December 07, 2016

Tales from the Icelandic Coast

So I've been to Iceland.

Okay, so I've been to the Iceland airport. Twice! But unfortunately, even by my own rules, that doesn't count.

Luckily for this blog, however, my dear friend Sierra traveled to Iceland earlier this year on her honeymoon and has a few anecdotes and photos to share from her adventures in Iceland!


Honeymooning in Fire & Ice
I’m Sierra Brown. I am a Charlottesvillian, a wife, an adventurer, and I am a WAHOO. I have three major passions (in no particular order): travel, outdoor adventures, and food. So, when it was time to choose a honeymoon destination, my husband and I thought Iceland would surely feed these passions. We were right!

We did the Iceland stopover option with IcelandAir on our way back from England (also wonderful, but in different ways). We took 4 days, but really only had 2 full days to explore. Our trip was at the end of May, which was great because Reykjavik wasn’t too crowded yet and prices for hotels were still reasonable. Also, the sun went down just enough to give us that dusk effect and helped us sleep a little. The downside to going in May was that some tours are not available yet due to snow and ice blocking the way in higher elevations. Nonetheless, we booked some great tours to explore the beautiful landscape and had plenty of daylight to explore the cute town of Reykjavik.

Most folks who travel to Iceland for a short time do the Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle tour and catch some hot spring, waterfalls, and glacier highlights. We are not most folks. Our adventures started with a trip in a tricked-out, off-roading, monster van driven by a tiny, beautiful, blonde Icelander. She picked us up from our hotel and drove us and a small group out across moss-covered lava fields down into a lava tube. After a short walk into the cave, she asked us all to turn off our lights then shared some traditional scary stories and lullabies. They love spooky bumps in the night—I guess it comes from all the winter darkness. After that, we crawled through some very low ceilings. My husband stood up on the other side just long enough to catch his toe and topple head-over-heels into a 4-foot-deep hole, breaking his left hand in 2 spots. Although they had a walk-in clinic just up the street from our hotel, we weren’t about to waste a minute in a doctor’s office. So, on to a pub for an expensive recovery beer instead (we got him patched up at home a few days later).

Reynisdrangar beach
Our second day of touring was spent on the Southern Coast of Iceland. Once again, we were picked up, but this time in a GIANT off-roading bus. Our driver drove us down the scenic ring road several hours past the snowcapped Eyjafjallajökull (E15) volcano and water walls that fell from cliffs and disappeared into the wind before hitting the ground. We first stopped to explore the black sand beaches of Reynisdrangar with giant monoliths, sea caves, and basalt towers then on to the town of Vik for lunch. After a hot bowl of lamb stew, we met our guides and geared up for our trek on Sólheimajökull glacier. This was incredible. The ashy soil covered the glacier in spots, which validated the nickname of “Mordor” for the front of the glacier.

On the way back we stopped at two enormous waterfalls: Skógafoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss waterfall (made famous in a Justin Bieber music video). Seljalandsfoss has a path that goes behind the falls, and you can take in the beautiful landscape through the pouring water. It’s pretty epic!

Selijalandsfoss Waterfall

Skógafoss Waterfall

Ok... Let’s talk about food!

We started our first afternoon with a trip to the 10-11, a small convenient grocery store, for peanut butter, jelly, bread, skyr (thick Icelandic yogurt), chips, and bottled water (the water at our hotel was very sulfurous). Although the store had many more traditional options like dried fish, we stuck with the basics to keep in our room.

After out shopping, we hit up the Public House/Café and tried their “Best of Iceland” tapas sampler.
  • Grafinn Lundi – Cured Puffin
  • Timianreykt Bleikja - Arctic Charr on a senbei cracker
  • Hreindyr - Reindeer w/ Icelandic Blue cheese
  • Haegeldadur Lambaskanki – Lamb shank in an Icelandic donut
  • Viking Beer sampling
All of which was A-MAZING!

We ate a few more meals in town. I would recommend them all: crepes at Eldur and Is, pizza (bacon, maple syrup, spinach, and apple!) at Eldsmiðjan, coffee at Te & kaffi, and sushi from Sushibarinn delivered to us during trivia!

Although Reykjavik is known for its wild club scene going all night, the restaurant scene closes up early. You had better get your dinner before 9:00 PM because everything closes after that—which seemed extra strange because it was still so light out. However, if you get an early start on dinner, you’ll be more likely to catch the abundant and necessary happy hour specials to cope with the insane alcohol prices. We popped into a few places for drinks: The Lebowski Bar (Big Lebowski themed) and Dillon Whiskey Bar (which sits on top the Chuck Norris Grill). We even managed to WIN a few free drinks in a game of trivia at Kofinn. All the questions were based on American movies—WINNING! They gave us each a Viking lager and a shot of Hot & Sweet, a traditional licorice liquor.

I’m afraid that even with all my ramblings, I haven’t fully captured the complete awesomeness, quirkiness, and wild nature of this country, the landscape, the people, or their capital. You’ll just have to experience it yourself. Get going!

All photos are by Sierra Brown and are used with permission for this article. Images can not be used without expression permission of the owner.


