the process of setting it up, the little plastic holder for my camera broke off. There went my chance to photograph the Aurora Borealis.

However, I couldn’t be upset about this for too long, because seeing these bright green lights dancing across the night sky was spectacular. I decided that it was much more enjoyable to simply take in this incredible sight rather than getting frustrated about my camera’s not-so-great night photography capabilities and missing out on the moment over trying to get some decent pictures.iceland northern lightsSo yeah, this picture shows you what it looked like, but I can’t take credit for it (it is the farmhouse we were staying in).

Lake Myvatn

The next morning, we hit the road early, because even though we were staying in Laugar again that night, we had a busy day ahead of us. On our way to our first destination of the day, the Dimmuborgir lava field, we already pulled over three or four times for photo stops. We were circling Lake Myvatn, a big lake that was formed during an eruption 2,300 years ago and has remained geothermally active ever since. There were gorgeous photo opportunities around every turn, it seemed, and had it not been for the many flies that were following us around, it would have been a great spot for a hike along the shores, where you find abundant bird life (but we were too busy running from the dozens of flies that were chasing us… this was the only place in Iceland we even saw flies, it was very odd – something in the lake must attract them?).lake myvatn

Dimmuborgir Lava Field

The rock formations of Dimmuborgir are a lava field like no other in the world: the huge lava rocks felt (yet again) completely otherworldly, but unlike anything else we’d seen in Iceland so far (or anywhere else in the world, as a matter of fact!). Some of the lava rocks rise out of the ground like skew and bended pillars, some are shaped into arches and other quite bizarre formations.dimmuborgir iceland volcanic rocks daniThere are several hiking trails that lead right through the pillars and rocks, some of which you can climb and walk through (most of the rock formations cannot be climbed because the lava is quite fragile).dimmuborgir rocks icelandIf you watch Game Of Thrones, you might recognize this place from the show, where it was used as a filming location in season 3.

dimmuborgir

Hveraröndor Hverir geothermal fields

Our next destination? The geothermal fields of Hverir, which we could already spot from far away as we drove down the winding road from Námaskarð Pass towards the bright orange territory, out of which several steam vents were blowing big clouds high into the sky.myvatn geothermal fields iceland5For me, the mix of steaming mounds and bubbling pools was one of the most fascinating sights in all of Iceland – it is so rare to find yourself surrounded by sulfurous mud springs and fumaroles emitting steam into the sky, walking over dry, cracked puddles of grey mud and trying not to get too close to the steam vents, which are so hot that you can easily get a burn just from standing too close to them.myvatn geothermal fields icelandThe barren scenery here, along with the bright colors of the soil, made me think once again: are we on a different planet? I could’ve spent hours photographing this place – had it not been for the rotten egg smell of the sulfur, which was almost unbearable in some places.myvatn geothermal fields iceland

Myvatn Nature Baths

Our last stop for the day were the Myvatn Nature Baths, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire road trip for me. We had planned in an extra night in Myvatn specifically so that we’d have time for a relaxing soak in the mineral-rich waters. If you’re not a fan of baths and spas, you might still want to spend an extra night in this area, because Husavik in the north of the Myvatn peninusal is where the popular whale watching boat tours leave from. Rease and I both agreed that the nature baths sounded more appealing than a chilly 3-hour boat ride through Arctic waters (I might still be scarred from my last whale watching trip off the coast of California… 3 of the most miserable hours of my life, and zero whale spottings).myvatn nature bathsThe Myvatn Nature Baths are often described as northern Iceland’s version of the Blue Lagoon, which sits in the southwest of the island, close to the airport and Reykjavik. However, we had both heard that the Blue Lagoon often gets crowded, and since it has become incredibly popular over the past few years, prices have also increased (admission to the Blue Lagoon starts at US$45 in the winter, $55 in the summer – and that’s without a drink!). I still want to check out the Blue Lagoon one day, because it looks fabulous, but with 4 times as many visitors as the Myvatn Nature Baths, I have a feeling it might be feel too busy for me. To get a better idea of both the Blue Lagoon and the Myvatn Nature Baths, have a look at these articles:

