Take a short, 30 minute, ferry ride from Seattle and enjoy the gorgeous views and possible Orca sightings (you can even go HERE to find out where the local Orcas are) while on your way to the beautiful Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge Island is a charming village with waterfront shops, incredible restaurants, adorable diners, and unique activities.
Lobster Macaroni and Cheese- Doc’s Marina Grill: The most incredible, sophisticated version of a traditional kids meal! A must try!
MORA Iced Creamery – THE BEST ice cream you’ll ever have with fresh new flavors such as Stracciatella and Pistachio, or my personal favorite, Coconut.
Hiking Trails and Canopy Tree Climbing – for those adventure lovers who need more than a quiet town to get them excited. Bainbridge Island has a slew of hiking trails through the lush forests. You’re bound to see raccoons, squirrels, deer, foxes, and maybe an owl or two.
You can find out more information at the Official Bainbridge Island Visitor’s Guide.
Just past Bainbridge Island is another incredible town full of Scandinavian history. Poulsbo is an adorable town on the waterside with gorgeous parks, a boardwalk, and a “Norway Feel”.
Paddle Boarding and Kayaks – Poulsbo is located on the gorgeous Liberty Bay. Calm waters makes it perfect for paddle boarding and kayaking. You know what else the bay is perfect for? Seal hide outs! The cove is just full of cute seals that spend their days relaxing in the sun or playing games of “peek a boo” in the water. Watch for them to poke their heads out of the water! Not to mention the panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains!
The Loft – A fresh, delicious menu and waterfront tables! This is a bar and grill that is right on the water and they even have a wall that can lift up and open the entire restaurant to the gorgeous Puget Sound.
JJ’s Fish House – Stop here for a wonderful italian/sea food mix. THE BEST CLAM CHOWDER is found here! (shhh don’t tell the Ivar’s lovers! Or do, and they can find out for themselves)
Viking Fest! Every year in May, Poulsbo honors it’s roots by throwing a huge Viking Festival! Locals dress up. Delicious food and Viking hats are sold, and there’s even a Viking village that is set up.
Visit The City’s website to learn more about the charming town here.
Another adorable little town right off of the Puget Sound.
J’aime Les Crepes: a LEGIT crepery with French recipes and equipment. These crepes are EVERYTHING.
Paddle Boarding: Visit Kingston Adventures to rent paddle boards and kayaks!
Ferry to San Juan Islands
4. San Juan Islands
This is the ultimate retreat for camping and whale watching!
Whale Watching: The location is perfect for viewing killer whales! We use San Juan Safarisfor the nicer boats and smaller crowds! They also have a naturalist on the boat to help point out and identify many other animals that you might not have even noticed! It is about a three hour long tour and so much fun! Bring your sunscreen and a jacket!
Camping: The San Juan Islands are packed with camping grounds! There are so many great, private locations with beautiful scenery. We even saw a family of otters playing in the water!
Hiking: tons of hiking with incredible views!
Home to the Olympics Game Farm, where you take your personal vehicle through a preserve of Kodiak Bears, tigers, Buffalo, and much more! Bring your own whole wheat bread too HAND FEED the animals! This experience is like NO OTHER. SERIOUSLY. The animals such their heads in the windows to eat the food, you get slobbered on, and there are lots of laughs and GREAT pictures! This is for all ages! There is even a petting zoo at the end. Do not miss this! 6. Leavenworth
The famous “Christmas Town” of the United States. Imagine being able to jump inside one of those snow globes with the cute little villages and sleigh rides and you’re basically imagining Leavenworth. 7. Chelan
THE MOST GORGEOUS LAKE YOU WILL EVER GO TO! Lake Chelan is surrounded by vineyards, is warmer than most of washington since it’s farther east, and is just a DREAM to go to. Seriously, a trip to Lake Chelan is a MUST. This place is JAM PACKED with fun activities for all of you adventurers out there. Jet skis, boats, paddle boats, and more! You will NOT be bored. Have you been to any of these places? Share your experiences! Where have you gone in Washington that you think deserves to be on the “Hidden Gems” list? Let us know in the comments so we can feature it! 👇👇 ]]>
Prague at night looking at Charles bridge which is over 400 years old.[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1434"] Brandenburger Gate in Berlin[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="832"] Zermatt Switzerland, the real Matterhorn[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="2885"] Vienna Austria[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="3648"] Kunta Hora in teh Czech Republic, the Cathedral of Bones[/caption]
My friends in college always talked about backpacking through Europe, and every time I heard of someone actually doing it, I would swear to myself every time that I would do that someday and it would more firmly be implanted on my official Bucket list items.
Planning a trip can be VERY overwhelming, especially when you take into account how much information is out there, what information is correct, what is not, if someone reviews a certain site-is it the same view you would take, how much does it cost, how much is the entry, what are your physical capabilities of making it to that site? Lots and lots of questions can overwhelm you in this process, especially if you are traveling somewhere alone. So let me take you through my steps of planning to help you out. As the trip gets closer I will give you more updates about snags or gaps I come across, and once arriving will post videos (if able) to let you know how it actually is once I get there. Here goes nothing……
So I have been day dreaming about Prague for awhile now, its such a nebulous concept, and Eastern Europe Czech Republic has been fought over so many times over the centuries, I didn’t really know much about it. I actually saw it on my shower curtain map I have and started wondering what was actually there. I went to Professor Google and found some things that us as Americans could relate to: some scenes of Mission Impossible were filmed here, and is actually called the Hollywood of Europe because of how well preserved the buildings are, and how beautiful they are. Well that peaked my interest, plus the Musical background and history that is here. Note: its been a long time since I took World History in Junior High, so if I get something incorrect let me know in the comments below.
Well I had already had my sights set on Morocco for the year 2017, but then Delta had that wonderful flash sale where flights to Europe were as little as $400……so I made an impulse buy and decided to check Prague out. A little advice, don’t buy anything late at night on your phone, it is just never a good idea, and the other problem is, I have my debit card and all associated numbers needed memorized (inadvertently), which creates some issues sometimes with my morning buyers remorse. Lest I digress about that issue, so now I had a ticket to Prague and apparently wanted to stay for a week. So this is where the digging came in.
