Iceland in November? That’s insane.

When I told people I was going to Iceland in November the general response was “oh my god, you’re going to freeze your ass off.” And I did. Was it worth it? You can bet your ass it was.

My Iceland trip couldn’t have come at a better worst time in my life. Feeling the strong onset of the “winter blues” mixed with stress at work, I needed a break. Per my usual method I booked my Contiki tour in July with intension of paying in increments up until my November departure. However, the summer turned into fall and I hadn’t made a dent. So dropping the final payment put a serious jam on my finances and turned my trip into a zero budget adventure. That being said when it came to pack, I realized that I was grossly under prepared for Icelandic winter weather and had no money to purchase the proper attire. So I set about packing as many layers as I possibly could into a very tiny carry on and prayed for a mild winter.

Recommended packing items:

  • Hot Hands
  • A decent camera for photos of the Northern Lights (I brought my Sony A6500)
  • Waterproof Gloves
  • Thermal Leggings and Top
  • Facial moisturizer
  • Sun Glasses

Tips for Packing:

  • Don’t be to stressed about different “cute” outfits. You’ll be wearing a jacket the whole time! No one will no that you’ve worn the same thing for four days. :p

 

A New York 24 Hours

I travel for work A LOT. The production company I produce for has an office in Manhattan so I’m in and out of NYC pretty regularly. However, I’m always working so it’s all work and no play. However when I scored an amazing flight deal to Iceland out of NYC I took advantage of being able to work from Manhattan and decided to treat myself to a mini pre-vacation in the Big Apple.

How I got there: 

Flying in to Newark the most economical way to get to Manhattan is the Newark Airport Shuttle. You can book one way or round trip for just $30, a taxi or Uber depending on the time of day could cost double or triple that.

Where I stayed:

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I LOVE this little hotel. For it’s location it was very reasonably priced. I cashed in some of my hotels.com  rewards and managed to snag a room for less then $100 a night. If you’re looking for an amazing park avenue suite, bell boy and in room jacuzzi. This is NOT the hotel for you. The rooms are super tiny, but very clean and modern. I loved that each bunk bed had it’s own little TV. It was exactly what I need to rest after a busy day in the city. Plus there’s an amazing Mexican bar/restaurant downstairs.

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After checking in the hotel I headed down stairs to Salvation Taco . Which is a cool cantina attached to the hotel. I had TWO spicy margaritas and some delicious tacos before tipsy strolling to the subway to get to my broadway shot at 8pm.

By the way, being tipsy in Time Square is AMAZING. However being tipsy at the start of your favorite broadway musical is a recipe for an unnecessary amount of tears during the opening number.

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I’ve been singing the Waitress soundtrack non-stop for the past six months. So when I had a free night in NYC I had to go and  get front row seats. The perk of seeing a show solo is that tickets are so much cheaper. Instead of getting my front row isle seats for double the cost, one ticket was only $175 (instead of two for $250). Another bonus of “Treat-yo-self” to broadway solo is you can do whatever the F*!k you want. I got there early, had a drink at the bar and bought myself a key lime pie. It was magical. I laughed, cried and hummed along. PLUS Jason Mraz was headlining that night! Which was an unexpected surprise.


The next morning I joined the hoards of commuters on the subway and begrudgingly went to work. After a few ours of office work (AKA chatting with my best co-worker friend) I decided to head out to the city to shoot some “B-roll” footage (AKA explore).

Of all the time I’ve spent in the city I’ve never been to Ellis island or the Statue of Liberty! So that was the days mission.

First stop Battery Park. I HATE HATE HATE talking to ticketing agents. So I’d did the millennial introvert route, bought my ferry tickets online. Roughly $30 for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

I happened to get there just as a ferry was boarding so I had no wait. The cruise over to the Statue of Liberty was very nice, even in November we had great weather. The Statue of Liberty was much more impressive from a far. Visiting the island itself was underwhelming. I was more excited to visit Ellis Island.

