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Ramshackle mansion, the big apple, rainbows, and unicorns…

Last adventure of the year, and here’s how it went…

ramshackle_mansionDay 1 – En route to Ramshackle Mansion…

Woke up in the wee hours of the morning, drove to the airport in our city (mark it on a calendar, we got to fly from home for a change, without having to remortgage the house), flew to Montreal, had breakfast and coffee, flew to NY, arrived by 10:30 am and let the good times begin. Thanks Michelle and Paul for picking us up – rock stars, the both of ya! We really appreciated it a lot!! The drive to the Hamptons was uneventful and filled with laughs and plotting our visit to the 7-11, before stopping for some lunch and beer at the Southampton Publick House (decent beer selection, average food, over-the-top decorated for Halloween – not in a good way). There may also have been stops for other vitally important things like beer, rum, and maybe food. We were one of the earlier groups to arrive at Ramshackle Mansion and from the outside it looked pretty nice. Melissa gave us the tour and we picked our room in the drunken jerks wing from a solo cup. I dig it!supplies

Kudos to Melissa and Mel for hooking us all up in the Hamptons, and please don’t forget we love you and appreciate everything you did throughout my ranting :) I have never rented a mansion before. I have never been to the Hamptons before. I don’t value possessions and I don’t think anyone in the world needs a mansion. If not for really digging this group of people, you would not have found me in the Hamptons. But for what a mansion costs to rent for a weekend, even split across like 20 people, I did have certain expectations. And to be honest, even they were not high ones because I’m a pretty low maintenance kind of person – at least a reasonable amount of cleanliness, soap, toilet paper, clean towels, and general functioning stuff… oh, and a fucking hair dryer! This is not how we found said mansion, and so I renamed it Ramshackle Mansion. The place was filthy, floor to ceiling. The kitchen was full of dirty dishes in the cupboards (lipstick stains and all), the laundry room was piled montauk_lighthousehigh with unwashed linens and towels (that we would need to wash to use), there was a BBQ with no propane, outdoor propane heaters with no propane, an outdoor fireplace with no fire wood, broken this that and everything, you had to guess which outlets worked, 1 of 3 coffee makers worked, stained carpets galore, and the pool had garbage in it (though it was a bit cold for the pool anyway). This is a total party house and even though it’s not that old, it totally shows. We were told that a wedding came through and trashed the place just before we got there, but I think that was something they tell everyone every time they rent it so they don’t have to clean it property (stay tuned). The layout is also completely effed up. Whoever looked at the blueprints before it was built has some really serious issues! And mansions don’t need orgy rooms!

All was not lost though, don’t fret! Good ole Ramshackle had lots of potential. The natural light in there is amazing, the grounds are lovely, there aren’t any real neighbours, and there were deer and wild turkeys and ducks. It was a giant house full of good friends and we can make anything work. Without a doubt, we left that place cleaner than we found it. The weather was also beautiful and much warmer than it would normally be this time of year. There may have also been a very large room full of booze that was not locked and we’ll call that the pantry since “pantry items” was included in the bits and bobs that come with the mansion. The consensus is that this may be because some rap dude did something or another at the mansion and it was sponsored by Heineken and Strongbow.montauk_beach

So back to the story… we caught back up with friends with beverages for pretty much the rest of the day. Team New Jersey made us supper (including a delicious zucchini noodle with cashew cream mushroom sauce that was awesome – thanks Melissa and Mel!). We found things to burn and had a nice fire. And generally the entire mansion called it an early night from travelling.

Day 2 – Lighthouse adventure, laughs, and kings cup

I’m not a terribly indecisive type. I pretty much always know what I feel like doing, where I feel like going, what I want to eat, etc. So we had made plans to check out the Sag Harbor farmers market and then to head out to Montauk. It was a small farmers market, with prices a bit high because it’s in the Hamptons (I’m just assuming), but we got some veg for when it was our turn to feed the troops. Some of us may have charmed our way into some free veg :) After that, we swooped in on Montauk caravan style. We checked out the lighthouse, the beach, and scaled the rocks around the back. Pretty nice spot actually, lots of high surf and surfers around that day. There was also a stop for sampling at the Montauk Brewing Company and pizza, and a look out, and Starbucks, and then back to the mansion.

visitor_retardantBy decree of Gel, we were to be playing drinking games that evening, and so we did… after some more fire action (which include Paul, D, Greg, and I hunting for firewood in the forest, armed with a bag, beer, and a small golf club… you know, in case of zombies). The “other Canadians” – how people referred to them around us, I didn’t name them – made us a lovely spread for dinner (and thanks Frank, Scott, and Kathy for the other spreads throughout the day) and then people got drunk and it was hilarious and you had to be there, so I’ll fast forward to day 3. But there was a cake for Gel and Herb – congrats on the engagement you two!

Mel, I’ll get started on all those ebooks right after the holidays :P

Day 3 – Lazy day at Ramshackle mansion and trapping Binjas

Sunday Funday in the Hamptons… so much of the gang donned their football finery and camped out in the theatre room. Ingrid n Co made us a lovely brunch (though Ingrid was baking cookies anstreet_artd doing stuff in the kitchen pretty much all weekend – thanks Ing!). There was also much lazing about. D headed back Sunday afternoon cause she had to work but we found her again in the city. Michelle, Paul, and I went out and found stuff for operation taco night (which can also be referred to as operation get out of the house for a bit… I am sooo not used to sitting around that much)… and then team Canadia & Queens (surely we can mash those words together better!) did up our taco spread (and chocolate avocado pudding – because Michelle NEEDED it!). The theatre was commandeered later in the evening for zombie o’clock. There was a group picture fiasco that did finally result in a picture of almost everyone – I’ve done lots of group photography at weddings and I realize it’s like herding cats. An incredibly large game of pass the ace followed, though they all call it something else and the rules are slightly different. I was never so happy to be out of a card game so early before (and I’m not competitive enough to care either way)… my head felt like it was going to explode after loud time spent in the kitchen, super loud tv watching in the theatre, and more loud again. It’s no slight on anyone – the acoustics of that house were a bit bonkers, to the point that in the kitchen you could literally scream at someone right next to you and they couldn’t hear you… and everyone in the world likely watches tv louder than I do. Beer helped.

Anywho, had a great chat with Paulie (I have a lot of unconventional opinions on stuff and I dig it when others do too), said our goodbyes to Scott and Frank and everyone leaving early in the morning, chilled for a bit and tidied up some mess, and called it a night.

magnolia_bakeryOn a side note, we had a lot of visitors at the mansion on Sunday. I think they were both on Sunday, but it’s kind of a blur. The first mister showed up with a couple and wanted to show them around the mansion because they wanted to book it for a wedding the following year. When someone in the gang mentioned to this mister (rental agent or something maybe) that it was kind of a shabby mansion, his “well, it’s only a 5 million dollar mansion” comment may not have been well received. And then he asked for some of Ingrid’s cookies… and I don’t mean this as any kind of code :P She was really making cookies. Visiting group number 2 came while we were making supper and was surprised to find us there at all. She was part of the family that rented the mansion the previous weekend and trashed the place… except that maybe they didn’t trash the place, and who knows what the deal is with that one… kind of sketchy. But they were looking for clothes, cake, appliances, etc. that they left at the mansion and the only thing left was some flowers… and trust me, the boys searched that mansion from top to bottom finding mass amounts of weirdness. They also claimed they still were renting the mansion, but they were sent packing… but they did “excape” with a coffee maker they claimed was theirs.

Day 4 – So long Hamptons, hello NYC…memorial

Most everyone who was still around in the morning left pretty early… the rest of us cleaned up the rest of the mansion, locking the hundred million doors and windows etc. It was about 11 when we all took off and headed into the city. Team Canadia and Queens (Queenadia?) stuck together on the way back in, took the train into the city from near Michelle and Paul’s place (next time we’re coming to visit!!), hoofed it to the hotel and dumped our stuff, and met up with Team California and D slightly later… and Gel’s uncle Gilbert as well.

PS: our budget hotel in the city had many things that Ramshackle did not – a lot of clean towels, soap, toilet paper, kleenex, and a fucking hairdryer lol!