I always start with Trip advisor and Booking.com, here I found out that a few days in Prague was sufficient for the historical sites and such that I wanted to see. Then found a 1/2 day trip to Kunta Hora (the skeleton cathedral) which is super creepy, and ghost stories freak me out, but I just couldn’t resist seeing a cathedral made of bones — reminded me of the gypsies in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. So now I had a few places I wanted to see there, I started reading all the reviews about people who have done the private tours vs walking tours vs group tours. I decided that I wanted to see more of Europe, so booked a private tour by Car, because you are always jet lagged the first few days & wanted to save my feet (I have problems with the nerves in my feet) for the walking I knew I was going to be doing in the other cities. I didn’t book these quite yet, I needed to make sure my flight would arrive on time, that I would have at least 2-4 hours to make it through customs, get lost trying to find a way out of the airport, traffic time to the city, and transit time from the airport to the city. Depending on the city, it may take up to 1/2 the day to do this. Luckily, there was a handy little airport transfer cab for $9 that was a shared ride from the Prague Airport to the center of Prague and would drop me off right at my Hostel I was staying at. I ended up booking the private car tour, and now almost wish I had just done the much cheaper walking tours instead to be honest. But at least with the car, I know we can zip around and make better use of the time & there is somewhere safe to store my things, and I can ask loads of questions about the city that I don’t know much about other than the fact that it looked pretty in pictures.
Next I looked at a map, and started picking out some cities nearby that I have remembered hearing about, or knew had some interesting sites I wanted to see. Those cities were Berlin (for WWII history, and Berlin Wall), Vienna (Mozart, shopping, refined beautiful architechture), and Zermatt (the Matterhorn, because I love Disneyland). Well I have no clue in how to navigate the train system in Europe, but found this great little piece of information on actually using the EUrail as your hotel in a sense, and taking the night train between your destinations. There are a lot more transfers than I thought there would be, but I’m sure I will figure it out, and if not, well……it will just be one more story to add to my adventure, lol. That’s another reason I asked for the private guide in Prague, I’m going to have her take me to the train station and teach me how to not miss the trains that I need to go on & how the trains work in Europe. Europeans travel a lot and I’m sure that the train system is pretty much similar in each town (at least that’s what I’m banking on). So because I discovered there were a lot of transfers (2-3) to get to Berlin from Prague on the EN (the letters indicative that it is a night train) and didn’t want to stay overnight in Berlin, I will have to pack in a backpack, everything I want to bring with me to make it easier to board and un-board trains. Once in Berlin, I will take a free walking tour through the city, which I found on Trip Advisor/Viator – which will give me my bearings in the city. I still have to figure out if I can store my backpack in lockers at the train station or not. Hoping that I can so I don’t have to lug around my backpack all over Europe. Pretty much this is going to have to be a week long camping trip (2 outfits the whole trip and only the essentials in the bag). I will spend most the day with the walking tour, then the walking tour ends at museum island, which has a train station right near it. When I get nervous about if I’m going to be able to figure the transportation stuff out, I always tell myself that, “you will have your emergency taxi money to use if you get short on time or get too lost, so don’t stress yourself out, just take a deep breath and realize your going to be fine”. Then I’m back on my game and go to the next step of, once I get to correct station, I will need to figure out how to get on the right train to the next stop….. Zermatt.
Switzerland is great, until you want to get there by train, then it becomes a pain. I talked to the EU rail people via internet, and asked if there was a shorter way to get to Zermatt, the answer in short was “no”. Why? Because most of the trains that run through Switzerland are privately owned, and bottom line, no one really knows what they are doing from the rest of Europe apparently. The cost of the trains through there in the daytime is expensive unless you buy a EUrail, and even then, on the fancier ones with more history, they can slap you with an extra fee (#nothanks). Here is what I have planned for this leg of the trip, just to give you an idea.
Head to Train Station at 10pm in Berlin
Take Train EN 471 at 2307 to Berlin Suedkreuz (Germany) overnight to Basel SBB Switzerland arriving at 0720am
Transfer to Train IC 1063 at 0831am from Basel SBB Switzerland to VISP Switzerland & arrive at 1030am
Take Train RE 327 at 10:41am from VISP (Switzerland) to ZERMATT (Switzerland)
So obviously after the few days I will have been in Europe by this point, I need to remind myself of what my “realistic expectations” aka will need to pace myself at this point. This is where I splurged a little and got an overnight stay at the Christiania Mountain Spa, check in isn’t until 3pm, but I checked before I booked to make sure I could store my bag here before check-in and they allow this (#hugerelief). Here is what I have planned for this day and the day after when I check out, now this is not set in stone, but I researched some ideas of what I think I would like to do, and will just see how I’m feeling. If I do nothing else but wander the town, shop and take the tour up the mountain on the train and admire the Alps then I think I will be set. The pool at this hotel looks directly at the Matterhorn apparently, and that’s all I really cared about. But also have this grand idea of skiing down the Alps, just to say I did, it may end up that I scoot down on my butt the whole way, but that’s the beauty of traveling alone, no one has to know, and its the ultimate “what happens there, stays there” lol. So here is the rough itinerary…
Stop at Fuchs Bistro and Bakery (hot coco and pastries)
Go on the Gornergrat Bahn (see 29 peaks including matterhorn) – $40 one way $90 both ways
Go to the Glacier Palace Paradise, open 8-430pm – $100 CHF or $100 USD
Back down from the peak of the Gomergrat, take two stops and go to the Riffelhaus 1853 which has the best Fondue around. Good pit stop.
6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. must call to make reservation: +41 27 966 65 00
If you ski back down, it has some of the best skiing around – go ahead and ski on the matterhorn/glacier – get ski rental and drop off online – make sure to shop around for the best price and for the ones that wont sell out.
Skiset was just about the cheapest we could find. You can book online in advance. They have a few partner shops around town (“Matterhorn Sport”), so you may be able to choose one near your accommodation. You can get further discounts off their prices using a referral, like J2Ski; http://www.skiset.co.uk/j2ski/
Flexrent, who have a website, and you can email in advance to reserve, although I don’t think you really need to. They are located opposite the Sunnega funicular entrance and have a depot downstairs so you can walk in your shoes, and leave them there during the day so no need to walk around town in ski boots or to carry ski gear which stays at the shop
Ask the Hotel if they have any discounts with any of the ski shops in town, they may have an “in” with them. Also Julen Sport across from the Hockey Rink is where we get ours.
Stop at the Matterhorn Museum (see how the place converted to a tourist town)
$10 entry; open 3p-7pm
Have dinner at Du Pont (fondue and rosti potatoes) Menu price $7-$24
Go to the Loft Lounge Club, specifically for those over 28 y/o ; or Jazz at the Pink Live Music Barà these are all over by the Unique Hotel Post
Or just go and enjoy the swimming pool and steam room
It all sounds so relaxing doesn’t it? I planned this specifically for that reason. I’m actually really excited to see the Matterhorn. In my research I also saw a day trip that you can hike up the Alps and go fishing with the Matterhorn in your foreground that looked really fun, and got some good reviews. But I will be going in September and don’t know how that is going to go. There is also the super expensive helicopter rides, and glacier hiking you can do as well. But my main focus was the Matterhorn and seeing the Alps for myself, there are a lot of other beautiful places to visit in Switzerland as well, so I can always return here.
