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Qunci Villas, Lombok, Indonesia

First off, I want to greet everyone a very Merry Christmas! I had some wonderful time with family last night. Speaking of family, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? This year, my whole family will be spending time all together at our place during the holidays. They will be coming from abroad, so I wouldn’t be doing some traveling during Christmas like I usually do. But that does not keep me from reminiscing about some of my wonderful Christmas Holiday trips.

Here is one from 2013 in Qunci Villas, Lombok. And if you’re ever looking for a place to spend your Christmas Holiday next year, I would highly recommend it. Here are some of my photos taken during our trip:

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The beautiful open-air bathroom — it’s always nice to take a shower under the canopy of the trees or the stars at night.

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One of the two swimming pools at the resort

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View from the balcony of one of the guestrooms

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That’s Bali in the horizon

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Lovely decors and accents

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Off to some island-hopping

The year 2013 was the first year of our return to the tropics, having lived in France for two years before that, so I had been thirsting to see the gorgeous tropical beaches that I have grown to be even more fond of during my stay in the temperate zone of Southern France. Lombok was the perfect place. It’s a quick plane ride from Singapore and it had this gorgeous French-owned resort called Qunci Villas.

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Dinner in our verandah

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Lunch!

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Some Christmas goodies that greeted us first thing in the morning on Christmas Day

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Cocktails with a view

It was my first time I spent Christmas outside of my country of residence. I found it very refreshing and very relaxing. Qunci Villas is a very relaxing place — a beautifully-designed resort with interesting art works scattered all over the villas and inside the guest rooms. It has two big swimming pools, both salt-chlorinated, which I prefer. There are two restaurants and a bar that we liked to frequent during sunset. The resort conveniently faces the beach and the sunset, with a view of the island of Bali in the not-so-distant horizon.

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Refreshment before the spa

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Organic facial ingredients

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After the facial

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Frangipani

To complete your plans of rest and relaxation, they also have a spa. I tried the full body massage and the facial. I totally enjoyed both and highly recommend going to their spa.

Thanks for reading and again, have a very Merry Christmas! 🙂

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Salvador Dali’s Cadaqués and Figueres, Spain

Some of the very first places I’ve visited while I was living in France were Cadaqués and Figueres (Catalan word for “fig trees”). These places piqued my interest because of my fascination with Salvador Dali.

In the beautiful Spanish region of Catalonia sits Salvador Dali’s home province of Girona where you will find these towns that have kept treasured memorabilia and masterpieces of the artist. Luckily, it was only three hours’ drive from Toulouse.

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Crossing the Pyrenées on the way to Girona, Spain from Toulouse, France

Our first stop was Cadaqués. On the way there, we had to go around this hilly area covered with endless rows of olive tree plantations with the backdrop of the gorgeous Mediterranean sea. It was so beautiful! I had never seen anything quite like it. I have so much respect for olive trees, being difficult to cultivate and how they can withstand the test of time. It’s one of the many things in the Mediterannean countries that I love so much.

Along the stretch of Cadaques‘ coast, you will find Salvador Dali‘s house at Portlligat, which has actually been turned into a museum. It looked very bright and beautiful from the outside. But we’ve read some information that it is not really very interesting on the inside. We thought we’d just save our money for the Figueres Museum so we just walked around the area instead of going in.

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Salvador Dali’s house in Portlligat, Cadaqués, Spain

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The grounds of Salvador Dali’s house, facing the sea

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Souvenir shop

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Ancient wall clock

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One of the beautiful stone houses in the area

Before heading straight to the Dali Theater and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dali) in Figueres, we first stopped by a beach area lined with seafood restaurants. The houses facing the beach give a bright and summery feel despite the cloudy autumn weather. We had a good seafood lunch in one of the restaurants and then wandered a bit into the beach where we found a statue of Salvador Dali himself.

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Salvador Dali’s statue

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Beautiful house amid the restaurants

From the outside, the Teatre-Museu Dali looks very imposing. The museum was once a theater where Dali’s first art works were exhibited. It was burned during the Spanish Civil War and was later on rebuilt as the Dali Museum that it is now.

They were offering discounted entrance fees to students at the time. Luckily, I was a student at Alliance Française de Toulouse at the time. I showed them my student ID and it worked!

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Dali’s signature

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The steps leading to the main entrance of The Dali Museum… this statue called “Homage to Newton” is the same one that is displayed at UOB Plaza in Singapore, minus the pendulum.

