Seoulicious

While this post is pretty delayed, I am still dreaming of the delicious food tour I had in Seoul at the start of May. In Seoul, there is an area heavily populated by foreigners called Itaewon – lucky for me, this area is a foodie paradise. As I have complained about often throughout my time in Korea, I have been quite deprived of my foodie and wino needs.

Thankfully, I left my weekend in Seoul with a happy tummy – you could say Seoul was good for my soul. This post is mostly for other foodies living in Korea, who are struggling to find delicious international food, so here we go. (Warning – I’d stop here if you’re already hungry for lunch).

The Flying Pan Blue

Brunch – the most important meal of the day (well, on the weekend at least). Luckily, there are ample opportunities to get your brunch on in Itaewon. We found this adorable hidden gem that served delicious Norwegian Benedict and mediocre coffee. I approve.

Burger Mine

This place is a bit outside Itaewon in Yongsan, but well worth the trek. The veggie burger was good (by Korean standards), but the real highlight was the “Animal Fries”. Apparently these are a take on a dish served at In-N-Out – french fries with thousand island dressing – yummmm.

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Soft Queen

Who doesn’t love soft serve? What’s better, is soft serve with crumbles of oreos sprinkled on top and a churro!

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Pizza Peel

I have a love-hate relationship with pizza in Korea. While it fulfills my cravings, it just isn’t Pepi’s (Holla Kitchener friends). What I do love, is that they serve their pizza here with – wait for it- honey and pickles. I’m not kidding, dip your cheese pizza in honey, and put some pickles on the side. Flipping delicious. Anyways, pizza peel does a pretty great job at a traditional pizza, and at an affordable price.

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Pizza Perfection

Champ Coffee

If I haven’t already mentioned it, my life here consists of drinking endless packets of instant coffee. It’s a sad life. Champ Coffee is a step in the right direction with regards to good coffee. However, the fact that it’s tucked out of the way down a quite alley, and has awesome hipster vibes gives it bonus points.

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#DoItForTheInsta

Gusto Taco

Another spot outside of Itaewon, but yes – so much yes. Gusto taco is amazing. Their tacos and their quesadillas are sooo good. They make their own tortillas in house, and it’s all delicious. Their nachos are a-okay, but I have come to expect nothing more than that from Korean nachos.

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That cheese crunch though…

Canucks

Nothing to make you feel like you’re at home more than a Canadian bar. 401 Highway signs, a Canada Post mailbox, delayed playoff hockey games, poutine, and whiskey – what more could a girl ask for? The poutine was incredible, and there were even real cheese curds – I’m not even sure where they find those suckers in Korea. Two thumbs up for Canucks poutine.

The weeks before getting sick and my trips to Vietnam and Seoul, I was hitting the gym hard. Probably a good thing as I spent my entire weekend in Seoul eating, and then resting up just so I could eat again. What can I say, I live to eat. Nom noms.

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#Namcation

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Towards the beginning of my contract, I found out that I would have the chance to take off a week in May due to National Holidays. I was so excited as I was thinking I wouldn’t have a getaway until August when Jay visits. Anyways, luckily I was able to snag some moderately pricey flights to Vietnam with my friend Caitlin, so off we went.

While Vietnam doesn’t seem like a large country, we only attempted to see Northern Vietnam, and I still feel like we hardly scratched the surface. That being said, in five days, we managed to visit Hanoi, Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Our vacation spanned a total of five nights – two on a sleeper train, two on a boat, and one on a short, 4 hour, red-eye flight. Needless to say, we did not come home from this vacation even remotely refreshed. However, it was worth it.

I think I say this about most places I have traveled at this point, but Vietnam has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (okay, there is no way it trumps Iceland). Beyond the beauty, I was so surprised by the outpouring kindness of the people, and also of the English proficiency everywhere we went. I can’t express enough gratitude towards the universe for being born into an English speaking society – us English speakers are truly privileged.

As I mentioned, we visited three main spots in Northern Vietnam. Each spot was completely unique in comparison to the next, so I have to reflect on them individually.

