Local Alaskan Products we love and did not love

I am sure you have experienced this, your on vacation, you check out the local stores, and tend to see the same items over and over again. No matter where you go, there they are, so must be what everyone wants. No pictures of T-shirts, but as you imagine, every kind of T-shirt was available. We saw these unique items while in Alaska, and bought few.

We bought a mini totem pole to put in with our Christmas tree, these are hand carved by local Indians, and mid priced, but we don’t typically buy things on trips so splurged.
There were a variety of locally made products for natural healing and we bought this soothing rub made from Devils Club, we have used it several times since this purchase and it worked for David’s sore arm. We love natural products – so will be ordering more from their website in the future.

We did buy some blueberry jam – we like to have our family parties, and thought that this with stories of the Alaskan frontier served with cheese and crackers would be perfect.

You can find smoked Salmon EVERYWHERE. We were told if it is in a can, it is probably Chum Salmon, and that is salmon for their dogs, so be careful when buying (we opted out of this purchase).
For David to shave Boldly!

Kelp Salsa and Kelp Pickles, curry flavored. I tried the kelp pickles on the whale watching tour, so would have bought these again, but doubt any body but me would try them, so did not get any of these kelpie foods.

Unique Alaskan Store products we typically saw while on our Alaskan Cruise.
You can find Blue Berry and Huckle Berry everything in stores. We bought a Huckle Berry Chocolate Bar and when we got home and tasted it, it was … well we would give it a 3 out of 10.

We also bought an ULU – What is that? Check out our Next post….. to find out.

Raptor Sanctuary – Ketchikan Alaska

We walked around the corner and – there was a bald eagle, sitting in the enclosure. We are from Michigan and have seen maybe two bald eagles in our life time (outside of a zoo). In Alaska, it is more like – there is an eagle, there is eagle, there is another. This location, took in injured birds and gave them a home if they could not be returned. I consider that one of the highest honorable things a person can do, care for those who cannot. (guess that is why I am in medicine). Check out these wonderful birds.

Another bird and the handler, explaining the incredible work they do at this facility with birds of prey.
This poor little guy was rehabilitated, but then could not make it on his own in the wild, so they brought him back, and he seems happy here.
One of the many, many Eagles saw in the wild.
A few totems at the site just outside the raptor sanctuary.

1400 year old Tree from Alaska hiking tour

Did you know that Alaska forests are Rain Forests? We did not. Temperate Rainforest: Alaska. The Rain Forests of Alaska. Feel free to read up more here: http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/temprain/trtemprain5.html

This is a 1400year old tree, maybe not old to you, but we were impressed.

So we were all walking thru this forest for approximately 20minutes when we rounded the corner we saw a …….

Alaska License plate

We are going to try and start something new – post license plates from places we have gone, so here is ALASKA! Who knows maybe we will start a trend! Like posting beautiful Doors photographed on Travels, we will post Travel License Plates!

I did check and see if this is allowed, and a lawyer commented this is because they are public and there is no malleus or personal information attached.

Glacier Bay – Alaska – Part 2

This location was so incredibly beautiful we had to make it into two posts. We heard Princess Cruise line is the only cruise line to float into the Bay and get a close up view of the Glaciers. Glacier Bay is a National Park with seven glaciers to view, we saw two and they were amazing!

Check out this link for more details on this incredible location:

https://www.nps.gov/glba/learn/nature/overview-of-selected-glaciers-in-glacier-bay.htm

We did not have a balcony, but if we did we would have had gotten a room on the port side – as the boat enters the bay, stays there for about 30minutes, then completely turns around 180degrees and takes off.

TIP: Get a balcony for this cruise to Glacier Bay on the Port side for the best views!

There are several glaciers on the way floating in, but our favorites and best to view are at the end of the bay, where there is an ice glacier to the left (Margerie Glacier) and a glacier in the front (the Grand Pacific, but it is covered in dirt). We were on the deck and it was almost silent, as people stood, stared, took pictures and admired the glaciers. It was brilliantly sunny, and crisp in temperature, the very perfect day to sip on hot chocolate with rum and lean into the deck overlooking what felt like a spiritual site. Every once in a while there was a crash of ice falling into the water and a loud thunder roar to follow. Birds and sea lions were in the bay, unaffected by our presence. It was Magic!

Boating toward the end of Glacier bay, the pinnacle of the views on the way!

“It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there- with your eyes open- and lived to see it.”  – Anthony Bourdain.

This is the Margerie Glacier, it was our favorite.

This is Grand Pacific glacier above is covered in Dirt

Say goodbye to Glacier Bay!

Glacier Bay, Alaska – Part 1

These were our views from the deck of the Ruby Princess, it was so breathtaking, I am posting in two parts. Few words, mostly pictures

In my mind this is the entrance to Supermans secret layer….
He was floating by on an iceberg.

Skagway, Alaska

Just a few pictures of the town of Skagway. After our Helicopter tour was cancelled, we walked to town and did some shopping while waiting to go on our Gold Panning Tour. We also thought about doing the railway Yukon route – but there was a landslide, and the railway was shut down for the day, and we learned some were stuck up on the mountain waiting for bus trips back down. So we learned this town has ~500residents during the winter, and ~1500 during the summer, the local campsite is booked two years out during the summer and empty in the winter. We really enjoyed just hanging out in town. These are some of the high lights.

Check out the Cruise ship at the end of the street! It looks like a building, but this is the view from the front.

Some signs in Skagway.

Back to the ship.
Skagway, Alaska Visit for a day
Skagway view from back at the Ruby Princess Cruise Ships.

Welcome to Alaska Sign

Were at the edge of Alaska and Canada on a bus tour. We make a quick stop to take a picture of Welcome to Alaska, and Welcome to Canada!

Welcome to Canada on the other side of this roadside stop.
A few pictures of the view

A view from the bus up the hill.

Stop at the side of the road.

Glacier Gardens – Alaska and spoken native language Video

A series of unfortunate events = Glacier Gardens, Juneau Alaska. This is how they described it in our tour. An interesting place, so lets check it out.

