Iceland 2017, Day 1 continued

As we started walking toward the city, the weather decided it no longer wanted to be friendly and we started to experience sleet, rain, snow and strong winds. If you’ve been to Reykjavik, you know that this is not a place of tall buildings that can shield you from the elements.  In addition, we were there on a Sunday which meant that the chances of having lots of open places to find shelter was slim to none. We eventually stumbled upon a coffee shop that was open and we busted in through the door and started at all the pastry options available.  We ordered our coffee and some pastries, yes, I ordered two and we found an unoccupied table in the back corner of the shop.

There we proceeded to peel off every wet layer we had and lay them down on various chairs around this table.  The beanies and gloves went on the table to try and dry off, the outer layer hung over the backs of unoccupied chairs, the next layer on the benches we sat on, the scarves just hanging off the tables to dry a bit and then we stretched out.  The front of my pants were soaked so I had to sit in the most unladylike fashion so that I could try and get them to dry off and not rub my wet boats against any part of my pants.  We sat and enjoyed our pastries while staring out the window at the elements and wondering what we were going to do.


We knew that we would be dealing with cold and winter elements, but I think the lack of sleep and having arrived in Iceland at about 7AM, we were a little loopy and not 100% coherent of what we were up against. But at this point, we didn’t really have any choices except to make this work and deal with it.

When everything had finally dried, we replaced all our layers, and went on our way out to the coastline.  Our first target was the Harpa which is the Reykjavik Opera House.  We walked along the main road and eventually got to the Harpa.

 

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Travel websites – How I Book Travel

I am particular about how I book my travel and where I spend my money. It’s funny because I think it’s derived from the way I was brought up.  I remember as a kid, one of my chores was to mow the lawn and we had an old push lawn mower that wasn’t self propelled and weighed about as much as I did. Honestly, it probably weighed more than me when the bag was full of clippings. I remember asking my dad if we could buy a self propelled lawn mower to help me with the miniature hill in our yard and he looked me in the eyes and told me that we could. Under one condition. I had to do research and build a business case for him to justify why we had to replace our current lawn mower that was in perfect condition. This was something he did with me every time I wanted anything. Sometimes, I went through the actual process of doing the research and building the business case like when I wanted a new camera (granted, it took me about 3 years to finally stop procrastinating and hoping he’d change his mind). With my parents, it didn’t matter the cost, I could ask for something that was $500 or $10 and I would get the same response.

So those lessons and all that research I did has greatly influenced the way that I book travel now. Here are a few sites that I will check before I actually book anything.

  • Kayak: I actually start off with Kayak to do all my research before I actually commit to a location or a trip plan. I test out all scenarios for flights on where I want to go.
  • Kayak aggregated sites: I then follow the bunny trail down to all sites that Kayak recommends their flights from.
  • Airline websites: Usually Kayak will end up pulling flights from the airline sites but the way they’ve set up their roundtrip flights you have to end up booking separately so rather than going through a 3rd party site, I will start checking out those airlines the recommend.  In addition, there are many cheaper airlines that aren’t aggregated into Kayak and Expedia so I’ll check those out to do comparisons. And I would definitely recommend this for those budget airlines like RyanAir, NokAir, Norwegian Airlines, etc.
  • Expedia: After I start to narrow which flights I want to take, I’ll start looking at Expedia and see if I can get the same price flight from them. I will compare to the airline websites. I will personally choose to book on Expedia over other websites because of the app and because I have always had a great experience with them.  But sometimes the airline websites will be better to book with.
  • GTFO: I have this as an app but there is a website. If I am looking for a flight sooner rather than later, I’ll start monitoring GTFO to see if I can get ideas on who is having some deals and what kind of deals are available. I have yet to purchase a flight through the app but it gives me an idea of the types of prices I should be looking for when it comes to book specific flights.
  • Hotel direct websites: As you know, I travel alone quite a bit so I will do a hotel price comparison between multiple websites including the hotel website.  I’ve found that I can get super cheap prices from the third party websites but because of the competition, I’ve found that some hotels will start providing deals through their site only and have saved quite a bit of money through them.
  • Credit card travel websites: So all my credit cards have travel sites attached to them, partially because I only target using travel credit cards like Chase Sapphire.  They have their own websites and if I am able to find the exact same price there, I will lean toward booking on their site because I can use my rewards which go a little further.
  • Hotels Tonight: If you are a spontaneous traveller or if you have one of those trips where your original lodging plans didn’t work out, you can usually find something here. It shows last minute deals that hotels are giving out to book their rooms night of.

