Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Vacation (Page 1 of 2)

Mackinac Island from Fort Mackinac

Summer on Mackinac Island

It just so worked out that my birthday fell on a Saturday last summer, and as soon as I realized this, I decided to take a weekend trip somewhere. I picked Mackinac Island, one of my favorite places in my home state. I went there regularly with my family when I was growing up, but I had somehow managed to go eight whole years without visiting, and I was super excited to see it again. Summer on Mackinac Island is perfect and there’s something for all ages and interests.

Mackinac is a little island in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. No cars (except emergency vehicles) are allowed on the island, and it gives it a charming, old-fashioned atmosphere. Fun fact: it was the US’ second National Park, after Yellowstone, though it is no longer part of the National Park system. Bikes and horses are the preferred methods of transportation during the summer, so we borrowed my parents’ SUV and bike rack to haul our gear Up North (yes, that’s a proper noun in these parts) and hit the road for the weekend.

Hotels on the island and in the closest cities (Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula and St. Ignace in the Upper) are crazy expensive for summer weekends. The Holiday Inn Express in St. Ignace (I’ve found that the hotels on the UP side are slightly cheaper) was going for almost $500/night when I was trying to make reservations six months in advance. Instead, I opted to stay at Straits State Park, a gorgeous campground right at the base of the Mackinac Bridge and we took a ferry over first thing in the morning.

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What to Pack for a Disney World Vacation

Your resort is booked. Your dining reservations are set in stone. Your FastPasses are all scheduled. The only question that remains is what to pack for your Disney vacation.

Packing for Disney parks

Packing for Disney parks can be daunting for first time visitors. There’s a lot to think of ahead of time, and I really don’t like having to waste money buying overpriced essentials at the airport, parks, or hotel just because I forgot to bring something I need. I usually start my packing lists about a month in advance and keep them on my laptop so they don’t get misplaced. I have sort of a “master” list in one file that I alter for each specific trip.

Suitcases and a dog

My dog wouldn’t stay out of the picture, so I gave up and just took the shot with him in it.

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The Best Time to Visit the Louvre and Orsay

Everyone says that to go to the Louvre, you need to get there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. That was our plan all along until we realized that it’s open in the evening on Wednesdays. We decided to give that a shot because we only had two full days in Paris and wanted to fit in as much as possible. Going in the evening allowed us to use our days for places that closed at 5. Plus, the famous pyramid was even prettier lit up at night. It turns out that we inadvertently found the best time to visit the Louvre and Orsay museums.

Visiting the Louvre

The Louvre pyramid at night in Paris, France

This is my favorite shot of the Louvre.

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25 Pictures to Put Iceland on Your Winter Bucket List

You’ve probably heard about the spectacular beauty of Iceland. After spending a week roadtripping around the country, I’m convinced that it’s the most condensed concentration on natural beauty that I’ll ever see. It’s a relatively small island, but every corner is crammed with swoon-worthy sights. 80% of the landscape doesn’t even look like it belongs on this planet. Here are my favorite 25 pictures that will put Iceland on your winter bucket list.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

We were incredibly lucky to have this ice cave in the Vatnajökull glacier to ourselves for a few short minutes. The blue light filtering through the ice was incredible. We visited as part of a snowmobiling and ice caving tour – read about our adventure here.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

This one looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Sunset over the fjords in Borgarnes, Iceland

Sunset over the water from Borgarnes was the perfect way to end a day. The pinks and purples on the snow-covered mountains were spectacular. Don’t miss the fjord region on your visit.

Northern lights in Iceland

Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for the longest time. We got incredibly lucky and saw them on four different nights on our trip. We relentlessly refreshed cloud tracking maps hoping and hoping for clear nights, and on this evening driving along the Ring Road, we appeared to be in the only pocket of clear sky in the whole country. Want tips to snap photos like this? Check out my Amateur’s Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights.