Hanoi

Bah, what a bat-shit crazy city. We didn’t spend much time in Hanoi – I tend to gravitate to more rural areas, and don’t need much time to appreciate a city. There were very few quiet spots in Hanoi – the motorbikes and the people made it impossible to get a moment of silence unless you were inside. That being said, the energy was contagious, and helped me stay alert while running on no sleep – I was reminded to be more aware as motorbikes nearly clipped me while driving by. Hanoi – a city you could easily get run over by a vehicle or motorbike – crossing the street was absolutely insane. I thought it was difficult crossing the street in Korea at times, well thanks to Hanoi, that’s a breeze now!

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Motorbike madness

Now it wouldn’t be a vacation if we didn’t indulge in some awesome Vietnamese food, so of course, our first stop when we landed was to the highest rated Italian joint in the city – whoops. Props to Vietnam, because it was a pretty bomb pizza. Okay okay, onto the Vietnamese food… While in Hanoi, we didn’t get to try much because we were short on time, but I wasn’t leaving without trying three things: Bahn Mi, Pho & Vietnamese coffee. All were delicious, but oh em gee the coffee – probably the best I have ever had. If you are a coffee lover, go to Vietnam, go right now.

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VEGAN PHO
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Bahn Mi

Sapa

Oh Sapa… Sapa is one of those places that leaves an imprint on your heart. It’s one of those places that you daydream about when you get a bad wave of wanderlust when you’re having a rough day at work, or when you’re sitting in a Canadian snowstorm wishing for better weather.

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Taking it all in.

There are no words to describe how lovely Sapa is. We spent a day trekking in Sapa – I would normally say that wasn’t enough, but it was 30 degrees Celsius PLUS the humidity, so it was definitely enough. Our day trek in Sapa was led by a guide through a company called Sapa Sisters. They employ all local women to run the treks, and they are all private tours. While trekking through the Sapa Valley and taking in the sights of the beautiful rice fields, and water buffalo bathing in mud, I also got to talk with our guide, Zo. She shared so much about her life in Vietnam – her son, her work, things about her community. We discussed the differences between our cultures and shared many laughs. She was truly wonderful.

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Our amazing guide – Zo!

One wonderful thing about Vietnam is the abundance of babies! I’m not kidding – babies, babies everywhere! For those of you who know me, you know that this is essentially my paradise. Our guide Zo even hooked me up with a four month old baby to hang with when we stopped in the village for lunch – what a magical moment. Another memorable moment was a baby, not more than two years old, who yelled bye to us at least 17 times as we were leaving. It turned into a game, and I kept turning around to say bye to her, and she would say it again, and again, and again. What a smart cookie learning English already.

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Happiness is stealing babies.
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And puppies…
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Smart kids already knew English (and they weren’t wearing pants) – so wise.

Our day in Sapa ended with a motorbike ride back into the village. While I thought I would be scared for my life as we were headed directly into oncoming vehicles, it was a surprisingly calm experience for me. Kinda makes me wanna get a motorbike…

Ha Long Bay – Bai Tu Long Bay

Alright, I admit it – I hate organized tours. I hate being told what to do, I hate being told where to go, I hate being given a schedule to follow, and I hate rules. WOW, I sound super bitter. However, Ha Long Bay is a beautiful place that is far too challenging to visit without going on an organized boat tour.

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Our boat at sunset.
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Our guide telling me how to take photos – I’m clearly having none of it…

Luckily, our boat tour was really great – our guides were awesome, the people on our boat were lovely, the weather was good, and the Ha Long Bay area is stunning. I expected a few of those rock formations here and there – no, no, no, they just keep going and going forever. No matter where you go in that area, there are these miraculous rock formations, and so many of them. If I knew anything about them, I would tell you, but I don’t, so Google it – or you can visit my friend Caitlin’s blog – cause she knows shit about science, and I don’t.

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Starting our cruise through the mystery rock formations.

We spent a lot of time relaxing on the boat – the food was good and they had wine, so my tummy and my heart were super happy (Korea has been depriving me of my usual wine intake, and it is very distressing). Caitlin and I discovered that we vibe well with lovely couples from other cultures. We met a wonderful couple from Israel, and another from France.

