Prague: A Fairytale City Full of Comfort Food

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My only regret from this past weekend was that I did not get nearly enough time in Prague. It’s truly a travesty that my time there was so limited, which means the positive outcome of that is now I know I want to come back and spend many more days here, and bask in this enchanted city. Prague (or Praha) has two of my favorite things; very tasty, filling, comfort food and buildings that look like a European fairytale. I was happy to arrive and at least get a few hours of sunlight.
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I feel like I don’t need to explain Prague too much, just because I didn’t get to spend enough time there to get the full picture on the place, but Levi and I just leisurely walked around the city, ate some great, tasty food, walked across the Charles Bridge, felt very happy to be in such a gorgeous place, and watched the sunset. It really was a perfect day. Our hotel room was also very nice and comfy, included a large buffet breakfast, and featured the most amazing shower I’ve ever been in (a place to sit and let jets of water massage your back). I was actually quite sad to leave the next morning, but I’m at least comforted to know that I will definitely be coming back soon.
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A Bit of Budapest & Vienna

New travel rule for myself: Don’t try to fit three gorgeous, European cities into three winter days, lest be disappointed when you don’t see any of the city in daylight, and miss out on a lot of exploration time. I stupidly tried to fit Budapest, Vienna and Prague into three days and failed miserably, but… I am happy I at least got to visit these cities briefly, because now I know I want to go back to all of them and spend more time in each. I took another early morning flight from London, this time from Stansted Airport. I booked with RyanAir this time, and ignorantly didn’t read my entire boarding pass, because apparently non-European citizens have to go to the check-in desk for a visa check, which I missed, but thankfully the nice lady at the boarding desk let me on the flight, as I panicked about this misstep. I arrived in Budapest and figured out my way to get into the main part of the city.
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I hopped on a bus, which took me to a metro station, and then I got on the coolest metro train I’d ever taken to get into the city. Seriously, I love Budapest’s metro trains. Each of them are different and unique. I found my way into the city so I could meet my boyfriend at the Buda Castle, where we agreed to meet. Little did I know that the castle was up on a hill, and that it was not a simple trek to get to the top. Using the promise of a great view at the peak, I huffed and puffed up the pathways and steps and finally made it up, 50 minutes after my original meeting time. Thankfully Levi was waiting patiently for me, so we reunited and set off into the city to find our Airbnb location for the night.
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My first impression of Budapest was how beautiful it was. The architecture is pretty uniform and while there are a lot of crumbling buildings, the city has a certain flair that I really liked. I definitely want to come back here and spend some time exploring, because after Levi and I got to our accommodation, we were so tired that we collapsed and spent the rest of the night in the flat, drinking wine, talking and then heading to bed very early.
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The next morning, we walked around for a bit, before heading to the station to catch our train to Vienna. At the station, I tried to buy my ticket, but the machine wasn’t showing any options even close to Vienna (or Wien as it is also called). I started to get really frustrated, because we had got to the station early for a reason, and there was no information booth anywhere to buy tickets. Unfortunately we missed the train because I didn’t want to get on it if I didn’t have a ticket and then have to pay a fine. We decided to go to another station, and that one did have a ticket office, but the line was long to purchase tickets for out-of-country travel, but thankfully I got one in time, and we boarded a 4.5 hour train to Vienna. I was really upset, because we didn’t arrive until 6pm, which meant it was dark and allowed little time to be a tourist.
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Vienna seemed nice from the very small amount of it I saw. The hotel we stayed in was through Airbnb and was quite fancy. Fancy enough to charge 34 euros the next morning for our measly breakfasts (which the listing made seem was included, but oh well, not staying there again). After we arrived and took a taxi to the hotel, we set our stuff down and then walked around for a bit, as far as we could get in an hour or so, but it was very cold and dark, so we headed back to the hotel and vowed to leave early enough the next morning to catch a train which would get us to Prague in time to actually see the city in daylight.
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The next morning, we took another taxi to the train station, which was super far from the hotel, barely made it in time for the train. Again, the ticket machine was not showing me any Prague options, so I bought a ticket to somewhere else in the Czech Republic and hoped that the ticket inspector would accept it. Well, he came around to check tickets, looked at mine, asked if I spoke German, then told me in broken English that the ticket machine was only for inner-country travel and that he’d let me slide for buying the wrong one, but they might not accept it in the Czech Republic. This revelation was mostly annoying because the wrong ticket I bought cost a lot of money, but thankfully at our first stop, which was a city right inside the Czech border, I ran off the train, and as quickly as possible, found the ticket office, bought a new ticket to Prague, and then jumped back on the train, all within 5 minutes, and then was on the way to our final destination.