myvatn nature bathsWe were pretty happy with the deal we got in Myvatn: for ISK4,100 (around US$32) we got admission to the baths and steam rooms including one large beer (the same deal  at the Blue Lagoon is US$62 in the winter/ $73 in the summer!). There weren’t a lot of people, we were allowed to enjoy our beers right in the water, and the views were glorious.myvatn nature bathsThe sensation of sitting in hot waters (the pools range from 97°F to 104°F / 36° to 40°C) while being hit in the face by a chilly breeze is something special, and being massaged by the in-water massage fountains after days of sitting in the car? Heavenly. This afternoon was a great way to end our time in Myvatn.myvatn nature bathsTip: The baths are open until 10pm in the winter (and until midnight in the summer), and the northern lights can often be seen from here. So you might want to plan your visit for the late afternoon / evening hours. I can’t even imagine how cool it must be to watch the northern lights dance in the sky while soaking in the hot pools!myvatn nature baths

Godafoss Waterfall

The next morning, it was time for us to continue our trip towards Akureyri, the capital of the north, and further west to finish the circle back to Reykjavik. But we had one last stop: Godafoss, one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls. The waterfalls are with 33 feet (10 meters) not very high, but the impressive width of 100 feet (30 meters) make up for what they are missing in height, and for me they were among the most majestic falls we saw in Iceland. The falls are a short detour from the Ring Road, but definitely worth it.godafoss waterfall icelandSo far on our road trip, every day seemed to top the previous one, but I have to admit that after Myvatn, nothing could top what we’d seen there. That said, we didn’t have much time to explore the northwest of Iceland, and I am sure that had we had more time, we would’ve found some stunning places there as well. A place I was keen on visiting that we had to skip due to time restraints was the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland, for example, which is often referred to as a miniature version of the entire country, because you can see so many of the things that make Iceland special in this only 56 miles (90km) long peninsula: volcanic craters, a stunning glacier (Snæfellsjökull), black sand beaches, mountain scenery and lush valleys, little fishing towns, picturesque lakes and fjords. If you don’t have enough time to drive the Ring Road, Snæfellsnes is a good alternative.

But to be honest – I wasn’t too upset that we didn’t make it there this time around, because it gives me just another excuse to return to Iceland.iceland barn

Sjáumst bráðlega, Heillandi Ísland!

I hope I’ll see you soon again, enchanting Iceland!

Planning a trip to Iceland? Check out this article:

Planning a trip to Iceland on a budget: Things to know before you go

For more of our epic road trip, read:

The Most Epic Iceland Road Trip, Part I

The Most Epic Iceland Road Trip, Part II (+ tips for driving in Iceland)

…or watch my Iceland road trip video…

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Top five craft beer bars in Berlin

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As I am sampling beers all around the world on my travels, I’ve noticed that I’ve grown increasingly fond of craft beers in recent years, especially in the U.S. where you can find some extraordinary micro brews. And over the past few years I’ve noticed that this craft brew trend has spread all over the globe – most recently, I’ve tried some very good craft beers in Mexico and Colombia. But what about my home country Germany?dani oktoberfestGermany is famous for its excellent beer, yes, but did you know that up until a few years ago it was nearly impossible to find IPAs, Stout’s, Porter’s and other such varieties of craft brews? That’s because of a thing called the German Reinheitsgebot, which translates to German beer purity law and regulated what was allowed to be called beer: only water, barley and hop were allowed ingredients.

