Top 12 Things to Do In Santorini, Greece

top things to do in santorini greece

Up until I graduated from college, I had always been a traveler-dreamer, rather than a traveler-doer. I imagined magnificent trips across the globe when in reality I had yet to even cross an ocean. Overwhelmed with school work and relationships and figuring out the rest of my life (easy stuff, ya know), I eagerly waited for a time when I could escape to the paradises on the postcards I had pinned up around my dorm room. When I got my first actual job in the glorious city of Washington D.C., I made a promise to myself to save up any extra money I had in order to see all the places I’d written down on my bucket list. Which, at this point, would take me a couple lifetimes.

Santorini greece
View from Santorini hotel

At my new job, I quickly became friends with a coworker across the hall who shared in my vision of picturesque adventures. After scrolling through Pinterest oogling over pictures of tropical getaways and serene coastlines during our break, we landed on an image of a Greek isle lined with bright blue buildings and surrounded by turquoise water. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. We knew we had to see this magical place in person. A simply google search led us to Groupon deal through a travel agent and in a matter of 30 minutes, we had an entire trip booked to the other side of the world. Go big or go home, right? And at this point, I’d had enough of the latter.

Oia santorini greece
Oia

So at 22, I got my first passport and packed my bags for a 12 hour flight to country I’d only ever seen in my Latin textbooks. (Fun fact: I took five years of a language that’s no longer spoken. Great SAT score, though). After spending a few days in Athens, we hopped aboard a high speed ferry off into the Greek Islands. Next stop: Santorini.

Santorini, Greece
Home in Santorini, Greece

It was apparent as soon as we stepped off the ferry that we had entered the land of honeymooners. for good reason, too. The tropical beach, romantic cobbled streets and exotic views were perfect for lovebirds. Or, well, two best friends looking for a change of scenery. Whether you’re coupled up or in the need of an escape from real life, Santorini has it all. I knew we’d made the right choice when we were generously welcomed into the hotel by a lovely young woman dressed in all white. She appeared to float through the airy lobby and whimsical patio rather than walk . As she gave us a tour of the premise, she had an accent I couldn’t quite place. I cautiously asked her where she was from using the little Greek I knew. She laughed and said that she was originally from Pittsburgh and, after a series of unfortunate events in her life, she decided to move far away to a place that brought her the serenity she so needed. After a week in this glorious utopia, she might not be the only one moving here.

Cliffs of Santorini Greece
Cliffs of Santorini

Sunrise in Fira
I always make it a point to see the sunrise in every location I visit. There is something so peaceful about starting your day with the first light before you’re filling up every moment with another must-see. Our hotel sat on the top of Fira so we were able to see the sun reach over the eastern coast of the island. I should also note that we could still hear the music from the clubs in the town center at 6am. These people aren’t playing around. So while the bar goers were stumbling home, we were enjoying a breakfast spread filled with fresh fruits and pastries. To each their own.

santorini greece
Breakfast overlooking the caldera
Perissa Black Sand Beach Santorini Greece
Perissa Black Sand Beach

Perissa Black Beach
A sprawling black sand beach overlooking white cliffs dipping into the clear water is the perfect way to spend an early afternoon. As you might expect, the sand gets HOT, so thick towels (or a cabana) are a must.

Santorini Greece Wine Tour
Santorini Wine Tour

Wine Tour
While most people opt to explore the island on mopeds, we signed up for a tour through the southern region of the island since we weren’t entirely trusting of our driving skills on the narrow, curvy roads. This was the best way for us to not only witness some the best photo ops (..in the world), but learn a more about how the island came to be.

Santo Winery in santorini Greece
Santo Winery Patio

Santo Winery
Even if you’re not on a tour, Santo Winery is the perfect place to truly get a taste for the Greek culture. While the informative tour is helpful in learning the wine process, such as that as the grape grow they’re weaved into little baskets called koulara with the grapes on the inside for protection, the real appeal of Santo Winery is the view. Its tasting area overlooks the caldera and is the perfect place to sample local wines with paired cheeses and crackers.

 Akrotiri Archaeological Site in Santorini, Greece
Akrotiri Archaeological Site

Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Santorini’s unique shape is due to its volcanic history. The Akrotiri Archaeological Site is a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini. The area was destroyed by the Theran eruption around 1627 BC and buried in volcanic ash. The ash allowed for the remains of structures, objects and artwork to be well-preserved until its discovery in 1967. This incredible walk through history is the purest way to revisit the island as it was centuries ago. This site is believed to be the premise of Plato’s Atlantis…as well as the location of one of the first working toilets! Seriously. The things I remember on these tours.

The Red Beach in Santorini Greece
The Red Beach

The Red Beach
Encassed with towering cliffs, the red beach is, in fact, bright red. The site is best seen from above where you can take marvelous pictures of the unusual colored contrast of red and blue, spotted with yellow umbrellas.

dinner overlooking Caldera in Fira santorini greece
Dinner in Fira

Dinner Overlooking the Caldera in Fira
Since Fira was built on the mountainside, almost every restaurant on the western edge is guaranteed to have a view. Make reservations earlier in the day for an hour before sunset. You’ll have prime seating to watch the sun sink below the ocean. Look for any place the promises fresh salmon and Greek salads with extra olives. Trust me on this one.