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An air well inside the museum, his remains are buried beneath the grounds here… if I remember correctly

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One of the huge surrealist art works inside the museum… I was actually very much feeling this painting during my visit because I was pregnant at the time.

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I love the bricked walls, the high ceileing and of course the weird art works… especially the ones dedicated to his wife, Gala

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Children on a field trip

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You can view the kids from this mirror, and they look like they are part of the art installation

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Ceiling mural

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Now this is what I call a “shitty opening”… literally!

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Entrance to the Jewelry Museum

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My favorite piece inside the Jewelry Museum — a golden heart with a crown and a beating heart in the middle

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The Teatre-Museu Dali from the outside with the funny-looking gigantic eggs

The museum does not only house Dali’s quirky art works, it also serves as his final resting place. There is also a small Jewelry Museum containing jewelry art pieces from the artist himself. There was this unforgettable heart sculpture covered with gold. On top of it sits a crown and on in the inside is a small bejewelled beating heart.

We could’ve continued to the Púbol Castle, Dali’s famous gift to his wife Gala, which has also been turned into a museum, but we only had one day and we had to drive back to Toulouse.

Thanks for revisting Dali’s home town with me. Have a good weekend! 🙂

New Zealand

Last year for Christmas, our family, together with my in-laws decided to spend the holidays in New Zealand. We originally wanted to go to Sri Lanka but were disappointed to find that as early as July, all the good hotels were already fully booked. While searching for  a new destination, the thought of New Zealand came to mind because I had never been there and it always seemed like an interesting place full of adventures. Luckily enough, we found out that there were still a lot of availability on flights and hotels at the time of our search and so we decided to immediately go for it. And we were not disappointed. It was one of the best trips and one of the best places I have visited.

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Auckland from the ferry boat on the way to Waiheke Island

Our first stop was Auckland. We arrived mid-day from our very long and tiring flight. Auckland was bright and summery in December but it gets quite chilly at night. We got a hotel close to Victoria Street and the harbour. It was Boxing Day when we arrived and all the shops were on sale. It’s a very pleasant city for walking. There were very nice restaurants along the harbour where we sat for apéro and had dinner. We also had our New Year’s Eve dinner at a very nice and modern restaurant called Matterhorn.

The next day we took a boat trip to Waiheke, the closest island from the city. We originally wanted to go farther out but we considered how it would be too tiring for my small daughter. Waiheke is a lovely island with beautiful beaches and huge vineyards. We took a half-day bus trip with a tour guide that told us about the history of the island and also gave us tips about which vineyard restaurant to go for lunch.

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The view of Palm Beach in Waiheke

After the bus tour, we stopped by a couple of beaches. It’s too bad the waters were not warm enough for me to swim. We found a nice vineyard restaurant where we had a semi-lunch. Most of the vineyard restaurants were fully booked but we found one that served apéro at their cozy wine-tasting garden area, filled with sweet-smelling herbs.

The next day, we went on a road trip to Rotorua. Before going straight to the hotel, we took a side-trip to Hobbiton in Mata-Mata. The place was really nice, huge and interesting especially for the kids. But I find that there were too many people and that it was very hot to walk around early in the afternoon. Good thing they offer free refreshments at the end of the trip.

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This is the very first hobbit house that greets you upon entering Hobbiton

The director of the movie, Peter Jackson is actually a native of New Zealand. The driver of the bus fom the i-Site and the tour guide at Hobbiton offered lots of interesting trivia about the movie. As we neared the place, there were parts of the area where it looked a bit like Tuscany. I thought at first I would have difficulty understanding the locals because of their accent, but surprisingly, I didn’t.

We stayed for a few days in Rotorua at a motel close to the city center. There was an interesting park called Kuirau Hot Pools nearby, where you can soak your feet in some shallow baths and cross a wooden bridge across a giant pool of smouldering hot water. It was amazing!  For a cooler and more relaxing walk, we spent one afternoon visiting a forest filled with tall sequoia trees and giant ferns. You can either go for a short leisurely walk or camp for several days.

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The Champagne Pool at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

About an hour’s drive from the center you arrive at Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. Make sure to get there early as the tiny road that deviates from the highway is really narrow and causes jams due to people going in and out to see the geyser. If you want my opinion, you can totally skip the geyser, just head directly to the park. It is advisable to carry a sunhat, put on some sunblock and carry some water with you as there is not much shade on the trails. The hot pools were a sight to behold, with such magnificent colors. Although, you will have to forget about the putrid smell of sulphur, if you want to enjoy the trip.