So an IPA or a Stout couldn’t even be sold as beer! Given the fact that craft brews have become so popular in other countries, however, and German beer manufacturers feared they were missing out on the chance to make more money, they started to forgo the typical German brewing techniques and ingredients and have started varieties of beers that you wouldn’t find anywhere in Germany as little as ten years ago.oktoberfest beer glassesAnd because of the rapidity this trend is growing with, people are talking about a craft beer revolution in Germany. If you think this might be a little exaggerated, look at the numbers: within a decade, the number of micro breweries in Germany has tripled from 300 to 900, and in Berlin alone more than 20 micro breweries have popped up! Berlin is one of the best cities in Germany to visit for craft beer aficionados, and if your trip to Germany’s capital is too short to try all of them, I’ve put together a list of the 5 very best places for craft beer in Berlin:savannah craft brew fest beers

1 Vagabund Brauerei

Vagabund Brauerei, created by three friends from the U.S. with the help of a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 is a must-visit for craft brew lovers in Berlin. Located in Wedding, you find American Pale Ales here, a Coffee Stout, and other seasonally changing beers. In addition to the beers on tap, you find two fridges filled with a superb selection of craft brew bottles from the UK, US and Germany.

Address: Antwerpener Str. 3, 13353 Berlin

2 Hops and Barley

Hops and Barley is one of the most popular craft brew bars in Berlin, and rightly so! Not only can you find an excellent dark beer, wheat beer and Pilsener here, but they also make their own Cider. Hops and Barley also has some excellent snacks to go with their brews, for example the brewer’s grain bread.

Address: Wühlischstraße 22/23, 10245 Berlin

3 Das Meisterstück 

Das Meisterstück might seem like a classic German beer stube (beer pub) at first, but don’t be fooled: you won’t find just lame ol’ German Pilseners here – instead the restaurant defines itself as craft stube, because, you guessed it, only craft brews are on tap here, including a badass Pilsener that puts German pilseners to shame. While you’re here, make sure to also try the excellent German food they serve.

Address: Hausvogteiplatz 3-4 10117 Berlin

4 Eschenbräu Brauerei

Eschenbräu Brauerei is one of Berlin’s oldest craft brew establishments, if not the oldest one. Here you find German-style brews as well as seasonally varying beers, and there’s a beer garden during the summer months that makes for a wonderful German beer garden experience – not to be missed! Plus: it’s in the Wedding neighborhood, like Vagabund, so can you visit two of Berlin’s best craft brew pubs in one go.

Address: Triftstraße 67, 13353 BerlinAt Hops and Barley

5 Kaschk

Kaschk is not only a place for beer lovers, but also for coffee lovers – so of course this place had to make my list.. Where else in Berlin, or the world, can I drink first-rate versions of both of my favorite beverages?! During the day, baristas serve professionally made espresso drinks, and at night you can talk beer with the knowledgeable bartenders. Although, thinking about it, I had a beer flight here at around noon, so don’t worry about being too early for a beer. The bar itself has a hipster vibe, and the various craft beers on tap are all topnotch micro brews – not only local German brews but also a number of tasty Scandic beers, since Kaschk is run by a Norwegian

Address: Linienstraße 40, 10178 Berlinberlin craft beers

Other places to sample craft beer in Berlin: 

Monterey Bar

If you’re not necessarily interested in trying a local beer but want a wide variety of global craft brews, head to Monterey Bar in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, where you find over 80 different craft brews from all around the world. Address: Danziger Str. 61, 10435 Berlin

Berlin Bier Shop

The Berlin Bier Shop probably has the largest craft beer selection in any of the city’s many beer stores, and you’ll find an extensive selection of unusual craft beers here for you to take back home. Address: Kirchtraße 23, 10557 Berlinphiladelphia hawthornes beers

Berlin craft brew map

This is a fantastic map of all the places that offer craft beers in Berlin – I recommend dedicating an entire day to touring Berlin’s craft brew temples, and this map is the easiest way to make sure you hit up all the right spots.berlin craft beerOriginal Berlin craft beer tour

On this 3-hour tour, you’ll get to sample at least three local craft brews with guide Cliff, who is clearly passionate about everything beer and will introduce you to some of the city’s best breweries. Of course you could visit them on your own, but the experience will be much enhanced with Cliff’s entertaining and informative narrative. Not only will you learn some interesting facts about craft beer, but also about the craft beer scene in Berlin, and recommendations for other places to check out.

