First Day in Berlin

Guys, I am very excited. I woke up this morning in the cutest little apartment in Berlin with the sun shining in through the big windows, and I just smiled; this is it, I’m finally here! I was up bright an early at 5:45am Berlin time, early enough that my friends back home hadn’t even fallen asleep yet, but I can tell you there’s a very small chance that I will fall back asleep. There is so much that I have planned today and I just want to get a jump on it!

This isn’t going to be a long post but rather an overview of my arrival here and my first couple hours in the city. I left from Toronto airport at 9pm last night, after quite a tearful goodbye at the airport with friends and family. I flew with IcelandAir (as I always do) so I had almost a 2-hour layover in the Icelandic Airport. I really love that airport. Its small but they have the cutest little restaurants and THE BEST sandwiches I have ever come across at an airport. It’s the little things right guys? I managed to sleep for about an hour on the flight to Iceland and then I absolutely passed out on the flight from Iceland to Berlin. And when I say passed out I mean 95% chance I was snoring, flight attendants had to wake me up for landing, groggy to the point I didn’t know where I was, type sleeping. Anyway, the airport was a breeze and my bag was the third one out, which is the fastest I have ever had a bag come out.

I am trying something a little different for accomodation this trip which is Couchsurfing. I’m not sure if anyone has heard of it, but its an online platform based on the idea that travelers are willing to host other travelers for free. When I got out of the airport I followed the instructions that my host gave to me, lugging my bags (very big bags) onto the public bus and then onto the subway. Let’s just say that there were no elevators so I woke up with very sore arms this morning from carrying my bags up what seemed like an endless number of stairs. I arrived at my host’s apartment without a problem, to find that they have given me an entire apartment to myself! Yup thats right, private kitchen, bathroom, my own set of keys and everything. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who are willing to host me in this incredible apartment for my 5 days in Berlin. I got to meet and chat with the host and got to speak French with her (YAY) and she told me all the places that I should see and left brochures for me which was extrememly helpful.

Since I have my own kitchen, I decided that I should go out and get groceries so that I can cut back on the cost of meals while I am here because, let’s face it, eating out for every meal in very expensive. I ventured out in the pouring rain to find a grocery store last night and luckily there was one quite close. I stocked up on some snacks, breakfast food and bread before heading back to ‘my’ apartment to make myself dinner.

I decided against trying to go out and do sight seeing yesterday since I was very tired and the weather wasn’t great. It was nice to just relax and have the place to myself since I will have a very very busy day today. Today, I have a free Berlin walking tour at 11am which I am really looking forward to. After Reilly and I did the free walking tour in Amsterdam, I have decided that it’s one of the best ways to see a city on a budget! I will update this post later today with more information on the tour and the company I am going with, once I have done it.

Tomorrow, I will be going on a day tour with the same company to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which is on the outskirts of Berlin. That is bound to be a very emotional day, so I will write a post about that experience in the coming days.

Well that is about all the update I have for you all so far! I am really looking forward to exploring the city today and if anyone has tips for things that I should see or do, please let me know!

Update: I ended up doing four different tours with the company out of Berlin. They are called Sandeman’s tours and they were fantastic! I did one free walking tour, a tour about the Third Reich, a tour of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and a Pub Crawl as well. Here is the link to their website if anyone is interested, and they have tours in all the major cities in Europe!

The Golden Circle

So I had originally planned on splitting my trip to Iceland up into two posts but after I started writing this second piece, I realized that it would be best to split the trip up into 3 separate posts. It seems fitting, three posts for three days.

Since we flew into Iceland in Keflavik, which is realistically the only place where you would be flying in Internationally, that was the starting point for the beginning of the adventure. One of the main attractions near Keflavik and the airport in the Blue Lagoon. Probably one of the best-advertised excursions throughout Iceland, it is a geothermal pool turned spa. First of all, it is very enticing from all the pictures and there are bus transfers right from the airport and Reykjavik (the capital) every hour which is super convenient. However, it is really expensive to go; like $70 cad just for entrance into the hot pools. So for that reason, the Blue Lagoon did not make the list of things to do in 3 days. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to hang out in a geothermal spa all day but it just wasn’t realistic in terms of price. Also, there are geothermal springs all over Iceland that are way less crowded, in the middle of beautiful forests AND FREE!! The goal was to spend our last day hiking down to one of these free pools but the weather didn’t cooperate. In retrospect, it was probably something that should have been planned for the first day to allow for the unpredictable Icelandic weather. Oh well, I guess it means that I will have to visit Iceland again just to visit the hot springs.

The first full day in Iceland was spent doing the ‘Golden Circle’. I have attached a link below to the Lonely Planet explanation of what exactly that is. Now, the tricky thing about the Golden Circle is that it really does need to be driven in order to see it in a short period of time. I’m sure people have walked/biked it but that would require a lot more time than we had to spare. The issue with this is that realistically, as a student, you aren’t old enough to rent a car but the whole time we drove around the circle there were buses going around with enthusiastic tour guides leading the way. A tour bus with under 15 people per tour would cost around $100 per person which, yes is on the steeper end but totally worth it for all the sites you get to see along the way.