Northern lights in Iceland

A tripod and a slow exposure are key to getting good Northern Lights pictures, but don’t forget to enjoy the show yourself while snapping pictures.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

This zebra striped iceberg floating in the Jökulsárlón was my favorite. The black stripes come from volcanic ash deposited by long-ago eruptions.

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The mirror-like water of Jökulsárlón was thoroughly captivating.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

I could’ve spent an entire day just taking pictures of Jökulsárlón.

Dusk over Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is just as magical at dusk.

Ice boulders on Diamond Beach in Iceland

After the icebergs leave Jökulsárlón, some of them make it out to sea. Others get washed up on the shore at Diamond Beach. The black sand there is covered with ice boulders that have been pushed in by the relentless waves. It’s a stunning scene.

Entrance to an ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

The entrance to this ice cave looms at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier under the pink skies of sunset.

Entrance to the cavern hiding the Gljufrabui waterfall in Iceland

Gljúfrabúi, the “secret” waterfall hidden behind a rock ledge peeks out through the opening  carved out by the stream flowing away. In order to see the whole waterfall, you have to wade through the water to enter the cavern or climb up the front of the rock wall. Read about exploring it here.

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Getting to see all of Gljúfrabúi is worth getting a little wet.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. You can walk behind it along the edge of the cavern in the rock wall during the warmer months.

DC-3 plane wreckage in Iceland

In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on this stretch of black lava desert – don’t worry, all crew members survived – and the wreckage has sat here exposed to the elements ever since. It’s about a 4km walk from the Ring Road, but it’s an eerily beautiful sight. This picture wasn’t black and white – it’s still in true color. The sky was perfectly grey that day.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s not the ultimate experience, but it’s still a lot of fun. I enjoyed the swim-up bar and the relaxing artificial cave. If you visit in the winter, make sure to explore the whole lagoon to find the warmer spots.

Northern lights over the Geysir area in Iceland

We stayed across the road from the famous Geysir area one night and were treated to some spectacular Northern Lights. The geyser Strokkur erupted several times as we watched the dazzling show in the sky. It was an incredible Iceland experience.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

The adorable Icelandic horses can be spotted all over the country, and what better way to get up close and personal with them than by taking a horseback ride? I think we found the best spot possible  when we stumbled across riding stables in Vik. Trotting along the black sand beach with the iconic Reynisdrangar rock formations just offshore was incredible. Read about that experience here.

Northern Lights over the Foss á Síðu waterfall in Iceland

The Northern Lights weren’t as bright when we passed by this lesser-known, but still beautiful waterfall called Foss á Siðu, but they make for a perfect backdrop.

Steaming earth and an eruption of Strokkur geyser in the Geysir area, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Geysir area is covered with steaming pools and geysers that give it an unearthly feel. Though the famous Geysir rarely erupts any more, the smaller geyser, Strokkur, right next to it shoots water into the air every few minutes.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter, part of the Golden Circle

The snow and ice surrounding Gullfoss make it somehow more beautiful.

Winding road through the Golden Circle during winter in Iceland

This road, part of the popular Golden Circle route winds through the Icelandic country side.

Waterfall in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This waterfall, found in the Þingvellir National Park tumbles down into the rift valley formed by the North American and Eurasian continental plates separating.

Rift valley in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This broad flat valley formed by the continental rift was also the site of the first Viking parliaments, giving it both geological and historical significance.

Icelandic horses in Iceland

Don’t pass up the opportunity to see the beautiful Icelandic horses while you’re visiting. You’ll want to spend hours photographing them.

What would you most like to see on a visit to Iceland?

Looking for an itinerary that encompasses all of these photo spots? Look no further. Here’s my perfect 6-day southern Iceland roadtrip itinerary.