Still looking for accommodation in Berlin? Check out Expedia’s top picks for hotels in Berlin.

Gadget tip for craft beer fans: 

bottlekeeperCheck out the BottleKeeper, a must-have gadget for craft beer fans who dislike warm beer as much as I do! As the name suggests, BottleKeeper keeps your favorite beer cold and safe with its neoprene lining, extra padding and custom designed caps that seal the inner beer bottle. The BottleKeeper comes in several colors and the best thing: it fits not only one size of bottles, but several ones! And it looks like an unassuming water bottle, should you ever want to consume beer where it might not quite legal 😉 Order your BottleKeeper here.

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Planning a trip to Iceland on a budget: Things to know before you go

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One of the things I say on my About Page is I make mistakes so you don’t have to – and I actually made a big mistake in Iceland. Well, it wasn’t actually a mistake, because I knew I had to hit up one of the big grocery stores before leaving Reykjavik – big supermarkets are sparse on the island, and we wanted to pick up food to make picnic lunches during our road trip – restaurants in Iceland are pricey. And that’s what we did, we went to the first Bonus supermarket we came across, ready to load up the car with groceries. Only that the supermarket didn’t open until 11am (!), and we were there at 9am. So we decided to head off on the first leg of our road trip, assuming we’d be coming back through Reykjavik after driving the Golden Circle. But we didn’t. We headed straight south. And were stuck with a small town grocery store in Vik, with a very limited selection.southern iceland mountain roadI put together some other things I’ve learned on my road trip through Iceland to help save you money during your trip, to give you an idea what to expect as for how much things cost, and last but not least some thoughts on renting a car for your trip vs. using public transportation or hitchhike.

Budget tips for Iceland

Don’t pay for water

I was surprised when I read on other blogs that travelers had paid for water in Iceland. Icelanders proud themselves of having some of the best water in the world! It comes straight from the spring and is delicious – why would you pay for bottled water?! Plus, you won’t contribute to plastic bottle garbage.iceland drinking water loft hostel

Shop at grocery stores and make picnic lunches

If you’re on a budget, you won’t be able to afford much more than the famous Icelandic hot dogs, which are available on hot dog stands in most places for ISK350 – 380 (US$2.70-$3). Whenever we decided to eat out, we were shocked by the prices on the menus. Restaurants in Iceland sure aren’t cheap! A pizza would usually start at around ISK2,000 (US$15.50) a burger around ISK1,900 (US$15), a vegetarian pasta dish around ISK2,200 (US$17)*.

*The exchange rate used is from February 2016.

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Our daily picnic lunch: Icelandic skyr, a thick Icelandic yogurt

To give you an idea what other things in Iceland cost:

Coffee is between ISK350 and 500 /US$2.70 – 3.80 (a little more for cappuccinos, lattes, etc).

Beer starts at ISK800 (up to 1200) /US$6.20-9.20, but if you buy a can in the supermarket, it will cost around ISK350 /US$2.70 (for 500ml). Tip: If you’re renting a car at the airport, you might want to consider picking up beer in the Duty Free Shop. A 6-pack of 500ml Viking beers is around ISK1,500 /US$11.55.

icelandic craft beerGas was ISK204/US$1.57 per liter when I visited in September 2015. That’s nearly US$6 per gallon!

The bus from the airport into Reykjavik is 1,950/US$15, cabs from the airport are around ISK12,000/US$92.

Activities are quite pricey: the Blue Lagoon starts at 7,000 (US$54), whale watching at 9,000 (US$70), a Golden Circle Tour ISK10,000 (US$77).

To get an idea what other groceries and entertainment in Iceland cost, check out this article on the cost of living in Iceland.

