Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Implusive Travel - A Trip to Iceland


This post should be a cautionary tale about what not to do when traveling internationally. There will be no caution because everything was amazing and despite some crappy luck with cars (more on that later), it was pretty close to perfect. In December a friend posted a link on Facebook about an incredible deal on airfare to Iceland and other cities in Europe. I immediately went to check it out. It was incredible, $99 each way from Baltimore. There were dates available from January to March. I looked at dates for March but didn't purchase that day. Then next day I took another look and all of the $99 dates were gone for March and most of February. I decided right then to purchase tickets for {msL} for Christmas. Did I mention that my passport was expired? I bought them anyway. I booked tickets for January 25-31. Like I said, cautionary tale.

Me at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

I'm still shocked that I managed to keep the secret until Christmas. {msL} was so shocked when she opened the box containing the guidebooks and itinerary, that she couldn't speak. Then for the next month, she would randomly say, "OMG we're going to Iceland!" It would be nice to think you can do everything when you visit a destination but that's not realistic. For me, I like to make a list of the things that are my "must do" items. If I am never able to return to this country/city, what will I be sad that I didn't do or see. So we made our list. On that list was number one, see the Northern Lights. Since that's up to mother nature, we added to the list. We included, bathing in a geothermal pool, hiking on a glacier, seeing the black sand beach, seeing waterfalls, going to an ice cave, and generally being outside and taking in the beauty of Iceland. I did tons of reading on websites and blogs. I booked our trip to the Blue Lagoon and a two day South Coast trip ahead of time. Everything I read, said that booking in advance was a must. Lots of blogs and websites said that the food in Iceland was decent but nothing amazing. We decided to book an apartment instead of hotel, so that we could have a kitchen. We also decided to rent a car (not our best decision).

First things first, I had to get my passport. Then I found out that {msL} also needed to renew her passport because she had less than 6 months left on her passport for travel. There are several ways to get your passport in less than a month. I'm lucky because I work less than 20 minutes from a passport office where you can get your passport in 24-48 hours. My appointment was two days before a huge snow storm, five days before our flight. Yes five. Lucky for me, the passport officer was kind and made sure I could pick up our passports the day before the storm. Twenty-four hours after I submitted everything. I was so thankful. The snow started on Friday and it snowed until early Sunday morning. We got almost 30" in parts of the DC area. Our flight was set to take off from BWI Airport on Monday at 6:30pm. My biggest worry was getting out of our neighborhood and to the airport. Well we made it!

Our flight took off on time and we arrived in Iceland at 5:30am on Tuesday. I had reserved a VW Jetta with Budget car rental. I should know better but because I've never driven in Iceland, I let the Budget car rental rep talk me into getting an all wheel drive car, translation a lot more money. While we were standing at the counter, a hold for over $700 was placed on my credit card. Holds are common for car rental but this one seemed high. I was told it was customary. We headed out to the car. It was snowing a sleeting. We found the car and it was covered in snow and ice and it was dark outside. It was about 630am but the sun doesn't come up in Iceland until about 10am during January. I got in a started the car, hoping it would warm up and {msL} started to clear the windows. I looked over and saw the FlyBus, a bus that you can take to the Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik from the Keflavik Airport. I wondered how crazy I was to be renting and driving a car, in a foreign country, in a snow storm. It was nice having a car to drive when and where we wanted but frankly it was an expense we could have skipped. We really didn't need a car at all. Reykjavik is an easy walking city. In the spring/summer it would be a great choice to drive yourself on tours around the countryside. If you're going in winter, I suggest skipping the car rental and choosing buses and tours instead.

I'd read a couple of blogs that suggested going to the Blue Lagoon between the airport and Reykjavik. It seemed like a great idea, since we landed so early and most hotels and apartments wouldn't let you into your room until about 3pm. Since our drive was in the dark, we didn't see any landscape on the way there. And our walk up the hill from the parking lot was pretty dark except for the lighted path. This was our first real view of Iceland.


 Then this...



Then this...




To say I was in awe is an understatement. 



