Japan: My Trip in 30 Photos

Hi dear travelers!

Here is a gallery from my trip to Japan. Hope you’ll like it! 😊

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Dōtonbori, Ōsaka
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Kōyasan
Kōyasan
Kōyasan
Kōyasan
Onsen Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Onsen Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Dinner at Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Dinner at Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Guest slippers, Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Guest slippers, Fukuchi in, Kōyasan
Okunoin cemetery
Okunoin cemetery
Tōdai-ji, Nara
Tōdai-ji, Nara
Nara Park
Nara Park
Ramen
Ramen
Food market, Kyōto
Food market, Kyōto
Food Market, Kyōto
Food Market, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Arashiyama, Kyōto
Golden Pavillion, Kyōto
Golden Pavillion, Kyōto
Bookshop in Kyōto
Bookshop in Kyōto
Fujimi Inari, Kyōto
Fujimi Inari, Kyōto
Okonomyaki in Kyōto
Okonomyaki in Kyōto
Gallery in Kyōto
Gallery in Kyōto
Roppongi, Tokyo
Roppongi, Tokyo
Asakusa, Tokyo
Asakusa, Tokyo
Akihabara, Tokyo
Akihabara, Tokyo
Fish market, Tokyo
Fish market, Tokyo
Tokyo skyline from the Park Hyatt
Tokyo skyline from the Park Hyatt
Shibuya crossing, Tokyo
Shibuya crossing, Tokyo
Tokyo Fish Market
Tokyo Fish Market

For more photos, follow our Instagram account @eat_the_road !

And go Eat The Road! 😊

My Japan tour: The itinerary

Hi fellow travelers!

It’s still Elena here and, as I have told you in our previous post, I am taking over Eat The Road for a while in order to tell you everything about the 2 wonderful weeks that I have spent in Japan last May. When I prepared my itinerary for this trip, I knew I wanted to spend some days in Kyoto and Tokyo, two must-visit cities, and that, given time constraints, I would not be able to travel outside Honshu, the biggest island of the Japanese archipelago. But I found out that there are many interesting things that you can visit in the Kansai region. I also knew I wanted to spend at least one night in a traditional accommodation (temple or ryokan) and test the onsen. I discovered that I could do both things and also experience some spiritual ceremony in the region of Mount Koya.

The itinerary that I will illustrate in this post will allow you to see as many things as possible during 2 weeks time, experience a diversity of landscapes and historical sites (mountains, urban, outskirts, temples, castles), take a lot of trains – which is also a key experience in Japan, given their obsession with trains -, and have the occasion to slow down the pace, do some shopping, taste good food and relax.

Day 1: Osaka. We arrived in the morning in Osaka and decided to leave our luggage at the airport and to go and explore the city even if we were super-tired as we couldn’t fall asleep on the flight. We decided to visit Osaka to experience another big and modern city apart from Tokyo. Osaka is normally known as «Japan’s kitchen» and the term kuidaore, which means «ruining yourself through the extravagance of food» is often associated with this city and its variety of good restaurants. Our hotel was near Nanba station, but we decided to visit the Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky building (not far from the Osaka station) in the afternoon, before collapsing in our beds at 8pm.

Day 2: Himeji Castle, Kobe and Dotonbori. We definitely felt better on our Day 2. We took the train and traveled westward in order to visit Himeji Castle, the largest and most visited castle in Japan. This impressive white construction dates to 1333. On our way back to Osaka, we decided to stop in Kobe for lunch and a walk on the harbor. In the evening, we finally had time to explore Dotonbori district, get hypnotized by its lights, and take a picture with the famous Glico Man, an enormous candy-ad with an athlete that runs and smile and changes colors from time to time. After visiting Amerikamura, the most modern part of the city, we had dinner at a very fun place, Zauo. Here, if you seat on the tables which are on a sort of boat, you can catch your fish and decide how to have it cooked. We thought it was good fun: if you are planning to go, I recommend you to book in advance and specify that you want a table on the boat. After dinner I met with an Italian friend who has been living in Japan for almost 10 years. He took me to an izakaya (Japanese pub) where I tried umeshu, a cherry liquor. I found it so good that I decided to bring home a bottle at the end of my trip.

Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle

Day 3/4: Koyasan. On our 3rd day, we took the Nankai Koya Line from Nanba to Gokurakubashi, and then the Koyasan cablecar (ask about the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket to optimize the costs of your trip if you are visiting this region from Kansai). This was one of the best part of our holiday: during these two days, we visited the numerous temples of the region, as Koyasan is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. The Okunoin cemetery, with his hundreds graves and statues, is very evocative, especially as it is surrounded by some sort of permanent fog. We spent the night at the Fukuchi In, one of the temples of the region which has been converted into a travelers’ lodge. If you try one of these accommodations, you will sleep in traditional Japanese rooms, test Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, relax in the onsen or in the common spaces with view on the gardens. And, if you feel like, you will be invited for a session of prayers and meditation in the morning. It’s an experience I would definitely recommend!

Day 5: Nara. Deer, deer, deer. These lovely animals will probably photobomb most of your pictures as you will visit the park in Nara; you will be surprised as you start touring the park but at some point you will realize they are just part of the environment. They are not aggressive at all, actually they are nice and friendly and you will be able to take selfies with them and pet them, but if you decide to buy the cookies and feed them… well, be prepared to be followed by curious and hungry deer 😉 The deer are a nice add-on for a city that really deserves a visit: it is an ancient capital, and here you will be able to visit the Tōdai-ji temple complex, and be surprised by the size of Daibutsu Buddha. We stopped here while heading back from Koyasan on our way to Kyoto and spent the night at a cheap hotel called Toyoko Inn, which was very basic and served a Japanes style breakfast (you may want to go get a cappuccino and some cookies instead, I did as I am not accustomed to eat vegetables for breakfast), but overall the hotel is all clean and new and good value for money. You can also visit Nara with a return trip from Kyoto, if you prefer; it takes less than one hour to travel between the two cities (by train, of course!).

Lovely deer in Nara

Days 6 to 9: Kyoto. Kyoto has been the Imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years. We chose to spend 4 days in this city, as there were many things to see (and most of them are outside the city center) and many experiences to make (tea ceremony, geisha show, kabuki theater) that we didn’t want to be in a rush. One of the upcoming posts will be about the things to do in Kyoto, make sure you read it! I still want to dedicate a special mention to the Airbnb flat that we booked, this one. Nice location close to the river and to several bus stops, in a quite residential area literally 2 steps away from Gion district. Plus, it was very cozy.

Days 10 to 14: Tokyo. If Japan is another planet… well, Tokyo perfectly embodies its role of the capital of an alternative universe. Skycrapers, colors, lights and sounds: I really would not know where to start from to describe this living and enormous city. I will dedicate one of the upcoming articles to share more details about what to do in Tokyo. I stayed near Shinjuku station, but you should really pick up your preferred location depending on what you love most: crowds, restaurants and lights or quiet neighborhoods.

And that’s a wrap for now! Stay tuned for the upcoming articles about Kyoto and Tokyo. And if you are already dreaming to visit Japan (as much as I dream that I can go back and have another taste of this amazing country), be ready to Eat the Road!

 

My Japan Tour

Dear fellow travelers,

It’s Elena here, and I will share with you the memories of my recent trip to Japan! I spent 2 weeks in Japan last May; I went there with my mom. I have always been fascinated by this country and, like many 80’s kids, grew up with their anime and the myth of the futuristic technologies coming from Japan.

In this article, you will find an overview of some practical information that you have to take into account if you are planning a trip to Japan.

When to go there and how to move around

The high season is between the end of March and mid-May. August is also a peak season for tourists, but I suggest you to go in the Spring in order to avoid the humid, hot temperatures of the summer. If you want to see the cherry blossoms (the famous sakura), the wisest choice is going there at the end of March. This site will give you an idea of the 2016 blossoming season, but the perfect moment really depends on the weather, so you also have to count on a bit of luck. The first week of May is the Golden Week in Japan, so many Japanese will be on holidays and touristic sites will possibly be overbooked because of local travelers.

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Banners oustide Ryōgoku Kokugikan, the Sumo Stadium in Tokyo

I booked my flights in advance (beginning of December) and took two direct flights with Airfrance (I flew to Kansai airport – which is in between Osaka and Kyoto – and flew back from Tokyo Haneda, although most international flights depart from Narita). Several companies travel to Japan so you only have to monitor the prices and choose the most convenient flight combination.