Note that there is a big difference between high season and low season prices for rental cars and accommodation!

Where to shop

Kronan, Bonus and Netto are the cheapest supermarket chains in Iceland.

Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Iceland, so save your change!iceland coffee stop

Cash vs. credit cards

I have to admit that I didn’t take out cash at all while I was in Iceland – I paid with my card everywhere! And not once was I unable to buy something because I didn’t have cash, cards were accepted in all the stores and restaurants I went to, even a small coffee shop in a tiny village along the way.

SIM card

A SIM card with some data is useful if you want to look up directions or call a hotel/hostel or use a road map app, a weather app or the northern lights forecast website. The Duty Free Shop at the airport sells Siminn SIM cards, which have the best coverage in Iceland, with 1GB data, 100 minutes and 100 text messages for ISK2,990 (around US$23). A Vodafone SIM card can be bought at the same shop for half the price, ISK1,500 (US$11.85), containing 300MB data and ISK1,000 credit. If you don’t need any of these things, you’ll be totally fine with wi-fi, available in 95% of all guesthouses, I’d say, and also in most cafes, restaurants and gas stations.iceland lake

Other things to consider…

When to go

I would recommend visiting in the shoulder season – May or September. That way you can avoid the crowds that have flooded Iceland during the summer months in recent years since it has become such a popular destination, but you can still enjoy the activities that shut down in the winter months, like glacier boat tours, paragliding, snorkeling/diving in Silfra, or whale watching tours. Also remember that if you visit in the winter, you have considerably less hours of daylight than in the summer, which makes a big difference when mapping out a driving route.Akureyri harbor

Weather

I thought I knew crazy weather from Britain but Icelandic weather easily tops this. We often woke up to rain and cloudy skies, and a couple of hours later the sun was shining. Or I was starting the drive in the morning with blue skies and drove straight into rain. If you wake up to rain, don’t be fooled and think you should stay in – I guarantee you that the weather changes several times during the day. Vedur.is is the best weather resource for Iceland.

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You can’t really tell in the photo, but it was pouring down when we stopped at the glacier…

Road trip vs. public transportation vs. hitchhiking

Self-guided vs. guided

As soon as we hit the road and saw tour buses by the dozen, I knew we had made the right decision going with an Iceland self-guided tour – it gave us the exact amount of flexibility and independence that we needed, and yet it was comforting to know that we didn’t need to take care of our accommodation. The places we sleep at were all vouched for and in a strategic location for each day’s route, but I could decide how to plan the route, how much time to spend in each place, if we wanted to stop in other places along the way, or if we wanted to skip some of the suggestions in the itinerary. After all, I didn’t need to follow each day’s schedule to a T.

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A spontaneous stop at the volcano craters of Grabrokargigar – only possible because we were on a self-guided drive!

And I was more than happy to have the flexibility to spend as much time as I wanted in places like the magnificent Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, instead of being herded back on the bus like most other tourists there. Or to decide to turn off and follow an unpaved road, only to find another glacier lagoon, Fjallsarlon, also stunning and well worth the little detour, which we couldn’t have taken had we been on an organized group tour.

Iceland by rental car

If you don’t mind mapping out your road trip route yourself and booking your accommodation, there are plenty of car rentals available at the international airport. I never felt uncomfortable driving in Iceland, but you might find the narrow mountain and coastal roads a little intimidating if you’re only used to driving multi-lane highways in the U.S. However, I wouldn’t trade in driving myself for anything else – it just gives you so much freedom. I shared some driving tips for Iceland here. If you don’t need the comfort of a hotel bed, you can also rent a camper van, by the way. My friend Matt explored Iceland in a Happy Camper and seemed to have enjoyed it.

waterfall selfies iceland
You’ll want to be able to stop at Iceland’s gazillion waterfalls!

