12 Hours in Zurich

Given that we had a 20+ hour flight from Boston to Johannesburg, we wanted to plan our layover strategically. In my opinion, it’s best to either have a 2-3 hour layover (enough to grab a bite to eat, stretch your legs, and get back on the plane) or a 9+ hour layover (plenty of time to explore the local town). Given that Zurich is one of our favorite cities, we opted for a long (12 hour) layover so that we could have enough time to enjoy the city. Last time we were in Zurich, it was May and a little bit chilly outside. This time we majorly lucked out as it was 87 degrees and sunny the day we were there!

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We deplaned around 11:30am and headed straight to the train station to take the metro into town. The train system in Zurich is very simple & intuitive. We took the 6 train to Tiefenbrunnen. Once we arrived at our stop (around 1:00pm), we went to an awesome spot that my husband found – it was essentially an outdoor beach/grass area for us to lay out & go swim in the lake. We paid 25CHF to enter, which included entry for two and towels. The area is a large grassy space with multiple picnic tables, wooden decks & floating docks. It is equipped with bath houses that have lockers, bathrooms & showers. It felt like a community pool, except the pool was Lake Zurich.

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We weren’t sure how crowded it would be, given that it was a Wednesday mid-afternoon, but the place was jam packed with families, kids & friends of all ages. Apparently this was an unusually warm day for them, so I guess everyone was taking advantage of the weather! We swam in the lake (cold & refreshing), ate ice cream, drank a beer and basked in the warm sun. After a few hours, we decided to hit the showers and change.

We spent the next hour or so re-discovering Zurich – the old town is so charming and quaint, filled with hilly, winding streets, various local stores, coffee shops and colorful pastel homes with very distinct old-world architecture. The window boxes were in full bloom and stunning!

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We walked about 4 miles in & out of various streets, getting lost in the best way. Finally we decided it was time to grab some dinner at one of our favorites, Zeughauskeller. It’s a touristy spot, but we love it. The building was built in 1487 and is an old armory turned restaurant. Pre-Christopher Columbus, y’all!  The restaurant is classic Swiss – the menu has over 5 pages of sausage options (no joke). T got the classic bratwurst (#50), served with their delicious warm potato salad and I got the crumbed chicken (#95) served with salad. Two aperol spritz’s to toast. It felt good to be back at this spot, at the same table we ate at less than 18 months ago for our first big trip abroad together. Ahh, memories.

And let’s be honest, no trip to Switzerland is finished without a visit to the chocolate shop!

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And just like that, it was time to head back to the airport. With another international flight (ZRH > JNB) ahead of us, we arrived with about two hours to spare. All in all, during our 12 hour layover we spent about 8 hours in Zurich (1 hour travel, 3 hours in/out of airport) and walked over five miles. It was a fun, relaxing day and well worth the layover.

How would you spend 12 hours in Zurich?

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Iceland: 10 things to know before you go

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  1. Book everything ahead of time.

Unfortunately, Iceland is not one of those places where you can just “wing” it, especially if you’re only going for a long weekend like we did. The Blue lagoon sells out & excursions book up quickly. For example, I went online about 2 weeks ahead to purchase our Blue Lagoon tickets and every single day except one was sold out. I was shocked! We also booked FlyBus to/from the airport ahead of time so we didn’t have to waste any time buying tickets once there.

Travel Tip: If you’re there for a 24 hour or less layover, I would recommend just renting a car and doing your own tour. It will be cheaper, easier & more flexible. You can squeeze a lot into 1 day if you’re your own driver.

2. It’s expensive. Like, insanely expensive.

The only other place I’ve ever been to that even compares is Zurich, Switzerland where we paid over $50 for a B. Good salad & sandwich. Iceland is, well, and island so things are understandably priced higher than anywhere in the U.S. Food, drink, hotels, excursions – you name it, it’s expensive. I remember drinking a 12 oz Heineken Light at happy hour for “half off drinks” and my beer was $9. Yup, you read that right – that’s almost $20 for a can of beer. As long as you do your homework and you’re mentally prepared for this, you’ll be fine.

