Category: Travel

Travel

The Top 9 Things To Do In Athens (And Why To Do Them)

Here I am, up at 4am and half asleep, lackadaisically stuffing my clothes into my North Face duffel and dragging my butt out the front door and into my hosts weathered Toyota.

I stayed my final night in Rome outside the city and closer to the airport for my flight to Athens, getting a cheap little room in Ciampino. My host offered to drive me to the airport for my 6:30am flight, and obviously I took him up on his offer.

So, I buckled in, gripped the door handle of the car tightly, and he flew down the dark quiet streets and around the narrowly tight corners, seamlessly navigating between cigarette, window, clutch and gear shifter as he had no doubt done many times before, arriving at the airport, like he said, by 5am. This (somewhat surprisingly) lived up to his assertion that the trip to the airport was only a 5 minute drive. Google maps had it at 13.

IMG_7261I set the featured image (also, right) to the image it is for a few reasons. To me, it seems to captivate what Athens is in a single photo: the number of people representing the hustle and bustle, the graffiti on the canopy that helps depict a culture in which your beliefs and what you stand for are above all else – which is fitting for a city where the likes of philosophy and democracy were born. Even the moon in the sky is almost paying homage to Greek history and mythology, all the way to the stands of fresh fruit for the incredible food, the architecture of the buildings for their craftsmanship and a city that is dominated by the history of the Acropolis towering in the background.

I was excited for each of the cities on my trip, however Athens was going to be the first time in over a month I would be traveling with people other than, well, myself. I actually met my mother at the airport when I flew in, our flights landing within an hour of each other. That made things nice and easy as George Georgopoulos (ha, classic) drove us from the airport into the city centre. My sister flew in a few days later for the Mykonos and Santorini legs of the 2-week Greece trip.

Athens was nothing like what I had expected. As we continued to take in numerous fun-facts from George about the history of Greece (including that the name Gregory is Greek in origin and means fast… leaving me to wonder when in my life that meaning will kick-in), we came around the mountain and got our first few views of the vastness of Athens. The city seems to go on forever, with a steady sea of white rooftops that look like they’re flowing fluidly into the surrounding mountains.

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I spent 6 days in total in Athens (3 at the beginning and 3 at the end of the trip) and got the unique opportunity to experience it in two different ways within two weeks: as a solo traveler and with travel companions. It gave me a lot of time to do some ‘splorin and these are the top 9 things I know you should include in your trip to the ancient city:

Top 9 Things To Do In Athens

1) The Acropolis

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There really isn’t much need to have the Acropolis on here as it should be a staple of anyones trip to Athens, but it’s on here nonetheless. I mean, just look at that setting.

Im still trying to wrap my head around not only getting all that marble and stone up the side of that literal mountain, but also building what they built on top. It’s remarkable.

When it comes down to it, it’s basically a combined creation of philosophy, art and science that forms a definitive monument of civilization. UNESCO has a list of World Heritage Sites and it recognizes the Acropolis as the Symbol of World Heritage. That should put its significance into context considering some of the magnificent places that hold a UNESCO World Heritage status.

Walking up the relatively steep incline through treed areas and ancient ruins was worth getting to the entrance steps, and even overrun with tourists it was still an incredible site. Even with the crane (damn cranes) blocking every possible view of the Parthenon, walking around that structure is something that every traveler has on their bucket list. It towers the cityscape from a distance and continues to tower over you from up close. It’s something that is almost inconceivable.

 

A lot of the original structure has been lost due to damage or replaced due to deterioration, yet some of the original structure remains intact, which is astonishing if you ask me, considering it was built sometime in 400 BC.

Why Go

Because no trip to Athens should be completed (or taken, for that matter) without a trip to the Acropolis. Take in the view of Athens, the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike. This is the centre of art, science, democracy, philosophy and math as human civilization knows it. You have to see it up close to truly appreciate the ‘hey, we’re this powerful and we can build things like this that show off our power, craftsmanship, wealth and strength’ type of feeling. You know?

2) Panathenaic Stadium

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We stayed in an incredible spot that was only a 10 minute walk to Panathenaic Stadium, home of the first ever modern Olympic Games in 1896. Even if we were on the other side of the city we would have found a way to get here. Any athlete or fan of sport or history should take in this site.

An 80,000 seat stadium built entirely of marble. Yeah, marble. The entire thing! If you enjoy sport or athletics even remotely, you have to appreciate this stadium, what it means and the history that it holds.

The site has been around since the 6th century where it used to hold a racetrack that was used the celebrate the Panathenaic Games, which was celebrated every 4 years in honour of goddess Athena. Over the years and through many transitions and reconstructions, the stadium was refurbished prior to the 1986 Olympic Games.

Why Go

To take in the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games. Utilize the headset tour that comes with the entrance fee to hear rich history about how the stadium was built, how the athletes prepared for their competitions, where the emperors seats were and how some of the athletic competitions came to be. Also, be sure to stand atop the podium at the end of the stadium and let your mind wander back in time to the crowd cheering your name.

3) Temple of Zeus

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Ill be honest, there isn’t much of the temple left. But even still, what still stands gives a vivid depiction into the honour that was bestowed to those that were worshiped most. You feel the power of Zeus standing beneath the towering columns that are still erected.

Dating back to 470 BC, the temple was originally constructed in a six by thirteen pillared arrangement, where two rows of seven columns divided the interior into three aisles (as you can see from the photo above, only a few of the columns remain). It was 68 feet high, 95 feet wide and 230 feet in length – a monstrous monument.

The temple used to hold the statue of Zeus, a towering, 43 foot gold and ivory symbol that  was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Why Go

Just standing in the site allows you to get a little taste of what it would have been like in Ancient Greece. Not only does envisioning the structure whole with all three pillared aisles intact, combined with remnants of where other houses would have been built, give you a sense of true Greek life and grit, but the Acropolis towering in the background is a constant, and maybe not-so-subtle, reminder of the power of Greek history.

4) Odeon Theatre

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Name sound familiar? Chances are you’ve stumbled across an Odeon movie theatre in a location somewhere near where you live. Well, this is where the name came from.

Built in 161 AD, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is on the southwest slope of the Acropolis, and with a capacity of 5,000 people it was mainly used as a venue for music concerts. Today, the theatre is open from May to October for the Athens Festival, featuring acclaimed international and greek performances. Unfortunately, we were there after the festival had ended, which was too bad because taking in a show here would have been an experience to remember.

Why Go

There are few places around this world that might rival this one for a concert setting. Even though we didn’t get to take one in, you could imagine what it would be like just standing around the outside, marvelling in the craftsmanship of the marble seats combined with the city view of Athens in the background. Not to mention the Parthenon looking down on you from above. Now that’s cool.

5) The Acropolis Museum

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I mentioned above that the Acropolis is deteriorating, and the Acropolis Museum helps fill in a little bit of the picture and preserve what pieces still remain.

This place was wicked. Its not like your traditional museums with a number of rooms spread out all over the place with varying artifacts that make it tough to know where to start. Instead, it was more of a representation of the Parthenon, where you could imagine where the columns would be lined and where the centre of the temple would have been. The museum was three rectangular floors with statues and bits of history spread out around the hollow centre. The main area of the museum was the second floor, where some of the original pieces of the frieze, which were carved pictorial metopes and positioned as if atop the Parthenon itself, providing an up close and personal image of their incredible detail.

 

Why Go

For a reasonable price, its a solid 2 hour part of your day that includes interesting history and a simple way of getting it. I did this my final day in Athens and I am glad I did. There were tons of little signs with history and it was simple to wander with ease. They’re stingy about takin’ pics in some areas though, thats for sure.

6) Mount Lycabettus

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Other than the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus might stand out the most among the Athena skyline. Yet, somehow my mother, sister and I managed to ‘get lost’, if you will.