If you already started gathering information about Japan, you have probably heard about the Japan Rail Pass. The main way to travel around in Japan is by train, and JR Railways (one of the several companies that operate train services across the country) allows the non-Japan residents to travel with no limits on its trains with this forfait. The pass can only be bought outside of Japan. Therefore, you have to buy it before your trip and you will get it delivered to your home address within a few days. The earliest you can buy it it’s 3 months before your arrival in Japan and there are several websites where you can order it. Be careful, though. The JR pass for 7 days costs about 230 €, while the one for 21 days costs about 470 € (for second class seats): it’s only worth buying this pass if you are exploiting it fully and you have at least two long distance trips (for instance, if you are traveling by train from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, it is worth it, otherwise you may have to think twice before buying the pass). I used HyperDia to look for the trains I wanted to take during my trip, and added their prices together. It turned out that for me it would be more convenient to buy a 2 days pass for the Kansai region, another regional pass to visit Koyasan, and buy single tickets and bus/metro cards for the remaining days (I will go into more details about my itinerary later). So, my advice is: arm yourself with patience and a calculator and discover if buying the famous Japan Rail Pass is convenient or not for your trip.

With regards to the perfect duration of a tour in Japan, I personally spent 2 weeks there and I would say that I was able to see everything I wanted to see and also slow down the pace as I arrived in the two cities where I got to stay for longer (Kyoto and Tokyo, obviously). 10 days can also be sufficient to visit these 2 cities and maybe Nara, while 7 days would be a stretch. If you are lucky enough and have the chance to spend even more time in Japan, a 20 days trip would allow you to see something different and travel outside from the most visited paths, to see places such as Okinawa or Hokkaido.

It is normally suggested that you buy a travel insurance if you are traveling to Japan: in case you get sick or have an accident, this way you will be sure that hospitals will take care of you. In fact, they are normally leery of treating patients who are not inscribed to the national health insurance system. Make sure you always carry a proof of this insurance with you. Lonely Planet suggests World Nomads travel insurance, which also covers the costs of flight and hotel bookings cancellations, lost luggage, etc.

What to put you in your luggage?

You will choose your clothes with an eye on the meteo forecast and depending on the time of the year that you have chosen for your trip. Do not forget to bring your JR pass with you if you have purchased it in advance. The power plug is basically like the one used in the US, although the voltage is different. You can check this site to see if you will need an adaptor.

akihabara shop
Anime and gadget shop in Akihabara, Tokyo

Last but not least, you may want to rent a smartphone during your trip, or buy a Japanese SIM to use it for the duration of your trip. In fact, I found it particularly useful to have the 3G activated everywhere during my trip, in order to regularly check Google Maps, especially in big cities (the streets have no names and everything is written in Japanese!). As an alternative (which is what I did), always book AirBnb accommodations that provide «pocket wifi». With this device, you will basically carry your own wifi network with you, and will have connection available everywhere.

Well.. you have everything you need. Don’t miss the upcoming post about the itinerary, and be ready to Eat the Road!

Kakósúpa. Icelandic Cocoa Soup

Dear fellow travelers,

As the name of our blog suggests, we really love eating and tasting new flavours during our trips all around the world. So we would love to share with you some of our discoveries in the kitchen 😋

While reading The Greenhouse by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir I came across the Kakósúpa, or literally “cocoa soup”, a typical Icelandic dish for cold days. In the book, young Lobbi helps his father decipher his dead mother’s recipe book in order to bring back to life the delicious moment of family intimacy around this soup.

So, here is the traditional recipe. You’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp of cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon
  • 250ml of water
  • 500ml of milk
  • 2 tbsp of cornstarch (or potato starch) (or more to make it denser)
  • few drops of vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • whipped cream
  • crisp bread or plain cookies

Mix cocoa and sugar together and heat the water in a cooking pot. Slowly add the cocoa mix while stirring in order to avoid clumps. Let it simmer for 5 minutes.

cacao

Mix the cornstarch with cold water till it’s completely dissolved. I added two tablespoons of cornstarch to have a medium thickness, but if you like to have a pudding you can add more cornstarch.

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Add the milk and the cornstarch mix to the cocoa mix. While stirring add the vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt and wait until it reaches the right thickness.

giphy

stirringsoup

 

 

 

Serve it hot with whipped cream and crumbled crisp bread.

Enjoy and eat…the road! 😋

Iceland: Reading List

Hi fellow travelers,

Besides traveling, we love reading. We think that books and stories are a very important part or our travel experiences, as they help us understanding the culture of the country we are going to visit. This is the reason why we will try to give you some suggestions about what to read before, during or after your trips.