Travel Tip: Make sure you book a hotel with breakfast (most of them include it) to save!

  1. Bring your own booze & snacks.

For risk of sounding like the biggest cheapass on the planet, let me explain…so given tip #2, you’ll want to pack a variety of snacks to save money during flights and excursions. (The excursions last 8+ hours so trust me when I say, you’ll get hungry!) Also, bring water bottles to refill instead of buying bottles of water.

Travel Tip: You can buy booze & snacks duty-free at the Keflavik Airport as you arrive.

4. Pack layers.

Trust me on this one. You can read my post HERE regarding what to pack.

5. The wildlife is so different

 

Yes, this is kind of a random fact; however, I couldn’t stop talking about it! It’s one of those bizarre things that we noticed a few hours in…where are the birds? Does nobody here have pets? Am I in the twilight zone? Haha. Our tour guide from our Golden Circle Tour told us that in all of Iceland, there are no snakes or scorpions. There are minimal animals and very few native ones. All we saw were Icelandic horses and a few sheep. Believe it or not, I only saw 2 dogs the whole time I was there…two! We weren’t sure if that was because it was mostly raining or if people just don’t have as many house pets.

6. It’s not all snow

After all, this is the “land of fire and ice”. We were interested to find that although much of the land is desolate and covered by ice or rock, there are over 600 types of moss in Iceland. The moss (and the grass) cover a vast majority of the land and is insanely lush and vibrant shades of green. The water is unbelievably blue. The color are truly out of this world. It’s one of the many lures of Iceland

Travel Tip: Take many, many pictures. You won’t even need filters as the colors are beautifully saturated on their own.

7. Everyone speaks English

Maybe not a surprise to most, but it’s helpful to know. Language barriers can add an additional level of stress to travel so rest assured that you will have no problem getting around or communicating with the locals.

8. Drink all of the water

Literally. Bring a water bottle to fill up – don’t be a sucker and buy bottled water. The water everywhere is glacier fresh and ice cold – hotel sinks, water fountains, bar dispensers, you name it. This is not only a huge cost saver but their natural water is seriously the best of all!

9. Get ready to walk

In a good way! Bring shoes that are warm, comfortable & waterproof – no matter the season. We walked over 16,000 steps on day 1, over 11,000 steps on day 2. There were a lot of stairs & a lot of climbing. We felt great and exhausted at the end of each day.

10. Come with a plan

If I could give one main piece of advice when visiting Iceland, it’s to make a plan (as I mentioned in #1, #2, #3 & #9!)  There’s a lot to be prepared for – the weather, the food, the cost, etc. The list goes on and on so it’s really just best to do as much research as possible. This way, you will enjoy your trip much more!

I hope this post helped any of you planning an Iceland trip – I cannot recommend this beautiful country enough. Feel free to email me with any questions!

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Iceland Part 3: The Blue Lagoon

We arrived back in Rekjavik around 6pm (read about our day 1 excursion here), grabbed a quick bite at happy hour & then quickly changed into our bathing suits for our 8:00 pm pickup. I wondered if we were too rushed and packed too much into one day, but let me tell you…Blue Lagoon at night is the way to go!

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We booked this transfer via FlyBus which was super easy. They picked us up at 8:30 pm and we arrived at the Blue Lagoon exactly 45 minutes later. As you pull up, the building is very sleek and feels very “of the element”- it’s all built with wood, stone, and moss.

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So, here’s how the Blue Lagoon works:

Step 1: You must buy your tickets ahead of time. This is critical. We bought ours about a week ahead and almost every time slot was sold out.

Hint: Buy the basic entry package. We brought a towel from our hotel & they had free silica face masks everywhere. There’s really no need to buy a more expensive package.

Step 2: They give you a wristband to control your provided locker and for any purchases. I threw my clothes in the locker, rinsed off, grabbed my towel & walked right in.

Hint: Bring either a waterproof phone case or a Go Pro – you’ll want to take pics!