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October 17, 2016

Flying With A Baby: Tips, Tricks & Hot Toddies

Flying with a baby isn't easy. But it's not impossible.

Becoming a parent doesn't mean that you stop being who you are and stop doing what you love. Yes, finances change with having children. Yes, interests and lifestyles will change, too. But if you make travel a priority and budget accordingly, it's still possible - even if you have to spend more time prepping and jump through more hoops to accomplish it!

So if you're a wanderlustin' mama like me and looking for some practical tips on preparing for a transatlantic flight with an infant, read on. And for those blessedly kid-free readers of mine (no, I don't envy you one bit... okay, maybe sometimes), read on for some tongue-in-cheek entertainment, a preview of your potential future, or maybe just a little chuckle at the expense of all us mamas and papas wanting to take our babies all over the world. Just show us some grace - or buy us a beer - when you see us struggling with all the baby gear in transit!

Read More: Our Transatlantic Flight with an 8 Month Old

Not pictured: Patience & a bottle of rum
1. Pack Your Patience
You can forget the carefree days of traveling sans infant: cute outfit, a neck pillow, a good book, and the enjoyment of the on-board entertainment. Pack your big girl panties because things are going to get real. Like, trying to figure out how to change a blow-out diaper in an airplane bathroom kind of real. Be mentally prepared for the most stressful experience of your life. Expect something to spill at the most inopportune time. Resign yourself to the fact that your daughter will fall asleep on you just in time for you to need to use the bathroom. Like I said, flying with a baby is not easy. But your reaction to the stressful situation can make or break it and influence the reaction of your fellow passengers.

And if it doesn't turn out as bad as you feared, well, then party like it's going out of style! Which for us parents usually means a hot toddy at the end of a long day.

Tip: For shorter flights, try to arrange the flight times to occur around or during baby's nap times. Be prepared for annoyed looks from some passengers. They obviously have never, ever been a crying baby even once in their life, and never, ever gave their mother a single moment of annoyance or stress. (Insert massive eye roll.) ...Oh, and if you're a nursing mom and a bit shy about nursing in public (like me), you'll want to snag a window seat. I had a window seat in the back row, and it was perfect for privacy and comfort.

2. Make a Plan
Before I even drew up a packing list for our trip, I created a battle plan for getting to, through, and out of the airport. I'm not even joking (you can blame my A-type personality), but it did help me make sure that I purchased some much needed essentials and had a plan for what big ticket items (stroller, pack n play, etc) we brought versus borrowed at our destination.

  • Arrive Early: Do not underestimate how much extra time you need. The extra baby gear, an unexpected dirty diaper, and a hundred thousand other things can eat up so much more time than you originally plan. For international flights, arrive at least 2.5 hours prior to your flight departure.
  • Baby Carrier: I used a cheap Infantino carrier, but I would recommend investing in something more comfortable if you plan to wear baby consistently. This, however, worked just fine for in the airport and for up to an hour on various excursions. Wear baby while going through security, if allowed, and definitely wear the baby while boarding the plane - having your hands free as much as possible is essential!
  • Carseat / Stroller: We have a Graco travel set in which the infant car seat latches directly onto the stroller, and we decided to gate check both items so that we could use them in the airport as we waited to board. We used the Gate Check Pro travel bags to make sure that our stroller and car seat didn't get overly dirty, and we were pleased with how the bags withstood the rough handling. No ripped seams or tearing. While it is not padded and will not guarantee that your items won't be broken, we were thankful that our baby's car seat was not dirtied as badly as our suitcase.
  • Diaper Bag vs Back Pack: Maneuvering a plane with an infant is hard enough without having to balance a diaper bag on one shoulder. Even if only for the trip, consider using a backpack as a diaper bag. It was so much easier for me to have it strapped onto my back versus using a diaper bag with just the typical "purse strap" on it. 
  • Entertainment: Babies, especially those older than two months, can get bored just like us. Make sure you pack favorite toys and books. Debut a new item on each leg of the trip to pique their interest.
  • Friends: Be extra nice to the stewardesses; they can make your trip so much better! I cannot say enough great things about the on-board experience with IcelandAir. On two of our flights, they arranged for us to have the row to ourselves, and even on the full flights, they were always handy with extra pillows, blankets, and a comforting smile when baby was screaming her sleep-deprived little head off.
  • Go Light on Packing: In years past, Danny and I would each have a huge roller suitcase with maybe a couple of backpacks on top of a camera bag and purse. We're more practical now that we have to balance all the cumbersome baby gear. We used one roller suitcase, one diaper bag, and one camera bag. That was it. I tried to use a capsule wardrobe approach for our clothes and generally feel that we were much more efficient with our packing on this trip than on any other.
These are now my "ABCs" of baby travel, but will remain a work in progress. My daughter was eight months old and already cruising around furniture in terms of mobility when we traveled, so you may need to tweak this list based on your child's age and development level.

Tip: Make sure your diaper bag contains an extra shirt for yourself and hubby in addition to spare outfit(s) for the baby. You never know when a bottle is going to end up all over you!