We take a ride up the mountain to see the recovered garden from the landside (unfortunate event) and have a wonderful tour from our guide who wishes us the best in his native language which is not a written language. There are least 17 original major Tribes that are Native to Alaska and of course, over the centuries they branched apart into separate Tribes. Some of the predominant Tribes are the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and the Northern Athabaskan. Today, there are 227 Federally recognized Tribes in Alaska that live in separate Indians Villages as opposed to the Reservations in the lower 48 States.

Our Guide speaking the unwritten language of his clan.

Gardens at the base.

We were only here a short time

The owner – Steve – decided to take fallen trees and make them into sculptures of upside down gardens – the hanging flowers are on top of the root structure of a tree base. Unfortunate the tree has fallen, but beauty has taken over (we do not have any pictures that were post worthy, so this picture is a from Yelp review.
The resident Eagle at Glacier Gardens, there is even a video cam showing the nest and babies inside the greenhouse.

Salmon Hatchery – and Seal eating them all up – Alaska

Sharing a few pictures of our visit to a Salmon Hatchery, they hatch baby chum Salmon and then release them into the wild and after years of living out there, they return to the hatchery and mate and then die. The guide we had said their death is the beginning of new salmon and they fertilize the ground. Plus they are food for so many Alaskan wildlife, including this cute sea lion, eating his fill.

Sea Lion scouting salmon

These are the Salmon returning to spawn.

A million baby salmon in the hatchery – jumping out of the water.

Mendenhall Glacier & Nugget Falls, Juneau Alaska

A bus ride from the cruise dock to Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls was only a few minutes from our Port. We had three choices when we arrived at our destination, check out the small museum movie and gift shop – walk over to the river to watch the salmon spawning, or a hike over to the Mendenhall Glacier & Nugget Falls. We choose to hike over, just over 20mins one way. We were really glad we did.

I must admit, on the hike over, I kept thinking we could be eaten by a bear. We had a saying – Bears don’t like surprises, so we talked while walking, nice and loud.

Smells like Heaven

The plaque says – Romeo, the spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.

End of Road, Juneau Alaska

On our tour in Juneau the bus driver told us about the one and only road that leads to no where in Juneau. The road only goes from one side of town to another, and connect to nothing, the only way in our out of Juneau (the capital of Alaska) is by boat or plane. He laughed when he told us, they always recover a stolen car, because there is no where to take it.

End of the Road 24 miles ahead, 36 total miles of road is all there is in Juneau, Alaska.

Whale Watching in Juneau, Alaska

Were in Juneau Alaska – On the excursion agenda – Whale Watching, with Allen Marine Tours – and guess what we saw …Whales, lots of them. First lets set the stage, they pick us up in a bus from the pier, and it is overcast and raining – a lot of rain. But when I see the boat I am excited, it is covered and at least we can stay inside. I am not a cold weather girl, so am dressed warm and ready for this.

Heading on to our ship for whale watching, lets Go!

Inside the boat it is warm and we are headed out to look for some whales…

Babe did you get that, nope missed it, but here is a great picture from my husband!

Yes, we saw this!
A whale tail. We were told if you see a whale tail, you are blessed with another year or two of life. Well we saw dozens of tails, so glad to live to 90!

There was a guarantee, if you do not see a whale you get back $100, no worries there, we saw lots of whales.

We also had a wonderful buffet dinner on the whale watching boat and it was all Alaska based locally made foods, we loved it!

A Yummy dinner of everything delicious from Alaska.
The Blueberry dessert was my Favorite, but David loved the Reindeer.
Honestly, I am falling in love with Alaska, and this was supposed to be a trip for David and me just tagging along. One day in and I am enjoying this A LOT!

Chihuly Glass Art Garden, Seattle Washington

I first heard of Chihuly, when visiting Kalamazoo, MI and they had a show of his art at the local Glass art shop. One of the reasons I starting working in Radiology was the cool way you could look thru the film – it was translucent and how every image was different. I have now been working over 30 years in Radiology and film no longer exists, but I still love looking at the images on the monitor. I feel drawn in to Chihuly glass in the same way I do when I was first attracted to Radiology imaging, both have a depth and detail and I am fascinated. These pieces are huge in scale, which makes it fun like a giant animal or sea creature.

Neon Yellow Blown Glass next to the space needle nestled in a black grass garden.

How amazing!

I loved this place, David, he was more interested in checking out the bees in the garden and testing his theories of electric charge and bees on flowers. Oh well, we both had fun!

Space Needle – Seattle, Wa

Second on our list while in Seattle, Wa for one day on our way to Alaska is the Space Needle. We honestly do not know much about the space needle, except it is tall and cool and we want to check it out. I did just learn today that the space needle was built in 1961 for the world’s fair. The glass floor is new from a recent renovation – which is good, because it turns out the glass floor is our favorite part.

Walking up to the Space Needle after a quick Lyft ride over.
We bought our tickets – and did not realize thought we would not have enough time to make it over to Chihuly gardens, and turns out the gardens are right next door, so missed out on the shared deal you can buy as we purchased these tickets at the base of the space needle.
TIP: Really look into a joint deal on travel sites, prior to dismissing the option.

Video (from the top) of the elevator we just rode up to the top of the space needle.

Picture from the top and the glass bottom, people love to lay on the floor and snap a picture of the suspended look. It is for sure an uneasy feeling walking over the glass portion for the first time.

David having fun with the glass bottom from the top of the space needle.

You can buy at drink of wine or beer or a soda/water at the top or a light snack meal. We did not, but instead just reviewed the views from the top.

Wait a minute: “This will be to Seattle what the Eiffel tower is to Paris” – then we have back to back seen Both the Seattle and Paris towers… this is us in June. (wait it was late July, time sure does work weird when your on vacation).

https://daveandlaurasdream.com/2019/07/10/eiffel-tower/

From Tokyo to Seattle, Washington

This trip is just David and myself, our kids are back at home safe and sound. We flew to Seattle to travel to Alaska, but first stopped in Seattle for the beginning of our travels.

David and I have never been to Seattle, so we researched as we always do a TripAdvisor search, a WordPress search for blogs on the area and last – when we arrive, we ask as many locals about everything fun to do within a short period. We narrowed down our less than 24 hours in the area to a visit to:

1. Pikes Place Market

2. Space Needle

3. Chihuly Gardens

Straight off the plane, we head to our hotel – Seattle hotels are expensive ($230-300/nite) down town, but since we only have one day, we want to be where the action is and stay at the Motif Hotel (just purchased by Hyatt this very week). It is a clean and cool hotel. In fact the entire ride from the airport over in our Lyft, the town looks young and hip – we see many people walking around with dogs and lots of public art. Our first thought is – this town might be too cool for us – lol, so we will soak in the youth and try and learn a new trick or two.