On planning my next step in the trip, this is where I run into the painful train transfers, but after a relaxing 1.5 days in Zermatt, I feel like I will be more up to the challenge for this. Here is what the itinerary looks like as I make my way towards my hostel in Vienna.
Check out of Christiania Mountain Spa 11am (store bags)
See if have time for Glacier Palace – or shopping
Make way to train (possible reschedule???) = painful train transfers…….
1813pm from Zermatt on train RE 264 to VISP Switzerland and arrive at 1912pm
At 1928pm from VISP (Switzerland) take train IC 1084 to BERN (Switzerland ) and arrive at 20:23pm
At 20:32pm from BERN (Switzerland) on train IC 733 to Zuerich HB (Switzerland) arriving at 21:28
At 21:40pm from Zuerich HB on train EN 467 to Salzburg HBF (Austria) arriving Sept 28th at 0328am (sooo early, but if you look at the train from Zuerich to Salzburg you get a good amount of sleep continually)
At 0350am take Train EN 463 to Wien Meidling (Austria) arriving at 0627am (this is where if I’m too exhausted I cough up money for a taxi or try and get a internet connection to see if the country has Lyft or Uber)
Make way to Wombats City Hostel Vienna at Naschmarkt, Vien — first time using ‘Hostelworld.com’ to book this reservation, but will let you know how it goes.
I will not typically put the directions or names of towns or connecting trains down, but in this instance, I have such a hard time trying to even think about how to pronounce these names/words that I wrote them down on my travel document (like the outline I am inserting here) but I will put all my booking confirmation numbers, pin numbers, addresses to hotels/sites I want to see, so if I do end up taking a taxi, I take out a pen and pad of paper, write it down in their language and then give it to them so they know exactly where I’m going, or I can plug the location into Uber/Lyft directly to get there and not need my internet connection for long. (NOTE: AT&T lets you buy a certain amount of data when you are overseas which I usually do, its only about $30 and has saved me on multiple occasions)
++ From BAHNHOF WIEN MEIDLING ++ Take the U6 direction Floridsdorf to ‘Laengenfeldgasse’. From here, take the U4 (direction Heiligenstadt) and get off at ‘Kettenbrueckengasse’. Take exit ‘Kettenbrueckengasse’. Cross Kettenbrueckengasse and Rechte Wienzeile. Turn left and walk the last 100 meters to Wombats City Hostel Vienna at ‘The Naschmarkt’ (next to Hofer supermarket). Travel time approximately 15 minutes.
Phone: +43 1 8972336
Cost: 19.95 euros = $21.42 in USD
After arriving in Vienna, I have planned a 1/2 day biking tour of Vienna that starts around 2pm (see below), so I researched some of the best things to see in Vienna and a few that I knew I probably couldn’t do without and how much time I should plan on each, when they are open and how much each will cost me. Sometimes you can get the fast passes, or city passes so its cheaper, but I have found that usually if you are only going to one or two sites its not really worth it (just my opinion). So here are some places I wanted to visit while in Vienna.
Schoenbrann Palace & Gardens – opens at 830am-530pm (about 3 hours) – Grand tour @ $18.77
Kunsthistorisches Museum/imperial treasury (Audio Guide is typically cheaper and has a lot more info, this way you can skip to the next item, or only hear about the ones that are interesting to you in particular) (about 3 hours)- open 10am-6pm; Combined ticket with guide $21.45– buy ticket online before you go.
Vienna Highlights Bike Tour (Need voucher) – leaves at 2:30pm
Located @ Franz-Josefs-Kai 45 1010 Vienna – departure point is at the Vienna Explorer tour office.
Tube to Schottenring (U2/U4) or Schwedenplatz (U1/U4)
After bike tour options (just in case it ends early)
Imperial Palace (Hofburg)** get Sisi ticket to Hofburg $30.89, will give you fast track ticket.
Rathausplatz (X-mas market) – free and beautiful at night
Stadtpark – has a memorial to Mozart & beautiful area….maybe do a very early morning stroll, no fee, no particular hours noted either.
Kursalon Vienna: Johann Strauss and Mozart Concert including 4-course dinner
Don’t forget your voucher (booked through TripAdvisor, who uses Viator)
Program starts at 6pm , located @ Johannesgasse 33 1010 Vienna (closest underground station is Stadtpark) -program is done at 10pm
Sept 29th – Friday At 0710 take train RJ 70 to Prague HLAVNI NADRAZI (Czech Republic) arriving at 1106am
Make way to Jungmann Hotel (booking.com)
Check in @ 2pm
½ day trip to Kunta Hora via Viator (Don’t forget your voucher) — this is so far out of the way, its likely better to do it in a group, so you can see as much as possible in the least amount of time as possible, and then you know you won’t get lost or not make all your sites on time. Just keep in mind that these trips are typically rushed, and won’t allow you a lot of time to peruse, or take it at your own pace, keep a watch on you so you can keep track of the time, and allot time for each activity you want to do at the certain areas. I am not one for big crowds so I picked a tour specifically that is a smaller coach and look at the number of people that it mentions can come. Sept 30th – Saturday
Check on airport transfer from Hotel at 7:30am
Check out at 11am, but will likely check out sooner because of airport security and if I purchased anything that I could claim VAT taxes on I could submit the form for that. But in my experience, I never usually get the money back for all the headache they put you through to submit the dog gone form for it.
Make way to Airport for Delta Flight, arrives in SLC at 1054pm take Lyft home for $20 🙂 sweet peaceful evening with 1 day before I return to work to get acclimated to the timezone again. I have started arriving home on Sunday mornings or Sat evenings because it will take you at least the rest of the day to re-assimilate into reality again after the grand adventures.]]>
Iceland has for many years, been overlooked because of its name and the assumption that it is all made of ice with no summers and subzero temperatures. But as the popular series ‘Game of Thrones’ has been filmed there over the years, it has brought to light, how truly beautiful and breathtaking this country is; as well as some scenes in the new Star Wars movies.
Iceland holds the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in southwestern Iceland. Bláa lónið is situated approximately 12 miles from the Keflavik International Airport and 24 miles from the capital city of Reykjvik, that’s a 21-minute drive from the airport and a 50-minute drive from Reykjavík. It is also home to Geyser’s, Volcanos, Waterfalls (both moving and frozen), Viking history, Diamond Beach, Northern Lights, and Puffins. So needless to say, no matter who you bring with you, there is something for everyone to see.
Iceland is also laid out in an extremely easy path to follow, a ring around the island, that will pretty much take you to every place you like to see (with a few overnight stays). For me this is a very attractive way to travel, because I have problems getting directionally situated when travelling. See the maps below to see just how simple this would be to follow.
So now that I have peaked your interest, how do you go about actually getting there? How much should you budget for? Where do you go to book things? Do you book beforehand, or just fly by the seat of your pants and go? Can anyone go? Do you need a Visa? Are most sites wheelchair accessible? Do you want to stay on the path, or find those hidden gems of Iceland?
