I literally counted down the days until our yard turned pink with blooming trees. To celebrate my favorite week of the year, I’m sharing more photos of my beloved cherry blossoms. Sorry in advance for the massive quantity.
Devan recently got a very cool travel job which by some miracle happens to be based out of the DC area. We offered her our spare bedroom and now we have a new roommate.
Devan and I haven’t lived together since high school and had our fair share of sisterly arguments when we were younger, so I wasn’t sure how it would all play out. But so far, so good! It’s so nice to have her here with me in DC. I’ve always wished my family lived close by and now my sister is down the hall. So nice to have someone here, always up for a coffee run or a shopping trip.
I am excited to show her all that the DC area has to offer. I keep telling her of day trips we should take (Annapolis, Philadelphia, Charlottesville, etc), museums she has to visit, and restaurants to try.
Dev already crossed one item off her DC Resident Bucket List: the famous cherry blossoms. I’d read that a good way to avoid the tourists is to visit the Tidal Basin at sunrise. We headed downtown bright and early and practically had the place to ourselves. We were back home and napping before morning rush hour began.
So welcome home to DC , Devan! My hope is that you’ll love this place as much as I do.
Lili has been in the Reid family for a while now, but just recently made the move to join us in DC.
My mom got Tilly & Lili as litter-mates back when we lived in Texas, then separated them. Lili went to live with my grandparents in Missouri while Tilly lived the college life with me at the University of South Carolina before making the move to DC city life. And now 5 years later, the sister pups are happily reunited, both living with us in Alexandria.
The girls look like twins and have such similar names, so it’s been a real tongue twister scenario around the house. But luckily “Tilly” and “Lili” sound so alike, they both answer to either name. And now they’re just known as the Illy Twins to make things easier.
Since Lili joined the family a few months back, we’ve been keeping her busy. She has already walked alongside the National Mall monuments, dressed up as a monster for Halloween, got photos with Santa in Shirlington, opened her own Christmas stocking, hosted friends for the Super Bowl, and begrudgingly played in all of the snow.
This year for the holidays my schedule was full of travel. In addition to my trip to Milwaukee to spend Christmas with my family, I planned quick trips to nearby Baltimore, Maryland and Wilmington, North Carolina.
Though Baltimore is only 40 minutes from DC, I’ve never fully experienced the city. Sam and I visited when I first moved to DC, but since we had Tilly in tow, we enter the famous aquarium, restaurants, or shops. So this was my first “real” trip to the city. Ashley and I put together a quick and low-key weekend getaway, just wanting to walk the city and get learn the different neighborhoods.
We stayed right on the beautiful Inner Harbor. Our first stop was the National Aquarium, which was gigantic and amazing. There were beautiful sea turtles, tiny jellyfish, sharks, and more. It really lived up to the hype. I probably snapped 500 photos just during our Aquarium visit that morning.
After a day of sightseeing, we headed to Baltimore’s infamous 34th Street to get in the Christmas spirit. The neighborhood street was dripping with every imaginable holiday decoration and holiday. It was over the top, but very spirited and got us in a festive mood.
I really loved Baltimore during our weekend away. The Fells Point neighborhood reminded me of Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria back home in DC, historic and quaint all rolled into one.
Christmas was finally here, so I was off to Milwaukee to visit my family. I was excited to spend time with both of my sisters, since Devan was back from Australia this Christmas.
Oddly there was warm weather that week, so instead of our usual family activities of sledding, tubing, or iceskating, we got creative. In true Wisconsin style, we went bowling (people there love bowling more than any other state I’ve lived in.) In true Reid style, things got goofy.
Usually Wisconsin has a few feet of snow when I’m back for Christmas, so we were sure to take advantage of every minute of the unusual snow-free weather. On Christmas Eve the family headed to the backyard for a cook out, dogs and all.
As always, it was wonderful to see my family and celebrate Christmas with them.
Wilmington, North Carolina
After a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, on New Years Day Sam and I headed down to Wilmington, North Carolina. We had vacationed in nearby Carolina Beach before, but were excited to visit new areas this time.
Since we had the dogs and I had just injured my foot, the low-key weekend mostly consisted of us driving around and checking out the sites from the car. It was so great to be back in the real south again. People were so friendly and helpful, I realized how much I missed southern hospitality.