Gelato is a great end goal.
3. Remember the End Goal
The five stages of flying with a baby are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Oh, wait, those are the five stages of grief. Well, it's pretty much the same thing!
  • Denial: It can't be but so bad. She'll fall asleep eventually. ...right?
  • Anger: Why won't you stop screaming?!?! Do you think you're the only one on this plane? MAN! Why the heck did we think it would be FUN to fly to freaking EUROPE with a BABY!!!
  • Bargaining: Honey... sweet pea... if you just stop crying and go to sleep, mommy will buy you the biggest, most expensive toy in the whole wide world as soon as we get there. I promise!
  • Depression: I am never traveling anywhere again.
  • Acceptance: Well, at least this'll all be over in just a few hours.

All good things come to an end. And so do bad things. So even if the worst case scenario pans out, just remember that you will reach your destination in just a few (long... very long) hours and be off that wretched plane with the last remaining shreds of your sanity and dignity. Then you'll be facing the next big adventure: sleeping with a jet-lagged baby.

Yay, parenthood!

Any other tips you'd like to offer?

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October 12, 2016

Sacré-Cœur, Paris: Moneychangers In The Temple

Admittedly, our visit to Paris was not all rainbows and sunshine. First trimester nausea, a hotel in a not-so-great part of town, and sticker shock were just a few reasons why our weekend in the City of Light does not rank among our more favorite travel experiences.

And then there was the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is just barely 100 years old and commands an amazing view of Paris on the Montemartre, particularly for watching the sun set. From what we could see in our guide books prior to our arrival, there were a few grassy areas where we could spread a blanket and enjoy a romantic evening with a picnic dinner.

This Montmartre door
had eyes.
It's really too bad that reality didn't match our expectations.

First of all, the climb to the top was unpleasant, and I'm not referring to the incline. There were hordes of tourists all trying to do the same thing we were, and to compound the problem, there were what I could only describe as gangs of young men aggressively hawking their wares. And by hawking, I should say harassing, verbally assaulting, and intimidating anyone they singled out. They attempted to forcibly put a bracelet on my friend's arm, then stormed after her shouting and screaming for her to buy their trinket when she refused. He chased us up the final set of steps to the Sacré-Cœur, and it wasn't until the crowds closed behind us that we finally were free. It was angering and also alarming.

Secondly, there was the atmosphere of the Sacré-Cœur itself. My oh my, it is a beautiful building! But... the inside of the basilica felt more like a market than a church. There were machines selling commemorative stamped coins strategically spaced throughout the structure. Despite the signs to keep quiet and to take no photos, it was noisy and full of flash photography. It was a far cry from our experience in the Notre-Dame, which despite the hundreds of tourists lined up to view it, had a more solemn and spiritual feel.

But that is just my opinion! And despite the downsides, I am glad that we experienced it for ourselves.

View of Paris (and the hordes) from the Sacré-Cœur.

Have you visited the Sacré-Cœur Basilica?


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Dear Travel Blogger, Enough With The Politics

Dear Travel Blogger,

Enough with the politics. Please.

I say this with as much respect as can possibly be mustered in a political season revved to a frenzied pitch with candidates - on both sides - who are so unqualified that I can't quite figure out how they received their respective nominations.

Between the radio spots, the newspaper headlines, and the television coverage, I am beyond sick of the election season. Coming from a self-described political junkie, that's saying a lot.

So I try to escape with the things that I love. Namely, travel blogs and Instagram feeds full of exotic views. Oh, and kittens! Everybody loves cute kittens.

Paul Revere agrees.
Well, you can imagine the look of consternation and dismay on my face when I discovered that rather than featuring sunset beach photos, "top ten" travel lists, or even just a quick shout-out to a local coffee shop you discovered, your social media was clogged full of politically-charged tweets, links to registering to vote as an expat (from websites that were decidedly in favor of a certain candidate), and other posts that made it quite clear to which side of the aisle you are loyal.

For the love of all things travel, keep politics out of it! 

I get it. You're passionate about your beliefs. So am I. But people don't follow my blog for my political beliefs. Nor do I follow your travel blog for anything other than travel-related topics. On the rare occasion I've hinted at politics, such as when I outlined my reasons for why travel boycotts are not unethical in and of themselves, it has been within the context of travel and travel alone. I do not endorse candidates on my blog. I do not re-tweet criticisms of one candidate versus the other on my social media. I do not engage in politically-charged discussions with any avenue attached to my travel blog. That's what personal accounts are meant for.

There's an old saying that one should never discuss politics or religion in the workplace. I would assert that if you are purporting to be anything but a political blog, it's best to keep politics out of it. Completely.

Why? Because through regular reading of your blog, I feel in many ways that I've come to know you. You've become the imaginary friend of my childhood that's not so imaginary and does way more cool things. I love seeing the new places you've discovered, the travel obstacles you've mastered, and the other personal tidbits of your life that you've shared through your blog. I've come to really like keeping up with your life and vicariously living through your travels. And I don't want politics to tarnish that, whether we're on the same side of issues or not.

Now I'd love to see more photos from your last trip abroad!