Read more about Iceland here:

25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, an ice cave, and the Northern Lights

An Ode to Wishes

The Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks spectacular, Wishes, will soon be performing its final show. It has been inspiring guests to trust their heats and make wishes since it debuted in 2003. As a former Cast Member who spent several months working at the park, I’m particularly attached to Wishes and was devastated to hear of its upcoming finale. Wishes’ replacement, Happily Ever After, is slated to have its opening performance on May 12th. The clips of the new show that have been released look very good, but before we welcome that new show, it’s time to look back at what has made Wishes so magical for so many years.

From the iconic flares that kick the show off to the castle-framing fans of light to that evil face that I was always determined to see right-side up to the spectacular beauty of the finale, Wishes was not to be missed. No fireworks show will ever capture my heart quite the way Wishes did.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

Who would think something as simple as a flare would be such a dramatic part of the show?

Being an intern at Disney World meant working the closing shift, and while that had the downside of ending late at night most of the time, it also included the perk of daily Wishes viewing and/or listening. Within a few weeks, those of us who worked at night had seen and heard the show so many times that we could tell how far into the performance it was based on just the sound of the firework bursts. The soundtrack wasn’t played in the ride station, and even though it’s open air, you couldn’t see the fireworks in the station, but we quickly learned to judge how far along the show was by the sound of the explosions echoing through the park. The light, airy bursts from the love section, the crackling sizzle that accompanied the villains portion, and the thundering booms leading up to the finale were as distinct as the music that accompanied them. This wasn’t just fun – it was a valuable skill on nights when the park remained open after Wishes, because the end of the show would signal an upcoming rush of people wanting to board.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

That silhouette still makes me smile.

If there weren’t many guests around to load and unload, we’d have our own sing-alongs providing an off-key, but spirited soundtrack to the invisible fireworks. And, let’s face it, sometimes the presence of guests didn’t even deter us from performing – hey, they call us Cast Members at Disney because we we’re all part of the show, right?

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

It’s even pretty when viewed from across the Seven Seas Lagoon!

By the end of our time working there, Wishes was so ingrained in my heart that it would bring a tear to my eye during the finale. That’s also when my favorite firework of all time explodes – the biggest, loudest shimmery gold one you can imagine. Wishes was an almost nightly ritual for several months, and I spent my last evening as a Cast Member standing on Main Street singing along. Just like certain songs can transport you back to a place and time that you remember fondly, this 12.5-minute long combination of lights, music, fireworks, and a flying fairy will always make me think of some of my happiest days.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

This one! This is my favorite firework of all time.

I tried to make it back to Orlando to watch it one last time, but the whole full-time job thing made that impractical. I’ll have to console myself with listening to the soundtrack over and over again. As luck would have it, I’ve taken enough pictures over the years that I could probably reconstruct it if I arranged them all together. These are some of my favorites.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

What would you wish for?

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“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.”

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“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.”

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This is perfection.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

The genie has some wishes to grant!

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Uh oh, be careful what you wish for.

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Always let your conscience be your guide.

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Good news: the Blue Fairy is here to save the day.

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The Hercules music used in this section is perfect.

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“Wishes! Dream a dream. Wishes! Set it free.”

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

“Wishes! Trust your heart. Just believe!”

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And the grand finale.

I know Wishes isn’t the height of all entertainment, but it will always be near and dear to my heart. I have so many amazing memories associated with this show, and it’s the only way I want to end my evening at Disney World.

Check out this incredible video by OnlyHDVideos:

Do you have any fond memories of Disney shows or attractions?

Planning to go visit Disney World solo? Here are some tips to make the most of your trip.

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The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.Pin - Wishes2The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.