Tour guide Michelle gave us a rocking tour of the city… I wanted to make sure Greg saw something he actually wanted to see before going with the flow, so after a quick bite at a Korean food stand at Broadway Bites, we hit the High wtcLine (a re-purposed train track that is now a walking path and green space) and then we hit up Chelsea Market and ate our way through a bit. Greg bought some ghost pepper-flavoured salt and harissa, we tried some malted pumpkin ice cream at Ronnybrook, had some juice, and there was tea and beer and ravioli sampling. It was interesting to me to see how the bakeries and stuff there package things (and the CRAZY prices they charge for stuff). Post Chelsea Market, we checked out the Sex in the City staircase (I have no idea what this means, I’m assuming it must have been in that show), the Magnolia bakery (since we just happened to walk by it, Ing and I needed treats), a bar that made me incredibly uncomfortable called Employees Only (we split up there and D, Greg, Paul, and I went to a different pub style place – Bayard’s Ale House – and we met back later), had a bite at the Meatball Shoppe, and called it a night. Thanks D and Gilbert for the beers! So kind!

Day 5 – Here, there and everywhere in NYC…

There was a great place with breakfast food and a Starbucks across the street from the hotel, so I had a oncetasty breakfast of chocolate chia pudding and coffee. Then we hit the trains minus Gel (hope your back is feeling better now Gel) to check out the World Trade Centre. The last time we were around there was quite a while ago and they were still more digging out than building. Now the site contains one very tall and shiny new building, and two stunning fountains surrounded by the names of the fallen. It’s a very powerful spot and I needed to wander off with Greg for a bit to wipe away some tears. We didn’t go in the museum.

Spent a bit of time at Battery Park for the views (though it like many things in NY is under construction), headed up to Macy’s to meet Michelle and Paul, and then headed to Carmine’s for lunch (where we met back up with D and Gilbert as well). Carmine’s is a big Italian eatery where everything gets ordered family style. I have a pet peeve about paying a lot for pasta when it costs pennies to make, but the food was good and the company was great.

We had to walk off the pasta following Carmines, so we visited Rockefeller Plaza, St Patricks (sat that one out, don’t like churches), and Central Park to check on the rats. Stopped for a visit to the NHL store for Greg, to try and rescue a squirrel from the Dolce & Gabana store entrance way (poor little guy, I hope he got out… I wouldn’t want to be trapped there), “admired” what is “fashion”, and just plain walked a lot – which was nice after a lot of mansion sitting during the weekend, but is somewhat challenging in a big group. (But we don’t need to put people on leashes, Binja :P)

chelsea_marketWe had tickets for Once, so that was our next event of the evening. I really loved the show, and it wasn’t sold out, so they put us in better seats when we get there. The stage is set up like a bar, so during intermission, they served drinks from it, which I thought was pretty clever. The whole cast came out quickly after the show and Paulie got them all to sign a program. I don’t know anyone who knows people who’ve been in shows and movies better than him and Michelle. After the show, we walked people places they needed to be and said our goodbyes. We walked Ingrid and Kathy back to the hotel, and then Greg and I wandered off to find something to eat… and then we called it a day.

Day 6 – Living in airports…halloween

We got some food in the morning, packed up our stuff, said our goodbyes to Herb and Gel, and headed to the airport. Flight was on time when we left the hotel and delayed by the time we got there. I forgot I had tasty chocolate chia pudding in my bag that I was going to eat later – and I still contend that that is not a liquid – but security stole it… I think he wanted to eat it :P Our first flight ended up delaying enough that we would miss the second, so we had them reroute us before we even left NY. The section of LGA we were in was sketchy and boring and we could barely get the also sketchy free wifi to work… so that was a bit of a long wait. We should have gone and drank beer with Paul for a few hours instead! We finally made it to Montreal and got everything sorted for the next flight, and then proceeded to wait for another 4 hours or so to catch the new flight we were on. At least we had functional wifi and Starbucks for that one. We finally made it home around 11:00.

And the morals of the story… don’t rent an only 5 million dollar mansion… and it never really matters when you’re surrounded by cool kids!

And now we work every day until the end of the year… thanks for the good times gang. See you in Feb!

Update: A quick bit of Googling shows that Ramshackle partied so hard that they got the place shut down… and that possibly it was all happening while some “celebrity” owned it and didn’t know what was going on. That explains a lot :)  And still in no way discredits how awesome our weekend was and how appreciative we are to Melissa and Mel for sorting it.

 


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Iceland: Stunning landscapes, friendly folks, and chocolate covered licorice…

Whale meat and shots of Black Death at the Seabaron

Whale meat and shots of Black Death at the Seabaron

Another one of my top ten countries to visit in the world off the list… except that it’s not coming off the list. For the first time ever, a country is staying in the mix instead of being bumped to make room for another new country to move into my loosely structured top 10. Not that I visit them in order (I hate lists), but I do keep them on the radar in my head (thereby not being on paper and not being a list). And Iceland is so amazing that it’s staying on the radar for another visit… soon… ish. Here’s why…

This adventure starts like most of the others – we drove to another city to catch a flight from another airport (Damn you Air Canada and your monopoly on travel out of the airport in our city!!!). We drove to Halifax (about a four hour drive) so we could take a direct Halifax to Keflavik flight with Iceland Air. Our flight wasn’t until evening, so we made a day of it stopping to visit some of our family on the way. We left the car at the Park N Fly lot near the Halifax airport since it was cheaper than leaving it at the airport.

A pretty yard in the residential area where we stayed

Tip: The Park N Fly in Halifax is just minutes from the airport and the shuttle runs 24×7. Air Miles and CAA frequently have discount coupons/codes for Park N Fly, so you should check before you go. We saved about $10 with an Air Miles one.

The airport is big for the Maritimes, but it’s really not and there’s not a lot going on there. We had a bite to eat, got a last Starbucks for the week (Iceland doesn’t have Starbucks, which is fine, just FYI), and played on our devices. Flight was uneventful, Iceland Air planes are pretty nice (a pillow and a REAL blanket) and there was movies. The flight was just over 4 hours, so really it wouldn’t have mattered too much to me. We flew into daylight since it’s 24 hour daylight in Iceland right now and it’s 3 hours ahead of us.

Rye bread ice cream and picked fish on rye at Cafe Loki

Rye bread ice cream and picked fish on rye at Cafe Loki

Touch down in Keflavik at 5am their time, many many hours before we are officially allowed to get into the apartment we rented. Different from anywhere we have ever traveled, we had to go through security before customs when landing in Iceland. And that also meant I couldn’t go pee, which I desperately needed to. Boo! Customs took 5 seconds after that, and we were off to find the FlyBus. There’s a ticket counter and self-serve kiosks for the buy to Reykjavik.

Tip: We opted to be dropped off at a hotel near our apartment, but it’s a bit cheaper if you just get dropped to the BSI bus terminal (which has everything you need to make your way anywhere as a tourist). If you think you might be thirsty, the duty free at the airport is worth a visit because the prices are better than in Reykjavik. Loads of locals were stocking up.

The most famous restaurant in Reykjavik - Baejarins Beztu Pylsur - it's a hot dog stand

The most famous restaurant in Reykjavik – Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – it’s a hot dog stand

So it was only 7 ish when we got to the hotel near our apartment, and while the host said there was a place we could leave our luggage – that was apparently just leaving it sitting on the stairs – we opted to drag it around until we could actually get into the apartment. We stopped at a nearby hostel to get pointed to somewhere to find something to eat and hoofed it down to a cafe for breakfast. By the time we got back, one of the hosts was cleaning the apartment and we left our bags inside and took another little walk. And then we got back and he was done – and since it was 9am and we had been awake for like 30 hours, we decided to have a little nap before hitting the ground running. Since check in is really at 2pm, we’re definitely not complaining that we had to wait until 9am.

Church on the hill at the seaside village of Vik

Church on the hill at the seaside village of Vik

Tip: We knew going in that Iceland is expensive, so we opted to rent an apartment so we could cook some of our own meals. We used AirBnB for our rental and it’s a perfectly decent service – just read the reviews with a grain of salt like you would with any other lodging engine for travel and be sure to clarify anything you need to know with the owner of the place you’re renting. And if you’re thinking about using AirBnB sometime soon, they offered me a travel credit I could share with friends… so click here and have at it :)

We didn’t really get any sleeping in, but we unpacked and rested for a couple of hours… and then it was off to start the fun. We had booked a food tour for our first day. We’re both foodies and they are often a good way to get a lay of the land. We booked through Icelandic Mountain Guides and did their Reykjavik By Food tour. We had Sam from Switzerland as our guide and thankfully did not have to go with the large group of teenage girls and their handlers that showed up around the same time. We had a small group of 8, consisting of a couple from Australia and a family from America. We tried some seaweed (not really new to us since we also live by the ocean) and what is normally a Christmas cake for them at the tourist information center where the tour started.