Someone Who Reads Your Blog

P.S. I feel the same way about movie stars, prolific authors, and other non-political celebrities who feel as though they must use their celebrity status to influence the vote towards one candidate, party, or platform versus another, but as this is a travel blog and not a celebrity tabloid, my comments are directed to the travel sector. :)

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on


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October 10, 2016

A Tale of Two Babies: A Transatlantic Gauntlet

"... it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

So that might be a slightly dramatic way to sum up a transatlantic trip with a baby encompassing 8,656 miles, 27 total hours in the airport, 10 total hours in the car, one lost stroller, three new teeth, 17 sleepless nights, and countless liters of consumed hefeweizen to maintain sanity, but that's just how I roll, okay?

Seriously, though, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Flying with a baby is not easy. But it's not impossible either, and with the right preparations, you can at least ensure that your marriage survives unscathed even if your eardrums don't.

Read More: Tips on traveling with a baby

To be fair, it actually wasn't as horrible as I expected. Granted, I had envisioned an inconsolable, wailing child for every single minute of the 19 hours in the air, but that only turned out to be true for about five of those hours. Okay, so maybe it was more like six (or seven?), but my therapist said I shouldn't keep focusing on the bad parts.

Baby Gypsy did extremely well on the flight from Washington D.C. to Reykjavik. No crying during the take-off (nor during the landing later). We had three seats to ourselves, and we managed to soothe her to sleep fairly quickly. I even dozed a little, too. As we landed in a sunny, but briskly cool Reykjavik airport, I even dared to think, Hey, flying with a baby isn't that bad after all.

You can see where this is going already. I obviously jinxed it.

As our flight from Reykjavik to Frankfurt was delayed by over an hour, the native grew increasingly restless. Increasingly sleepy. Increasingly angry. That flight will be forever ingrained in my memory as the nightmare flight. It was like our little Baby Jekyll turned into little Baby Hyde. She screamed for almost the entire four hour flight. Joking aside, I have never felt so ineffective or defeated as a mother than during that flight. There was nothing I could do for her, and to be honest, I kind of felt like screaming, too. I just wanted to get to our destination and pass out as soon as possible.

But alas, our transit woes did not cease upon touchdown at Frankfurt. IcelandAir had the best, most friendly, most understanding, and most attractive stewardesses and service on board the flight. I've never been so impressed by men and women taking such pride in their image and work.

The baggage handling side of things? Not so much.

We arrived in Frankfurt an hour later than the original itinerary, harried and scarred from our baby's screams (go figure, she was all smiles as soon as the plane landed), and waited around to grab our one checked suitcase, the stroller, and the car seat. We waited. And waited. And waited. Two hours later, we finally figured out that our stroller was not going to make an appearance. So we filed a claim and escaped the airport for the two hour drive home to Dinkelsbühl.

Never one to fail us, the Autobahn made sure to turn the two hour drive to nearly four. Thank you, baustelle. At least, it didn't cost us a missed flight this time.

Fast forward two and a half weeks and the return flights home to the United States were more of the same. More construction on the autobahn, causing us to reroute ourselves through back roads and discovering the scenic Castle Road route through Bavaria and Baden-Würrtemberg. More delays in the airport. More screaming baby time on the flight from Iceland to Washington, D.C.

But you know what?

It. Was. SO. Worth. It.

All that stress during transit was worth it for Baby Gypsy to meet her Great-Grandmother (Oma) for the first time. Worth it to meet Danny's sister Elke for the first time. Worth it to spend seventeen glorious days in a fairy-tale town surrounded by medieval walls, a river, and a moat. Worth it to see the world anew through the eyes of a little one who has so much more yet to see.

So while the thought of getting back on a plane with an infant may give me flashback anxiety for a wee bit longer, it's more than outweighed by all the great memories made.

Proof of fairy-tale town.


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October 06, 2016

The Midnight Ride of Jack Jouett

Listen, my children, and you will hear
Of the midnight ride of -- Jack Jouett?

It's the most famous, unheard-of ride in American history: How the young and handsome Jack Jouett out-rode British dragoons in the dark of night in 1781, covering 40 miles through thickly wooded trails in just over six hours. He successfully warned Thomas Jefferson and members of the Virginia legislature holed up at Monticello with his own shouts of "The British are coming! The British are coming!", thus saving the legislative body from capture in toto.

Talk about bad-ass!

But thanks to Longfellow, most Americans are familiar with Paul Revere's famous ride from Boston to Lexington in 1775, but have never even heard of Jack with the strangely-spelled last name (Jouett: pronounced "Jew-ett") from Virginia whose ride arguably played a bigger role and had a larger impact on the outcome of the American Revolution than his northern counterpart.

But Monticello wants to change all that with their annual "British Invasion Days," which debuted this year with a reenactment of Jack Jouett's ride, the arrival of British cavalry, musket and cannon demonstrations, and a walk-through of a militia camp - all hosted on the beautiful and historic grounds of Thomas Jefferson's home.

For just $15 per adult (or $25 if you'd like to tour the house, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth the admission), take yourself back to 1781 and learn about Jack Jouett's midnight ride!