I’ve always loved “coming to America” books and movies. So I was super interested in visiting Ellis Island and its museum. There’s so much to see at Ellis Island you probably could spend a whole day there. But I only had a hour to kill so I sped through each exhibit. The Island has so much history, historical impact and culture attached to it that the stories are never ending. I loved hearing and seeing how immigrants passed through customs and the trials they faced.

After speeding through I grabbed a hotdog and re-boarded the ferry back to Manhattan.

In total my round trip took about 3 hours, but I really feel like I saw everything. Plus I got my Instagram’s and that’s what matters most right?

Fearing I’d miss my bus back to Newark I basically sprinted back to my office to collect my suitcase and get to the bus stop. As predicted the Newark Airport Express was exactly on time and I made it by an inch. I squeezed in my bus seat next to a very loud Indian couple and settled in for the 45 min ride back to Newark Airport. Next stop, Iceland!

 

 

 

Cruise life – Contiki Greece Days 6-8

 

Warning if you’re booking Contiki’s Spotlight on Greece plus 3 day cruise you are not cruising around on a Contiki yacht, you are cruising on a mega ship with hundreds of other passengers. This was a fact I was unaware of when booking and slightly disappointed about. My roommate Ashleigh also didn’t know this either so we were both a little unpleasantly surprised when arrived at the dock. Never the less we decided to make the most of it and I made a pact that on the cruise we would be drunk as much as possible. Mature? No. Fun? Hell freaking yeah.

First docking was at the beautiful island of Mykonos. The tranquility and magic of the island was spoiled by the disembarking of the 500 hundred other cruise passengers. But our amazing tour manager Alex led us to some more secluded spots where we were able to take in a magical sunset before heading to dinner at a swanky restaurant. I don’t have any pictures but we were able to sample fish eyes and octopus!

The crappy thing about cruise ships is we only got to spend a few short hours on Mykonos. Some day I’m going to make it a point to go back and spend several days on this wonderful island.

Day 7 – Kusadasi, Turkey

One expected treasure of this trip was our stay in Kusadasi, Turkey. I’m not sure if when booking my trip I wasn’t paying attention or what, but I actually had no idea we were going to Turkey. Frankly, I was a little bit nervous about it. However, Kusadasi ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. Also, the pictures of me are amazing because for this trip to Greece I packed and actually wore all of my cute clothes. How nice is this green dress?!

The ruins of Kusadasis are extraordinary and so well maintained. There are perfectly preserved mosaics and stunning architecture that is still standing. Again, another place that is cooler than the very over hyped Acropolis…

Warning: Don’t drink the pomegranate juice before you go into the site. Even though the fresh squeezed juice is tempting, pomegranate lowers your blood pressure which is dangerous if you’re about to go on a long walking tour.

After visiting the ancient ruins we were then herded into a rug making “artisanal” factory. It was interesting to see the rugs and the old traditional style of weaving. But I did not like being hounded about buying one. Some people on my tour actually got suckered into purchasing these rugs for $100-$800 dollars!

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Next we sailed to the little island of Patmos. We spent the afternoon cooling off in the beautiful blue ocean and at sunset our tour manager Alex led us to an amazing overlook where we were able to climb to the perfect spot for instagram worthy pictures!

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We approached our final Island towards the afternoon, leaving us only a few hours to explore world-famous Santorini. Everything about this island is breathtaking. But the crowds caused by the cruise ship made it very difficult to really enjoy it.

 

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You can’t tell but I’m surrounded by 100’s of people.

After making sure we checked off of the necessary Santorini pictures spots we hustled back onto our cruise ship.

 

For our last night celebration, our tour manager Alex arranged a toga party. We all were under the assumption that it was a cruise ship wide toga party. Nope. It was just the 13 of us, running arround in toga and our undies. The other cruise passengers had a blast laughing at us and some even asked us to pose with them for pictures!

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Our group spent the final night dancing with each other in an empty cruise ship ball room. Ashleigh and I even hung out on deck with some super cool older women. Dorris and Nadien were in their late 60s and on their first trip to Europe. They told us how much they admired us for traveling when we were young. It made me remember how blessed I am to be living in an age where women can do more than just raise families. We can strive for our dream jobs, travel the world and make our own paths.

