If the Question is Iceland, Your Answer Should be Yes!

My childhood was full of magic. I grew up in an environment where gnomes, fairies, and elves were very real–a beautiful thing for the imagination. Fast forward 30 years, and Iceland is a dream country. Its craggy, moss-covered landscape lends itself to a mystical world. Icelandic culture is rich with mythological creatures, such as huldufólk (hidden people), that many believe exist. If that isn’t endearing, I don’t know what is.

Iceland’s popularity has increased in recent years, partly due to the fact that Wow and Iceland Air offer relatively cheap flights to Europe. Frequently, it does not increase the fare to layover in Iceland for a few days. Even with a stopover of a few hours, it’s possible to visit the Blue Lagoon, one of the 25 wonders of the world and quite a refreshing experience after a flight.

I had 4 full days to explore and needed to pick a region on which to focus. Our tiny rental clown car wouldn’t have stood a chance in the event of snowfall, so we settled on the southern part of the island. 2 nights in Vik and 2 nights in Reykjavik would allow us to venture out from there.

Now, on to the pictures! My next post will contain all the planning details, accommodation info, and restaurants, but this one is to introduce my thousands 5 readers to the beauty and wonder that is Iceland.

click images to enlarge

the blue lagoon

the blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

After a luxurious soak and indulging in our complimentary drinks, we loaded into the car and set out for the seaside town of Vik, about 3 hours from the airport. Driving pretty much anywhere in Iceland is beautiful. Despite extreme exhaustion from the flight and no sleep, everything looked like a postcard.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

Waterfalls galore

Waterfalls galore

On day 2 we went east from Vik in pursuit of Jökulsárlón, a stunning glacial lagoon that served as a site for James Bond’s Die Another Day. For the movie, they blocked the flow of seawater into the lagoon, which allows it to freeze and enable these shots.

Jökulsárlón-- glacial lagoon

Jökulsárlón– glacial lagoon

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The boat ride on the lagoon is worth the, approximately, $36 for the vantage point and photo ops.

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The glacier! It's hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

The glacier! It’s hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with the Icelandic weather, fret not! Just wait 5 minutes and it will change.

Fickle Icelandic weather

Fickle Icelandic weather

Another site on the road back to Vik

Another site on the road back to Vik

Driving around Iceland is never boring… nor ugly. On the drive to Reykjavik we encountered more stunning sights. Whether or not we saw the Aurora Borealis is debatable, but screw those northern lights! Check out the rainbows! All three of these photos are from the same day.

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There *may* be more sheep than people in Iceland. I called them. They turned. Just call me the sheep whisperer.

Reykjavik is a quaint town city–the northernmost capital in the world–and we finally reached it on day 3.

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Iceland’s pride week is a huge event and, this year, they painted the street. The mayor said, “This is one way to make our city livelier, more human and simply a better place by great collaboration and beautiful thinking.” Seriously, Iceland is a magnificent place!

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TROLLS! In Reykjavik

TROLLS! In Reykjavik

We didn’t make it to this museum, but there’s a documentary about it called The Final Member.

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From a stay in the capital, or even a day long layover, it’s easy to tour what’s known as the Golden Circle. First stop is the site of the Viking parliament, or Þingvellir.

a view from Þingvellir

a view from Þingvellir

After Þingvellir, it’s off to Geysir– the now relatively dormant geyser after which all others are named. Strokkur is there as well and erupts every few minutes.

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

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The Icelandic horses! Perhaps the highlight of my Golden Circle drive. From sheep whisperer to horse whisperer.

From Geysir, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is about 10 minutes up the road, named as such because the water appears gold when the sun hits.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Have I convinced you to go to Iceland yet? If so, stay tuned for my next post with all my trip-planning details.

*all images are the property of Caroline Shea, unless otherwise noted. reproduction without permission is prohibited*

My Ideal Day in Napa

Anyone can tell you to go to Opus One and The French Laundry. I certainly do not discourage that, but it’s not what I’m going to do. Places like Caymus and Opus One make great wines. In my opinion though, the soul of Napa and is in the smaller, boutique winery, many of which do not have tasting rooms. So here’s my favorite mix.

I like to stay in downtown Napa when I head west–it’s quaint, walkable, and has many eating and drinking options. La Casita Bonita is an adorable little cottage where I’ve stayed several times. On my most recent trip, I stayed at The Westin and loved it! They have a salt water pool and it’s within walking distance of my favorite Napa haunts.

Without further adieu, here is my ideal day, or two:

From the Westin, the Oxbow Public Market is a short walk away and filled with goodies. As a gluten free person (I know, I know, but I do have good reasons), I can grab a positively scrumptious breakfast sandwich from Cate and Co. Bakery and a perfect chemex brew from Ritual Coffee.

What could possibly come after a nice breakfast and caffeine? Well, sparkling wine, of course…

I celebrate days that end in “y” with sparkling and Mumm Napa is definitely one of my happy places. For starters, it’s picturesque and stunning, but it also has delicious bubbles and a charming gift shop, full of knickknacks for the taking.

ahh, Mumm

ahh, Mumm

Next, head over to Palmaz Vineyards to explore their beautiful property. Built into the side of a mountain, the unique winery is also partly underground/in the hillside. The wines are never pumped, but propelled by gravity all the way through to bottling, so as not to bruise the wine. It’s pricey to tour/taste and even pricier to buy, but those wines sure are delicious! A gigantic cab sauv is good right out of the bottle. Seriously.

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While I adore the idyllic setting of a vineyard, I’m also a fan of the tasting room. They introduce you to wines you may not otherwise discover and have such variety from which to choose, all while sitting in one spot. My absolute favorite wine expert in Napa is Andy Renda at The Wine Thief–also conveniently located across from Oxbow and down the street from the Westin. Andy is beyond knowledgeable AND fun. The Wine Thief is a new business and isn’t it human nature to enjoy saying, “I went before it was famous.”?

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one of the private tasting rooms at The Wine Thief

one of the private tasting rooms at The Wine Thief

If you’d like to get the most bang for your buck (and have an idea what you’ll be eating), take a bottle of wine and bring it to dinner with you. Many restaurants have a reasonable corkage fee, so bringing wine saves you the massive up-charge.

Dinner options:

Kitchen Door– back to the wonderful Oxbow Market for this casual, delicious, and beautifully affordable restaurant. When in Napa, the wine seems to flow, making driving an unfortunate experience, so I LOVE a walkable option.

Angele– again, walking distance from my beloved Westin and more white table cloth than Kitchen Door. Amazing food, great ambiance, quaint location. Oh, and white table cloths.

Ad Hoc– another favorite, not walking distance, but located in beautiful Yountville (yes, Napa has Uber). This is another of Thomas Keller’s wonderful restaurants, but more casual and MUUUUCH cheaper than The French Laundry. Ad Hoc is a family style restaurant that serves one entree each night. I’ve been 3 times and have yet to be disappointed. I believe Monday is still fried chicken night… perhaps, don’t go that night, for you can go to Addendum Thursday thru Saturday 11 am – 2 pm for boxed lunches of either fried chicken, pork ribs, or pulled pork. The fried chicken is ah-mazing! Side note: the last time I dined at Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller did as well.

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*I get nothing for recommending these places, but would be happy to receive freebies*