European Adventure: Iceland & Ireland

Sometimes the pieces for an opportunity just fall into place.

With my recent layoff from work, I was looking to travel, try new things and meet new people. Around the start of October, I overheard a girl I had come to know through Pure Barre and Define, Michelle, mention that she had upcoming time off and wanted to travel. I told her I would be down to take a trip and texted her that evening to see if she really wanted to plan something. A few days later, a trip to Iceland and Ireland was booked!

The trip started early in the morning on Thursday, October 19 with a flight to Newark, NJ. We landed around 9am and had time to spare before our flight that evening. So we checked our bags and took an adventerous Uber ride to NYC. After we recovered Michelle’s cell from the Uber, we started our trek around the city.

We began at the World Trade Center Memorial. It was beautiful and sad and brought back emotions and tears. After spending some time there, we walked through the neighborhoods until we reached Carrie’s stoop, from Sex and The City. We took some photo-ops then continued on towards Times Square. We grabbed a quick lunch, walked through the square and headed on to Central Park. After a little break in the park, we stopped into Serendipity before grabbing an Uber back to the airport. All in all, we saw a lot in our 6 hours and walked more than 6 miles. It was a successful day in the city!

Time for the European adventure to begin! Our WOW flight took off from Newark around 7pm Thursday evening and we arrived in Iceland a little after 4am Friday morning, Iceland time. Thankfully the flight was uneventful and I was able to sleep through most of it.

After we picked up our checked bags, which were waiting for us, we took a bus to get our rental car. From there, we drove to the Blue Lagoon and chilled in the parking lot until it opened. It was beautiful, serene and quiet being in the lagoon as the sun came up. We stayed in the lagoon for about 90 minutes, cruised around and had a yogurt shake/drink.

From the lagoon, we headed toward Reykjavik to check into our Air BnB. Our host, Gudmundur, “Mr G” (we called him that since we couldn’t pronounce his name), wasn’t able to meet us, but Edie got us all checked in. And he wasn’t hard on the eyes at all. Ha! After a quick change, we headed out for our drive along southern Ireland. Since they drive on the same side of the road, driving in Iceland wasn’t bad.

Our first stop: Seljalandsfoss. I had Googled it before we arrived and saw that Justin Bieber shot a recent music video there. It was absolutely beautiful. Michelle and I decided to do the climb back behind the waterfall and it was truly stunning. Seeing the beauty and watching the power was memorizing. After we climbed back out, we started down a path to potentially seeing another waterfall, we thought. We really weren’t sure what we were looking for or what we were going to find.

What we found was the amazing, hidden, Gljúfrabúi waterfall. In those moments, I remember we debated climbing through the rocks back to get a better view, now looking back, I can’t imagine not doing it. It was a hidden beauty. At this point, we were very thankful for our waterproof gear, only wishing for waterproof pants and gloves.

From there we continued on to the Skogafoss waterfall. This beauty was massive in size (compared to the others) and had 435 steps right to the top. Of course, we had to make the climb. The views from the top were beautiful. I’m quickly running out of words to describe Iceland’s scenery.

Our last stop on Friday’s coastal drive was the black sand beach in Vik. It didn’t even seem real, though it looked very familiar from it’s recent cameo in Game of Thrones. After admiring the beauty, walking the beach and taking a few photos, we started the 2.5 hour drive back to Reykjavik. We ended our day with dinner at an Italian restaurant, Caruso and joked that since we didn’t have reservations, they stuck us in the hallway. Which was fine, it was where the bread was kept. After some delicious spaghetti, we turned in our car and got a ride back to our Air BnB from “Mr G”.

Saturday, day 2 in Iceland, started early with a trip around “The Golden Circle“. Mr G dropped us off at the gas station where we were picked up by a tour with Your Day Tours. We opted to not drive this day and were so thankful. It was great to sit, enjoy the scenery and relax. The free WiFi, Icelandic music and wonderful driver/tour guide were a great addition.

The first stop: Faxi waterfall. It was chilly that morning (~36′ F), but beautiful to see the sun peeking through above the waterfall. Our next step was the Gullfoss waterfall and it was absolutely magical. We spent a bit of time there admiring the views, taking photos and absorbing the moment.

After we left Gullfoss, the tour headed to Strokkur, an active geysir. The geysir erupted every 3-5 minutes, so we were able to see it go off a few times. We enjoyed a quick lunch and a visit with Icelandic horses before we headed to our last stop, Pingvellir National Park. We spent time walking around the area and taking in the beautiful sites. All in all, it was a wonderful tour and tour company. I would highly recommend Your Day Tours.

After our short walk back to Mr G’s place from the tour bus drop off, we started laundry and packed to leave Iceland. Laundry was an adventure. From not knowing how to work it, for it taking 2+ hours, to discolored clothes and shrunken socks .. it was a good laugh.

We had decided that we were going to eat whatever snacks we had for our dinner, since a cab to the city would be too pricey. When Mr G returned home, he had other plans. He poured us glasses of wine and made us an amazing dinner. Wine, bread, salmon, soup, chicken, beef, potatoes, asparagus, delicious dessert and a shot. Dinner was full of wonderful conversation, laughs and stories. It was a fantastic way to end our time in Iceland!