We knew there was a cable car, and we knew the general direction of said cable car. We also knew you could walk up but we wanted the cable car, of course (lazy, maybe). We ended up walking around the entire mountain in search of the cable car, before eventually wandering through some trees and up some dirt paths before stumbling upon the parking lot near the top. We found the cable car to go down, and when we walked out it was one of those ‘oh shit, we walked right passed this place… almost 2 hours ago’ moments. It was a good laugh.

Needless to say the views from the top are amazing and some of the best in the city, with the expanse of buildings, the Acropolis and the ocean in the background. Not a bad spot to enjoy a beer or coffee.

Why Go

A true 360 degree, unobstructed view of the city of Athens and beyond. The views alone make it worth going, but the fact that it has a few cafes and restaurants at the top makes it that much more appealing and worth-while. Enjoy a cappuccino and take in the beautiful scenery.

7) Central Market Athens

 

This place was crazy! The rows of meat and fish almost seemed to blend together like a maze, allowing it to feel like it was almost never-ending. I got startled a few times by cleavers slamming down on the cutting bored, separating meat from bone with a blend of finesse and power. Mix that in with Greek shouting everywhere and it made for a memorable experience. You can literally find anything here: meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and grain, to name a few.

We ended up getting a few fresh pieces of pork and some sole filets (which you can see, cooked, in the picture below) for a few dinners. Add in some olives, feta, pita and tzakiki and it made for a pretty damn good traditional Greek meal.

Why Go

Its a pretty interesting experience to wander the aisles, seeing pig heads and other body parts hanging everywhere with livers and hearts strewn out on the tables, but no better option for fresh meat and fish. It would be ideal to go in the morning when things are freshest, but there is still plenty of selection in the early afternoon.

8) Eat The Food

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Words can’t describe how much I love greek food. The first meal my mother and I got was a traditional Greek salad. None of that lettuce garbage, but a big ol’ bowl of tomatoes, onion, cucumber and olives with a huge chunk of feta cheese.

We got a lot of olives, pita and tzaziki (a lot) while we were in Athens to go along with whatever else we were having. I couldn’t get enough pork gyros in me, they were so, so, so good. My final 3 days in Athens after I got back from Santorini, I literally ate a pork gyro from the Pita Bar around the corner for every lunch and dinner. I think the only reason I didn’t get one for breakfast was because they weren’t open. Plus they were 2 euro, so, you do the math. Vacation, right?

Why You Need To Fully Experience The Food

Because there isn’t much better. The cuisine is exquisite and it doesn’t matter where you have it, whether its a street vendor or fancy restaurant, your mouth will be salivating at whatever it is. Also the roasted potatoes. The roasted potatoes we had at the one restaurant were the best potatoes I have ever had in the history of eating potatoes. They were that good, noticeably and significantly good.

Have you have heard someone say the word potato so many times?

9) Wander (Get Lost)

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Just go. Athens is huge, but with some details in place you can, and should, afford to just take the two-foot-express and dive into the beautiful history and scenery of the city. Within the first day we had a solid general direction of travel and had done a fair amount of walking. For anyone that knows my mom, you know she’s a real walker, so we walked.

I would actually rather walk than take a form of transit when traveling. One because I’m cheap, but also because I think its the best way to experience a city. Take those streets and alleyways you wouldn’t otherwise, walk 10 blocks in one random direction and then head 10 blocks in another. Its the best way to see the core of a city and what makes it tick, and provides ample additional opportunities for kick-ass experiences.

In conclusion, Athens is an incredible city, steeped in history with almost too-much to offer. I was able to hammer out a lot in my 6 days there and there was still so much more I wanted to do. No trip to Greece is complete without a stop in Athens.

 

Travel

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

From the moment I stepped off the bus at Termini Station, half asleep and a little disoriented, Rome’s beauty and stature immediately showed.

It started off a little rough, though. My flight from Croatia was supposed to take off at 3:45pm but was delayed for over 4 hours so we didn’t land until about 9:30pm. Seems a little ridiculous to spend more than 6 hours at the airport for a 45 minute flight. Needless to say, I passed out as soon as I hit the bed at the hostel.

I woke the first day with a fresh energy to explore the city, so I spent the majority of it walking as I usually do the first day I get to a new destination. I didn’t have any real plan to start other than I knew I was staying just around the corner from the Colosseum. So, naturally, I went from there.

Needing fuel for the next few hours I grabbed a sandwich and wandered down the street. Through restaurants and passed boutique shopping stores, I turned the corner and saw the Colosseum in the distance. It’s one of those places that gives you that simple yet powerful ‘wow’ feeling.

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I mean, come on, you see it in movies and pictures and just the thought of what once happened there in front 70,000 people is incredible to think about.

Gladiators flighting and getting mauled by the likes of lions, tigers, panthers and bears who, sometimes, hadn’t eaten for up to 3 days prior to whatever spectacle was happening to make them that much more aggressive, all the way to naval exercises, concerts and theatre performances.

So, with that all in mind, I looked for my quickest way inside. Not only was the line to buy tickets (16 Euro) at least an hour and a half wait, you still had to wait in line for another hour just to get inside. So for 32 Euro I joined a guided tour that got to skip the line and go straight in (with included access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – each additional 10 Euro tickets when purchased separately), which was perfect because as soon as I got in I handed my headset back and went off on my own. Perfect.

Some may think that 32 Euro (roughly $50CAD) to be expensive for an entry fee, especially for a solo traveler on a budget, and usually you would be right. But let me explain. The most beneficial part of traveling on a solo budget is that time is money while you are in each destination. With less financial freedom to do all the things, adequately picking and choosing where (and what) you spend your money on will allow you to do and see more. In this case (and at The Vatican – more on that shortly) I needed to decide how I was going to get the most out of my time in the Eternal City.

I had 3-5 main things to do/see in each of my destinations. Rome was The Colosseum, Vatican City, Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel (pretty typical list, I know). I knew that Trevi Fountain would be the only free attraction on the list, so I budgeted accordingly after a bit of research online in regards to entrance fees. When it was all said and done, it went something like this:

Original Budget (on day of visiting Colosseum and day after):

Day Of:

  • Breakfast – 5 Euro
  • Lunch – 10 Euro
  • Dinner – 10 Euro
  • Sightseeing/attractions/entertainment – 20 Euro
  • Miscellaneous (snacks, water etc.) – 10 Euro
  • Total: 55 Euro

Day After:

  • Breakfast – 5 Euro
  • Lunch – 10 Euro
  • Dinner – 10 Euro
  • Sightseeing/attractions/entertainment – 0 Euro
  • Miscellaneous (snacks, water etc.) – 10 Euro
  • Total: 35 Euro

Updated Budget (on day of visiting Colosseum and day after):

Day Of:

  • Breakfast – 4 Euro
  • Lunch – 8 Euro
  • Dinner – 10 Euro
  • Sightseeing/attractions/entertainment – 32 Euro
  • Miscellaneous (snacks, water etc.) – 0 Euro
  • Total: 54 Euro

Day After:

  • Breakfast – 5 Euro
  • Lunch – 10 Euro
  • Dinner – 10 Euro
  • Sightseeing/attractions/entertainment – 0 Euro
  • Miscellaneous (snacks, water etc.) – 0 Euro
  • Total: 20 Euro

 

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Altare della Patria

As you can see, by switching a few small details around I was able to afford that additional 16 Euro entrance fee to skip the line at the Colosseum without increasing or going over budget. It allowed me to spend over 3 hours inside, taking in everything it had to offer (and even eat lunch inside the Colosseum), tour the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, spend close to 3 hours inside, outside and on-top of Altare della Patria (also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II) and watch the sunset in St. Peters Square. Not bad for a first day in Rome.

It almost seems ironic, but I believe that the best thing you can do while traveling on a budget is be flexible. I will write another post in the next few weeks that will dive into that in more detail.