Our view of Seattle coming in from the airport. We head straight from the hotel with an early check in to Pikes Market.

Pikes Public Market is a huge fish, art, collectibles, dining & farmers market – where you walk for what feels like miles up and down and lengths, both inside and outside. It is a wonderful sunny day – warm and perfect for walking. We are only 0.6 miles to the market from our hotel. As we approach the market we realize it is busy, really busy – but we love these types of out door/indoor markets. The first thing we see is….

There are flowers – huge long stalls of flowers. I want to buy some, the flowers are fresh and different from anything I have seen, and really well priced, but we are only in town for one day, so no flowers for us.

Walking around Pikes Place Market.

We buy a cup of hard pressed apple cider at a vendor. Then a BBQ Pork bun and pork meat stick at Mee-sum pastry – the lines were long at Mee-Sum, so that had to mean it was a good place, and it was the bun was fluffy and the BBQ pork stick was perfect.

We looked at so much – I will add in more pictures here as soon as David gets his together, we are in transit today so posting while moving can be hard, but nice to remember while still fresh.

Late Nite Pokemon MagicKarp snack in Tokyo

Late Night snacking – we come across this pokemon Magic Karp snack made of a warm cake filled with pudding (choices are chocolate or vanilla) we buy one of each and they are incredible. Just perfect for a Tokyo Late night snack.

210 yen or approximately $2.10. A deal for this warm delicious treat.

Date Night – Tokyo, Japan – Grilled meats and giblet hotpot

We have been back from Tokyo for a little while now and wrapping up these posts. So just a few left. Then on to our next adventure.

David and I always try and sneak away from the kids for an evening – we try to do it once a week, but it does not always work, but we steal away time even if just a walk down the street to a mini eatry – the giblet hotpot for some yummy meats on a stick. We tried the chicken skin, chicken wings, asked for a surprise (yep could have been anything, guessing it was heart) and some pork belly. All was delicious.

Cooking up our dinner date snack.

Tokyo Sky Tree at Sumida district

We thought we were at Tokyo Tower, but were recently corrected this is Tokyo Sky Tree at Sumida district an Eiffel Tower inspired lattice communications and observation tower in the Shiba-koen district of Minato, Tokyo, Japan. It is huge, actually 332.9 meters and is the second-tallest structure in Japan. When we visited Tokyo Tower, we had no idea what to expect, but it is like a HUGE mega mall. So pictures of what we were up to at Tokyo Tower! We walked in and first saw a huge food market, with so many choices, of everything, then later a food court, and then shops, so many many many shops. We were there for over 3 hours and had to start walking faster, just to get to the stores we really wanted to see – Pokemon’s second store, and some clothing stores the girls wanted to look at.

Totoro character – we bought quite a few gifts at this store.
Moomin House Cafe – ran out of time for eating here, but fun place.
Pokemon store at Tokyo Tower

Gundam Cafe- Akihabara Japan

Garion more than anything else wanted to buy as many Gundams he could while in Tokyo. He wanted to buy a super large one, but it would not fit in our suitcase – he did purchase five normal sized model kits. So we decided to surprize him with a Gundam Cafe Visit. Gundam’s are a Japanese science fiction media animation series that features giant robots (mecha).  

Tip: Check out web sites before heading over to a special tourist cafe, as sometimes you HAVE to have a reservation, or they open at weird times.

Gundam Cafe website: http://g-cafe.jp/akiba/menu/food/

I can’t stop smiling!

In his complete Glory of happiness!

So we had a snack and Garion ate, everything – a blue soda drink a Hamburger and fries. He could not be happier, and that makes all of us super happy.

Nakamise Shopping Street, Sensoji Temple – Asakusa, Tokyo Japan

Our family left the Confucious Temple and walked toward our goal of Nakamise Shopping street and Sensoji Temple. We heard this was a great tourist location, and we are tourists and want to shop.

Check out the serious number of little stores here – like a tourist shopping paradise!
We buy a lot of little gifts.
High five a statue, and head on over to the temple
Katrina, David and Sabrina posing in front of the Sensoji Temple Entrance.
David and Garion in front of the temple entrance

Lets go In!

Sometimes I stand in awe – thinking how lucky I am. During this trip it is probably my 100th time of just thinking how Blessed and lucky I am to be here with my family. Even when looking at these crazy demons in a temple. Inside the temple it is even more interesting things. I buy a health charm for my mom and say a quick prayer of safety and health for everyone in my family and the world and we walk around the grounds next. We see a Prayer/Fortune area, will check that out in the next post.

Mario Cart Competition & Crane Games – Play Videos Akihabara- Tokyo Japan

Were at the Sega Video Game Building in Akihabara, Tokyo Japan. This building is FILLED with all kinds of AWESOME crane games, Video Games and Virtual Reality Games. Next to the escalator, you can see there is 7 – yes 7 floors of arcade games here!
Many Stories and Two separate SEGA Buildings, so many Games, so little time!

Crane Games Everywhere!

At this point he has spent more than the item would cost…. but so close – so by the end of the trip he could have bought two. I love how animated he is after this.

Sabrina wanted this puppy and lost, but her sister won it on the next try. Lucky, not many winners around.

Our family loves to go to our local Utica, MI Dave and Busters to play Mario Cart. I typically loose, David and Sabrina are up at the top, Katrina second, Garion third. But lets check out our game in Toyko, Japan.

Get Ready to Battle Drive!

The Winner of this Round – David! So for the finally, we went up to the top and the boys played Virtual Reality shooting and horse riding bow and arrow competitions, it was funny to see how they walked around with their headsets on – and when they were done, they said it was so real, they could not get their minds to believe it was not. They were shaking after the first round.

Hedge Hog Café – Tokyo Japan

On the Way to the Pokémon Café, we see a Hedge Hog and Cat Café. The Café is on top of a puppy store – yes they sell Puppies there – really tiny teacup puppies, that are on display in a fish tank style shop, these puppies are honestly the cutest I have ever seen, but they are $$$ in price, starting at $1000.00 was the cheapest I saw. But I cannot take pictures, because it is posted everywhere not too. But this post is about Hedge Hogs – Because we decided we had to go and we pay for 10mins at 350yen or $3.50.

