Iceland Diary #1: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Even though it wasn’t the first stop of my Euro trip, I decided to start my travel diary with Iceland, because I figure that’s what everybody wants to see the most, and I want to write it down while it’s still fresh in my mind.

A bit of backstory first: like I said, this trip was the result of much planning between myself and my friend Debbi. After I decided to stay with my friends in the Netherlands before going to Iceland, we invited them along as well, and thus the idea of a road trip was born. We spent months looking through all the sample itineraries, and finally settled on south-west Iceland for a week, instead the whole island – we didn’t have the time or the money, or frankly the willpower, for that kind of trip. Most of the sights are concentrated around the lower half of the island anyway, so we figured we wouldn’t miss out on a lot. (Pro tip: we based most of our itinerary on the sample itineraries on Hostelling International Iceland, and we also booked our car rental + hostel package through them. It came out to about $750/person, which is not cheap, but it’s cheaper than most self-drive tours out there, considering we were there during the high season.)

So, on the first day, we met up in Reykjavik and went to the grocery store to stock up for the trip. Eating out in Iceland is notoriously expensive, and most days we were going to be in the middle of nowhere anyway, so cooking was the best and cheapest option. The thing is, we were staying at a new hostel every night, so we could only take food that can be easily transported and kept. I still can’t look at a boiled egg or hot dog without thinking of Iceland.

Then, on the next day, we set out for our first destination: the western peninsula of Snæfellsnes!

iceland day 1The adventure begins!

It was our first day on the road, so we didn’t know what to expect. After we got out of Reykjavik and headed into the wilderness, I think our minds all got broken a little bit at the vastness and emptiness of the landscape. Every few minutes, at every turn, there was something that made us want to stop and get out of the car, to snap pictures or just to simply take in the view with our mouths hanging open.

Soon after we started, we got to meet the famous Icelandic horses – it was a good thing we decided to stop then and there, because for the rest of the trip, although we saw a lot of horses, they were never this close to the road.

iceland horsesMaking friends!

We also stopped at a museum displaying the carcass of a whale – you have to admire the very prosaic sign. Yes, that is indeed a dead whale:

The journey should be just a little over two hours, but because we were stopping so much, it took us nearly five hours to get to Snæfellsjökull, the glacier which, according to Jules Verne, holds the entrance to the center of the Earth.

Like I said, the landscape broke our brains a little

We drove around the glacier for a bit, then stopped at our hostel in Grundarfjörður, a nearby small town. After dinner, we took a walk to a lovely waterfall we saw on the drive there (which turns out to be Kirkjufellfoss, so named because it’s right next to Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain). Finally around midnight, we crawled into bed and got treated to an epic sunset from our hostel window. All in all, a very good first day.

Church Mountain, and an actual local church

Europe Packing List

I’ve been home for a week now, but while I’m settling back into my old routine, let’s look back at my epic summer trip, starting with the usual: the packing list.

I lost count of how many sample packing lists I looked at during the months leading up to the trip. My main concern was that I was going to be in Iceland, and how cold it could be, and how much the cold-weather clothes would add to the rest of my list. This is what I ended up taking with me:

packing list by 14 shades of grey

(I had so much fun doodling my packing list last time that I did it again. I got the illustrations online, mostly from goodobjects, then traced them and colored them myself.)

The list includes: 3 short-sleeved tees, 3 long-sleeved tees, 1 chambray shirt, 1 flannel shirt, 2 sweaters, 2 cardigans, 4 pairs of jeans, 2 scarves, 1 jacket, and 3 pairs of shoes. Not included here are the big waterproof jacket and blanket scarf I packed especially for Iceland.

Though that doesn’t seem a lot for a 5-week trip, I actually over-packed. I didn’t realize that 65 degrees in Europe feel very different from 65 degrees in Vietnam, and packed too many warm items. Since I could afford to do laundry quite often, I could’ve done without the striped turtleneck, the extra sweater and cardigan, the light-washed jeans, and the flats (which are my “just in case” shoes, and those I almost always end up never wearing). I guess you learn something new with each trip you make, right? Now that I’ve recorded this, I’m definitely going to pack more wisely for my next long trip!

