Halló Iceland!

In March 2014, seven friends and I took a trip to the land of fire and ice. Iceland was altogether breathtaking, strange, overwhelming and exhilarating. 45 percent of all visitors to the country are under the age of 30, so it’s a great country to visit for a group of young adults looking for a quick getaway, but travelers of all ages will find plenty to explore in Iceland.

I’ve finally gotten around to writing my thoughts on the trip and some helpful tips for visiting Iceland. Njóta (enjoy)!

Getting There and Staying There

The members of our group paid approximately $580 each for a round-trip, non-stop fare from Washington – Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Keflavík International Airport (KEF) on IcelandAir. We departed on a Thursday evening and the rest of the group (I continued my travels solo) returned on a Tuesday afternoon. IcelandAir is a fabulous airline (I wrote about it in June) and the four-hour trip was virtually painless. Plus, our checked bags were free.

Our gorgeous home in Iceland.

Our gorgeous home in Iceland.

IcelandAir offers discount package deals which include transportation to/from the airport, as well a stay at the Hilton (or other budget hotels in the area). Because our group was so large, we opted to rent a house instead. We chose Rent in Reykjavik, and the company’s owners, Jenny and Kata, were just wonderful. We stayed in the Thomsen – Luxury home, and not only was it a gorgeous house, it was also centrally located in downtown Reykjavik, in walking distance to all the sights, restaurants and bars. There was a slight hiccup with our check-in, but other than that, our stay was perfect. For four nights, we each paid $220.

We also rented two cars (correction: two tiny cars that could barely hold four of us and our luggage) that cost around $280 each for four days. That means we each spent $70 for cars we kept for the entire trip. Gas was a bit expensive, but we appreciated having our own transportation. That meant we could travel at our own pace, stop along the way, listen to strange Icelandic music and enjoy the quiet and privacy we couldn’t get on a bus. It’s worth noting, however, that the rental car depot is off-site from the airport, so it’s important to look for your name placard held by an employee. He or she will drive your group in a van across the street to the airport to pick up the car. From the airport, it’s about a 40 minute scenic drive to downtown.

So, before we left the U.S., each of us spent a whopping $870 for a non-stop flight, MTV Cribs: Reykjavik-caliber house and two cars we could use throughout our trip. Not bad, right?

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O, Canada! – Ottawa, Toronto & Niagara Falls

Finally, I have the opportunity to finish detailing our trip to Canada. In previous posts, I chronicled our adventures in Quebec City and Montreal. The final leg of our excursion includes Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls. After attending the Montreal International Jazz Festival, my friend Donald and I headed west to Ottawa. We arrived late in the evening at Gatineau, a suburb of Ottawa located in the province of Quebec. We checked in to our hotel, Crowne Plaza Gatineau, but we were so tired that we experienced nothing outside of our beds and the shower. Both were fine and typical of a 3 star hotel, and a pretty decent value ($124 with all taxes and fees). The next morning, we headed to the Canadian Parliament to embark on our private tour. Thanks to my friend Soren, we got the VIP treatment from a communications staffer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office. Vivek was fantastic and shared with us the fascinating history of the building, and even better, we compared and contrasted our jobs — mine as a Congressional communications staffer and his as a staffer for the Prime Minister. He was patient as I asked far too many questions, and even showed us the Prime Minister’s office. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget! Donald and I especially enjoyed watching the changing of the guard, as well as the preparations for the next day’s celebration of Canada Day.

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A view of Parliament in Ottawa

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Getting ready for Canada Day outside of Parliament in Ottawa.

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The Senate, Canadian Parliament.

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The Canadians love QEII.

Changing of the guard in Ottawa.

Changing of the guard in Ottawa.

Unfortunately, our time in Ottawa was brief, as we had plans that evening in Toronto and a four hour drive ahead of us. I must admit that driving into the city of Toronto was a bit intimidating. I’ve often driven through some congested cities – Atlanta (the worst, by far), Houston (a close second), Dallas (tied for second), Washington, D.C., New York City (Times Square, even) and my own hometown of Baton Rouge (which must have been planned by drunks, which wouldn’t surprise me anyhow). But, driving into Toronto was an utterly horrifying experience for me — cars zoomed by and switched lanes while I tried to split my attention between exit signs and the GPS mounted to my windshield. Continue reading

O, Canada! – Montreal

A few days ago, I shared our experiences on the first leg of our Canadian excursion that included Vermont and Quebec City. Now, for the second leg — and probably my favorite! — Montreal.

Following our lovely St. Lawrence River cruise, my friend Donald and I hopped in the car and headed to the magnificent Montreal. After a two and a half hour trek, complete with the mandatory stop at Tim Horton’s, we arrived at L’Hotel in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal).

L’Hotel was so spectacular that it deserves its own description. When we got to the hotel, the staff informed us that our reservation had accidentally been canceled. Naturally, we became concerned, but the especially professional staff explained to us that there were other rooms and they would be able to accommodate us without a problem. Because it took five minutes or so to get everything arranged, the woman at the front desk offered to comp our valet parking.

L'Hotel in Vieux Montreal, courtesy of the hotel.

L’Hotel in Vieux Montreal, courtesy of the hotel.

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O, Canada! – Vermont & Quebec City

I enjoyed my trip to Canada immensely, and because we did so much, I’ll break it down into separate blog posts:

  • Vermont & Quebec City.
  • Montreal.
  • Ottawa, Toronto & Niagara Falls.

First, I’ll detail our visits to Vermont and Quebec City. My friend Donald and I left Washington, D.C., around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. We were able to avoid a good bit of traffic this way. Due to road closures and construction, the state of Delaware ended up being a huge pain for us, and we lost about an hour trying to figure out how to get on the interstate again.

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Luray Saturday

My younger brother, Andrew, visited me in Washington, D.C. this weekend. He’s been cooped up in a studio apartment in Manhattan for the past few weeks, so I figured he’d want to stretch his legs in the wilderness. At the suggestion of my friend Wes, we headed southwest to Crabtree Falls. Unfortunately, my sedan could not conquer the rough terrain (it was not until we arrived that we discovered four wheel drive was necessary), and we were forced to abandon our hike. Determined not to have driven the 3-hour journey to central Virginia in vain, we considered alternate plans for our afternoon (after making a pit stop to get my car repaired from the poorly maintained roads at Crabtree Falls).

We decided to check out Luray Caverns, as D.C. residents are bombarded with television commercials about this place. At just two hours outside of the city, Luray is a quick trip for anyone looking to do some exploring.

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O (Lawd), Canada

Next week, I’m heading to Canada on a road trip with my friend from college, Donald, who is also a prolific traveler (this guy went on two cruises in the same month!).

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This is my first time in Canada, but I already have a short list of things to do and see:

  • Attend the Montreal Jazz Festival. We’ve already gotten our tickets to see Jordan Officer, and as Louisianans, we’ll be wholly prepared for this world renown jazz and blues experience.
  • Try poutine. I had it in New York City a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, but I’m ready for the real deal in Canada.
  • Visit the CN Tower in Toronto, though neither of us are planning on scaling it.
  • Check out the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
  • Determine which side of Niagara is better — American or Canadian?
  • Travel the St. Lawrence River and take a walking tour of Quebec City (I always try to maximize the amount of time I spend on the water).

If you’ve been to Canada before, please send me some suggestions! We’ll try to incorporate them as much as possible in our trip, and I’ll blog along the way.

À bientôt, mes amis!