We headed over to the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I loved the mossy swampy trees around campus.
Then we headed off to explore the Wrightsville Beach area, which we loved. It reminded me of Folly Beach in my beloved Charleston, SC. If only the weather were 40 degrees warmer…
And all of a sudden, our long New Years beach weekend was over. We drove back ready to spend 2016 at home in Alexandria and away on plenty more trips.
We picked up our cute little rental car from the Sixt office in the marina neighborhood of Reykjavik. We stopped into a local cafe for traditional Icelandic breakfast of skyr and these pastries larger than our heads. Fueled up, we hit the road for our Golden Circle road trip.
Back in 930, Þingvellir was home to the first parliament meetings and holds historical significance to Icelanders. Today the park is well-known for the continental drift, where the European and North American tectonic plates move apart about 1cm each year, creating this wide ridge throughout the park.
Because it was fall, even the grass and moss were photogenic shades of reds and oranges.
It was beyond windy and cold as we wandered through the park, stopping to take photos of the scenic views, churches, and waterfalls. There were paths that led you through the park, which was scenic from every angle, even with the foggy gray weather. We could have spent all day in the park exploring if we weren’t so excited to see the rest of the Golden Circle stops.
Our second stop of the day was the quickest. Strokkur Geysir was the original geyser hot springs for which all future geysers were named. I had already seen Old Faithful in Yellowstone, so I wasn’t dying to see another geyser. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right? We arrived to the very strong sulfur-smelling park, walked to a muddy field, and waited for 30 seconds when… it finally shoots out. And that was it.
Other tourists stuck around another 15 minutes in the cold to see it spray water again, but we hit up the warm gift shop and were quickly on our way.
Our first waterfall visit was to Gulfoss, a gigantic wide waterfall. While walking from the car to the waterfall, in the parking lot we saw an old lady getting into her car with NO PANTS ON. Stumped at first, we realized she had soaked her pants in the heavy mist while walking the path down to the water. Lesson learned. It was freezing outside, so we avoided all future waterfall paths on the trip.
Photographs just can not do the immense size and sound of this waterfall justice. It was beyond huge. We walked around Gullfoss, took a few photos, and were ready for lunch.
Hands down, Friðheimar was the food highlight of my trip. During my research, I read of a year-round tomato green house along the Golden Circle road trip route. The greenhouse is able to grow tomatoes and cucumbers year-round using just energy from glacier springs on property.
We were the only ones in the restaurant with the huge greenhouse to ourselves. It was magical. The menu was a buffet of simple but beyond delicious homegrown tomato soup, giant loaves of bread, and their famous cucumber salsa. It was all so simple but with such quality ingredients it tasted amazing. Even Sam, Mr. I-Hate-Tomatoes, was in love with his soup. After a morning of hiking, I think he ate enough to feed a family of four!
If you are planning a Golden Circle road trip, you absolutely must stop at Friðheimar for a meal along your route.
Our Airbnb in the Golden Circle town of Grímsnes was the one I had been looking forward to most during the Scandinavia trip. The home was a private modern cabin with 3 bedrooms, a guest cottage, and a hot tub. It was located perfectly along the Golden Circle for our second day in South Iceland. Yes, it was a little excessive to rent this massive modern home for just Sam & I, but after a day of hiking in the rain, we deserved something nice.
After settling in, we headed to the nearest grocery store in Selfoss to grab dinner. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is an experience on it’s own. Sam was brave and picked up Hákarl, disgusting fermented shark, while I picked up Icelandic candies to share with my sweet-tooth sisters back home.
Even our drive to the grocery store from the Airbnb house was so beautiful that we had to pull over the car for more photos.
Friday, October 2, 2015: South Iceland
We head out for the second day of our road trip, ready to explore Southern Iceland. Lucky for us, the weather was cooperating, allowing for some sunny and beautiful pictures. It was crazy to see the South Iceland landscape change every 15 minutes. From the green Golden Circle, to yellow fields of grass straight out of Kansas, to black sand beaches, and to white glacier mountain ranges. Our South Iceland route was slightly less tourist-filled than our Golden Circle day, but just as beautiful.
Our first waterfall of many was Seljalandsfoss, a tall and skinny waterfall that was famous for a path that looped behind the falls. Remembering the pants-free lady from the day before, we avoided that path.
