Category Archives: Places to Sleep

Wedding Dress Weekend

One bride, two days, three friends, four bridal boutiques, and (at least) five glasses of champagne. Add in some fancy restaurants and a chic hotel and you’ve got everything you need for the perfect weekend spent searching for the perfect dress.

It all started when my friend Kacy informed me that there was a BHLDN (pronounced beholden – Dutch for “to keep”) wedding shop in Portland. BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding collection and after spending approximately 2 minutes looking at the collection online, I knew I had to try on the dresses. All the dresses. And thus, the plans began to fall into place. When it was all said and done, we had a packed itinerary for a weekend of wedding dress shopping and some much needed friend time.

To be honest, I was not necessarily hopeful that I would find “the” dress, but I was confident I would find something beautiful and flattering and enough to make me happy. Really, the search to find a dress was mostly an excuse to get away to the city for a night and have some fun with friends. Oh, and to drink champagne. Finding a dress would just be a bonus. I had asked my groom if he had any preferences for the dress. His only request was a white dress. The italics might be foreshadowing.

Anyway, my friends – Kacy (also my matron of honor), Chelsea, and Dani – and I set out on a Saturday morning from Roseburg and headed toward Eugene. And although my friends Jessi and Shannon could not be there in person, they spent their entire weekends texting with Kacy about every single dress. Our first appointment was at Blush Bridal. I had been told by multiple people that this was the place to shop for a dress. I could immediately see why. From the moment we walked in, every one was friendly and the consultant I worked with was excited to help me find the perfect dress. It was a little overwhelming first, but this first stop helped me settle into narrowing down what I wanted, beginning to learn what looked best on me, and just generally getting used to having all the attention focused on me.

Don’t worry. None of the dresses pictured in this post are the actual dress I will be wearing on my wedding day.

I actually found two dresses that I loved, but did not feel quite ready to commit at the first boutique, so I made an appointment for the next day, expecting to return and finalize a dress purchase in Eugene before returning to Roseburg.

All that dress trying had worked up an appetite, so we made a quick stop for lunch at Mucho Gusto before beginning the drive to Portland.

Once in Portland we made a quick detour to check out Brides for a Cause.

This is a second hand bridal shop where proceeds go to charity. I think the experience there is likely to be a little hit or miss and for me it was a miss. But I did get a good laugh out of trying on a couple dresses that ended up looking unpredictably terrible on me. I love the concept and I am sure if I lived closer I would have given it another visit or two. No appointment was required, so it was easy to fit around the other activities of the weekend.

Next, it was off to check into the hotel before the final appointment of the day. I particularly love Kimpton Hotels, so when there was a suite sale, I jumped on the chance to book a suite at the Portland Hotel Monaco.

The quirky and stylish hotel did not disappoint. The suite was spacious and just perfect for a girl’s weekend.

We took a few minutes to settle in and kick up our feet before walking to the nearby Ania Bridal.

Ania Bridal was another fun experience, complete with the requisite champagne. It was here where I really narrowed down the style of dress I wanted, noting the similarities between what I liked best at Blush and what I like best here.

To be honest, when you’re the one trying on the dresses, you’re not really the one drinking the champagne.

More dresses, more champagne, more decisions to make. I was feeling good about being able to find a dress I loved this weekend, but was still pondering the options as we headed back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour.

Every evening, there is a social hour featuring local wines and brews. And because Kimpton is pet friendly, there are always a few cute pups hanging out, too. We didn’t want to ruin our appetites, though. We had plans.

Because it was my wedding dress weekend, we went to my favorite restaurant, Lechon. I have extolled the delicious virtues of this place many times and this evening with friends was no exception.

I could leave it at that, but the food is too beautiful not to share, dish by dish. We shared a number of incredible dishes, enjoyed craft cocktails, and ended the meal with a bit of sweetness.

My favorite cocktail was not currently on the menu, so I branched out to the marecuzco – pisco, allspice dram, demerara, lime, and passionfruit
Avocado and smoked trout toast – it was even more yummy than it looks
Chickpea quinoa fritters
One of the two dishes I think should always be ordered at Lechon – the burrata. The accompaniments change seasonally. This evening it was poached apricots, prosciutto, lemon confit, and herbed toast. Simple perfection on a plate.
A salad so that we did not feel too bad about ourselves. And also because it was an ideal combo of goat cheese, cranberries, spiced pine nuts, and champagne vinaigrette.
The empanadas are my second “must order” dish. This evening, there was a spicy fried piquiollo pepper empanada and a milder but no less flavorful pork empanada.
And finally, another favorite, the grilled octopus.