Fjadrargljufur canyon

Fjadrargljufur canyon

Tip: Iceland rocks at tourism. The Tourist Information Center on Adalstraeti has everything you could ever need. They can book tours for you there, help you figure out what you want to do and how to get there, and there’s free maps and books and pretty much every resource you could possibly need. We picked up a map there and it was the meeting place for a tour, but otherwise we didn’t use it much. But if we didn’t already have a game plan, we totally would have.

We stopped at a pub style place to try Malt (kind of like a sweet non-alcoholic beer). And then we were off to the Seabaron for our next sampling. We were supposed to try rotten, fermented shark, but they had already run out for the day, so they served us some whale instead (I suspect we traded up). I have some moral issues with eating whale (despite quotas and all that), but I decided to try it anyway. I have to admit, it was delicious – but that will be my one and only sampling of whale meat. We also washed it all down with some schnapps – Brennivin – affectionately known as the Black Death. It’s gross and it burns, but we brought some home so our friends could try it too!

At the glacier lagoon

At the glacier lagoon

From there it was on to our next spot – Mar Restaurant – to try some lobster soup with a twist… a twist that I proudly
guessed as cocoa. It was kind of like lobster hot chocolate and it was not my favourite. Next up, we stopped at a pub to sample some local beer – all of which I could see through and didn’t enjoy. We stopped at a deli to try some Icelandic cheeses and meats, and then we headed to Cafe Loki for the final stop on our tour. There we had rye bread with butter (yum – I’m totally going to try and replicate it), rye bread ice cream (amazing), and our choice of coffee or tea. Overall, this was a pretty good tour. It was a bit pricey in terms of comparing to other food tours in other countries, but not really surprisingly so compared to other things in Icelandic prices. Our guide was interesting and had interesting insights into Icelandic tourism since he was one and now works in the field. The tour lasted about 3.5 hours.

Jökulsárlón - the glacier lagoon

Jökulsárlón – the glacier lagoon

Following the tour, we headed back to the apartment quickly (since it was near the finishing point) and then we headed back out (we’re not big for lingering and we wanted to stay awake until a reasonable time at night to put us on the right time zone) to walk around some more and find some supper. We opted for tasty fish and chips at the organic bistro Icelandic Fish and Chips. We hit up the alcohol store (outside of bars/restaurants, you can only buy alcohol in proper stores in Iceland – which is the same as it is here, so we didn’t find it weird) to get a few beer en route back. Some chillin’ at the apartment after that and getting a few things ready for a really long tour the following day. Night one of sleeping through 24 hour daylight was weird but a success.

Skógafoss waterfall

Skógafoss waterfall

The real reason of this trip is that we wanted to celebrate our 10th anniversary (love you Greg!) somewhere awesome… and for part of the trip, we decided we would splurge on one day trip that we likely normally wouldn’t have. We opted for the Glacier Lagoon Cruise with Gateway to Iceland. They were terrific to deal with by email in advance of the tour and I would highly recommend them. They picked us up from our apartment shortly after 8:00 and off we went.

This was one hell of a crazy day of a tour. Our guide – Stanthor – was interesting enough, though a bit “Ricky rulebook” for me. He was also quirky (which I normally dig), a hater of trees and the lupines that Iceland brought in from Alaska (and which have taken over the landscape in many places – some Icelanders love because they aren’t too tall and don’t affect the view much and also because they cut down on sand storms, but others hate them because they just don’t belong there), and a bit crazy about what you could and couldn’t eat inside his van (we ate some crackers in there, don’t tell him!). We figure he must actually own it. He had his son with him for the day, so we also reckon we may have gotten to see a bit more than normal. There were 11 of us on the tour, which is about my limit of people I am willing to wait for getting on and off a small bus all day long… but I love people, so we frequently roll the dice on tours that we could just do ourselves. It works out more often than not. We had a good mix, many around our age and all of them friendly.

Turf church in Hof built in 1883

Turf church in Hof built in 1883

We had considered just renting a car and doing stuff for ourselves, but we walked through the costs and this worked out fine for us. Car rentals there are a lot more expensive than here in Canada and so is petrol. Next time we’ll rent a car and not stay in Reykjavik though.

Our first stop on the tour was Skógafoss waterfall. Generally waterfalls are interesting to me for about five minutes. I take a picture or two, walk around some, and unless we get to play in them, I am ready to go. But the landscape in Iceland is stunning, there are waterfalls everywhere – wee ones, giant ones, amazing… not amazing enough for me to travel with a tripod and be one of those people that block the beautiful view for everyone else trying to get that perfect picture of fake looking slowed down water… but amazing all the same! We didn’t have loads of time here, but enough to walk around a bit and admire the beautiful landscape. We stopped at several others over the span of the day – so beautiful.

One of the many glaciers we saw

One of the many glaciers we saw

There was never an uninteresting moment during the drive (we covered about 800km of Iceland’s southern coast) because the landscape is so interesting… lush green farmland, lava rocks covered in moss, volcanos and glaciers, lots of sheep and Icelandic horses, and our guide was great about pointing out different areas… and stopping quite a lot so we could stretch our legs and see things more closely. We got an Icelandic language lesson on how to say Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted a few years back and put a very serious hitch on European airspace. It’s along the lines of AY – yah – fyat – la – yo – kuh-tle. Simple right? Icelanders we met seemed to get a kick out of how poorly news agencies around the world did with this name in 2010.

Svartifoss in Vatnajökull National Park

Svartifoss in Vatnajökull National Park

Over the span of the day, we stopped for some time to walk around in Vik, at several more falls, to see some bridges (damaged and new), glaciers, rivers, a turf church in Hof, Fjadrargljufur canyon, and to hike in to Svartifoss in Vatnajökull National Park. But the highlight of the day was totally our trip to Jökulsárlón – the glacier lagoon. When we arrived, we had an hour or so to walk around to and go down to the beach to see the small icebergs making their way out to the ocean. After that, we did a boat tour around the lagoon in an amphibious vehicle. Partway through the boat ride, someone met the boat to tell us some more about the lagoon and glaciers and stuff. What a truly amazing place! It was my favourite part of our entire trip. So stunning!

By the time we made a few more stops, had something to eat in Vik, and finished the drive back to Reykjavik, it was around midnight and we called it a day.

Sun Voyager

Sun Voyager

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, we spent some time kicking around Reykjavik. We walked around exploring street art and the waterfront (including the pier where the whaling and whale watching fleet are docked together) Sunday morning after some breakfast at Cafe Paris. We checked out their weekend flea market where we got some rye bread (yum), cookies, and I bought a hat from a local knitter. We love farmers markets, but we’re not big on flea markets, so we didn’t stay long. We tried the famous hot dog stand. We chilled at the pond with some coffee and tea and explored the 3D map of Iceland inside city hall. We explored the awesome light and windows at the Harpa and while there we bought tickets to a comedy show “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes” for that night. Then we hit the Micro Bar to check out some Icelandic micro brews – which were delicious, and expensive, and I might have gotten a tiny bit drunk in the middle of a Sunday afternoon (which would make me an alcoholic in Iceland… someone was telling us that you can get as drunk and stupid as you want on the weekend, all night/weekend long, crazy, passed out in a ditch with amnesia drunk, and that’s ok… but it’s not cool when it’s not on a weekend)… oh well :)

Inside Harpa

Inside Harpa

We had a burger at the Burger Joint to soak up some booze (it was fine and it amused us that they served McCain fries there) and then headed over to the show. It wasn’t too bad, I laughed a few times… tourist kitsch… all good. We walked back to our apartment along the water so we could see the Sun Voyager sculpture, which I have to say is pretty cool. There’s loads of construction going on along the waterfront (possibly because the lots of property owners in Reykjavik want to rent their places out to tourists, making it challenging for Icelanders to find affordable housing).

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

Monday involved more walking, but started out with some juice from a juice bar. We explored the sculpture garden at the Einar Jónsson Museum and had a delicious local lunch at Cafe Loki. We walked out or Perlan to explore the views of the city and the nice hiking trails. It houses a restaurant and we didn’t eat there, but we checked things out from the observation decks and then walked down through the park to see an interesting cemetery and a family of geese. The constant overcast was finally starting to lift from the sky by the time we got back to the apartment, so it was finally time to check out the Hallgrímskirkja church. We had walked by it countless times but finally took the time to go up to the observation deck (there’s a small charge to go up, but you can go into the church for free). Great views, but the best one was being hogged by a camera douche for pretty much the entire time we were there.