A Weekend in Niagara Falls

While I was working in the Buffalo area, I had to stay out there for a weekend. Since it’s so close to Niagara Falls, and Niagara Falls is only a few hours from home, I invited my boyfriend to join me on a semi-work-funded mini-vacation. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There’s just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Wandering Buffalo

He had to drive in from Detroit after working a full day, so I had Friday evening to kill on my own. I decided to head to downtown Buffalo to find some dinner, but quickly realized that that wasn’t in the cards because the Sabres had a home game that night. I wandered around a little looking for somewhere to pull over so I could look up some other areas on my phone and ended up stumbling across an outdoor hockey rink with a bar and restaurant attached. That was good enough for me, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and watched some kids play through the glass. It was such a cool location right along the river and as a life-long hockey addict, I loved hearing the sounds of pucks and skates echoing while I had my dinner.

Outdoor hockey rink in Buffalo, New York

When I was done eating, I decided that it was time to head up to Niagara Falls to check into the hotel. I had booked the Holiday Inn on the Canadian side because it’s super cheap (at least during the winter), only a couple blocks from the falls, and I generally have good experiences at IHG properties. I had looked and looked to try to find a reasonably priced room with a view of the falls, but I ended up choosing price over such niceties and was generally pleased. I also appreciated the free parking right on site.

Waterfall Fireworks

I was planning to wait to go see the falls until the next morning with my boyfriend, but the hotel clerk mentioned that there were fireworks displays on Friday nights and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see fireworks over a waterfall. I walked down to the overlook and tried to find a spot that would allow me to see the fireworks over the Canadian falls. This would’ve required a lot more walking than I was prepared to do at that point because the location the fireworks were being shot off from was further down by the American falls.

Fireworks display at Niagara Falls

The fireworks show was nothing mind-blowing, but it was kind of neat. It’s definitely a unique setting for a display like that. It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday night in December, but I would imagine it could be pretty crowded in more popular tourist seasons. The fireworks don’t go up very high, so getting there early to grab a spot by the railing would be a good idea if it looks like it’s going to be crowded.

Of course, the lights on the falls provide a spectacular enough view that there’s really no need to dress them up any further, but fireworks are always appreciated by this blogger.

The Main Attraction

If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, you’re obviously going to spend some time enjoying the view of Mother Nature’s handiwork. When we got up the next morning, we grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at the Fallsview Casino. We ate at the Famous Diner, a little restaurant with thoroughly cute décor and delicious food.

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls, New York

The American side. The Canadians definitely won the waterfall game.

After that, we started our walk along the overlooks at the falls. We stopped to take pictures from every imaginable angle, of course. My boyfriend had never been there before, and it had been years since I visited, so we took our time enjoying the view. You get the best wide-angle view from a little ways down the walkway, but don’t miss the chance to look straight down at the brink of the falls. The thunderous roar and sight of the water rushing over the edge really gives you a feel for the power of the river as it tumbles downward.

Brink of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Clifton Hill

I had discovered a coupon for a thing called a Beaver Tail in one of the guidebooks at the hotel, and as a lover of all things sugary, I absolutely had to have one. We walked down to Clifton Hill, what I would classify as the cheesy tourist area of Niagara Falls, and hunted down the delicious fried pastries covered in an assortment of sugary toppings. It’s both very good and infuriating that there isn’t an easily accessible location where I can get these little bites of heaven on a regular basis.

Beaver tails on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls

This was eight kinds of delicious.

If you’re looking for family fun, this is the place you want to be. Every corner had attractions ranging from fun houses to wax museums to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Even on a chilly day in the off-season, it was bustling with people.

Exploring outside of town

We opted out of the cheesy tourist attractions (sadly, the Maid of the Mist boats were not running since it was winter) and instead hopped into the car to drive up to the whirlpool where the river takes a sharp turn to the right. It’s so pretty up there and we got a good view from the cable car platforms that were closed for the season. We decided to keep going up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped at a few other scenic overlooks along the way.

Whirlpool at Niagara Falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake was a cute little town, but it was swarmed with crowds of people that day. There appeared to be some sort of festival going on, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. We ended up finally finding a place to park at a little lakeside park, so we walked down to Lake Ontario and climbed around some of the boulders on the shore.