Look out for my post on Prague, coming very soon!

Second Time’s the Charm: My Roman Holiday

After opting for a slower train so my boyfriend could take full advantage of his EuRail pass, we took a 4-hour, scenic trip from Florence to Rome, and arrive in the afternoon, ready to go out and see Roma. This is actually my second trip to this city. The last time I was there was in 2011, and although I liked Rome, I think the tiredness from traveling around Europe for a week made my overall impression of it not as good as it could’ve been. But second time’s the charm for this journey, because I very much enjoyed Rome this time!
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Levi and I walked around for as long as we could with our tired feet, until we had to head to our accommodation for the night. It was nearing the golden hour, so the streets were lit up with sun as it fell behind the horizon. We stopped to get some dinner around 6pm, ate some pasta, and then headed back out into the night. We walked to the Trevi Fountain, which I was sad to see was under major construction, so much so that the water wasn’t running and it was practically all covered in metal rods and fabric. At least I’d seen it before, uncovered and thriving.
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We were so tired and had no idea how long it would take to walk to our B&B that we grabbed a taxi and had it take us to where we were staying. It was a bit pricey, but for us confused tourists who don’t speak Italian, we didn’t feel comfortable walking around all night, trying to find a bus that would take us there. We arrived at the place to check in, and were greeted nicely by our host. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the listing, but it was cheap, so that’s why I chose it. And I’m glad I did. It was in this lovely building with a vintage elevator that took us up to the third floor, where there were two rooms inside an apartment, made-over to be a bed and breakfast. Not only was our room huge and we had our own bathroom, there was also breakfast included in our stay. The way they set out everything was so cute and it was perfect to fall into bed and then be able to wake up and go feed ourselves with the selection of cereal, toast and coffee. After having stayed in a few different AirBnb locations now, I am so fully in love with that way of accommodation that I might never use a hostel again!
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After a great nights sleep and stuffing ourselves full of the free breakfast, we headed to The Vatican to see St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. Everywhere were people trying to sell us stuff to skip the line. We were content with not paying extra for that, so we got in line to go inside the Basilica, which look less than 30 minutes, saw the beautiful and regal inside, and then went around the corner to the museum. That’s when we understood why they were trying to get us to skip the line. It took us three hours to get inside. The first hour and a half of that was standing in the very hot sun, and then we turned the corner to be in the shade, but still were stuck in a never-moving line. I’d been inside before, so I was okay with not going in, but I didn’t want Levi to miss out on it, so I persisted and we finally made it inside. It’s not really my kind of museum. Just a lot of religious relics and statues. I was happy though, to go inside the Sistine Chapel again and sneak a photo of Michelangelo’s artwork on the ceiling.
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The rest of the day was seeing the other sights that Rome has to offer, such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and anything else along the way. I was just happy to be back here again, and to enjoy it a lot more this time. Rome is a very beautiful city, and even all the street sellers, trying to make me buy their mobile phone long-handled selfie contraption wasn’t enough to bother me. It was weirdly less annoying than it was in Paris. Perhaps because hearing them walk up to you and say, “Selfie?” is funny and endearing in a way. The (non)perfect ending to my trip was missing my flight the next morning and having to rebook for one 6 hours later, which wasn’t ideal, but I’m trying not to be too negative about it, because it definitely didn’t ruin my trip. I still had a wonderful time in spite of it, and hope to enjoy the beauty and ancientness of Rome more in the future!
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Florence: A City Frozen in the Renaissance Era