New Zealand for Christmas is not a bad idea at all, especially if you don’t mind having an out-of-the-usual, warm holiday season instead of the cliché-ish cold. It is very suitable for adventure trips and surprisingly enough, it is also family-friendly. What’s even more special about the yuletide season in New Zealand is that you get to experience the new year way ahead of most everyone in the planet! What a treat! 🙂

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend! 🙂

London, Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

The London Experience was definitely a first of many firsts in my traveling history. Among these firsts was the first time ever for me to step in Europe. Everything around me was such a visual treat! That’s why I decided the best way for me to show you around London and a bit of its countryside is by way of my humble pictures. Scroll down for the London of Summer 2008…

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On the way to the hotel, I passed by this small Filipino grocery.

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The hotel was situated close to a line of brown-bricked houses/apartments with lovely flowers outside the windows

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London underground directory — most of the stations were closed down and needed fixing almost every day I was there… most old European city underground trains are like this.

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I was fascinated about how old the London Underground is and at the same time dismayed about its dilapidated, decaying and neglected state.

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Hyde Park

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Peter Pan’s statue at Hyde Park

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Changing of the Guard

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Entertainment at Trafalgar Square

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I remember reading A Study in Scarlet right before visiting London

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Souvenir items

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The busy area close to the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

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The Roman Baths

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Jane Austen’s apartment

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Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire among all cathedrals in the UK

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It also has one of the original copies of the Magna Carta

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I love these gothic arches

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Ceiling art

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The oldest working clock in the world from 1386 AD

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It was quite a long trip from London to go to the Stonehenge. And when I got there, I wasn’t all that fascinated. I didn’t bother to go inside the fence. I was more interested in the surrounding hills which had some mounds for ancient tombs.

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One of the ancient tombs surrounding Stone Henge

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England’s pretty white rose

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This is one of the oldest pubs in London which was frequented by some of the famous writers (including Charles Dickens) back in the day. I had some fish and chips and beer inside.

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Ancient looking clock at Fleet Street

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Tower Bridge

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The dungeons with the Gherkin in the background

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The modern bridge to Tate Modern

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At the British Museum

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Drinks at The Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub — drinks to keep you warm from the cold rain

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Curious shop

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Oldest book shop in town

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Watching Les Miz for the first time!

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At Kings Cross on the way back to the airport

Some of the special things that I’ve enjoyed and might not have been so apparent in the pics: the friendly Filipino strangers at the airport, the very nice cabbie who didn’t take the fare because he took the wrong route on the way to the hotel, the people in the streets mistaking me for a teenager (I was 29 years old) but nobody bothered to ask for my ID in the pubs, how it was raining a little bit every day, the fresh flowers everywhere, the lovely parks, the museum with the Seurat painting, all the ten pubs that I’ve visited to make me appreciate beer for the first time, etc.

I would someday love to go back to London, and maybe visit other areas in the UK as well. But for now, I’m quite content looking back at the memories of my travel through my blogs and pictures.

Thanks for dropping by!

Cheers, and have a good weekend!

Rocamadour, France

During the time I was living in France, I had some time to explore the interesting places around the region of the Pyrénées. This is the gorgeous ice-capped mountain range that I could see clearly during the autumn months from the lovely balcony of our apartment in Toulouse. It separates the south of France from the north-east of Spain, which is what is known as Catalunya. I was living with my husband and newborn daughter in the capital of the region of Midi-Pyrénées, which is the old city of Toulouse, also known as La ville rose. This appellation came from the rich red color of the bricks of most houses in this beautiful city, full of history and culture and great food, with very warm and friendly people.

Recently, though, they are renaming and combining certain regions around the Pyrénées. These combined regions are now known as Occitanie. In this region, you will find Rocamadour, an ancient village nestled in a gorge above the Dordogne river, with houses precariously jutting right out of the rocks and cliffs.

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Pilgrims are quite numerous in this place, mostly elderly people. It’s quite convenient for them because there are elevators, although you need to pay to use them. There is also a grotto, which could be interesting for some, but the guided tour is only done in French. What interested me most was climbing on top of the tower, which offers a breath-taking birds-eye view of the place. And also the spectacular view at the tourist information area — the picture that is found at the topmost of this page.

This was probably one of the best places I have ever visited in this region. You get the feeling of being transported back in time, arriving at this place. The Game of Thrones vibe is thick in the air. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to visit such an amazing place.