Fira santorini greece
Streets of Fira at night

Gelato in Fira
As soon as the “most famous sunset in the world” has ended, the streets of Fire are illuminated in a soft glow. The night is far from over. Stroll in and out of the local shops and take some time to sample the gelato.

Mules of Fira santorini Greece
Mules of Fira

Watch the Mules up the Stairs
If you’ve seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (and if you haven’t, stop right here and come back when you’ve finished watching it), you’re familiar with Lena riding up on the mules back. Find a spot along the balcony to watch the sailboats dock in the lower harbor and the mules trek their supplies up the staircases on the edge of the mountainside.

Aressana Hotel and Spa in santorini greece
Aressana Hotel and Spa pool

Spa Day
Many of the hotels are also part-spa (honeymooners galore, remember?). So we couldn’t stay in one and pass up the opportunity for a massage in paradise. Besides, after all the exploring you’re doing, a little R&R at Aressana Hotel and Spa was just wanted we needed.

Oia Art Galleries santorini greece
Oia Art Galleries

Oia Art Galleries
A quick bus ride from Fira will lead you to the northern most city on the island, Oia (pronounced ee-uh, don’t make yourself look foolish). Filled with small shops and galleries, wander into the art museums and take the time to speak with the owners. You’ll learn far more about the life here than by merely observing.

Oia sunset in santorini greece
Oia sunset

Sunset in Oia
While we knew the sunrise was a big deal in Fira, the sunrise is the Superbowl of events in Oia. A superbowl that happens every sunny day, that is! Luckily, we decided to grab an early dinner at a small family-owned restaurant overlooking the caldera with little more than two other guests around. As soon as we ordered baklava to conclude our meal, we noticed the streets below us seemed a bit more crowded. And then a couple more people came. And then, before we knew it, the entire road was packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists armed with various cameras. As we sat comfortably at our prime-view table, we soaked in the people watching and sipped wine as we watched another breathtaking sunset…not entirely sure how we would go back to the city we came from.

Oia, Santorini, Greece
Oia, Santorini, Greece

Have you been to the Greek isle before? Which island do you want to visit?

xx,
Juliette

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Does Yoga Actually Reduce Stress? The Facts.

how yoga reduces stress

One of my favorite sayings about yoga is how it’s funny how outsiders think yogis are all calm people when, in fact, we’re all here because we’re all nuts. Ain’t it the truth! As my anxiety and stress levels only increased with my age, I realized I wasn’t utilizing the proper, or any, coping mechanisms to deal with the pressures of *adulting*. The shallow breathing, consistently feeling overwhelmed, unregulated emotions, ya know, the good stuff when you can’t get a grip on life. And while I’ve seen many friends turn to medication as a solution (all the more power to them), I wasn’t yet willing to give up this fight to modern medicine. I wanted to address my issues holistically, identifying the root of these emotions and develop strategies to handle them in any and all environments.

So, I had no choice but to finally get serious about my yoga and meditation practice. While my occasional Sunday evening classes were enjoyable, they weren’t enough for me to change my thought patterns. Yet, driving to the studio and rolling out my mat for 75 minutes every day just wasn’t feasible with a full-time job (and my addiction to watching Friends reruns). I needed my practice to meet me where I was, literally, at my house. Although I was initially shaky and unsure of my yoga sequencing, a few vinyasas followed by a series of slow stretching and meditation allowed me to recreate my nightly routine. By taking my mat out each night, I also picked up some other habits, like keeping my phone in another room, turning the tv off and shutting down my busy mind in order to focus on my movement..ridding all the usual suspects known for causing stress.

And, shocking to no one, it worked. I learned to control my breathing, to recognize the signs of anxiety and stop them before they drowned me. Ultimately, I made major life decisions that altered my entire way of life. Instead of concerning myself with how I thought my life should look, I got rid of all the fluff. Ya know, the expectations ingrained in me, both from internal or external factors, that didn’t entirely match my interests or passions. Can you relate? Now, I finally had a clear vision to determine what direction I truly wanted to go in. So, I changed my entire social circle, altered how I viewed my day job, and, most importantly, registered for my own 200 hour yoga certification, giving me the ability to share this revelation with others.

It’s important to note that yoga doesn’t avoid uncomfortable positions. I mean if you’ve ever seen someone in revolved half moon, then you know this is true. Ugh, that pose it TOUGH. I digress. Yoga doesn’t shield away from tight, suffocating spaces. Instead, yoga puts you in these places to teach you how to respond to them in a positive way. It *changes* how your body reacts to frustrating moments in a healthy manner so that your body will start to react that way on its own.

yoga shedule

Still not buying it? Totally get it. I, too, am a “show me the data or I’m believin’ nothing” type gal. So here you go. Check out this study here that states that yoga can be considered as a possible adjunctive therapy for those dealing with stress and anxiety. Because it has no lasting side effect (only good ones..) or conflicts with any other form of treatment, yoga is shown to encourage overall quality of life. Or this one, where prisoners who completed a yoga or meditation program while incarcerated showed increases in their psychological well-being.
Even more so, in as little as nine days, another study suggests that “lifestyle modifications and stress management programs lead to favorable metabolic effects”.

