A Newport Ad, The Internet, and Us

This week we received a tri-fold postcard advertisement in the mail for Newport Lights. We keep our recycling bins on the front porch (because we’re classy, but also green) so I usually pull ads out of the mailbox and drop them right into the recycling bin. This one was a strange exception though. I had to bring it inside and show Chas. What kind of an anachronism is a paper ad for cigarettes being mailed to my house? It contains an invite to make your own video on the Newport website, descriptions of two contests to win trips, one to New York City and the other to Hollywood, and coupons for cigarettes. How desperate have we become? And by “we,” I mean Reynolds Tobacco Company.

One thing that strikes me the most is that thousands of people must receive this ad. But who actually cares?

It’s printed on nice paper. It’s visually appealing. But who are these people who take these coupons and buy Newports? Is the goal to get people to start smoking? In the year of our lord, two thousand and eighteen? Are we serious? Am I supposed to think “Ooo $4 off! I think I’ll pick up this deadly habit and run with it!”?

What are we supposed to care about anymore? In a given “normal” American day, I receive two or three snail mail ads; absentmindedly view hundreds of online ads on a work day; if it’s a Bachelor(ette/in Paradise) day then a few repeated TV ads on abc.com; when I take 83, maybe eight or nine billboards; and probably more I’m not thinking about. It amazes me that our brains even weed through enough to prove that it’s worth buying ad time and space. But they must work because according to this top hit on google, TV advertising alone is a $71 billion per year industry. No way “they’d” be spending that much money on something ineffective.

So what’s urgent anymore? There are so many people and companies and devices all vying for our attention. It’s like little visual and audio explosions going off all around us all the time to the extent that we don’t even know how to deal and in some cases care–kind of like the Trump presidency.


So while I am squarely a millennial, I now have social media (as of the past 10 months), and I am technology literate and a very fast typer, here are my pet peeves about the digital age, a time that makes paper cigarette ads look quaint and surprisingly, almost endearing.


How many passwords and versions of the same password do we all have by now? Mine’s gotta be in 90s. When I try to log into certain websites such as Apple, I just change my password every single time. It’s useless. Sometimes I email myself my new passwords and then can’t remember what I called the emails. Did I add a ? and a ! or a !?! or just a !? Was there a 1 at the end? Was the a and @?

If I could have back all the time I have spent trying passwords, resetting passwords, asking the website to email me, logging back in, remembering what I wanted on the site in the first place, I’d have time to write a novel. Give us back that time, universe!


I will let John Mulaney handle this one. This is from his new Netflix special, Kid Gorgeous. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire thing, especially if you attended Catholic school.

The world is run by computers. The world is run by robots and we spend most of our day telling them we’re not a robot just so we can log on and look at our own stuff. All day long. ‘May I see my stuff please?’

“Ahhh, I smell a robot! Prove, prove, prove! Prove to me you’re not a robot! Look at these curvy letters. Much curvier than most letters, wouldn’t you say? No robot could ever read these. You look mortal, if ye be. You look and you type what you think you see! Is it an E or is it a 3? That’s up to ye. The passwords that passed, you correctly guessed, but now it’s time for the robot test! I’ve devised a question no robot could ever answer. Which of these pictures does not have a stop sign in it?”

Internet Grammar, Spelling, and Usage

This does not fit here but it’s been driving me bananas lately and I must get it off my chest. “Myself” is a reflexive pronoun. It can only be used when it refers back to an antecedent earlier in the sentence. You cannot say “See Ms. Sophie, Mr. Bongo, or myself if you have questions.” NO NO NO NO NO. Uncle Michael, I dedicate this paragraph to you and I am certain you are also cringing at this idea. If you use “myself” without an antecedent, you sound like you’re trying to be smart but you’re not sure how. Here’s how you can use it correctly. I will handle your grammatical problems myself.

Back to the title of this section. I know. I know. My soapbox is really tall. But why do we have to give up while we’re using the internet? Your vs. you’re just is not that hard to differentiate. Your yoga photo with the quote from Rolf Gates is meaningless to me if you follow it up with “Follow you’re dreams.” Vom.

Passive Aggressive Posts

This is rare from the people I actually “follow” but it happens. If you want to say something to someone, just fucking say it. Stop putting some Snapchat-enhanced selfie up as a way to say “Only care about people who care about you” or some other bullshit about something you’re too scared to say out loud.


Posting hate on the internet (like this post…?) is a waste of energy. Put that energy into something else, people. Quit hiding behind that computer and improve what you hate about the world. Also, see above.

Rabbit Holes

It happens to the best of us. Have you ever started off googling a contestant on the Bachelor and an hour later found yourself looking at photos of Barbara Streisand’s ex-husbands? Yuk. I’ll take this time back along with the time spent attempting passwords, resetting, and retrying.


I do not want to type this one. I know sometimes I make people I love sensitive to what I write about because I will put something here that I might not say to individuals aloud. Again, see above. So with pre-regret or pre-gret, I write this. When people attend weddings, it seems like they must take and post a photo with a partner and say one of the following:

  1. Congratulations to the new Mr. and Mrs. _________________. #dumbweddinghashtag #truelove
  2. Had a great time celebrating the new Mr. and Mrs. _____________________.  #dumbweddinghashtag #truelove
  3. Such a beautiful weekend celebrating these two! #dumbweddinghashtag #truelove

I will not judge you if you do this. Please continue, by all means. It’s normal now. And I’m sure it’s nice for the couple to see their hashtag used by many people. It’s supportive. But maybe I’m less so. And I’m sorry if I offended you, which leads to my next pet peeve…


We can’t help it. Looking at the internet for any amount of time in the wrong place can make us feel ugly, stupid, inadequate, dumb, unaccomplished, and so many more things. There was a lot less self-loathing being passed around before the internet age.