Tip: In pet café, the clock starts when you are at the bottom of the stairs, it seems they all were upstairs – all that we saw, and they don’t give you a clock you have to keep track yourself.

We jog up the stairs, we are seeing hedge hogs, the kids went to see cats – I don’t know why – we have two cats at home, but its their money, I am going to pet a hedge hog! I open the door and there they are – Two Hedge hogs sitting in there little habitats. I’m headed to pet one.

I pet one, but realize I should wear a glove. He is spiky and does not like to be petted.

Hedge Hog Happiness!

Hedge Hogs are Fiesty!

There were also Rabbits there, but I grew up on a farm and raised Rabbits, so it was only the Hedge Hogs I wanted to see.

Hedge Hog Paradise

We saw two, but you can put them in any habitat they have, I was not going to move him, but enjoyed this for sure for the price!

Train to Toyko from the Airport

Ok, lets head to Tokyo!
Pasmo Card – Best travel plans! – You have to pick up one of these in the train station, it cost 5000yen, or $5 to get one (you get your money back at the end if you ask for it – bargain). Then put money on the card, this is actually very easy, click on the English version of the card machine and just like using a simple ATM back at home, there are multiple YouTube Videos on how this works, but it is easy enough to figure out as long as you know you will need it. We put on $100 for each card and made our way to the AIRBNB.

Tip: You really have to use the subway and train in the Tokyo, so figure it out prior to getting there and the rest you can solve when your there as it is easier than you might fear.

Tip: The PASMO Card and whatever you put on it can be refunded, just ask when you return to the airport prior to leaving the train station and get all your money back.

So, now we have to figure out how to get to our AIRBNB

So when we were on our honeymoon we figured out you can go ANYWHERE with Google maps, as long as you have internet and we picked up our router, so we were good. We have the address we just follow Google Maps, and it looks something like this – EASY.

Notice you will loose signal a lot, but find your way, then keep following the steps, do not close the ap, or you will have to find it again. We are on AirPlane mode – you can see that above, but still using our portable internet router.
Look at the top, Walk 8 mins to the KO pink station….
There is always someone around – ok, they probably can not speak English, but they might know a word or two. Plus they had a universal translator when my card would not work.

Eiffel Tower

So we saw the Eiffel Tower from a far and walked down to it! Stopped and took a bunch of pictures, had an ice cream, and bought Katrina an Eiffel Tower sucker.

Garion showing off his mini Eiffel Tower he bought!
Katrina showing off her Eiffel Tower Sucker!

Next Post – Under the Eiffel tower and then….. Off to Toyko, Japan!

Paris Pictures

There are so many beautiful pictures from random areas we saw in Paris, these are a few. Some from a top the Hop on Hop off, some just from wandering around. Enjoy!

A wonderful eating and shopping street near Notre Dame.
The busy streets near the Seine river
Notice the Bride entering the building.
Gift from Egypt to France.
There was a protest going on at this area – peaceful and childrens medical rights based.

Arc De Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile or Triumphal Arch of the Star in Paris, France. It is a monument to the fallen solders of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

The name of all French Victories and general are inscribed on the inner and outer surfaces.

You can walk under the circle intersection of twelve roads and pop out in the center – and walk around checking out the twelve roads surrounding – you can take the elevator up to the top – but the line was HUGE – or you can book this in advance and skip the line – remember the tip of doing these at least 30 days in advance.

Louvre

The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum and is in Paris, France. The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre Castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. The building was added onto many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV moved to the Palace of Versailles, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection.

360 degree view of the Louvre (outside).

We did not go inside, honestly we have been inside back in 2008 and we all agreed spending the day in a museum when there is so little time was not on our schedule.  So these are some pictures of our time at the Louve (out side) or above as the museum is below this area we are in.

Tip:  We have seen the Mona Lisa picture, it is inside the Louve, but surprisingly small and a very crowded exhibit.

Tip:  The entire Louvre area is a HIGH ALERT pic pocket area.  We use strap over shoulder purses, and money pouches to minimize loosing all our money.  In busy areas, the boys put there backpacks on the front side.

†

Garion being Garion

Next posts: Lock Bridge and Eiffel Tower

Hop on Hop Off Bus – Paris

Hop on Hop off bus

On the Hop On Hop Off Bus – Paris

You see them all over the place in the major tourist towns – Hop On, Hop Off Buses.  We love them.  This is probably our sixth time using a Hop on Hop off, but we have no favorite.

Tip:  Use the HopOn HopOff Bus service at the time and place you are in.

Tip:  Buy your tickets online (best your phone in hand) – it is always saves money and time.

We have checked into it from every way, waiting in line at the location, buying from the bus driver, buying online – the cheapest and quickest way is buying right off your phone.

We did learn something new this trip – buy the service you are standing in front of.  We bought one we saw driving by – but then could not figure out where the stop was – looking at a map on a website of stops and trying to find it was – ARGH!  After a 30 minute lesson of figuring out a stop and standing at several other service stops that we did not buy (3 services with three different stops location made a difficult morning for us).  Finally after a lot of back and forth and we were on our way.  Even with the bus service app downloaded we could not find the stop quickly.  Follow a bus, find the stop, buy the tickets.

TIP:  Get to the stop, buy your bus passes for the service at the stop – even if you miss that bus, another will be back shortly.  Trying to figure out even on a map from your phone exactly where a stop is at is much harder than you might think.  Follow a bus, Find a stop, then buy the tickets. 

Tip:  Sign up for PayPal prior to your trip, link it to a credit card – this will making buying things online so much quicker, and you won’t have to put in a credit card while standing on a street corner. Plus your safe if your account is compromised.

Notre Dame – still standing just like us!

Notre Dame is still standing – battered and in renovation, but she is still standing despite what we all thought was the end of her and the fire that was so devastating only just 2 months ago.