Before I ditched my headset and separated myself from the guided tour I was actually able to take in a few cool facts from the guide. One being that on the night of an event they could get all 70,000 spectators through the gates and into their seats in 15 minutes. Thats some pretty darn good logistics.

I couldn’t get enough of the Colosseum. I spent those 3 hours just walking around and thinking about how insane some of the things that happened there were. Seeing how small and dark the rooms would have been below the floor where the animals would have been held, to just how steep and vast the theatre actually was. 70,000 people cheering at a lion ripping someones arm off. That would have been something.

The structure is definitely deteriorating over time, but the sheer fact that any of it has withstood over 2,000 years is a testament to Roman craftsmanship and ingenuity. I wandered around the outside a little longer and decided to head in the (general) direction of Trevi Fountain.

The Romans did it right. Everything about the city is just well-built and beautiful. Every detail was thought out and carefully crafted and most of these buildings have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And still standing. When did Western Civilization begin to cut corners?.

After weaving my way through alleyways and around street vendors, I knew I was close to Trevi Fountain because of the sound: an almost rhythmic combination of fountains of water and a large crowd. But once I navigated my way to within a clear view of the fountain I understood why so many people were here.

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Just look at that. Look at it. Thats worth seeing with your own eyes. I took some photos and videos and randomly met a guy from Texas who was working in England and in Rome for a few days. We laughed about the fact that everyone seemed to be in a rush to go nowhere and agreed that the best way to travel is to take your time.

I spent the rest of the night just meandering the streets and alleyways in complete awe of the city of Rome, slowly making my way to Vatican City to take in the sunset behind the dome of St. Peters Basilica.

The hostel I stayed at, New Generation Hostel, is hands down the best and nicest hostel I have stayed in. Everything was marble – everything – with nice stone and brick trimming, clean rooms and nice beds. Plus it was a 5 minute walk from the Colosseum, close to tons of restaurants, bars, markets and gelato shops. The gelato shops were not only abundant but necessary. Necessary because I got some every night. My goodness.

It was also only a 45 minute walk from Vatican City, which is essentially the furthest I needed to go. So I was perfectly centrally located.

Vatican City had that similar wow feeing as the Colosseum, but in a number of different ways. First it was standing in St. Peters Square and taking in the exquisite craftsmanship and power of the structures and statues, then it was the one-of-a-kind Vatican Museum where around every turn was something almost magical, and finally the breathtaking Sistine Chapel.

I did the same thing here that I did at the Colosseum. The line to get in to St. Peters Basilica was just ridiculous – I honestly couldn’t see the end of it. And the line to get into the Vatican Museum was almost as long, both at 16 Euro for an entry fee. So the next morning I went online to Tiquets and bought a 32 Euro skip the line ticket for the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. That meant I still had the option to purchase a separate ticket for St. Peters Basilica but I would have had to go outside and stand in line again, so, I just stuck with the Museum and Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican Museum was in-cred-ib-le. It blew my mind.

The finite detail of every inch of it was a lot to take in, but still, I plugged my headphones in, whipped my GoPro out and tried to take it all in. There really isn’t a great way to describe the inside of the Museum, so here are some pictures to help tell the story:

The Raphael rooms are worth mentioning. Other than the Sistine Chapel I spent more time here than anywhere else. Just sitting and looking and getting lost in the detail and story of the frescoes. They were painted by Raphael and his apprentices and were originally intended as a suite of apartments for the Pope.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in the Sistine Chapel. I hadn’t seen any photos and other than a few facts read online I didn’t know too much about it, other than it was created by Michelangelo. But, as I mentioned above, it blew. my. mind.

Im sitting here trying to navigate my brain to figure out some sort of way to describe it and I can’t come up with anything that would truly do it justice. I literally couldn’t take my eyes off the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling or The Last Judgement on the altar wall. They were so real, and life-like, it was almost as if they were coming out of the walls. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever laid eyes on and I must have spent over an hour in the Chapel alone. I just couldn’t take my eyes off of, well, everything. It truly is one of those places you must see before you die.

By the time I left the museum it was dinner time. As I did the previous two nights I just wandered until I decided on a place that had what I was looking for: carbonara pasta.

Followed closely by gelato. Every night.

I think I lucked out with the hostel I was staying at. I knew it was rated very good on Booking and that it was centrally located, but it exceeded any expectations I had. Even the other people staying in my room were great, which sometimes doesn’t aways happen in a hostel.

On a regular basis while I was gone I would catch myself having absolutely no idea what day of the week it was. When you travel for an extended period your weekdays and weekends blend together, because truthfully every night of the week is the weekend. But Rome was where it almost gave me a heart attack. Long story short I thought I was staying in the same spot for another night, when I wasn’t. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I realized that today wasn’t tomorrow and that tomorrow, definitely, was today.

Rome really is one of those cities that has something at every turn. I did and saw so much in the 5 days that I was there but still had so much more I wanted to do and see. The food, the people, the architecture, the charm and the history is an astounding combination that seems to effortlessly blend together.

Here’s a few other shots from around the city:

Kings Landing Dubrovnik
Travel

5 Reasons Why Dubrovnik (Kings Landing) Needs To Be In Your Travel Plans

Ah, Kings Landing.

The funny thing (not to locals) is that ‘Kings Landing’ is now tagged more often across social media than Dubrovnik.

Thank you, Game of Thrones.

I went to Dubrovnik for a few various reasons: it was relatively low-cost, it was new and unknown to me, I love history, and Im a huge Game of Thrones fan. The latter reason didn’t hold any sway over my decision to go to Dubrovnik, but it added a fairly cool element to the 4 days I was there.

Dubrovnik, Kings Landing, Sunset

There are no words than can truly describe this city to its full potential. It had everything you could possibly imagine, and somehow more.

A Brief History Lesson

The city of Dubrovnik became very prosperous through maritime trade, and it achieved a high level of development throughout the 15th and 16th centuries as it became notable for its wealth and skilled diplomacy.

In 1991, after Yugoslavia broke, Dubrovnik was brutally attacked by the Serb and Montenegrin soldiers apart of the Yugoslav Peoples Army and suffered significant damage. Today you can still see some of the aftermath throughout the city and surrounding area, from burned roofs and collapsed homes and buildings.

After years of repair and restoration, Dubrovnik re-emerged and solidified itself as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.

Dubrovnik, Kings Landing

While the city averages around 10-15 thousand tourists a day, no amount of people can take away from the beauty and tranquility that truly make it seem like it’s straight out of a Robin Hood movie.

5 Reasons Why Dubrovnik Needs To Be In Your Travel Plans

1. History & Culture

Thats it. Thats all. History.

But seriously, Dubrovnik is enriched in so much history its almost hard to comprehend. From its prosperous rise to becoming a trade leader, from the break of Yugoslavia and the chaos it endured to Napolean Bonaparte’s quest to conquer Europe and other sieges by various conquerers, plagues, earthquakes and inner turmoil.

Dubrovnik Old Town joined the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1979.

You can literally feel the history walking through Old Town.

There are many city tours that you can take throughout Old Town that will allow you to jump back in time and experience a place that has seen and been through so much.

Old Town is home to roughly 800 permanent residents who, in a lot of ways, still live the same way the city always has: with dignity, prosperity and kindness.

Im not one for ‘tours’ and other ‘tourist’ activities, and in Dubrovnik you don’t need to be. While a city tour would still be an enlightening and educational trip through time, you don’t necessarily need it.

Dubrovnik Sunset

I found myself a handful of times just sitting, looking, and thinking about what it would have been like in this marvellous city hundreds of years ago. What its been through and what its blossomed into.

And thats the beautiful part of Dubrovnik: so much is as it was. 

The cobblestone streets and stone steps, the stone buildings and handcrafted facades and the triumphant walls. The handmade trinkets and fresh fruit and vegetables and exquisite cuisine plucked right from the sea next door.

If you love history, you will love Dubrovnik.