Overall, what gets me about technology and how much we use it (hell, I’m using it right now and so are you), is that we forgo interactions with real humans. We ignore the people in front of us who, most of the time, are also ignoring us back. Our advances are great and technology has made literally almost everything better, but it sounds kind of nice to just visit an era for a bit (time-machine-style) that values, prioritizes, and spends energy on other things. A time when snail mail mattered and people had to remember how to spell and passwords were reserved for kids trying to block you from entering a room and we judged ourselves less because we weren’t constantly flicking through photos of other people and human faces mattered more than images of them on a screen.

Back to John Mulaney’s Kid Gorgeous…

Everything was slower back in the old days ’cause they didn’t have enough to do, so they had to slow things down to fill the time. I don’t know if you read history, but back then people would wake up and go, “God, it’s the old times.”

“Shit, I gotta wear all those layers. There’s no Zyrtec or nothing. Okay, we gotta… We gotta think of some weird slow activities to fill the day.”

And they did.

Have you ever seen old film from the past of people just waving at a ship? What if I called you now to do that?

“Hey, what are you doing Monday at 10:00 a.m.? All right, there’s a Norwegian Cruise Line leaving for Martinique. Here’s my plan, you and me get very dressed up, including hats, and then we wave handkerchiefs at it until it disappears over the horizon. No, I don’t know anyone on the ship.”

So where does this leave me (us)? Sure, I’d take technology over not technology. And this Newport Light advertisement doesn’t really offend me as much as it should because I loathe cigarettes and its old-timey-ness is sort of charming, but can we at least all agree on using reflexive pronouns correctly, or at least yours and theirs? Can we put our heads together and find some alternatives to this password madness/time-suck? Or at least agree to talk to one another in favor of climbing into rabbit holes that only lead us to find out Cap’n Crunch’s real name? (It’s Horatio Magellan Crunch.)

I love technology but it’s just as flawed, or more flawed, than we are. I’ll admit that and then chuck this cute little Newport ad in the recycling.


Travel to La Ciudad Perdida in Santa Marta Sierra Nevada, Colombia

In Summer 2013, Chas and I traveled to Colombia. I wish I had been more informed at the time but I hadn’t yet seen The Tale of Two Escobars. Just 10 years prior, apparently, Colombia had not been a safe place to travel. When we told people back then we were going there, we did meet with some versions of, “Are you sure that’s safe?” And my answer is yes, yes it was.

Chas and I were able to start in Cartagena, travel to Santa Marta, trek the Lost City Trek, and then spend a weekend in Medellin. While I highly recommend all of the places we visited in Colombia, this piece is about the Lost City Trek or La Ciudad Perdida. In some forms, it’s described as a Colombian Machu Picchu that’s luckily missing the “Disneyland” aspect of Machu Picchu. And it’s legit. It’s a total five day hike to a city that’s only been discovered in the past 50 years.

When I initially wrote this piece, version 1 was obliterated by my writing workshop. Ever been in one of those? I cried the entire way home from Johns Hopkins DC campus. But because I did an exhaustive amount of research for the first version to explain La Ciudad Perdida and its layers of history, here it is.

Colombia Rolling Hills

UnCivilized, 2013

On night two, I’ve fumbled my way out of my mosquito net. Rain pelted the tin roof structure where we would eat, sleep, and remain for the duration of the storm. I had heard a rumor of coffee in the “kitchen.” And after our day of hiking, I hobbled to a warm cup of comfort—careful not to let the rainforest’s rain find my already damp clothes. During the five-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia, clothes never really dry.

My hiking group—two Belgian girls, a guy from French Canada, a South American couple, and my boyfriend and I—had instantly bonded. Our “Magic Tours” tour guide, Miguel, had a great sense of humor and bag full of Colombian candy. We sat together that night discussing tomorrow’s hike into the Sierra. A dozen hiking groups surrounding us were doing the same.

After a few rounds of coffee and conversation a man appeared at the table behind our group. Surrounded by a small crowd, he spoke. All eyes locked on his face as he described his culture, a mystery to gringos. Miguel approached our table, pointed to the man, and told us in mumbled Spanish, “You’re next.”

We had seen many indigenous people over the past two days, passing them on the trail. We were told that most indigenous hated tourists and didn’t want us in the Sierra Nevada. Many gave us rigid glares, some returned smiles, and others stared at the ground. We met a small family at their hut that morning: a young mother and five cherubic, dust-covered children, one for each year she’d been married. A small girl followed us to a waterfall where we swam. She crouched on a rock hugging her knees, watching and smiling.

Minutes later the man sat down in our circle. His name was Fermin. A member of the Kogi tribe, he was chosen to learn Spanish by the Mamo, the tribe shaman. Most Kogis speak only the Kogi language. With only English, I was at the mercy of my new friends to hear his words second-hand.

Fermin wore his white tunic under a cascade of black silky hair. (The only indigenous people we had seen not wearing white tunics were children in extra large Led Zeppelin T-shirts.) His elbows rested evenly on the tabletop and his thick, calloused hands moved as he spoke. The strap of a saddlebag crossed his heart, its sacred contents rested next to his hip. His jaw was never idle. He chewed a cocoa leaf and lime combination like all Kogi men over eighteen. Following each sentence he took a breath and looked down, his lips meeting in a line over decaying teeth.

Candles propped in emptied tuna cans lighted the exhibit. Fermin said he would be telling us first about his culture. His tribe—one of four that descends from the original Tayrona people—rely on and protect the earth. The earth is the Kogis’ mother and they honor her with everything they do.