This month David and I will be married 3 years and together 5 years. We are winning against the odds of a second marriage succeeding. Our marriage and my life is testament that regardless of your current situation, you can fight hard, and win – in a big way. Our children are thriving and growing up surrounding by love and we are a family. Six years ago, my life was so different. I was in the middle of a divorce and thinking my life was over, I was fighting for my health, my finances, and my children. I was devastated and burnt down to my core. At the time I could have never predicted that point of my life was just the beginning of things to come. I still have to pinch myself to believe this is my life. I feel so blessed and grateful, it can be overwhelming.

Seeing the Grand Dame was also a memory of 2008, and my last visit to Paris with my parents and children. When we were there, we went to Palm Sunday Mass, which was crazy busy with mass mobs of people – in fact we were separated by the crushing crowds. I was just laughing about that with my parents last night – what wonderful memories of this trip, and the memories are still strong.  

Six years from now, I would love to visit Notre Dame and see her completely re-built, toast her and myself for both over coming against the odds.

Epic Adventure Before it begins

Epic Adventure – Before it Begins

Our family trip to Paris, France – Tokyo, Japan – Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The Airbnb’s are booked.  In Paris we will stay at:

In Tokyo we will stay at:

Let us compare afterward – what we booked and what we got.  So this is the before, same post after the trip with the details of each location.

We have the exchanged moneys, we used a credit union, which had no fees according to my husband and his mother – Wings Credit Union.  Next time we exchange I will for sure ask a lot of questions on this no fee, same exchange to assure this is true, as I want to report back to each of you.  It seems too good to be true, as the airport charges the best fees I have found, and my current bank has large fees associated with foreign money exchanges. 

Tip:  Check with a Credit Union or a friend who could exchange $ for you at a credit union for great foreign money exchange fees.

We have the credit cards – we are bringing two, one each with no foreign exchange fees (this could cost you upwards of 10% per transactions, so very important to have this in place). 

Tip:  ALWAYS bring two credit cards when traveling – as I will read about in a future post, if one is compromised you will have a back-up.

We have our luggage picked out, our three largest suitcases, with another in each (for bringing home gifts).  We are traveling with three of our five children and sometimes we question why we would ever do that, but I already know the answer, I love them unconditionally and cannot wait for this Epic Family Adventure.

Flying out of Toronto Airport on Air France.

Henderson Castle – Kalamazoo, MI

Had a date weekend with my husband. We visited Henderson Castle for a dinner date, while you can stay at Henderson Castle, we did not. What a great date night. This is a little history of the castle: The Castle was built in 1888, by Frank Henderson. He was the owner and president of the Henderson-Ames Company which made uniform regalia for secret societies, fraternal organizations, and the military. I noticed many pictures through out the bar of Males in Church robes, Militia service outfits, and Fancy Pants outfits, the bartender explained a quick history lesson of the Castle and how these clothes were his handy work. The Queen Anne style house cost $72,ooo and was designed by C. A. Gombert of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The house has twenty five rooms, seven baths (one with a thirteen-head shower), an elevator, a third-floor ballroom.

Davids beard is looking a little shaggy in front of Henderson Castle.
Fancy Romaine Salad.
We had steak, which was really tasty, but $$$ – Good thing we had a Groupon.
Beautiful interior

Overall wonderful Nite, beautiful location and I heard they give tours and I would really have loved to do that, but they were scheduled. Not going to lie, service was slow, no one ever answered when we called or even called us back to confirm the reservation. But we did not care because we were enjoying each other and the conversation. Without the groupon – this would have been a very expensive meal. Would I go back, sure if I was willing to wait, and had another Groupon.

Armada Fair

We visit the Armada Fair annually, we look forward to the atmosphere the animals, the food, the exhibits.  So much fun.  Check out these fun pictures!

Bunnies!

PIGGIES!!

Sheep!!!

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FAMILY!!!!!

Chickens!

 

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So many more fun things at the Fair!  It runs thru today, so if you want to go, plan on it for next year

Gatlinburg, TN

I am spending a few days in Oakridge, Tennessee for Work training, and our group decided to take a quick trip to Gatlinburg.  1.5 hours on the back roads and we were there – an explosion of all tourist trap style shopping, drinking, eating, and things to do you can squeeze into a small area.  We walked around downtown, which is right around the corner from DollyWood.    We stopped in the Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine store and for $5, you get to sample 13 mini shots of liquor of every kind and a $5 coupon for anything over $5 in the store.  I bought my husband a T-Shirt our group pooled our money and bought a fifth of our favorite Moonshine – Caramel Apple Pie.    We shared our fifth with a few fellow students in the hotel lobby after class, then ate at Calhoun’s on the Water in Oakridge.  A delicious meal at a beautiful location for a fair price.   Love Gatlinburg!

 

5 things I wish I knew before I went to Cuba

 

20180409_213740I knew you cannot use credit cards in Cuba, and they have cigars and rum, but I did not know….

 

  1. We were told we had to have a cultural tour booked or we would not even be allowed to step off the Cruise ship (or if we flew in – not step off the plane).  This is not true.  The threat is empty.  We saw several couple walk off the ship (they were Americans) they said they had nothing booked and were unconcerned and when we were back on the ship they said they had a wonderful day.

2.  Everyone in Cuba, LOVES Che Guevara!

 

ErnestoCheGuevara  was an Argentina Marxist Revolutionary, a doctor, an author, guerrilla leader and HERO in Cuba.  He was a major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his picture and vision has become a symbol of rebellion in Cuba and popular culture.

I saw two pictures of Fidel Castro, saw 1000 pictures of Che Guevara.

3.  Every person in Cuba (except politicians) make only $50 per month.  You could be a doctor or street dancer, it is the same salary.

4.  We had no idea how much to get in Cuba dollars, so we got $150, which was more than enough since there was not much to buy when on a tour.  We did buy rum, one cigar, a necklace at a local children’s center and could have bought typical tourist trap t-shirts and carvings and plastic items you could get at any tourist trap location, but we are past that type of vacation item. When your on a tour, you do not have an opportunity to buy much, but if your so inclined sharing a few dollars with the locals, would be wonderful, considering #3.

5.  The Cuban people are wonderful, we expected them to be angry with many things, including our President, but did not find that true.  I was not afraid even for a minute, and would not be even if we were wondering around town ourselves, it is a safe place.   We would go back in a heart beat, but first so many other choices to explore!

Tropicana Club, Cuba

I figured out how to add videos! Better later than never! so this is older post updated.