2. To Walk The Wall

While this could probably be included in the first reason to visit Dubrovnik, I felt it needed to stand alone because the wall around Old Town is that incredible.

Take yourself back in time and feel what it would have been like to defend this seaside town from a soldiers perspective. The wall runs roughly 2km around the Old Town.

It took anywhere from 400-500 years to build, constructed mainly between the 12th and 17th centuries, and have long been a source of pride for Dubrovnik. The moat that ran along the outside of the city walls provided exceptional city defence systems, armed with some 120 cannons.

Here’s a quick 20 second video to give you a sense of just a few of the aspects you can see and experience during the wall walk:

It took me almost an hour and a half to walk the entire wall, stopping every moment I could to revel in what it was I was actually doing and where I actually was.

It opens at 8am, and while I got there around 8:15 there were already people walking in. Im glad I got there early though, because by the time I was finished it was packed.

I mentioned earlier that Im not usually one for the touristy stuff, but this was well worth it. It cost 150 Kuna, or roughly $30, but the views and experience it provided are something I won’t soon forget.

3. The Adriatic, The Beaches And Water Sports

Swimming in the Adriatic Sea was yet another thing I was able to cross off my bucket list in Dubrovnik.

The hostel I stayed at had a great discount on a 3 hour kayak around Old Town, Lokrum Island, a cave, and ended with snorkelling and cliff jumping at a secluded beach and cove area. I originally wanted to SUP around Old Town but kayaking seemed to be not only more prominent and popular, but much cheaper. There are many different kayak tours you can take from various different tour companies.

And boy, did I ever get more out of it than I thought I would.

Dubrovnik, Kings Landing, Kayak Tour

There was a group of 10 of us. We met at Banje Beach, just outside the Old Town walls, got situated and embarked on an arm-burning ‘yak. Our guide was great, stopping every 10-15 minutes for not only a much needed break, but some story time.

He took us through some of the history of Dubrovnik, where it used to be and where it is today. He provided some very insightful facts about the city and what it has been through, including a few cool (but unnerving) stories about Lokrum Island.

Lokrum is the closest island to Dubrovnik, just a short ferry ride away or about a 15-20 minute kayak. I don’t know all of the details to the legend, but basically the island is said to be cursed. In the 19th century Dubrovnik faced one of its most difficult situations in its history: Napolean Bonaparte.

Dubrovnik Banje Beach, Kings Landing, Kayak Tour

Long story short (and no doubt with missing elements), the island was home to Benedictine monks who lived and worshiped on the island for centuries. When they were forced off the island, on their last night, they went to the Church of St. Mary to pray. That night, dressed in hooded cloaks and circled the island almost methodically, singing a quiet hymn and turning their candles upside down, dripping the wax all the way around the island. Three times. Various representatives from different aristocratic houses soon met their fate – from drowning in the sea, becoming mentally unstable and jumping from a tower to their death to being killed by servants.

Legend states that the curse will live-on until every drop of wax is plucked from the ground of the island.

To this day no one is allowed to stay overnight and its said that if you take something from the island (such as peacock feathers, as the island is home to many) you will face an uncertain and unkind future. The last ferry leaves at 6pm and you must be on it. Ghosts and spirits are said to be aplenty.

We ended the 3 hour kayak at a secluded beach and cove area just down the shoreline from Dubrovnik where we got to do some snorkelling and cliff jumping. Well, I was the only one who jumped off the cliff. But why wouldn’t I? You only live once.

Dubrovnik Secluded Beach, Kings Landing, Kayak Tour

Needless to say, Dubrovnik has lots of activities on the water, in the water or at the water. I only did the kayak tour, but you can also rent SUP, jet skis, boats and go parasailing, to name a few.

Here’s a little video I quickly put together of the cliff jumping and snorkelling part of the tour:

4. Game of Thrones

This isn’t for everyone, but with the popularity of the show and the fact ‘Kings Landing’ is now a more popular search term for Dubrovnik, its a pretty damn cool experience for us Throners.

Dubrovnik acted as Kings Landing throughout the first 7 seasons. Kings Landing in season 8 is apparently being filmed at a different location in Spain

A word to the wise: do a little bit of research about the tours before you book and don’t book online. 

There’s anywhere from 10-15 Game of Thrones tours run by 10-15 different tour operators. Outside Pile Gate (the main gate to the Old Town) you will see stands lining the curb side, manned by 2-3 people who work on commission. They will no doubt be all up in your face trying to get you on their tour.

I mentioned above to not book online. While you most definitely can, paying in cash just allows you more freedom and flexibility; maybe you end up doing something else or show up late. Its not worth the hassle of trying to get a refund.

I did a little lookin’ the day before and ended up going with Dubrovnik Walking Tours. We met at the fountain outside Pile Gate, shared some theories back and forth and embarked on our tour of Kings Landing.

Blackwater Bay Kings Landing Dubrovnik

Our guide was amazing. She had insightful facts, behind the scenes stories and, most of all, was a HUGE Game of Thrones fan, so she knew what she was talking about (as much as anyone can know or talk about a fictional television series).

We got to see Blackwater Bay, the Red Keep, the Spanish steps where Cersei started her walk of shame and the area where the town folk started their riot against Joffrey, among other spots. Our guide had a photo album with specific scenes from the show at the various locations we stopped at which allowed for a much more engaging tour.

She had lots of little insightful tips as to the use of CGI throughout the seasons, pointing out in her photo album the various locations they had the Red Keep in the background. Details you would never know or even think to look for, like the crew forgetting to take out ‘The University of Dubrovnik’ from the top of the Spanish steps when Cersei began her walk of shame.

All in all it was well worth the 150 Kuna, or roughly $30, for a 2 hour tour that took us throughout the Old Town, got us entrance into St. Lawrence Fort (the Red Keep), and almost acted as a little history tour of Dubrovnik itself.

Note: the video below wasn’t from the Game of Thrones tour. However, I stumbled across the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra my first night playing a free concert for world tourism day, and as you can see from watching it, IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE. What better way to begin my time in Kings Landing than this?

Quick story: our guide, I think her name was Doris (she didn’t look like a Doris, though), was telling us about the actors and how liked they were among the locals (all of the extras were from the area). They didn’t act like Hollywood movie stars needing constant attention and everything done for them, but rather paid for most of their own meals and hung out in Old Town during their time off as most tourists would.

Except for Margaery. Needless to say, as she got locked in the Great Sept during the season 6 finale, the locals in Dubrovnik were, well, more than pleased. (Fist pump)

And then there was Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Apparently Tyrion didn’t act too differently in real life than he does in the show. The God of tits and wine. He was drunk the entire time. So much so that one night he couldn’t find his way back to the hotel and ended up staying with two random locals in their apartment. The crew couldn’t find him the next day so they had to cancel the entire day of shooting. There were some rules put in place after that I can imagine. What a beauty.

Those two people who’s apartment he stayed at now advertise it on AirBnB with a caption that says, ‘Tyrion Lannister stayed here!’

I guess it isn’t too different from the cocktail bar at the base of the Spanish steps that now sell a ‘shame’ cocktail… for twice the price as a regular one.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and are in Dubrovnik (Kings Landing), your trip won’t be complete without a GoT tour.

 

5. The Food

My oh my. The dang food was incredible.

The Croatian diet doesn’t consist of too much meat, but predominately fish, fruit and vegetables, and pasta. Even still, there’s no shortage of restaurants, bars and cafes inside Old Town where you can find almost anything that your appetite is craving.

They also love their coffee, beer and wine. In no particular order.

While the restaurants weren’t too pricey, they were a little above my budget. I still ate out for dinner twice because thats what travel is all about: trying new things and expanding your horizons. I couldn’t not.

Handmade pasta. Fresh seafood. Locally grown fruits and vegetables. Amazing pizza. Mouthwatering Gelato. Warm pastries. And so, so much more

Food in Dubrovnik Kings Landing

That pasta with mussels meal above, with a beer, was about 125 Kuna, or roughly $25. The other night I grabbed a seafood platter for about 90 Kuna, or roughly $18.