Sold? Good. Now it’s time to put this into action. Tune in later this week for a simple ten minute sequence that will release tension, reduce stress, and empower your soul wherever you might be. For real. See ya then!

YOGA UPDATES! Are you in the Washington, D.C. area? Do you have a pre-teen or teen that could benefit from practicing mindfulness and yoga (aka all of them!)? I’m offering a pre-teen to teen yoga summer camp at Your Life Energy that will focus on building strength, balance, flexibility and healthy habits for when kids need it most! Find out more info here.

How do you handle stress? If at all?

xx,
Juliette

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Acadia National Park: The Hidden Gem of the Northeast

what to do in acadia national park

As an avid national park goer, I always feel at home once I’m surrounded by the trees and trails. There’s something about losing cell service that forces me to finally break free from all connection and establish roots (pun intended) into the present moment. Three days in Acadia National Park did just that.

Located as northeast as it can get, Acadia is situated along Maine’s east coast. Although it seems to continually fall short of its bigger badder cousin, the Adirondacks, this breathtaking park and neighboring village, Bar Harbor, should not be missed. Acadia’s quaint size allows you to see the whole park in just a few days but gives you a variety of activities. Despite foggy mornings and misty afternoons, our hikes were draped in dazzling views and memorable experiences.

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

A morning in Acadia starts early. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place you can see the sunrise in the states. While you can opt to hike the 4-ish miles up to the top, I’m not about that life at 5am. We chose to drive up a half an hour before sunrise and certainly were not alone. The parking lot fills up quickly so make sure to get an early, early start. We were cursed with a cloudy morning, but the reflection of the morning flow on the islands still made the trip worth it.

Bubble Rock, Acadia National Park
Bubble Rock, Acadia National Park

After a quick shower and change of clothes, we planned our hikes for the day. The trails vary in length so it’s easy to try out various short treks (like Bubble Rock) or commit to one longer one, like The Precipice. We found a happy medium in the Beehive Trail. With one main road following the circumference of the island, it’s hard to get lost. Definitely still possibly due to the amount of u-turns we took, but still difficult. We took on Park Loop Road after a short stop at Thunder Hole, a viewpoint where you can watch the waves crash into shore making the sound of, you guessed it, thunder.

Beehive Trail Lake
Beehive Trail Lake

Once we were sufficiently covered in the ocean’s salty mist, we worked our way to the entrance of Beehive Mountain. This two mile trail starts with a full view of the climb ahead. A strenuous hike that goes nearly vertical at times rewards you with breathtaking views of Sandy Beach as well as a secluded lake on top of the mountain. I could go into intricate detail about how the fog sat confidently over the water’s edge and created a dream-like atmosphere, but the pictures are worth far more than the words I could write.

Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park
Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park

Famished and tired after a long day of exploring, there’s only one way to conclude an evening in Maine: lobster rolls and blueberry pie. The Thirsty Whale did not disappoint. The small town situated in the park, Bar Harbor, is full of colorful local shops and buttery smelling restaurants lining the narrows roads. Given the high demand for lobster, it’s not surprising that the aroma of butter mixing with sea salt make for an appetizer visit. Seasoners, those who come for the summer, are seen hanging around the shore with drippy ice cream cones and a gaggle of kids skipping rocks. Although it’s busy enough for what one might call a half-hearted night life, there is a peacefulness that lays over the town once the sheet of stars come out.

lobster

Our final morning in Acadia was saved for a kayak adventure with Coastal Kayak Tours. Another early start let us paddle through perfectly still water, before the boaters and fisherman turned the mirror-like harbor into a ripple of lobster traps and swarming pelicans. A true highlight of the trip, this guided tour gave us the history of Bar Harbor and the stories behind the lobstering lifestyle familiar to this region. Once sufficiently nature-overloaded and blueberry-stuffed, we solemnly said our goodbyes to the hidden gem with plans to return the following year.

Sea Kayak Tours, Bar Harbor
Sea Kayak Tours, Bar Harbor

Have you ever been to Acadia National Park? What National Park in your must-see?

xx,
Juliette

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Meditation Equals Money? Maybe.

The web is a black hole, one wrong click and you’re suddenly taking a quiz on which kind of pizza topping you are (black olives, if you’re curious). To avoid those useless updates of what your coworkers ate for lunch, here’s another collection of items from around the web that will inform, enlighten or entertain you. If you’re going to surf the net, surf with purpose.

Ever think about taking up meditating? This just might convince you once and for all that this hobby does more than give you peace of mind…it might influence your bank account as well.

Any money too much money to be spending on a trip? Here’s a great list of ideas to travel for free, or close to it.

Introverts unite. Just because you’d rather keep to yourself doesn’t mean you can’t experience the world. In fact, it might even make you a better traveler.

