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Polaroid Of The Week: A Perfect London Summer Day

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week england london kensington gardensAfter a week by the sea, I made my way up to London, deciding that I can’t leave England without at least a quick pit stop in my former adopted hometown.

Summer was in full swing when I arrived in Friday (a rare thing for London!) and I spontaneously decided to take some time off work and spend my Saturday like most other people this weekend, and like I used to spend so many of my London weekends: in the park (with a run though Hyde Park in the morning and a picnic in Kensington Gardens in the afternoon, where I snapped the picture above), with a bit of shopping (the madness that is Oxford Street seems less crazy when you’ve been away for a while) and last but not least: with a visit to the West End, where I saw Guys & Dolls, currently starring Rebel Wilson, who always makes me laugh, and it wasn’t any different in this musical. If you happen to find yourself in London before 21 August, I highly recommend it – look for cheap tickets on LoveTheatre.com.

My quick visit in London ended with some bubbles at the Searcys champagne bar in St Pancras with Becki, who I hadn’t seen since the NBE conference in Finland in January 2014, and was the perfect way to conclude a fantastic week in the UK. Next stop: Munich!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Beach Day In Brighton

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week brighton englandI decided instead of boring you with yet another Polaroid from Berlin, I’d wait another day and share a photo of the place where I’m spending the bigger part of this week: Brighton, England! When I came here for Brighton Pride last summer, I sure didn’t think I’d be back less than a year later, but as so often… I just never know where my travels take me 🙂 (Remember how I ended up in the Amazon in March? Yeah, I had no intentions to go there either..).

Until last week I had no idea that I’d be hanging out at the beach in Brighton today, but I sure won’t complain about this! Apparently, summer and sunshine only arrived in Britain this past weekend, and I got to enjoy the most beautiful summer day on England’s south coast today. The beach was packed, as one would expect with fabulous weather like this – there was not a single cloud in the sky. People were barbecuing at the beach, SUPing in the ocean (something I’m hoping to do later this week!), and the bars and pubs along the beach were packed.

I’ve had a crush on Brighton ever since I first came here in 2005, and won’t ever tire of coming here – if you wanted to know more about what makes Brighton so special, I recommend my article Irresistable Brighton: What makes Brighton so appealing?

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Polaroid of the week: Love lock madness in Cologne, Germany

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany cologne love locks bridgeIt feels like I’ve been all over the place this week: Berlin, then Dusseldorf, and now in Cologne, where I am spending the weekend. My three days in Cologne were definitely my favorite part of the week – my last two days in Berlin and also in Dusseldorf, it was mostly about work, but I tried to take some time off this weekend to find out if I still loved Cologne as much as I did fifteen years ago. Cologne and I have a special history: I visited the city for the first time with my girlfriends when I was 15 and was instantly mesmerized by the multi-cultural, vibrant city. What a difference from my sleepy hometown it was! I decided right there and then that I was going to move to Cologne one day, and a few more visits during my last couple of years in high school reaffirmed my love for the city, which is why I ended up enrolling in the University Of Cologne in 2000.

I had to leave unexpectedly after only two years, but always thought I’d come back one day – possibly to live there. But life had other plans for me and I never returned – until now, that is. As so many cities, Cologne has changed considerably since I lived here, and I had the best time this weekend rediscovering the place I called home all those years ago. With a good friend in tow and perfect summer weather, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time here – from food markets to bike rides along the Rhine River to a night out in Cologne’s thriving LGBT bar scene, I loved every second of it.

Being a sucker for love locks (and maybe even having locked my very own one on a famous bridge) one thing I was excited about was that I finally got to see one of the most famous love lock bridges in the world: the Hohenzollern Bridge. Back when I lived here, there were no love locks on that bridge, but a few years ago I came across an article mentioning that the bridge was covered in more than 40,000 love pad locks. After photographing the love lock fountain in Montevideo, the love locks on the Brooklyn Bridge (which have been removed now), love locks along Italy’s Via Dell’Amore, and many other spots around the world, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a bridge covered in padlocks to the extent this bridge is covered. It’s absolutely insane! Now that I’ve become a little more jaded rational when it comes to everlasting love and love declarations, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these couples were still together. There must be far more than 40,000 locks now – apparently, the love locks weigh over 2 tons! Let’s just hope they don’t cause the bridge to collapse like the love locks at the Pont Des Arts in Paris, where the locks have been removed consequently.

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Polaroid of the week: A walk inside Berlin’s stunning parliament dome

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week berlin reichstag dome

After a few short days with my family, I returned to Berlin on Thursday for six days – and to welcome two special visitors from New York!

I have to admit that I am slightly exhausted after  sightseeing for days, but I love showing people around this giant urban sprawl that can be overwhelming and hard to grasp for first time visitors.

We wandered the tree-lined streets of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, shopped at the Sunday flea market in Mauerpark and listened to people from all over the world belt out their favorite songs in front of 1,000 people at Bearpit Karaoke. We watched an epic sunset from Berlin’s coolest rooftop bar, Klunkerkranich (which even made it in the NYT, as a must-go spot in 36 hours in Berlin) and strolled along the canals. I also managed to get us tickets to visit the Reichstag dome on Saturday, which I hadn’t done in three years  – tickets are hard to get during the summer months, probably because they’re free. Sadly I couldn’t get them for my first visitors a couple of weeks ago, so the happier I was that I was able to show these two Berlin’s best 360 degrees views.

As an architecture geek, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing this stunning glass dome close up, designed by Sir Norman Foster and only added to Germany’s historic Parliament Building in 1999. We lucked out with the time of our visit, which happened to coincide with the time that the sun finally broke through the clouds after a rainy, gray day. And as we made our way up the ramp up to an observation deck at the very top of the dome, blue skies appeared, and we learned all kinds of trivia about the state-of-the-art environmentally friendly features of the dome and about the surrounding buildings thanks to the free GPS audio guide you get when you visit. If you’re heading to Berlin, don’t miss the Reichstag Dome – you can book your tickets online here.

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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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