With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.

I don’t even remember what this was or what was in it. But it was good.

We walked back to the hotel. I felt happy in a way that only the combination of a fancy meal and the energy of walking in a city after dark provide. We opened the bottle of champagne that had been cooling in the fridge (at the expense of the mini bottles now scattered across the floor to make room for the champagne) and pondered the pros and cons of the various dresses I had tried on that day.

We reviewed the texted feedback from Jessi and Shannon. We discussed our plans for the next day. And then things got a little, well, goofy… Because I like these people and want them to still be my friends, I will refrain from sharing the evidence. Other than this. Because the cool hotel robes must be modeled.

I’ll just leave it at that.

The next morning, my final bridal appointment was not until 11 am. That + being in Portland = brunch. Chelsea had recommended Mother’s Bistro and I am so glad she did.

It was classy and cozy. Most important of all, the food was incredible.

Chelsea and I shared a pot of gourmet french press coffee. We chose the one whose flavor description included “chocolate.”
Sharing a cinnamon roll the size of my head is generally a good way to start a meal
Bacon and gorgonzola frittata
Eggs Benedict
Salmon hash
And a scramble

Being friends means sharing each others’ food. At least in my book.

After a great brunch, we were ready for the last bridal appointment, the one that had prompted the whole trip – BHLDN. At this point, my plan was still to try on the pretty dresses just for fun and then exhaustively discuss which of the Blush dresses I wanted to purchase on the drive back to Eugene.

Located in a corner of the second floor of Anthropologie, BHLDN just felt right. I wanted to touch all of the dresses, not just look at them, as I sipped champagne out of bright pink can. And then I met my consultant, her Southern accent sounding so familiar that I couldn’t help but ask where she was from. Something about learning that she was also from Arkansas set me at ease and made the dress shopping experience even more fun.

The place had some seriously gorgeous gowns. I had one dress left to try on and felt like I had a sense of what I liked. Sure, I had not had that moment you see on TV shows and movies, but I was feeling good about what I had mostly decided to buy. Yes, there was one more dress to try, but I had chosen it solely because it was remarkably beautiful and I simply wanted to try it on because I could. It was obviously not going to be an option because it was decidedly not white and, after all, that had been Brandon’s single request. But how many times do you have an excuse to try on as many pretty dresses as you want? I was not considering in a million years that I would buy this dress. I just wanted to wear it for five minutes.

And then I tried it on and had that moment. I walked out and everyone’s face lit up. I stood in front of the mirror and started crying, choking out the words, “I want this dress” as my friends texted Brandon to reassure him that a not white dress would be okay when it was a dress as breathtaking as this one. My mom called the second she got the pictures of the dress to insist that I buy it. And Shannon and Jessi, who had been bombarded with pictures all weekend, texted this:

This dress was, unquestionably, the one. Sometimes I put it on and just stare at it in the mirror and I absolutely can’t wait to wear it next month. It is stunning. I blew my wedding dress budget without a second thought.

A successful weekend of wedding dress shopping called for celebratory sushi burritos. If you find yourself in the Eugene area, you will not regret stopping by this little drive through sushi stand.

Sushi burritos may sound strange, but they are legit tummy goodness.

I ordered the Black Widow – cajun sesame seared albacore tuna sashimi, crispy shrimp, crab, spicy cream cheese, cucumber, carrots, and seaweed salad served with a cajun sweet soy sauce. And I added avocado. I recommend everything about this.

We savored our meal, discussing our favorite parts of the weekend and continuing to marvel over the dress, the not white wedding dress that was meant to be. I am always amazed how a single night away can make a difference – getting out of the usual routine, enjoying delicious meals, and most of all spending time in the company of friends. I think I should do this more often, although perhaps without spending more than $1000 on a dress. That would buy a lot of sushi burritos.