You can’t walk off the train in Florence and not wonder if this city has got stuck in a permanent 16th or 17th century loop. After all, the city was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and the architecture and ambience of the city still holds that nostalgic feel that you don’t get in many other cities in the world. I can’t imagine living here and stepping out of your flat each morning into this historic city. It would be too much for me. I had always heard how amazing Florence was, and now I got to experience that for myself.
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Everything in Florence is so close to each other, making it a very walkable city. You can’t walk more than a block without seeing some old building or religious structure. There’s statues and fountains everywhere, and the past shows through even the newer parts of the city. All I really have to say about this place is that it’s the the city where I’ve felt most enveloped into a time bubble. You can go to London or Paris and see old things, and they are beautiful, but right next to it is something completely new to juxtapose it. In Florence, it’s almost all old and historic. You look down at the ground and wonder if these are the same stones from hundreds of years ago.
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Levi and I walked around a lot. We saw the Santa Maria del Flore, the Palazzo Vecchio (with a replica of Michelango’s David, which both of us were too cheap to pay the admission fee to go into the museum where the real one is housed), the whimsical Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno River, and everything in between. We opted not to go to any museums, but to just enjoy the free sights outside. I think this a good choice, as we weren’t there for very long.
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We headed to our AirBnb location (which was a lot further from the center of town than advertised), and we were both so tired from all the walking that we crashed from 6pm until 8pm. We felt bad for wasting time to sleep, but it was much needed. We decided to not go back into town that night, but get up the next morning and explore. We went back out, via a bus, walked around some more. Fully drew in more of the beautiful vibe of the city, and then made our way back to the station to catch a train to our final destination of Rome. I will definitely be coming back to Florence in the future, and hopefully spending more time in the museums and streets, trying to enjoy more of this place.
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Watch out for my final post from my Italian weekend when I post about Rome very soon 🙂

A Few Hours in Pisa

For budget travelers, flying directly into Florence isn’t always the cheapest option. To save some money, flying into the Pisa airport is just as effective, and you can do a quick stop and walk around the city before taking a short hour-long train to Florence. After waking up at the ungodly hour of 4am, I finished getting ready and left my dorm to get to Gatwick airport. After a nervous flight (when will I get over my fear of flying?) I arrived in Pisa to meet my boyfriend at the Tower of Pisa. Of course, with my luck, I bought a ticket for the wrong mode of transportation, so I ended up taking a bus from the airport to the train station, instead of the one I wanted, that would’ve taken me straight to the center of the city. This wasn’t a big issue though, as I walked out of the train station, and got to walk along the beautiful streets of the city to get to my final destination.
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Before arriving in Pisa, I did some research to find out what there is to do there, and sadly really the only result was the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was alright with me, because I was more excited to get to Florence, but it was still very delightful to walk around the small city and see the architecture and sights. I love how parts of Italy are trapped in time. Pisa is in the Tuscany part of Italy, which is so beautiful and I can understand how it gets so many tourists every year.
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After walking for 30 minutes, I finally came upon the Leaning Tower and was even more excited to spot my boyfriend from across the piazza and be reunited with him after he was on his own for a few days. We laughed a bit at the tourists doing the traditional holding up the tower pose, walked around the city some more, and then headed to the train station to find our way to Florence. I was glad I finally got to go to this historic city and see a landmark much spoken about. I doubt I’ll return, but I’m happy to cross the location off my list.
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Keep a look out for my posts about the rest of my Italy trip to Florence and Rome.

The City of Lights

If you gave me a dollar for every croissant I ate in Paris, you still wouldn’t be able to match me in Euros, because Paris is EXPENSIVE. I really don’t remember it being that expensive on my last two trips, which makes me question if I was just so in wonderment the first two times, which is how I didn’t notice, or if the prices really have gotten higher in the last two years. Either way, my three days in Paris were delightful. I was so ecstatic to be back, in what I consider to be the most beautiful city in the world.