We only had two days in Havana, Cuba – so we made the most of it – a day of everything, then an evening trip to the Tropicana Club.  I would describe it as an outdoor larger version of the “I Love Lucy” Show’s – Ricky Ricardo’s Club – which was also originally called Tropicana – then renamed Club Babalu.  David and I saw the Las Vegas review – Jubilee, and this show is superior, the dancers have a fire, the music is the over the top and beats Jubilee for me.

We took a bus on a 20min drive to the Tropicana, which had a huge entrance first with a Billboard show casing the Tropicana Club name and a dancing ballerina (club icon), then we drive down a tropical foliage filled drive to the entrance.

We stood in line a long line, but only for 5 mins to walk thru a lobby,  where a Tropicana show girl hands out a cigar to each man and a flower to each women.  There is a sign posted  – all must pay to take pictures inside the club, which we did (hence our photos and videos), but we saw no one else pay and no one was stopped from taking photos, so if you skipped this fee, I don’t believe there would be any trouble for you.  We then huddle into what we assumed would be an indoor theater, but instead we were walked outside to a lush outdoor garden amphitheater style venue, with elaborate overhead lighting.

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This picture does this location no justice.  It is a 180 degree theatre, with a waterfall dancing stage to our far left, a main stage for singers directly ahead, a mini dance bridge in between.  To our right was a three level tower of dancers and in between the main stage and this tower was a hidden full orchestra.

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This picture also does this club a small justice there is stages to the left and right.

The girls and the costumes are incredible.  There were tall statues of art with about 12  costume changes that each were more over the top than the previous, we saw bikini (no nudity) wearing model ladies, with fruit baskets 3 feet tall on their head, they wore chandeliers on their heads, they danced in the 80 degree night heat like it was nothing.

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There were acrobats and singers and non stop Mambo, cha cha cha rhythms action for the entire 1 hour 45 min show.

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You get an entire bottle of rum (and a big bottle, larger than a fifth) to split with four people at your table, each person gets a tiny glass bottle of Coca-cola along with a bucket of ice.  So of course we drank most of it in the flaming heat, which made our bus drive home a boisterous spectacle to our bus mates, we laughed so hard, I think we had everyone else laughing too.  I highly recommend the Tropicana Club for the Havana experience!  We sat at the back, and I would have paid the extra $30/ dollars for a middle closer seat, but the front section is not necessary – all views are amazing.

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Cars of Cuba

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20180409_16195920180409_16183320180409_16175520180409_16173320180409_100935Cigars, Castro, Rum, Heat, Colorful Buildings and Cars from the 1940s and 1950s are the things we think about when we think – Cuba.  This post is about the cars of Cuba!

While I know practically nothing about classic cars.  I do know these are beautiful and I love the vibrant colors.   I could look at these all day long.  Havana is a moving car museum and makes all those fields I have walked thru looking at sitting classic cars seem like a museum of the dead.  Havana is a living moving classic car show.

These are a source of pride to the Cubans.  These classic automobiles are held together with bubble gum and blender motors (a quote from our tour guide).  He said Cubans have suffered and had so little, due to the 1961 US Embargo, for so long – but they make due, they fix and they mend, and they preserve regardless of the limits that are set on them  – and that makes they proud not angry.  A great lessen in life.

 

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These mini cabs are so adorable.

Cruise to Cuba

After weeks of looking for a trip that we could take together (no kids) during the time our youngest would be on spring break (and could go to his mothers) we finally found a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico – Grand Cayman  – and two days in Havana, Cuba.  It is a Holland America Cruise, smaller older ship.  But the cost total for seven days and a day before stay in Fort Lauderdale is under $2100.  We searched Travelzoo, Travelocity, Groupon, Cruise.com and finally found a trip that meets all our criteria.  Whew, a lot and I mean a lot of looking (months of looking) our deal was on Cruise.com, but cheaper directly thru the Holland America site (like $150 each cheaper).    Now just to dream and figure out excursions, hopefully loose a few pounds and buy a nice outfit.

Next Trip?

The cover picture, is David is holding a baby turtle at a turtle farm we visited in Grand Cayman, our first family trip together in 2015.  So we are now together almost 4 years.  I was divorce Feb 13, 2014 and joined Match.com the end of Feb 2014 and met David after about 30 coffee dates in 30 days (yep marathon dating) and after a Tim Hortons coffee date, I was hooked.  So end of March 2014 will be four years.

So now, we are trying to plan our next trip, which is always a masterpiece theater trick of timing, cost and minimizing kid inconveniences.    There is an upcoming winter break we could slip away for a few days, and so trying to find some close by 4 day trips.  Maybe New Orleans, or Mexico, or a 3 day cruise.  Some place warm for sure, but too short to head to China, or Greece or Italy.  So next we must plan.   I think the planning is half the fun, and waiting for the next trip is so much fun imagining what we will do once we are there.

Sandos Eco Resort, Cancun Mexico

We decided to start rating the locations we visit on our travels.  Scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the best experience we could ever imagine.  The Sandos Eco Resort, in Cancun Mexico is a great family all inclusive.   We spent 7 days at this resort, and never ran out of things to do.   We are giving the resort an 7.5.

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Our favorite dining locations were the surf and turf, Los Lirios, with the best filet I can remember eating in a long time, and the potato soufflé was also very tasty.  The Japanese Teppanyaki (table top cooking style) Steakhouse, El Templo, was a fun nite, but you will need a +5day ahead reservation, so do that when you book your trip.  We also really loved the Brazilian Steakhouse, Fogo De Brazil.  All of these are on site and included.  The two buffets, International and Italian, both were OK, but there was a large choice of food, and almost always open for a quick snack.   All of the dessert at the site we just above OK,  mostly dry cakes and the lower end of flavors.

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By far the best part of the resort, and the entire reason our daughter choose this specific location was – the animals on site.  This trip was for our twin daughter we are graduating high school, they wanted the beach, the Caribbean and site with lots of animals.  The Sandos.com website showed us quite a few animals and the location delivered.   There were rabbits, donkeys, dear, peacocks, sheep, pigs, monkeys, tapirs, coati, dogs and lots of stray iguanas and cats.  Animals were noted on signs as rescues and site animals are spayed or neutered and fed everyday, there areas were very clean and you could sign up to be an animal caretaker and feed them at lunch time.  There are signs not to feed the animals, but my daughters did feed them – a lot, and even though they look skinny they looked happy and would stop eating when full.