Read more details here.

Hearken good people: awhile abide
And hear of stout Jack Jouett's ride;
How he rushed his steed, nor stopped nor stayed
Till he warned the people of Tarleton's raid.

The moment his warning note was rehearsed
The State Assembly was quickly dispersed.
In their haste to escape, they did not stop
Until they had crossed the mountain top.
And upon the other side come down.
To resume their sessions in Staunton Town.

His parting steed he spurred,
In haste to carry the warning
To that greatest statesman of any age,
The Immortal Monticello Sage.

Here goes to thee, Jack Jouett!
Lord keep thy memory green;
You made the greatest ride, sir,
That ever yet was seen.

Travel With Kids Tips:
The visitor center and cafe are located at the bottom of the hill near the parking lot. Currently, there are no options to buy meals on top of the mountain, so be sure you have full bellies before taking the shuttle to Monticello. There are restrooms up top, however. Beyond standing in a bathroom stall, there is no privacy for nursing mothers unless you fancy wandering into the woods and sitting beneath a tree. Strollers are permitted in the house, but if you're visiting on a busy day, a staff member would be more than willing to push it through to the back of the house where you can collect it upon exiting.

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October 04, 2016

Life Lately

So.... about my absence. Can we just pretend it never happened?!

It's been over three weeks since our return from our first overseas adventure as a family of three. In many ways I am still processing that trip and adjusting to being back from it. Life lately has been intense! And unfortunately, blogging has been the unintended victim of a busy life. So here is a brief update on all the things that have kept me from blogging as regularly.

Gotta love a great onion-dome tower!
What a blast. Baby Gypsy was introduced to Danny's Oma, sister, cousins, uncle, and family friends, and we spent most of our trip simply living like Bavarians in the middle of a medieval walled city. We gorged ourselves on weißwurst, drank as much beer as possible, and promenaded around the cobblestoned streets every day. We ventured to one castle, saw half a dozen more en route to Regensburg, and met the one and only Swags for lunch and boutique cupcakes (which Baby Gypsy managed to swipe when I wasn't paying attention)! And in case you were wondering, Swags is just as gregarious, hilarious, and spontaneous in real life as she seems to be from her blog. I'm looking forward to having a baby-free winefest with her in the future. It will happen!

My "Real Job"
As much as I love blogging, although my sporadic presence here over the last few months may state otherwise, it doesn't pay the bills, and my "real job" has taken up a lot of my time, particularly since our return from Europe. The more I work, the more we have for a house and travel. But the more I work, the less time I have to write about it! It's a vicious cycle, especially with a very active and almost walking 9 month old in the house, but I love my job so I perceive the busyness as good job security.

Putting Down Roots
So we're buying a house! It's under construction by a local father-son craftsmen team, and I could not be more pleased with the quality nor more impressed by the speed of the construction. When I say father-son team, I literally mean that it's being built by just the father and son, sans the contractors for the foundation, plumbing, and electrical. All the framing, roofing, interior work, flooring - all of that - are being done by just two people. The pride in their work make it worth the wait, but we hope to be in our new place by Christmas! Cue the feverish Pinterest searches for how the heck to decorate it!

Social Media
Even when I have no time to blog, I keep a steady presence on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (in that order), so please follow me there if you aren't already. 

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on

So... how's your life lately?!

September 15, 2016

Eating Like Greek Gods

This post will be short on words and big on pictures. Because when it comes to food, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and wouldn't you rather drool over a photo than my boring descriptions?!

Grilled pork and french fries. Large portions, decent enough food, but a little pricey. 

Old Ithaki | Athens

Caesar salad, drenched in dressing. A little too much dressing for my taste. The picture does not do justice to the serving size; this could've easily been split between two people as an entree or between four as a side salad.

Old Ithaki | Athens

This was a #FoodFail meal, but I'm not sure whether to blame it on my finicky then-pregnant taste buds or the cook. The rice was crunchy and underdone, and the mushroom-chicken combo was just okay.

Taverna Karyatis | Athens

Hello, yummy seafood! Hubby enjoyed fried octopus with a rice pilaf on our first legit meal on the island of Thira (more commonly known as Santorini).

Restaurant Unknown | Oia, Santorini

Are you sensing a pattern of what my appetite was like during the first trimester? Light and healthy was the ticket for me, and this salad fit the bill. I mean, it's kind of hard to mess up a salad...

Restaurant Unknown | Oia, Santorini

Genuine Greek Gelato. 


Pita and tzatziki sauce.

Restaurant Unknown | Oia

More octopus for the hubby. Pregnant people can't have a lot of seafood, so my Greek experience was sadly lacking.

Restaurant Unknown | Oia

Lamb and rice pilaf delicousness for me. Two thumbs up for this meal!

Restaurant Unknown | Oia

A Greek salad for my last island meal.

Taverna Blue Sky | Oia

Souvlaki, tzatziki, and fries for hubby's last meal.

Taverna Blue Sky | Oia

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some Greek food! 