My lovely boyfriend and I got on a late bus from Victoria Coach Station at 10pm on Friday and started off into the night on our way to Paris. What I will say about the Megabus is that in the future I will not be taking it, and not because it was horrible, but mostly because it takes the ferry across the English Channel to get from Dover to Calais, and I cannot handle how much the boat rocks without getting a horrible headache. But the 10 hour bus ride was worth it once we arrived into Paris the next day.

Our first stop was The Louvre, which we wandered around for a few hours. The last time I was there was three years ago, and nothing had changed, so it was all a bit of a reminiscing experience for me. Levi didn’t like it as much as I thought he would. He’s more a fan of modern art, so we left before planned and headed to the Pont Des Arts Bridge, which is right by The Louvre. I finally got to fulfill a bucket list item of mine by putting a love lock on the bridge with my boyfriend, and then throw the key into the water. I’m glad we actually got to do it though, because they’re cutting off all the locks and replacing the grids with plastic covers so people won’t be able to do it anymore. We got there just before the full change.

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We wandered around for the rest of the day, went over to the Eiffel Tower, which had lines neither of us were willing to wait in, and then went over to the Moulin Rouge area, which is where our AirBnb stay was. Paris is so beautiful and surreal, but is also a very dirty and smelly place at the same time. What bothered me a lot was that you can be disillusioned to how lovely it is, but then walk through a tunnel and all you smell is pee and see trash thrown everywhere. I’ve also never seen so many homeless people in my life. There’s a lot of them in London, but in Paris, the diversity you see in the homeless population is crazy. There were women with their children sleeping outside at night, which made me so angry, because to use their kids as sympathy to get money is horrible. People use dogs and cats as tearjerkers too, and it’s a moral dilemma whether to give them money, when you know they probably wont spend it on the animal.
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Anyways, not to only complain… We ate dinner at the cafe from the film Amelie, then went and found our home for three nights. Our host was there to greet us with a key and wifi password. We set our stuff down in our very cute flat, took a nap, went out to explore the area some more, and then went to bed after treating ourselves to some champagne, baguette and cheese. The next morning, we made our way back to the Eiffel Tower, and sadly it was raining very hard, which meant the line to go up was shorter, but it was freezing and wet at the top. I am a huge fan of the Eiffel Tower, even if some people dislike it. It’s a gorgeous structure as well as gives you a 360 degree view of Paris.
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I was starving after we left the Eiffel Tower, so I got some churros (or Chi Chis as they were called in Paris), and they were the best thing I’ve had in awhile. I hope it wasn’t just because I was so hungry. While leaving, Levi and I had to dodge so many of the people selling Eiffel Tower toy replicas. These people are seriously what ruins Paris for me. Levi made a funny observation though. He saw them as non-playable characters (NPCs) that you’d encounter in a video game, and the creator made a glitch where that sprite is duplicated a hundred times, every 10 feet or so. With that in mind, I tried to think of it that way, but it’s still frustrating when you’re trying to enjoy a city when there’s people coming up to you with champagne, toys, or something you don’t want to buy and shoving it in your face.
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On our final day in the city, we walked along the Seine River towards Notre Dame, went to the famous Shakespeare & Company bookstore, browsed the stalls along the banks, and enjoyed how sunny it was. We ended our day with a long walk up the stairs to Montmartre. We walked around this area, watched the sunset from the steps of the Sacre Coeur, went inside for a moment to hear some haunting music from the nuns, and ate bread and cheese. I was so happy to finally have my romantic journey to Paris that I’ve always wanted.
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I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower light up, so we took one last Metro ride to watch the structure sparkle. It was the perfect ending to one of the best days of my life. Paris may have its flaws, but I think the beauty of the city overcomes that and that’s why you can ignore how expensive it is, or the annoying salesmen, or the overwhelming smell of pee and truly enjoy the city for its sights. I love it here so much that I’m considering coming back here to live for the summer so I can learn French and work on my writing and photography. It’s an enchanting place, which I’d like to spend as much time in as possible.
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The next morning, Levi left early to take a train to Barcelona. I slept in a bit and then went to my train back to London. I decided to take the Eurostar back, because it takes less than two and a half hours, and it may cost a bit more, but it’s fast and comfortable. Amazingly enough, the man I was sitting next to on the train, happened to be a celebrity publicist, which is my dream job, so I got to sit with him and pick his brain for the entire journey. He has many famous clients and I couldn’t believe my luck to get to speak with someone who has the job I want to have. It was basically fate, and gave me that boost of encouragement I needed to continue on that career path. I arrived back in London, and for the first time, it felt like home. I hadn’t felt that yet, so it was a positive thing to know that London is finally where I feel that I live.

