europe · Travel

Quick And Dirty Guide To 24 Hours in Copenhagen

You can read plenty of in-depth travel guides elsewhere.  Here is the CliffsNotes version of how we spent our time in the fascinating and vastly underrated city of Copenhagen!

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Arrival: Train from Stockholm.  Central Station was nice and even had a Joe & The Juice.  Do not take the overnight train.  Toilets were all broken and reeked of poop!  If you have time, definitely take the day train to see the countryside. Continue reading “Quick And Dirty Guide To 24 Hours in Copenhagen”

europe · iceland · Travel

Iceland – Things To Know Before You Go

My husband and I are grateful to have just completed our second trip to Iceland (Our first visit was in 2016 for our honeymoon).  We initially stopped there because of the $99 WOW Air flights to get us over to Europe, but we came back because we loved it so much!  If you’re planning a visit soon or just considering adding Iceland to your bucket list, read on for our best tips!

IMG_20180502_140654656.jpgWhere To Stay

    • Don’t book a hotel or Airbnb near the airport – the taxi cost will flatten your wallet, as we found out.  Instead, opt for the Flybus that is always waiting at the airport to take you on the 45 minute drive to Reykjavik (includes free Wifi).  If you buy tickets for it on the plane (WOW Air), you can save $10.  There is also a bus called Airport Direct that is cheaper, but it didn’t seem to run as frequently.31948138_10105715055035859_5088011274671882240_n
    • Hotels and the private room hostels we looked into were too pricey for our budget, but thankfully we found this Airbnb that was close to everything downtown and we had a great stay on both visits.    Feel free to use my link to get $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

Tours

Generally we like to venture off the beaten path on our trips, but were advised against renting a car here as the driving can be so treacherous (not to mention expensive to rent), so we opted for the 3 guided tours below instead and loved all of them.

  • Whale Watching with Puffin Cruise – Special Tours Iceland
    • If you have more than one day in Iceland, try to book your whale-watching tour on your first day so if your tour gets cancelled due to bad weather (very common – happened to us) or if you don’t see any whales, you’ll still get another chance to go before you leave

South Shore Adventure including Skogafoss and Vik’s black sand beach (Reynisfjara) – Arctic Adventures

Getting to walk behind the waterfalls was a highlight for me, as was the black sand beach.  Just watch out for the sneaker waves and don’t turn your back to the ocean.

Glacier, Waterfalls and Lava Caving – Extreme Iceland 

 

You will get to see Þingvellir National Park – This is where you get to walk between 2 continents.  We had a lot of fun riding in the Super Jeep on the glacier, exploring the caves and listening to our guide, Thor 😀

What To Wear

  •  The local saying goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”  We saw how true this was as we encountered hurricane force winds (not exaggerating – it knocked some in our tour down on the ground), rain, sleet, snow, and then bright sunny days all within 5-10 minutes of each other.
  • Pack your warmest coat and be sure to bring thick socks, gloves, a hat, and thermals (It was colder here in May than it was when we came in October).  Cold weather in the US is nothing compared to the cold and wind in Iceland – we came vastly unprepared the first time!!   I’d recommend a rain-resistant coat with a thick hood rather than trying to lug an umbrella with you everywhere.  Waterproof boots are also really helpful to have.   As you can see in the video, the weather is no joke!

What To Eat And Drink

Iceland has no shortage of good restaurants, but your jaw will drop when you look at the price of food and drinks (about $20 for a sub sandwich) so just be prepared and budget accordingly.  I recommend shopping at Bonus (the local grocery store) and saving some money by preparing your own meals if you’re at a hostel or Airbnb.  Be sure to try the Skyr (yogurt).  It’s creamy, high in protein and deliciously fat-free!

    • Food We Enjoyed in Reykjavik: 
      • Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – Hot dog stand where Bill Clinton ate.  Their hot dogs are lamb based and have crunchy fried onions on them.  Yummy!
      • Glo – Lots of healthy options here – vegan friendly and they even had kombucha!
      • Sægreifinn – The BEST Lobster Soup.  Perfect way to warm up after being out in the windy and cold harbor.
      • Joe and the Juice – originated in Copehagen, but they have wonderful cold pressed juices and their panini sandwiches are tasty too.
  • What To See/Do in Reykjavik

    • Local Pool –  This is not your average swimming pool. Be sure to visit one while you’re there.  Each city has at least one (Reyjavik had 3 or 4, but we chose this one)  They are about half the cost of the Blue Lagoon and have awesome geothermal pools and saunas to enjoy.   Also a great way to mingle with locals and have a more authentic experience – we saw no tourists here (YAY!)  You can also rent towels and swimsuits there if you don’t have your own.  Note: You will have to shower completely naked before they allow you in the pool – the strict hygiene is needed due to the low chlorine content of the water.  They don’t allow pictures inside, but you can see how cool it is on their website.
    • Sun Voyager Sculpture – It’s beautiful and on clear days you’ll have a great view of Mount Esja in the backgroundreceived_10103605708104148.jpg
    • Street Art – it’s all over downtown, and so creative.  Be sure to take a Star Wars selfie in the quirky Cafe Babalu!