Along the park was a path that led to a few other smaller waterfalls, which was a nice but windy walk.
There isn’t much to do at these waterfalls, besides snap a few photos, so we were quickly back into the car and onto stop two.
Skogafoss was much taller and wider, surrounded by black volcanic rocks. It was so windy and cold when we exited the car, I ran up to the waterfall as quickly as possible to grab a photo. As you can see in the upper right corner there was a rickety wooden path to the top, which we knew better than to risk facing pantlessness.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold and run down from the intense wind and rain in my life.
For lunch we stopped in the tiny town of Vik. We had burgers at a roadside diner (how American of us,) picked up a few gifts at the wool factory (you’re welcome Dad,) and were on our way. Vik was our southernmost point on the road trip, so after lunch we circled back to make a few more stops on the road towards home.
We had hoped to find the hidden DC-3 plane wreckage, located on the 4×4 black sand beaches. But our little white rental car was not equipped to go off roading, so we removed it from our to-do list. Also on our planned route was Seljavallalaug, a natural pool hidden in a glacier valley off the main road. It is nearly impossible to find, but I wrote down all the directions ahead of time. Unfortunately, we made it most of the way there, but had to turn around due to bad weather and horrible road conditions. But our detour brought us to a green mountain range, where there was a perfect double rainbow after the storm passed.
Our trip to Reynisfjara Beachwas possibly my favorite stop of the road trip. We drove down these windy farm roads and out of nowhere we are at a black sand beach, steps from the icy Atlantic ocean. A mile down the beach to the left were these odd rock formations in the water, which was Dyrhólaey, our next stop. To the right are rock formations into the water and a giant mountain with a cave, all covered in these odd column rock formations. It was otherworldly. It almost reminded me of the pacific northwest, like Oregon mixed with the Moon. I could not stop taking photos.
Dyrholaey was the rock penninsula and natural bridge we had seen off the coast while visiting Reynisfjara Beach. The soft blue sky and sea against the black sand was magical. I love the photo below of the lone rock formation sitting on the black sand so much it’s already hanging up in our home.
Dyrhólaey was a penninsula where you could walk out above the natural bridge with views of Reynisfjara Beach to the left. A little off the beaten path, our visit was quiet and peaceful. There was something about the black sand against the blue sea that made Reynisfjara Beach and Dyrhólaey my favorite scenery of our Golden Circle and South Iceland road trips.
Saturday, October 3, 2015: Kerið and Reykjavik
Our last day in the countryside was purposefully unplanned so we could spend more time where we enjoyed most. We decided to visit one final Golden Circle spot, then take the long scenic route through the mountains back into Reykjavik.
Overlooked by most driving the Golden Circle, Kerið was just minutes from our Airbnb, so we decided to have a look. Because they are trying to reduce visitors to protect the grass and plan tlife around Kerið, it was $3 to enter.
The crater was gigantic and covered in colorful moss and snow. We hiked around the ring of Kerið, then down to the vividly blue pool at the bottom. It was great to see the crater from two perspectives. It was the perfect last road trip attraction before our trip came to a close.
2. Back to Reykjavik
After visiting Kerið, we made our return to Reykjavik for our last day in town. We strategically took the long route through the mountains, which were covered in snow.
Back in town at our new Airbnb, we headed out to check the final items off our to-do list. We stopped at Hallgrímskirkja Church to see the famous landmark.
And then quickly headed off to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a world famous hotdog stand in the city. They do hotdogs differently in Scandinavia, with fried onion crumbles, mustard, and remoulade sauce. It hit the spot after our long days on the road.
Sunday, October 4, 2015: Reykjavik to BWI
And just as quickly as it had started, the grand European trip was coming to a close. With our suitcases packed full of souvenirs, we head back to KEF airport to catch our flight back home to DC.
We had planned our Scandinavia trip for over 10 months, so I was sad to see it end so soon.
Left: Rainy Reykjavik, Right: Flying over Greenland, icebergs floating in the ocean
Our trip to Iceland, as well as Copenhagen and Stockholm, were unbelievable. We loved seeing Raisa and her life in Copenhagen, meeting “my people” in Stockholm, and braving the Icelandic countryside on our own. Looking back, I don’t think we would have changed a thing.