Thanks for dropping by and have a good weekend! 🙂

Birthday at Boracay Shangri-La Resort

For the longest time, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to take a dip once again in the beautiful, warm waters of the Philippines. And what perfect excuse is there to spoil myself (and my family + a close friend who tagged along) at a nice luxury resort than on the weekend of my birthday.

Sand, sea, sky in one of the best white sand beaches this world has to offer — the perfect gift for my birthday. You will notice that I am posting a lot of pictures of myself for the first time. I hope you will bear with me because it’s my birthday. The resort really offers perfectly blissful opportunities for glorious photo-ops. This is also the first time I’m posting pictures that were all taken via iPhone camera and not DSLR. I wanted to travel light and enjoy my time, so I decided to do away with the hassle of carrying a big camera and heavy lenses. 🙂

I was a little bit sad, though, to find how polluted the once glorious and pristine white beach of Boracay has become. Sadly, a lot of people really have no respect for the environment. The truth is, I have been warned about this by a lot of friends. This is the reason why I chose to stay at a resort with its own private beach areas.

I really do miss the Boracay of old — the clear, alga-free waters of white beach, the authentic eateries and small shops, the quiet during the non-peak season. Boracay Island actually once belonged to the clan of Lola Heide — the Tirol‘s. She was the landlady of my dormitory back in Manila. I saw pictures of Boracay from way back in the 60’s. It was gorgeous. And now, it’s all just in the pictures. Hopefully, it will get rehabilitated someday soon. But for now, let us try to do our small part by not being part of the problem.

About the Shangri-La Resort

First of all, it was beyond gorgeous! If you stayed there and then tried to get out to see the rest of Boracay, everything else just pales in comparison. During this typhoon-infested time of the year, there are actually more staff/workers around the 12-hectare vicinity of the resort… which is just perfect!.. but you have to be lucky to not be inconvenienced by typhoons during your stay. We had a few, short drizzles and cloudy skies, but we managed to have a bit of the sun too. It was still pleasant weather considering it was October.

Our room had a gorgeous view of the beach. We had a verandah with day beds. It was kept very clean all the time. The service was really good.

The drinks at Solana Bar, together with the staff and the band were all superb. And they were all very patient with my little daughter. Same with Sirena Restaurant where I had my birthday dinner. Although, I would say the food was a bit overpriced. But then you have the gorgeous view of the sea, the excellent service and only the singing band to distract you from the lull of sea breeze and the crashing of the waves on the shore.

They also have activities for the kids. But we weren’t able to check them out because it was such a short stay.

Everything was impeccable and perfect except for a few minor mishaps. I would give it an almost excellent rating — 4.95 out of 5 stars, I would say. Definitely worth the money.

Thank you all for reading and have a gorgeous week! 🙂

Iceland – the Land of Fire and Ice

To date, I would say that Iceland is the best place I have ever visited in all my traveling life. From that moment in the plane where we were greeted with the fiercest, most fiery sunset at midnight, I knew instantly that I would be treated to some of the most magnificent, out-of-this-world landscapes that I will ever see in my life.

We went from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon in the East to Borgarnes in the West to Akureyri in the North and then finally back to Reykjavik on self-drive (without GPS). I have to admit that all the places of interest are a little bit too far away from each other. But getting to your destinations is definitely not boring because of the variety of landscapes that Iceland has to offer.

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Skogafoss

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Fjadrarglufur

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An evil bunny photo bomber behind me

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These purple flowers are everywhere

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Reynisfjara rocks

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Ensku Husin, Our charming hotel in Borgarnes

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Deildatunghuver hot spring in Reykholtsdalur

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Godafoss

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Seafood is really good and fresh in Iceland

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The sunset at midnight

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View from the breakfast room of Ensku Husin

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Strikid Restaurant in Akureyri

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Myvatn, the Blue Lagoon of the North

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Interesting landscape colors

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Crater of an extinct volcano

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Wreaking havoc at the Hallgrimskirkja

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The Hallgrimskirkja

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View of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja

We saw countless waterfalls, drove by the coast, up and around hills, hiked on mini-craters on a huge lake, soaked in a hot spring and felt very welcomed by the friendly locals.

On our last full day in Reykjavik, my Icelandic friend gave us a tour of the city and had dinner at a very nice and famous restaurant. It was definitely one of my most memorable trips, and a place worth revisiting.

For a more detailed retelling of my Iceland trip, head over to riosebastian.com.

Thanks for dropping by and have a good weekend! 🙂