 

 

    • Blue Lagoon – Yes, it’s very touristy and locals mostly avoid it, but it was well worth it.  Be sure to make reservations in advance, as they book up quickly.  You probably won’t be able to get a same day reservation.  If you’re looking for something different, try their in-water massages.  It was so nice to float during a massage!  Note: this is not in Reykjavik, so you’ll have to take the bus to get there (it’s closer to the airport)
    • Hallgrímskirkja Church – make sure to go inside and also climb to the top if you dare!

Embrace The Culture

  • Icelandic people are very friendly, and most speak English as they’re required to learn it in school.  Still, it goes a long way if you make an effort to learn some of their basic words and phrases though, like “Takk” (Thanks)
  • The water smells like rotten eggs (sulfur content).   You’ll get used to it.  It smells bad but actually tastes really good if you can believe that, so no need to buy bottled water.
  • Don’t expect to see the Northern Lights.  We didn’t see them either time we went, and we were told they can be quite difficult to spot unless you’re there in December or January.  Don’t have high expectations, that way if you DO see them,  you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Don’t call them ponies!  They are horses (though tiny), and the locals will be offended if you call them ponies.
  • No real need to exchange money here.  You can use your credit card everywhere.
  • Be ready for extremes.  In May, they only have 1 hour of darkness, and in Winter, it gets dark quite early.
  • If you’re there on Saturday or Sunday, visit the flea market!  We really enjoyed interacting and bargaining there.

So what do you think, is an Icelandic adventure in your future?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  As always, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be glad to answer any that I can.

Emily

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austria · big bus · budget tour · budget travel · chateau · contiki · eiffel tower · europe · european horizon · gypsies · hostels · london · munich · noregrets · paragliding · swagbucks · switzerland · tour bus · whirlwhind tour

European Vacation Shenanigans Part 2 – Contiki

**Big thanks to Brooke for capturing this fun video of our group**


Western European Adventure – Contiki

In typical Emily and Terri fashion, we talked about where we wanted to travel, so we could cross more places off our bucket lists. The summer of 2015 provided us with a crazy, packed trip to Western Europe. We decided to go with the travel company Contiki.
Contiki Tours are advertised for people ages 18 – 35 with a slogan of #NoRegrets. Our tour was loaded with a bus full of young adults, most on the younger end of the age range, which led to some hilarious shenanigans. The tour we selected was the European Horizons tour, which is high energy (and they really mean that !), 8 countries in 11 days. The tour included accommodations for 10 nights, 15 meals, 1 tour guide, and 1 bus driver. The tour had excursions for just about every city we visited. Our group had people from Taiwan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Day 1 – Arrival

  • Emily arrived in London about 12 hours before I did, due to some horrific airline delays. I was not too happy with the airlines. We had booked them to arrive within an hour of each other.

Day 2 – London

  • Emily and I didn’t make it to the meet & greet, our own adventuring took a bit longer than anticipated and we missed it.
  • Emily and I did the Big Bus tour around London and did the boat ride up to Greenwich (so we could be in two places at once – The Prime Meridian – See Picture Below)
  • Contiki hosted a meet & greet in London the night prior to departure.
  • The hotel we stayed in was not anything special. The hotel was overbooked and between Contiki and the hotel, the room assignments were messed up.


Day 3 – London to Amsterdam

  • Early morning leaving the hotel, we hopped on the coach bus and we were off.
  • The bus drove us along the White Cliffs of Dover and then we were on the ferry to cross on to French soil.
  • The ferry docked in France and then traveled through Belgium on our way to Amsterdam.
  • When in Amsterdam, we did the sunset canal tour Amsterdam. I enjoyed the canal tour. After the canal tour there was another excursion, we decided not to partake but ended up seeing part of the excursion because we needed to use the restroom. After the restroom, Emily and I did some exploring of Dam Square.

Day 4 – Amsterdam to Rhine Valley (St. Goar)
  • There was ME time in Amsterdam this morning. So many choices to see/do (Anne Franks’ House, the Heineken Experience, FIVB World Championship) If you know us, you know what we picked. 

  • Back on the coach bus at noon and off to the Rhine Valley in Germany.
  • We stayed in a quaint little town, where we learned about how beer steins and cuckoo clocks are made and did a wine tasting (with a shot glass). 
  • There was some time for shopping – beer steins, Birkenstocks, etc.  