Following our visits to Copenhagen and Stockholm, our final leg of the trip was Iceland. After seeing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty a hundred times, this scenic land was what spurred our grand trip in the first place. To say we were excited would be an understatement.
We divided our time in Iceland into two parts, Reykjavik (and the nearby Blue Lagoon) & our South Iceland self-driving road trip. Today I’ll be sharing the “city” portion of our trip, visiting the Blue Lagoon and exploring Reykjavik.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015: Reykjavik
We left our Stockholm Airbnb at 4 AM to catch our morning flight from through Oslo to Reykjavik. I had learned that the famed Blue Lagoon was close to the KEF airport, so you should plan your visit when you’re flying in or out of Reykjavik. After a few days of toting heavy luggage through cobblestone streets, a spa day mid-vacation was perfect.
On route from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, the landscape immediately became the magical scenery we had been waiting for. I was snapping away, taking pictures of every moss-covered volcanic rock field we passed.
I had purchased the Premium Blue Lagoon tickets in advance, so we cut the line, picked up our bathrobe, and headed for the locker rooms. Though it was a few dollars extra, the Premium ticket included your own robe, slippers, drink, and a small bag of spa products. It was the smartest deal for those traveling from abroad who have limited luggage for your own robe or sandals.
This was my first time in a real spa, let alone a European spa. So the changing areas and public showers were a little alarming at first. To prepare for entering the lagoon, you first must shower, put on a swim suit, and load your hair with their conditioner to keep it from getting dry. They had guards throughout the locker and showering areas, making sure everyone was following the rules.
It was gray, cold, and rainy during our visit, but the second we entered the lagoon you didn’t even notice. The waters were silky smooth from the silica and quite warm. The bottom floor was made of small black stones and sand, exfoliating your feet as you walked.
Scattered around the lagoon were large bins filled with different spa face masks. Much like a grown-up version of a lazy river, we waded around the giant lagoon in circles, stopping at the bins to test out different face masks. You rubbed on the face mask, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then washed it off. Our ticket included a drink at the bar, so we swum up to the counter to pick up a beer and prosecco.
Earlier this summer we purchased a GoPro (see photos of our underwater GoPro skills in Outer Banks this summer) with the sole purpose of using it at the Blue Lagoon. We wanted pictures of our time in the spa waters, and I’m so glad we made this investment. Sam & I took a gazillion selfies as we waded in the waters and tested out the masks. It was worth investing in the GoPro just to get these photos of our time in the Blue Lagoon waters.
Because we were visiting in the off season, the lagoon was never too crowded. It was fun to walk around and listen to all the different languages spoken by visitors from Asia, Europe, and America.
I had read that the Blue Lagoon was a tourist trap, over-hyped, crowded with people, and not worth the trip. Perhaps because of our good timing or early morning ticket time, we had the best experience. It was totally worth the hype, and then some. Yes there were tourists there, but we were tourists ourselves and added to the count. I absolutely loved the walking around in the warm waters, trying facial masks, and relaxing with a drink your hand. It was heaven, and I’d like to think it is just as lovely during the busy summer months. If you go to Iceland, you must go.
After a few hours of walking around, we sadly sad goodbye to the Blue Lagoon and headed into Reykjavik before it got too dark to find our Airbnb. Our Airbnb apartment in Reykjavik was located on Laugavegur, the main shopping street running through town.
It was freezing rain when we arrived in the small city. After dropping off our luggage at the Airbnb and piling on a few extra layers, we set out in to explore the town in the rain.
With the cold weather, our first priority was buying a traditional Icelandic wool sweater. This was Sam’s big goal of the trip, so we stopped in every store. I was hesitant to splurge on a wool sweater at first, but the icy rain soon convinced me it was necessary. I spotted my simple cable knit sweater with leather elbow patches and knew it had to be mine. Sam went with the more traditional design.
Soon it was dark. We walked up and down the streets of the small town in the cold rain, looking for a nice authentic meal. We headed to Scandinavian Smorrebrod & Brasserie for delicious fish and chips. The restaurant was across the street from our Airbnb, so 5 minutes later we were quickly in bed, ready for the big road trip day ahead.
Next week post details from our Southern Iceland road trip adventure, which was the highlight of the trip. More to come!