Step 3: Grab a drink, put on a mask and enjoy all that the lagoon has to offer! I must say, the lagoon is much bigger than I was imagining, with rocks, bridges & coves all around. It’s this milky, creamy hot tub feel, sans bubbles. They’ve got a swim up bar, various grottos and coves. It’s super chill and relaxing, though I imagine it may not feel this way if it were crowded. We didn’t partake in the spa or restaurant; however, I heard they’re both very nice.

Hint: Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the lagoon. We could easily have spent another hour or two wandering around and enjoying the amenities.

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We packed up around 11:00 pm and headed out to catch the bus back. We caught the most incredible pink sunset and were back in our beds by 1am. We were so relaxed from the evening that we passed out right away & slept like babies. One last thing to mention (especially you ladies!), your hair is going to be a frazzled mess the next day. I used a lot of their provided conditioner but still had a slimy, dry feeling to it.

Overall the Blue Lagoon is incredible and so worth it! I’ve heard many people say it’s “too touristy” or “overcrowded” but I think that if you go at the right time of you, you’ll be able to enjoy the area as much as we did.

Related Posts:

Iceland Part 1: Golden Circle Tour

Iceland Part 2: Southern Iceland Tour

Below are some unedited pictures from our Go Pro to give you an idea of the size/space:

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Entrance to the huge lagoon

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enjoying a cold brew in the hot lagoon

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silica face masks

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pure relaxation

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heaven 🙂

Iceland Part 2: Southern Iceland

Remember in my first post when I said that the weather changes by the minute? Well, day two in Iceland was the perfect example. As we were eating breakfast on Monday, we noticed a slight drizzle outside. We thought “no big deal” as this is common for Iceland. Well, fast forward about 20 minutes and we were in full torrential downpour. That lasted All. Day. Long.

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thank goodness we stopped for more rain gear 🙂

We already had a trip set up with Bus Travel IcelandBus Travel Iceland to explore all that Southern Iceland has to offer, so we threw a few extra pairs of socks in our bag, added an extra layer and hit the road. My first impression of the Bus Travel Iceland bus was “is this it?” Iit was a very small (maybe 14 passenger) van. Given the weather, this small vehicle was not the most comfortable. To be honest, we were pretty cold the whole time and never felt fully dried off or warm. On a day like this, I would have preferred the coach style bus, although we only had 4 people total so it was nice to have a smaller group with a more personalized tour.

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Our first stop was about 90 minutes south on a working farmhouse in Village of Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland. A young couple owned the house and ran the farm, with 200+ sheep, 75+ horses & a lot of land. Their home was warm, cozy & quite charming. They were only about 500 meters from the sea. Upon arrival, the hosts had coffee, tea & traditional Iceland pancakes ready. Everything was delicious! (You can find their home on Airbnb!)

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their farm – with so many cute horses!

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our host in her lovely home

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yummy coffee & crepes

Next, we took the journey down Ring Road to the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls—taking time to walk behind the former The wind & rain were really bad at this point, so we ran out of the van for a quick 10 minutes but that’s about it. Then we stopped for lunch and I was quickly reminded why I kept reading to bring your own lunch. We were at a small restaurant attached to a petrol station that was mediocre at best. (We paid $37 for 1 lukewarm bowl of vegetable soup & 1 beer stew. Meh. Lesson learned)

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Seljalandsfoss – so massive & powerful

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Skógafoss

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soaking it all in at Skógafoss

The weather improved a bit and we headed to the black sand beaches of Dyrhólaey. I was SO looking forward to seeing this beach so the weather was a huge bummer here. I’ve seen some amazing pictures of this beach on a nice day and it’s stunning. The black beach is sandwiched between the ocean and these huge rocky mountains that form some seriously awesome caves. It was one of the most unique beaches I’ve ever seen and felt very Game-Of-Thrones. Here is a picture I found of the area on a nice day (our pictures didn’t turn out well):

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Our last stop on the tour was the Sólheimajökull Glacier. This was awesome! I’m not sure about you, but I had never seen a glacier in person before. For a minute, I felt like we were in Alaska. The large glacier was a very blue-ish white color with green mountains behind it. We saw a lot of groups doing glacier walks (that was another offered excursion) and I think that would be a really neat tour to do next time.