Baby Deer

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There was plenty to do, and ALOT of walking.  We were in the furthest location from the beach, our daily location of choice, so much walking I have the blisters to show it.   There are bicycles to borrow, but we never used them.  There are several pools, including an adult pool by our rooms, a mini water park with quite a few water slides and a big sized kids pool.  We spent most of our time at the beach which honestly it was way too rough to actually swim safely.  This for my husband was the biggest turn off of the resort – he loves the ocean and it was unsafe to swim.   We did really enjoyed the man made cenotes for swimming, these were cool, and it was hot.  There were fish and turtles and quite a bit of algae in these cenotes, so not for everyone, but we loved it.

The nite time shows were actually great.  The Sunday Fire show at the onsite Mayan ruins were just incredible.  We recommend you go to all of the variety of ancient Mayan culture shows.  There was also a Freddy Jackson Tribute show, a Disney Princess show and a super hero show at the Theater – which were cute, but don’t worry if you miss them, save your show time for the culture shows in our opinion.

Our rooms were very clean, and huge, and the best part, there was really cold air conditioning, which is important, because the days were SUPER hot and it was so nice to sleep in the cool.

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So, would we go back, yes.  But we are the type of family who likes to see what is next, so maybe after many other visits to many other places.  Next blog, pictures of the beauty of the resort.

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Cancun Mexico

Were on a Senior Trip for the girls in Cancun, Mexico!   I forget my regular life – my Metro Detroit life, where I get up at 4:45 am to make sure my husband has his lunch, tea, and breakfast when he heads off to work, I then crawl back into bed and talk to him on the phone for 30 minutes as he drives into work.  Back up at 6:15am to get ready for the day, make sure the kids are awake for school, I remind all three kids I love them and to kick the world’s butt as I drop them off.  I either work from home, or off to kick the world’s butt.  After the kids are home, I plan dinner, we eat and I continue to work until I get to sleep next to my husband.   He tickles me until I laugh so hard I beg him to stop, and we cuddle like two lost puppies until the next morning… 4:45am.

My husband has a saying I love: “I do not think we are better than anyone else, but I also don’t think anyone is better than us”.  So I know we are not the only ones who work hard and tirelessly, but what surprises me is how I forget how to relax.

But as soon as I walk in the huge Lobby of the Santos Carcacol Eco Resort, with its thatched roof and large hanging chandeliers the size of a car, the air is heavy with flowers and your handed an orange mango drink with tequila and I stand there with my mouth open looking around while we wait for check-in and I forget all about everything but the moment.  I have a whole entire week with my daughters and husband to enjoy them….. fun relaxation times to be posted soon.

Reykjavik, Iceland Trip

Volcano
Volcano Visit My favorite part of the trip, other than getting David to myself for fours days was the Golden Circle stop at the Volcano, Kerio.  It was POURING sleet and so windy I was cautious not to fall down into the volcano.   I am more of an inside type of girl, but I just loved this, I wish we could have walked down the stairs to the crater, but we only have a 15min window.  I read in the summer you can swim in this crater, and it looked so beautiful I pictured myself summer swimming even in this ice storm.

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We were just in Reykjavik, Iceland, enjoying our 4 day trip, I wrote a lot of this post from the airport awaiting our flight to JFK New York airport.

Since we had the hardest time figuring out how to pronounce Reykjavik, /ˈrā-kyə-ˌvik, -ˌvēk/  (Ray-clay-vick).  We heard about 4 different pronunciations prior to arriving but only one when there in Iceland.

There was a lot of expected and unexpected adventure.  The expected that came true:

  • It was raining, sleeting, snowing, overcast everyday.
  • The outside in January 2017 was as cold as in Detroit, MI.  30-40 degrees each day.
  • The seafood was very fresh and tasty. So we ate as much as possible.
  • There was so much to see and do the 4 days was not enough.  The Golden circle tour was overwhelming beautiful.
  • We loved every minute of it & would go again for longer, but after we travel many other places first.
  • Our tour group thru Gate One was Great, we heard from others they do a wonderful Peru trip as well.

The unexpected and what we saw:

  • The inside of all buildings were very warm/hot – this was due to the almost free geothermic (Volcanic) heat on the island.  We were told the average household could be heated and provided  as much hot water as they want for only $100 per month, so they crank the heat. So bring layers so you can take them off to prevent you from overheating inside.
  • Our dream trip to the Blue Lagoon was a fail, it was booked everyday we were there until after 7pm/dark (booking ahead would have been smart). So we didn’t give up and instead traveled  to the secret lagoon.  The secret lagoon, was much smaller with only about 25people visitors during our visit.  We booked  our tour for ~$90 US/person the night before in our hotel lobby, the next morning a van picked us up from our hotel and they drove thru sleet, 1hr 20mins to the lagoon, for a 2hr dip.  We loved this, and could have gone everyday, if it were closer.  The lagoon water was so hot near the edges it felt like we were starting to cook, but in the middle it was extremely relaxing.  We loved the apple and pear alcoholic beverages, we recommend buying these before changing.  David walked the pathway surrounding the lagoon, he said it was very slick so I stayed put.  We cannot compare this to the Blue Lagoon, but everyone in our Gate One travel group did say they thought it sounded better, and the Blue Lagoon was super touristy.

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  • While we did read the food was very expensive, it was still way over what we were expecting.  A small bag of chips from the local market was $5 US, a single soda was $5 US, a bowl of soup was $10 US, and  a sit down dinner anywhere with one alcoholic beverage each was at least $200 US.  Alcohol was about $7-22 US per drink, with most single drinks or a glass of house wine in the $11 US range. We wish we would have stopped at duty free and got a single bottle of liquor, and drank before we went out.  You can purchase an entire bottle at duty free for the price of a single drink in town.   We did pack snacks and ate them on the excursions, we were glad to have them.  We did have a Hot Dog House, plain hot dog for $4.70 US, which was extremely tasty.