Iceland by public transportation

Iceland doesn’t have a rail network, but there are buses that connect the major towns. However, the bus schedule is quite limited and it will only allow you to get from city to city instead of stopping at all the waterfalls, geysers and glaciers you want to see on a trip to Iceland. Keep in mind that the bus schedules are even more restricted during the off-season. For bus schedules during the summer months (including prices), check out Iceland On Your Own, who also offer passport that offer discounted travel in several regions of Iceland. Their detailed bus schedules can be found here. Instead of traveling Iceland by public bus, consider hitchhiking:icelandic horses
Hitchhiking in Iceland

Hitchhiking in Iceland is adventurous, but it’s much more common than in the U.S., for example, and we came across quite a few hitchhikers – and even picked some up along the way. For us it was a fun way to meet other travelers and hear their crazy stories (a couple we picked up was nearly blown over a cliff in their little tent in a stormy night). It’s definitely doable to circle Island on the Ring Road by hitching, but be aware that in some remote parts, it can take a while until somebody picks you up (hours!) and as I said before, the weather changes rapidly, so you might be standing in the rain for a while in a country that is chilly year-round. If you’re thinking about hitchhiking in Iceland, check out the Hitchwiki for IcelandDawn shares her hitchhiking experience in detail here, check it out to get an idea what to expect.icelandic scenery
Ride sharing in Iceland

Ride sharing is a popular way of traveling in Europe – if you are the one with the car, you can post the ride you’re planning to take on a ride sharing website, including how many seats are available and how much you charge per person. It’s a great way to get some money for gas.

People in need of a ride can post the details of the ride they want to take on this website, and car owners who are heading that way can respond to your post. Another website that lets you post the rides you require or you offer is Carpoolworld Iceland.

iceland rental carCheck out the highlights from my Iceland road trip here:

Icebergs, waterfalls, geysers & lava fields: Highlights from an Iceland road trip

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The Most Epic Iceland Road Trip, Part II (+ tips for driving in Iceland)