SIA Inspiration: Jean Fetman

This week’s SIA inspiration comes from Erin, and she has a really interesting story behind it. But first, the painting:


This is a painting that Erin found in the dumpster of her apartment building, can you believe it? She doesn’t have a spot to hang it in her house yet, but I hope she does soon, because it’s really a great painting, with lots of bright colors and a surprising sense of depth in the composition. The back reveals the title to be “The Door Within”, and the artist’s name – Jean Fetman, from Highland Park, IL. A quick Google shows that she may have passed away in 2013, so it’s good that Erin managed to save her painting.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to participate in this SIA or not, because I can’t think of anything in my closet that has all of the colors like this, but I’m going to look forward to your interpretations. Just remember to send them to Erin ( by Monday, August 22nd!

Where I’ve Been #12: East Coast, Winter 2010

Welcome to Travel Month on 14 Shades of Grey! While I’m off to Europe, please enjoy these posts about travels I’ve done in the past.

If you’ve been reading my Where I’ve Been series, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t travel much in the US, considering I was living there at the time. The reason is simple: you kinda need a car for any serious travel in the US. I didn’t have a car, and no friends with the same wanderlust tendency. Still, in the winter break of 2010, I did manage to spend Christmas and New Year on the East Coast.

My first stop was Washington DC. One of my friends from high school was going to grad school there at the time, so I stayed with her (hooray for having friends all over the world willing to let you crash on their couches!) I went to all the monuments and museums, of course. I didn’t go inside the White House, but my friend convinced me to check out the Capitol, and even I had to admit it was pretty impressive.

Georgetown University during the day and at night (with Santa making an early visit – can you spot him?)

Colorful houses in DC

The super cool walkway underneath the National Gallery of Art

As Christmas approached, we took the bus up to New York. We intended to spend Christmas there, before going up to Boston to visit my friend Debbi (whom you may remember from my travels around Vietnam). New York has its moments, but it’s way too big and there are way too many sketchy bits mixed up with the nice bits that I couldn’t really warm to it. Still, walking around Manhattan on Christmas Day and going up on the Empire State Building on Christmas Eve were awesome. We even tried going into Macy’s, but we barely made it through the front doors when I shrieked with horror at the heaving throngs of shoppers, and fled.

The obligatory Times Square shot

Strawberry Fields mosaic and the Dakota

A couple of shots from Central Park

Grand Central Station

The view from the Empire State Building

But my NYC adventure didn’t end there. The day after Christmas, I went to the Met (my friend doesn’t like art museums so she went to the Intrepid Museum instead.) The weather had been super nice – clear, bright, and sunny. Then, that morning, as we left our hostel, it began to snow. I was quite excited – I’d never seen snow in person before. I happily lost myself in the Met, but throughout the morning, whenever I glanced outside, the snow just got thicker and thicker. At first I told myself it was no big deal. As the day went on and it showed no sign of stopping though, I began to contemplate the idea of living in the museum and picking pennies out of the fountains for food, like the kids in E.L. Konisburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

It started out like this, until there was nothing but white

Of course, I didn’t. As the museum closed at 5:30, I plunged into the swirl of whiteness with the other visitors. Somehow I found the subway. Our hostel is in Brooklyn, and when I came out of the station, I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it. I’m terrible with directions at the best of time, and now, with all landmarks rendered unrecognizable by the snow and the wind driving ice particles into my eyes so hard I couldn’t see straight, I thought, “That’s it. I’m dead.” Luckily, I was saved by the US way of city planning – everything laid out in grids. By counting the intersections, I managed to find my hostel. If this had been Europe, I would’ve probably ended up like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.