View from the top of the church

View from the top of the church

We hit up the Icelandic Handknitting Association shop after our visit to the church, as I have been going on about how awesome Icelandic sweaters look for a very long time and I wanted to check them out. I had done some research in advance because if I wanted to buy one, I wanted to make sure I got one that was actually handknit in Iceland and not machine made somewhere else… and all roads pointed here. The shop has an overwhelming amount of sweaters organized loosely by style and then by size. They sell yarn and patterns and stuff too I believe, but I don’t knit so I’m no expert. The sweaters were a bit more pricey than I was hoping, not that they aren’t worth it, and I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to buy one. But I’m pretty sure Greg wasn’t letting me leave the shop without one since I had been so excited about them. So I am the proud owner of a lovely, handknit Icelandic sweater thanks to my wonderful husband.

Strong man competition as part of National Day

Strong man competition as part of National Day

I was really in need of some more food with nutrition in it by this point (the staples of Iceland seem to be fish or lamb or hot dog and potatoes), so we hit a vegetarian restaurant for supper (I’m not a food douche and people can eat whatever they want, but we eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg in our day to day diet, so sometimes it can be a bit challenging travelling in some countries). The restaurant was Graenn Kostur and it was the best meal I had in Iceland. We hit up the Bonus for a few groceries after supper, grabbed a cookie for Greg at Cafe Babalu, and some frozen yogurt at the place near our apartment, and called it a day.

Kerið crater

Kerið crater

Tuesday was National Day in Iceland, so we decided to join in with the locals in celebrating. There was a ton going on but the weather wasn’t very nice. It rained off and on (more on than off) for most of the day and by the time we got back to the apartment that evening, we were thoroughly drenched! We started the day at the Bernhöftsbakarí for a treat (and we ended up back there for lunch for sandwiches and hot drinks). We watched some of the festivities in Austurvöllur (a park in the downtown area), listened to some singing, and enjoyed seeing some Icelanders in traditional dress. We joined in their parade with the rest of the locals and took in some strange Icelandic pop singers. There were little tents set up all over the downtown selling candy, cotton candy, and balloons and in one of the squares circus performers were teaching kids how to use their performance props. There were multiple stages set up with live dancing and music. We’re pretty sure we saw the president and first lady of Iceland. In the park near the pond, they set up viking games for kids and more bouncy castles than I have ever seen in my life. There were some antique cars on display, rides, chess in the park, poetry readings, a strong man competition and more… and everything except buying from the vendors was free. During some of the music, we had a nice chat with a mister from Alberta who was currently living in Iceland. He told us New Years was crazy there and worth seeing, so I’ve filed this information away.

National Day celebrations

National Day celebrations

We had some supper at a Thai place away from the action after having no luck getting served at a place closer to the festivities. Thoroughly wet and cold, we decided to call it a night. The music still went on for another couple of hours and we could hear it from our apartment – while watching the UK food network (which currently seems to be obsessed with food in South Africa and which also continuously replays Guy Fieri shows).

Tip: Iceland has fairly unpredictable weather, so dress in layers and bring a waterproof jacket at least. For us, we were there in June. The highest we saw it was 18C, the lowest was probably around 10C. Any given day, it could be sunny, rainy, cloudy, windy, etc. and then repeat. For us, it also always seemed to be nicer weather-wise outside of Reykjavik – that may be a coincidence. It was buggy near waterfalls generally, and sunblock is your friend when there is no darkness :)

Wednesday we did another tour with Gateway to Iceland. We did their Golden Circle tour, which I’m quite sure is the most common tour anyone does in Iceland – especially since a lot of people seem to be there on a limited amount of time (Iceland Air allows free stopovers there and I expect that helps a lot).

Geysir erupting

Geysir erupting

The mister (whose name I couldn’t quite catch) was actually early to pick us up and we were on the road before 8:30. He’s a history and literature teacher the rest of the year, so we were a bit worried he would be too talky, but he was great. There was only 6 of us on this tour – us and four Americans. We didn’t really talk to any of them – just not a good fit I guess… and we tend to wander off and they clung to the bus. One mister didn’t even go along with us to some of the sites we visited and sat in the bus and read a newspaper instead.

Street art in Reykjavik

Street art in Reykjavik

This was another nice tour – our first stop was Kerið crater lake – which was a really pretty spot. This was only the second place we had to pay admission to something (the lift in the church being the first and the Blue Lagoon being the other) and it was only a couple of dollars – with the money going to help maintain the trails around the site (so people don’t want on the moss). Next we stopped to see the church at Skálholt. I have no religious affiliations and am generally disinterested in churches, but this one has really amazing stained glass inside it and a very intricate tile mosaic. The bishop is also a woman. But more interesting than all of that is the replica turf church located beside it. It’s lovely and I enjoyed exploring that a lot more… it looked hobbity to me :)

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Gullfoss was next up on our list of places to stop and it’s definitely one of the most powerful waterfalls I have ever seen. It’s also one of the most popular in Iceland. There were lots of trails so you could walk along the very top to look down, and then also so that you could walk in close to the falls. We had plenty of time there for exploring so of course we had to check out the falls from every which angle we could, and get drenched again.

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park

From there, we kept on keeping on to the Geysir hot spring and Haukadalur geothermal area. This area was beautiful. We saw the beautiful blue Strokkur geysir and watched one of the other nearby geysirs erupt several times while we were there. We walked up the hill to get a better view and Greg took some time to climb to the very top of ridge (cause Greg loves to climb) while I took a few more pictures. We had some lunch in the tourist restaurant there and it was fine, and then we were off again to make a couple of stops in the beautiful Þingvellir National Park. We stopped in an area that’s famous for diving because of the crystal clear water, that is also home to the spot of Iceland’s first parliament, a little church, some traditional Icelandic houses, some waterfalls (of course), and more geese for me to photogtaph (I can’t resist cute animals!). We stopped in another area as well to drop two of our tour mates off (they were camping there) and it seemed like a good time to share an ice cream since the sun had come out. We didn’t make any more stops after this and it wasn’t a very long drive to get back to our apartment.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

In the evening, we went out for our last supper in Iceland to the Icelandic Bar. We had actually planned to hit up a tapas place, but this looked good on the way and had lots of local beer options, so in there we went. Food was good and we tried a couple more local beer. Got a treat on the way home, walked around a bit more, and then back to the apartment one last time.

On our final day in Iceland, our flight wasn’t until evening, but we had to be out of our apartment by noon. We opted to take it easy in the morning (knowing we had a long travel day) and then hit the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. So we packed up, hoofed it over the BSI bus terminal, and booked the Blue Lagoon express. The ride to the Blue Lagoon was about 45 minutes and it was rainy and overcast for pretty much the entire time. We checked our luggage at the lagoon (they have tourism down to a science), witnessed a fight between a couple of grown men over one of them jumping the queue, and then were off to sort out the chaos that is the changing rooms when multiple buses drop off at the same time.

Geese!

Geese!

For Greg (isn’t it always for men?) it was apparently super simple. For women, they routed us to a changing room where there wasn’t a single locker left to use and there was barely even room to walk through it was so packed. So myself and a lovely German lady took it upon ourselves to get the staff to open up one of the many other changing rooms. All better from there. Stowed the stuff, had a shower, got a towel, finally found Greg, and off to bask in the lagoon we went. It was lovely and warm, and while I likely won’t do it again because it’s too expensive in my opinion (and I know other ones exist that are free or cheaper in other places), it was one of those things we decided you had to do once. We had a drink – a beer for Greg and a green smoothie for me – and a lovely girl working there took our picture for free and emailed it to us… which was great because we had checked the camera bag and I didn’t want to bring any smaller electronics out to the water. We spent a couple of hours there, walked around the trails outside in the rain for a bit, and then got our luggage and grabbed the bus to the airport.

Beautiful Icelandic landscape

Beautiful Icelandic landscape

Keflavik airport is a breeze – the machines for checking in all seem to work, they print your luggage tags properly, and then you just have to dump you bags and hit security (Iceland Air lets you have 2 free checked bags each, btw). For the first time ever, we hit a duty free store to bring home a few treats for family and friends – booze and licorice stuff since Icelanders are crazy about it and even dip it in chocolate and put it in gum and iced coffee drinks. And also for the first time ever, we spent enough money to get some VAT back in Europe (it was the sweater – but it became $40 cheaper after a small wait in that VAT refund line). We had something to eat and some hot drinks and played on the free internet until it was time to go through customs to the area where flights to North America seem to fly from. And then we boarded, watched a couple of movies, and were back in Halifax. Luggage came through fast, shuttle happened to be right out front when we left the airport, got the car, hit the road, made a quick stop for a sandwich, and were home, unpacked (i.e. dumped all the clothes in the hamper), and in bed by 1:30 am or so. And that’s a wrap!

