In April, I was feeling a bit restless with the long, grey, cold spring here in Ireland and like I wanted some sun. We looked into places we could go that would be warm but was within a three hours flight and our options were a bit dire in that regard. Instead, I pulled up Google and told it I wanted a short, cheap flight and Copenhagen popped up. We got an amazing deal through Ryan Air vacations (probably because our hotel was located right across the street from a full nude strip club – something NO ONE mentioned in the Trip Advisor reviews), but it was grand. We did a ton of walking, but mostly we ate and drank our way through Copenhagen. Per usual, we did a food walking tour and found every craft beer bar worth visiting. Oh, and as you can see from the pictures … it was sunny and warm! We loved our weekend in Copenhagen and recommend it to anyone thinking of visiting Denmark.
In January we celebrated our 21st dativersary. Yes, I know that’s a made up word. No, I don’t care.
To mark the occasion, we decided to take a quick trip to Prague. We have several friends who have been and loved it, and it’s a city I’ve read about in several books over the years. Knowing that we’d likely encounter frigid temps, we booked the trip nonetheless.
The first thing people will tell you about Prague is how insanely inexpensive it is. It’s certainly cheaper than other European cities with a similar feel, but we didn’t find it quite as cheap as we’d been led to believe. That said, we did stay in a Four Seasons for under €250/night, so there is that. Picking a hotel was one of the harder parts of the trip – I’d had a hotel in mind going into the planning phase, but when I mapped it and everything else we wanted to do while we were there, it looked like we would have a long walk back across the bridge at the end of the night. In the end, I’m glad we stayed at the Four Seasons, but while it was nice, it wasn’t quite *as* nice as I’d always been led to believe. (And yes, I know that makes me sound like an asshole – saying the FS isn’t as nice as I wanted it to be – but this is (nominally) a travel blog so that’s what you’re going to get.)
One of the things we enjoy doing on these weekend getaways is food & drink tours, and in that regard, Prague did not disappoint. We booked an evening tour with Taste of Prague, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Seriously. If you even remotely like food, wine, or beer and you’re going to visit, definitely make a point of booking a tour with these guys. We also booked a beer tour and while it was fun, I’m not sure it wasn’t something we couldn’t have figured out on our own. I guess having someone guide you to all the different locations was worthwhile, but it turned out we’d already visited one of the destinations on our own the night before.
Touring the castle is a fine way to spend a morning, but be warned: it’s not what you think of in terms of a CASTLE. This isn’t Scotland – or even Ireland. It’s basically a mini-town, anchored by a cathedral and other official buildings, at the top of the hill. Beautiful architecture and stunning views, yes … but not a castle. If you need free wifi for whatever reason, there’s a Starbucks right outside the entrance. (Of course there is.)
While we loved almost EVERYTHING about our weekend in Prague, there was one thing I had a hard time with: smoking is still allowed indoors. This meant I had a serious allergic reaction at dinner our first night that had me sneezing 47 TIMES in a row, and eventually chased us out of the restaurant. From that point on, we were more careful about where we dined, foregoing some of the local beer halls where traditional food and cheap beer would be served in favor of proper restaurants that were a bit more refined. This included the Michelin-starred LA DEGUSTATION, which we absolutely loved. The food was a bit on the adventurous side, but that’s what we love about haute cuisine … getting to try foods we wouldn’t otherwise ever be exposed to. And given that the focus here is on Czech cuisine, it was a delight. We were lucky enough to get a very late reservation the night before we flew home, so we stumbled back to our hotel just after midnight, our bellies full and our tastebuds dancing.
This morning I received a call from someone I know socially from an organization I sometimes interact with asking me to volunteer my time over the course of several days in July. The conversation went a little bit like this:
Me: When in July? We’re in and out of the country that month.
Them: July 26, from noon to five.
Me: Oh, sorry. I’m in Maine that week with my family.
Them: Oh, well. We have these other events too. One in early August and one at the end of the month.
Me: Erm … that’s going to be difficult too. When, exactly?
Them: August 3 and August 30.
Me: Oh, um. From Maine we go straight to California for my husband’s job so we won’t be in the country then, and August 30 is my 40th birthday and we’ll be in Italy.
Them: (snorting) Must be nice.
Me: Yeah, sorry.
She may has well have said, “Bless your heart” – and we all know what that means.
Here’s the thing: IT IS NICE.
And I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry.