He explained the sacred poporo in his bag—a gourd filled with lime and cocoa leaves. Males, beginning at age eighteen, use it to bring them closer to “The Mother.” A foot-long stick through a hole in the middle of the gourd delivers the lime to the inside of Fermin’s cheek, so the reaction can take place. Sacred Cocaine.

I sat mesmerized by a man who had so little in common with me. “A walk that takes you thirty minutes, would take me five,” he joked. Surprised, we were happy to self-deprecate, laughing, loudly, with him.

He gathered his lips and switched to a somber face. Looking at each of us with black eyes, he told of the destruction and contamination caused by tourists and people from outside of the Sierra Nevada. The Spaniards had conquered his people in the sixteenth-century. His people have not forgotten.

Fermin worries about the Sierra and about the Earth. If “little brothers,” people not from Sierra Nevada, continue on our path of environmental destruction, the Mother will be in danger. A fellow-hiker named Paula translated tens of generations of wisdom. Fermin sounded as if he represented the Green Party.

“You should not go to Ciudad Perdida,” said Fermin.

We all stopped breathing. The point of our trek was to go to Ciudad Perdida, to see its ascending staircases, to behold the green-coated structures, to smell the air near the clouds. Not go?

Fermin looked at each of us and continued, “But when you do,” he said as we exhaled, “keep positive thoughts in your minds.”

He said the “Lost City” was never lost because his people knew it was there. Once a year, the Mamos go there to spiritually cleanse it. “From the dirty tourists,” I thought.

He wrapped up his talk, and I wished I could ask him a question. Instead, I said no fewer than four times, “Muchas gracias.” I wanted to apologize for the Spaniards, English-only Americans and all tourists, and tell him how this urban girl would go home and remember everything he said.

I appreciate nature and like camping, but I’ve lived my whole life between two Baltimore City neighborhoods. His life and my life could only intersect in this exact circumstance for these few moments. I wished he could know its significance for me.

Paula later told me that, in Spanish, Miguel contrasted us with the Kogis and other tribes by calling them “indigenous” and calling us “civilized.” She had purposely translated it differently for us, disagreeing with his word choice. They were indigenous. We were non-indigenous.

In Fermin’s presence, I felt uncivilized. Back in the States, the animated kids’ movie about talking beasts, “Monsters University,” dominated the box office. A New York mother of two had been released on $500,000 in bail after being arrested for warehousing millions of dollars of illegal drugs.

And now I was in the rainforest, feeling like a monster, speaking to an indigenous man who was openly, legally, and peaceably using coke.

The next day we woke, crawled out of our mosquito nets, put on our wet clothes, and kept walking toward Ciudad Perdida—armed with Fermin’s message, offering the positive thoughts he had requested. In his own words.

Colombia Accommodations

Our accommodations along the trek. Three nights were hammocks and one night was a creepy bed, much preferred the hammocks.

Colombia Layers

Colombia Village

Indigenous village.


La Ciudad Perdida

Colombia View

COlombia Lost City Entrance

At the base of the city.

Colombia Indigineous

Mother of four and her youngest.

Colombia FamilyColombia Child

Colombia Lost City

Our group in La Ciudad Perdida


Travel to Belgium (with a side dish of Amsterdam)

In Bruges is a strangely violent Colin Ferrell movie in which basically everyone dies. In it, Ferrell’s character who is as dislikable as any given Colin Ferrell character, constantly complains about Bruges. It’s ugly, it’s boring, it’s cold, people are miserable. I couldn’t disagree more. Chas and I chose to travel to Belgium after Greece because we wanted to keep traveling and wanted to visit a country we could fly home from affordably. That place turned out to be Belgium. Further proving that hired hit man, Colin Ferrell and I have nothing in common.



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        We arrived in Brussels and immediately hopped on a train to Ghent. It was only about a 30-minute journey to the central station in Ghent. The bus/tram system was navigable but we way overbought the tickets because we actually barely used it, opting to walk almost everywhere. We took a two-mile tram trip with our bags toward our hostel. The rep at the train station was really helpful but convinced us to buy a certain pass we didn’t really need so maybe not so helpful. We stayed at the Andromeda Ecohostel which we loved. It’s on a canal and located on an old barge. Our room wasn’t cheap but Ghent isn’t cheap. We had a private room, shared bathrooms. The couple that owns it is incredibly helpful and kind. Marten, the husband, greeted us, gave us a map and directed us where to go. Definitely get the locals maps. They’re really colorful and have a ton of great and unique suggestions. I don’t know what else to call them but if they’re not in your hotel, go to a hostel and ask for one. They’re free so no one will mind. We let this map guide us through Ghent to the point that it felt like linen when we were done and we had to hold our pieces next to one another to navigate from neighborhood to neighborhood.


Our boat hostel.

        The first night we wandered around, went to a coffee shop and got our bearings. Definitely get water in a Dagwinkel rather than ordering it in a restaurant. They charge an obscene amount for small quantities of water in restaurants. We lived entirely off of giant bottles. We walked around Ghent that first night, napped, and then grabbed beers which we drank in the square. We wandered around so long looking for the perfect place to eat that all the restaurants had closed. Finally we ate at a frite barge. It was pretty terrible. They fry meat, cheese, and meat again and put them on a bed of frites. Just pick something and stick with it. With a little perspective, I know now that Belgian food isn’t very good. There are many immigrant communities though that make amazing food from their countries: Syrian, Afghani, Iranian, and more. Just do this after you’ve had frites and mussels at least once. Any Belgian will gleefully tell you that French fries are not French. They’re Belgian. One of our hosts (albeit one of the strangest people I’ve ever met–more on her later) told us that American soldiers in World War II started eating frites, heard people speaking French and thought, “Oh we’re in France! These are French fries.” Really, they were in a French-speaking part of Belgium but as Americans are wont to do, we made up a lie and stuck with it.  