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  • We stayed at Hotel Klettur in downtown.  It was clean, respectful, nice, with small minimal rooms – but who cared, we were out all day, and slept at night.  They had all the amenities we needed and a free breakfast buffet.  It did take us about 10mins to figure out how to turn work the room lights.  Turns out you have stick you room key (or other ccard) in the slot next to the door above the light switch.  Also if you take this out when you leave, your left behind electronics will not charge.

  • We did see the Northern lights, but they were not spectacular, in fact it just looked like a green smoke cloud and we only saw them for maybe 1-5minutes.  We were told when booking the package that you might not see the Northern lights so we felt lucky to get one good photo below.  We drove from site to site for over 5 hrs at this first site below, we visited a church (in the pouring rain of course), and I took these pictures, because we saw no northern lights at this location, but thought it was pretty.

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    • NOTE***  You will never get a picture of the northern lights with your cell phone, you need a higher end camera with a 30second time set, and a stand.  Your in a field in the dark, there will be no where to prop your camera, you need the stand.


We also visited the Hallgrímskirkja  a Lutheran parish and largest church on the hill in Reykjavik, Iceland.  The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrimur Petursson (1614-1674).   My boss said I had to go, because he had been to Iceland twice and both times it was under construction and he could not see it – it was part of our Gate One downtown tour, but I took these pictures for my boss, Ray Carlson.   It reminded me of a smaller version of Gaudi’s church in Barcelona, Spain – BUT, all while no color.

Icelandic Horse. Short – Stout – Hardy Breeds – But they would have to be in this weather.
  • We visited an Icelandic Horse Farm Tour. It had a short presentation with time to pet the horses.  I really enjoyed this, especially since it was POURING sleet outside, and we were inside. We learned the Vikings brought over the best horses they had and to this day any new horses are forbidden to be imported to Iceland to preserve the purity of this breed.   David thought it was OK, he was more interested in the landscape viewing, which was still to come.
Icelandic Horses roam free all year, heading to the Mountains in the Spring and returning back to the plains in the Fall.

Because I could go on for more than any one person would want to read.  I included a few more pictures with captions to explain the beauty and awesome of Iceland.  So we would recommend you visiting for sure.  I did want to note, to visit most of the best of nature – you will have to first take a long bus ride, then walk – up hills, down stairs, often longer distances and in the extreme Iceland weather.  Many of our tour group decided to skip most of the tour – they were not interested in walking, or leaving the vehicle, for anything other than a quick looksee, then straight to the food area of the stop.  Therefore I recommend you go to Iceland before you cannot, why fly so far for a bus ride to a periphery view.   

Hot Springs
Driving to Horse farm view. – Pretty much most of the island view, notice no trees.
Every view in Iceland, notice the blur of the sleet hitting us from every direction.
Hot Springs – we were warned not to step to close, as these are severe burn hazards.
Bay in Town, with mountain view.
View at the top of the continental divide walk.

Reykjavik, Iceland Trip

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We were just in Reykjavik, Iceland, enjoying our 4 day trip, I wrote a lot of this post from the airport awaiting our flight to JFK New York airport.

Since we had the hardest time figuring out how to pronounce Reykjavik, /ˈrā-kyə-ˌvik, -ˌvēk/  (Ray-clay-vick).  We heard about 4 different pronunciations prior to arriving but only one when there in Iceland.

There was a lot of expected and unexpected adventure.  The expected that came true:

  • It was raining, sleeting, snowing, overcast everyday.
  • The outside in January 2017 was as cold as in Detroit, MI.  30-40degrees each day.
  • The seafood was very fresh and tasty. So we ate as much as possible.
  • There was so much to see and do the 4 days was not enough.  The Golden circle tour was overwhelming beautiful.
  • We loved every minute of it & would go again for longer, but after we travel many other places first.
  • Our tour group thru Gate One was Great, we heard from others they do a wonderful Peru trip as well.

The unexpected and what we saw:

  • The inside of all buildings were very warm/hot – this was due to the almost free geothermic (Volcanic) heat on the island.  We were told the average household could be heated and provided  as much hot water as they want for only $100 per month, so they crank the heat. So bring layers so you can take them off to prevent you from overheating inside.
  • Our dream trip to the Blue Lagoon was a fail, it was booked everyday we were there until after 7pm/dark (booking ahead would have been smart). So we didn’t give up and instead traveled  to the secret lagoon.  The secret lagoon, was much smaller with only about 25people visitors during our visit.  We booked  our tour for ~$90 US/person the night before in our hotel lobby, the next morning a van picked us up from our hotel and they drove thru sleet, 1hr 20mins to the lagoon, for a 2hr dip.  We loved this, and could have gone everyday, if it were closer.  The lagoon water was so hot near the edges it felt like we were starting to cook, but in the middle it was extremely relaxing.  We loved the apple and pear alcoholic beverages, we recommend buying these before changing.  David walked the pathway surrounding the lagoon, he said it was very slick so I stayed put.  We cannot compare this to the Blue Lagoon, but everyone in our Gate One travel group did say they thought it sounded better, and the Blue Lagoon was super touristy.

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The Secret Lagoon in Hvammsvegur – 845 Flúðir

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The Secret Lagoon, the brochure said: Secret Lagoon natural hot springs are located in the small village called Fludir and are in the Golden Circle area. We have kept it natural and unique for our guests so they can get the true Icelandic feeling. The pool’s natural surroundings and steam rising into the air gives the place a magical feeling.

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We took our phone in the lagoon and took a few pictures

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Around the Secret Lagoon you find several hot spots.A walking path is built for our guests so they can have a closer look at the boiling, spouting hot springs

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Notice the pathway around the lagoon, slippery when wet (always wet)

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They definetly promote drinking in the springs.

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+4% alcohol apple drink

  • While we did read the food was very expensive, it was still way over what we were expecting.  A small bag of chips from the local market was $5 US, a single soda was $5 US, a bowl of soup was $10 US, and  a sit down dinner anywhere with one alcoholic beverage each was at least $200 US.  Alcohol was about $7-22 US per drink, with most single drinks or a glass of house wine in the $11 US range. We wish we would have stopped at duty free and got a single bottle of liquor, and drank before we went out.  You can purchase an entire bottle at duty free for the price of a single drink in town.   We did pack snacks and ate them on the excursions, we were glad to have them.  We did have a Hot Dog House, plain hot dog for $4.70 US, which was extremely tasty.