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rockhouse

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first learned of Rockhouse. I am sure it was in one of the many travel blogs or articles that I find myself reading on a regular basis. What I do remember is that from the first moment I saw the clear blue water and thatched huts nestled among the tropical trees, I knew I had to go there. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my list of places I want to travel, you know it is quite (probably impossibly) long. Despite that, I added not just Jamaica, but specifically Rockhouse to that list.

This brings me to last February. As I often do, I was sending Brandon several travel deals and ideas. And then came the moment when he said, “Sure! Let’s do it.” This is not a moment that happens often, for if it did we would be broke and homeless. Someone has got to put the brakes on my travel addiction. At the time, I had put together a plan to go to Singapore with some frequent flyer miles I had earned through two credit card signup bonuses. Although that particular plan did not end up working out, because I had gotten Brandon to agree to take a trip, I kept researching what our other options might be.

Enter Jamaica. This is where the stars aligned and everything came together.

First, Jamaica itself. Although I had heard mixed things about it (some people loved it, some did not), I had a feeling it would be the kind of place we would love. This would also be Brandon’s first international trip. Although I am not opposed to the challenges of international travel because I have also experienced the life-changingness of it, I wanted to minimize the chance of difficulties (I’ve had some humdingers in recent years) and go to a place that would be relatively easy (e.g., fewer language barriers, a place frequented by tourists where the customs process wouldn’t be overwhelming, etc.) where we could also get off the beaten and experience the unfamiliar. Plus, Brandon loves reggae music and I knew the food would be great and the beaches would be beautiful. I wanted to find a place that would get Brandon as hooked as I am on traveling outside of the US. Jamaica seemed to be juuuust right.

Second, availability. Rockhouse books out months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. Reward flight availability is sometimes tricky to find. Put those things together and finding a time that worked was a small miracle. But find a time I did and it just happened to be around our two year dating anniversary in September. This meant going during the low season, but by the end of the trip, we felt that we actually preferred that; it also meant that Rockhouse was affordable for us during that time. Even better, going to Jamaica instead of Singapore meant I would have more airline miles available for another trip down the line (those points may or may not already be used now, but you’ll just have to wait and see…).

I love it when a plan comes together.

Then we just had to wait the 6 1/2 months from the time we booked the trip until we left. Thankfully, we had a busy spring and summer to keep us distracted, but we both spent the months leading up to the trip anticipating our week in Jamaica. We talked about what we wanted to do and reminded each other, in those moments when we were feeling stressed or overwhelmed, about how amazing it would be. And I love that part. A week’s vacation is so short and I love stretching the enjoyment of it with the anticipation and planning. And I love getting to blog about the trip and relive it once I return. But there’s always the risk that a long awaited trip won’t quite live up to the expectations and excitement.

So it was with much excitement and a hint of trepidation that we set out on our Jamaican adventure.

Because I had used reward points, our routing was a bit circuitous, but it actually worked out. Although Jamaica was not significantly impacted by hurricanes over the summer, much of the Caribbean was, as were the airports we would have been most likely to fly through if we had taken a more typical route. For instance, the Miami airport was closed on the days of our flights to Jamaica. But, we were far from Miami as we flew from Eugene to San Francisco to Panama to Jamaica. (Side note here, make sure that you familiarize yourself with all entry requirements before going to a country. Because we flew through Panama, we had to have yellow fever vaccines to enter Jamaica. If I had not read the small print about this requirement being applied even to those who transited through affected countries, we would have been denied entry to Jamaica. Vacation ruined). We also had some super long layovers, so I used all my tricks to make the flights as painless as possible.

I brought some good books that did not require the use of technology. I had audiobooks on my phone as backup, but I prefer to read the old fashioned way on vacation.
We used our long layover in SFO to catch up with family and friends before our technology connections would be limited to wifi.
I dressed for comfort (yes, I may have bought an entirely new outfit just for this purpose)
Best of all, I used the two United Club day passes I had to get entry into the lounge in the international terminal. It is not the best lounge ever, but it was better than waiting in the terminal and the free food and drinks helped a long layover pass more quickly.
Lounge snacks