I am so grateful to have met so many amazing women on my travels. Becky, Ashleigh, Dorris and so many others.

Greece, you have been intoxicating. Something in my soul is connected to your blue waters, olive trees and white washed houses. I will be back again soon.

 

Olympia! Contiki Greece Day 3 & 4

I could get used to this view…morning sun on our hotel room’s deck. I would’ve stayed there forever…. but then I would’ve missed Olympia and Delphi!

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At the ruins of Olympia we were given a great tour by a local guide and then got to explore on our own. Some of the gentlemen in our group even raced on the original track field. Which was hysterical.

The resturaunt at Olympia was surpirsingly good. My roommate Ashleigh and I shared a Greek sampler and they had free Olive Oil tasting!

Afterwards we piled back on our coach and headed towards Delphi.

On the way we made pit stops in several adorable Greek towns inlcuding Naupaktos and Galaksidi. There we got to see some beautiful churches, charming Greek village homes and even do some swimming!

When most people think of Greece they imagine the Acropolis or the Greek Islands but mainland Greece should not be forgotten. Looking back on my Greecian adventure one of my favorite things I did was hike to the top of Delhpi.

Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, people standing and nightWe spent the night in charming Delphi. After a yummy meal filled with lots and lots of SAGANAKI. Which is litterally a huge chunk of fried cheese and tastes like heaven. We went dancing and drinking at the local club Katio Dancing Club. It was a tiny place with cheap drinks and good music.We had to climb up a very very very steape hill to get back to our hotel.  I still don’t know how half of us made it back from the club to our hotel without breaking bones.  14330119_10154284238775813_8634604808745435230_n-1.jpg

Where did I stay? Delphi Palace Hotel

Delphi is the ruins of a magical city. They say the airs of Delphi are healing and can provide you with enlightenment. The hike to the top of Delphi is steap but well worth it. Just keep pushing yourself and you’ll make it. You can not beat the view from the top. Many people on my tour decided not to climb all the way and I couldn’t believe it. You’re in Greece, you came all this way, just do it!

Our last stop before heading back to Athens was a cool little mountain town called Araxoba. This apparently is a bustling ski town during the winter (yes, there’s skiing in Greece). But while we were there is was very quiet. Most of my tour mates went looking for shops. I decided to explore the scenic overlooks solo. Sometimes it’s nice to depart from the big group. I found a nice bench and caught up on my book while taking in the warm sun and mountain air. Wandering alone through Araxoba is one of my favorite memories.

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Araxoba, Greece

Our return to Athens marked the end of the tour for some our our companions who were on the shorter Spotlight on Greece trip. But for me and my roomate Ashleigh we were on to the next leg in our adventure, the Greek Islands!

 

 

 

My Greek Adventure with Contiki – Day 1

After spending several days in Greece with my travel soul sister Becky I practically felt like a Athen’s native. Becky and I said our teary good byes and she headed back to London, while I marched towards my next adventure. Eight days with Contiki on their Spotlight on Greece plus Island Cruise.

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Toasting to the skyline of Athens and my next adventure

After meeting our Contiki tour manager Alexandros (and swooning over his tan and Greek swagger…sorry I may have had a little crush on him…) we piled into taxis for a night time tour of Ancient Agora market. 14330083_10154271001070813_8151400399173136619_n.jpg

If you read my Grecian Days with Becky post you know how much I loved Agora. I found myself wishing Becky was nearby again. All 28 of my tour mates and I squeezed ourselves into a restaurant on the side of a hill. Where we samples an assortment of Greek dishes and watched traditional dances. It was all very chaotic and cramped. But still a good way to bond with my new tour mates over wine and thieving kitties.

Day 2:

Up bright and early is the Contiki way!

Since I had already been in Athens for three days when we visited the Acropolis I decided to take the slow and steady approach and explore different parts of the ruins I hadn’t seen before. I sipped an orange freeze and wander through the back enterance near the theater. I really enjoyed people watching and perfecting my selfie stick photos.