Strokkur geysir

Strokkur geysir

And the random stuff that I loved about Iceland. Water is free. One of the things I find most irritating about Europe is places that won’t serve you tap water and persist in trying to make you drink expensive bottled water for no reason. We travel with a bottle and refill it regardless of where we go, but it was super nice that water is just sitting out with pitchers and glasses everywhere you go. Bottled water in Iceland is for tourists. The locals drink tap water. I also loved that tourist attractions are almost entirely free. I love their appreciation of nature and their efforts to not destroy it despite the tourism boom. I love the entire country is powered and heated by green energy. Icelanders are really friendly and we didn’t meet a single one that didn’t speak perfect English – which is extra helpful since their language is nothing like ours and would definitely take a while to learn. I loved hearing stories about construction projects being cancelled or changed because of elf dwellings. I loved seeing sheep and Icelandic horses all over the place. I love that there is art and sculpture everywhere. I love the landscape – everything about it… the colours, the textures, the angles, the variety. I love the fresh air and wide open spaces.

Moss growing on lava rocks

Moss growing on lava rocks

But mostly, I love that I got to explore such an amazing country with my very best friend … and celebrate 10 years of hard work and awesome adventures there.

Ange out.

PS: Go to Iceland.


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Our countdown to Iceland is on…

We have 17 more sleeps to Iceland!

We have incredibly busy lives, and I think sometimes it amazes our family and friends how unexcited we may seem about all our adventures… but I can assure you, we’re excited on the inside (while looking exhausted on the outside :))

I’ve been itching to blog about something (I started something about travel douches that I may get back to at some point) and I’m sure you’ll get an earful (eyeful?!) once we get back from our trip. But in the meantime I’ve decided to babble on about how we plan our adventures… because people have asked, more than once, and while I make no claim to be any kind of expert, here’s how we approached this one. Bear in mind, I am not one of those neurotic planners that have things down to the minute daily… it may work for some, but it sounds like a personal form of hell to me :)

1. Where do we want to go?

There are so many places I want to see in the world that this is sometimes challenging for me. This trip is for our 10th anniversary and we were originally planning to go to New Zealand – it’s been the plan for over a decade. But then last year I decided that I didn’t want to work for the man anymore and our income structure changed … a lot. So we decided to see what we could do on a smaller budget and Greg left it to me to figure it out (because I love it and I know what his interests are). We narrowed it down to Iceland and Ireland, two places I’ve always wanted to see… and then picked by flight prices. IcelandAir with their appropriately time seat sale won the contest (momondo is generally my go to airfare search, but lately I’m finding the carriers themselves to have better prices).

2. Where do we want to stay?

We’ve done a lot of cruising over the past few years, and it’s quite structured and becoming less and less interesting to me (unless it’s in Europe, where you can’t beat the value). I wanted wide open spaces and nature and no schedule. So we’re actually doing a lot of winging it on this trip… and I love winging it. No hotels, no cruise ships, no one day per country. We’ve rented an apartment in central Reykjavik so we can work within our own schedule – and Iceland is a fairly expensive country, so it’s a budget-friendly decision as well.

3. What do we want to do?

In a former career, my job was essentially to research stuff… IT stuff… but stuff all the same, and the skills transfer to something much more interesting to me… finding ways to travel more and interesting things to do when we get there!

In everywhere but where I live, I am a tourist. So of course we want to see a lot of the touristy things in the places that we go. But I want to see them when I want to see them and not surrounded by a kazillion people (I hate people in my pictures of stuff). I want to do things the locals do. I want to eat where they eat, drink where they drink, and make friends. I want to go places when the light is good. I do not want to spend hours on a bus, I have no interest in shopping, I don’t want to be herded around or forced to listen to boring tour guides pander to annoying people and their annoying questions.

We like food, we like beer, we like nature, and we like culture. So this has translated to us to be a food tour the day we arrive – we always have fun with these and it’s a great way to get a lay of the land at the same time.

It’s also translated to us picking one thing that we really want to do that we might not normally pay for  – because it’s our anniversary. Then it was a question of doing it ourselves with a rental car or booking a tour if we could find a company that suits our requirements. We’ve opted for a tour (car rental and gas in Iceland is also pricey) and I’ve found a company that does what we want for small groups. Glaciers, icebergs (I live in Canada and have never seen one), waterfalls, and villages – all in one super long jam packed day!

4. How long do we want to stay?

All of my income depends on me being somewhere on the weekend, so we timed this so I would only miss one weekend and matched it to the days with the best prices for flights. This one was pretty much a no brainer.

5. What do we need to know that we can’t just figure out once we are there?

Obviously there’s some things one needs to know before they go to another country. Pretty much for this one, we just checked to see if we needed a visa and how Iceland’s currency compares to ours.

6. What else?

We’re winging the rest. We’ve planned out a full 15 hours or so of our trip. We know how to get from the airport to our apartment. We have wifi in the apartment. We want to check out some combination of their flea market, the harbour, a place with Icelandic beer, the blue lagoon (likely en route back to the airport the day we leave), and whatever else we find fun or interesting along the way. My camera wants a chance to run free. We do too. We’ll ask locals for recommendations or Google it up based on what we feel like doing or the weather. We want to take as long as we want to do whatever we want. It’s going to be awesome.

So in total, I’ve probably spent about 5 hours sorting this one out… Stay tuned for the results.

Have you been to Iceland? What are your must-dos and must-sees?

 


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Operation travel wish list… but I’m stopping myself at 7.

I hate lists.

We have two small businesses, Greg is a full time IT nerd, and we have lots of interests and hobbies. So lists generally equate to things I have to get done. I don’t make packing lists or Christmas lists, and I only make shopping lists because if I have to deal with the terribleness of going shopping, I don’t want to forget something and have to go back.

But I’ve decided to try to make a travel wish list. And it’s simply because there’s soooo much I want to do and see. If nothing else, I can store it here for reference (and motivation on the days I need it). Since it hasn’t stopped snowing in what seems like ten years now, it’s brightening my day. Maybe you want to see these places too!

In no specific order, here are 7 places I want to visit… (I have to limit myself to 7 as I have other things to do in the coming days and haven’t limited patience for sitting at a computer now that my job doesn’t require it)…

Cappadocia, Turkey – We’ve spent only one day in Turkey and I really liked the vibe, so I have to get back. I haven’t ever really done any research on the country since I knew I would only be there for a day and knew we were going to Ephesus, but getting to Istanbul has always been on the radar. But the other day we suffered through the movie Ghost Rider 2 (that may not be the right name and I don’t really care) and they shot a bunch of scenes in this area of Turkey… and it looks amazing! And there’s stuff to climb!

Cappadocia, Turkey

Machu Piccho, Peru – This has been on my list for a very long time (my third oldest travel goal, behind Ireland – I’m sure we’ll get there – and Australia – which I was obsessed with in high school but have sort of lost interest in now, not that I would turn down a trip there) and it’s slated to happen in 2016 to celebrate turning 40. (I don’t have issues with changing age and I’m generally down to celebrate most anything). Hiking the Inca Trail to get here is happening in my life time (and since Peru is much closer to Easter Island than Canada, a side trip to Chile may be required)!

Machu Picchu

Santorini and Mykonos, Greece – For countless years I had calendars at the office with pictures of places I wanted to go. They helped balance out the horribleness of the gray cubicle walls. For a few years in a row, my calendar was all Greek islands all the time. One day in Greece was definitely not enough.

Santorini, Greece

Aran Islands, Ireland – I pretty much want to see every part of Ireland and could rattle off a long list of places I want to see that aren’t Dublin. It’s my top travel destination and has been for likely a decade. To be honest, I don’t know why I keep saving it for later. But I’ve always found the Aran Islands fascinating. I also like stones and old houses.

Aran Islands, Ireland

Petra, Jordan – I was fascinated with the “wonders of the world” when I was young – original ones, new ones, natural ones, it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m fascinated with any of them now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see them. I don’t have any real interest in antiques or history (I learn history when I go places), but I love old structures. I’m big on UNESCO sites as well. I’m collecting them!

Petra, Jordan

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada – My camera wants to go here. My husband would love it. That’s reason enough. It’s also closer to Vegas than Canada, and Greg has never been and I’ve lately been itching to go back (Neon Boneyard!!!!)