Dinner with a view at the Skylon Tower

We had dinner reservations at the rotating restaurant at the Skylon Tower for their early prix fixe meal. This also entitled us to a free trip to the top of the tower. Don’t make the mistake we did – go early for your reservation. We showed up with enough time to ride to the top before our time slot, but we ended up seated in the interior of the restaurant behind a tall group of people (seriously good genes in that family) so we couldn’t see anything out the windows.

American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York lit up at night

Since that was kind of the point of eating there, I asked if there was anywhere to move. All of the window tables were full, but we were offered a pager to wait for one to clear. We decided to do that and headed up to the observation deck to kill some time before we could eat. When our buzzer rang, we went back down and were seated at a perfect table, but discovered that we were no longer allowed to order off of the prix fixe menu. It made dinner a LOT more expensive, and I wished that the staff had told us that waiting for a table would mean that we’d have to take the late dinner menu.

The food was delicious though, and even my boyfriend who hadn’t been feeling great all day downed his entire dinner. You really can’t beat the view from up there, and my boyfriend was excited to have his first meal in a rotating restaurant. I’d never been up in the tower on my previous visits, and getting an aerial view of the falls was amazing. They’re especially beautiful at night, and spending that much time up in the tower gave us a chance to see the lights rotate through the different color patterns.

We had also gotten free tickets to the Skylon Tower from the hotel, so we decided to use those the next morning to check out the view during the day. I wouldn’t have paid to go up again, but since they were free there wasn’t much sense in letting them go to waste. Daylight definitely brings a different perspective to the falls. Whereas the lights at night give them a soft, dreamy feel, seeing the roaring water tumbling down into the gorge during the day gives a much more impressive insight into the raw power of mother nature.

Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada from the Skylon Tower

Ice wine

This part of Ontario is actually quite famous for its wine. The Canadian climate also provides for a unique type of treat: ice wine. This super sweet local specialty is made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine and then very quickly harvesting them while they’re still frozen. I don’t know a lot about the wine-making process (outside of that one episode of I Love Lucy), but the freezing process somehow makes the wine extra sugary, which, as noted above, is exactly my kind of thing.

We took the ice wine home and drank it a couple weeks later and it was incredible. I’m not a wine fan at all, but this was so sweet it was more like drinking juice. It’s hard (and expensive) to find elsewhere, but if you find yourself in the Ontario wine region at any point, definitely make a point to try it.

Have you visited Niagara Falls? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments.

Read about another winter weekend adventure in Canada, and my visit to the other side of the Falls:

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Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There's just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There's just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There's just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There's just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Highlights of a couples weekend in Niagara Falls, including the best sights, dining, the Skylon Tower, and ice wine.Pin - Niagara2Pin - Niagara3Pin - Niagara4

The Best Spot to Ride Icelandic Horses

Iceland is full of natural beauty, with landscapes that will take your breath away, but one of the highlights of any trip there is a chance to see the adorable Icelandic horses up close. They’re thoroughly adorable, and should not be missed. These small horses – not ponies – were brought to the island centuries ago and have been bred to live in the often harsh climate. In order to protect the integrity of the breed, strict rules are enforced. Once a horse leaves Iceland for any reason, it can never return, and no horses (or any other livestock) can be imported.

Going horseback riding is the perfect way to get up close to these miniature beauties, and the black sand beach at Vik provides a stunning backdrop for your excursion. It’s less famous than nearby Reynisfjara, but I liked the view of the rock formations from Vik better, and it was much less crowded.

An unexpected discovery

Our trip was completely unplanned, as we hadn’t even looked into going horseback riding prior to arriving in Vik. We were out taking pictures of the beach one morning when we saw a group trotting along on their horses. We immediately started looking online to figure out how we could book a trip of our own and found Vik Horse Adventure. We called that day and were lucky enough to get spots in the first group the next morning. This is definitely something you’d want to book ahead of time during busier seasons so you don’t miss out on the opportunity.