I have a good life. We have built a good life for ourselves. We aren’t Rockefellers who were born with silver spoons in our mouths. I come from nothing. My husband and I have worked hard to get where we are. When we still lived in Pittsburgh and Alan worked such long hours that I had to go to his office if I wanted to have dinner with him? I never thought we’d be taking trips to Italy. When we moved to San Francisco and lived in a minuscule apartment, I never imagined we’d live in the type of house we do today. But we worked hard to get here. There have been many nights where come midnight, we were both still working. My first job out of college paid $9/hour. My first job in San Francisco (one of the most expensive cities in the world) – one I regularly put in 50+ hours/week – paid $28,000/year. By the time I retired from corporate communications working for a multi-billion dollar company I made over 4x that. I know we’re not supposed to talk about money openly, but I’m proud of what I accomplished. I am the first person in my family to have graduated from college and during those long days (and nights) sitting at my desk with all the office lights out while everyone else had gone home, I never thought I would get here. So yes, it is nice that all that effort paid off. I know that it doesn’t always and for every person who succeeds the way Alan and I have, there are buckets of those who don’t. I know this. I’ve stood in line with my parents for welfare checks. You don’t need to tell me.
But here’s the thing (well, one of the things): that person making snide, backhanded comments about my life? She’s not one of those people in the bucket either. She has a good life too – it’s just different from mine. She has kids so all of her energy is devoted to her family. While I plan two weeks in Italy, she plans a week at Disney World. While we can decide on a whim to hop over to Copenhagen because a good deal showed up in my inbox, she’s planning her week around her kids’ activities. And that’s fine too … but just as much as we made a choice not to have kids, she decided to have them. I didn’t force her to have three kids within six years. I’m sorry she can’t do the things I do, but it’s not my fault. So her derision? I’m so not here for that.
Which brings me back to her asking for my time. When she snorted I should have said, “You should probably remove me from your phone chain because you just lost me.”
Alan and I aren’t what you’d call New Year’s Eve people. We don’t really need a reason to go out and drink all night when we can pretty much do that any damn time we want. But seriously, NYE for us – generally speaking – has been a bit of a let down. And yet, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival has been on my bucket list since the very first time I read about it.
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year (Gregorian calendar) in the Scottish manner. It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year’s Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January—a Scottish bank holiday. The origins of Hogmanay are unclear, but it may be derived from Norse and Gaelic observances. Customs vary throughout Scotland, and usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours, with special attention given to the first-foot, the first guest of the new year. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations are among the largest in the world. Celebrations in Edinburgh in 1996–97 were recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest New Years party, with approximately 400,000 people in attendance. Numbers have since been restricted due to safety concerns.
Once tickets went on sale in 2015, I registered us for the torch like procession and the street festival on December 31. From there, I rented us a flat smack dab in the middle of Old Town’s Grassmarket neighborhood with a view of the castle, which turned out to be *excellent* forethought. You see, I thought I’d booked us exclusive tickets for that night, but when we arrived and got our wrist bands learned that our tickets only granted us access to the party area, not the exclusive party area. Since I generally dislike people – and really, really hate people who can’t hold their liquor – this turned out to be a bit of a problem since we were basically surrounded by 10,000 drunk idiots. In the end, we walked back to our flat, opened a bottle of bubbly, and watched the fireworks over the castle from our window sill. It was amazing. And the next day? We got up bright and early for dim sum, our New Years Day tradition going back more than a decade now, in some far, out of the way neighborhood before being taken to the airport. It was a crazy, wonderful, overwhelming weekend and I’m so happy we did it. Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to and seeing it all gussied up for the festival made it that much more scenic. If Hogmanay is something you’ve been thinking about doing, but have been on the fence about, I definitely recommend it. Heck, I’d go for the torchlit processional alone!
Last week I wrote about Neuschwanstein Castle, a place many people feel is an overrated tourist trip. (Spoiler: we loved it), and this week I’m here to tell you about another place we recently visited that is often put in the same category: Iceland’s Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.
While the Blue Lagoon tends to get a bad rap from some travel bloggers, it is also consistently named one of the places you *have* to visit while in Iceland. Personally, we couldn’t agree more. That said, we went during “off season” so our experience could differ greatly from yours if you went in say … June, July, or August, when hordes of people descend on Iceland for summer vacation. While the changing room and robe storage was a bit packed, we were surprised to find the pool itself actually quite empty, with plenty of room to relax and swim.
Having read up on visiting almost immediately after purchasing our plane ticket, we knew we needed to book our slot as quick as possible. With only 48 hours in Reykjavik, we decided to visit Blue Lagoon en route to the airport for our flight out to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. We chose to go with the Premium option, which provided us with: entrance to Blue Lagoon, silica mud & algae masks, use of towel, bathrobe & slippers, 1st drink of our choice, a reservation at Lava (the onsite restaurant) and sparkling wine if dining there. Based on the slot we secures and the time of our flight, we only had a few hours to enjoy the pools, but it was worth every single second. We didn’t dine at Lava so I can’t comment on that, but it looked very nice. If we ever had the opportunity to return to Iceland, I’d be tempted to book a night at the onsite hotel and spend all day in the magical, milky blue waters and at the spa getting facials and massages. I’m a terrible flyer but getting on the plane, I felt as relaxed as can be.