Valley of Fire State Park, NV

Bora Bora – I just want to stay in one of those huts in the water, so I guess it doesn’t have to be Bora Bora – it’s just the first place I always think of when I think of them. (Note that this item may have been completely influenced by a snow storm on April 1st, which just isn’t right.)

Bora Bora

Disclaimer: none of these images are mine, since I haven’t been… I linked them to where I found them

 


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Fredericton Craft Beer Fest 2014… cause beer is delicious and nutritious!

I have cool friends.

ImageMy cool friends do some pretty cool shit… like organizing a local craft beer fest for charity (and raising $14000+ for the Canadian Diabetes Association while giving Frederictonians a fun event to attend during this winter that just won’t end). And in an effort to blog about more than just travelling around the world, I’m giving blogging about travelling 20 minutes from my house into town to check out year two of this super fun event a go.

 

Beer Fest had a location swap this year from the Delta to the still fairly shiny and new Convention Center. I loved the new location since it was closer to the downtown and made it easier to continue on with the festivities once the event wrapped up, if one so desired. We had VIP tix since Greg isn’t a huge fan of crowds and it’s nice to get an idea of what’s available beforeImage the masses appear. And there were a lot more masses this year – but not to the point that it was ever too crowded to fill our mini beer mugs.

This is the part where I had to go back and actually look at the little booklet they gave out (researching for the blog is totally not me)… there were at least 30 breweries/vendors, each having at least a couple different types you could sample. I think the final count of sampling options was well over a hundred. Some options came from near, like Grimross, Picaroons, and Red Rover. Other options came from far, like Bushwakker from Saskatchewan and offerings from Nova Scotia and Quebec. Some of the bigger names in Canadian beer were sampling some of their staples (which we ignored) and some brands you wouldn’t know they were associated with – think Molson, Moosehead, and Keiths.

In addition to beer, there were some eats… our market vendor friends from Magzy’s Kettle Korn were there with delicious samples for all to put into their beer-filled bellies.  We’re market vendors too, so we know Saturday night events make for a very long day when you get up in the wee hours of Saturday morning for market. Thanks for taking care of us Mike!

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This year there were some non-beer offerings as well – a great variety of ciders from Red Rover and Magners, and mead from Sunset Heights Meadery – a fun and unexpected treat!

Between Greg and I, we managed to sample over 50 different beers, ciders, and meads. Don’t judge! The cup was very small and sometimes the sample was only a sip or two! The highlight of the show for Greg was Big Spruce Brewing from Cape Breton and their Bitter Get’er India Black IPA. With Bad Apple Brewhouse, also from Nova Scotia, coming in a close second (with their American Pale Ale).

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I don’t really like to drink beer I can see through, so I was thrilled with the selection of stouts and porters available for my sampling pleasure…like Big Spruce’s Cereal Killer Oatmeal stout, Uncle Leo’s Smoked porter, Garrison’s Martello stout, Pump House’s Muddy River stout, Big Tide’s Whistlepig stout, Le Naufrageur’s St. Barnabe stout, St. Ambroise’s Oatmeal stout, Lake of Bays Brewing’s Old North Mocha porter, and my almost always favourite Fullers Londen porter (insert shout out to the awesome guy from Churchill Cellars who filled my wee mug to the top each and every time with my favourite Fullers porter on more than one occasion, sometimes without me having to ask… and who we voted as the best rep last year). One of the Creemore Springs guys was also great fun – though their Warm Up to Winter beer that was strongly recommended to me (sorry Brenda and Julie) was terrible, despite smelling lovely.

Occasionally I like a fruity beer or cider – not for a long night of drinking with friends, but for sipping – and I enjoyed the pear cider from Magners, the Raspberry Kiwi mead, and the strawberry and grapefruit beers from McClelland Premium Imports. Admittedly, I did keep my cider sampling to a minimum to spare my guts some pain and suffering from all the mixing.

Of course the highlight wasn’t just the beer!  So many friends and acquaintances were out and about for the beer sampling and it was a lot of fun to see some of my former work colleagues and spend the night with close friends. Post beer fest, we popped across the road to the James Joyce pub for a bite to eat and some always enjoyable socializing time with Asian # 1 (previously known as Alice) and Bill.

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And a blog from me just wouldn’t be complete without a paragraph at the end full of random musings that I didn’t find a home for anywhere else in the blog… A clever touch from the event – the photographer with the frame made of a collage of coasters from all the vendors wandering around shooting candids all night. Things I might consider changing – I didn’t like the cup with the handle on it, even though it was cute. I don’t have little fingers, so I couldn’t really use the handle like I would expect to, and the vendors seemed to find it a bit awkward. If the little booklet had a list of all the beers at the end so it was all in one place, it would be much easier to check things off. We opted to not bother trying at the event since it was too much work to turn the pages. And to the volunteer “bouncer” who was incredibly rude to us as we were leaving and just waiting on someone to return from the bathroom – there’s no need of that and get off the juice. I realize it was a room full of drunk people and they wanted their turn to drink beer, but come on man… There’s no need to let the power of volunteering at Beer Fest go to your head like that! I don’t have a lot of patience for assholes. I also don’t have much of a filter between my brain and my mouth :)

So no deal breakers here for sure. We had a great night out and we’ll definitely be back for year three.

If you dig beer and missed it this year, stay tuned here for next year!  It’s sold out both years.

Ange out.


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Go everywhere. Do everything. Be random.

I have one real goal in life – to live it knowing I only get one. I want to play hard, see the world, be with people who matter, eat tasty treats, and leave with no regrets whenever that time comes around.

Don’t get me wrong, I have scads of of other goals too – and despite a fervent dislike of lists – I’ll throw some of them out here to the universe at some point. Maybe you can help with them, maybe they are yours too, or maybe we’ll do them together. It’s all part of the adventure.

This blog is for me and the people who matter in my universe. It makes me feel like I am spending more time doing smart things (I love to write and my travel blog – which will likely start to exist here too – only gets updated a few times of year). It can be life and travel goal storage. It can be foolish and fun. It will contain food and creative pursuits. It can be mine to control without an interface I hate (hopefully), stupid ads that I didn’t put there, and other stuff I’ve programmed my brain to ignore.

I’m Ange… and this is my blog.

PS: Anything that appears before this post in the list has been moved over from my previous blog elsewhere.

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Searching for sunshine on the Sunshine

Days 1 & 2 – How to get from Canada to New Orleans in 40 easy stepsen route to Boston

Step 1: Leave Canada on a Thursday afternoon and drive to Maine ahead of impending snow storm (and by snow storm, I mean flurries… because Maine didn’t get a snow storm and we’re from Canadia). 
Step 2: Kill time in Maine by eating, going to the mall to search for snow shoes, and going to Starbucks because the hotel at the airport is boring. 
Step 3: Check in at airport hotel. Be appreciative when the mister at the desk gives you a deal on the rate for no reason. Share chocolate with him as thanks. 
Step 4: Wonder why you have a couple of missed calls on your cell that was turned off coming from a US number – only to figure it out when you check your email and discover that two of your three flights for the following day are cancelled. 
pralinesStep 5: Call Delta to get the news that they can’t get you out on a flight until Sunday, probably just in time to miss your cruise ship. Book those flights to hold them… for now.
Step 6: Say eff it for the night, watch the Bruins game, crush some candies, and go to bed.

Step 7: Plot how you are getting to New Orleans while trying to fall asleep.
Step 8: Wander over to the airport to see if there’s anyone actually at the Delta counter – there is not.
Step 9: Eat some food.
Step 10: Call Delta again and spend an hour plus on the phone trying to find a way to New Orleans from any airport within a 5 hour drive that can get us there before Sunday. Finally decide on Boston.
Step 11: Rent a car.beads in Nola
Step 12: Have awesome husband retrieve winter gear from own car since it’s blowing and snowing and effing cold.
Step 13: Pack up our crap in record speed and hit the road for Boston in a shiny Dodge Avenger with Rhode Island plates and no winter tires. Stop to spend a few minutes trying to figure out how to open up the truck of the car that is frozen shut, while freezing ourselves in the process. Give up and throw suitcases in back seat.