        The next morning was a Monday which meant that the two museums we planned to go to were both closed. We ate at our hostel which had free breakfast and then went to Gravensteen Castle. It was a pretty neat tour with weaponry, the castle, medieval life, and some Ghent history. After Gravensteen we did some more wandering and ended up on the Ghent University campus. We visited an old socialist building which is now a concert hall and meeting place. Then, we went to the big part in the city and the botanical garden there which is gorgeous. We ate at a delicious vegetarian restaurant near the train station. Ghent is something like the vegetarian capital of Europe. They do it well! We walked through the red light district – eeks! That night we ate at a fancy restaurant which was pretty good. We got some beers, a waffle and watched the people. Ghent is gorgeous. At some point in this wandering, we could not find a public restroom. After miles of discomfort and peepee dances, I literally just had to pull down my pants in a park and go. But as Americans are wont to do… Anyway, nothing bad happened other than I solidified my place in the world as a working professional who also acts like a small child. 

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        The next morning we ate our free breakfast and headed to Dr. Huslain’s Museum which was a short walk from our boat hostel. Dr. Huslain was one of the pioneers in psychiatry. The museum is in an old mental hospital. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in psychology and the weird history. Some of the videos and photos of the treatment of the determined “insane” are absolutely unspeakable, shocking, haunting. But I guess Huslain was trying to make things better and that’s why he gets a museum. There were also some whacky art exhibits. We learned a ton about Huslain’s work and about the history of psychiatry around the world. We also learned a lot about the Christian Brothers—a little propaganda exhibit was snuck in there. I forget their connection but it was presented as positive. 


At Dr. Huslain’s.

        We picked up our bags and headed to the STAM (Ghent City Museum). This was the most modern and impressive display I’ve ever seen. It was a great lesson in Ghent, Belgium, and European history. They had an interactive map on which visitors could change the year, the location, etc. It’s absolutely worth the visit and they have big lockers for storing luggage. You could easily be here for hours. We then went to the train station and grabbed a quick train to Bruges. It was about an hour-long journey.

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Castles and beer. Belgium.


In Bruges we stayed in an adorable AirBnb. Loved it. It was a section of a woman’s house and just the cutest little Belgian room. Bruges, like Ghent, is not cheap. 

This town in simply gorgeous. Super walkable city. We went through neighborhoods, stood beneath windmills, visited a convenience store run by a man who goes by Apu (a character from The Simpsons), drank incredible beers, and just explored. I feel like we had the least direction in Bruges but it was for the best. Again, get the Locals Guide map here. One of my favorite things ever was a house that I wrote about in this blog. The house was just on a random street in Bruges. 

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We had a beer in a bar that was in the basement of a church, recommended on the Locals Guide. The basement was so old that it predated even the church which had been built in the 16th century. The basement had been the storeroom for a shop they believed went back to the 12th century. The bartender there told us that Bruges was in such good shape and so well preserved compared to other European cities in the path of World War II because one of Hitler’s right-hand men just “liked” Bruges and told the Nazis not to bomb it. I trust that bartender so I won’t even look it up.


There was a church (featured in In Bruges in the way that three or four people are shot in it) where some of Christ’s blood is allegedly held. Once they wanted a couple euro to see it, we hightailed it right out of there. At some point we happened upon a marijuana festival which I guess is Belgium’s way of attempting to answer the vigor created by the Netherlands. The park that bordered the street where we stayed was a gorgeous run, almost pinch-yourself gorgeous, with swans and flowers and lamplights, and strollers but people probably call them prams. We only stayed one night in Bruges but certainly made the most of it. We trained it to Amsterdam from there.



In Amsterdam we struggled immensely finding our Air Bnb but when we did were so pleasantly surprised. It was another houseboat but the family used their top level for rentals. Diegert, the host, was about as helpful as they come and greeted us with beers. We could hang out in the front yard and rented bikes right from the family. Instantly, in Amsterdam you can tell that bikes are king, over walkers, cars, hovercraft, everything. We found ourselves stumbling to get out of the way of bikers until we figured out the rules of the road. We walked to a food hall which was just like a Dutch version of R House or Mt. Vernon Marketplace but with like 300 bikes out front.

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We visited the Anne Frank House while there, a must do, but you also must book it ahead of time. One cannot simply show up. The tour includes an audio guide with direct quotes and explanations of different uses of parts of the annex. It’s an emotional and humbling tour. Again, like we do, we just walked aimlessly throughout the city then bickered about where to eat. The next day we braved the bikes and spent most of the day in Vondelpark. It was divine. I just love the Dutch way of life.

Again, we spent most of the time agenda-less but in such a good way. I think we got a good feel for how people live there and it seems like a good life.

Amsterdam to…


Brussels was pretty immediately a bit of a let down compared to the other utopias we’d visited. First off, I booked a private apartment on Air Bnb but when we arrived, Sophie, our host, told us that we’d have a roommate. She said that she had made a mistake and that Gen (a Japanese guy) would be arriving soon. Gen’s room was only accessible through the apartment’s only bathroom (which had no toilet paper) making showers and #2s pretty strange. Sophie showed up several times throughout the stay and was nice I guess but just clueless about hosting human beings who are paying for a service. On our last day there, we ran into her on the street in the morning and she told us that she hadn’t yet gone to bed. She asked if she could come up to take a shower and I wanted to say, “Well you’ll have to check with Gen” but we just said sure. She and her man-friend hung out as we packed our things for an hour. Just not normal.