And they were worth every cent.

Part of what makes eating in Dubrovnik so incredible is the fact you have one the most beautiful settings to do it in. Sitting there and indulging in a meal with seafood that was undoubtedly plucked from the sea not long before it was cooked provided such a memorable, and filling, experience.

Whats better than sitting within the Old Town walls and soaking in the history of the cobblestone streets and exquisitely crafted statues while enjoying a meal that won’t get any fresher or taste any better?

I ate a lot of pizza. A lot of pizza. In part because you could get 2 huge pieces for pretty cheap, but also because it was so dang good. Like, some of the best pizza Ive ever had.

The temperature in Croatia in September and October are still quite nice, staying around 20-22 degrees celsius for the most part, so eating outside each night was more than enjoyable.

If I can give one tip about eating at a restaurant in Dubrovnik, its this: don’t choose the first restaurant you come across, or even the second or third.

You can always come back to them but there are so many different options throughout the city. Each one ranging in menu but each one with its own unique and elegant charm.

Get lost (Old Town isn’t that big, so its tough to actually get lost) in all of the alleyways that hold hidden cafes and bars around each turn. It will not only give you a grander experience to the city but you can compare options and prices. I spent almost 20 minutes each night just wandering the city before deciding on a place to eat.

There are also tons of bakeries with unbelievable pastries, gelato bars everywhere and little markets with fresh fruit and vegetables all over the city.

Dubrovnik will not only leave you full, but more than satisfied. I was pleasantly surprised with how incredible the food here was.

 

The Future Of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik has had a major surge in tourism over the last 5-10 years, with the popularity of Game of Thrones playing a major role. Over the next few years Dubrovnik has plans to drastically reduce the number of visitors aloud into Old Town to help prevent the city from harmful overcrowding.

UNESCO has warned the city thats its heritage status could be in jeopardy and recommended they cap the number of daily visitors at 8,000 (today they average anywhere from 10-15,000 per day). Dubrovnik mayor Mato Franković went even lower in an effort to do everything he can to preserve the stunning city as best he can, capping the number of daily visitors at 4,000.

They have expectations of losing, potentially, millions of euros over the next few years with decreased tourism. But the quality of the city will grow making it even more of a premier and sought-after destination.

To put all of that in a clearer perspective, last August on one day alone, over 10,000 visitors bought tickets to walk Dubrovnik’s walls. In one day! Couple that with over 600 cruise ships bringing in almost 1,000,000 visitors each year.

You must visit Dubrovnik, sooner rather than later. Not just because of the decrease in tourists being allowed to visit the Old Town, but because the city is that incredible and should be experienced by anyone and everyone who enjoys travelling.

 

A few additional reasons to visit Dubrovnik

  1. Affordability. Dubrovnik is more expensive than other cities in Dalmatia, but Croatia as a whole is relatively cost-efficient. You can get more for you money versus similar destinations such as Venice.
  2. Old Town isn’t the only place you should see. A 30 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride can take you to Babin Kuk, one of the greenest parts of Dubrovnik with restaurants, hotels, bars and beautiful beaches.
  3. Lokrum Island. I mentioned Lokrum a few times throughout and it is a short ferry ride from the old port. Beautiful walking trails, churches, peacocks everywhere and numerous areas to swim in the Adriatic.
  4. Its proximity to other destinations. Dubrovnik is situated perfectly in that its – literally – a hop, skip and a jump to other sought after destinations. Italy, Greece, Montenegro, and Austria to name a few.
  5. The weather. August is the hottest month with temperatures that can rise to above 30 degrees celsius. I was there in late September and each day didn’t go below 20 degrees. Hot enough to lay on the beach and soak in the sun, but not hot enough that you’re sweating constantly and uncomfortable.

 


 

Have any questions about Dubrovnik before you go? Let me know and I will give you my low-down.

 

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice
Travel

The Land Of Fire And Ice – Part 4

It’s been a pretty wild journey up until this point.

From navigating my way through dirt roads with an 80km/h speed limit, getting lost in a landscape so baron that it shouldn’t be possible to get lost in, climbing a pseudo crater, driving through lava fields, being mesmerized by a glacier lagoon and the overwhelming glacier subtly flowing behind it, to experiencing a culture and landscape that is so different to one that I am used to. It had me at an utter loss for words.

In a good way. Actually, probably in the best way possible.

I had done so much and seen so many different things up until this point that I didn’t know it would be possible to continue to be blown away.

A lot of times when you travel you become complacent and begin to take your surroundings for granted. Similarly to what we do wherever we are from. I mentioned in Part 3 that I had never been to Niagara Falls, 2.5 hours from where I live, yet here I was chasing waterfalls in the middle of the Atlantic.

Sometimes the novelty wears off, and thats to be expected in a lot of ways. The ‘wow’ feeling starts to dissipate and you begin to get comfortable. 

Thats not Iceland. Thats not what Iceland does to you. Even after 8 days in its most spectacular fashion.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

I had a handful of things I wanted to see and do over the course of my last 4 days here, but the forecast was not looking promising. Either way, I wasn’t going to waste any time. I had my toque and my mittens and my jacket and my cameras – there wasn’t anything that was going to hold me back from taking in all that Iceland had left to offer.

I took off from Svinafell campsite around 9am and started my journey towards Vik, a seafront village in south Iceland. It sits in the shadow of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the Katla volcano.

Now, you may have briefly seen Katla in the news over the last few weeks, months, or even years. Why? Because its ready to erupt, literally, any day. Typically it erupts (violently) every 13-95 years, with the last major eruption in 1918. We’re in 2017.

You do the math.

Im pretty happy it didn’t go off while I was there. Yet, at the same time that would have been a pretty dang cool experience.

I arrived in Vik around lunchtime and actually had a burger and fries for the first time in a few weeks. Real food, omg.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

In most other circumstances I don’t think it would have been the greatest burg (almost similar to the hot dog I talked about in Part 1) but after eating nothing but lamb sandwiches and instant noodles the past 8 days it was glorious.

Of course it was raining. I walked out to the beach and snapped a few pics and got back on the journey towards Reynisfjara beach and Dyrhólaey, a small peninsula not too far from Vik.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

As you can see it was still overcast and rainy. But that didn’t stop me from doing a little hike and checking out the surroundings. The skies started to open a tad, which allowed for a great shot of the below beach and landscape from Dyrhólaey lighthouse.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

Those two photos above portray an exact scenario as to how drastically, and quickly, the weather could change in Iceland. Damn, its raining again. Oh, nope, never mind, its sunny now. 

Quick story. I was super anal my entire time in Iceland about making sure I had everything I needed when I got out of the car, especially making sure it was locked, and quadruple checking that I had the car keys in my pocket. Not that it was necessarily needed, as Iceland has a very low crime rate and I would like to think that people are better than some give them credit for.

Still.

I locked the car, tapped my pockets to ensure I had everything and went off exploring for a good hour or so. I got back to the parking lot, looked around quickly, saw where I was parked, and my stomach sank. I left the damn trunk open. 

How do you do that? How are you so careful in locking the car doors (and even double checking them to make sure their locked) and making sure you have everything you need, only to leave the BIGGEST damn door on the car wide open. Wide. Open.

Nothing was gone, all my noodles and Special K bars were still there. But damn.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

Next was something that I had at the top of my list of things to do in Iceland: check out the downed US Navy DC-3 plane on the beach. I had done some research on how to find it and the right spot to park and walk to it.

You used to be able to drive your vehicle right onto the beach near it, but as you can imagine over time the landscape was getting too damaged. So, now it was a solid 4km walk from the road to the plane.

I was jacked. I had all sorts of plans for cool vantage points and taking some cool videos with my GoPro. I really thought I would have it to myself. Rookie mistake.