Step 14: Hit the I95. Stop en route to open the trunk and reshut it an hour into the drive when it finally decides it wants to open and sets off weird warning thinger on the dash.
Step 15: Stop for coffee at a rest stop and take a picture with a metal moose. This is a mandatory step, of course.
gumboStep 16: Stop to beat the wipers against the wind shield so we can actually see out once it starts to get sunny and slushy on the drive.
Step 17: Use our superior intellect to figure out how the eff to get to Logan when the map doesn’t make sense anymore and the signs are intermittent.
Step 18: Proudly figure out where to drop off the rental car by making illegal right turn. Use our mad ability to drive in snow to manoeuvre the rental car up a steep incline totally covered in ice, snow, and slush.
Step 19: Ditch the rental car and head to into Logan.
Step 20: Pack all the winter clothes into our suitcase since they are now unexpectedly coming along for the trip. Thankfully we pack light.po boy

Step 21: Stop for tasty beer and a salad at Harpoon. Find Starbucks. Play on the internet. Sit and wait for flight.
Step 22: Watch flight get delayed, but remain cool because we know we can definitely get to Nola from Boston, unlike Bangor.
Step 23: Fly to Atlanta.
Step 24: Arrive in Atlanta. Sprint from terminal T to B in 5 minutes or less to make connection.
Step 25: Huff and puff and miraculously make connection.
Step 26: Fly to New Orleans.
Step 27: Arrive in New Orleans and watch the luggage spinner not spit out our luggage. Win the Amazing Race, er… be the first East Coast team to arrive.
Step 28: Talk to the Delta lady who advises us our luggage is coming on the next flight in an hour or so, so we sit around and wait.
voodoo dollsStep 29: Play on the Internet and monitor the progress of friends en route from other cities. Realize the NJ contingent is coming to the same terminal at the same time as our luggage.
Step 30: Make plans to be the welcoming committee.
Step 31: Drink some water.

Step 32: Greet the NJ gang as they arrive.
Step 33: Collect luggage.
Step 34: Realize is it colder than it should be in New Orleans.
Step 35: Wait in line for cab.
Step 36: Share cab with random folks to get to hotel sooner since it is now like 1am and we are tired and hungry.
Step 37: Listen to cab driver babble on about how poor they are paid and his five starving children in an attempt to win our sympathy and rant about homeless people begging for money.
Step 38: Start conversation with other people in cab so we won’t have to listen to cab driver anymore. Compare stories about how long it took to reach New Orleans from various locations.
Step 39: Arrive at hotel. Walk around corner to actual lobby door. Check in to hotel and chit chat with fun guys at the desk.
Step 40: Meet up with the gang in the lobby. Head out for pizza with Dionne (and then Mel) since we are starving.Jackson Square artists market

po boyWe were pretty relieved to actually get to New Orleans when we did and to not have to spend the weekend in Maine. Just about every Delta staff member we talked to was ridiculously helpful and friendly, which is fairly amazing considering they had been dealing with the fallout from about 6000 cancelled flights in two days along the eastern seaboard.

We had a group rate at the Embassy Suites in New Orleans. Location was fine, rooms had character, breakfast was included, cocktail hour was included, and it was close to the port. 

Travel tip: Almost undoubtedly, if you call any travel-related organization more than once, you will get a different answer each time. Be nice to the people on the other side of the phone, it always gets you further. While the first person I talked to at Delta was perfectly pleasant, the lady I talked to the second time I called Delta went out of her way to help us find a way to get to New Orleans sooner rather than later. If you don’t like the answer you get, call back – but have realistic expectations. The world doesn’t owe you free things for minor inconveniences and the airlines can’t control the weather.

Bourbon StAlso, travel insurance is your friend. We have it through travel-based credit cards and we’ve researched it quite heavily to make sure it covers the things we need. We were able to get back to the cost of our rental car to Boston under trip interruption.


Day 3 – Sharing a Drink with the Dead and Avoiding the Scary Horses 

We hit the ground running with Dionne in Nola. We pretty much wandered around all day, along the water and up through the artist market at Jackson Square. We stopped at The Corner for some lunch – catfish po boy and gumbo with beer – and then wandered off some more. We tried pralines, which taste like fudge to me and I don’t like them. My only to do things in Nola were to see a cemetery and to eat a beignet… I’m low maintenance :) After lunch, cemetery time – we went to Saint Louis Number One. I love cemeteries – they are always so interesting to me, especially the ones with all the saint louis cemetery number onemonuments above ground and some real history to them. I think we pretty much covered the entire place, including the supposed grave of Marie Laveau (famous voodoo practitioner and/or hairdresser)… we marked our xxx’s and left our offerings. We hit Bourbon St. after the cemetery, where the beers got larger and larger each time they were purchased, and then headed back to the hotel, via Starbucks :) There was also gelato involved… even bought a few trinkets… which we pretty much never do. Dionne even got Binja some Bears beads… nice gesture, since she’s a Packers fan… thanks D!


voodoo dolls
We chilled at the hotel for a while and then met up with the gang (at least some of them) for the free cocktail reception at the hotel while watching football (well, while listening to football updates from people following on their phones). After that, it was off to hit the town… we grabbed a burger in the Harrah Casino because we were effin starving and everywhere was packed because the Saints game was coming on… got a kick out of some crazy Christmas set up cemeteryoutside the casino where they were shooting soap out of it to replicate snow… grabbed some beers en route and headed to Bourbon St. Met up with Tricee and Mikey there (once Tricee scared the crap out of Greg by sneaking up him) and wandered around. Listened to the street erupt when the Saints won the game, hit up a CVS for chocolate en route back to the hotel, and went to bed.

Day 4 – Are you Ready for Some Football?

Greg, D and I decided to check out some more of New Orleans in the morning before we got on the ship, so we went to Café du Monde for some beignets (there was no line at all on Sunday morning) and coffee and walked around a bit before going back to the hotel. The port was pretty close to to the hotel and the ship looked deceptively close, so we walked over. I think we definitely took the wrong way around the incredibly long convention center, but exercise is good for you and we made it just fine. Getting on the ship was pretty painless, but the VIP lounge was pretty silly to me and it seems to have made things slower instead of faster.Marie Laveaus supposed grave


On the ship, we pretty much took over the EA Sports Bar so that people could watch football… since we had Bengals and Packers fans in the group. The signal kept cutting out and the games didn’t turn out quite as people would have hoped. The sports bar was nice though. 

Bourbon StMuster was the same clustereff that is always is. One piece of luggage showed up quick, the other took a while. Greg’s traditional and thoughtful treat plate was nice, and we watched a bit of sailing down the Mississippi River in between everything. Since I’m platinum, we get a random Carnival gift… it was a cooler bag this time I think. I didn’t look at it carefully.We had late dinner and Carnival accommodated our large group at multiple tables together, which is great… but we were at the very front of the dining room, in the heart of the entertainment action that we don’t all care for. If you’re looking for commentary on the food and pictures of it, you’ll have to find it somewhere else. Carnival food bores me stupid and I find it voodoo shophard to eat since their vegetarian options aren’t great. I’d be willing to kill someone to get a proper salad every night that isn’t slathered in some kind of terrible sauce. The dining room has yet another unfortunate set of lighting from Carnival – this time it looks like a giant circle of partially blown up condoms.

saint louis cemetery number oneAfter dinner, there was hanging out…. cause that’s what we do… and Mikey continued to rise in hero level status for Chris. I think we had tried to check out a comedy show, but it was full and we weren’t willing to wait around for another one.


Day 5 – I Thought I Beat the Binja… Then I Puked 

Sea Day… we had brunch in the dining room and were pleasantly surprised to see they changed the menu to a brunch style menu. Nice change. We walked around the ship to get used to the layout changes sincsnowinge it was the Destiny and to check out all the main spots. It’s definitely a lot nicer now as the Sunshine than it was as the Destiny. We were thrilled to have our pub back, but the lounge and theatre are a fail. They made them too small. And the ship was loud. Everywhere. And not just because of the people.

We hit the gym for the first time ever on a ship – decent equipment in there. Met up with some of the gang, learned how to play shuffleboard, and had a kiwi that works on the ship show up and take it over since the ropes course was closed due to the wind and that’s where he normally works. Gel kicked his ass and he didn’t forget it for the rest of the cruise… silly competitive kiwi boys. He did help save Dionne later in the cruise though.The afternoon was also the first of our cocktail parties (thanks Ing)… the “Stranger Danger” one… so most of the gang was there… minus some non-drinkers and/or people with the plague and then a bunch of people I had never met… and didn’t really end up meeting. It was fun. We drank. There may have been a feeble account to try and keep track of the number of drinks people had (Herb, this is completely your fault)… and someone may have puked trying to beat the Binja. We kept drinking, joined by Luda, until pretty much supper… and then Sarah ditched him.

washing the streetThe rest of the day was spent like most of them are… eating, drinking, hanging with friends, and playing games. We always make our own fun :)

Day 6 – Pub Crawling in Key West and Dancing Asses 

First port was Key West. It was windy and cold (well, not Canada cold) and I think we saw the sun for about 20 minutes. We spent the day pub crawling and hit quite a few spots. None of them stood out to me… but lots of them used dollar bills as decorations, which is incredibly strange to me. My only goal for Key West was to have chocolate covered key lime pie, and that mission was a success… and it was yum. 