I started our time in Brussels by taking a yoga class down the street which was pretty great. We did our wandering and just found it to be less than spectacular generally. We did come across a memorial for the recent terrorist attack and happened upon some type of preposterous parade. Then, as we sometimes do, we found ourselves self-spite-eating fast food.

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The next day we visited the parliament building, braved the outside of the urine-soaked library, and happened upon an incredible World War I photo display in a park–that I loved. Chas had found his one demand on a local map–the Cantillon Brewery, a family owned brewery that uses an ancient method of brewing that depends on the seasons. We took the tour, drank the brews, and learned the methods. Loved it. We found an immigrant neighborhood near the brewery where we had an incredible Syrian lunch. Then we closed out the trip near our (and Gen’s) apartment.


I’d recommend Belgium to anyone and Colin Ferrell can go shit in his hat.

Travel to Iceland

This continues a series of travel blogs. I have shared this with others who have said this made it seem like we hated Iceland, but I really loved it! It was among the most peaceful places I have ever been, and likely will ever go.

April 12-April 19, 2017

Getting There and General Tips

  1. We flew WOW Air overnight from BWI on April 12–direct. WOW has a handful of hubs in the US and for whatever lucky reason, one of them is BWI! Woot! We arrived into the Reykjavik Airport around 5 a.m. The flight was easy but you will want to bring your own water as everything including water costs money on WOW. I would also pack snacks because the food in the Reykjavik airport is basically a $23 pizza or dried, packaged cod–this is also true for much of the country, unfortunately. 
  2. If you rent a car (which I HIGHLY recommend), don’t buy into any of their American-targeted bull about sand and wind insurance. Say no to all of it. We never felt like we were in jeopardy and we took that little car to literal mountaintops–and it was a stick. Sure, we challenged that little transmission, but we weren’t being bombarded by any sand or wind. Also, the car had heated seats and a heated steering wheel–sound superfluous but it was indispensable. 
  3. Pack everything you think you will need. Do not go to Iceland with the attitude of “We will get one when we get there,” it is way too expensive for that. Bring what you need. I shudder to think of the cost of a toothbrush.
  4. I would just pack all layers. Layers all day and good hiking socks. If you fly WOW on which you pay for bags, here’s a sneaky little tip. Chas and I each took a “handbag” which is just a backpack. We paid for one carry on and crammed everything into that. We also dressed like Joey from Friends on the plane.
  5. Stop at a grocery store to save money on breakfast and lunch. Icelandic food is not very good so why spend so much on it? Bonus with the picture of the pig seems to be the cheapest.
  6. On your way to your first stop, find a Vinbuden. There are a limited number and they are the state-owned liquor stores. They have very weird and very limited hours. You’ll want to do this as beer and wine, like everything else, is obscenely expensive.
  7. Our first host (American) told us not even to bother with Icelandic. It’s absurd and everyone speaks English. Usually I’m not about that life but Icelandic is no joke. I did use this page when necessary.IMG_7205


We picked up our rental car from Budget and headed for Snori’s Pool. Please skip this completely. It’s stupid and not worth a single second. Skip anything involving Snori other than reading his story somewhere, and it’s everywhere. They really love Snori. 

We stopped at a gas station in Akranes and got free coffee and a sandwich. Some gas stations have free coffee. Cute little town–not a ton going on. But, it seems like people wake up much later there. We were in the center of the town and maybe saw two people, aside from the gas station worker. 

We hit the road for Borganes. We putzed around the town, stopped in the museum shop, we did not pay for the museum. We are happy we skipped it as it was expensive and other things seem more worth your money. Borgarnes has some historical significance and a really neat little coastline. There’s a legend that allegedly took place right here…something about an eagle and man…I don’t know…read the plaque…I was too jet-lagged. 

We went to our bed and breakfast called Borganes B&B. The owners were adorable and I instantly loved the house and felt snuggled. They had robes for us to take to the hot springs and a great guide to hot springs in the area. The owner (husband, American) told us that if we were looking how to spend the afternoon, we should go to the Sportlaug which is their term for a sports and community center. It was $8, indoor pools and outdoor pools, hot tubs, water slides. This is how Icelanders spend their free time! It was neat to see. They had three different temperatures of hot tubs. The water slide water was cold AF but it was a “When in Iceland…” situation so we took several rides, then found respite in the hot tubs of varying temperatures. There was a steam room in the bathroom for the end of the workout. 

We ate at the Thai Restaurant–good food, best deal in town. Back at the place we met a Swedish couple we sat and talked to for maybe two hours. The B&B had a huge bay window in the living room through which we could see every star that ever existed while we chatted about education and politics in Sweden vs. the US. Then we bid them goodnight and slept the best sleep ever.

We woke up, ate our breakfast from the grocery store and hit the road for the Snaefellnes Peninsula. Amazing. There are so many places to stop along this drive. There’s also basically only this one road so it’s easy to navigate–honestly, you don’t really even need to navigate. The stops are otherworldly, but so is the drive itself. 

Along this drive we:

    1. stopped at a mountain and did a little climbing and viewing. We could see the water from the vantage point. Although it was freezing, it was gorgeous. 
    2. went to the Vatnshelllier Cave. Totally worth it. Maybe around $20? Cool tour, 45 minutes. We learned a lot about the volcanic nature of the island. Vatnshellier is a lava tube created by a volcanic eruption. When the lava receded or dried or does whatever lava does, an empty space was left. We had headlamps and were able to walk along the inside of the tube. 

      Steps inside Vatnshellier.



      Tube down to the Lava Tube. 