September 02, 2016

Best of Bavaria

We are currently enjoying the best of Bayern in the thousand year old city of Dinkelsbühl, my husband's German home town! Be sure to follow on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for daily photo updates while I am enjoying an otherwise "unplugged" vacation. 

August 22, 2016

Long Time, No Posts!

Hazy sunrise over Lake Victoria. Uganda, 2007.
So a few of you have noticed that things have been awfully quiet around here lately.

And to summarize my answers to the kind inquiries via email, social media private messages, and my college roommate's blunt query as to whether I'm pregnant and too tired to write:

No, I've not been kidnapped by pirates.
No, I haven't capitalized on my dream to move to a deserted island and become monarch of my own tribe.
No, I'm not in jail for vandalizing a pet store with graffiti reading, "Free the whales!"
And no, I'm not pregnant. (Sorry, mom.)

So why has it been over five weeks since my last post?

Well, life happened!

My big girl, pays-the-bills job career runs in high gear during the summer with only a slight downshift into the fall. Between work, home life, baby suddenly deciding that her only crawling speed is, like, mach five, and some weekend trips away, I've been too fill-in-the-blank to think about blogging.

At first, I felt anxious that I hadn't blogged in a while. Then I felt guilty that I was enjoying the break too much. Then I started feeling better (maybe it was all the chocolate I was eating?) as the pressure to "do for the sake of doing" started easing up.

Ultimately, breaks are a good thing. Without them, we get too burned out and lose the joy that we can find in our favorite activities. And I don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity either.

So while I am not back to blogging at the moment (we actually leave tomorrow for a nearly three week vacation!), I will be back. Refreshed, rejuvenated, revitalized. This place has always been a hobby and outlet for my passion for writing (and to humor the inner preteen who just wants an excuse to post selfies to an audience), and I don't want it to become something I dread doing just because I feel that I have to do so.

But I have still been stalking keeping up with the adventures of some of my favorite fellow bloggers, so if you're in need of some travel reading, be sure to check out the fellow gypsies I have linked to on the bottom right of my page.

And if you've been missing me too much, I still maintain my social media presence even when not writing!

So, how's your summer been?!

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July 15, 2016

Richmond Through the Eyes of a Local [Travel Blogger]

Every city has a combination of personality, culture, and natural attractions (or lack thereof) which makes it distinct from any other place in the world. Call it a fingerprint or call it a flavor - but each town is unique. When traveling to a new city or country, I seek out the best examples in each of these categories to get a holistic view of that place as a living, breathing entity of people and attractions.

And when I stop to seek out these same ideals in my own backyard, I come to one conclusion:

Richmond is one cool city.

Whether you live here, work here, or just pass through here, Richmond has something for everyone.

St. John's Church
...Come for the History, Stay for the Food
Richmond's history is colorful, and at times dark, but familiarity with its past brings deeper understanding of its present. You can find vestiges of revolution in St John's Church (located in the historic Church Hill neighborhood) for daily guided tours or every Sunday in the summer for free reenactments of Patrick Henry's famous Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death speech of 1775. Fast forward nearly a century to a nation at war with itself when Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The Museum & White House of the Confederacy and the historic Tredegar Ironworks, which will soon be breaking ground on a new museum, are both located in Richmond, and the area around the city is scarred with the battlefields of that conflict, most notably the famous crater at the Battle of Petersburg just to the south.

Twentieth century notables for Richmond include Agecroft Hall and the Virginia House, both originally built in England, bought, shipped, and reconstructed in Richmond along the James River during the the 1920s. These Tudor houses predate the oldest Virginia colonies, and touring Agecroft Hall in particular can take you back through several centuries' worth of history spanning two different countries.

Today Richmond stands out as a foodie destination, having most recently been named by National Geographic Travel as a must-taste destination for your taste buds in 2016. This is not Richmond's first appearance on various "best places to eat" lists, but perhaps the most buzzworthy shout-out in Richmonders' opinions was when Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter himself) informed Thrillist that one of the best meals he's ever had - in the world, mind you - was a steak fromage at Buckhead's Chophouse, located in a rather nondescript strip mall in Richmond's Tuckahoe district. Who would've thought?

In recent years many Hollywood standouts have visited Richmond to film movies and shows. PBS's new hit drama, Mercy Street, uses Richmond as their film location. Daniel Radcliffe was filming his upcoming movie Imperium when he discovered Buckhead's, and Spielberg's in-depth drama, Lincoln, used various buildings and locations in Richmond as stand-in representations of a 19th century D.C. Many waiters and waitresses in the River City will never forget the day they served a meal to various cast members, and the whole city was caught up in "Daniel Day-Lewis sightings" while filming was in progress.

Other RVA Favorites
Edgar Allan Poe Museum: Did you know that Poe spent many years living in Richmond? His mother is actually buried at St John's Church.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum: The late Elie Wiesel said that "for the dead and the living, we must bear witness." A visit to this museum will remind you of the atrocities of which man is capable along with the hope that can be found with those who survived the holocaust.
The John Marshall House: Belonging to the Great Chief Justice John Marshall, a native of Virginia, this brick residence was completed in 1790 by John Marshall and is one of the best examples of Federal architecture in the Commonwealth.
Shirley Plantation: Visit the oldest family-run business in the United States! The plantation dates back to 1638 with the house having been completed in 1738. It is a wonderful example of early American plantation life, best viewed in the summer when the crops and livestock are in full swing.