I will post more photos in the next few days, as to not inundate you with images of Paris all at once. These were just some of the shots that I felt summed up my weekend away.

Planning a Romantic Getaway to Paris (from London)

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While I wait patiently for my amazing boyfriend to arrive in London on October 2nd (only 10 days away!), I am in the planning stages of our weekend away in Paris, so I thought I’d write a guide for anyone who has ever wanted to take some time to go on an adventure to the city of romance and lights. Your journey doesn’t have to be romantic, of course, so you can use this information for a trip with friends or a solo tour.

Getting There

There are a few different ways to get from London to Paris. For a fast train ride, you can take the Eurostar from St. Pancras station, which only takes 2 and a half hours, and can range from $68-180 for a one way journey. If you’re lucky, you can get the cheap fare, but they usually sell out fast. If you want to fly, it’s only about an hour and 15 minutes in the air, but you have to take into account getting to the airport early and then going though customs and immigration on the other end. These fares usually range from $120 being the cheapest if you go through Easy Jet. The cheapest way to get to Paris is to take a bus. With MegaBus or iDBus, you can get to Paris for about $40 one way. This takes longer (between 7 and 10 hours), but if you get an overnight bus, you can sleep during the ride and arrive in Paris in the morning.

Sleeping Arrangements

The 3 major hostel websites are HostelWorld, Hostels.com, or HostelBookers. I like to check all 3 of them before purchasing, because occasionally, even though they have the same choices on each site, sometimes it will be cheaper through one website than another. I have no idea why, but it’s worth the extra ten minutes to check before clicking the purchase button. For example, a double bedroom with a shared bathroom for 3 nights at the Le Regent Montmartre is $357 on HostelWorld, $350 on Hostels.com, and $334 on HostelBookers. While the payment difference is only about $20 between the highest and lowest, if you’re trying to budget, obviously the smaller amount is better to go for. This makes me glad I checked multiple sites. Another tip is to check the hostel’s website and see what they charge. Le Regent Montmartre charges even less if you go directly through their website, making the amount $314 for the three nights. The only pro to going through one of the hostel booking websites is that you only have to put down a deposit on the room instead of the full amount, which is usually the case when you purchase through the hostel’s website directly.

Don’t forget to check out Airbnb as well. It can actually be even cheaper than a hostel, especially when it comes to booking a room to share. Since writing this post, I’ve come back to revise this section, because I found a deal for about $100 cheaper by staying at a room in an apartment, rather than going for the hostel. Hostels are better for solo travel or when adventuring with friends. Airbnb works better for couples I’d say.

City Transportation

Like London, Paris has a really great underground train system, as well as buses that go all over the city. The Paris Metro system is fairly cheap to ride on. You can buy individual ride tickets for $2.50, or 10 rides for $18. You can also purchase day passes, with the 3 day pass for only $34, which is a really good deal for unlimited travel around the city. Paris is a fairly walkable city, but you will definitely get tired if you’re on your feet all day, so catching a bus or train is simple and can end up being very cheap, depending on how many times you want to use the transportation system. Taxis can get expensive, and you’ll usually find a bus going somewhere familiar.