Let us guide you through how we plan a trip, and in Particular to Iceland……
First barrier most people face is, “How much is this going to cost me? Is it a trip just for me, or can I take friends/family?”. This boils down to the cost of the flight itself, and what the exchange rate is. Don’t tell yourself you can’t afford to travel until you actually answer these questions, you might be surprised how affordable it actually is to travel. You also don’t have to travel into the most popular place within the country, like when I booked my flight to Morocco, the flight into Casablanca instead of Rabat was almost $400 cheaper! So look at the country and the airports that are available. So for Iceland we have about 34 airports listed. I will pick 3 and compare them, and pick one central to the areas I would like to visit, lets take for example The Blue Lagoon, so the Blue Lagoon is located between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik. I will compare both of these airports and their flights, and watch them both on my websites I use for flights, as listed below.
For my flights I have some ‘go to’ websites that I use, apps, and one website that I paid $25 for the entire year to use, and it has been totally worth it for the updates and alerts it gives me on vacations. Here are a few:
Hopper (this is an app on my iphone that sends me alerts when prices on my ‘go to’ cities go up and down) —will take a lot of headache, and lets the company do the work for you.
Skyscanner (this is another app on my iphone that sends me alerts on prices for my cities, and when they go up and down) — this will take a lot of headache, and lets the company do the work for you.
Delta.com (for those with skymiles, this is a great way to use them)
Travelpirates – (app) this is great for both flights and vacations that you can plug in the cities you want to watch and they will send you notifications
TravelZoo – (app) this can give you flights, and all inclusive deals that are promotions that certain new hotels and companies are having, including cruises.
Nextvaca.com ($25 a year, but totally worth it to save hundreds on vacations), this site found a flight for me from Salt Lake City Utah to Iceland for $283; WHO CAN BEAT THAT?!?!
Now to pick the top attractions I would like to see, and when is the best time to see them. Here is a month by month list of attractions in Iceland and when the best time to see them is. January: average Temp 31.8F, length of day is only 4 hours 24 minutes, and is considered one of the colder months here. But those with skin of steel still make the journey and hotels near Reykjavík still sell out most weekends. But the more remote areas you may have an easier time connecting with the locals and getting better deals on Hotels. Dark Music Day festival is celebrated this month, along with their version of Valentines day, but separate it into two different days, one for the man and one for the woman. They also have the Þorrablót Festival, which is all about food/drinking/and festivities. Christmas is also celebrated here until the 6th of January, where they will have fireworks and such to celebrate the incoming year. Best Tours for this month are probably the Northern lights tours and the Ice Caves tours. I wouldn’t suggest doing the Ice Cave tours on your own, they are prone to cave in, and you will want a guide that knows which caves are prone to the cave-in’s and which are not. February: This is a time to visit if you want to see just how bad the snowstorms can get, average temperatures are around 32F. But it is also the best time of year to see the Northern lights, there are also a lot of activities in town that will keep you occupied. Festivals this month are the Winter Lights Festival (very pretty I hear), and the Reyjavik Bar Summit, where bartenders come from all over the world to see who is the best. Tours to go on are the same as for January. March: Roads and storms are still going to be an issue for travelers. Length of day is 10 hours, 2nd wettest month of the year. This is the last good month to see the Northern Lights, tours run til April 15th, but starting beginning of April they will be hit or miss. Don’t go during Easter, as everything shuts down to celebrate this (70% Lutheran population). Festivals: Food and fun: world renown chefs compete to who can come up with the best dish using only Icelandic food, Reykjavik Folk Festival – which will feature Icelandic folk music, Design March – Icelandic design showcase festival, and the Blues Festival (Icelandic blues that is). Tours: Golden circle snowmobiling and snorkeling tours, or Ice Cave tours (careful on picking Natural vs Man made) April: 37F average temp, with 13 hours of daylight. Sunsets are longer. Flowers start to bloom. April is typically a slower month for tour companies so you can probably find a pretty good deal outside of Reykjavik still. Festivals: Icelandic writers retreat, Childrens festival (with free entry to many events). Tours: this is a good month to check into Tripadvisor.com and Viator.com to see what outdoor activities you would like to do: Lava fields, hot springs, rivers and valleys. But be prepared, this month is the month that the weather is most polar opposites, and you won’t know what your going to get, so be prepared with Plan B always. May: Average of 43F, and 16 hours of daylight. More sun, least rain, least tourists but will get busier by the end of this month. The flowers don’t bloom completely and the grass isn’t quite green until the end of May to Middle of June. This is the month that do it yourself Roadtrips start. Mid may to the end of the month the prices start to go up in anticipation of tourist season. Festivals: Raflost- electronic artist festival, Reykavik art festival- international art festival. Tours: this is the month to start seeing Puffins, and touring inside the volcano, and all outdoor activities (other than northern lights/snowmobiling) are likely to be doable again. June: Temps are around 55. Daylight hours 21. Best chance for the most dry days of the year this month. Flights costs of $600-700 round trip, from the US are very rare for this time of year. You’re more likely to see prices as high as $800-$1000. High season rates will be in effect at hotels and car rental desks as well. The full range outdoor adventures are available nearly 24 hours a day because of how long the days are including: Hiking til 10pm, horseback riding, driving around the island in daylight, hard to get to areas like Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, puffins and whales begin to migrate and are seen all around the island. You can explore waterfalls and caves, walk on glaciers, and camp in the great outdoors in relatively pleasant weather. Festivals: June 3-4 2017 is the Festival of the Sea and day for Icelandic Fisherman, all the ships remain in harbor and there are games and festivities, the Color Run for 2017 in Iceland is on June 10th, Secret Solstice Music festival happens at midnight June 16-18th, June 17th is the Icelandic National Holiday, WOW cyclothon where teams ride around Iceland in less than 72 hours, Eistnaflug Music festival – Three days of non stop rock and heavy metal in an isolated fjord, Neskaupsstaður. July: Average Temp 58F, weather is a bit unpredictable still. Daylight hours 20 hours . This is the month when all roads are open, tourist season is at its peak, all hostels/hotels/guesthouses and summer activities are open. (See June description on available activities). Festivals: July 5-8 Folk Music Festival of Siglufjordur, 7/8 Golden Circle Cycling challenge professional to beginner, The Iceland Race (road running), 15th Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, 29th Braeoslan Music Festival. Tours: All tours (except Northern lights) are great to go on, see June recommendations and TripAdvisor.com or Viator.com. August: Average Temp 58F, but the weather is more stable. Daylight lasts 17 hours (sunset at 11pm). Days are still long but there are already less tourists. The puffins and other fowl start migrating this month. You may be able to start to see the Northern lights again at the end of August if you are lucky. Festivals: Iceberg firework show in Jokulsarlon in the Vatnajokull Region, Reykajavik Marathon, Reykajavik Culture night. Tours: most summer tours already mentioned above are still running, but Puffins may have already migrated along with most fowl, as a trade off you may start to see the Northern lights. September: Average Temp 45F, winds start to become quite strong and there are some mentions of ‘horizontal rain’. Daylight lasts 13 hours. The fall hits a little earlier in Iceland. October: Average Temperature 45F, winds are quite strong, and weather begins to be more unpredictable as winter approaches. Daylight lasts 10 hours. November: Average Temperature 42F. Daylight lasts 7 hours. December: Average Temperature 37F. Daylight lasts 4 hours.
