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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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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city bushwick street artWhen I arrived in New York last week, I was told that I had brought summer with me. Apparently, it had been cold and rainy most of the spring until the weekend of my arrival – and hearing this made me feel reassured again about having spent all of May in Austin (in case you haven’t noticed yet – I’ve got a major case of FOMO and ‘scarifying’ a month in New York for four weeks in Austin wasn’t an easy decision for me to make!). To be honest, I was considering extending my stay in Austin for another three weeks (yes, I loved it that much – more on that to come next week) but then my travel plans were changed by circumstances beyond my control (more on that soon).

And that’s why I ended up spending only eight days in my adopted home. Knowing that my time in New York would be short and sweet, the goal was to make the most of it. This meant: make sure to have a decent New York bagel (check), have a pizza at Roberta’s (check, and it was so worth nearly missing my flight for it! Still my favorite pizza spot in NYC.), see some new street art in Bushwick, go to Smorgasburg for some street food, see the spring blossoms in Central Park, catch up with friends. Well these were all the things I that I managed to fit in – my actual list was, as usual, much more ambitious than what I could actually fit into a short week, but I also managed to fit in a daily run in Prospect Park, bike rides through Brooklyn, I checked out a brunch place I’ve wanted to go to for a while (Cheryl’s Global Soul, thumbs up). It felt amazing to be ‘home’, to see my friends, just to be part of life in the Big Apple again.

What else did I get up to? I checked out a few new ‘coffices‘, had two wild nights out, soaked up the sun in Madison Square Park, made time for a stroll through the West Village (one of my favorite neighborhoods), and I even ended up at Dominique Ansel Kitchen (unplanned, which made it even better), which is a pastry lover’s dream, and where I last went for a birthday treat last winter, for a chocolate nutella swirl croissant (just as indulgent as it sounds) and scoped out a couple of Middle Eastern places I hadn’t been to yet (thumbs up for both Taim and Kulushkat.

The last two got me excited for my next destination: the next Polaroid Of The Week will be coming to you from BERLIN (where I’ll be stuffing myself with as much Middle Eastern food as possible for eight glorious days and welcome a very special visitor).

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Polaroid of the week: Sunset over Austin, Texas

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa texas austin sunsetI have to apologize if I’m getting on your nerves with my constant ravings about Austin – I’ve already sang the city’s praises here and here – and I can’t stop gushing about Texas’ quirky capital. I arrived in New York last week and have been enthusiastically talking about how great Austin is ever since my plane touched down here, almost forgetting that I’m in my favorite city in the world.

But my last week in Austin was a great one, and I finally got the local introduction to the city that I had hoped for: from someone who had lived in Austin for many years and knew the city inside out. Together, we hit up some of East Austin’s coolest bars (including the fabulous Weather Up bar, which I learned had a branch in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, just around the corner from where I lived two years ago – not sure how I had missed that place back then!), I was introduced to the magic of pinball arcades (I need to bring them to NYC – so much fun!), finally watched a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse while enjoying craft beers and a surprisingly tasty meal, wishing I could always enjoy restaurant service and booze in a movie theater (apparently Brooklyn is getting an Alamo Drafthouse in a few weeks – I am excited!), and had a midnight diner meal at the Magnolia Cafe which came to fame thanks to the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

And then my last night rolled around, and my love affair with Austin came to an abrupt end. It ended on a high note, however: after the weather had been pretty bad all week, with lots of rain, thunderstorms and even flooding, the sun came out again for my last evening in town. I went for my usual evening run along the Colorado River and was rewarded with this sunset – making me feel all fuzzy and warm inside. Austin, I’ll definitely be back – thank you for the amazing time!

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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Deep Ellum, Dallas

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa texas dallas deep ellum street artI love it when I visit a place without any expectations and end up being pleasantly surprised. And I happened to visit one such place this month. A place I never even thought I’d visit: Dallas. In my head, Dallas was a big, personality-lacking, dull, corporate kind-of-city.

Instead, I found a city filled with interesting attractions, a fantastic restaurant scene, great bars, street art (even more than in much more alternative Austin!).

To be honest, I didn’t even plan to visit any other Texan cities while I was in Austin, but as so often, the opportunity to go up there for the weekend arose suddenly, and I jumped on it, because.. Why not? And I already began to think that I should’ve allocated more time to exploring Dallas when I, upon researching cool stuff to check out in Dallas, came across this list of 50 free fun things to do in Dallas of which I wanted to check out over a dozen! All I got during this brief weekend trip was a teaser of the city, and the desire to come back for more (which is luckily extremely likely to happen if I get to spend more time in Austin in the future, which I’d love).