It turned out to be the first snow storm of the season. Just my luck. We were supposed to leave for Boston the next day, and now everything was cancelled. Still, we were more fortunate than most travelers that we got to stay at the hostel, and after a day and a half of frantic phone calls, eventually we were on our way to Boston.

We had to cut our Boston trip short, but we managed to visit Debbi’s hometown of Rockport, a ramshackle but super cute harbor town east of Boston, home of the iconic Motif Number 1.

On the way from Boston to Rockport

The most often-painted building in America

Debbi’s house

We did all the touristy things in Boston too. We walked the Freedom Trail, went to the Museum of Fine Arts and Boston Public Library, and wandered through the shops of Faneuil Hall, before going back to DC for New Years’ Eve, and I went back to LA.

Faneuil Hall at night

The Charles River

It was a fun trip. It showed me a different side of the US, other than the concrete desert that is Los Angeles, and even though it didn’t make me wish I’d traveled more within the US, at least it made me glad that I had traveled some.

And that’s the end of the Where I’ve Been series. Europe diary coming up next!

Where I’ve Been #11: The Rest Of England, Spring 2010

Welcome to Travel Month on 14 Shades of Grey! While I’m off to Europe, please enjoy these posts about travels I’ve done in the past.

Like I said in my Scotland post, I stopped at Birmingham briefly on my way from Wales to Scotland, and managed to drop by Stratford-upon-Avon. Too bad that by the time I got there (it was about 6 PM), everything was closed, so I could only gaze longingly at all the cottages from afar. I guess after living in America, I just didn’t think about anything being closed while there is still daylight.

A field of mustard in bloom, taken on the train from Birmingham

On the way to Anne Hathaway’s cottage…

It’s closed!

After getting back to London from Belfast, I only took day trips, because those were easier on both my budget and my schedule. First I went to Windsor. The castle wasn’t open for public that day, so I just wandered around the pretty village. I thought I saw some Eton boys around – they all had that Malfoy-esque, half smug, half wimpy look – which actually adds to the atmosphere of the whole place.

Windsor Castle

The Crooked House of Windsor, and Uncle Henry, who has seen better days

Speaking of Malfoy, my next destination is Oxford. My friend said Cambridge was prettier, but I wanted to check out Oxfords because it has all the Harry Potter locations like Christ Church College and the Bodleian Library. The Bodleian is especially amazing, too bad they don’t allow photos in there. I also had lunch at The Eagle and Child, the pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hung out.

The Radcliffe Camera

Some of the Harry Potter locations

The next day my friend borrowed a car and we drove to Bibury. The Cotswolds is one of my must-see destinations, though to my dismay it’s not easily reached by public transport – you pretty much have to go to the nearest city or town, and rent a car or bike or hike there. Besides, it’s not “day trip” material since there’s so much to see. Bibury is gorgeous, but it barely whetted my appetite.

I found the local cat, of course

Finally, on my next-to-last day in the UK, I took the train to Bath. Bath is a nice enough town; I went to the Jane Austen museum, the Roman baths, and the Pump Room (where you can just picture men and women dancing in Regency dresses, as in Jane Austen’s days), and did some window shopping at the pretty little shops lining Pulteney Bridge (which reminds me of Ponte Vecchio in Florence.) Unfortunately, my memories of Bath were forever tainted because the moment I arrived – the very moment I stepped off the train – a sea gull promptly crapped on me. Thankfully I was shielded by my hat and my jacket, and I washed them in the station’s bathroom, but I still had to spend the entire day walking around with a damp hat and jacket smelling of bird crap. It was hard to enjoy the city in that state.

My first view of Bath… minus the bird shit

Pulteney Bridge and the Roman baths

But despite all that, I had an amazing time in the UK. Usually when you have a dream destination, you may end up disappointed at something or another when you arrive, but the UK was everything I dreamed of, and more. I definitely want to go back.