As I got closer and closer to where I was supposed to be, I could see a huge parking lot in the distance, full of cars.

No, no, they gotta be for something else. Please let them be for something else. 

Yup, you got it, it was the parking lot to walk to the plane. 4km is a fairly long distance, and from the parking lot to the horizon it was a steady stream of people. I still strapped my GoPro on, grabbed my camera, made sure to lock the trunk, and started walking. It took a solid 45 minutes to get to the plane, through nothing. I mean nothing. A desolate landscape.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

Talk about a boring walk, but just to see and experience it was something I won’t forget.

Once I finally got there and saw the crash site and the wreckage on the beach it really was pretty damn cool. Like something right out of a sci-fi movie.

But cripes. Those dang tourists. (Remember when I told you I was not a tourist, but rather a traveller?) There were people everywhere, which was super frustrating. I got a few good pics and a decent video from inside the plane, but nothing like what I had planned for.

(There was at least 12-15 people on the other side of the plane in the below picture)

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

Look, let me be candid here. I love to take pictures and you love to take pictures, what better way to relive the experience later? I can be that guy that walks in front of you to snap my pic. But the difference between me and you, tourist, is that I recognize that Im not the only one there. I get in and get out, get what I need and allow everyone else to take their pictures and fully experience what it is we are looking at. Its the people that just stand in your way, fiddling with their camera taking 15-20 minutes to take a damn selfie, not even looking at the plane but in the opposite direction. Without saying anymore, and in conclusion: just have some respect for the people around you. We are all there for the same reason.

I only spent about 15 minutes at the site and started the walk back. What a journey.

Still chasing waterfalls (Iceland has SO many) the next few stops on the drive were Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, two pretty epic waterfalls right next to the ring road.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

Skógafoss actually flows over the cliffs of the former coastline of Iceland.

 

Again, though, it was packed with tourists, so I snapped and recorded what I could and moved on.

Seljalandsfoss was the same, but also pretty damn cool. You could actually walk around behind the waterfall. It was so windy, rainy and misty that I couldn’t risk taking my camera, so I filmed the whole thing on my GoPro. Perks of an incredible waterproof camera.

 

I decided to head from here towards Þingvellir National Park for the night. To be honest, this was one of the only times I saw trees in Iceland. Seriously. I spent the night and headed back towards Reykjavik the next morning.

I couldn’t have asked for a worse final 3 days in Iceland. Coupled with my sore back and increasing appetite from roughing it in the land of fire and ice for 9 days, it didn’t stop raining. Like, not once. Except for at night, of course, when I couldn’t do anything anyway other than stare at the sky in hopes that the northern lights would stop playing so hard to get.

With that in mind, I spent my final 2 nights in the car at a nice little campsite just outside Reykjavik called Mosskogar. This place was great, with an indoor sitting and cooking area, greenhouse with fresh vegetables and very friendly owners. I did what I could in terms of activities and taking pictures and videos, but the rain. The rain was a huge buzzkill.

In some ways it was almost a good thing. My body was starting to tell me to get a real bed and real food. Day after day of going non-stop and a less-than-ideal diet was starting to catch up to me. I took my final few days to really soak up what it was that I had just done: a 10 day excursion around the ring road of Iceland, sleeping in my car and experiencing everything the country had to offer.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

My final day I headed back to Reykjavik, dropped off my camping supplies, mailed some postcards to some family members and dropped off the vehicle. That was it. It was done. I grabbed the bus back to the airport and took a taxi from there to the hostel I was staying at for the night, called Base Hotel, in Keflavik. It was super cool. Housed in 2 of the buildings that US Navy members used to live in with their families. I had a 6am flight to London the next morning.

The ONLY (if there could actually be any) crappy part about Iceland was not seeing the northern lights. I really had no idea they would be as stubborn as they were to spot. Maybe I was just unlucky.

It was devastating. Next time, though, I will not play nice with stubbornness. I will find you, you elusive aurora.

Iceland, The Land Of Fire And Ice

In conclusion of a (fairly) lengthy 4 part blog post about my 12 days spent in Iceland, let me finish with this:

This country is incredible. Words and photos just don’t do it justice and can’t fully paint a vivid description of how otherworldly it is. Its one of those destinations you truly have to experience for yourself.

From Icelandic horses majestically traversing the countryside, landscapes that almost seem too surreal to actually be in front of you, waterfalls graciously flowing at every point you look, glaciers overpowering the horizon so you see nothing but a frozen blue and white solid chunk of ice, active volcanoes and dormant volcanoes and pseudo craters, icebergs casually floating in and out of lagoons, a baroness that makes you feel like you are, literally, out of this world, and a culture that is so incredibly inviting that you almost feel like you aren’t as far away from home as you actually are.

Iceland, you will forever be solidified in my memories.

G

Missed any of the previous posts? Check them out here:

The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 1

The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 2

The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 3

Travel

The Land Of Fire And Ice – Part 3

The King of the north!

Er, the capital of the north!

I had plans to head from Akureyri to Húsavík to do a whale watching tour, as it’s supposed to be the whale watching capital of the world. But I think I mentioned (I most definitely did) in both Part 1 and Part 2 that Iceland is expensive.

My 12 days in the land of fire and ice accounted for almost half of my 6 week budget. But thats neither here nor there because it was definitely worth it.

the land of fire and ice iceland

I again chased the northern lights to no avail. The most frustrating part was that up until this night the aurora forecast was calling for them to be either active or highly active with partially clear skies. I had the benefit of sleeping outside, so every 15 minutes I would poke my head out of the window and watch to see if I could catch a glimpse. I had my camera and GoPro setup on their proper settings just waiting. This went on each night. Each time I woke up throughout the night I did the same thing. Hey, northern lights, you there? Where you at?

But nope. Nadda. Still playing hard to get. I didn’t think that catching this natural phenomenon from one of the most pristine places to find them would be as difficult as it was.

I took off early the next morning and headed for my first of many waterfalls, Goðafoss, which in Icelandic translates to ‘waterfall of the gods’. Some 12m high and 30m wide. This is where my trip went from almost utter seclusion and tranquility to tourists everywhere. It was almost like at the snap of a finger I left Mars and landed back on earth. But I was definitely still on Mars.

Godafoss Waterfall Iceland

I spent roughly an hour here switching between my camera, iPhone and GoPro to get every possible angle I could. You could even walk down to the base of the waterfall which allowed for some pretty cool shots on the GoPro.

Navigating my way back through all of the tourists (technically yes, Im also a tourist, but I prefer to call myself a traveller – more on that later), I hopped back in the car and headed for Lake Mývatn. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and pseudo craters.

I decided to venture to Hverfjall Crater, a tephra cone, and hike to the top. It erupted in 2500 BP in the southern part of the Krafla fissure swarm. The crater is approximately 1 km in diameter, and let me tell you, I almost had a heart attack walking to the top. The kicker? When I finally reached the top, huffing and puffing and trying to keep my calves from exploding, there was an 80 year old lady already up there. Determination at its finest.

Hverfjall crater Iceland

It took about an hour or so to walk around the entire crater and the views it provided were nothing short of extraordinary. Literally, like out of this world.

One of the highlights of Mývatn was finding a camping pot on the side of the road.

I can hear you sitting there thinking, “what the heck?”

Long story short, I forgot (dumb) to rent a set of pots and pans for my 12 day journey when I picked up my sleeping bag and air mattress. So, my first 4 days of meals consisted of canned food, Special K cereal bars and lamb sandwiches. And I couldn’t find a pot at ANY store anywhere I had stopped up until this point. It was like it was meant to be.

That might seem a tad, unsanitary? Don’t worry, I gave it a good scrub. But that first meal of pasta was like I tasted food for the first time. I spent the night in Lake Mývatn and got up early the next morning to head to Dettifoss waterfall.