At the Capitol Complex
...Black and White and Rad All Over
Richmond has an attitude problem in the best possible way. For a state that was at the forefront of the Confederacy, Virginia ranks the highest in the US for interracial marriages. In fact, the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, which resulted in the Supreme Court striking down anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, originated right here in Richmond, Virginia. With racial tensions seemingly engulfing the nation, one can only hope that the interwoven relationships and friendships will continue to set Virginia - and Richmond - apart. Truly the state tourism slogan rings true in Richmond: Virginia Is For Lovers.

In fact the Richmond of today is full of contrasts: black and white, genteel and edgy, traditional and progressive. On one block you can see the some of the best examples of Old South architecture lining Monument Avenue, the only street listed on the National Register of Historic Places and touting fine Georgian, Victorian, or Colonial houses, and on the next street over, you can view fascinating street art blanketing an otherwise plain apartment building. Plenty of y'alls permeate conversations among strangers as here in the South there's no such thing as a stranger - just a friend you haven't made yet. Even transplants to the area find themselves picking up the idiosyncrasies of a city where sweet tea and fried chicken could be the official fare.

Either as a testament to its alternative-friendly atmosphere or a result of it, hipsters have flocked to Richmond, deepening the cultural contrast between bearded, skinny-jeaned men and the Country Club Prep ladies and gents passing each other on Carytown's bustling streets. It's cool to buck the mainstream, and it's cool to be mainstream in Richmond. Whatever floats your boat, y'all, but no matter what side of the river you live on, everyone comes together for $2 movies at the Byrd Theater.

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on

Other RVA Favorites
Strawberry Street Cafe: A Richmond taste bud destination since 1976, offering Southern inspired food.
Richmond Mural Project: Richmond gets a face lift and attitude adjustment at the annual street mural exhibit scattered throughout the city.
The National: This music venue brings in big names and local favorites, and a visit here is a must for any local, especially the hipsters.

...Summahtime is Rivah Time
When it gets hot and humid in Richmond, the only logical destination is the River. Richmond is the only city in the U.S. where you can navigate Class III and IV rapids against a city skyline. The James River is one of the most treasured natural resources of the area, and scoring a seat at a brewery, restaurant, or prime shady spot for river viewing might just be the highlight of your day. For family friendly outings, grab the stroller and head for Maymont Park; kids will ooooh and ahhhh over their small, but quality zoo. And if the thought of a cemetery doesn't automatically run chills down your back, head for Hollywood Cemetery, located on a commanding bluff over the river and as beautiful as any New Orleans or European resting place. There you can pay your respects to John Tyler and James Monroe, two of the five presidents claiming Virginia as their home, and also indulge in some supernatural legends of Richmond.

The abundance of festivals, many of which are hosted rain or shine, entice many to enjoy the great outdoors and ensure there is never a dull moment in the city. The Carytown Watermelon Festival, hosted annually on the second Sunday of August and now on its 33rd year, is possibly the most venerated, rivaled only by other fan favorites such as the Folk Festival, the Greek Food Festival, the Oktoberfest Festival, or maybe the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games. But there are so many festivals in Richmond, how could one possibly choose a favorite?

Northern Neck, VA
But there's even more nature to explore beyond Richmond, and there's no need to travel all that far. Within a 90 minute radius, you can park yourself on a secluded beach on Virginia's Northern Neck or hike the Humpback Rock trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The region just west of Richmond in the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley is emerging as the "Napa Valley" of Virginia; currently, there are over 250 wineries in the commonwealth and over 100 breweries, of which 10 can be found within Richmond city limits. Want some decent Vietnamese food with your beer? For the third year in a row, Mekong took the #1 spot for best "Great American Beer Bar" in the nation by, and for 2016, they won the top spot for Best Beer Bar in America hosted by USAToday 10Best! Take your Virginia brews on a float trip down the James River in Goochland County or escape to the beautiful Shenandoah River in the Appalachians. Richmond is the perfect staging point to reach most of the state in two hours or less.

Other RVA Favorites
The Canal Walk: Inspired by the beautiful River Walk in San Antonio, Richmond's Canal Walk is not quite there, but still pleases with its quiet pathways along the James River canals. (The TripAdvisor photos are sure to interest.)
Blue Bee Cider: Delicious local cider with beautiful views of Richmond's southern skyline. (Like, seriously, this view is legit.)

No matter how many beautiful cities, countries, and natural wonders I see on my travels, the unique combination of culture, personality, and outdoor entertainment makes the Richmond area a wonderful place to call home. Come by and see it for yourself.


Wander Mum

Linking up with:
 LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.

June 25, 2016

Traveling With Baby - Don't Forget the Rum

Passport. Check.
Tickets. Check.
Suitcase. Check.