We had already gone to bed, bags packed for our 2.30am wake up call and heard a knock at our door. It was Mr G letting us know to come outside to see the northern lights. We shot out of bed and with the speed I got dressed, I think I should apply for the next season of The Amazing Race.

We stepped out the backdoor and saw the green northern lights dancing across the sky. How lucky are we that we got to see these?! We admired them for as long as we could. I FaceTime’d my mom to share the moment with her, though she was unable to see them through the phone. We retreated back to bed and tried to sleep for a few hours.

Sunday (October 22) started with a 2.30am wake up call and a drive to the 3.15 airport bus from Mr G. We said our goodbyes and started our journey to Dublin, Ireland. Thankfully our flight was uneventful and I had an entire row to lay across to try and sleep (unsuccessfully).

After arriving in Dublin, we took a short ride to our hotel and make a dash for one of the 2 Starbucks across from where we were staying in the Temple Bar District. After we got into our room, we made a quick change and jumped on the hop on/off bus tour. We were surprised at how chilly we were in Dublin! After cruising for a bit, we opted for the Guinness “tour”, which we decided was more of an “experience” rather than a tour, but cool nonetheless.

After Guinness, we hopped on the bus and headed to Nancy Hand’s Bar for a drink, before ending at a local bar to eat dinner, have a beer and watch some NFL games.

Monday started bright and early with a train to Galway. After our 2.5 hour ride, we checked in at our hotel and quickly decided to do a bus day trip to the Cliffs of Moher. The ride there was an adventure, though I missed most of it with my eyes closed, trying not to vomit from the hills, twists, turns and tiny roads. Driving in Ireland is like an ongoing game of chicken.

One we arrived at the cliffs, we were told to see them right away, as the fog could quickly make them disappear. And they were right. After the incredibly windy, rainy, chilly walk (thankfully, fairly short), we got a view of the cliffs. We turned and kept walking up to get a different view and they were gone moments later. Thankfully we got a few more views when the fog broke for a minute. The guide told us some days people don’t get to see them at all, so we were thankful for our slightly fogged view.

After a pit stop in Doolin for lunch, we headed back to Galway. That evening, we walked around the city. It is very charming, with a lot of character and activity. We randomly stopped in Java’s for what ended up being the best dessert I’ve ever had. A crepe, covered with Nutella, strawberries and light sugar. Together with a glass of wine, it was delicious!

Our plans were originally to pick-up a rental car Tuesday morning, but after the adventurous tour bus ride, we opted to cancel the car and stay another day in Galway. We started with breakfast at Cafe Express and then did another day trip, this time to Connemara and Kylemore Abbey. It was a beautiful, interesting trip, especially with the obviously sick, no-coat-child on the bus. After the Kylemore Abbey, we made stops at a castle and in Cong. We ended the day with dinner at Kings Head before heading back to the hotel and packing up.

We left Galway early Wednesday morning on a train to Kilkenny. When we arrived in Kilkenny around 9am, we checked into our hotel, grabbed a Starbucks and raced to our bike tour. Unfortunately, no one was there for our bike tour, so we opted to walk over to Kilkenny Castle and enjoyed a breakfast at Willoughby’s after our castle tour. After breakfast, we walked all around the city, before we made a quick pit stop at our hotel.

From there, we headed back to our bike tour of the city. Even though we saw most of the sites during our walk, it was great to see a city in another way and take a break from walking. The guide was kind and knowledgable and we enjoyed cruising around the city for a few hours.

That night, we had a light dinner and drink at Kyteller’s Inn. We ended the night with a stop at the Hole In The Wall Bar, a place we were told to check out by a few people. We met some very interesting people on our stop there, one of which bought us a drink since we didn’t have any cash on us. It was so sweet of them! We shared our drinks, stories and got a little concert from the bartender. It was a great way to end our day in Kilkenny!

We left Kilkenny bright and early Thursday morning on a train back to Dublin. After arriving around 8.30am, we checked in our hotel and started to walk around the city. After a quick stop for breakfast at The Bakehouse and a reco from our waitress to check out Howth, we jumped on a 20 minute train ride to the seaside city. We decided to do the beautiful 4+ mile cliff walk and it was beautiful.

After a quick ride back to Dublin, we walked to the Jameson Distillery to do the tour. It was awesome! Such a cool experience and ended with a surprisingly tasty drink (Jameson, lime and ginger ale). Our bartender gave us dinner recos and we ended up at Alfies — it was a great dinner to end our trip. We ended our day with our last stop in Ireland at Riverbar for a beer. Our wonderful European adventure was coming to an end.

That morning, Friday, we had breakfast at our hotel before our long journey home. What started with a taxi ride at 8.30am Dublin time, ended at 10.30pm Cincinnati time when our flight from Ireland landed (Dublin – Reykjavik – Newark – Cincinnati). Michelle’s parents were kind enough to drive me back to my apartment. After a quick shower, I poured myself into bed and thanked god for the amazing experience. 8 days, 143,223 steps (65.5 miles).

I’m so thankful for the new friend I got to travel the world with, the sites we got to see and the experiences we got to share. . It was an absolutely wonderful trip with stories and memories that will last a lifetime. Until the next adventure, cheers, skal, slainte!

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