Planning our trip the Blue Lagoon as relaxation on the way from the airport to Reykjavik was a great decision. After reading this review, we opted for the Luxury package to have the benefit of a private shower and changing room. We also received a delicious fruit tray, juice, coffee, Proseco, Blue Lagoon flip flops (slippers), and a bag filled with sample sizes of the Blue Lagoon spa products. It was calming and beautiful. We indulged in the silica mud mask. There is a silica bar and vats of the Blue Lagoon signature silica mud mask available. You can slather it on your face and body. When you watch it off, it gives your skin a soft silky feeling. It felt like floating in the most beautiful hot tub ever. The lounge had an inside entrance to the Lagoon so we wouldn't freeze on the way into the water. It also had comfortable chairs and a fireplace. For us, it was worth the splurge. In addition the early arrival has the advantage of fewer guests and a less crowded Lagoon. By the time we got ready to leave the Blue Lagoon (about about 1pm), the line to enter was out the door and down the path. People were arriving by the busload. While we were getting dressed I saw an alert on my phone that another charge from Budget Car Rental had gone through on my card for $973! Yep, bad car luck. I decided to contact them as soon as we arrived at our place in Reykjavik. 

The drive to Reykjavik was easy. We were able to get into our apartment early. The City Comfort Apartments were great. They are located on Laugavegur Street, which is the main street in City Center, containing lots of shops and restaurants. Our first afternoon included a bit of shopping and sight seeing. 

Laugavegur Street, in front of our apartment

Lopapeysa (Icelandic Sweater) and Mittens
Before our trip, I read lots of great advice on I heart Reykjavik. It was hands down the best travel advice on Iceland I found, and I read a ton. Auður is a native of Iceland and she knows all of the ins and outs.  One piece of advice that I'm glad I headed was purchasing a Lopapeysa at the Red Cross thrift store. I actually purchased two sweaters and two pairs of mittens and frankly wish I had gotten more. Their prices were half or less than the tourist shops, the items are handmade by ladies that donate them to the stores and the money goes to charity. WIN! We went to Hallgrimskirkja Church and went up into the tower. We were even treated to some music. There was organ practice going on while we were there. 

Hallgrimskirkja Church
View from the Church tower
Our biggest expense was our two day southern tour, glacier walk and Ice cave trek. It was worth every penny! You must have a guide for glacier walks and Ice Cave tours, due to safety. We considered driving ourselves and meeting our guides there and I'm very glad that we chose not to do that. The winter weather is incredibly unpredictable. Freak storms can come out of nowhere and we saw tons of cars off of the side of the road. Our bus even got stuck once and had to be pushed out. We booked with Extreme Iceland for their Jökulsárlón and Ice caving two day tour. The package included transportation from our apartment, a great tour guide and driver, stops at waterfalls, the Black Sand Beach in Vik, overnight hotel accommodations, breakfast, glacier walk, ice cave tour, glacier lagoon and iceberg beach. It was truly the best part of our trip. Sadly the weather wasn't good enough to see the Northern Lights.

Skogafoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Our new Icelandic Friends

One of {msL's} favorite parts of the trip

Black Sand Beach, Vik Iceland


At the end of the day we checked into the Guesthouse Gerði in the Vatnajökull Region. The guesthouse was quaint, clean and the food was delicious. It's mostly locally sourced and we enjoyed Icelandic lobster for dinner. The area is beautiful, with sweeping countrysides and mountains. Plus the icredible Vatnajökull glacier and Jökulsárlón lagoon.   

The super Jeep we took out to the glacier
We were picked up at our little country hotel in this modified super Jeep. We drove out to the glacier and strapped on our crampons. I've never felt wind so strong. It was hard to stay upright at times. We made the short hike to the ice cave. Vatnajökull glacier is melting at a rapid rate. Approximately 200-250m is lost per year to global warming. 

Vatnajökull glacier 

Inside the mouth of the ice cave

Frozen {msL}

Volcanic ash and Ice
The black streaks you see in the photos are volcanic ash that has settled into the ice over hundreds of years. Our guide told me that the ice in the cave is 800-1000 years old. It looks like you're inside a huge marble. My photos don't do it justice.  The caves flood each spring and then refreeze in the winter. New caves must be found. They may even flood a bit during the winter, if the weather warms. We were lucky. The week before we arrived was warm and all of the ice cave tours were cancelled, due to flooding. I was never so happy to see freezing temperatures. There were two parts to the cave, the outer cave (in the first picture above) and the inner cave (below). We had to crawl about 10 feet on our hands and knees to get to the inner cave. It was incredible!