The first stop on the circle was Þingvellir National Park which is where the National Parliment of Iceland was founded in 930AD (the super nerdy history buff inside me was really excited about this).  The cover photo of this blog is of Þingvellir, but the park itself is so much bigger than this. There are waterfalls, walking trails, hills, lakes. It was truly so stunning and it was such a peaceful and serene environment that was, for the most part, filled with outdoorsy folk from all over the world.

The next stop on the circle was to Geysir which is an area where there are many geysers,  big and small. I didn’t know this until I was doing some extra research for this post but apparently, Geysir (the place) is where geyser (the name) originated. If I am being honest, it was really smelly. All the geothermal water in Iceland is full of sulphur so basically, the entire site reeked like rotten eggs. But once we got past that it was still very entertaining to try and guess when the next ‘eruption’ was going to happen. We really lucked out because it started raining right as we got there so a massive crowd of tourists was clearing out but we brought rain coats so got to enjoy it regardless of the weather. Just a P.S. about Iceland weather, it rains a lot and it can be very warm and very cool on the same day so layering is key and bring rain jackets and pants and you will be fine AND you will get to stay at sites even when it rains like we did.

The third and final stop on the circle was Gullfoss waterfall. This waterfall is nowhere near as big as Niagra Falls but I personally thought that it was so much nicer. You go up and down a long winding path with all the other tourists, right by the side of the waterfall but it never felt as packed as Niagra Falls. The entire area surrounding the waterfall was simply nature, there was only one gift shop which I felt made it such a better experience than the over commercialised experience at Niagara Falls. Yet again it started raining while we were going down to the falls which, combined with the immense spray of the water, made for quite an uncomfortable experience. I mean honestly though my dad and I were both exhausted already and cold so it wasn’t the waterfall that was the problem but the fact that we were super jet lagged and had thrown ourselves into the first day of activities on very little sleep.

The Golden Circle does end back in Rejkyavik area but we ended up travelling down to Vik which I will talk about in my next post. I think that the Golden Circle is an absolute must see and really gives you a great idea of all the sites to see in Iceland.


Iceland on a Budget

So this past May, my dad and I went to Iceland together and this was my first trip to Iceland or any of the Norse countries to be fair. I was a little apprehensive as I assumed that any country with ‘ice’ in the name must not have a very exciting landscape or much to do. I honestly couldn’t have been more wrong! Iceland is absolutely stunning. I have never seen such magnificent waterfalls, and I live an hour away from Niagara Falls. I think that what made it even more exciting for me was that I really didn’t know anything about Iceland so I was always pleasantly surprised with the scenery and the history.

I wish that we had been able to spend more time there but we were on our way to France, so had a very limited time window. I am going to split my travels in Iceland up into two separate blog posts, this first one will be dedicated to travelling Iceland on a budget. Admittedly, this was a challenge as Iceland is, generally, an expensive place to visit but we found many ways to save money where we could. I have put together a list below of the main areas where you can save money.

One of the amazing parts about visiting Iceland as a student is that IcelandAir has started offering a ‘stopover’ in Iceland for up to 7 nights while en-route to your final destination. This comes at no extra fee to you, except food and accommodation in Iceland, and is a GREAT way to see two countries for the price of one.

We found that most of the people who were touring Iceland were doing the stopover, the same as us. IcelandAir offered the cheapest flights to Europe anyway so it was an added bonus that we got to see two countries instead of one.

One of the most expensive things in Iceland was the food. We heard that Iceland has 20% taxes which is what makes it so expensive to eat out at restaurants (if this is incorrect please let me know!). The simplest way that we saved money was by getting food from grocery stores. It seems like an oversimplified solution but seriously, it is very often overlooked. My Dad and I didn’t have a fridge to keep stuff in but we could always find cheap pre-made sandwiches at the grocery store that we would buy before heading out for the day. Combine that with a few snacks and you’re all set for the day! The grocery stores were basically the same price as they are in Canada so we really never felt like we were out-of-pocket.

The one place that we found we couldn’t cut corners to save money was for hotels and hostels. Basically, any ‘hotel’ was out of the question in terms of what we wanted to be spending. It seemed pointless for that to be the area where we splurged because we spent so little time in the room anyway! My dad found a lot of great places for us to stay and none of them were ‘primitive’ by any means, well sure they weren’t a Hilton but they were great for what we needed. I added the link for one of the places we stayed, the Alex Guesthouse, because they also offer a free shuttle to and from the airport which was super helpful for us.

If I had gone on my own or with a few of my friends I would have looked seriously into camping out. Iceland has over 170 places that you can camp and we saw so many people who just carried a tent with them and camped out as they travelled around. It seemed that Iceland is the perfect place to backpack and hitch-hiking is very much a thing. I was talking to a man who is from Europe but lives and works in Iceland, he told me that most of the time he just hitch-hikes to work because it’s cheaper than filling his car with gas!

I am really excited to share the rest of my trip to Iceland with you all, but I figured it was better to start off with how to travel on a budget as I needed another week to put all my thoughts together before writing about everything that we did and saw during our trip.

I should be posting the second part of my Iceland blog next week but in the mean time press the follow button at the very bottom of the page. That way you’ll get a notification when the new blog goes up!