For the most up to date driving conditions and road closures, call theses numbers (or go to weather stations within cities) You can call 1777 (if problems use +354 522 1100). Open 8am-4pm in summer and 6:30am-10pm in winter. An English answering machine with road information is available at phone number 1778. (Please check these numbers prior to traveling to Iceland to ensure you have the most up to date phone numbers available).
Check the Aurora forecast and the weather, drive to a dark place and look up. A bit of food and a hot drink in the car means you can stay as long as you want and you are guaranteed to get a good show.
If you like going to festivals, here is a website to browse with Visit Iceland that I recommend, it has everything from Swam Soccer, Writers festival, Gay pride festival, and Fish Festival…..lots and lots to choose from: http://www.visiticeland.com/things-to-do/culture/festivals
So now that we have some resources on how to watch for great flight deals, here are some different ways you can book accommodation. At first I started by searching for ‘best places to stay’ in the respective areas/attractions that I want to visit; this I found was not the best way to go about doing this, as the companies who will be listed on the top of the search screen usually are the ones that pay the top dollar to be there. So how do you find the best deal, and with the least amount of frustration and headache? I have used several websites, we will separate them into what are the best sites for solo travelers and those who are bringing families:
Solo Travelers: try and pick somewhere that offers free breakfast (saves a lot of money), and has free Wifi, and they allow you to store your luggage there before check-in, as well as a 24 hr front desk, I also check to see if the front desk staff can speak my language(not essential but definitely a plus), and what time check-in and checkout are, if they have free airport transport, and if the city has a good bus/railway system I try to choose a place on the map that is close to those areas.
Booking.com – this you can filter what kind of place you want to stay at ie/B&B, Hostel, Hotel etc…. and it will compare them and they have a bidding war against each other to stay on the top of the roster. I have used this for a few trips now and have not had any issues, as long as I write down and take the pin # and booking # they give me. I also email the company directly about 30 days before I go, just to make sure that they have my reservation in the computer, and while I have them on the phone, also ask if there are any discounts available or if they have any specials I could take advantage of & sometimes mention other hotels that are having specials that I have seen offered.
Hostelworld.com – this website provides pictures, ratings from travelers, tells you the accommodations that they have available etc.. Make sure to pay attention to the reviews about if the water is hot, if the bathrooms are separated, if their is breakfast included, if there is an electric plug for each guest, how clean they have been rated, and if there is a locker available or not for your valuables and passport. The locker doesn’t need to be large, just enough to put the valuables that are hard to replace like your ID’s, cards, medications, or any souvenir’s you may buy.
Trip Advisor is one that I use as well, but I find that they are becoming a bit overpriced and bought out, I mostly look at the reviews that people post about a certain area, and then go to the company website itself for the deals because it is often cheaper. (I rarely use Expedia or other websites of this nature because of the cost inflation that they seem to have– but that is just my experience).
Hotel Tonight or Airbnb: I personally have not tried either of these, because I am a bit nervous about being a single female and staying in a strangers home alone; but I know if you have family, it is a good deal and some even allow pets. Hotel tonight is a new one I have found that I will try out the next time I am looking for hotels, seems like they have good deals on hotels especially on short notice (they only do about 1 week in advance) this will likely get you the best deals as hotels are trying to fill their rooms.
Facebook is a great resource as well — I will usually type in the search bar something like this “Iceland travel”, “Touring Iceland” etc…… in as many different ways as I can. Typically Facebook with different websites will automatically translate the deals and such for you. This way you can connect with the local people and find the best deals this way. Just be careful who you book with as there are many people who say they are a tour guide but may not be a professional tour guide. To circumvent this issue, I usually ask a few questions: Do you have a website I could look at? Do you have other customers that I could chat with about their experience? If I decide to book with you, how do you accept payment?
Never give payment information directly to them, get an email requesting payment with their company name, address, telephone, and website on the receipt and all the things that will be included with the tour. I did this with Carolyn Barrett Adventures in Jamaica and it was one of the best decisions I have made in a LONG time. She had so much history about the island, and was actually an immigrant to Jamaica from New York. I searched her on Trip Advisor and found that about 6 other people had the same reservations I did about booking this way, but had the courage to go ahead and book it with her and it was an AMAZING experience. Can’t wait to go back and visit with her again.
If you want to backpack through Iceland here are your campsites listed on this website with all sorts of camping accommodations and hostels that accept campers/backpackers, this site comes complete with GPS coordinates and everything (THAT makes is SUPER simple to utilize!):
Note: you will want to know the transportation system of the buses, as well as where the nearest bathrooms are, or if there are fines for leaving your ‘business’ and not packing it with you. Where your snack/dinners will be, and realistically how tired you will be after a long day of hiking, and if the sites you visit allow you to store your backpacks or not.
There are some that just rent campers when the arrive in Iceland and then stay at these camping locations so as to avoid the unpacking/repacking that comes with hotels/hostels/backpacking. This may be the best option for those who have the budget to afford it.
After you find your flight and decide what hotel you would like to stay at in Reykjavik, it is important to know how you will get around. If you would like to Rent a Car vs the established system. Here is what I found for transfers from the Airport in Reykjavik:
After every flight you’ll find a Flybus right outside of the arrival halls at Keflavík Airport and they leave every 20 minutes or so.There are two types of tickets available: The normal Flybus ticket that will take you to the BSÍ bus terminal or a Flybus + ticket that takes you to your hotel or guesthouse. Please keep in mind though that you will read everywhere that this transfer only takes 45 minutes, it actually takes about 2 hours. The Flybus’s offer free Wifi when you are onboard.
Most rental care companies offer pick up in Keflavík for a small fee. If you are renting a car anyway, this may be worth it to you. Finding the way from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík is quite straight forward but I hear the biggest trouble is finding the way out to the main road.