Let’s start with what we read while we were preparing our trip to Iceland, of course!

reykjavik nights inridasonArnaldur Indriðason, Reykjavík Nights. Indriðason is a well-known crime fiction writer, he was born in the Icelandic capital in 1961, and his books are now translated in several languages. Reykjavík Nights was published in 2012, and, as all (good) crime fiction novels, will keep you in suspense until the end. In fact, there are two mysteries to get solved: while a homeless man is found drowned, a young woman disappears. The portrait of a cold, violent Reykjavík is the perfect scenario for the plot, offering us a different vision of the city, as desperate lives get lost in alcool and delinquency. Erlendur Sveinnson, the police commissioner that is in charge of the investigation, also has his dark sides. As a reader, you will want to know more about him and his past: you can discover more about him in the other novels written by Indriðason between 1997 and now. Erlendur’s crime stories are now a classic of Nordic police fiction.

letter from helga Bergsveinn Birgisson, Reply to a Letter From Helga. We bought this book at the Paris book fair, as we were preparing our trip to Iceland and the cover of the French edition (by Zulma) looked great. The story is about Bjarni, an aged Icelandic shepherd who is writing a letter to Helga, his lover of a lifetime, the only woman for whom he ever had passionate feelings. Bjarni’s long monologue, besides the central point of his love for Helga, explores the reality that surrounds him: his time is divided into rams farming, fishing, going through long winters. There are some things, in this book, that we may never be able to fully understand: extreme solitude, the fact that you may get to know only a few persons in your whole life, how is winter when snowstorms are so massive that you could hardly leave your home. Getting to know Bjarni through what he is writing in his letter to Helga will help you getting to know outlands Icelanders.

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Jón Kalman Stefánsson, Sumarljós og svo kemur nóttin (litterally: Summer Light and Then Comes the Night). Stefánsson is one of the most famous contemporary Icelandic writers and this is a novel he wrote in 2005. The book is a «story full of other stories»: set in a small Icelandic town, it covers the most emotional events that happened to some inhabitants. The idea behind this novel is that «sometimes, in small places, reality becomes bigger». We are not accustomed to think that a car passing by could be the most remarkable event of the day, but in a little town where there are only 400 human beings, every single detail counts. There is space, of course, for some particularly extravagant characters, my favorite probably being the mailwoman who likes to read every single postcard that passes through her hands and, therefore, knew everything about everyone. If you won’t be able to find this book in your language, don’t worry: Stefánsson more recent books have been translated in English.

the greenhouse

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, The GreenhouseAuður Ava Ólafsdóttir is an Icelandic novelist whose first book was published in 1998. Nowadays, she is published in about 15 countries. The book is about Lobbi, a young redhead boy that leaves Iceland after his mother’s death, to follow a passion that they had in common: look after plants and flowers. Among the main characters are the flowers he brings from Iceland to the famous rose garden he had admired since his childhood, a special species of rose, with eight petals. This book is extremely evocative, peaceful and reassuring. Lobbi’s clumsy narrative is rich of anecdotes and memories from his life in Iceland: his mother’s illegible recipe book with the typical cocoa soup, the lava field where her mother’s car crashed, the night spent with Anna in the greenhouse…

If you are a movie person rather than a book person, here are our suggestions:

  • 101 Reykjavík, Baltasar Kormákur, 2000
  • Nói albínói, Dagur Kári, 2003
  • Rams, Grímur Hákonarson, 2015
rams_1
Scene from Rams

Enjoy! And… Eat the road!

 

Did you know…? 10 Curious Things About Iceland

Iceland is an incredible and very original country. While preparing our trip and during the journey we discovered several weird things about the Land of Ice and Fire and we would like to share them with you 😀