I go through all of these sites before I will actually make a commitment to book a flight. It sounds tedious but it’s definitely become a pretty standard practice for me that has helped me find some decently cheap flights and saved some money on hotels.

Do you have any sites that you like using or suggest?  I’m always looking for more sites to use, safe money and be more efficient in my search.

Iceland 2017, Day 1

The original plan for us was to land, and immediately get picked up to go to the Blue Lagoon. The expectation was that the start of this trip would be exactly like the start of my Iceland 2015 trip.  Unfortunately, since Iceland is so popular now, that tour sold out and we just had to catch the Flybus into the city.  We had booked our hotel based on price so rather than having to get dropped off at our hotel, we were driven directly to the bus terminal and we walked to our hotel.  Which wasn’t a hotel, but rather a mix between a bed and breakfast, inn and hostel.  We arrived at the inn, knocked on the door to no answer and then started calling the number that was on the door.

As someone who doesn’t typically have a phone, this was a new experience for me. When I solo travel, I only book actual hotels that have 24 hour front desks for safety. I have lots of friends who will go to Airbnbs but I have a fear that if my flight is delayed or if I get lost (because it happens often), I won’t have a way to communicate with the host. So in this case, I felt pretty confident we would be okay cause there were two of us. But luckily, I had my work phone with me and it had an international plan. I called the number multiple times to no answer and finally someone opened the door.

It turns out that this place did not have someone who manned the front desk and they did not function like a typical hotel.  The person who opened the door was someone who was helping run the place, but was not in charge and so she very rudely wouldn’t let us into the building telling us that we had to come back at check in. I could understand that but we wanted to drop off our bags so that we could go wander the city and she told us we couldn’t do that.  So after a very disagreeable conversation with a very unhappy person, we wandered back to the main bus terminal and decided to change out of our travel clothes.

We locked ourselves in the bathroom and attempted to change from our comfy clothes into more appropriate clothing for the cold weather, find all our extra layers that we may need, then finally repack everything we owned back into our bags so that we could go store them in the lockers.

If you find yourself in a situation like this in Iceland (in fact I’ve seen this in multiple countries and have used it before), we decided to rent a locker in the bus terminal where we were able to store all of our belongings and then we made our way into Reykjavik.

The bus terminal is a bit outside of the city, but it’s not terribly far from the city so we started walking. And started our trek into Reykjavik looking for food, coffee and some sights to explore.

LA to Seattle to Iceland

I left work early on a Friday, headed directly to LAX and got ready for my flight to Seattle.  Rather than trying to be crazy and book my flight to land in Seattle the same day I would leave the country, I decided that I would go and spend a solid 36 hours in Seattle.  This would give me a chance to hang out with some friends, relax a bit and then make my way off to Iceland.

The 36 hours went quickly and then I found myself at the airport with my travel buddy ready to make our way out to into the world.  We utilized the wonderful Priority Passes that come with the Chase Sapphire Reserved card to get into the Alaska Airlines lounge, consumed a bunch of snacks and water then eventually made our way to gate.  One of the things that I’ve quickly learned is that I can only go so long without food and since we had booked an Iceland Air flight, that meant no snacks unless you bring your own or you purchase them.  I choose to pay for a cheap flight to Europe, so let’s be honest, I wasn’t ready to pay for snacks.  I definitely tried to get full on the soup, vegetables and small cubes of cheese that I could get in the lounge.

As part of my typical travel preparation, I always bring some sort of energy bars with me.  Usually I purchase whatever is on sale or whatever I have at home that I purchase from Costco. Yes, this is true. I keep emergency energy bars around my house so that I can always have food in my bags.

We boarded our flight and made our way to Iceland.

I have to admit that now that Iceland is the cool place to go and Iceland Air is the cool way to get there, I’ve definitely noticed a change in the airline and some of the little personality bits that made me smile the first time around were gone. I remember getting on the plane back in 2015 and seeing little Icelandic greetings on the back of every seat brought a smile to my face. This time, all the greetings had been replaced with an advertisement for the stopover. I know that it’s marketing and it makes sense, but I loved the personality of the airline so it did make me a little sad to see that it had changed. The safety video still shows the natural beauty of the country so I was still very pleased to see that.