    3. climbed to the top of a crater along the road–can’t remember the name. There were actual steps on the crater to get to the top. From the top, just desolation…but in a good way, I think. Iceland Scene
    4. walked into a canyon, also just along the road. The canyon contained rushing water and some were climbing inside of it (and coming out with soaked/frozen feet). The climbing was a little challenging because of how slippery it was but we saw some incredibly epic falls (not waterfalls, people falls). 
    5. took a long soak in Landbrotalaug Hot Spring in the middle of an abandoned farm. For sure do this one or one similar. Here’s the obscure book where we found it. Another great thing about this natural spring is that you could choose your temperature. Closer to the flow was hotter and farther away cooled off. Our B&B allowed us to borrow the robes from the room which was really helpful. You’re basically changing into your bathing suit in the middle of a field at 30 degrees Fahrenheit so a robe is useful. Most Icelanders just do this openly and in the buff so don’t be shocked to see some butt cheeks. 
  1. LandbrotalaugIMG_71986. stopped at other random things along the way–just let our hearts guide us. All cool. 


The next day we drove to Hof. It is a town, population 20.


The “town” of Hof.

IMG_7311 (1)

All of the people who’ve ever died in Hof.

We stayed at the Hof Hotel. It was good enough for us! Barebones. I do not recommend eating here though. The breakfast was free but get dinner at the gas station about 15 minutes west on THE ROAD. We stayed in our little cabin for two nights. It was basically just a box among a few other boxes, next to a cliff, in the middle of a field. The Hof Hotel did have a jacuzzi and men’s and women’s saunas. BUT the first night we bought dinner which was cream of asparagus soup and bread…$21. It was more or less a bowl of butter and cream with a lone asparagus stalk…for $21. The next night, we ate this…IMG_7370 (1)

The drive to Hof was gorgeous and various and it was an adventure in its own right. We just stopped whenever we felt like it. So isolated and beautiful and strange. The landscape changed every few miles from rock to moss to rock to ice to snow to water to mountains and back again. We also listened to S Town on this drive which kept us super occupied. 


Chas doing “Kev’s Bird” in moss.

Just before checking into the hotel, we went to the Skaftafell National Park and did a few hikes. Very cool. Go to the little abandon mountainside town and hike to the edge of the glacier (only a 2 mile round trip). We also hiked (easy) to the Svartifoss Waterfall.


From Hof, we visited the Jokulsarlon Glacier and its glacier lagoon. This was incredible. We saw maybe 60 seals here.IMG_7351

We started hiking around the perimeter but it is deceitfully large and it would have taken all day to go around the entire glacier so we did about a 3 hour round trip walk. Definitely go here and watched the seals. They’re basically just fat + faces. We ate at the gas station beyond Hof. Better than food at Hof Hotel for sure. Again, we stayed at Hof Hotel. We explored the little churchyard and graveyard a little bit, I think it was Easter. Chas woke up four-five times in the night to try to see the Northern lights but we never did.


The next day we ate the breakfast and left Hof to head back west. We drove to Vik, a tiny little town. We stayed just east of Vik in a fine hotel. It had a huge outdoor hot tub where we got wrinkly with some Americans for a good hour of chat. In Vik we explored the beach but the weather SUCKED. We went to the top of many things while driving west of Vik. I have never experienced wind like this. By the end of the day we were soaked and freezing. We stopped at the Black Sand Beach and did each climb and drive in this area. We spent a lot of energy looking for puffins–no dice. If it’s late April and beyond you can see puffins along this coast. Vik is cute and an interesting look at Icelandic life. We ate at the gas station in Vik. It has a cafe in the back. Don’t get the Icelandic stew–not worth it.


Black Sand Beach. Cold and windy AF. 

First stop the next day was Skogafoss. It’s an incredible waterfall that doesn’t look that impressive from the road. Go here. Go to the top of the waterfall and then hike back at least for 30 minutes. It’s amazing up there–more views, waterfalls, and unusual beauty. It looks like Lord of the Rings scenery–maybe it is?



Above Skagafoss.

We stopped to see some horses! IMG_7453

From Vik the next morning, we drove to Geysir National Park. This is a must do. It’s why a geysir is called a geysir. Like a Kleenex, they called this Geysir and then the word became a common noun. The eruptions are frequent and surprising.


There’s a bourgeois food hall there and fancy shopping thing. Also a bathroom. Driving here was a little confusing for us–make sure to figure out ahead of time.

We made car sandwiches and then went to Pingvellir National Park. Another must do. Lots of history here. You can read all about it in the guidebooks. Also, it’s pronounced TINGvellir. This was one of my absolute favorite sites to explore. Here you can see a spot where the earth’s crest is literally splitting–kind of a bummer but the park is gorgeous. I would have LOVED to have camped here for a night or two. 

We then drove to Reykjavik. We stayed at the Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel. I liked it there. They had a guest kitchen which was a good way for us to eat our hikers’ breakfast the next morning.

We explored Reykjavik that night. It’s meh. Not my favorite city. IMG_7536

We did eat an incredible seafood meal and just shelled out the money for it. We stopped at a few neat off-the-beaten-path bars. There actually are a couple of really cool ones. I would say a lot of Reykjavik felt tourist-targeted but look a little closer, walk a little longer. You won’t necessarily pay less but you can avoid the kitchiness. We also went to the Lebowski Bar because Chas loves Lebowski–it was kind of stupid though and I have no idea why it’s in Iceland. 

The next day we walked around Reykjavik, ate hot dogs, and visited one more Bonus Pig, until it was time to head to the airport. Again, pack food. 

I think one thing that is a tiny bit frustrating (aside from the cost when you arrive) about Iceland is that there’s no perfect time to go. All times of year have their benefits and you just have to choose what’s important to you.