  • Although Iceland is considered a very cold place (as its name should prove), the weather is not as cold as you think, thanks to the North Atlantic Current and Gulf Stream that make the climate more temperate. In winter, average temperature in Reykjavik is between 0° and 4° C, a lot warmer than New York in the same season
  • Since Iceland is a small country and many Icelanders share common ancestors, the Íslendingabók app prevents people from dating a cousin or a relative, thanks to its database including family trees and family birthday calendars.
  • The most delicious snack for Icelandic people is fermented (almost rotten) shark meat, hákarl . Its taste is really intense and it strongly smells of ammonia 😖 . In the past it was produced by burying the Greenland shark meat under gravel and stones for 6-12 weeks for fermentation. Nowadays, a modern process is used. We tasted the hákarl at the Shark Museum in Bjarnarhöfn, with dark rye bread and the local spirit brennivín.
Fermented shark
Fermented shark
  • Many Icelanders believe in elves, trolls and “hidden people”: this is not just a superstition. The Icelandic Times reports that, according to the most recent survey (2006), only 13% of the Icelandic population declare that the existence of elves and other creatures is pure fantasy. One of the proofs of elves’ existence would be the fact that they intervened to block the expansion of a geothermic lagoon to the benefits of tourists. Apparently, during the construction of the site, the machinery came to a complete halt, and the management had to call in a medium to negotiate with elves and finally get their approval.
  • In Iceland there are no surnames and family names: they use patronymic and – occasionally – matronymic. This tradition is also present in other Northern Europe countries, however Icelanders are the only ones who perpetuated the tradition until nowadays. Thus, a person’s surname is composed by his/her father’s first name + son (for men) or dóttir (for women).
  • Iceland had the first democratically elected female and openly gay Prime Ministers. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. She served as an MP between 1987 and 2009 and was then elected Prime Minister and held this office until May 2013. This is a sign of Iceland’s openness: in recent years, Iceland has always topped World Economic Forum gender gap’s rankings. With regards to LGBT rights, civil unions between same-sex couples were approved in 1996, adoption in 2006, and marriage in 2010.
  • The Hringvegur is the only highway of the country, it was completed in 1974 and it runs along the coast of the island. It is two lanes for most of its length but small bridges are single lane in the East; it’s mainly paved but there are still some stretches where it is gravel road. Sigur Rós filmed a video driving all the 1 339 km, check it out!
Hringvegur or Ring Road
Hringvegur or Ring Road
  • In Reykjavik there is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, the only museum in the world to display a collection of phallic specimens belonging to different types of mammals. In the Museum there are more than 200 penises, from whales, polar bears, seals and walrus. There are also several objects related to the theme of the museum…like the reproduction of the penises of the Icelandic Handball team! 😂
  • In the telephone book everyone is listed by their first name and you can find the telephone number for everyone in Iceland on the internet, the Prime Minister included!
  • In Iceland reading is very popular. An average Icelander reads four books a year and one out of ten publishes something in their lifetime! The country has more books written, published and sold per capita. In particular, Icelanders love to offer books for Christmas: it has become a national tradition, called Jólabókaflóð (literally a “book flood”).
A bookshop in Reykjavik
A bookshop in Reykjavik

Did you know about those facts? If you know others, comment below!

Iceland: Our Trip in 30 Photos

Dear fellow travelers,

Here is our trip in 30 pictures (it was so hard to choose!!) 😬 Enjoy!

Tjörnin lake, Reykjavík
Tjörnin lake, Reykjavík
Reykjiavík from the Hallgrímskirkja
Reykjiavík from the Hallgrímskirkja
Gerðuberg
Gerðuberg
Stykkishólmur
Stykkishólmur
Goats on the Hringvegur
Goats on the Hringvegur
Búðakirkja
Búðakirkja
Djúpalónssandur
Djúpalónssandur
On the Road
On the Road
Öndverðarnes
Öndverðarnes
Skarðsvík Beach
Skarðsvík Beach
Snæfellsnes
Snæfellsnes
Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum
Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum
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Icelandic Horses
Hvítserkur
Hvítserkur
Grjótagjá
Grjótagjá
Hverfjall
Hverfjall
Hverir
Hverir
Dettifoss
Dettifoss
Mjóifjörður
Mjóifjörður
Road and sky
Road and sky
Jökulsárlón
Jökulsárlón
Svartifoss
Svartifoss
East Fjords
East Fjords
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Martina & Jon Guesthouse near Vík
Martina & Jon Guesthouse near Vík
Krafla caldera
Krafla caldera
Mývatn Nature Baths
Mývatn Nature Baths
Rainbow
Rainbow
Harpa, Reykjavík
Harpa, Reykjavík
Sunset on the Tjörnin
Sunset on the Tjörnin

 

Iceland: Our Itinerary Part 2

Dear fellow travelers,

in our latest post we showed you the first part of our itinerary. Let’s move on to the rest of our trip.

Day 7: East Fjörds, Höfn. From Egilsstaðir we reached the East Fjörds. We headed first to Seyðisfjörður, a nice and original town at the feet of the mountains with many concept stores, artists workshops and the cutest little blue church. We continued to Mjóifjörður, an almost inhabited fjord (the village counts only 42 inhabitants!), that you can reach through a gravel road with a breathtaking view. At the end of the road there’s a surprise: an abandoned rusty fish boat lies on the shore. We fell in love with this place! We then followed the Hringvegur till Höfn, a small town on the harbor, where we tasted the typical humar, delicious king prawns: very good but also expensive!