The flight was relatively uneventful. The movies had been updated, but if you’re flying Iceland Air, you shouldn’t expect the latest and greatest movies.  They have some good classics and it’s a decent selection so it’ll help make the 7 hours flight to Iceland go by relatively quickly.

Now that I’ve done this specific flight multiple times, I will admit that one of my favorite things is making sure I wake up about 45 minutes before we land and look out the window.  Seeing the water below covered in blocks of ice and the water movement followed the barren brown of the southwest coast of Iceland, always brings a smile to my face.  It feels like such a drastic change from what I’m used to seeing when I fly anywhere since it’s barren and you don’t fly over some giant city so it’s like a “welcome to your adventure” for me because it feels so different. Maybe it’s just me, but I honestly love it as the start to any trip.

 

Chasing the Northern Lights – Packing

When it finally came time for the trip, I started the packing process for my trip. And this required a few days of actual planning which is strange for me. I’m not someone who usually plans out what I pack, partially because otherwise I start to doubt what I’ve packed and get very concerned that I packed too much.  In addition, I start to worry that I’ve forgotten something and the only way to confirm it is to completely unpack and then repack again.

For this trip, I needed to prepare for the cold but not just any cold but full on winter. Iceland was supposed to have snow and rain, Helsinki was supposed to be warmer but then Ivalo was supposed to be in the single digits. This meant that I needed layers and more than just layers, I needed ALL the layers. So here’s what I packed:

  • Hunter Chelsea rain boots: I have to admit that I originally planned to purchase the Madewell version because they were significantly cheaper but I decided on the Hunter ones because they were on sale at the time, they fit my feet better, and they were significantly lighter. If you remember my previous trip to Iceland, I had a pair of rain boots but since my feet grew, I needed to get a slightly larger pair that would allow for thicker socks.
  • Wool socks. Costco was doing a great thing where they had a two pack of wool socks that go up to mid calf. I had actually purchased these for the holiday trip to Oslo and so it was great to have them again.
  • My Patagonia down jacket that packs into itself. It’s light weight and can handle warmer and colder weather.
  • My Uniqlo down water resistant jacket. I managed to figure out that it fits perfectly over my Patagonia jacket.
  • My BauBax World’s Best Travel Jacket : Which also fit perfectly over my Patagonia jacket
  • A packable Uniqlo vest
  • My slip on Vans for the travel days
  • Uniqlo heat-tech shirts (three of them)
  • A turtle neck
  • A beanie
  • A giant scarf
  • A pair of Uniqlo heat-tech leggings that would fit underneath my jeans
  • Jeans
  • Tank tops
  • T-shirts
  • A swimsuit
  • A microfiber packable towel
  • Hygiene items

The purpose of all the items was to ensure that I could layer as much as humanly possible because I was officially terrified that I was going to freeze.

After finally deciding on the list of things that I wanted to pack, I started the process. And I managed to, yet again, fit this all into my awesome mint green backpack and I was officially ready for my trip.

Booking entertainment for the Northern Lights trip

I always have a problem when it comes to ensuring that I am booking everything within a reasonable time frame. I think you have probably learned this by now. I have a tendency to leave some of these things until the last minute and I should probably stop doing that but, this trip was no exception to that behavior.  We had every intention of booking everything early and really researching everything we wanted to do. This only half happened.

We booked a few of our excursions with Iceland Air.  If you haven’t booked through Iceland Air or if you haven’t read about my previous posts about the last time I went to Iceland, this is a great to figure out what you want to do if you’re going there.  I have to admit that I have a personal fear of getting stranded in the winter time if I were left to my own adventures of driving through a country so I like sticking with the preplanned excursions that are available through Iceland Air.  And it’s great because they’ll work with you to tie it in with your flight package and the stopover.