Do you identify as glass half empty or glass half full? Turns out, even then briefest of positive thoughts can fight against stress and depression. Maybe we should engage in a littler more morning chatter in line for our coffee instead of avoiding all eye contact. Maybe.

yoga for travel

If you’re looking for a yoga sequence to take on the road with you, head over to Realm of Vibes to check out my guest post of incorporating yoga when traveling! Namaste friends.

xx,
Juliette

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Best Way To Spend 24 Hours in Oslo, Norway

24 hours in oslo norway

When we initially booked our Scandinavian excursion, Oslo was merely a city to pass through on our way from point A to point B. We were spending a quick half day there before moving on to Bergen, our intended destination. However, as soon as we walked out of the train station that opened up into the center of this metropolitan, I knew we were very, very wrong.

what to do in oslo norway
Quiet street in Oslo

While the city center is reminiscent of New York City’s little sister with towering buildings, floods of taxis and city buses, along with bright, vibrant billboards, walking just a block or two takes you back to the northern European styling we’re so used to seeing. Unique architecture, quaint parks and a beautiful main road that opens up to the Royal Palace make Oslo a cosmopolitan all its own.

Although known for costing a pretty penny, it is definitely possible to explore Norway without draining your savings account. To get the most bang for your buck, consider purchasing the Oslo Pass that gives you free entry to over 30 museums, as well as free public transportation.

Conveniently, Oslo’s buses travel all over the city. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll get on the bus the wrong way and get to see the entire city before actually arriving at your destination. Yay. But really, the maps are easy to follow as long as you read the direction of the bus ahead of time. Our first stop, after our unanticipated hour tour, was to Bygdøy Peninsula.

What to do in Bygdøy peninsula
Bygdøy Peninsula

This peninsular is home to five of the national museums, a royal estate, along with beaches, forests and parks. Basically, it’s your one-stop-shop if you’ve only got a day in the city.

We thoroughly researched the museums before our arrival to make sure our time was well spent. We started at the Viking Ship Museum which was filled with, you guessed it, viking ships (along with tools and supplies from that era). The ships are extremely well preserved and you can get up close to their construction and read stories about their assumed travels.

oslo viking ship museum
Viking Ship Museum

Next, we rode the bus further down the peninsula to The Fram Museum, which displays the ins and out of Norwegian polar exploration. The Fram is the strongest wooden ship ever built and still holds the records for sailing farthest north and farthest south, as noted on the museum website. The short introductory film is well worth your time before exploring the museum. The exhibits hold nothing back and go so far as to offer a polar simulator to give you a taste of the arctic, brrr.

Lastly, we went to our favorite museum of the day. Although the Kon-Tiki Museum is often passed over for larger museums, we found this to be the most fascinating. The Kon-Tiki was a lightweight raft constructed of balsa logs built by writer and explorer Thor Heyerdahl and crew in 1947 to sail across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. The museum is set up like a movie come to life, providing you with a trail to follow to read about the events that occurred in a timeline style. Along with the raft itself, the museum also exhibits many artifacts and crew interviews to go along with the information.

what to do in vigiland park
Vigiland Park

Now museum’d out, we took the bus back to the main land and stopped at Vigeland Sculpture Park within Frogner Park. The beautiful landscaped area is perfect for an afternoon stroll or an evening picnic. Sculptures by Gustav Vigeland are located throughout the park and create an interesting, almost eerie, presence.

what to do in frogner park
Frogner Park

For our final stop, we made our way down the open markets on the street leading up to the Royal Palace as the sun set. A bustling city that offers so much variety in such a rich urban environment is one not to be miss.

Royal Palace of Oslo
View of Oslo Royal Palace

Have you ever been to Oslo? Do you like to go to museums when you travel? Or do you skip them?

xx,
Juliette

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Why You Only Need To Take One Yoga Class, Ever

benefits of one yoga class

I’ve taken over 500 hundred yoga classes in my life, which might even be on the low end. But with all the yoga classes I’ve shown up to, none of them did more for me than the one where I unrolled my brand spankin’ new mat for the first time, still smelling of fresh rubber and plastic. You might be thinking, there’s no way a single 75 minute vinyasa flow could actually change your life. Yet, that’s exactly where you’re wrong. In fact, it’s only those 75 minutes that will change your life, the classes that follow are simply a continuation of the path you’ve started down. But if you never opt to enter a lavender-scented studio again, here’s why a single class is still worth your time.

Yoga offers a different work-out experience than other fitness classes. Depending on the type of yoga, you can build an unbelievable amount of strength, balance, and flexibility over time. In fact, one could argue that yoga is the only thing you need to stay in shape..but more on that later. Although the results are similar to other physical activities, yoga opens up your mind along with your body. Your first class is, often times, the first instance you view your body as vessel. Which means what, exactly? Well, while we know we have a mix up of bones holding us upright and blood streaming through our veins inside, yoga opens our eyes to the other parts. Ya know, the other things. It’s our bodies that hold our thoughts, our souls, our breath and all of our love (which can be heavy). They might not show up on an x-ray, but they’re in there, #trust.