Things we wish we could have done:

  1. Seen puffins. (late spring/summer only)
  2. More seals. Infinite amounts of seals.
  3. A ice cave tour (winter only)
  4. A glacier lagoon boat ride (late spring/summer only)
  5. Driven to the West Fjords
  6. More hot springs–not Blue Lagoon
  7. Seen the Northern Lights, trust me, we tried!



Travel to Greece

In June 2017 Chas and I had the absolute joy of attending Kevin and Angeliki’s wedding inside and outside of Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece. Not only are Chas’s friends from college among my favorite people on the planet, we had a reason to go to Greece. I had been to Athens for a weekend and a smattering of islands on a day trip in college. During that weekend, Mary and I stayed in a dicey red light district hostel and someone stole my wallet. That was not how it was supposed to be according to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (books and films). Kev and Liki’s wedding was a chance to right that.

Here’s that trip.



We flew into Heraklion using Jet2 which was a budget airline that flew there for reasonable prices. I can no longer find Jet2’s website which indicates to me that it may no longer exist. Kind of a bummer but there must be other ways to get to Crete. We flew through Reykjavik, Iceland then Manchester, England then onto Heraklion. Not a short journey but…


We stayed outside of Agia Pelagia which was about 30 minutes away from the airport, and extraordinarily fun to say aloud. We stayed in this villa which overlooked the Aegean Sea. The villa was huge (there were about a thousand of us) but I am sure there are smaller options with similar accommodations. A few groups we were with rented cars. That seemed to be maybe the best thing to do.


The Heraklion airport is kind of a mess but it’s fine. You can take a short cab into Heraklion or take a longer ride to one of the nearby villages. You can drive down to the town of Agia Pelagia and visit the beach and the town cats. There are plenty of grocery stores around down there to load up on everything you need up top, which frankly, is everything. The rental car places allow you to park in their lots while you are in the town–quite useful. We only went to the town once, because honestly, we were our own town within our villa, but it was a cute little place and then it was nice to go back up top and leave it behind.


There was also a bus to travel down to Heraklion from Agia Pelagia which I remember being reasonably priced and more like a charter bus situation than regular public bus. This was helpful for us because we were rolling so deep and cabs were long and pricey.

Goats scale the cliffs–you just have to look closely.

Heraklion is pretty cool. It has a European feel including all the drinking, eating, and grunginess. It’s actually a decently big city but the center of it is manageable on foot and the surrounding areas aren’t necessarily something one would want to visit (from what I saw). The harbor has a fort and some ancient sites. We didn’t see them because we spent so little time in Heraklion but they were a neat backdrop and I am certain, historically valuable, etc.


You cannot drink the water in Crete and we just didn’t drink it in any of the Greek islands out of caution. Big bottles are reasonably priced. I’d recommend just buying a 6 pack of 2 liters and carrying them around. Apparently, the tap water is safe for our systems but tastes salty because of their de-salination process. It also contains more minerals than we are accustomed to so it could bother a gringo tummy. 

Aegean Sea:

From the harbor in Heraklion, we took a two-night sail on a chartered boat with Greg, Beth, and a captain. It included all meals and really just cost as much as a “normal people” hotel would have. There are plenty of charter boat situations in the harbor in Heraklion. The idea is that you participate in the sailing. Our skipper Jiannis taught us different aspects of sailing and included us in the process. (Most were very gender specific and assumptive in terms of what a woman can/cannot do.)  Jiannis also prepared our meals with foods he had brought on board. We had fresh fish, Greek salads, oregano from the island we visited, yogurt and fruit, and just beautiful Greek foods. Also wine. 


We sailed into the Aegean Sea and around the island of Dia. Dia is covered in oregano plants and is completely uninhabited by humans. There are thousands of seagulls who are constantly making noise. Such a unique thing. It’s like a sensory bombardment in the middle of the sea where there are zero other people.


We stayed a night docked off the coast of Dia. This was a gorgeous experience in terms of stars, solitude, sounds. We walked around Dia during the day, went to the abandoned tavern, the church. We got to swim, relax on the boat. We spent the second night sleeping in the harbor in Heraklion. We were able to walk around Heraklion. The boat that night was really hot and I found it difficult to sleep. That said, I took 4 naps that day and I might have had a hard time sleeping because of that. I would think you could take a cruise like this from many of the islands and I would recommend it. These were among the most peaceful days of my life. It was cleansing, relaxing, and just really special.

This is essentially what we did but I can’t remember the company. The organizer was great and very responsive. His name is Nicos. Our skipper was Jiannis and we loved him. 


We woke up the next morning in the harbor and took the ferry to Santorini. The ferry is within walking distance of the spot where we docked the boat. I was extremely impressed with the timeliness and reliability of the Greek ferries. Way to go, Greece!

The ferry between Heraklion and Santorini wasn’t cheap but it was very comfortable. If you have the choice I would take Hellenic Seaways. It’s the same price as the rest but it was much better than Blue Star. It was only a little over an hour.



Santorini is stupidly gorgeous immediately from the time you arrive. It is an island created by the remnants of a volcanic caldera. You can see this imprint, in a way, from above. 


Do not take a cab or private bus company from the port. Walk a little to the left of the boat and grab the public bus. It’s really nice and about 2.50 euro. It will take you to the top and variety of towns. We stayed in Imerovigli. It was after Fera which was the main bus hub at the top. Weirdly, the port down low is also called Fera or sometimes Thera. This is confusing but they seem to have it under control.