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After a day filled with waterfalls, geysers and Icelandic horses along Iceland’s Golden Circle, we started day 2 on the actual Ring Road. While we had breakfast, the owner of our lovely Icelandic farmstay came over with a map and showed us a small road just before Vik, a nearby town. It would be worth going in there to see some spectacular rock formations along the coast, she said, and because we were free to do whatever we wanted, we decided to take her up on her advice.iceland south coast stormAnd I am glad I did: The rock formations and cliffs at Dyrholaey were stunning, and seeing the waves furiously hit the shore on this grey and stormy morning turned out to be a memorable start to the day. (Tip: if you’re planning to drive this part of the ring road yourself and want to stop at Dyrholaey, turn left onto road 218, just before you reach Vik. This is also a popular place to spot puffins, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any.)iceland south coastVik itself was a small fishing town which I didn’t find all that memorable (it’s tiny), but it has a unique black sand beach which was definitely worth a stop. The sand is actually volcanic ashes, a reminder that Iceland is filled with volcanoes (there are around 130) and yes, they tend to erupt every now and again.iceland south coast black sand beach vik footprintsAfter that, it was a complete change of scenery: we found ourselves driving through green volcanic moss. In several areas of the island, you find lava fields, which over the years have been covered with a thick layer of green moss. This one, the Eldhraun lava field, is the largest one in Iceland, and was formed during a volcanic eruption in 1983-84. It feels quite surreal to drive through this scenery, almost like a different planet, made up by moss-covered rocks, but it was also fascinating to see how lava can change a vast landscape like this in such a dramatic way.iceland moss covered volcanic rockSoon after, the scenery was yet again completely different: we were passing through Skeidararsandur, the world’s largest sand plain, covering 1,300 km², made of volcanic sand, and this area feels eerily empty. No settlements, no houses – just a giant dark mass of volcanic sand which seemed even gloomier on the grey and cloudy day that we were driving through it.icelandic moonscapeIt finally brought us to Skaftafell National Park, where we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by alpine mountains, even though more often than not we could only assume that there are mountains hiding behind the thick layer of clouds. Skaftafell is where the massive glacier Skaftafellsjökull sat to our left most of the time as we headed towards Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which is undoubtedly one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations. I too fell under its spell, and it ended up being my favorite stop on our road trip – I won’t spoil too much now, because it deserves its own article. Seeing dozens of blue icebergs floating in a lagoon is a sight that you won’t forget anytime soon.rease and dani glacier lagoon ice icelandAcross the street from Jökulsárlón you have an equally stunning place: another black sand beach, but this one is filled with icebergs that have been washed ashore again after slowly floating out into the ocean from the glacier lagoon.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachI couldn’t believe that this was only the second day of our road trip – we pulled the car over again and again to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. And this was just one of six days driving the Ring Road. Even though we spent a lot of time in the car during our trip, there was never a dull moment.iceland coastal roadDriving along fjords, crossing sand plains, passing waterfalls and glaciers – Iceland always keeps you entertained.south coast icelandOne thing worth mentioning before sharing my favorite captures from Northern Iceland in Part III of our road trip? Our accommodation in Eskifjorður, a small fishing town on the shores of the Reyðarfjörður fjord, which is Eastern Iceland’s longest and widest fjord. With our Icelandic Farmholidays self-driving tour, we’d gotten an accommodation voucher for each night in our welcome pack, but we never knew beforehand what to expect. We let the knowledgeable customer service experts pick our accommodation for us, and trusted them to find us a well-balanced mix of B&B’s, hotels and farm stays so that we could get a taste of all the different kinds of accommodations available in Iceland.iceland cabins EskifjorðurOur stay in Eskifjorður was both Rease’s and my favorite: a little cottage only a few meters from the water, with a fully equipped kitchen in which we could cook dinner and make breakfast. And there was a heated Jacuzzi outside, which was the perfect place to unwind after a long day of driving.hot tub fun with reaseTo make things perfect, the sun decided to set in spectacular colors that night – we were tempted to put the rest of our road trip on hold and spend a few days here, writing while watching out over the fjord, hoping to spot whales.fjord sunset icelandBut onward it was – the next morning, we would pass through the Almannaskarð tunnel and emerge in Northern Iceland, where we’d spend some time exploring the out-of-this-world beautiful Myvatn peninsula – to be continued…
Eskifjorður cabins reflection

Tips for driving in Iceland

Don’t expect proper highways 

The only 4-lane highway I encountered was the road from the airport into Reykjavik. All the other streets were 2-lane country roads, often narrowing into one lane, especially on bridges. That’s why it is important to always stick to the speed limit and be attentive – nothing worse than meeting a car in the middle of a bridge because you weren’t paying attention about oncoming traffic.icelandic roadPick up the free ‘Around Iceland‘ brochure by heimur. You can get it at any tourist information and in most hotels, and it has maps where gas stations and toilets are marked, plus a whole bunch of other useful information.

Install the Iceland Roads App

The Iceland Road Guide app has comprehensive information about all of Iceland’s roads, food & drink along the way, sights and general information. You can download it here for Android and for iOS.

A GPS might not be enough

Sometimes I preferred a map or GoogleMaps on my phone over the GPS that came with the car. For me, it was easier with those to get an overview over the entire day’s route and to visualize the drive. But that’s a personal preference. If you prefer actual paper to an app, I recommend this detailed Iceland Road Guide (which includes the app for free anyway!).iceland road guideGas stations are limited 

Make sure you always have enough gas – especially when you’re about to drive through a rural area. This is why I recommend picking up one of the maps that have gas stations listed – that’s how you’ll know when to expect the next opportunity to fill up.southern iceland fjordMake sure to rent with a reputable company

The first thing the friendly Europcar employee gave me was a Europcar brochure in which all Europcar branches in the country were marked, including their phone numbers, in case of an emergency. Considering that the road conditions in Iceland aren’t always the best, especially when leaving the main roads, it was relieving to know where I could go should I pinch a tire or something like that.icelandic moonscape dani & car4WD vs regular car

I had asked for a small car, simply because I’m used to diving smaller cars and knew roads would be narrow. This is how we ended up with a regular car, not a 4WD. Was this sufficient? Absolutely. Even though our drive included some unpaved roads (sometimes I was driving on rocky lava gravel), the VW we were driving was absolutely sufficient.iceland roadManual vs automatic

Make sure to ask for an automatic if you’re not comfortable driving stick.