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Sunsets are my favourite.

We also had the chance to visit a rural fishing village in the bay, where people actually live in floating houses. I admire those people – I was so sea sick after two days on the boat that I thought I might die. Followed by nearly a week of, what is called, “land sickness”, who even knew that was a thing? I felt like I was on a boat for almost a week after I was actually on a boat. Essentially, I felt like one of those bobble head things, and I would get awesome waves of nausea. It was pretty rough. However, the beautiful views made it all worthwhile.

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People LIVE here…

Anyways, I’ve blabbed enough about my awesome Namcation, and I will certainly be going back. Stay tuned for my next post about how I gained 10 lbs in Seoul. Nom noms.

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The closest I got to swimming, as there was a swimming ban in Ha Long Bay.

Life in Korea: Initial Impressions

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I have officially been in Korea over a month; I have been living in my apartment for more than three weeks, and I have started teaching. Since I have landed, everything has gone abnormally smooth (especially for my usual track record for near-death experiences while travelling – ie. the Iceland incident of 2016).  Because of this, a few questions have popped into my head since I have arrived in my apartment and settled in:

  • Am I supposed to be this comfortable?
  • Should a transition this big transition feel this easy?
  • Soooo, when is this whole “culture shock” thing going to hit me?

I still have no answers to these questions but I am waiting for the inevitable culture shock to smack me in the face – so I am sure I will have an entire blog post to write when that happens.

One of my initial impressions of Korea are the amount of small things that have made me think -“Wow, that’s smart – why don’t we do that in North America?”…

Examples:

  • Chairs that tuck themselves in, so you don’t have to
  • Heated floors in all homes and apartments – who doesn’t love warm toasty floors to walk on?
  • There are buttons at restaurants that you can push if you need service….or just waving at the server is completely acceptable. None of that awkward – “Oh, how is your first bite?” nonsense when you have a mouth full of food.
  • 360 degree photo stands for your phone in touristy areas – who needs a selfie stick?

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Aside from this, I have thoroughly enjoyed pointing out the hilarity in many signs throughout Korea…See below…

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Aside from these funny quirks that I have observed in Korea, I have really started to enjoy this beautiful country. While I have struggled with navigation since everything is in Hangul (the Korean alphabet), I am very fortunate that I speak English; there is just enough English around to get me by.

Over the past month, I have done my best to immerse myself into the Korean culture, and explore as much as I can. Throughout this process, I have developed a love for Jimjilbangs, Korean bathhouses where you strip down naked and hang out hopping from bath, to bath, to sauna; Korean food, especially Kimchi, I just can’t seem to get enough Kimchi; teaching, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy this much; and lastly, the Korean people, who have been incredibly welcoming and warm since I have arrived in Korea. I had a conversation with a friend recently about the idea that we are considered “foreigners”, but most times we are treated so unbelievably well that it would never feel like you would expect; Korea has naturally become my home away from home.

I have frequently thought to myself that it really doesn’t “feel” like I am living in Korea. I am waiting for that inevitable moment where I feel like I have entirely left my comfort zone, but it has yet to come. Perhaps this is related to distraction – I have been insanely busy lesson planning, teaching, working towards completing my Masters, going to social events, and exploring my city and neighboring cities. Perhaps when things calm down, it will all settle in. I hope to have a post soon about my apartment, my school and  my local neighborhood. Until then…

Morocco: Beautiful landscapes, delicious food and a side of culture shock

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In November 2016 I traveled to Morocco on my own. My first time visiting Africa, and my first time visiting a primarily Muslim country. I had read a number of blogs about the challenges of travelling through Morocco and dismissed them, thinking I would have a different experience… I did not. Morocco was beautiful and safe, but also a frustrating and challenging country to navigate as a young, solo, Caucasian woman.