We stayed at Marina Guesthouse, a clean and nice apartment with shared bathroom, kitchen and common room, that we booked on AirBnB.

Day 8: Jökulsárlón, Skaftafell, Sólheimasandur, Vík í Mýrdal. From Höfn we headed to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, probably one of the most iconic landscapes of Iceland. We had booked a tour in advance with Ice Lagoon Adventure Tours , a 1-hour boat trip in the glacier lagoon for 9.500 ISK (a bit expensive but totally worth it!). The guide explained us all about the lagoon and gave us plenty of information, we really recommend it!

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Jökulsárlón

We then visited the Skaftafell National Park, hiking to see the beautiful Svartifoss, a work of art of nature.

Following the Hringvegur we then arrived to Vík í Mýrdal, a beautiful little town with a red and white church on top of the hill, also known for its sea stacks along the shore. Before resting at our accommodation, we went past the village and ventured to Sólheimasandur, a beach where lies an abandoned american DC plane, that crashed during the 70s. If you are coming from Vík as we were, you need to follow the Hringvegur towards Selfoss, then, once past the Mýrdalsjökulsvegur on your right, you need to pay attention to a closed gravel road on you left: it is the path to the wrecked DC plane. It’s more or less a 40 minutes walk from there… very windy but totally worth it once you arrive!

Sólheimasandur plane crash
Sólheimasandur plane crash

While in Vík, we spent the night in a beautiful AirBnB that we really want to recommend you: Martina & Jon Bed and Breakfast is located close to Vík, with a wonderful view on the valley. They were very welcoming and the breakfast was amazing! 😋

Day 9: Golden Circle, Grindavík. The following day we visited the most touristic part of the island, the so called Golden Circle, that includes the famous Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park, where lies a rift valley that marks the boundary between the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates. We travelled then towards Grindavík, where we visited the geothermal site of Krýsuvík, and then stayed at a guesthouse.

Geysir
Geysir

Day 10: Blue Lagoon, Reykjiavík. Early in the morning we headed to the famous Blue Lagoon near Grindavík. The structure is more sophisticated than the one in Mývatn, but it’s also extremely touristic. The water was warm and milky as in the photos you can see everywhere. We booked the entrance in advance on the official website and we suggest you to do so since there are many people during summer and you risk queuing for a long time or not finding a place at all. We booked the standard formula with just the entrance to the lagoon and the silica mud mask, but there are several upgrades proposed. It was a nice and relaxing experience, especially at the end of the trip and we enjoyed it!

We then traveled back to Reykjiavík where we finally left our dear Dacia Duster, completely covered in mud and dust 😄

Once in Reykjiavík we went whale watching. We took a tour with Whale Safari that we booked online, but there are several companies proposing the same tour leaving from Reykjiavík harbour. Unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to spot any whale during the 3-hour tour, but we saw Icelandic dolphins!

Day 11: Reykjiavík and back home. Our last morning in Iceland was spent strolling in the city centre, buying postcards and looking for local street art. We ate lunch at Gló, the most popular healthy food restaurant in the capital, that offers organic products, vegetarian and vegan meals.

Laugavegur, Reykjavík
Laugavegur, Reykjavík

Then, sadly, it was time to head to Keflavík for our flight back home.

We already dream to go back to Iceland…Eating the Road again! 😊

Iceland: Our Itinerary Part 1

Hi fellow travelers!

In our previous post, we wrote about how to get to Iceland, how to move around and what to put in your luggage. Now it’s time to tell you about the details of the itinerary we followed. If you are organizing a roadtrip to Iceland, this is the most interesting and most delicate part of your planning at the same time. When we prepared our itinerary, we knew we wanted to follow the Hringvegur (also known as Route 1) as a base start (Sigur Rós inspired us), and then travel around the island. We also knew that, due to our time and budget constraints, we could not stay in Iceland for 2 full weeks, so we would not be able to visit every single bit of Iceland. We did our research, and we cut out our itinerary the Highlands (the central part of the island) and, unfortunately, also the western fjords, the twisted coastline that you can see on the north-west of the country. In fact, although fascinating, these are also the areas where it is more difficult to move around. Also, as we needed to leave something out, we now have an excuse to go back to Iceland again!