Key West was a fun day with the gang… I managed to get a new pair of Birkenstocks for a great price (thanks for the heads up on that store Frank!)… had some Starbucks (small things please me)… hit a naked bar (thanks for wearing underwear Chris) and a lame strip bar (no thanks!)… World of Beers was pretty awesome, although overpriced… it was crazy windy by the time we headed back to the ship… and everything is five dollas! Five dollas!New Orleans sailaway

Back on the ship, there was the usual hanging out after dinner (though at dinner we did learn that Chris is solar powered and watching him watch the dancing waiters and Ken made having to sit through the dancing and singing a lot easier)… we had family game night in the Red Frog pub… where we learned that there are some crazy competitive people in our gang. The short version: I don’t completely suck at table top shuffleboard, Angelica never chokes, Kathy is a ringer, and several people became addicted to dominoes. Thanks for the handy use of ipad scoreboard throughout the week Scott!We checked out the club for a bit before calling it a night… that was like a whole other fucking planet. Mostly people just looked stupid to me grinding their asses up against anything they could find… but I’m a dirty hippie, so what do I know. The club (which acts as a theatre until late at night) was packed, and I’ve never seen that on any cruise. Honourable mention goes to Khaki and the Captain for their mad white boy dancing skillz.

key west pub crawlDay 7 – Freeport Sucks 

We’ve never been to Freeport in the Bahamas, and I have to say when it’s cold and wet, it’s pretty much terrible. We took a cab to the Port Lucaya area and that was my own personal kind of hell… overpriced stupid souvenirs… we did check out the beach for a second, but this port was general uninteresting despite at least finding some beer. We were back at the ship within a couple of hours. We had some mediocre conch fritters at the port and gave up on Freeport.

Back on the ship, we tried the Mongolian Wok area and that was the best food I had on the ship all week… despite the stupid long line. Yay vegetables!! We went to see a mindreader show after dinner … it was terrible… and we hung out.bras and bills

Day 8 – Peeing in the Ocean, Spitting Beer on your Wife, What Does the Fox Say, and SUN SUN GLORIOUS SUN!!!

We finally got some sun in Nassau so we high tailed it out of port as soon as we got off the ship and went to the beach for the day. We took a taxi over to Cabbage Beach (free beach beside the Atlantis Resort)… we snuck into the Atlantis to check it out a bit from the beach side (there was no way we were paying like $50 a person just to walk in the door)… the ocean was rough, so there wasn’t much swimming going on… (red flag, no life guards… but at least we weren’t getting whistled at like they were at the Atlantis beach) but we played in the waves a bit and relaxed and got warm. Someone’s stubborn husband may have gotten a strange stripey sunburn on their back from fighting against sun block like a little kid… and someone’s girlfriend may also have had pretty sunburn stripes.

world of beerBack at the port we happened across Sarah and Chris, which turned into several additional beers and some more fun while there was sun. Back on the ship, we found some food and then proceeded to try and get the sand off ourselves. Dinner featured a very strange dance to What the Fox Says by the wait staff….the mister dancing behind my head was really getting down… and thankfully Herb was there for moral support. More games in the pub afterward and moonshine may have magically appeared. And beer tubes. For a night before a sea day, the whole ship shut down very early… it was very strange and zombie apocalypse-esque.

New Orleans sailaway
Day 9 – Another Rescue at Sea and Death by Pasta

Sea day… and it was a jam packed one. We met up with the entire gang for sea day brunch (translation, to use our free drincocktail partyk coupon) and then it was off to the ropes course. I stayed as team photographer since I still had jello legs from a lot of walking in sand the day before (and it was stupid windy again the next day so I didn’t get to try it then like I had planned)… there may have been a rescue mission involved, and someone else may have gotten yelled at for jumping. Everyone did great though… and the weather was nice!


Next up was the cabin crawl… and if you asked the organizer nicely, you get your normal gang as your team. We did not win and we saw lots of different cabins. Next after that was the past guest party, in the theatre/disco…. And it’s terrible in there. And it took some doing to get decent drinks, but we managed. And there’s also weird passenger dancing… all the same dance… looking like robots. I don’t get it. Tricee and Ing made it look better at the end, but it’s still weird to me. 

key west pub crawlthe pubPlayed some cards and then it was off to the Italian restaurant to celebrate Melissa’s birthday (as well as Gel, Chris, Miles, Gwyn, Mikey, Herb’s aunt… and maybe more.) We ate way too much food (because the portions there are ridiculous) and used birthday confetti as ninja stars for our own personal entertainment :) Comedy club after that… it was too hot and the guy wasn’t really that funny.

Day 10 – Calling it a Cruise

The last day on the ship was a slightly less jam packed sea day. A few of us met for brunch and then made plans to check out the ropes course (which was closed due to wind) and then water slides (I want no part of being trapped in a tube where water is splashing into my face)… there was trivia (terrible 90s shagging tunes trivia) and cards… there was also a very feeble attempt to possibly book another Carnival cruise while on board to get the credit but they are out of itineraries I am willing to pay for… another cocktail party that was much tamer than the first one, football, more beer, goodbyes at dinner, more hanging in the pub, watching Mississippi River traffic out the window (we passed a couple of other cruise ships), and more goodbyes. In the wee hours, we called it a cruise and went back to our cabin to pack and get a few hours of sleep.

bras and billsDay 11 – Fucking Roller Boards, Broken Hearted Over Smoothies, and Our Luggage Takes Its Own Vacation

We were apparently delayed getting through Mississippi River traffic or something so it felt like we were sitting around forever waiting to get off the ship… though I suspect that as always this was more because people are assholes and can’t just wait their turn to get off. We always lug our own luggage off so we were off fairly quickly once it started. Customs took 5 seconds and the person before us was causing a scene calling her daughter a dink while actually talking with the customs officer. Cab to the airport, ate some breakfast, got a smoothie (I desperately wanted juice *white russian*) and waited for it to be time for flight number one. Yay for free internet!

We had a 3 hour wait in Atlanta this time instead of 5 minutes (though apparently 3 hours is not long enough for them to route our luggage to our next plane… stupid Atlanta airport misplaced our luggage both ways and I am going back to avoiding it like the plague)… sat around watching football, had another smoothie (I still wanted juice and was very excited to see Jamba Juice until they didn’t have JUICE!!)… flew to another city.

Had another 3 hour wait in NY… ate some supper, watched some more football… GOT SOME JUICE! Hung out in the swanky terminal with the free internet… had a gate change to the ghetto part (more what we are used to) with no internet… flew to another city. 

Got to Bangor around 11:30… waited for our luggage to appear and it didn’t… checked to see where it was (which was Detroit… which makes perfect sense since it’s not on the way home and we didn’t even fly through there)… did the paperwork and drove home without it. Fortunately we had our winter clothes in our backpack… though it wasn’t that cold… there was a lot of rain while we were gone and there was much less snow around when we got back)… Woke up the border guy around 2:30 am to cross back into our own country, stopped at Terrible Tims for a hot drink to keep us awake for the last hour, finished the drive home… couldn’t get the car up the driveway since it was a luge track… could barely get us up the driveway for the same reason… went to bed around 4am… and that’s a wrap. 

The weather wasn’t great on this one, the ports were boring and only fun because we made them fun, and the ship was interesting. They tried to jam on every single new feature they have as a brand, and while they succeeded on some, they definitely failed on others. It’s definitely better than it was as the Destiny though. Greg thinks that our dryer breaking as we were trying to wash clothes to go on vacation was an omen… and he tried to cancel the cruise repeatedly when the Bears didn’t make the playoffs… I would happily return to New Orleans since we didn’t have nearly enough time there… and I’m thankful for more fun times spent with great friends. Every vacation is a good vacation! All our cruising family that couldn’t join us this time, you were missed.
Hopefully this didn’t come across too negative or dull… in the grand scheme of things, most everything was fine… and I’m pretty sure I’m just getting bored of cruising and want to get back to land travel and places that I personally find more interesting… and a lot of time spend chatting with friends (which is awesome) doesn’t always necessarily make good blog fodder… but it does make good memories :)

Until next time (which we’ve already started to plan)… 

Ange out.

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