Weather forecast 

Don’t expect the weather to stay the same throughout the day – it’ll change all the time! We often found ourselves leaving in rain and enjoying bright sunshine a couple of hours later. Instead of waiting for the rain to stop, just drive.southern iceland fjord & mountains

If you’re planning your own Iceland road trip, check out:

Planning a trip to Iceland on a budget: Things to know before you go

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Lignano: the perfect beach vacation in Northern Italy

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When people think beach vacation in Italy, places like Tuscany, Sicily or Sardinia come to mind first. And then there’s the Adriatic coast, with Rimini being an old-time favorite, but too crowded for many.

So why not look further north? Lignano Sabbiadoro, about an hour north of Venice. You can even combine a beach getaway with a city break to Venice and Trieste! I’ll share more information on how to get to Venice from Lignano further below, but first let me introduce you to Lignano.L'Alba al Solito Faro di Lignano - Dawn over LighthouseLignano has an 8km (over 5 miles) long stretch of a wide, sandy beach. It is regarded one of the most stunning beach resorts in the upper Adriatic Sea. The city is a perfect family destination, too, with a zoo, tennis courts, spas and golf courses.

Its unique Terrazza a Mare, a pier housing shops and a bar, makes for inviting evening strolls, and Lignano’s marina is not one of the largest in all of Italy, but in all of Europe. Lignano’s old town is lovely and has plenty of excellent restaurants where you can enjoy fresh sea food and typical Italian dishes. Shell Island, a 7 kilometer long island which forms a natural boundary between the Marano Lagoon, in which Lignano is located, and the Adriatic Sea, makes for a lovely day trip by boat.

If you want to combine your beach vacation with city trips, both Trieste and Venice are easy to get to by car and public transportation. Spend a day in cosmopolitan Trieste or tour the canals in Venice in a gondola for a day without having to worry about sky-high hotel rates.

How to get to Lignano

Lignano is located halfway between Venice and Trieste. If you are not traveling by car, the closest train station is in Latisana (20km away). You can get from Latisana to Lignano by public bus for only €2.55. Trieste and Venice are both about 75 mins by car from Lignano, or about an hour from Latisana by train. Note that train tickets are cheaper than parking in Venice – a return ticket is €11.90.

The closest airports are Trieste-Ronchi dei Legionari TRS, Venice Marco Polo VCE and Venice-Treviso TSF. All have public transportation to Lignano.

If you arrive by car, take the A4 Venice-Trieste motorway and exit in Latisana. Then continue on road SS 354 towards Lignano for about 18 kilometers (11 miles).

BEACH EXTREME 2

Where to stay in Lignano

For your stay in Lignano I recommend Hotel Mimosa, a small 3-star hotel right in the city center of Lignano, just 400 meters from the beach and close to Hemingway Park. It is conveniently located in the center of it all – close to golf courses, shopping, attractions and restaurants. Rooms are equipped with elegant, wooden furniture, and each room has a balcony and AC. A buffet style breakfast is included in the room rate, and the hotel’s restaurant also serves Mediterranean lunch and dinner specialties. With only 20 rooms, every guest is given extra attention and Hotel Mimosa prides itself for its intimate, cozy atmosphere.hotel mimosa

Photo credit: (used under Flickr’s creative commons license) Lignano sunset by Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino; Lignano by Marlo;
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