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the glacier on a rainy day

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Overall, I enjoyed the Southern Iceland tour but not as much as the Golden Circle on day one. Perhaps this was due to the inclement weather, but it just felt like a lot more driving and not as much sightseeing. I’d be eager to try this tour group on a warmer, better day as it would probably give me a better comparison.

Thank you to Bus Travel Iceland for sponsoring this post. They graciously provided us with this complimentary tour. As always, the provided opinions are my own.

Iceland Part 1: Golden Circle Tour

Oh Iceland, where do I begin? Let me start by saying that this country is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been…in a good way. Given that we only had 3 nights in Iceland, we opted to stay in downtown Reykjavik and partner with local tour companies for two excursions. Our full Iceland trip will be broken down into 5 sections, as I have a large amount of review, tips & tricks to share…

Day 1: Golden Circle Tour via Grayline

We woke up bright (literally- it was light out almost 24 hours!) and early on Sunday morning to grab a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby prior to our 10:00am pickup. Since we were staying in town at the CenterHotel Midgaurdar, pickup was a breeze. We waited out front as they pulled up right on time. The small bus takes you to the main bus station, where you are checked in and  directed to the appropriate large bus.

My first impression of the bus was very positive. It’s your standard 55-passenger bus, but felt new and updated. The seats reclined, there was free wifi and in-wall plugs to charge any electronics. Given that this was a full 8 hour excursion, having these amenities proved to be a valuable, and necessary, benefit.

Tip: Come prepared! We packed a backpack with extra socks, gloves, beanies, jacket, various snacks & water bottles. We used it all.

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The lush, green scenery of Iceland

Here’s our itinerary:

The Golden Circle Classic Tour takes you from Reykjavik city to Þingvellir National Park, arguably the most important site in Iceland in terms of history, culture, and geology.

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Þingvellir National Park, right after the rain passed

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A UNESCO world heritage site, Þingvellir National Park is home to Iceland‘s largest natural lake and the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and drift apart. From Þingvellir, the tour continues through an area of beautiful scenery towards two of Iceland’s greatest natural attractions at Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir hot spring area.

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Gullfoss

At Gullfoss waterfall you can take a short walk down a pathway and get right up close to this powerful waterfall and feel the mist of glacial water on your face as it cascades down into the narrow Hvítárgljúfur Canyon.

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Getting soaked by the powerful & beautiful Gullfoss

The Geysir area home of “The Great Geysir” hot spring, which all geysers are named after, this area is an impressive collage of bubbling mud pools, hissing steam vents, and colourful algae deposits. It also features one of the world’s most reliable fountain geyser, Strokkur hot spring, that every 4 to 8 minutes blasts out a column of super heated water up to 20 metres into the air.

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Overall, Grayline was a very easy tour group to deal with. Their busses are clearly marked, they come fully equipped & they run a tight ship. Our tour guide was very informative, knowledgeable & had a good sense of humor. I would definitely recommend them for this tour – I only wish we had more time to do a second tour!

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A surprise trip to a “secret” waterfall from our tour guide…

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Stay tuned for Day 1, Part 2 tomorrow…

Thank you to Grayline for sponsoring this post. They graciously provided us with this complimentary tour. As always, the provided opinions are my own.

 

5 Favorite Paris AirBnbs

When this picture popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today, I immediately smiled…

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How has it already been 1 year since we were in Paris?

As a throwback to my one of my favorite cities in the world, I want to share 5 of my favorite Air BnBs that I’ve found in the City of Lights. Or is it City of Love? I say both!

If You Want Cozy + Modern + Affordable

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This 1 bedroom charming flat is under $175/night and located in the Latin Quarter, near great restaurants & nightlife. The location is perfect and it’s got all you need if you’re in Paris for a few days. The apartment looks clean, updated and bright! Look at all of the natural light coming in. An excellent, budget-friendly choice.