We went through a little bit of a debacle with this because I got a bit over excited about the two excursions that we booked and ended up booking the wrong date forgetting that we would arrive the next day.  Luckily, the travel agents worked with me and were able to change the dates for me without any extra charges.  It was a little bit of a frightening experience because the excursions are pricey on their own and the thought of possibly having to pay for them twice was making me freak out a little bit.  According to their fine print, they don’t make date changes for you and if you ask them to do that then you have to pay.  Luckily, I realized my mistake literally within seconds (okay, maybe a minute) after I finalized our plans and immediately emailed them. Working with their customer service on the holiday add-ons is a little hard because they don’t have a phone line you can call.  Trust me, they don’t.  I even tried calling Iceland Air and they told me they couldn’t help and that I had to go through the email address.  Luckily, they were great and helped me out by changing the dates.

After that, we booked our hotel night at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort because I wanted to make sure it was taken care of before most everything else.

Other than that, we honestly stopped planning for our trip and left the remainder of the activities for much, much later. This included booking some of our hotels and transportation within a week or two of our trip and then even saving one of the hotels for while we were in Helsinki. It was probably not the best idea but it made for some great little adventures for our trip.

 

Chasing the Northern Lights part 2

After answering all the questions that I laid out to determine my next trip, I officially figured out what I was going to do and where I was going to go. The plan was as follows:

My friend Kristina, who was up in Seattle, and I would make the journey over to Europe.  We choose early April so that we could have the tail end of winter so we would still have a chance to see the Northern Lights without the possibility of getting snowed it and stranded somewhere.  The plan was to try for at least two separate countries to increase our chances of seeing the lights so we decided that we would start off with the Iceland Air stopover and go to Iceland for a few days then head over to Finland and…

STAY IN THE GLASS IGLOOS.

Yes. We officially decided that we were going to stay in the glass igloos in northern Finland to watch the Northern Lights.

The itinerary was as follows:

  • Iceland for 2 days
  • Finland for 6 days which would include 3 days in Helsinki, 1 day in Ivalo, 1 more day in Helsinki
  • 1 day of travel back through Iceland to the states

Since Iceland Air does not fly out of Los Angeles, my trip actually started out with a flight to Seattle the day before followed by a flight back to Los Angeles immediately after landing back in Seattle.

Once we figured out where we were going to go and how long we were going to be there, it was time to start booking everything else which was a process within itself.

Chasing the Northern Lights

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to see the Northern Lights and I’ve heard I read recently that the Northern Lights are starting to fade to the point that eventually they won’t be visible anymore. So I knew that I had to start planning a trip to chase the Northern Lights.  There’s no guarantee that you’ll see them, there’s no way to predict it so I decided that I needed to try to see them in multiple countries.  In 2015, I went to Iceland and missed the tours just by a few days and that ignited the official need to see them as soon as possible. So, I decided it was time to start figuring out what I wanted to do, where I wanted to see the lights and I began planning.

The things I needed to take into consideration:

  • Where did I want to actually see the lights?  I know that you can see them in Alaska but, I wanted to see them somewhere new and I’ve already been to Alaska.
  • Would this be a solo trip?
  • If not, who would be able to go with me and who would have the time to go with me?
  • How many days did I want to be gone?
  • When did I want to go?
  • Am I prepared to go traveling in the winter?
  • How remote did I want to go to guarantee that I could see them?
  • Could I add another new country to my list, maybe two?
  • What additional bucket list items could I cross off my list on this trip?

And so began the planning for my trip to chase the Northern Lights.

Moving again, new adult life.

So, I feel like this post is so fitting and deep down I’ve been waiting for that actual moment in my life where I can share this whole fauxadulthood thing that my blog is named after.  I have this running joke with my friends and family that I’m a pretend adult and to be honest, up until just a few days ago, it was 100% true.  To be honest, I’m still a pretend adult at this rate because of what I still need to learn and such but with this move to Seattle, I made some pretty big adult decisions that made me feel pretty cool.

Some background. When I was in college and had finally moved out of the dorms, I had a twin bed that was a hand-me-down from a friend who had upgraded their bed.  It was great because it was free.  I had that bed for two years and then my friend gave me her full size mattress and box spring because she was graduating and moving to another state. So I got rid of my twin mattress and upgraded to a full size, but I didn’t want to buy a frame so my box spring and mattress were housed on the floor of my apartment.  Later, I made my way to another apartment and decided to finally buy a frame.  At the time, I really wanted a very specific Ikea frame but the local Ikea didn’t have all the right pieces for my full size bed. So I purchased a queen size headboard and footboard with full size side boards.  If you can’t image it, it just means that my bed fit length wise but width wise, I had some extra space on one side which I then decided to use as storage.