I didn’t fit in much more than wandering around the Arts District, some of the historic downtown, Thanks-Giving Square, Fountain Place, Klyde Warren Park, and finally spending an evening of bar and restaurant hopping in Deep Ellum, but this was enough to make me realize that Dallas is much cooler than I thought it was.

Especially Deep Ellum, a trendy, young neighborhood filled with street art, great eateries and cool craft beer bars, impressed me, and I learned that the former warehouse district is also the epicenter of Dallas’ live music scene. The name Deep Ellum is an adaptation of southern black dialect for ‘deep Elm Street’ and you find 42 music venues here, ranging from blues to jazz to alternative music, thanks to which the neighborhood got the nickname ‘Little New Orleans’.

Thanks for surprising me in such a good way, Dallas, and I hope I’ll see you soon again – I promise, I’ll bring more time!

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Polaroid of the week: Wonderfully weird Austin

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polaroid of the week usa texas austin graffiti parkOh, Austin… I don’t even know where to start.. This city has swept me off my feet the minute I got here! Over the years, I’ve been told by several people that I should go and check out Austin because I’d like it and it was ,my kind of city’ (and that’s what piqued my curiosity and made me eventually come here!). And yes, they were absolutely right!

So what’s ‘Dani’s kind of city’, you’re asking? A green city. A city known for its giant food truck scene. A city filled with craft beer bars, some of which have over 100 (!!) beers on tap. A city with more live music venues I could possibly visit in a month. A dog friendly city where dogs have their own little beaches along the river. A city that has wonderfully weird celebrations such as Eeyore’s Birthday (an annual hippie festival that takes place on the last Saturday in April). A city where apartment complexes don’t only come with communal swimming pools and BBQ areas, but also with kayak parking lots and their own docks on the river. A city where there are more kayaks and SUPs on the river than cars on the road (who am I kidding, the traffic in Austin is definitely something that we need to work on.. but still: on weekends, there are so many kayaks and SUPs on the river that it seems like half of Austin is out on the Colorado River). A bike friendly city. With a bike sharing system, even! A city with a forest filled with hiking trails inside the city limits. A city with great weather – year-round! (New York, I still love you, but I sure could do without your winters…). A city with impressive art museums. A city with a thriving coffee shop culture. A city with a giant store dedicated entirely to hot sauce (help, I’m spending all my money here!). A city with a winery and a whole wine country nearby. A city with enough mouthwatering food to make me gain five pounds (and I’m not done yet!). A city where you people gather in a dive bar on Sundays to play chicken shit bingo. A city with hipster bars that make me think ‘Am I in Austin or am I in Brooklyn?’ A city with speakeasy bars. A city with the most decadent doughnuts I’ve ever seen. A city with street art.

Okay, about the street art: there is by far more street art in other cities I’ve been to, but pictured above is the Hope Outdoor Gallery, sometimes also referred to as Graffiti Park, where it is legal to spray graffiti. Every time I went there, I saw young girls practice their skills, couples working on pieces together, experienced graffiti artists adding a new mural. How many cities do have an area like this, where people can simply come and do graffiti work? In terms of being a ‘gallery’ – it’s a gallery where the collection of art changes constantly. And in addition to being an outlet for artists, this place also offers fantastic city views of Downtown Austin, especially when the sunset skies paint the buildings in warm golden colors.

Yes, it’s official: Austin, I’ve got a huge crush on you.

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Polaroid of the week: White Sands, New Mexico

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polaroid of the week usa new mexico 2016 white sandsFor my road trip from Tucson to Austin I was stoked about the two stops me and my passenger would make along the way: Big Bend National Park in Texas for the Santa Elena Canyon hike, and White Sands in New Mexico, which I had already visited during my New Mexico road trip a few years ago, and which I loved. That shouldn’t come as a surprise – White Sands is a desert after all, and as many of you know I love deserts. White Sands with its bright white dunes is truly special, something I’ve never seen anywhere in the world (not even on photos of deserts around the world, but tell me if you know of any other white deserts so that I can add them to my travel wish list!).

I was excited to go on another hike in White Sands – and this time in a bit cooler weather (last time I came here it was over 100°F /38°C and we actually had to turn around before finishing the trail). Even though dune after dune might seem repetitive, no dune is like the other, and every time you climb up a dune, you have yet another sweeping view ahead of you. Most of the desert is unvegetated, but there are some desert flowers in White Sands which remind you of the fact that what you are walking on used to be the bottom of a massive lake covering 1,600 square miles during the last ice age. The contrast between the bright blue skies and the white sand makes for some great photo opps, and I ended up with over 600 photos of my day at White Sands, even though it was my second time there!