So obviously that scenario hasn't happened (or else I'd be in jail for child neglect!), but the addition of a little one to a traveling family makes the packing list and to-do list grow exponentially.

Before Baby Gypsy was born, I had no real comprehension of just how big an impact one tiny person can have, particularly on outings. Forget the overnight stays, preparing for a trip to the grocery store can often feel like outlining a battle plan!

Williamsburg, Va.
Or so it seemed during the first three months of Baby Gypsy's life. Practice makes perfect, though, and with some regional traveling under our belts, we've grown more confident in our abilities to prepare and actually enjoy ourselves while out and about. It may take as twice as long and three times as many bags, but I love having our little third wheel along for the ride.

Nevertheless, traveling with a baby is certainly very different than traveling as a couple, and I have a few humorous insights for those of my readers who aren't card carrying members of the baby club.*

If you pull out a microscope, you can see the top of Dixie's head.
Gone are the days when I could throw everything into a carry-on and travel the world. Ok, ok, so I've never actually traveled the world in one trip. And I only used a carry-on when the trip was less than a week... but you know what I mean! Our first overnight trip with Baby Gypsy to Jamestown and Yorktown (in the same stinkin' state!) resulted in a game of impromptu Tetris as we tried to finagle all our gear into one small Ford Focus. Dixie was relegated to a tiny 6 x 12 space behind the driver's seat on a weekend trip to the Northern Neck last month. And I mean 6 x 12 inches! Poor thing barely had room to breathe.

Each subsequent trip results in slightly less gear, but I have a feeling that I'll still end up over-packing for baby and under-packing for myself when we go to Germany later this summer!

GoogleMap Drive Time Estimates Can Kiss My Diaper-Swaddled Behind
Two hour drive to the Northern Neck? Make that three. Ten hour drive to New York? Yeah, we'll see you in time for Christmas. Babies get hungry often. And when babies get hungry, babies scream. And if babies scream, parents will do anything in their power to just make it stop!

I used to pride myself on my punctuality. Now I consider it a success to show up within an hour of my intended start time and bonus points if my socks actually match. If GoogleMaps wanted to irrevocably ingratiate themselves with parents worldwide, they'd add a feature showing drive time with an infant or kids. And it'd be even better if they could automatically recommend stopping points along the way. Bonus points if it's near a liquor store so mom and dad can get their double shots of scotch before hitting the highway again (I kid, I kid... don't drink and drive!).

In other words, getting to your destination can take quite a bit longer with a little one in tow!

I'm officially a bag & stroller lady. #SoFab
It's All About the Bags
Before Baby Gypsy, I was all about the handbags. Classic, cute, but functional was my bag of choice. Post Baby Gypsy, I'm not so much a handbag lady as I am just a straight up Bag Lady. You know the kind - cross body bag slung under the diaper bag over one shoulder with the Nikon DSLR camera bag over the other (had to upgrade the photography gear to capture every drool-dripping smile for posterity!), baby carrier hanging from one arm and pulling the suitcase with the other because HEAVEN HELP US IF I HAVE TO TAKE MORE THAN ONE TRIP FROM THE CAR TO THE HOTEL!

Cuteness is no longer factored into my purchasing criteria when shopping for a new bag. If it's stain-resistant, spit-up repelling, has a zillion super-functional pockets, separators, sorters, and features a built-in diaper changing caddy and deluxe bottle warmer holster, just take all my money right now and give me two of them.

Baby Soothing Should Be an Olympic Sport
I spent the entirety of our thirty minute tour of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by the way) bouncing, swaying, and humming Baby Gypsy into distraction. I vaguely remember a few snippets of our tour guide's informative spiel, but primarily remember all the moments I spent keeping baby girl's hands off the historic eighteenth century pieces of furniture and original walls to avoid any disapproving looks and wondering what in the world I'd do if she were to spit-up all over the original green canvas flooring. Probably melt into a puddle of embarrassment.

Slow travel is better than no travel, right?!
Less Is More and More Is Suicide
Once upon a time, I saw many of London's big highlights in just 48 hours. I did the same thing in Paris only last year. The very idea of trying to do the same thing with an infant now is just laughable. In a world where nursing mothers have an impossible time trying to find privacy to feed their child, I have to factor in extra time to trek to and from the car every two hours or seek out an inconspicuous corner of a tourist attraction or stand miserably in a bathroom stall trying not to think about how many germs are floating around while my baby is eating - on top of the actual time it takes to actually tour the attraction. If I can manage seeing one major attraction or two minor ones in a day, then I've won the #TravelWithBaby lottery.

But you know what? In spite of all these adjustments, I wouldn't change my life for the world. Baby Gypsy makes our travel moments all the more sweet.

And to all you other mamas and papas traveling with babies, I'd pour you a shot of rum, but I just finished the bottle. Cheers, my friend!

*Please note that the tone of this post has been inflated for sarcasm's sake because it's a way more humorous read that way. I hope I've not scared you off from having kids because it's seriously THE BEST thing that has ever happened to me. Ever. In fact I plan to punish reward myself with even more kids in the future! ;) 

Linking up with:
 LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.