We calculated that 11 days were enough to drive around the island, seeing everything we wanted to see and spoil ourselves with some (not so) guilty pleasures, such as hot springs and curious food tasting. With regards to the accomodations, we planned to sleep in a different town every night, in order to make the most out of our time. We excluded the camping option because of the unpredictable and cold weather and for all the material needed (that would take lots of space!). Therefore we choose guesthouses and AirBnB accomodations, and most of the times we shared 4-beds rooms with our two friends. Sometimes we were luckier and got bigger apartments. We will try to share as much as possible the details about where we slept, but of course we encourage you to choose on the basis of your preferences and budget. The only thing we recommend (again!) is to book your accomodations months in advance, especially if you are traveling during the summer. And, if you are camping, do it only on authorized sites.

We drove clockwise, mainly because we had read that it is suggested to travel North first, for August roadtrips, as daylight hours tend to reduce as days go by.

So… here is what we did, day by day.

Day 1: Reykjavík. On our first day in Iceland, we arrived in the capital and visited it with no rush. It is a small city and everything is within a short walking distance. You will surely enjoy the view from Hallgrímskirkja, the colorful Laugavegur (the main street), the kaleidoscopic interiors of the ultra-modern Harpa theatre, and the adventurous atmosphere evocated by the Sun Voyager, which is basically the modern sculpture of a viking boat. You can also enjoy the nightlife of the city, eat an hot dog at the famous Bæjarins Beztu kiosk, near the harbor, visit the curious Phallological Museum or enjoy a beer at Reykjavík’s oldest pub, the Prikid.

Reykjiavík from the Hallgrímskirkja
Reykjiavík: view from the Hallgrímskirkja

We booked a flat on AirBnb for our first night in Reykjavík, and would recommend you to do the same. You will have a vast choice of apartments and will be able to find a suitable accomodation. The apartment that we chose was close to the fascinating Tjörning lake and the bus station where buses to and from Keflavík airport arrive.

Day 2: Snæfellsnes, Ólafsvík. On day 2, we got our Dacia Duster and properly started our trip! As we got the car, we were all very excited because it represented the real kick-off of our adventure. As we had decided to spend two days on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, we started driving North and visited Arnastrapi, Hellnar, Djupalon and the national park of Snæfellsjökull, before heading to Ólafsvík, where we spent the night.

Ólafsvík is a fishing town of about 1,000 inhabitants, with a modern, geometric church, a football ground, and a little waterfall. We had dinner and slept at the Við Hafið Guesthouse, which we would recommend as everything was clean and new.

Day 3: Snæfellsnes, Stykkishólmur. Our tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula continued on day 3. The highlight of the day was certainly our visit to Kirkjufellsfoss, a small waterfall near an iconic pointy mountain. In the afternoon, we visited the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, where we learned about shark fishing and also tasted the famous kæstur hákarl (treated shark), a national dish that consists of a sleeper shark which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months. We warn you: it smells of ammonia and the taste is very… weird. It can be tasted with bread or with the local distilled beverage, Brennivín. You will be given a very tiny bite, but, despite the taste, it’s worth trying it because it’s an authentic Icelandic experience!

In Stykkishólmur, another small town with a lovely harbor, we slept at the Harbour Hostel, which is characterized by a particularly vintage style.

Djúpalónssandur
Djúpalónssandur

Day 4: Hvítserkur, Blönduós. On day 4 we started driving North, towards the Vatnsnes peninsula. Here, we visited Hvítserkur, a 15m basalt stack that looks like a troll that emerges from the sea. The black sand beach that you will walk on to reach it is very photogenic 😀

We slept in Blönduós, booked an apartment at Kiljan Guesthouse. The apartment was big and good value for money. We were positively surprised.

Hvítserkur

Day 5: Akureyri, Myvatn. On day 5 we did a quick stop-over in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, and then started driving towards the Myvatn region, an amazing (can we say it again? amazing) place where you can find all the most beautiful things that Icelandic nature can offer. We could also visit Grjótagjá, a tiny lava cave with a thermal spring inside, which became famous as the location for Jon Snow and Ygritte’s first romantic encounter in Game of Thrones’ third season.

In the evening, we enjoyed the thermal baths of Myvatn hot springs, a less expensive and less touristic version of the Blue Lagoon that we definitely recommend. We slept at Vogahraun Guesthouse, which has cozy common areas.

Day 6: Myvatn, Egilsstaðir. Hverfjall (also known as Hverfell) breathtaking tephra cone, Dimmuborgir lava field and Hverir geothermal mud pools were the highlights of the morning on our Day 6, while in the afternoon we headed back on the Route 1 to drive to Egilsstaðir. Before getting to this small town, we also had the occasion to visit the spectacular Goðafoss waterfall.

In Egilsstaðir we spent the night in the spacious Sámur Bóndi Apartment.