My 11 Day Morocco Experience

**Full disclosure: I tend to get a little intense with my itineraries and they are often more ambitious than the average person. I came home exhausted and not at all refreshed. If this is not your style of travel, I would scale this back…. a lot**

Day 1 – Arrival & Marrekech

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Marrakech’s Main Square

I arrived in Marrakech late afternoon – I had pre-arranged pick up from my hostel (200dh), I now know that I was significantly overcharged for this as I took a taxi back to the airport for 70dh. (Dh = dirhams – Morocco’s local currency. Many places also take Euros). The first night I stayed at Marrakech Rouge Hostel – where I did not have the most positive experience. I dined at a small local restaurant and enjoyed some vegetable tagine (Tagine is a traditional Moroccan dish and the most common meal you’ll find on your travels).

Day 2 – Departure for the Sahara & Aït Benhaddou

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Ait Benhaddou

Early AM departure with my tour to the Sahara Desert (Merzouga) – There are two deserts in Morocco. The one I chose to visit is between an 8 and 12 hour bus ride away (to be honest, I stopped counting the hours on the bus).

On route to the desert we visited Aït Benhaddou,  a Berber village built in the 11th Century that has been used for filming movies such as the Gladiator and the show Game of Thrones.  Be mindful that these “side tours” cost extra money – so be prepared and have cash on hand because it will happen often during your desert tour.

We arrived in the Dodra Gorge area where we stayed overnight – our hotel was freezing. I was fortunate enough to have packed a sleeping bag liner (I would have froze without it).

Day 3 – Todra Gorge and Arrival in the Sahara Desert

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Todra Gorge (I clearly ran out of travel poses)

Continuing our trek towards the desert we went on another village tour where we basically received a carpet sales pitch…I’m a sucker and bought one. Bargain as much as you can, I made the mistake of not doing this and definitely overpaid.

Next stop was to visit the Todra Gorge – a beautiful spot.

Arrived in Merzouga (the city that neighbours the Sahara Desert) before sunset – where we got on our camels and started the trek into the desert.

PSA – If you have an interest in animal welfare/animal rights I would NOT recommend doing a camel tour. I seriously regret doing this, as the camels were clearly not well treated and were very unhappy standing up and sitting down with riders on their backs.

Unfortunately, I had a negative experience in the desert due to rain (what are the odds?), and the staff sexually harassing the women on the tour. Check the reviews before you use a tour company  – most people had a significantly better experience than I did.

Arrived in the desert via camel where we had dinner and slept.  

TIP – pack light and bring TP (you will basically be peeing outside on a sand dune). You need to bring next to nothing to the desert and can leave everything in your tour bus. No sense bringing it on the camel like I did.

Day 4 – Departure from the Sahara

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Sunrise in the Sahara

Expect to be woken up while it is still dark out to the sound of screaming camels (not particularly pleasant). Then you will head back to Merzouga for breakfast and start your bus ride home. The highlight of the desert tour was definitely the sunrise – worth waking up for.

The bus ride home was long with only stops to use the bathroom and for food. Expect to arrive in Marrakech in the late evening.

Day 5 – Ozoud Waterfall Tour

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Ozoud Waterfall (North Africa’s highest waterfall)

Ozoud is beautiful and is a nice opportunity to get in a small hike. I did a tour through my hostel and once again, the “tour guide” wasn’t included in the price. A few of us decided to opt out and explore on our own. We were told there are “many paths” and we wouldn’t be able to find our way on our own. This is not true. The paths are easy to navigate – you basically follow the river to the waterfall. Overall, a nice day trip from Marrakech!

Day 6 – Bus to Essaouira

The bus from Marrakech to Essaouira was roughly three hours and leaves frequently through the day.

Note – there are two bus companies in Morocco that service different routes – which I didn’t realize until halfway through my trip.

  1. CTM – Runs buses only
  2. SupraTours/ONCF – This company runs some bus routes AND the train system.

Their websites are easy to navigate for looking up schedules. These bus companies have separate bus stations in each city – be careful not to mix them up. Also, be mindful that the buses are often late so scheduling transfers with some time in between is a good idea. I missed a transfer once and had to wait 3-4 hours in the bus station.

Essaouira is a magical place and was a breath of fresh air after the chaos of my desert tour and Marrakech. Take a walk along the port, beach and outside the city walls, eat some delicious fresh seafood, and wander the medina where you will not get harassed like you do in the larger cities.