If You Want a Tres Chic Place With A View of the Eiffel Towel

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While having this view comes with a price, this place is sooo Parisian! From the chevron hardwood floors to the french doors leading to balconies, this will have you feeling like a local in no time. Bonus: it’s two bedroom so this would be great for a group of friends, family or two couples. And let’s be honest, you can’t beat that view…

If You Want to Splurge on Luxury

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By far the most expensive on my list, this rental is luxurious bordering on gaudy…and I love it. The silk sheets, the ornate crown molding, the over-the-top decor, it’s super luxurious. Located in Saint-Germain, this place is a dream come true if you can afford it. To me, it feels like a posh French hotel but you have the space of an apartment. I mean, look at that kitchen!

If You’re Traveling Solo

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This 1 bed studio is perfectly tucked away in La Marais, arguably my favorite neighborhood in all of Paris. It’s got charming touches, old French architecture, and all you need to feel comfortable for a few days…all within walking distance to the best shops, restaurants & sights.

If You Want Amenities & Local Interaction

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With a hidden grotto in the lower level, this apartment is very unique. In addition to the pool, this rental boasts a home gym, sauna and a stylish courtyard to spend your mornings sipping coffee on. With 2 bedrooms, it’s the perfect place for a group that wants to spend time at their rental. The owners are likely to interact with you, so be sure to brush up on your French!

5 Sample Europe Itineraries

One of the travel questions I get asked most often is “how do we decide where to go?”. Specifically, I’ve had about 10 people in the past week say they’ve got roughly 10-12 days off (basically 1 work week + bookend weekends) and want to go to Europe. Given that there are about a million different options, depending who you’re traveling with, your experience level, your travel style, etc I’ve put together 5 options that are pretty versatile.

London, Paris & Amsterdam

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This is what I like to call the “starter pack” of Europe. London is always a great option because they speak English, it’s a very cosmopolitan city and it’s easy to get around. Take the chunnel or a quick flight and you’re in Paris. Three more hours in a train and you’re in Amsterdam. This trip would be great for couples, friend groups or families. Given that each city has so much to offer, you can really tailor the trip based on your wants & needs.

Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam

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I often suggest Paris (listed again, as you can see) for Europe first-timers as it’s easy to fly directly into and a great starting point for trips. There are also many day option trips from Paris (see my recent visit here), so you can use Paris as a “home base” for your entire trip. Additionally, the train is incredibly easy to take from Paris to Amsterdam (and back). It’s about 3 hours each way, with a stop in Brussels, making this itinerary a no-brainer. If you’re nervous about traveling in a foreign country, or prefer to limit your inter-country travel time, this is the route for you.

Rome, Venice & Florence

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A classic Italian trip, these 3 cities are easily accessible and in the same Northern region of Italy. You’ll get to see a ton of history in Rome, view world famous art in Florence & explore the canals of Venice. Eat, drink and walk your way through a trip of a lifetime. While this trip is ideal for multiple travel styles, I think it’s especially great for couples or a small girls trip! (I went with two girl friends to Italy & Greece for 2 weeks and it was perfect – we could share a bottle of wine, a pizza & move easily in/out of museums).

Lisbon, Madrid & Barcelona

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For all of you East Coasters, this is a great trip to take. You can easily fly into Lisbon (or Porto if you prefer) and out of Barcelona (or vice versa). Portugal & Spain are similar in that they’re usually warmer, they’ve got outstanding beaches & delicious red wine. We actually may be doing a similar trip in the fall so I’ll be sure to give more details once planning commences.

Berlin, Prague & Munich

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Whether you’re into history or beer, Germany has something for you. You can easily take the train between all 3 cities, making travel fairly simple. It’s worth noting that Prague is unlike any other city in Europe – it has this unique magic & charm about it, almost like you’re in Disney world. The old school architecture, castles & bridges capture moments lost in time. It’s romantic & magical for sure.

I could come up with a ton of other options (including about 10 off the top of my head that I’m dying to go to, including French Riviera > Monaco > Italian Riviera), so feel free to reach out if you need help. This is one of my favorite things to do!

What’s your favorite European Itinerary?!