Romantic Excursions

For me, who has been to Paris twice now, I’ve already done all of the traditional tourist activities, but never with a loved one, so it will be very different. He’s never been to Paris, so I figure it’ll be worth it to do everything again, especially if it’s with someone I care about. The Eiffel Tower is a must-do. For $18, a youth ticket to ride the lift to the top may seem like a lot, but it is so worth it. It’s not like the London Eye (something I think you can definitely skip). The Eiffel Tower is magical. The view from the top is staggering and unforgettable. I’ve been up twice now and can’t wait for my third time. At night, the tower lights up with a sparkling light show. It’s delightful.

The Louvre is one of the most amazing museums of the world that you really need a whole day to explore. I can say that the $16 you spend will be an adequate amount to be able to view the great art of the world. Obviously the Mona Lisa is in there, but the crowd to see it is usually wild. It’s still nice to see in person. It’s understandable how one could get lost in there. The building used to be a palace, and it now houses a great amount of history.

Right behind the Louvre is the Pont des Arts Bridge, which is famous for its love locks. According to this recent article, the bridge may be getting a makeover soon, to ensure locks cannot be put on it. I’m hoping when I get there in a couple weeks, that won’t be in effect yet, because one of my bucket list items was to put a lock on this very bridge. Either way, it’s a very romantic bridge to cross, with a nice view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.

There are plenty more things that can be done in Paris. It is a city full of beautiful things to see and do, so I know my boyfriend and I wont be bored. I am sure that this list from Time Out of 101 Things to do in Paris will definitely be used in our deciding of pursuits for our weekend in this beautiful city.

Any romantic spots to suggest? Please let me know 🙂

2 Hours in Reykjavik

Originally, I had planned on using 6 of my 10 layover hours to explore Reykjavik, but sometimes plans don’t go exactly the way you want. I actually can’t tell if I slept on the flight from Seattle to Keflavik. I took more than enough sleeping pills and I feel like I might’ve been asleep for part of the flight, but it was that strange hybrid of half-awake/half-asleep where you’re weirdly aware of your surroundings, but still off the radar. With 2 hours left in the flight, I decided to stay awake and read a little and watched some 30 Rock on my iPod. The landing was very smooth and I navigated my way through the airport to the bus.image (1)

My first impression of Iceland was that it is geologically gorgeous. I can understand why they film Game of Thrones here. The landscapes are almost otherworldly. The drive from the airport to the bus station was lovely. The only thing that went wrong was that my camera started freaking out and telling me the battery wasn’t connected, and then it died on me before I even got into the city. I was very upset. Without my camera, I feel naked. It’s my way of capturing and remembering my journeys. I didn’t know what to do with myself once this happened.

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To tell the truth, it definitely put me in a bad mood that I couldn’t use my camera the way I wanted to, so I made use of the iPhone camera and hoped I could at least get some interesting shots. When I have my camera, I can be out and about shooting for hours. But with it not working, my 6 hours to explore ended up only being about 2. I noticed that many shops in Reykjavik don’t open until 11am on Saturdays, which was unfortunate for me, as I got there at 8:30am. Also, just grabbing coffee-on-the-go did not seem like something I could find at all. I really just wanted some coffee to walk around with, but there were only sit-down cafes. I took out some money from an ATM so I could go eat/drink somewhere, and ended up taking out way too much (apparently 10,000 Krona is about $85, oops), so I will promptly be exchanging what’s left for British Pounds.image

I explored part of the city to the best of my extent with my grumpy demeanor. I just couldn’t get over my camera not working. I was also starving, which didn’t help my mood, so after searching forever for a grocery store, I got a strange tasting salad and some water and decided to somehow find my way back to the bus station. I really do want to come back to Reykjavik someday. I feel that my moodiness made my short experience not so good, and I’d like to come back with a functioning camera and maybe a more set plan on what to do, because my aimlessness led to me getting bored after only 2 hours. But the city is pretty, and an enjoyable place to wander about it.

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