I didn’t get the chance to – but there are opportunities for outdoor activities such as surfing and windsurfing.

I also visited a private authentic Hammam and would highly recommend if you are looking for an authentic, cultural and relaxing experience. Keep an open mind and don’t expect a Western spa experience!

Day 7 – Exploring Essaouira

I spent the day exploring Essaouira and then took a bus back to Marrakech at dinner time. From Marrakech, I took an overnight bus to Fes and then continued to Chefchaouen.

Day 8 – Arrival in Chefchaouen

I spent a lot of the day bussing and arrived in Chefchaouen later in the afternoon. This was a long trek, but well worth it.

Day 9 – Exploring Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen was my favourite city I visited in Morocco. It was beautiful, calm and the people were friendly. A sleepy mountain town where the medina was painted shades of blue by Jewish refugees centuries ago is the perfect place to get lost and explore in and out of the medina. Surrounded by mountains, there are plentiful opportunities for hiking. I spent some time hiking up to the outside of the city walls and up to the Spanish Mosque (beautiful views of the city and a great spot to watch the sunset). There is additional hiking in the area, but unfortunately, I didn’t have time for this. I spent most of my time wandering around the medina photographing cats and doors.

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Cats….Cats everywhere
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Daytime view from the Spanish Mosque
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Chefchaouen Medina
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Sunset views from the Spanish Mosque

Day 10 – Travel Day & Returning to Marrakech

NOTE – BOOK YOUR BUS BACK TO MARRAKECH/FES/WHEREVER YOU ARE GOING WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN CHEFCHAOUEN. BUSES BOOK UP FAST.

Day 11 – Last Chance to Explore Marrakech

Spent the morning wandering around the Marrakech medina and enjoyed lunch at a delightful restaurant called Zwin Zwin Cafe – on the expensive side, but the food was delicious, they take credit card and even serve WINE! I was able to get a little buzz on before heading to the Marrakech airport to fly home.

General Things to be aware of:

  • Dress modestly – I made a rule to keep my shoulders and knees covered at all times. This draws significantly less attention to yourself.
  • Men will approach you – As a solo woman traveller, this is something you have to decide how you want to handle. I found I got very fed up by advances made by men and catcalls in the medina. My approach was to be extremely firm and I found this got the best response. While walking around the medinas, I would put my headphones in and listen to my music – this helped if I was feeling irritable and didn’t want to deal with the catcalls.
  • NOWHERE TAKES CREDIT CARD – seriously, nowhere… I found two places my entire trip that accepted Visa. Bring cash.
  • Wine/other alcohol is extremely hard to come by – There are some restaurants and a few stores that sell alcohol but they are far and few.
  • The culture is very different. Expect to be hustled for money everywhere you go. Also expect to pay someone if they help you with anything. Especially in the larger cities. If you don’t want to pay money, don’t accept directions from someone, follow people places, etc. I underestimated how much this would get to me. You will feel taken advantage of – it’s just part of the culture.

Was Morocco a beautiful country and did I enjoy my trip? Yes.

Would I go back? Probably not.

I’ve seen it, and it was wonderful, challenging, and frustrating all at the same time and I would recommend anyone visit so long as they have a good backbone and are prepared to delve into a very different culture than they are used to.

Iceland’s Top 10 Sights

Since travelling to Iceland in June 2016, I have had an infinite amount of friends asking me for tips, tricks and “must sees”. In response to this, I decided to do a post about my favourite places in Iceland.

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Myself and two friends rented a campervan and traveled the entire Ring Road in 6 days (not recommended by most). We had the time of our lives – here are my favourite spots along the way (in no specific order)

1. Þingvellir National Park

Snorkeling (or diving) between the tectonic plates

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This was one of my most memorable experiences in Iceland. After getting bundled up in a two layer dry suit, we had the chance to snorkel in some of the purest and clearest water in the world. While pricey, it was definitely a worthwhile experience. **Note if you have your diving certification – the dive also looked incredible**

2. Godafoss

Favourite waterfall of the north (Tip: Foss = Waterfall)

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This waterfall in the North is beautiful and powerful. You could spend hours just walking around.