When you’re on your mat, you are working on more than your physical presence. You’re working on how to use these other parts to make you better as a whole. When our breath matches our movement, when our thoughts reflect how we want to feel, when our love is for ourselves and not just given away, we are far more successful in whatever we wish to accomplish. And here’s the thing that yoga teachers don’t tell you—>Once you’ve opened up this new way of thinking, you can’t go back. You’ll be putting the same intention into all of your routines. Spin class? Are you inhaling strength and imagining your legs moving with ease? You will be now. Stressful meeting? Are you recognizing these feelings and working through them rather than pushing them away to only pop up later? You betcha.

utthita hasta padangusthasana
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (easier done than said)

You view your body as constantly evolving. Rather than always putting yourself at a beginning point and believing you can’t be content until you achieve x, y, and z, yoga meets you where you are. Every pose can be modified or amplified to fit you, not the other way around. One yoga class shows you how so little time can change so much. You’re beginning downward dog will be stiff, calves tighten, shoulders crunched, neck strained. And then, you do it again. And again. And by your fourth downward dog, yous heels dip a bit lower, your shoulders slowly sink away from your ears and you release your neck. An extended amount time is not always needed for growth and progress, just a little yoga-teacher-assist can change the entire way you view your body: the tensing up you have an idea you were doing, the habitual clenching you hadn’t bothered to notice.

You learn to do you best, and recognize how that will differ from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Your best is going to change, and that’s okay. The beginning of class your strength might allow you to hold you plank with the fierceness of a warrior king, but six chaturangas later your best might be belly-flopping to the ground #beentheredonethat. When you redefine ‘doing you best’, you can treat yourself with a gentleness and kindness that replaces the negative talk you have when you didn’t do what you *thought* you should be capable of doing. We are always capable, it’s the objective that you must allow to shift.

Lastly, yoga introduces you to the view that by working on yourself, you on working on everything around you. Your family, your friends, your community. Yoga itself means unity, and by finding the open parts of you and filling them up with the goodness, you are better able to serve yourself and  others. A sentiment I use often in my classes: you can not pour from an empty cup. Looking out for yourself is not selfish, but the most generous thing you can do.

Like a dam with a single crack that inevitably will open up for floods of water pouring out, yoga offers a similar experience within our bodies. Once we allow ourselves to crack, even just a little bit open, it’s hard, nah, impossible, to stop us from overflowing with the benefits yoga has for us.

Taking one yoga class opens all of these modes of thinking, about our bodies, our minds, and everything surrounding them. So even if you never roll out your mat again, you have created a passageway to viewing yourself, and others, with a kindness and sensitivity that can’t be undone. Even more likely, once you step off your mat, you’ll be counting down the minutes until you can step back on it. But hey, that could just be me.

Have you tried yoga? What’s the one thing stopping you if you haven’t? I’d like to know!

xx,
Juliette

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24 Hours in Bergen, Norway

how to spend one day in bergen norway

Surrounded by scaling mountains and awe-inspiring fjords, Bergen is tucked into the southwestern coast of Norway. While you can fly into the local airport, it is far more dramatic to enter from one of the most scenic railways in Europe, a ride from Oslo through Flåm that offers a true taste of what Norway has to offer. But, I digress, more on that another day.

Known for its overwhelmingly wet weather, Bergen experiences far more rain than sun each year, often leaving the city in a blanket of fog with only the steeples peaking above the low clouds. While the weather might not be on Bergen’s side, what it lacks in sunshine it makes up for with character. Colorful wooden houses line the cobblestone streets as visitors meander through the renowned fish market for a meal so fresh you can see exactly where your fiskesuppe (fish soup) came from. Due to its northern location, the summers mean long hours of sunlight if you’re lucky enough to score a rain free day.

bryggen

Despite being the second largest city in Norway after Oslo, Bergen can easily be experienced in a day or two, offering a variety of activities from tours of fortresses to strenuous hikes between mountains overlooking the city.

Luckily, our first evening in Bergen was filled with clear blue skies and a sunset for the books. After dropping of our bags at the cheeky and elegant boutique hotel, we were a block or two from all the hustle bustle. The smell of fresh seafood led us to the center of town. The Fish Market is easy to identify immediately, salty tanks filled with lobsters, crabs and fierce looking swimmers were located in front of each shop. I played it safe with shrimp and rice, but admired my neighbors who opted for dishes that looked straight out of Stranger Things. Prefer my food with out eyes, thankyouverymuch.

Fish Market in Bergen, Norway
Fish Market in Bergen, Norway

Large sailboats and extravagant yachts sailed in and out of the harbor all through the evening, illuminated by the day’s last light. We were constantly fooled by the time of day as the sun didn’t start to go down until after 10pm. Luckily, we were able to soak up as much wandering as we could. Directly across from the Fish Market is one of the most notable postcard-esque sites. Bryggeen Hanseatic Wharf is made up of earthy colored houses uniformly lined up along the water’s edge. What used to be the center of a major trading empire is now filled with trinket gift shops and casual dining. Because of their wooden structure, many of the buildings in Bergen have been ravaged from various fires throughout the past few centuries. However, the rebuilding of this town stuck to the traditional construction and reflects the historical look of Northern Europe. Once the sun finally settled itself below the horizon, we headed back to our beds to prepare for an early morning.

Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf
Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf

After a quick breakfast of sugary skillingsbolle cinnamon rolls, a local delicacy, the Fløibanen funicular up to Mount Fløyen was next in line. This popular mode of traveling going up one of the mountains surrounding the city gets crowded quickly so it’s best to arrive within the first hour it opens. The cable car-like ride takes you to one of the most scenic points in the city in less than ten minutes. From here you can truly absorb Bergen’s jagged coast, colorful skyline and cobbled street ways. Even better, you get to meet the locals in their natural habitats, mountain goats and sheep are constantly ambling around the mountains to keep the grass trim. They were not as interested in me as I was of them.

New friends
New friends

Mount Fløyen is also the starting point for the hiking trail through Vidden to Ulriken. Due to the threat of a storm, we skipped this adventure in exchange for some solitude this morning.

View from Mount Fløyen
View from Mount Fløyen

The top of the mountain holds another Norwegian tradition. The folklore of trolls and fairy tale creatures is thriving in the country as evident throughout the town, especially on Mount Fløyen. The top of the mountain is decorated with troll statues, hidden figurines, and even an obstacle course that lets you view the world through the trolls’ eyes…seriously. As hokey as it might appear to an outsider, the fable is fun to fall into, at least for our stay here.

Witch and troll hunting on Mount Fløyen
Witch and troll hunting on Mount Fløyen

When we’d had our fill of troll hunting, we opted to forgo the funicular back down to instead walk the switchbacks that led to a secluded part of the city. While Bergen is filled with many attractions and museums, mostly due to the exuberant amount of rain, the culture is best understood by getting lost in the crooked alleys and deep staircases into gardens and small parks.

bergen city center

As the clouds opened up once we reached the city, we went to seek shelter at the Bergenhus Fortress, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Norway. Overlooking the harbor, a quick tour leads you through the royal chambers, medieval hall and defensive tower. More importantly, this allowed us to learn more about the power behind Bergen and how devastating the fires were to the city and its culture.

Bergenhus Fortress
Bergenhus Fortress

Bergen felt like one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Although the center of town was flooded with tourists, one turn off the main road led to romantic passageways filled with quaint bakeries, local shops and intricately decorated homes. Whether you’re looking for a stop along the way to Oslo, or simply an escape to kayak through the Fjords, Bergen’s overwhelming charm is hard to resist. Although you should be weary of trolls or witches casting spells, you will be sure to visit again and again.

Bergen at sunset
Bergen at sunset

xx,
Juliette

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Is AirBnB Safe? The Signs to Look For

how to be safe with airbnb

I first stumbled across AirBnB (<– click here for more info!) when I was weighing my options for hospitality on a past trip to Europe. In between hotels, hostels and farm stays (it's a thing, really), it can be a bit tricky to determine which place is the most conducive for your trip. However, ever since my first AirBnB visit in a cabin tucked away in Bar Harbor, Maine, I've been hooked. After having stayed in dozens of AirBnB's along the way, I've realized these opportunities offer so much more than a place to take your shoes off. It has allowed me to stay in a condo over looking Millennium Park in Chicago, make a studio apartment on Las Ramblas in Barcelona feel like home, and even sleep in a trailer-turned-bedroom underneath a volcano in Iceland (seriously). Places that were formerly off limits are now accessible to those looking for a better way to immerse themselves in their new surroundings. More than a roof over your head, the ability to interact with locals is priceless. I've spent evenings enjoying dried fish, a local delicacy, with my AirBnB host trading stories about our native cultures. While traveling to new places will always be exciting, it's interacting with the people that allow you to truly understand a different way of life. So how do you know who's worth a visit? It's still a scary thought, randomly showing up to someone's basement apartment to hole up for the night. Nevertheless, there are ways to make sure you're safe while not abandoning your adventurous soul.

AirBnB in Akureyri, Iceland

Reviews
The first thing to look for when scoping out places on AirBnB are the reviews noted by stars on each location. I aim to look for at least 10-15 reviews depending on the place (smaller, less touristy areas will logistically just have less visitors). While a large number of reviews are a good sign, it’s just as vital to take the time to read through a range of scores as well as the host’s reply to any criticism. Some of the one star reviews can be passed off as a fluke (no shampoo in the shower doesn’t totally merit one star for me), but keep an eye out for difficulty with checking in and checking out, surprising fees, and environmental issues. Is there a club downstairs that means little sleep? Make sure that’s something you’re willing to deal with. This is also a good time to scan the details to ensure there’s WiFi and parking available if needed. These are biggies that can’t be fixed once you arrive!

View from AirBnB in Chicago, Illinois
View from AirBnB in Chicago, Illinois

Message the Host
If you’ve found the rental that meets your requirements, message the host to let them know of your interest before booking. AirBnB’s policy enforces an open communication line so you can get to know your host, vice versa, before your stay. Make use of this time to inquire about house rules, number of guests, cell service, and ability to reach them. Also ask about the security of the room for rent. If it’s a shared home, does the door have it’s own lock? Is it a key pad, or an actual key? Knowing this ahead of time will save you the headache when you arrive. It’s important to note that while AirBnB does ‘verify’ their hosts as well as users, it means little more than connecting your account with another account or your ID. This mostly ensures that this person is ‘real’ but doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve passed a background check.

