Sacré Coeur Sunset


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We made the trek to Montmartre the evening my friend Natasja arrived from Amsterdam on the train. We had intended to watch the sunset from highest point in Paris, but the clouds didn’t cooperate. We still had fun; sitting on the steps with the throngs of tourists, rebuffing the alcohol peddlers and taking photos.

 The view of Paris, stretched out before us was lovely, even if the sunset was unimpressive.

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We bought 5 tiny Eiffel tower keychains for 1 Euro (but didn’t let the scam artists tie any friendship bracelets on us!) Then we headed down into Montmartre to find a bite to eat. The restaurant table has this drawing on it!

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Iceland: Water, water everywhere!

Oct. 14th

In Iceland, the water shoots up from the ground, falls from the sky, and warms your chilly bones. We woke up in our adorable hostel and it was still raining. We had a cold breakfast buffet ($20/each!) and headed out see the geyser that gave all geysers their name. It’s a quick but fun stop.

Geyser is on the way to Gullfoss (foss=falls) which is an impressive double waterfall, with extra volume due to all the Hurricane Matthew rains. What is a double waterfall? Look at this! The first fall is back to the left and it cascades down and the second fall goes down the ravine near the bottom of the photo. It was HUGE!

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It was chilly and damp out on the moors and Richard was appropriately dressed like Lord Grantham out on the hunt.

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We needed a bit of Vitamin D, so we decided to have lunch in a GEOTHERMAL greenhouse! Off we go to the Fridheimar farm for some tomatoey-deliciousness! Behold! A bowl of $20 soup!

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In all fairness, this place was AWESOME. The soup was all-u-can-eat with 8 different kinds of bread and basil on the table. Plus, you got to eat in a greenhouse and watch fat Dutch-imported bees (with no stingers) pollinate the tomato plants. It was the experience, not the soup that was worth $20.p1190609

To round out our day: we head to Fontana Hot Springs– two blocks from our hostel! They had 3 unique lagoons with varying temperatures, saunas AND you could jump in the lake! Brrr!

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We had a relaxing evening in the hostel, wrote some postcards and woke up to SUNSHINE!

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Iceland: Land of $20 soup and hurricane rains

We landed in Iceland 7am on Tuesday and it rained for the next 3 days. Luckily, we were on our honeymoon and nothing was going to dampen our spirits! Here’s Richard, (in a raincoat!) driving us through the rain.

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Our first day was spent in the capital, Reykjavik. After we found our AirBnb (with a rooftop hot tub!) we headed out to find some food and walked up to the famous church (Hallgrímskirkja) to get our bearings. A few blocks downhill, we found Salka Valka (aka. Fish and More) and stopped in for an Icelandic delight, Plokkfiskur! (It’s the mashed-potato-looking pile, left of the beer and it was full of fish-DELICIOUSNESS!)Plokkfiskur

This is our first time seeing $20 soup on the menu. Food was very expensive in Iceland but for some reason, we never saw soup for less than $14! We thought it was an anomaly at Salka Valka and since we were SO pleased with our Plokkfiskur, we didn’t think much about it. That night I was still recovered from a bit of jet lag so we headed back to relax in the hot tub.

vikingbeerThe next morning we walked through town, admiring the graffiti and trying to keep our umbrella from blowing inside out. We ended up at Café Loki, right across from Hallgrímskirkja where we discovered that no one really eats eggs for breakfast in Iceland. Mostly they eat fish on toast or muesli with yogurt. Here you can see Richard enjoying his breakfast fish in front of a calming mural of Norse mythology. (FYI: The food you see on the table cost $34.)

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On the walk home, we found the Einar Jonssan sculpture park and museum and I was enamored by Enar’s the Art Nouveau sculptures. This one is called, Protection.

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To escape the rain, we decided to pay ($10) to go inside the museum. Turns out that Einar studied art in Europe and after he made it big, he told Iceland that he’d give them all his art if they’d build him a museum where he could have a studio and apartment. The kitchen was installed along one of the walls in this room below.  You should go, it was very interesting.p1190544

We packed up and headed out of town, taking the Golden Circle road towards Laugavartn. We drove through Pingvellir and admired the dramatic volcanic cliffs and waterfalls.

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Soggy and tired (of being soggy) we arrived at our darling old-school hotel, Héraðsskólinn. We checked in and asked to borrow a hairdryer to dry our shoes. This is when we learned that the weather was caused by the tail of hurricane Matthew, slapping Iceland with unrelenting rains as it spun past. screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-10-17-29-pm

Tomorrow, geysers, more waterfalls and lunch in a greenhouse! (Spoiler alert… we bought the $20 soup!)

Our Sapa Homestay

After our 5-hour hike we arrive at our homestay in the early afternoon.
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For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘homestay’: guests pay money to a tour company who arranges and vets local families who are willing to house and feed you for a night or more. Our homestay was arranged with the same company who we booked the Ha Long Bay tour with.  Travelers like this experience because of the interaction with local people in their homes. Usually the family invites you to help get the meal ready and eats with you.

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View from the balcony beds.

The family we stayed with had built their house with homestay guests in mind. It had a second floor loft with 15 mattresses on the floor, under mosquito nets. It was simple, but comfortable. They had also recently built a modern bathroom with a shower, sink and flushing toilet. I’m quite sure that homestay guests are the majority of their income.