Car Rentals: **Unless you have experience driving in EXTREMEMLY icy and windy conditions, I do not suggest driving in Iceland in the Winter months November to February are going to be the worse times. Many cars end up in ditches, and unless you have car rental insurance, this could mean a huge chunk out of your wallet. Of all the research I have done, people think they have experience on snowy roads, but its the high winds in combination with icy roads that will get you; 4×4’s don’t help in this area of the world, they can actually be like a sail for the winds to push you off the road easier. **
The best time to do driving by yourself or with a family in tow is usually in June/July/August as these are the typical summer months. If you plan to do a trip around the island, I would suggest at the very minimum 6 days, if you can a 8 day trip would make your trip much easier and more relaxing so as you can stop at different places along the way and really explore. I have heard people only spending 1-4 days in Iceland, but I would highly recommend you get on Trip Advisor and pick out a guide that can make the most of your time if that is the case.
Car rentals can cost anywhere from $464 to $561 for a mini car rental (2-3 passenger) in June and July for 7 days. I found the $464 price on Rentalcars.com — make sure the car has unlimited mileage, and ask for package deals, and see if they have a car that has GPS included, this will be essential in the more remote areas of Iceland. But if you have your own Satellite GPS that doesn’t require cell signal, then more power to you. (copy and paste into your web browser- this gets you to the waterfalls, volcano, lava fields, puffins, and glaciers)
Here is a tentative plan for driving in the googlemap website below, this will give you options of where to stop and how long you can handle driving. Make sure to leave 1 buffer day (as is recommended by every native there) for inclement weather plans (because its so unpredictable: Using the Bus system: There is a summer bus system in place to reach tourist sites, but it requires careful planning for overnight accommodation. Here are some links: https://www.re.is/iceland-on-your-own/http://icelandbybus.is/http://trex.is/scheduled-bus/ Accommodation in many areas with hiking trails is limited and sells out for the summer quickly, so it would be good to plan as soon as possible.
Specifics on what to Pack for Iceland:
Down jackets are basically destroyed when wet. My advice for clothing would be layers covered by a waterproof shell. This way you are covered for all eventualities. Layers layers layers is pretty much what you need. Umbrella, warm hat, wind breaker, and check to make sure you have the right outlet plug for this country.
Don’t forget your swim trunks or swimming suit as there are geothermal pools and the like, scattered all over the island, so taking a spontaneous dip is more likely than not.
Cell phone Service in Iceland:
AT&T passport service ($30) will be activated automatically once you get there. There are 2 companies in Iceland that cover their roaming services, so if you plan to use GPS this should cover you, but if not, get a car that has it built in, and as a last resort bring a map with you (in English).
Northern Lights Jeep tour
Better option so that you wont be surrounded by 10 buses of tourists while you enjoy the lights, or if you have already rented a car and its June/July with decent weather – then forego the cost of a tour and just pull go out when its fairly dark (which isn’t long since summers in Iceland are nearly 24 hours of daylight) and see if you can find the Northern lights when you are driving along the Golden Circle.
Golden Circle and glacier on snowmobile
Thingvellir National Park a UNESCO world heritage site packed with history and natural phenomena
Geysir hot spring area- put on a show about every 5-8 minutes
Gulfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s greatest falls
Langjokull glacier – snowmobile this
Go down route 1 to Eyjafjallajokull the volcano that created such a mess in 2010.
See the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss
Vik (a costal village) here is the Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Here you will see the basalt column formations and the famous Reynisdranger peaks.
Here you will see miles of Lava fields covered in fluffy moss and beautiful mountain range
Ice Cave, Skaftafell & Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon- Eyjafjallajokull volcano/glacier, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Skofafoss, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik Village
Ice Cave, Skaftafell & Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon-Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Vatnajokull National Park, Skaftafell National Park
Snorkeling/scuba diving in Silfra Caving tour – must do a tour for this, check Tripadvisor.com and reviews for the one that fits your needs.
Blue Lagoon (which if you plan it correctly, you can take a soothing dip before jumping on the plane, make sure you get the ticket that includes a towel, so you don’t have to lug around a wet towel in the airport.
For Summer: For a 10 day trip around Iceland: check this out: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/tag/around-iceland-in-10-days/
*Don’t forget to Kayak in the Fjords (suggest a tour for this as well) , you may even get to ]]>
My first Solo travel was to Jordan…..the Country in 2014. I had started to become very unhappy and burnt out being a Physician Assistant in Las Vegas. I was working 7 days a week 10-12 hours a day with every other weekend off. I didn’t feel like I was drained at the time, but I just felt like one of those workers on the assembly line that was treating patients and sending them home. The job started to lose its joy, I was fighting with my roommates all the time. And finally decided that life was too short to live so irritable and unhappy, so I started looking up cruises.
I have been on a cruise before and loved it, but came across this website called Cruise Lady, and this white haired bubbly looking lady popped up on my screen with a deal on a Land Tour through Jordan & a religious tour through Jerusalem. The wheels started to turn, and I ended up booking by just putting a down payment down first (I think it was around $300) and then calculated when they were going to leave (a year from the time I called), they gave me the option of paying into it like a bank account until the trip was payed for. There was a single supplement of around $500 for both Jordan and Israel, but it was worth it.
In the end I was able to get a ‘bunk mate’ and get that price decreased as well. Total for the trip, transportation, professional guide in Jordan, and a Professor with a Masters (or Doctorate) in Middle Eastern Studies, and the Cruise Lady herself and her Husband — was about $2,400 without my flight. So I put away around $200 a month towards the trip and saving for my airfare and was able to go on the trip. I used Delta, as it was easier for me to navigate their site, and I hadn’t had a good experience with American Airlines or Southwest Airlines; and I knew Delta partnered with Air France, which I haven’t had a bad experience with to date.
I have their Delta Skymiles program and wanted to get the perks with that too. I made the arrangements, made sure my flight was on time and timed it so that the flight arrived about the same time that the other members of our group arrived. I spent 28 hours in Airports…….and remember getting to Atlanta after a Red Eye flight & then couldn’t get into the gate because I had an 8 hour layover there from Dallas and they do not allow you to go through the gates, especially for international flights until 4 hours before the flight is suppose to take off.
I ended up sitting by the Wheelchair area—- in a wheelchair, put my sunglasses on and got my baby blanket I bring on every international flight, set my alarm for 4 hours and fell asleep. When I woke up and started going through Security again, I think I was stopped at every security place and asked to dismantle my carefully packed backpack (which was so heavy),
Traveler tip: don’t pack a bunch of wires into your backpack….apparently it looks bad on the luggage screening screen.
The flight from Atlanta to France wasn’t terrible, I met a man from Chad whose brother was in France and he was meeting him to go to his mothers funeral in Chad. Such a sweet guy, he ended up helping me get onto the train in France to head into the city for an 6 hour tour of Paris (See Frolicking in France for details).