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#hatgameonpoint

Then we boarded our tour bus and headed out of Athens towards Olympia. The drive through the Grecian countryside was absolutley breathtaking. Half way to our destination we made a quick instagram stop at the Corinth canal. IMG_8725.jpg

Warning to my TMI about to occur:

At the Cornith Canal my dear old “aunt flow” decided to come early. A week early. For any female traveler this is the WORST situation to be in. I was completly unprepared and the gas station we stopped at did not have the right equipment to handle my delicate sitation. So I resorted to middleschool measured and balled up some toilet paper and hoped that we’d stopped near a pharmacy soon.

Thank the lord for my fellow girl travelers. I was able to borrow some much needed sanitary supplies just in time for our trek up Mycenae. Mycenae is a ancient (okay most things in greece are ancient…I need a new word) city that once was the heart of Greece. At Mycenae there are facinating temples, caverns and artifacts from the Mycenanian civilization. After exploring the palace we got to go to a local pottery studio and I even got to try spinning clay!

 

Where did we stay? Hotel Europa

 

Grecian Days with Becky

Two years ago while traveling South East Asia a rooming mishap led me to meeting my soul sister, Becky J.

Ever since our teary goodbye in Vietnam Becky and I have been planning our next adventure together. My fluctuating job security caused me to cancel our trip together to Peru, which was absolutely devastating for me. But in the long run a good choice financially. Becky still went and I lived vicariously through her. Luckily just a few months later I landed a full-time position as video producer and we were able to start planning for our reunion trip. The top of both our lists? Greece!

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Becky and Becca reunited in Athens!

Somehow I managed to secure two whole weeks of consecutive paid vacation (unheard of at my job) so our plan was to spend a whirlwind three days in Athens before I embarked on a solo tour with Contiki Tours.

Becky was flying from London and I from NYC so we met up at the airport in Athens. From there we took the very easy to use metro into the city. We got off at our station Agios Ioannis where our very friendly AirBnB host met and guided us to her flat. Becky had a lot of previous experience with AirBnb but this was my first. I couldn’t have asked for a better first time experience, host or apartment.

Here’s where we stayed: Agios Ioannis Cozy Apartment 

Our host Lydia provided us with detailed maps, snacks and AIR CONDITIONING (which we were very grateful for).

As soon as we could we slung our luggage down and headed out to begin our Grecian adventure.

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First stop: Temple of Olympian Zeus

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From the Temple of Olympian we able to catch the
I love riding the sight-seeing buses. They’re a great way to get your bearings on a new city and easily get around without having to navigate public transportation.
During our loop of the cities we saw the Panathenaic Stadium & Olympic Stadium, National Archaeology Museum and so much more.
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After a full loop of Athens we decided to hop of at Agora. Before exploring the ancient city of Agora we sampled some of the most delicious ice-cream either of us had ever had.
Looking back, Agora was my favorite part of Athens.
Yes, yes, yes the Acropolis is nice. But it’s so crowded and their’s construction everywhere.
We entered Agora late in the afternoon. So it was nice a cool and we were practically the only people there. It was quite, calm and magical. There were so many nooks and hidden buildings to see that we really felt like explorers. You can not go to Athens without exploring Agora.
Tired and hungry we plopped ourselves down at the first restaurant we could and feasted on some well…subpar Greek chicken. It was underwelming, but we were so exhausted we didn’t really mind.
DAY 2
Good morning Athens!
This morning we decided to grab pastries from the bakery near our AirBnb. Which sounds simple, but when we entered the bakery they had very little left to choose from. Not wanting to seem rude, we both selected the easiest thing to point to. Which turned out to be sort of stale tasting bread. Life lesson, when in Greece make sure to go to the Bakeries very very early in the morning.
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After just one day we were Greek metro experts. So we hopped aboard the subway and then returned to the City Sight Seeing bus stop. Our first stop of the day was the must see changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown sodlier. The Greek military have very unique uniforms and marching style. So this ceremony is a treat to see. I highly reccomend camping out and watching this hourly event. 14322387_10154266910020813_4042692386468058701_n.jpg
After that we continued on the bus to the foot of the Acropolis near the Acropolis museum. We stumbled upon the most charming little street with cute little cafes and decided we should probably eat lunch before our hike up Acropolis. That’s when we discoved Arcadia resturaunt (Makrigianni 27, Athina 117 42, Greece). We had the most amazing Kebabs, taziki sauce and fries. So good we went back to the same restuarnt the third day. When I think back on Greek food I remember this restuarunt. What a gem.
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So fresh and colorful. 