I subconsciously knew when I got to Dettifoss that there were two waterfalls: Selfoss, a smaller waterfall upstream, and Dettifoss, the larger waterfall downstream. But of course my scatterbrain didn’t make the connection, so as I came upon Selfoss I thought to myself, “you know, this is cool, but not that impressive”. And then it clicked. This is the smaller one, dummy.

I wandered back towards the herds of people and came across this:

Dettifoss waterfall Iceland

This is what I was looking for. This is pretty incredible.

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Yeah, Europe. The water comes from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier, whose sediment-rich runoff colors the water a greyish white. Its about 100m wide and drops a total of 44m. It was one of those sights that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. The sheer power of the waterfall was mesmerizing.

It was a little ironic. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, and I have never been to Niagara Falls, which form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. And here I am chasing waterfalls 4400km away.

But again, it was overrun with tourists. To be expected though, I suppose.

The best and most exciting part of my trip was not really having a plan. Of course I had destinations, sights and distances mapped out to give a sense of how my days would look, but other than that I just went. We’re really doing it though aren’t we buddy!? (classic Dumb and Dumber reference)

I found myself in Egilsstaðir around 4pm, in eastern Iceland. The east fjords weren’t really on my radar except for Seyðisfjörður. And let me tell you, the 25 minute drive from Egilsstaðir was probably the most incredible drive I had up until this point in my trip.

Up a winding road with hairpin turns to the top of the fjord, over the top past a little lake and bam, there it was, a view for all views. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

Seyðisfjörður Iceland

I mentioned that my hands were generally locked in the 10 and 2 o’clock positions while driving, and this was no different. But the view from the top was as picturesque as you could imagine. Postcard worthy.

Seyðisfjörður Iceland

I journeyed down into the town and did a little drive around, snapped a few pics and got out to marvel in the landscape. Seyðisfjörður is also the base for the ferry that connects Iceland with the Faroe Islands and the rest of Europe, a journey I would love to do one day.

I spent 2 nights in Egilsstaðir. Partly because the forecast was calling for torrential rain and gale force winds in the SE part of the country with increased likelihood of rivers rising and washouts (no thanks), but also because I needed to regroup and do laundry. Needless to say I was starting to get stinky, but doesn’t that come with the territory of roughing it in the Icelandic wilderness for over a week?

The campsite was fantastic though. Free, hot showers and a common room to hangout and chat with other travellers. I actually ended up camping next to a couple from Manchester who were Nottingham Panther fans. I mentioned my brother played for the Cardiff Devils, told them his name, and they actually recognized who he was and had watched the Nottingham vs Cardiff game the week before. What a small world we live in. Here I am on an island in the middle of nowhere and I stumble across a pair of genuine folks who recognize my brothers name. Crazy.

The first night was also the coldest I had during my trip, dropping to 0 degrees celsius. Cheese and rice was it ever cold. I think I ended up wearing 2 pairs of socks, long johns and track pants, a t-shirt, 2 long sleeve shirts, sweatshirt, jacket and toque.

I was for sure in Iceland.

After a few days in Egilsstaðir I started my trek south towards Vik. I knew I most likely wouldn’t make it all the way there, but it was a point on the map to aim for.

This drive gave me incredible proof of the ‘ice’ part of The Land Of Fire And Ice. I had Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach on my list of things to see, but boy did it ever make the 4 hour drive worth it.

Jökulsárlón-Glacier-Lagoon Iceland

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of the glaciers melting. It’s considered one of the natural wonders of Iceland. But then again, I feel like the entire country is a natural wonder.

I had never seen a glacier or an iceberg before, so, like Dettifoss, it was one of those instances that was so unbelievably captivating that the only reason I left after 45 minutes was because it was so dang cold.

I got back on the road and stopped a bakers dozen more times for photos. The day had been rain on and off with a chilly wind, but I stumbled across these horses, and, well, as you can see, a natural backdrop might not get any better than that.

Iceland Horses Skaftafell

I refused to drive in Iceland after it got dark so I made my way to Svinafell campsite for the night. Again, another great camping area in Iceland. They had options for beds in little huts, but I had already gone 7 nights sleeping in the car and I was JUST beginning to figure out the comfiest way to sleep, so why change it?

Did I also mention Iceland was expensive?

Keep your eye out for the 4th and final part of a pretty damn epic 12 day journey of the land of fire and ice.

G

Missed Part 1 or Part 2? Check them out here:

The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 1

The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 2

MotivationTravel

The Land Of Fire And Ice – Part 2

“Excuse me, ma’am? Can you point me in the right direction for the campsite?”

“Það er á þennan hátt og snúið til hægri við ljósin, farðu lengra lengra og þú sérð það á hægri hönd

“Oh, uh, great. Okay, thank you for your help!”

The Icelandic language is something else. I suppose it isn’t much different than trying to understand any foreign language, but I couldn’t grasp it no matter how hard I tried. I found the campsite, so I figure the above translates roughly into “it’s up this way and turn right at the light, go a little further and you will see it on your right hand side”.

I ended up driving my first day for almost 6 hours. I left Reykjavik and headed west, obviously stopping for a number of pictures which increased my travel time dramatically. That was to be expected, though.

iceland horses, the land of fire and ice

After navigating my way through lava fields, dirt roads where the speed limit is 80km/h (basically all paved roads in Iceland are a 90km/h limit, and all of the unpaved dirt roads were 80km/h – I still can’t fathom why or how anyone would go that fast on these roads) and a little bit of rain, I finally made it to Stykkishólmur around 6pm. Set up at the campsite and wandered into town to see what it was all about.

Stykkishólmur, the land of fire and ice

Stykkishólmur is a town on the west coast of Iceland, on the northern part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Its location serves as the base for the ferry that connects it with the Westfjords. I had thoughts of taking the ferry, but ultimately decided against it.

This was my first night ‘camping’ in Iceland. In other words, I had a sleeping bag and air mattress and slept in the car. I had grand plans for my outdoor experience in the land of fire and ice. You know, fold down the back seats, lay out the mattress and sleeping bag and sleep as comfortably as one could in the Icelandic wilderness. What I didn’t account for was the two back seats not folding down flat. There was a good 5 inches of height difference from the seats being folded down and into the trunk area.

Shit.

It wasn’t the greatest nights sleep, but I’ve definitely had worse.

I got up early and had plans of heading to Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords. I entered the closest destination the GPS could find to it and headed out. I was not prepared for what came next.

Following the GPS’ guidance, it took me out of Stykkishólmur and onto Road 54, a dirt road that was give or take 42km long. Well, yeah, the speed limit was 80km/h, but not only was it pouring rain, the drive was almost directly along the coast. Remember in Part 1 when I briefly described how narrow and unforgiving driving in Iceland was? I don’t think I got above 50km/h. Partly because I was anxious as hell, but also partly (mostly) because its a damn dirt road with pot holes everywhere. And still, I got passed by a half-dozen other vehicles. Crazy.

Iceland, The land of fire and ice

I made it out alive after a solid hour and a half of driving and spent the next few hours navigating the beginning of the Westfjords towards Dynjandi.

You know, I mapped out my route before I left, but cripes, it did me no good. There was no way to account for how often I would stop, slow down or turn around to snap some pictures and take in the scenery. With 4 hours left to go (after 4 hours of driving already) I ultimately made the call to re-route myself towards Hólmavík.

As amazing as that waterfall was going to be I knew that I was going to pay an arm and leg on gas. I also knew that there were going to ample sights and other waterfalls to make up for missing it along the way. Its not the biggest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it is supposedly (and pictures prove it) the most beautiful.

I got to Hólmavík late afternoon and found the campsite. Did a little hike and wandered through town. Hólmavík is the home to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, and not much else. I didn’t actually take it in but I read up on a few things and it seemed pretty cool, just wasn’t in the budget. From what I read, if you are a huge fan of folklore then you should check it out.