On arriving at the airport in Amman Jordan, I found my travel group, with our guide who was a white haired fireball of fun. She had all of our Visa’s to travel in the country and I have to admit that standing there in the airport seeing mostly men in the airport in their traditional headscarves and garb, made me feel a little out of place. I was glad that I had decided to join a guided tour in the end. We arrived at the airport around 11pm Jordan time, and by that time I had been in airports for more than 28 hours. Our guide got us through the security, which was the heaviest I have ever seen in all the places I have traveled.
We boarded a bus, and there was an armed cop who was our escort, which was different. We arrived at our hotel in Amman safely. I was so grateful to have my own room, I don’t think I even showered, but plopped onto my bed after lugging the luggage up the stairs, and fell right to asleep. I may have cried a little before actually falling asleep because of sheer fatigue.
I won’t comment in particular on all the places we visited in Jordan at this time. But I will comment on the people, my favorite memories and if I was to go again, what I would do differently.
The first thing to mention is our security guard, it was my mistake that I didn’t notice how gorgeous he was in the beginning. His name is Mohammad, like several other million people in this world, I found out later that this is not his full name, but a name he uses in public.
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It is interesting how they name their children in Jordan, they are given a first name, then take on their fathers name as a middle name, and their grandfather’s name as a last name or additional middle name. I took the picture of him & his blue eyes with his dark hair outside the Hippodrome in Jordan. He was very quiet and reserved and polite man, with a cute little crooked smile. He was embarrassed to have me take his photo, but I’m glad I did in the end. He told me later, he was uncomfortable because the police are not suppose to allow foreigners to take their photos while in uniform, and his commanding officer had been talking to him at the time…..Oops……
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While our guide told us about the Hippodrome and its history of Rome, chariots, and jousting games. I soon became distracted with the little boys and girls that were running amuck throughout the area, apparently a school outing.
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I had always had this skewed view of Muslims that soon began to change the more I interacted with them and observed them. The girls there were fixing their head scarves, giggling to each other, glancing at the boys and giggling, take selfies, texting on their phone…..just as I had done when I was a child. The boys were totally oblivious of the girls, leaping and jumping over the ancient stones, and ruins that lay strewn about, jabbering in Arabic, and what I assume were heated discussions about Barcelona’s latest soccer match. I enjoyed seeing the ruins here, they were not fenced off like those in Rome and the natural beauty of the wild flowers, wandering goats and the beautiful sunshine likely contributed to my complete enjoyment of the grounds. I think having these things so closely integrated to something with so much history allowed my mind to wander and realize I was standing among things that were bigger than I was.
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Our Next day was in Petra, I was so close to riding my Camel and seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World I could hardly sleep the night before. We took a bus to Petra (which is actually the city, not the name of the tombs themselves) and stayed at a Bedouin camp. In my mind camp always means tents, no running water, and in particular a camp in Jordan I assumed I would be getting a total body sand scrub down by morning. But to my surprise, we pulled up to very modern looking buildings with a gym and everything…..can I say happiness?
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My room was lovely, it was a little cooler in the evenings than I expected, and despite how long I let the water run I couldn’t seem to get it to a warm level. But I was in Petra, and realized I was fulfilling my dreams, and for the first time I felt proud of the person I had become and for overcoming the fear of coming to Jordan. I put a sweater on and walked out to the courtyard after failing miserably trying to take a hot shower. I sat there looking at the stars, and appreciated the sounds of running water and livestock making their bleats and bahhh’s as they settled in for the night.
Now visiting Petra was such an experience. We arrived at the gate, paid our dues, and one of the uniformed guards asked me if I was single….. ‘ummmmmm, YEAH!’….I thought in my head, as I giggled and kept walking, he came after me and was polite but relentless, and he said, “I will give you 1,000 camels if you would agree to marry me. I am being very serious”. At first I thought it was a joke, and I was thinking, ‘how is it that when I travel I get hit on by every male I find attractive, but at home I am plagued with thoughts of insecurities and self deprecating thoughts because I don’t look as good as the next girl’. It was nice to play coy and be embarrassed by all the attention……little did I know, that was just the beginning of the marriage proposals I would get that day. American women, especially in Petra are known for their, ahem, loose morals……so consider yourself warned.
As we walked through the canyon towards the Treasury, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. I was walking through sandstone canyons with beautiful colors & hundreds of tourists…..just like Las Vegas…..where I was living at the time. So basically I just traveled 7,457 miles and paid hundreds of dollars to come back to something that looked exactly like Las Vegas. We learned about all the history of the canyons, how they were used to trap armies and enemies in their walls. The treasury which was built and guarded by the Nabataens, who worshiped Gods, Goddesses and animals. Well I had no clue who the Nabateans were, and I will be quick to assume my readers don’t either. Well according to Wikipedia, lets educate ourselves:
were an Arab people who inhabited northern Arabia and the Southern Levant, and whose settlements, most prominently the assumed capital city of Raqmu, now called Petra, in CE 37 – c. 100, gave the name of Nabatene to the borderland between Arabia and Syria, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. Their loosely controlled trading network, which centered on strings of oases that they controlled, where agriculture was intensively practiced in limited areas, and on the routes that linked them, had no securely defined boundaries in the surrounding desert. Trajan conquered the Nabataean kingdom, annexing it to the Roman Empire, where their individual culture, easily identified by their characteristic finely potted painted ceramics, was adopted into the larger Greco-Roman culture. They were later converted to Christianity.
So there you have it…. Now onto the treasury, the jewel of the area….. and where I met my favorite little Arab girl. I swear she was the best sales lady, and couldn’t have been more than 12. I felt like I was being hounded by the little children in Mexico selling the gum packets again, except this time, she was selling handmade jewelry. The jewelry were small polished colored rocks held together by string used to sew clothing together. She made sure to show me how the rocks reflected in the light, and said over and over how she would give me a good deal like any other. I couldn’t believe how good her English was. Our guide said that most of the Bedouin children and people in the area knew several different languages because that is how they make their money. I feel like this little saleswoman, could smell that I was a person that loves unique jewelry. Well I got suckered in and thought she did such a good job selling it & telling me I needed to appreciate the high points of the pieces that I ended up paying her double of what she was asking. She was so excited that she told me how beautiful I was, and that if I was going to wear a scarf I should wear it on my head, and she proceeded to tie the scarf on my head like the traditional Bedoin and Jordanians do. Apparently everyone ties it on their head differently, and people can tell where each person is from by how they tie the scarf on their head. Well the other members of our group when crazy with pictures, I felt like I was stealing the glory of the Treasury away by interacting with this girl. She showed me and 1 other member of the group around the immediate area and even brushed off my butt and legs after I crawled into a grave (totally legal there by the way, and it ended up being a lot creepier than I anticipated). She then had to go back to work, and said she needed to make more money that day to help feed her family. So I asked her for a hug, I gave her a big hug, and didn’t even mind her musty tobacco scent. I wanted to take her home with me, but I suppose that is the woman instinct to want to protect children like that from the hardships of life.