Lions And Lambs

gray sweater blanket scarf black jeans black boots by 14 shades of grey

I received Jen’s inspiration for this week’s SIA, Briton Rivière‘s “Una and the Lion”, while I was in Iceland, which gave me the idea of finding some sheep to use as the background for my outfit photos. Sheep and horses are what you see the most while driving in Iceland, and it would be perfect since the painting also features a lamb (and the lion would be myself – I’m a Leo after all.)

gray sweater blanket scarf by 14 shades of grey

However, seeing the sheep and taking photos with the sheep are two different things. The sheep may be used to cars zipping past them, but they’re definitely not used to a car stopping with three girls wielding cameras running towards them and posing, because as soon as they saw us, they took off. So in the end this is the best that I got – you can kinda see the sheep in the distance. They’re there, I swear!

gray sweater blanket scarf by 14 shades of greyHere’s me, chasing the sheep

sheep by 14 shades of greyHere’s the sheep, running away

As for the outfit, it’s my uniform in Iceland – cable-knit sweater, black jeans, black boots, and a big blanket scarf. The colors mimic the painting quite well, don’t they?

I’m on my way back to Vietnam tomorrow, to there will be more Iceland posts to come. In the meantime, don’t forget to check Jen’s blog for more outfits inspired by this gorgeous painting!

Sweater: H&M, Jeans & Scarf: local shop, Boots: Clarks

Where I’ve Been #10: Scotland, Spring 2010

Welcome to Travel Month on 14 Shades of Grey! While I’m off to Europe, please enjoy these posts about travels I’ve done in the past.

After London and Wales, my UK travel continued with Scotland. I took the train from Aberystwyth to Birmingham, and from there took another train to Edinburgh. Back then I was obsessed with BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (which, in turn, got me obsessed with Richard Armitage). As Edinburgh was one of the shooting locations, that was my main interest in the city.

So it was a surprise, perhaps even to myself, that I fell completely in love with Edinburgh. It has the dignity of a big city, and yet still retains the charms and quirks of a small town. If I could choose to live in any European city, I would probably pick Edinburgh (well, the fact that Dylan Moran also lives there might account for that somewhat, but when I first visited Edinburgh I hadn’t even discovered Dylan Moran yet.)

On my first day, I went on a walking tour along the Royal Mile of the Old Town, saw the sights, and tasted haggis for the first time (it was actually pretty good. Kind of similar to our blood sausage.) They also offered a Haunted Tour at night, which sounded awesome, but I was exhausted after getting up at 5 AM to catch the train from Birmingham, plus I had a Highlands tour the next morning, so I turned in early.

The Royal Mile

Greyfriars Kirkyard, supposedly the most haunted place in Scotland

Greyfriars Bobby

The next morning, I was picked up by the bus for a day tour of the Highlands and Loch Ness. It was more like a taste of Highlands, really, because a day isn’t enough to cover it all (even our tour guide said so!) But even at the breakneck speed of the tour bus, I could see how vast and awe-inspiring the landscape was. No sight of Nessie though.

See if you can find the farmhouse

Glencoe, the site of a massacre that inspired Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding

Our tour guide/driver

Lock one, lock two, lock three, Loch Lomond

The next day, I hiked up Arthur’s Seat, a peak near the city. Arthur’s Seat was a more vigorous hike than I thought, so I didn’t make it all the way to the top, and instead just strolled along the hills and basked in the sweet scent of the gorse. On the way down, I also peeked into Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarchs in Scotland. It was closed that day, so I stopped by the coffee shop for a cream tea (how British of me.) I then spent the afternoon wandering around Old Town and New Town to find every North & South location I could.

Gorse in full bloom was everywhere

View of the Old Town from Calton Hill

Finally, on my last day, after a quick visit to Edinburgh Castle, I bid a fond farewell to Edinburgh and went to the airport, headed for Belfast and Northern Ireland (which I’ve covered in the Wales post.)

View of the New Town from the castle