We met at the stables bright and early the next morning and got ready to go. They’re located right off of the beach in the main area of town. We had a beautiful, sunny day – probably the nicest weather of our trip – and we were eager to start our adventure.

Meet Von

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

My girl, Von

I got to ride a cute little chestnut horse named Von, which translates to “hope” in Icelandic. She’s evidently a show horse and a young girl rides her in competitions.

After mounting up, we had a chance to ride around on our own in the paddock for a few minutes to get the feel for controlling the horses. The way European style riders use the reins is a little bit different than the western style steering that I’ve always used. It’s not difficult to learn, but it is a slight adjustment if you’re used to only using one hand on the reins. Our guides showed us what we needed to do and gave us pointers throughout the ride, so don’t worry about not being able to get the hang of it.

Exploring the Beach

I’m not an experienced rider by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve gone on a few trail rides over the years at different locations in the US. I’m used to sort of walking slowly in a single-file line, but this was way more fun. We set off at a walk and circled around by the beach before heading back inland for a minute. We got to wade the horses through a stream, too. One of my boots got pretty wet from the splashing, but it was really fun.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

For the grand finale, we headed back down near the water and our guides dismounted to snap some pictures of us, which was very nice. After that, they asked us if we’d be comfortable going a little faster, to which we enthusiastically said yes.

We took off at a fast trot, running across the beautiful black sand toward the craggy rock formations that sit just offshore. It was thrilling. Especially when Von got a bit too excited and galloped for a few steps. I was able to reign her in quickly though, and made sure we were keeping pace with the other horses for the rest of the way.

Once we crossed the beach, we continued at a walking pace along the bottom of the ridge and returned to the stable. After we dismounted, and their saddles were removed, the horses frolicked in their fenced in area and took the opportunity to roll in the sand in their pen.

Icelandic horse rolling on her back in black sand

There’s nothing like a roll in the sand (and manure) after a nice morning run.

Though we hadn’t even planned on doing it, going for a ride on the Icelandic horses was one of the more memorable activities we did on our trip. A ride with Vik Horse Adventure currently costs 9000 ISK per person, and there are plenty of other riding stables located around the country. If you want a top notch view for your ride, this is the place to do it.

Did you get to meet any Icelandic horses while visiting? Tell me about your favorite encounters in the comments.

Looking for other activities for your trip to Iceland? Check these posts out:

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Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik is the best way to get close to Iceland's famous and adorable Icelandic horses.Pin - Horses2Pin - Horses

Discovering Gljúfrabúi – Iceland’s Secret Waterfall

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, odds are you’ve seen pictures of the most famous waterfalls. You’ll be able to recognize Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss on sight. Far too many visitors overlook the “secret” waterfall, Gljúfrabúi aka Gljúfrafoss on their visit, though. You may have heard the phrase, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” before, but this is one occasion on which you should definitely ignore those words of wisdom.

Whereas Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are easy to spot as you approach from the Ring Road, Gljúfrabúi makes visitors work to experience its beauty. It’s well-worth the effort to get up close to this hidden gem.

If you’re driving the Ring Road, you can’t pass up a chance to take pictures of Seljalandsfoss and explore the cave behind it. However, far too many people end their visit there and miss Gljúfrabúi without even realizing how close they are to another beautiful sight.

If you cross the bridge over the stream beneath Seljalandsfoss and keep walking along the path along the cliff, you’ll be treated to several small cascades tumbling down from above. It will be tempting to turn back because it doesn’t look like there’s anything up ahead, but keep going, because Gljúfrabúi isn’t much further.

View of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

It doesn’t look like much from the outside. (Try to ignore all of the water on my lens)

It doesn’t look like much as you approach because you’ll only be able to see the top of it before it disappears behind a wall of rock. If you want to enjoy the full view – and it’s worth it – you’ll have to either wade into the cavern through the stream or climb the rock wall in front of it.