We got a tour of the property and then it was time to start making dinner from scratch. And when we say ‘scratch’ we mean Troy had to kill a chicken. (Luckily, I missed that part.)

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In this photo, our guide Diego is insisting that he was just giving the chicken a ‘bath’.

I helped cut veggies and stoke the fire.P1070917While we waited for the food to cook we went down to the river and watched the local boys catch small fish in vase-shaped baskets.

Dinner was lovely. The neighbor pulled out an unlabeled jug of some strong clear liquor that smelled like an instant hangover. We got invited to a party at a homestay near-by and hung out with young professionals on a work retreat from Hanoi. They taught us this fun game.

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That’s Troy in the #15 tank top. He’s got mad skillz.

 

Hike to a Sapa Homestay

We did a 4-hour turnaround in Hanoi after our Ha Long Bay experience.

It was a whirlwind but saved us a night in a hotel since we were on the overnight train to Sapa.

P1070662 Unfortunately, it was not the idyllic, restful train ride we were expecting.

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Our ancient, rattly, bumpy train to Sapa.

And too late, we heard that there is a new road from Hanoi and you can take a brand new sleeper bus with Wi-Fi for $15 each way!!!! We paid $45 each way. OOOOOh the agony! We didn’t sleep AND we paid $60 too much. We got there kind of grumpy and had to make a 6am transfer. Our mini-van was there to pick us up but we waited for an hour until the next train came in. Lesson learned. Take the bus.

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Me, hopeful that our train ride to Sapa, Vietnam is as restful as the ride from Hue to Hanoi.

We were pleasantly surprised when we finally arrived at the Hoa Phong Hotel in Sapa.

We took a shower, dropped off our stuff and got ready for our 5-hour hike to our homestay in the rice terraces.

This is how our hike started, tourists, guides and local women- lead by Troy!

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Since the ‘road’ gently sloped downhill, the 5-hour walk wasn’t that strenuous. We were joined by a group of women returning home from the early morning market in Sapa.P1070815

Just as we were starting to get hungry for lunch, we arrived at our destination.

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Yep, the upper balcony of that ramshackle building is our lunch restaurant. There is a pig pen directly below.

We hike another hour or so, through the terraced farmland to our homestay.P1070945

Read my next post to find out about our homestay!

 

Ha Long Bay: Monkey Island

Have you heard enough about Ha Long Bay already? Well then, you’d better skip this post because I’m still talking about it!  Check out this amazing floating village that we  motor through  on our way to Monkey Island.

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I loved the view of the bungalows on the beach of Monkey Island as we approached. It was a bit overcast- but it still managed to look like a tropical paradise!P1070496

While we got off the boat, lunch was already on the tables. I’m pretty sure this is Korean BBQ… even though we were in Vietnam. You would put the dried noodle and raw fish or tofu into the hot pot to cook.
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Check out our cute little bungalow!

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Since we were only on the island for 24 hours, we didn’t do too much. Just a small hike (we opted out of the treacherous hike over the hill to the beach where the monkeys attack you.) P1070539

The only other thing worth noting is that we had our own little mascot- a cute bat who was hanging in the tree outside our bungalow. It was twisting back and forth. Isn’t he darling?!? ezgif.com-cropAll too soon, it was time to head back towards Hanoi.
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On the way back, Van (our boat host) taught us how to assemble fresh spring rolls.P1070628

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One more pic before we get back to the mainland and head to Sapa!

Gorgeous views.
Gorgeous views.

Ha Long Bay: Pants-less Spaniards on our Party Boat!

Ha Long Bay tour started out pretty normal… lunch on the boat while cruising the bay, then you stop for a 15 minute paddle in some decaying kayaks.After, we motored on to Hang Súng Sôt to tour the caves.

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You get to go for a swim in the ocean.

At 4pm we docked at a beach and swam while the sun was going down. If there had been less trash floating around me, it could have been idyllic. This was an issue everywhere we went. Gorgeous views as long as you could ignore the trash on the ground.

But you DON’T get to pick who is on your boat with you… luckily we won the jackpot with a pair of Dutch girls and a trio of crazy Spaniards. The evening started out with some Karaoke. Roxanne, 500 Miles, Let it Be, Mama Mia, Fernando and Troy’s pick, Sexual Healing… of course.Let the dancing commence! Their pole dancing routine was memorable… Well- at least I could remember it.Earlier in the evening, the Spaniards had managed to use a flashlight to call over a little boat- empty except for a case of beer! P1070397Later in the night, they decided it would be fun to jump off the boat. This may or may not have been related to the case of beer.

Ishmael couldn’t get back on the boat by himself but Borja kept insisting, ‘Esta bien!’ He’s fine. Looks like it.The Dutch girls help haul the Spanish boys out of the sea.They kept yelling, “Use your feet!” in Spanish- but it didn’t seem to help.Safely aboard! Whew! PS- none of them recall me taking this photo…After the chaos, I headed off to bed- only to hear the Spaniards noisily roaming the hall- they had lost their room key (because they had misplaced their pants…) and were unsuccessfully trying to get the Dutch girls to let them stay in their room. If that evening had been any more entertaining, someone would have gotten kicked off the ship.