Did I mention Iceland was expensive?

One of the best decisions I made for my trip to the land of fire and ice was to invest in a mobile wifi hotspot from Trawire. This allowed me to not only feel an ease of comfort in case I got lost or god forbid something happened to my car in the absolute middle of nowhere, but it also allowed me to stay on the grid and experience things like this:

cardiff devils, the land of fire and ice

My brother plays hockey for the Cardiff Devils, so with some time to kill I caught the game from a pretty damn cool vantage point.

After my second night camping I still hadn’t figured out the best way to sleep in the car. Laying diagonally across the folded down back seats, stretching one leg out over the driver side, hanging my feet out the window and any other possible sleeping formation I could think of. Damn was it ever uncomfortable.

The next morning I headed back towards the Ring Road and onto Akureyri, the capital of the north. Man, every time I say that I think of Game of Thrones. The wild thing is that Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland with a staggering population of 16,000 people.

Throughout Iceland all of the points of interest are very well marked. Well, as well as they can be. Typically a white sign with red lettering and the ‘Point of Interest’ symbol. I had seen pictures of the Hvítserkur Rock Formation and had a general sense of where it was, so when I saw the sign (I saw the sign) I made a quick louis onto yet another dirt road.

But thats the thing, having a general sense of where things are in Iceland by looking at a map is nothing compared to what it actually takes to get there. Still, the time it takes to get to some of these sights is well worth the detour. The best part about it was coming across a group of Icelandic horses right up against the fence, almost begging for attention. So I gave it to them.

As you can see, I had a blast with these guys. They’re such beautiful, friendly and stunning animals. And they loved apples.

25 minutes down the unpaved road later I came to the rock formation. It was not a comforting climb down to the beach, but it was worth it.

Hvítserkur Rock Formation, the land of ice and fire

The rest of the drive to Akureyri was incredible. Landscapes that I couldn’t have even imagined and that pictures just don’t do justice to. I have to give credit to the brave souls who either drive a tour bus or rented a large RV, because some of the inclines and turns are so damn intimidating in an SUV or smaller car that I cant even comprehend driving Iceland in a large vehicle.

It had been cloudy and rainy my first few nights so I hadn’t seen the northern lights yet, which was one of the, no, actually, the top thing on my list of what I wanted to experience in Iceland. I landed in Akureyri around dinner time, filled up with gas and headed for the campsite, which I specifically chose because it was outside the city with the best chances of an unobstructed view of the northern lights.

Akureyri, the land of ice and fire

Each morning I basically mapped out where I was going to go that day and the best campsites to stay at, and I found this place about 20 minutes outside of Akureyri called Systragil Campsite. Super cool, off-the-beaten-path camping area. The ironic thing, being in the land of fire and ice and that Akureyri is only 100km from the Arctic Circle, is that this was the warmest temperature I experienced in Iceland in my 12 days there. A solid 17 degrees.

the land of ice and fire

The outlook for the northern lights was promising, with a forecast for clear skies and an active aurora. Iceland has a great weather website (it is much needed because the weather can change so drastically, so quickly) that also shows the forecast for how active the aurora will be each night.

They are much, much more stubborn than I expected. It was this night that I realized they were playing hard to get.

Keep your eye out for Part 3.

G

Missed Part 1? Check it out here: The Land Of Fire And Ice Part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MotivationTravel

The Land Of Fire And Ice – Part 1

Iceland. The land of fire and ice.

This moniker definitely painted a picture that delivered an unforgettable experience.

After (what seemed to be) a quick flight from Toronto I landed in Reykjavik around 6am local time. Grabbed my bags and hopped on the bus for a 45 minute journey through one of the most foreign, baron and otherworldly landscapes I had ever experienced. Albeit I was half awake and it was early morning.

And that was just the beginning.

The Land Of Fire And Ice

Like most travel days, the day was kind of a wash trying to adjust to the time change and collect myself after not sleeping for 24 hours. After getting the bus to drop me off in Hlemmur Square around 7:30am I majestically made my way to the hostel. I say majestically because I probably looked like a zombie wading his way through the yet-to-wake city centre.

Of course, arriving that early in the morning left me with a good 4-5 hours to kill before actually being able to check-in to my room. Luckily, like most hostels, they have a bag drop, so I didn’t have to lug around my carefully packed backpack and all my gadgets.

I always struggle my first day of hopping time zones, doing my best to allow my body to adjust in some way or another in order to function for the day. I also make a conscious point to not nap at all the first day. From past experience the only thing that does is make it harder to adjust. My suggestion, if you’re asking, is to suck it up and battle through it until at least the early evening. Your body will have an easier time recognizing the time and need to lay that head down on a pillow. You’ll find yourself combating jet leg faster.

I gathered myself the best I could and spent the day exploring Reykjavik. What a cool city. With a population of just over 200,000 people it wasn’t too difficult to do most of the main, and popular, attractions within that first day.

The Land Of Fire And Ice

The hostel was in a perfect, central spot for exploring. I wandered down to the waterfront and snapped a few pictures of the boats in the harbour, meandered down Laugavegur street, which is the main shopping area, and took the elevator up to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church for an incredible panoramic view of the city. (Above)

The Land Of Fire And Ice

I had heard a few rumblings that Icelandic hot dogs were some of the best in the world. And I hadn’t eaten a thing. So naturally I found the first hot dog stand my eyes could see.

I really don’t know if it was just the specific stand I went to or not, but, as you can tell from the picture, it didn’t taste much better than it looks. Mediocre bun with a simple tube steak, onions and their special sauce, which is like a gravy mayonnaise. Part of it could have had to do with the lack of appetite from being jet legged. But lets just say I didn’t get another one the rest of the trip.

After relaxing the first night at the hostel and chatting with a few other worldly travellers, I got up early the next day and made the walk to the car rental shop, about 15 minutes away.

See, to see the land of fire and ice in its most natural, I wanted to experience everything it had to offer. So I rented an SUV from Iceland 4×4 that acted as my moveable home for the following 10 days.

By 9:30am I was outfitted in a nice 2016 Suzuki Vitara, on the way to pick up my sleeping bag and air mattress from Gangleri Outfitters and then onto Bonus, the discount grocery store in Iceland.

The Land Of Fire And Ice

Iceland is expensive. Not surprisingly, though, as a country with a total population of some 300,000 people. And its also smack-dab in the middle of the ocean. Yet Bonus provided a fantastic selection of just what I needed to survive for 10 days in the Icelandic wilderness – instant noodles, mac and cheese and lamb sandwiches. Why lamb? Because it was the cheapest… and apparently plentiful.

The best part? The country basically acts as a natural spring for fresh water. My entire 12 days I only purchased two 2L bottles of water (so I had something to fill) and filled them at each campsite. I actually stopped at a few waterfalls and rivers and filled up straight from the free-flow. It was incredible – perfectly tasting, fresh and clean water. Naturally.

Once I was finally (sort of) situated with what I needed for at least the next few days, I plugged a random destination on the Snæfellsnes peninsula into the GPS and hit the road.

Even with all of the research I had done prior to my trip, nothing – and I mean nothing – could have prepared me enough for driving in Iceland. If you’ve ever driven or been to the UK, you know how a lot of the country roads are quite tight, with stone walls on each side? Well, the roads in Iceland are similar, but instead of stone walls along the sides, they drop off. Some only a few feet, some hundreds, with little to no barricades. Not that they’d help anyway.

The Land Of Fire And Ice

Part of my problem is that I can be quite spacey. I love landscapes and I love to take pictures, and I love to look, so I had to consciously remind myself (on a very regular basis) to focus on driving. Greg, you can stop in a minute. Keep your damn hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road.

You take your eyes off the road for a split-second and, well, I’m sure you can imagine.

Still, what came next and what I experienced over the next 10 days was one of the most incredible and otherworldly experiences I have ever had.

Keep your eye out for Part 2.

G