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Hverfjall

Our road trip goes on… Stay tuned for the second part of the itinerary!

And go Eat the Road! 😉

Our Roadtrip to Iceland

Hi fellow travelers!

We would like to share with you our incredible trip to Iceland!
We spent 11 days in the land of Ice and Fire and we definitely recommend you to visit if you haven’t done it already! It is a beautiful destination if you love nature, adventure, trekking… and bathing in warm pools 😄

Elena dreamed of visiting Iceland since forever, but when I, Barbara, finally decided I was ok to wear a winter jacket and scarf in the summer, we immediately booked the flight tickets (9 months in advance!).

We went to Iceland during August and we were really lucky because the weather was amazing and it rained just one day. August is a great period for visiting because of the weather and the light, but it is obviously also the moment when you’ll find more tourists. However don’t expect to meet lots of people, because you will be alone in the middle of nature for most of your time there, especially in the North of the island. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that Iceland has a population of 332k and it generally welcomes more than a million tourists each year, so it’s not always easy to find an accomodation, especially in small villages with 100 inhabitants. So if you are planning to visit Iceland during the summer we suggest you to check the availability in advance (you’ll be surprised how quickly rooms get booked!).

Before booking we gathered information to have an idea of the perfect duration for our roadtrip, the prices of car rentals and accomodations. You’ll find several travel agencies that propose easy packages with car+hotel+guided tours: it can appear appealing and practical, but you really don’t need it and it’s a lot more expensive! So we organized the whole roadtrip on our own, and it’s a lot more fun! If you are planning to do the same, here are our tips.

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How to get there and how to move around

We flew with Icelandair, with a direct flight from Paris to Reykjavík, and it was extremely comfortable. Icelandair and WOW air are the main companies that can get you to this destination. In particular, Icelandair offers you the possibility of doing a stopover without additional fees if you are traveling between Europe and the US or Canada.

The best way to visit the island is to travel by car. If you are visiting Iceland during the summer it is really easy to move around because there is no traffic and one main highway, the Hringvegur, also known as Route 1, that makes tour of island. The road sings are very clear and you can almost always rely on GPS, but we suggest you to buy a detailed map that will help you find all the information along the road about oil stations, sightseeing places and camping sites. We choose the Freytag & Berndt map, and we found it extremely useful for its detailed plan of secondary roads (gravel and hard-surface). It also includes a zoomed map of the Reykjavík city center.

Pay attention on how you choose your car. Normally 4×4 cars are suggested if you plan to drive on F-roads, extremely uneven gravel roads that you will find on the so called Highlands (the central part of the island) and on the Eastern fjords. Otherwise, during the Summer you can totally move around with a 2×2 car. However, we suggest you to rent a 4×4 vehicle to be free to drive all around Iceland, since sometimes you will want to experience adventure and see where an inspiring gravel road will bring you. We were four and we opted for a 4×4 Dacia Duster, which was easy to drive and had enough space for us and our luggage. We don’t regret the choice at all. We rented it with Blue Car Rental, the best company that we could find after comparing reviews and prices. Their office and pick-up location is not far from Harpa theatre in Reykjavík and it’s a good starting point to take the Hringvegur for your roadtrip.

Remember that you should never go off-track, as it is dangerous for you and nature (and you will also get a fine for that!). Pay attention especially to animals, such as sheeps! They are extremely curious and even if they hear the noise of your engine, they may not be that quick in clearing the path. 😄

We found this video particularly useful and funny at the same time, as all the videos from Inspired by Iceland.

Packing for Iceland: what you should bring with you

Here is what is essential for your summer roadtrip to Iceland:

  • Warm clothes, scarf, gloves and a beanie (wind can be tough!)
  • A waterproof winter jacket
  • Comfy trekking shoes
  • K-way (useful when you approach waterfalls!)
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen cream (even if not obvious)
  • A good camera with a tripod and, if you have one, a GoPro or waterproof camera (for the waterfalls and the thermal lagoons)
  • Food: we suggest it because restaurants are very expensive, especially in small villages in the middle of nature and supermarkets are not always easy to find… open! Pasta and canned food is perfect if you dispose of a kitchen.
  • A good playlist to enjoy the hours you will spend in your car: don’t forget Sigur Rós, Björk, Emiliana Torrini and Of Monsters and Men if you want to go for some local artists.

Now you have all the basic information to start planning your own roadtrip to Iceland. Keep following us for more details about the itinerary and the places we loved most!

Go eat the road!