If you stay in Imerovigli you take the bus to Fera and then transfer to a bus in Imerovigli. I would highly recommend Imerovigli. It’s absolutely gorgeous and well-positioned for the view, height, walkability to everything you want to see, visit, purchase on that side of the island, etc. We stayed in this stupidly fantastic Air BnB and loved it. It was one of those houses that’s been carved into the volcanic rock which helps with climate control. Our patio which lead out from our bright blue doors was next level. We didn’t eat out, just got the amazing provisions from the grocery store and sat on the patio where we could see the view of the volcanic harbor. From what we understood restaurants could be pretty expensive. We just loved the cheeses, breads, olives, and spreads so much that the grocery store was perfect for us.


There’s an urban “hike” from Imerovigli to Fera which you should do. You can see everything including the town. It’s touristy in most parts but so breathtaking. That night we went to Oia (pronounced Ia) to see the sunset. It’s crowded but it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. I’d concur. You can take the bus to and from Oia to Imerovigli. It’s cheap too. I’d go a little early because from the bus stop there’s some confusing navigation to get to the top of Oia to see the sunset and a trillion tourists.



From Santorini, we took another Hellenic Seaways ferry to Naxos. This was a little longer—maybe 3 hours? Our hotel (Chas found it on Hostelworld) was ideal for us. It was the Korali Garden Hotel. The owner, George, picked us up for free from the port. He wouldn’t even accept a tip. It was really cheap per night (around 30 euro) but had everything we needed and George was like the best human. We had about a 1 km walk to the center of the town from Korali Garden. We ate that night at Maro which was awesome and so reasonable. Try the grilled octopus and moussaka. A liter of house wine in a metal pitcher is around 6 euro.


Also walk to the Temple of Apollo. We missed the main museum because it was closed already but heard it is cool. The center of town where the museum is located is remarkably confusing. But, if you’re not pressed for time, just wander it and get lost. It’s gorgeous. Also, gelato.


The next day, George called a rental car company for us and we rented a car for 30 euro for the day–this felt really reasonable. It was a stick so make sure you ask if you can’t drive stick. The car was perfectly shitty. We drove around the center, saw the Kouros which are massive ancient sculptures of human bodies, and walked some of the ancient paths. Chas really loved the marble mines which you can very clearly see. We took some marble with us as well–don’t tell customs.


We also visited to a town in the center of the island, called Apiranthos, and walked around during the day. I really liked this. I bought stamps at their “post office” which was just two old ladies in a living room who spoke no English. The streets which are entirely made of white marble are super confusing, but in a good way. We wandered the streets, got lost, it’s just a very different life and I think this was the perfect town in which to see that. There were goats and a raised cemetery and just an entire life that exists here in the very center of this Greek island.


After driving around the center, we drove to a few beaches and relaxed. You can have your pick of beaches. (The beach in Naxos Town is pretty lame, very shallow water and crowded so renting the car was a good idea if only to see the other beaches.) It’s really pretty small so you can drive the whole island in a day. Chas burned the soles of his feet on one beach. Beware! 

Toplessness and total nudity are all over these less dense beaches. If you need an escape from the sun, be prepared to pay for an umbrella.


Naxos is an incredibly diverse island. They do have buses that take the same trips with similar stops that we made but it was great to have control with the car. One party-party-looking beach town where we had a drink was Agia Anna. It looked like a fun enough place to stay but maybe not for more than a night or two. Another one (can’t recall the name but it might have been Mikri Vigla) didn’t have much going on, but not in a good way, in my opinion. The beach was absolutely gorgeous but the surroundings in terms of amenities were a snooze, and not necessarily in a charming way. Just research your beaches first before choosing. The second night we ate at Kastro which was a neat place. The table was on a patio with an excellent view. The whole dorado was great, as was our lamb meal—some type of pot that they cook in the oven along with the food. I’d definitely recommend Kastro. This is also the night we visited the fish spa and did a 15 minute foot treatment—neat thing to do just once.


The next morning George took us for free again to the port. We had a ferry to Athens booked on Blue Star. Wifi costs and there are far less seats than Hellenic. Since it was a 5-hour ferry, you actually want some comfort. Upon arriving in Athens, there was immediate chaos.


You should know that I hate Athens and I know it’s not fair. We found our way to the subway and almost immediately, there was a guy trying to pickpocket. Keep your eyes peeled, for sure. We took one of their 3 subway lines to our hostel and wandered around until we found it. The Acropolis was closed because it was 108 degrees Fahrenheit. I was really glad I’d already been because it is an incredible historic site, but I was sad that Chas didn’t get to wander it. We had to settle for seeing the Acrop from a distance and spending our time in the air conditioned museum which is pretty impressive and was not there at all the first time I went. Budget some time for it for sure. It is also air conditioned AF which was a necessity considering the temperature outside.


We then met some friends for dinner which was fun and got the hell out of there in the morning. We flew from Athens to Brussels early the next day. We flew Aegean Air which surprisingly fed us. Their lines are a pain in the ass though so I’d recommend getting to the airport earlier than usual. They’re kind in the customer service sort of way but extremely inefficient.

General Information:

I was pleasantly surprised by how “together” Greece was. The last time I went there I perceived it as a mess. And, from what you hear in the news, it seems like it’d be struggling in terms of timeliness, reliability, etc. I know they’re struggling financially. Anyway, aside from Athens being the worst place ever, everything was on time. Everyone was friendly and helpful. We walked away with an incredible impression of the islands. It seems like Greece knows that its tourism is its bread and butter and it’s got its head on straight. In addition, prices seemed reliable everywhere and I never felt duped. I’m happy for Greece! The ferries are a really incredible way of getting around–can’t say that enough.

Giasou – hello

Kalimera – good morning

Kalispera – good afternoon

And that’s the limit of my Greek!

This is Chas’s Google sheet that guided the more logistical parts of our trip. (It’s also a great example of differently our brains work.)

In sum, go to Greece.