Inside the Inner Cave




Our last stop was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Iceberg Beach. The ice is so incredibly blue. We even caught a glimpse of a seal dodging around the ice. 


Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon


Jökulsárlón Iceberg Beach


Iceberg Chair
Our last full day in Iceland was spent visiting museums, doing a little shopping and munching on Icelandic hot dogs.

Had to Try the Hotdogs

A Clothing Store on Laugavegur Street

There is beautiful street art and incredibly painted buildings all over the city. Our last evening, we strolled down the street and my honey picked a little dive bar where we could have a beer. It was a funny little bar and much more our style than a club. There was cold beer, good shots, and fun locals. It was cool to see a not so touristy part of Iceland on our last night in the country.

Our last Beer, the last night

We arrived back in the US to a car with a dead battery. Thanks to my sister we got home that night. Despite our horrible luck with cars, We had an incredible time. Iceland is a great country, in fact, we would love to go back when the weather is warmer. I highly recommend grabbing one of the good airfare deals and taking a trip or a stop over. I will be posting again soon with my recommendations for travel and what to wear and take with you. 




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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Beauty Favorites - December 2015

I've confessed many times, to my love of beauty products. I have some tried and true favorites that I will never give up but I'm always willing to try something new. Our tastes, skin and hair change as we age and finding new products that work for those changes can be key. Here are some of my recent favorite purchases.

Clockwise from top left: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8






Mizon Multi Function Formula All in One Snail Repair Cream
Ok, after you stop saying ewww or gross or whatever you're feeling, I will tell you about this amazing product. Last spring, I began reading about the Korean skincare revolution and how it was sweeping the U.S. I started doing research. Most articles recommend a 10 step routine. I'm diligent about my skin but I knew that 10 steps would not happen daily in my world. I decided to pick some key items to try. One of the items that was recommended was an All in One cream. This article called out this cream by Mizon, specifically. By the way, the author is incorrect. Snail mucin is actually, the secretion from the snail (not their guts). The cream is more of a gel and you don't need much. A little goes a long way. Hands down, it's the made more difference in my skin than anything I've ever used. I have tiny bumps (a form a cystic acne) that form on my skin, no matter how much I wash. They never get red but at times, they darken a bit. This cream has eliminated them! It's also faded many of my dark spots and it's a great light weight moisturizer (I apply it morning and night). I'm on my second jar and I don't see it ever leaving my beauty regime. Friends have even asked what I've been using. Which I always take as a great sign.




Nexxus Therappe Rebalancing Shampoo
I was offered this shampoo and the other two Nexxus products to try. I was a bit skeptical because I've tried moisturizing shampoos in the past and they left my hair lifeless and limp. They added too much residue. This shampoo is fantastic! It doesn't add that weight or residue. It leaves my hair clean and shiny. It's highly concentrated, so I only need a small amount. I'm sure I will be buying more when the bottle is finished.

Nexxus Humetress Restoring Conditioner
When you have fine, dry hair, conditioning is like walking a tight rope. You need the conditioner or your hair will look like straw but if you use too much or the wrong kind your hair will look flat and a bit greasy. This conditioner is great. I still can't use too much but when I use it, my hair has body and it's moisturized. It has a thick consistency but it's not too greasy for my fine hair. My hair has bounce and shine. I'm impressed.

Nexxus Humectress Luxe Lightweight Conditioning Mist
You wouldn't think this super light, water like mist would be moisturizing, but it is! I spray it on after I wash my hair, before I blow dry. I also sometimes mist my hair with it in the morning before I curl it. I don't know what little miracles they use to make this mist but it's great. I love that even though it's a leave in, that it's not heavy. I really love that it gives my hair sheen without oil.


BaByliss Pro Nano Titanium 1" Curling Iron
My curling iron died and I went in search of a new one. I had read that BaByliss curling irons were great and curled even the most hard to curl hair. My hair curls but the curl would never last. This model got some great reviews, so I decided to give it a try. My curl now lasts two days! In fact, I love my second day curl even better. It looks like a natural wave and it's perfect. My hair doesn't look fried after I use the iron. In combination with the Nexxus Conditioning Mist, my curls look even better.