It was, however, my first sunset – something I really wanted to photograph. We watched the sun go down behind the mountains from the top of a dune, slowly coloring the white sand in a soft glowing pink, and quickly leaving us feeling cold. It might be over 100°F during the day, but the desert sure gets cold at night. We ran back through the dunes to the parking lot, now understanding why so many people get lost here, despite the posts that stick out of the sand in regular intervals to mark several ‘trails’ in the dunefield. In the dark, we could barely make out the posts (which are already hard to spot in bright daylight sometimes) and got a bit nervous if we were following the right direction. In the end, we made it back to the parking lot though and finished our day in White Sands with a picnic in one of the futuristic picnic areas.

I felt lucky that I got to visit this remote place not only one, but two times – and I wouldn’t mind returning for a third visit.

For more photos of White Sands, check out my photo essay: New Mexico’s White Desert: The bright and beautiful White Sands

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Polaroid of the week: Running Horses in Tucson, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona horses tucsonI’ve visited the Southwest five times over the past few years, but it took me until my 6th visit this year to finally visit a ranch, a real working dude ranch with a bunch of cowboys, horses, cattles – and all that back-dropped by the spectacular Southwest scenery: the barren Sonoran desert with its countless giant Saguaro cacti, dusty desert roads and rugged mountains.

It might have taken me six years to finally experience ranch life in the Southwest, but when I eventually got a glimpse of it, it was the finest of the finest: the fabulous White Stallion Ranch just outside Tucson, where my friend Lynn took me one morning to take photos of the horses as they were gathered in one huge enclosure and herded into another one by a group of wranglers.

The 5am wake-up call for this photography outing was painful, but the scene that unfolded when the cowboys entered the enclosure to bring the horses down together was incredibly beautiful: the morning sun was just rising above the mountain peaks, bathing the ranch in a warm, golden light. Then the horses started running slowly, getting faster, and finally galloping right by the gate where we had set up our cameras.

Afterwards, I toured the 3,000-acre cattle ranch which has been run by the True family for decades. I felt as if I had walked onto the movie set for an Old West movie, and I had to remind myself that the cowboys that were walking past us from time to time weren’t actors in costumes, but actual working wranglers and farm hands!

The ranch has 41 guest rooms, and people from all over the world come here for a true Old West experience: not only watching the cowboys and wranglers going about their daily duties, but also riding the horses, of course. After hearing there was a wine and cheese ride, during which guests are served a selection of cheese and a glass of wine right in the middle of the desert, I wished I hadn’t waited until my very last weekend in Arizona with my trip to the White Stallion Ranch – I was dying to get on the back of a horse!

While I didn’t get the chance to stay on the ranch this time around, I know that I’ll be back in Tucson and I hope I’ll get to experience the White Stallion Ranch again – and then I’d like to stay in one of their rooms right on the ranch, go out on rides through the desert and get my cowgirl on!

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Polaroid of the week: PowWow in Phoenix, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona powwowAfter spending my first weekend in Tucson with Katie, I had a surprise visitor in town for my second weekend, and VisitArizona had listed an event online that piqued our interest: a PowWow in Phoenix. A PowWow is a gathering of several Native American communities who perform their traditional dances and showcase their communities’ costumes, and not knowing much about Native American culture at all, despite several visits to the Southwest, including various Indian reservations, I decided that it was time to learn more about their culture and so we headed to Phoenix for the day.

A PowWow is traditional held so that Native Americans of different communities can meet, dance and sing together, make new friendships, and of course: preserve their heritage and culture. But there is usually a dancing and/or singing competition, in the case of the PowWow we went to, there were competitions for both. And so you don’t just get to see their incredible, elaborate outfits, but you’ll also hear the traditional songs and see them perform indigenous dances. I was wowed by all of it – the voices I heard, the grace and glory the dances were performed, and the intricate design of each tribe’s clothing, headdresses and ornamentation. There were buckskin dresses with hand-stitched designs, feathered bustles, breechcloths, colorful moccasins and bead work. Both men and women were wearing feathers in their hair, braids, roached hair (usually artificial), feather headdresses (men), fancy handmade shawls, breastplates, and each tribe had their own unique features that told them apart from the others.

Most of the dancers train all year for these powwows, and it was fascinating to watch them dance almost trance-like, to interact with each other, and to see them preserve their culture in a way I didn’t even know existed.

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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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