Background Search
How many rooms do they have for rent? Is this their actual home, or do they own multiple rooms they’re renting out? While it doesn’t make it safe or unsafe either way, it can change the experience. Double check that if it appears that a bunch of rooms for rent have a single host, double check that they actually all exist and are not a scam but following the process above.

AirBnB in Madrid, Spain
AirBnB in Madrid, Spain

Your Role
The concerns with AirBnB are on level with those of any hotel. Except with AirBnB, you at least have a direct line of communication if an issue were to arise as well as specific and target reviews to prepare for your experience (unlike a hotel where it’s for the whole building and the staff as a unit). Still, that doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. Always check your nearby surroundings and let others know where you’ll be staying.

If you’re interested in checking it out, click here to get $20 off your first visit! (Full disclosure it’ll help contribute to my next AirBnB stay as well!)

Have you ever rented through AirBnB? What’s the most unique place you’ve stayed in?

xx,
Juliette

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So You Wanna Drive Ring Road? What To See, Do & Eat in Iceland (Part 2)

what to see do and eat in iceland while driving around ring road

The southern coast of Iceland is known for its unpredictable weather, icy mountain caps and steep cliffs. Which, while offering panoramic views in every direction, was taxing on the travelers passing through, to say the least.

iceland route
In case you missed Part One, here’s another snap of our route.

It had been less than a week and our hiking boots had already been thoroughly broken in, covered in ash and dust. Although it was a bittersweet goodbye, we were looking forward to a calmer few days in the north coast, a reprieve from the the challenges we had endured. If you’re just diving in, click here to check out the first half of our trip around Ring Road in Iceland!

Dettifoss
Dettifoss

After climbing back over the mountain from Seyoisfjorour, we made our way to Dettifoss, and its baby sister, Selfoss, two of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. The falls themselves were a magnificent sight to see, but the desolate rock fields leading up to them were even more intriguing. Looking something like District 13 in the Hunger Games, the deserted land offered the solitude one could only find on the moon. At one point, I wasn’t even sure if we were on planet earth anymore.

Trail to Dettifoss
Trail to Dettifoss

While continuing to drive through the volcanic lands, we headed up to the Krafla Volcanic Region where we would find Hverir, a geothermal area at the foothill of Namafjall.

Hverir
Hverir

If you can survive the strong smell of sulfur hanging in the air, you’ll be able to to witness a contrast of colors only few have seen in nature.

Krafla Volcanic Area
Krafla Volcanic Area

Spending the past week in temperatures hovering near freezing, we were looking forward to a group of natural hot springs that an AirBnB host had told us about on our way to Akureyri. While Iceland is often symbolized by its Blue Lagoon, the hot springs exist all through the country, although some are far too hot for people to go in or even near. Beyond the toursity appeal of the Blue Lagoon, the Myvatn area offers hot springs for the locals, or the few visitors who make it outside of Reykjavik.

Myvatn Nature Baths, Jarðböðin við Mývatn
Myvatn Nature Baths, Jarðböðin við Mývatn

A good soak rejuvenated us to venture onto the second largest city on the island, Akureyri, a colorful urban area at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord. At the center of the city sits the 1940s Akureyri Church that overlooks the main streets. Graffiti decorated the pathways in a tasteful and clever way, adding to the city rather than detracting from its beauty.

Graffiti decorating Akureyri

Instead of staying within Akureyri, we found a once in a lifetime farmstay in a van a couple miles outside of town.

Akureyri, North Iceland

The Icelandic farm sat on the edge of a lake pillowed between mountains, the perfect vantage point for the midnight setting sun.

sun set at midnight in Akureyri, North Iceland
Midnight sun setting in Akureyri

We spent the evening enjoying a home-cooked meal by the owner and gossiping with her 14 year old daughter, who dreamed of one day moving to L.A. After trading our stories, we cozied up in our camper van with the sunlight still hanging in the sky.

Homemade bread
Homemade bread

The never-ending daylight meant another early wake up as we prepared for our longest drive yet. Our kind host left us some freshly baked bread to take on the road. A much calmer drive than before, we headed to Snafellsness, a peninsula often overlooked on others’ trips around Ring Road. We stayed at another farmstay and took recommendation on where to explore.

Dritvík

We started at Dritvik and Djupalonssandur, another black sand beach where you can see the bright orange remnants of shipwrecks from hundreds of years ago. Not to waste the day, we quickly made our way to Vatnshellir Cave for a caving tour below the earth’s surface.

Caving in Vatnshellir Cave

Vatnshellir Cave

With a full day behind us, we savored another night on a new farm and set up a time to ride the farmer’s horses in the morning. Despite the chill in the air, we were eager and ready at 8am to ride off through the volcanic fields, observing lava tubes and glacier cuts through the mountains around us while on horseback.