I kept that box spring, mattress and mismatched frame for over 7 years and to 4 apartments. I can guarantee you this, movers will definitely be a little confused when they put together a bed frame that doesn’t quite fit and then you have to them it’s totally fine and normal.

When I made this move back to Seattle, I decided that it was time for me to actually become an adult and purchase a bed and a frame that actually fit my mattress.  Let me just tell you that sleeping in a queen size bed that actually fits the frame and I know that if I end up at the edge of the bed, there’s not an extra few inches to the side, is a great experience. I’ve definitely found myself diagonal in my bed, starfished in the very center and I have loved every minute of my adult bedroom.

That being said, I have a complaint.  Now I have random pillows and blankets that used to have a home by my mattress in that little 5 inch space because of my mismatched frame. And now. They’re just sitting on my floor staring at me wondering why they’ve been rejected to sitting on the floor.  I need to find a new place to store them, or I should be getting rid of all the blankets…

But it is official, I purchased an actual bed!

Museum of Ice Cream, Los Angeles

 

I remember when I first heard about the Museum of Ice Cream.  I was sitting at my desk, aimlessly surfing the internet trying to find things that were interesting and I found a Refinery 29 article stating that the Museum of Ice Cream was going to be in Los Angeles. Prior to this article, I was completely unaware of any museum that was focused on ice cream and I LOVE ice cream.  So I immediately started reading through the article and had to go to a team meeting.  This resulted in a group conversation about the museum and I knew that I had to get tickets. I ended up missing the date because I was a little too over eager about the tickets and tried to them through the American Express presale a day earlier than they actually went on sale and then life got busy.  So imagine the happiness I felt when I realized that they were renewing the museum for another round in July.  I placed a meeting notice on my calendar to ensure that I could buy tickets early and I was ready 5 minutes early frantically refreshing the page to ensure I bought the tickets.  I remember this day because there were four of us with the ticket screens on our monitors and talking about it for what felt like hours.  I successfully bought my tickets and then… I moved to Seattle.

In July, I flew back to Los Angeles for the Museum of Ice Cream.  I want to call this dedication but I think honestly, I pretended to use it as justification for going back to LA but I really didn’t need an additional reason to go back. Granted, there’s now a running joke that I’m secretly living in LA and commuting to Seattle. Hardy har har.

The Museum of Ice Cream is quite the experience. As someone who had their hopes up and really high expectations about this place, it didn’t disappoint but it didn’t quite meet my expectations.  I loved seeing the colorful displays, the artwork, trying the different types of ice cream and the interactive portions but it was a very short experience.

For those of you who don’t know anything about this museum, it’s designed to be completed in about 45 minutes.  There’s no one shuffling you through the exhibits but they’ve designed it in such a way that you can really only take so many pictures and do the activities for so long because you feel ready to move on. Plus there are hoards of people coming after you throughout the museum.  You start off the experience with a quick lowdown for a member of the team. Our “guide” was adorable and energetic which I think was a requirement for all the people who worked there.  Then we were guided into the first room, given some chocolate and then into a bright pink room full of telephones that provided the next set of instructions.  From there, we wandered into the California/Los Angeles ice cream themed room which was filled with murals of pink palm trees, the Hollywood sign replaced with the words “Ice Cream”, Hollywood stars with a fun twist on celebrity names, and some local ice cream that you could try.

Museum of Ice Cream, Los Angeles, CA

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After that, we made our way to a mint green room where they were growing mint and we got the chance to eat mint mochi ice cream, sticking with the theme obviously.  As we continued to make our way through, we went through other exhibits like one with a claw machine (which we didn’t win anything from), a room of black ice cream, giant popsicles, the sprinkle pool and the final room with a ping pong table, ice cream sandwich swing and gift shop.


Overall, it was a great experience and I’m really happy we had a chance to go.  I know that I had it all hyped up in my head but there is no part of me that is unhappy that we went. I don’t believe they’ve decided to stay in LA for another round and they’re all sold out.  But that being said, they’ve officially announced that they’re making their way up to San Francisco in September!  If you’re in the Bay Area, and can get access to tickets, I would definitely check it out.