Wading Through the Stream

Walking through flowing water didn’t seem very appealing on the chilly winter day when we visited, but we were already thoroughly soaked from rain and mist from Seljalandsfoss, so we decided to go for it. You’ll definitely want to make sure you have waterproof boots for this adventure.

Opening leading to Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

Prepare to get wet

We followed another visitor in, and she did most of the hard work for us. She figured out that there were enough larger rocks that you could step from one to the other without having to put your feet all the way into the stream. Staying to the right allows you to hold onto the wall for balance. I managed to get in and out without getting my feet wet, but my sister slipped on the way out and took some water over the top of one of her boots. I wouldn’t attempt this if you’re afraid of falling.

The walk through the stream only lasted about 15 feet before we emerged into the cavern with a full view of Gljúfrabúi. Once you get back there, you’re on dry land again.

Well, solid land. Nothing back there is dry. The cavern is full of swirling mist from the waterfall and anything you bring back there will get wet. I had a protective plastic bag around my camera and it still got soaked. I didn’t even attempt to shoot any good pictures because I was afraid that I was going to ruin it.

Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

There was one other couple back there, so the five of us took turns snapping quick pictures of each other. It was a cool feeling to be back there enjoying the “secret” natural wonder roaring down in front of us.

The View From the Top

After we waded back out, we decided that it would be worth it to climb the rock wall to get the view from the top. It’s a slightly tough climb that was made a little treacherous by the mud caused by the constant rain that day, but we made it easily without any special equipment and less-than-ideal hiking boots.

We worked our way up about half way and then got to a spot where chains had been bolted into the rock face so you could hold on as you scooted along a narrow ledge. We were pretty high up by that point, so looking down below was a little intimidating.

View from the top of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

When we got to the top, we were faced with another rock wall. I had seen pictures of a small ladder there before, but it looked like it had been broken. Only one plank was still there, wedged up against the base of the bulging rock.

My sister tried to walk up it like a balance beam, but it was slippery from water and mud and her rain boots didn’t have the kind of traction needed, so she slipped off of it. We figured out that if one of us got a leg up on it and the other held their foot in place so it wouldn’t slide down, we could get up high enough to grab onto the rocks and make our way up to get a view.

View from the top of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

I’ve done some rock climbing on artificial walls, but this was my first time doing anything like bouldering in the real world. It was a lot of fun, but kind of stressful because 1. my boots did not have the kind of grip necessary for that 2. I was carrying a $1000 camera and 3. my American health insurance doesn’t cover me outside of the US.

After taking a few pictures, I determined that the best way down was just to lower myself as far as possible and then jump the last few feet. I passed my camera to my sister, felt my way backward down the face of the rock, and then took a leap into the snow-covered mud.

Bottom Line

This was a little adventure, but we had so much fun. It was by far my favorite out of the waterfalls we saw in Iceland, just because of the adventure involved in getting to it. I’m used to seeing sights like that safely behind railings and safety barriers, so getting to experience this waterfall up close and unrestrained felt wild and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

We were thoroughly soaked and covered with mud, so it’s a good idea to plan on changing clothes if you’re going to attempt this. Or wear those super cool rainproof pants that I chose not to buy for the trip. The good news is that there’s a bathroom – tiny and not exactly spotless, but functional – near the Seljalandsfoss parking lot, so you’ll be able to change if you need to. Guard any electronics you bring with you closely, as they can quickly become soaked. I wished I had brought the waterproof camera I had in my suitcase for this adventure because I came pretty close to ruining my good one trying to take pictures in the cavern.

Have you visited Gljúfrabúi? Have you had any other unique experiences in Iceland? Let me know in the comments.