Horseback riding through volcanic fields at Kast Guesthouse
Horseback riding through volcanic fields at Kast Guesthouse

After learning more about life on the peninsula from our horse riding guide, we were fascinated to learn that most people on the peninsula move back to the city during the winter. Only a farmer or two stay around to feed the horses, whose thick fur keeps them warm no matter what the weather.
As we packed up our things from our last stay around the island, we made our final list of sights to see on our way back to the capital. After a quick detour to Kirkjufell Mountain, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, we headed to Mount Esja for our closing hike.

Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell Mountain

Mount Esja overlooks Reykjavik and felt like the most fitting final stop on our adventure. The mountain appears to glow a lime green from the mix of wild flowers growing around the base.

Mount Esja
Mount Esja

A steep climb leads up to fresh spring water where you can fill your bottle straight from the creek, along with an extraordinary view of the city we had only left 11 days ago.

Mount Esja Summit

Heavy-hearted, we leisurely made our way back to Reykjavik, already planning our return to this unparalleled island.

For even more Iceland fun, follow us along as we tried out best to film through the wind, ice, fog and magic.

Stay tuned for a recap of what to do in Reykjavik! While I highly recommend traveling Ring Road to truly immerse yourself in the Icelandic way of life, a weekend in the capital will give you a taste of why Iceland has become loved by so many. I mean, Beyonce was here, wasn’t she?

xx,
Juliette

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How to Be Excited about Getting Older

how to get excited about getting older

I turned 29 this past week. Although, to most people, 29 isn’t its own age, it’s “The Year Before 30” *shudders*. Turning older no longer means new privileges, it means new responsibilities. I don’t totally know when it happened, but it seems that as soon as we pass the era of birthday parties and goodies bags we suddenly view our special day with disdain and resentment. When I hit my first birthday outside of my college years, I drew a blank as to how to celebrate another 365 days around the sun without quarter night at the local town-y bar. Is there even another option? All the years started to blur together, no longer signaling another life achievement, or graduation, or new job. I had already checked those defining boxes. Yet, despite how much was already behind me, so much more was up ahead. And why shouldn’t I be pumped about that?

how to celebrate your birthday

So, this year I decided to feel nothing but gratitude and excitement as I edged closer and closer into my next decade. Quite honestly, things were so much harder in my early twenties that, if I wanted to feel anything, it would be relief to wave them goodbye. It was a time to celebrate what I overcame to be who I am now, and how I could reflect on the part 29 years to make the next 29 years the best yet. If you’re not thrilled about entering a new age on the treadmill or seeing your birth year get further and further behind you, here’s how to reclaim the joy and positivity that surrounds another year of getting older.

Establish Life Direction
Unlike your 18 year old self that had to declare a college major that would determine the rest of your life, at this age you have a pretty good idea of what you want to go after. Or, at least, an idea of what you don’t want. Whether it’s where you live, where you work, or how you spend your free time, you have the independence to go after what you want and the skills to recuperate if it doesn’t work out. Your birthday is the time to pencil in some life goals, or at least a guideline or two of what you’d like to accomplish in the next year.

Smart Enough To Know That Will Change
Along with constructing your life direction, you 100% know that it will not go according to plan (which is why you wrote it in pencil..). And that will not only be okay, but awesome. Perhaps two kids and a golden retriever isn’t exactly what you need to be fulfilled. While your job pays the bills for now, you’re comfortable knowing that a career change might be up ahead or you’ll finally make the leap into entrepreneurship. So for today, dream the biggest dreams you can and give them room to fit into how your life unfolds, in whatever form that may be.

Recognition For Where You Are Now
Congratulate yourself. You found yourself a job, a place to live, and people to do all of that with. Mostly, you made it out of middle school when it was touch and go there for awhile. That, alone, is enough to cheers to.

While Appreciating All That Comes Before
As much as you look ahead, it’s time to give yourself some credit for how far you’ve come. This is the day to remember the valleys and thank them for leading you to mountains. The heartbreaks you never thought you’d recover from, or the new cities where you never thought you’d make another friend, were a necessary part of the puzzle to build the skills you’ll need the years hereafter. Instead of shoving those low moments into the back of your mind, thank them for the strength they gave you and make peace with regrets that might still linger around. Maybe majoring in English wasn’t the most lucrative choice, or moving away from family wasn’t the easiest life to pick, but you did and you are doing the best you can. And that is enough.

how to get excited about getting older - birthday

Surround Yourself with People You Like
Establishing a new direction for my life led me to people who not only understood me, but pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s no better way to celebrate your birthday than with those that helped you get where you are. Although it was a mishmash of groups, I wanted to have everyone I loved in the same room. Instead of everyone introducing themselves only for guests to forget a gazillion new names a minute later, I created goofy name tags for people to write down their names along with their defining characteristics. While I wanted to celebrate my birthday with all my friends, it’s even better if they walk out with new buds too.

Channel Your Inner Child
Nothing says you’re almost thirty like glitter sunglasses and fake mustaches, which were the goodies I decided to pass out for my celebration. But really, do you even need a birthday as an excuse to shine bright like a diamond? Strong no.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate your birthday each year?

xx,
Juliette

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