3. Vindbelgjarfall

A beautiful day hike

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A good hike in the Myvatn Lake area with some challenging terrain and breathtaking views at the top. Bring up some beers and snacks and enjoy the view. Stay on the path both ways – we had quite the adventure going down the wrong side of the mountain.

4. Myvatn Nature Baths

A good alternative to the Blue Lagoon

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We didn’t venture to the blue lagoon as we had heard it was too busy, too expensive and too touristy. The Myvatn Nature Baths were heavenly after a long day of hiking and driving. The baths are open late, so if you are there in the summer you can hang out while the sun lingers at sunset. They also serve drinks in the pool.

5. Driving through the East Fjords

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The drive from Northern Iceland, through the Easy Fjords and down to Hofn was absolutely breathtaking. The landscapes changed drastically within kilometres – it was surreal.

6. Jökulsárlón

The Glacier Lagoon

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I had never been anywhere near the Arctic, or even seen an iceberg – so the glacier lagoon was fascinating. We went when the sun was “setting” and it was beautiful. We spent our time skipping rocks and trying to capture mini icebergs.

7. Fjaðrárgljúfur

“The most beautiful canyon in the world”

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If I had to pick a favourite place in Iceland, I think this would be it. Wander up and down the sides of the canyon, risk your life walking out onto small paths, or take a dip in the glacier fed river below.

8. Skogafoss

A waterfall for the adventurous

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A popular spot in Iceland where you can walk right up to the waterfall and climb up the steps to the top. Ignore the rope fence at the top and wander beyond the crowds, to the river and down into the caves below.

9. Seljavallalaug

The opposite of the Blue Lagoon

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If you are into “off the map”, “roughing it” kind of places, than this hot pot is for you. Seljavallalaug is a 25 metre stone swimming pool in the middle of a gorgeous valley. You have to trek a little bit to get there from the parking lot and the change rooms are basically a scene from horror movie, but that’s all part of the experience, right? Bring some Icelandic beer and relax in the middle of nowhere in this naturally heated pool.

10. Reykjavik

Good food, good nightlife and beautiful scenery

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It wouldn’t be a trip to Iceland if you didn’t spend some time in Reykjavik. Reykjavik is a charming city and Iceland’s capital. If you are into nightlife, spend your night hopping from bar to bar and finish the night hopping from food truck to food truck. The bars range from Irish pubs with live music to nightclubs with DJs. Reykjavik is home to some of the best fish and chips I have ever had. Warning – spending more than a day or two in Reykjavik is a good way to burn a hole in your wallet…you’ve been warned.
Now, these are only 10 of my favourite places in Iceland and there are so many places I didn’t get to visit while I was there – the West Fjords, the Highlands… Iceland is so vast and there is so much to explore, so don’t let this list restrict you!

My Move to Korea – FAQ

As you can imagine, I have been inundated with questions since I have announced my move to Korea… I hope this FAQ answers most of your questions (**cough cough** Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc – this post is for you).

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You’re moving to KOREA? North or South?!

Obviously South…come on guys.

When do you leave?

I will be flying out on February 17th, 2017.

How long will you be gone for?

My contract is for one year and then I plan to travel Southeast Asia for a few months starting in March 2018.

Where will you be working/what will you be doing?

I will be working as a Guest English Teacher with the public school system in Korea. The company I am working for is called EPIK. I won’t know any other details until I arrive in Korea – ie. location of my school(s), what grade I’ll be teaching, etc.

Where will you be living?

I have been placed in a Ulsan. Korea’s 7th largest city with a population of 1.1 million in south east Korea on the coast. I won’t know my specific location in Ulsan until I arrive.

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How will you keep in touch?

I will be able to message friends and family back home through Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts. I will also be updating my blog frequently so you can follow along on here!

Can I come visit?

Duh! I’m super excited to have visitors when I am in Korea. Reach out if you are interested in visiting or joining along on some SE Asia travels in 2018.

With this new adventure comes a lot of unknowns. I look forward to seeing what this new chapter has in store for me as I move to Korea next month! My goal is to post on my blog weekly so check often for updates!