Next stop The Acropolis.
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Here’s my mandatory picture with the Acropolis. 

Like I said before, yes the Acropolis is important to see. But it’s not the most amazing thing in Greece or Athens. It is very very very crowded and when I went big chuncks of it were under construction. Worth the time and energy to get to? Yes. Would I go again? No. (I actually did go twice because it was included in my Contiki tour).
Hint to my future finace, don’t propose to me at the Acropolis. lol I a tad bit bitter about this UNESCO sight, if you can’t tell.
On the plus side of the Acropolis. There are tons of kitties around!
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Remeber that amazing ice cream I raved about earlier? We went back again. I wish I could remember the name of this place. I guess you’ll have to wonder around Agroa and find it for yourself!

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Butterscotch 

Day 3:

Travel Advice: If you want to book an excursion do it in advance. We learned this the hard way after trying and failing to book a trip to see the ancient theater Epidaurus. However, we decided to take advantage of our extra day in Athens and have a beach day!

For alot of people Athens is all about the ruins and city life. But actually Athen’s sits just on the edge of beautiful beaches. Today Becky and I decided to venture outside the city to Spa Lake of Vouliagmeni.

We purchased an upgraded ticket with the City Sight Seeing bus and used their Athens – Piraeus – Beach – Riviera line.

If you’re lucky enough to have a half day extra to spend in Athens I highly reccomend taking a trip to spend a few hours at Spa Lake of Vouliagmeni. This freshwater lake is said to have mystical healing powers, so it’s the perfect way to unwind after several days of hiking through busy city streets. The lake is privately owned and operated. So you have to pay to get in. I think it was around $20 USD to enter and then if you want a locker its a little bit more. There are sun bathing chairs, tables, a restuaunt and bar. We managed to snag to prime realestate chairs right on the waters edge. We spent several magical hours floating in the lake and having our toes nibbled on by little fishes (which was weird at first but then soothing). It was the perfect way to end our whirlwind Greacian advenure.

After working on our tans we relunctantly boarded the bus back to the city, packed our suitcases and treked through Athens. Becky was ending her trip while I was preparing for a second part. So she and I hiked to my new hotel where we then said teary goodbyes.

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While I love the adventure of traveling solo, traveling with a compainion (exspecially someone you are so intune with like Becky) is so much more satisfying. It’s nice to know that there’s another person I can reminise with. Someone who has shared in my adventures and misadventures. I will never forget my Rasberry Chocolate Ice Cream and our waiter friend at that one resturaunt. Thank you Becky for being my traveling soul sister! I can’t wait until our next adventure.

New Years in Cancun

I love Contiki trips but they jam so much adventure, fun and culture into such short periods that when your done you need a vacation from your vacation! Luckily we decided to extend our trip one more day so that we could relax and enjoy the white sand beaches of Cancun.

We wasted away the final day of 2015 on a white sand beach in Cancun.

After some well deserved rest we got guzzied up and ready to ring in the new year Cancun style!

We headed to a massive beach party and concert. Chelsea and Sarah were leaving on an early bird flight that morning so we took advantage of the few hours we had left and danced the night away. At one point we even made it into the VIP section thanks to some fancy Mexican VIPs. We stole their SWAG and some free drinks then ran away from them. After the ball dropped I said my goodbyes to Chelsea and Sarah who had to get to the airport. I stayed and danced with the other Contiki people who were there too. Around 4am the party was still going hard but I was ready to go. drunkenly I thought it was a good idea to walk home alone…but somehow I managed to make it. I fell asleep on the bathroom floor and woke up the next morning feeling very hung over. But it was worth it. It always is.

I spent my last morning in Cancun sweating off a hangover in a beach chair eating tacos. Good vacation? Yes. Oh yes.

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