Day 5 – Rhine Valley (St. Goar) to Munich 

  • Leaving the Rhine Valley, we learned about and saw the Lorelei Rock
  • When in Munich we went to Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel
  • We took the Mike’s Bike Tour around the city
  • Be sure to check out the surfing on the Eisbach. 

  • I won a prize for being the last in the group and staying with anyone that got separated from the pack. Which happened A LOT!
  • Ate traditional German food and even stopped at the Hofbrauhaus (this was in an episode of The Amazing Race!)
  • Beer choices: Light, Original or Dark. My pick would be Original.  
  • Size: Half liter or Liter. My pick: Liter.   Wisconsin girl.  Enough said.
  • Note: Try not to pound a liter of beer in 5 minutes, if you don’t have to!  It was amazingly light, compared to American beer, though.  Delicious!

Day 6 – Munich to Austrian Tyrol (Hopfgarten)

  • The first stop was whitewater rafting in Austria. Our whitewater rafting guide was Bjorn (in below picture). The water was Lake Michigan cold so we had to wear wetsuits. It was only my second time whitewater rafting (the first time was in Costa Rica) and I had a blast!  
  • Emily and I split up for the afternoon activities. Emily went paragliding off the mountain that Bode Miller skis down, and I did a leisurely bike ride through the quaint city of Hopfgarten.
  • We stayed at the Contiki Gasthof in Hopfgarten. They hosted a Tight, White and Bright party that night. 

Day 7 – Austrian Tyrol to Venice

  • From Austria to Italy. Emily and I had been to Venice on a previous trip, so we did not do the island tour.
  • We did a gondola ride and had to get gelato!  Emily tried to see how many cups of gelato she could eat in one day.
  • The mosquitoes were quite vicious in Venice. Make sure to pack the OFF! 


Day 8 – Venice to Swiss Alps

  • We left Venice and made a stop in Lucerne. 
  • We visited the Lion monument, Chapel Bridge and Water Tower
  • From Lucerne to Lauterbrunnen the sights are picturesque – Interlaken must have picture (see below)
  • We stayed at Chalet Jungfrau


Day 9 Swiss Alps

  • Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe
  • Took a tram up the mountain


  • Visited the Sphinx Terrace, Alpine Sensation, Eispalast (Ice Palace), Glacier Plateau (Aletsch Glacier), Lindt Swiss Chocolate
  • Snowtubing was awesome! It wasn’t even cold and people were wearing shorts in the snow!
  • Contiki hosted a Swisco Disco (wear Red & White)



Day 10 Swiss Alps to Paris

  • Travel from Switzerland to France
  • We stopped at Trocadero for some pictures of the Eiffel Tower
  • We had group dinner at Le Sultan, which was near our hotel
  • The location of the hotel was a bit shady; gypsies lined the streets and had no problem taking items from the unsuspecting passers by.
  • One of the gypsies took one of the tour member’s belongings and our bus driver chased them down and was able to get the belongings back. 
  • Went to see to the Eiffel Tower twinkle at night
  • I had to pop the bottle of champagne 



Day 11 Paris – Last full day with the tour

  • Group picture by the Eiffel Tower
  • Visited a French perfumery 
  • Big Bus Tour 
  • Love Lock Bridge 
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Macaroons from Laduree 
  • Paris Dinner (snails, I was just hoping not to have the Pretty Woman experience) and Nouvelle Eve show 



Day 12 – End of Tour

  • The group said their goodbyes. 
  • Emily and I moved to a much nicer hotel closer to the Eiffel Tower
  • Walked to the Eiffel Tower and climbed it. 
  • Big Bus Tour 




Emily’s Contiki Thoughts:


Pros:

  • Budget friendly PLUS if you use Swagbucks to start your booking (just search for Contiki), you will earn 2% cash back.  With an average tour cost of $2000, that’s a substantial savings!
  • Lots of people to explore with and great way to meet friends (had about 50 people in our group).  They have you do a “get to know you” game where everyone on the bus rotates back one seat and every minute you go back to the next seat until you’ve gotten a chance to meet and greet everyone on the bus.
  • Takes you out of your comfort zone
  • Our tour guide would give us short history/geography lessons about the cities before we got there and while driving through.  Each afternoon, the first person to correctly answer a trivia question regarding the facts got first choice of rooms for that night.  I put my teacher skills to good use and won this several times 🙂
  • See a TON of places in a short amount of time
  • Adventure packed excursions
Cons:

  • Not much interaction with locals due to huge tour bus and not much travel on local public transport
  • Lots of early mornings and late nights (a lot of people seemed to get sick at the end)
  • Some of the hotels were shady and not in good locations
  • Party vibe was fun at times but got obnoxious when it was too loud to sleep
  • Not as much personal interaction/attention from tour guide because of the sheer amount of people on the tour