Just a piece of information for my readers, when you see the Treasury poking through the cracks of the Canyon…..the whole journey becomes worth it. Learning that it isn’t actually a building, but a tomb, that has been blocked off in a way that you aren’t allowed to go into it any longer to preserve it. You can trek up to other tombs and look inside them. Honestly, we only had about 6 hours here, its hot, but there is a store at the bottom with water and snacks and they sell a lot of souvenirs of course. Lots of calendars and photos. Be careful of the camera man by the treasury. If you are American they will literally lure you into an area by the treasury that is slightly secluded and when asked how much will expect a kiss…… NOT saying that I actually did, just warning you…..The Jordanian men are not exactly versed in kissing, and the Bedoin men have very prominent musty smells and I question that their hygiene is regularly practiced. After my extremely brief and uncomfortable interlude with the camera man, I ended up paying for a camel, make sure to bargain this price & try walking away before you agree completely on something…..they always end up coming down on the price. Well I got on my camel and it felt pretty stable and secure while it was on the ground, but when it was prompted to stand up, I felt like I was back on the mechanical bull in Las Vegas again trying to stay on. TIP: LEAN BACK WHEN IT STANDS UP & PUT YOUR LEGS ON ITS NECK BEFORE IT DOES TO HELP STABILIZE YOU. Camels don’t taste that great, and be sure the Bedoin men are watching your every move. If he asks if you want to jog with the camel…..don’t……this will get you comments such as, “hey you wanna ride me like you ride that camel?” Which made me blush about 14 shades of Red, and wished I was fending off the policeman with the 1,000 camels instead.
I ended my camel ride, and explored a little bit walking the ruins and such. It was hot and humid, and noticed our tourist guard over in the snack tent and decided to go and chat for a bit. He couldn’t stop smiling every time I came near him. I showed him pictures of Las Vegas and couldn’t believe how similar it was. I could tell when I walked up and after talking to him, he was a bit smitten with me….he ended up taking a picture of me, and just kept sighing saying how beautiful I was in my scarf. After being embarrassed by this, I told him I wanted to go explore some more.
After exploring a bit more, the group met up again, and started the long walk back up to the gates. May I make a suggestion…..hire a donkey to go back up…..walking through sand uphill for what seemed like 3 hours in hot, humid, body baking weather is not as fun as it seems when you still have to stay upright for the rest of the day. I’m not a super athlete, but could fend for myself in a soccer match, and let me tell you it was not just rough, but RUFF. I also really envied the other ladies I saw riding up the canyon in their chariots, especially with the beautiful Bedoin man with piercing green eyes, dark skin, lightly curly black hair with his whip……alright, less I digress…..bottom line……take the chariot, its worth the cost.
Last but not least, was the travel along the King’s Road and my departure. My Arab crush Mohammad, told me that he had gotten me a gift, and asked if it was ok if he gave it to me….OF COURSE! He walked down the bus (my claimed seat was in the back) and pulled out a green checkered scarf with tassels. He gave it to me and was so embarrassed, when the other members of our group oooohhh, cawed and awwweeed at him singling me out. He then gained some courage and asked if he could wrap it around my head. I consented, and then he wrapped it around my head with his fingers shaking and I think if his smile got any bigger it would have cracked his face wide open. I was so embarrassed by all the cat calling echoing in the bus that I didn’t even thank him properly & for the first time in my life was tongue tied. Well the bus started up, and we headed to the crossing into Israel…..a very precarious area that we were warned MULTIPLE times to not make ANY jokes, don’t make eye contact, and don’t speak when the guard entered the bus. This was also a point I was grateful to be in a group, and it forced me to sober up & start to regret not saying anything to Mohammad about how grateful I was for the gift, because I felt like I would never see him again, and it made me sad. Well, as we approached the border, I sneaked some shots of it, and the guard on our bus before he got to the back to interrogate us. I kept my eyes down until he asked for my papers, and he looked at me, and without looking at my papers said, “where did you get that” pointing to my scarf Mohammad had just wrapped around my head. I’m glad I was sitting down at the time, because I probably would have fainted. I told him it was a gift, and he asked from whom, I told him, “Mohammad” which doesn’t exactly narrow it down in that country. He asked what he did, I told him he was our Policeman that had been with us during the trip. The couple across the isle tried to defend me, but he didn’t seem to have it. He handed my papers back to me, and headed down the isle. He said, just a moment to me, and came back on the bus, everyone tense and waiting……with a colleague….the original policeman was talking rapidly in Arabic, and his friend asked the same questions. They both turned, and after waiting for 20 minutes, and our guide got back on the bus, fuming mad, and said that the bus had to turn back around and go back to the transfer station (where we had left Mohammad). I felt bad because I thought it was my fault with my stupid twitterpation and scarf. We took the long winding road back to the transfer station, and it ended up being that the papers didn’t have exactly the correct stamps or whatever on them, so that’s why we were turned around. Phew…..well now that I felt less guilty, here was my chance, I went into the Police holding area at the transfer station, and asked for Mohammad the Tourist Policeman. Went back to the bus and there was our guide (the local Arab one) and he was standing next to…..drumroll…..Mohammad. And what do you know, our guide handed me a piece of paper with Mohammad’s email and facebook address on it. I gave our guide and Mohammad a tip, and felt my magical moment was completed. But after a quick trip to the bathroom (where they charge you for toilet paper, so make sure you bring change) other guards and bus drivers noticed my scarf. One of them complimented me on it, and said, “Are you staying in Jordan?” which I responded no, and why….. and he said, “well you know what that means don’t you?” …”no”…..”it means he has claimed you as his, and wants to marry you”. I was shocked, and embarrassed and quickly went to the bus.
In the end, we ended up getting into Israel, and across the barbed wire, multi-walled border full of tensions. Having my sentimental gold ring stolen by one of the Israeli soldiers there, being singled out because of the scarf on my head, patted down in a makeshift changing room, held in the Jordanian side until the supervisor gave the go ahead for me to cross….we made it.
In a post script thought, I later learned that the scarf really had no meaning attached to it, other than a nice gift. After becoming friends with Mohammad, and my interactions with other Jordanian men since then…..one thing I know now…..Jordanian Arabs like to talk shit, scare foreigners and love the American ladies (mostly because they come with passports and green cards. And dancing in a Jordanian wedding will involve the Debka (a dance aimed to kill you from how crazy the dancing gets– see Youtube videos) and shooting hundreds of guns into the air which has since become illegal after some people were inadvertently killed. All in all I love Jordanian people, their passion for life, their unfailing resiliency, their romance (even if it is only in words alone), and the rich history their country possess. I hope I will get to go back and meet old friends, and explore Petra again. I wouldn’t suggest doing this trip completely alone, as the men are pretty aggressive, but traveling in a tour group was by far the best experience I could have had.