Read more Iceland tips:

Discover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbingDiscover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbingDiscover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbing
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom - Disney World for adults

How to Visit Disney Parks Solo

When you tell someone that you’re going on a trip to Disney World or Disneyland, one of their first questions is usually, “Who are you going with?” If your answer happens to be “no one,” frequent reactions include disbelief, confusion, or, worst of all, sympathy because poor little you couldn’t find someone to go to Disney World with you. Visiting Disney parks solo isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who like it (or have no other options), it can make for some of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

As a veteran of several solo trips to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, here is my best advice for making the most of your time alone…with thousands of other people.

Paradise Pier at California Adventure

Read More

3-Day Paris Power Itinerary

Due to limited vacation time and a desire to see pretty much everything in the world, I tend to do whirlwind trips with itineraries carefully crafted to maximize every second of the day. Here’s the ideal itinerary for covering the best of Paris in only three days. If you’re planning on spending a whole day at the Louvre or enjoying the city atmosphere at a café, this isn’t the right schedule for you. But if you have limited time and a desire to see and do as much as possible, read on.

This schedule makes use of late evening hours that the Louvre and Orsay museums hold on certain nights during the week. Make sure to look up the current late night schedules and you can swap days around accordingly. The best way to accomplish this itinerary is to buy a Paris Museum Pass.

Day 1

Invalides | Eiffel Tower | River Cruise

This is a slower day to accommodate morning flights or jet lag adjustments. Start by exploring the city a bit and take a quick visit to see Napoleon’s tomb at Invalides. Book your Eiffel Tower tickets in advance so you don’t have to wait in line. Try to go up in the late afternoon just before sunset so that you can enjoy the view in the daylight, watch the sunset, and see the city light up below you. Read more about that here.

View from below the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Take your time and enjoy a glass of champagne at the top and then take the elevator back down. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from for dinner in the area. Take an evening cruise along the Seine to enjoy views of the city at night and an introduction to some of the other highlights you’ll be visiting during your stay.

Day 2

Versailles | Notre Dame | Louvre | Arc de Triomphe

Start the day by taking an early train to Versailles. Take your time touring the palace and grounds, and enjoy lunch on site in the tea room. Take a mid-afternoon train back to Paris and head to Notre Dame.

Explore inside of the cathedral and then head up to the top for some close-up views of the famous gargoyles and the belfry. Once you’ve had your fill of the view, grab dinner at one of the resturants on Ile de la Cite.

Night time at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France

Walk or take a train to the Louvre to enjoy their late evening hours. You’ll have a few hours to explore the museum and see highlights like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Make sure to enjoy the view of the famous pyramid lit up at night – it’s even better after dark than it is during the day.

Day 3

Pantheon | Sainte Chappelle | Sacre Coeur | Arc de Triomphe | Musee d’Orsay

Begin your day at the Pantheon, France’s collection of national heroes all entombed together. From there, you can walk to the Ile de la Cite to see the beautiful Sainte Chappelle. It’s not as famous as Notre Dame, but the interior is a must-see.

The Pantheon in Paris, France

The Pantheon

Have lunch nearby on Ile de la Cite, and then hop a train to Sacre Coeur. There is an inclined railway up to the top if you don’t want to climb the stairs. On your way back, you can take a detour to visit the Moulin Rouge before catching another train to the Champs Elysses.

Sacre Coeur in Paris, France

Start at the Arc de Triomphe. Make sure to take the underground walkways to get to the center of the famous traffic circle surrounding it. A climb to the top offers beautiful views of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Have dinner at one of the many restaurants on the Champs Elysees.

Musee d'Orsay gallery in Paris France

Your final stop of the night will be the Musee d’Orsay for its evening hours. Here you can enjoy impressionist paintings in the beautiful setting of a former train station. Be sure to climb all the way to the top of the main hall for a bird’s eye view.

Read more about our visit to Paris:

3-Day Itinerary for covering Paris highlights including the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, Orsay, Sainte Chappelle, and the Arc de Triomphe

3-Day Itinerary for covering Paris highlights including the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, Orsay, Sainte Chappelle, and the Arc de Triomphe

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