Paula Dorf Special Camouflage
A beauty blogger recommended peach/orange concealer for dark circles. Sometimes even my holy grail Cle de Peau concealer doesn't totally cover my dark circles, without being too heavy. I decided to give the peach option a try. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find peach concealer. I looked at tons of brands and places. Only a few even make that color and the ones that do, were no where to be found. I came upon this Paula Dorf version. It also contains a yellow concealer, which I thought would be great. The yellow is much too dry to be used alone. I mix it with the peach at times or with an eye cream. The peach has a creamy consistency that I like and add to my dark circle cover, when I need extra help.



Maybelline the Blushed Nudes eyeshadow palette
Usually I purchase an eyeshadow palette, loving the concept of combining different colors and end up only using 4 or 5 colors. With the exception or two colors, I use all of the colors in the palette regularly. The colors are neutral and have great color but they aren't too dark. They compliment my fair skin well. I love mixing the pinkish tones with the browns and grays.


Missha M Magic Cushion No. 23
One of the other Korean beauty products that gets rave reviews are their foundation cushion compacts. I'm super picky when it comes to foundation. I can't stand anything that is heavy, greasy or cakey but it has to have good coverage and look natural. It seems that every time I find a foundation I love, it's discontinued. For years I was a fan or Urban Decay foundation but their formulas have completely changed and I don't love their current options. Reviews were great for the Missha cushion. I love it. It gives me great coverage and looks natural. There are only two colors and they are both very fair. If you don't have super fair skin, you will need to look at other brands. The compact is refillable and comes with an applicator sponge.

Those are my current beauty picks. Let me know if you have any questions.


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Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to Read that Laundry Tag (and not lose your mind)

Am I the only one that looks at the care tag on a piece of clothing and thinks HUH?! I know as a fashion girl I should have all of those symbols memorized but I don't. Confessional time...usually I just wing it. Because of this I have ruined a few items of clothing in my life. You'd think I'd learn. I started thinking that I can't be the only one. I did a little research and found some great info. There is an American Cleaning Institute! Living in the DC area, which is home to many associations and institutes, I should have guessed that something like this exists. I found some handy info on their site.



I decided to guess what these symbols meant before looking at the chart. I have to say, I was correct on only three of them. This scarf should be hand washed, with only non-chlorine bleach. It should be dried flat. It should not be put in the dryer, ironed or dry cleaned.




If you know the basics, then you can decipher all of the codes.



I like this guide, so I don't have to memorize anything. I printed out this beauty to hang in our laundry room. For more info on laundry care, you can access the Laundry section of ACI's website. Check out the left navigation of their page for lots of additional links. I am sure this section on Holiday Stains will come in handy soon.




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Monday, November 9, 2015

DIY - Blah to Bad Ass Blazer

I've had this idea in my head for some time to add elbow patches to a thrift store blazer. Specifically, skull elbow patches. I spotted a few sweaters last winter with skulls at the elbows. I went searching for a blazer with skull elbow patches and couldn't find one. This DIY has taken so long because I couldn't find skull patches that I thought were perfect. Then I found these beauties. I'm not a fan of the cutesy skull. I want a realistic looking, bad ass skull. The patch was perfect and of course I ordered two. Then I set out to find the blazer. It had to be either black or gray, in a heavy fabric. I wanted wool but I would have accepted other options. The thrift store gods smiled down on me. I found it, a classic gray wool blazer, by a brand I love! I scored it at the Goodwill Store close to me. Here is the blazer, before.




The gold buttons just wouldn't work with the gray, silver black color scheme. I pictured a blazer looked sedate school girl from the front and girl who skips school from the back. I looked online and briefly considered skull buttons but I didn't want it to look like a costume. Only a crest button in silver would work for what I had in mind. I found several at my local sewing store but ending up splurging on the most expensive option. They were perfect. Since I'd only spent $5 on my blazer and $12 on my patches,  I could afford a little button splurge. Plus I found two coupons and ended up cutting my button cost down by about 40%! Yay for coupons!




I started by removing all of the buttons and finding thread that would work. I chose dark gray thread that I already own. You just need thread that is close to the color of the blazer. The patches were iron on. I also made sure I had thread for stitching on the patches. Elbow patches get wear and tear and must bend a bit. I thought the adhesive might not stay tight. After attaching all of the buttons, I ironed on the elbow patches. I decided after my first wear to stitch around the edges. The patches had already started to lift a bit after only one day. A few stitches helped me feel confident that they would wear well, long term.





It turned out even better than I had hoped it would. It's exactly what I pictured. Business in the front and Bad Ass in the back!





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