And I made sure this guy had a good meal before getting on our overnight flight to Panama. You never know how airplane food is going to be, especially because we were flying an airline – Copa Airlines – that I had never flown before. We had dinner at 1300 on Fillmore, which is at the end of the international terminal.
A French 75 and a Fillmore Kiss – Jim Beam, raspberry liqueur, peach schnapps, and sour mix
Some fried okra
Smoked mac n cheese (mine is still better)
And a delicious fried chicken sandwich

Feeling relaxed with full bellies, we both managed to get a bit of sleep on our overnight flight, but we were feeling rather bedraggled by the time we arrived in Panama. Thankfully, we had plenty of time to get coffee before our (relatively) short flight to Jamaica. There was a great moment when Brandon went to pay for the coffee, pulled out a (US) $20, and then realized that $20 bill definitely wouldn’t pay for the coffee (although, to be fair, I had told him that US money is widely accepted in Jamaica; between the cash we had on hand and the use of credit cards, we never had to visit an ATM in Jamaica).

I’ll be honest, by this point we were both pretty done with traveling. We had left Oregon the previous afternoon, spent 6 hours in the San Francisco airport, flown another 8 – 9 hours to Panama and arrived early in the morning. We were ready to be in Jamaica!

Thankfully, the two hour flight to paradise was short and sweet. We could feel the excitement mounting as we peeked out the window to get our first glance of the island.

Let’s get off this plane!!!

Of course, even as we landed, we knew the hassle was not yet done. We still had to get through customs, which was a little slow and at times chaotic. But we made it! Thankfully, I had pre-booked our transportation from the airport with Gary’s Jamaican Taxi, a company out of Negril. Our driver, Fabian, was wonderful and we would end up calling him again for transportation during the week. We flew into Montego Bay, so it was an hour and a half drive from the airport to Negril on the west coast. But the car was comfortable, the scenic drive along the coast was incredible, and the reggae music playing on the radio helped us settle into our vacation. Fabian made sure to point out the two most common buildings in Jamaica – churches and bars, usually right next to one another.

And then we arrived. We arrived at a place I had been dreaming about, literally for years. It was almost like a dream as we pulled up to the open air front desk and were greeted with rum punches and friendly smiles. From that moment, all of the stress and fatigue of traveling became unequivocally worthwhile.

We were personally shown to our room and given a brief overview of the property. Sadly, even in low season we could not afford one of the villas. Not so sadly, our studio room with an ocean view balcony was absolutely perfect.

There was even an outdoor shower with lovely local bath products and the best smelling aloe vera I’ve ever used.

It was immediately apparent that this was a special place well beyond the average Jamaican resort. Obviously, the room was wonderful. Created to reflect a genuine sense of place, the building materials were locally sourced and the design was uniquely Jamaican. But it was so much more than that. There was a clear commitment to making sure guests had an incredible experience. Staff got to know us by name, which is possible when there are only 36 rooms and villas. Moreover, it was a company committed to the community around it. The employees were clearly valued and seemed to enjoy working at the resort. The Rockhouse Foundation has built or transformed schools throughout the area and while we were there, a fifth school, the first school in the region devoted entirely to children with special needs, was soon to be opened. They do all of this while being committed to green environmental practices. A stay at Rockhouse is a special experience and well worth the $125 per night that we paid for our studio room.

And it was not just a beautiful room. The entire property was a tropical garden. Located in the area of Negril known as The Cliffs, there was no beach. However, the water was easily accessible by the bright red ladders placed throughout the property and the tradeoff was a greater sense of solitude than could be found at the large beach resorts. We spent our first afternoon in Jamaica simply exploring, finding all the little nooks and crannies hidden throughout the resort. Little did I know that Brandon had another purpose for all of the exploring…

My handsome man taking in the view

Because of the hurricane, the waves were too high to get into the water and the pool was closed that first afternoon, but there would be plenty of time for that later. For the moment, we enjoyed being in a beautiful place and being together. We took in the views and slowly recovered from our long flights. Rockhouse was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

 

 

 

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Portland Weekend

I love living in Roseburg. I really do. I love my little house in a way I’ve never loved a collection of building materials combined to create a habitation. My 10 minute commute to work is amazing. The summer weather is everything sunny and perfect. I am surrounded by beautiful places. I love living in Roseburg.

However.

Roseburg does somewhat lack in the amenities department. True, there are some fantastic restaurants, but the options are limited. There is rather a dearth of cultural activities and date night options vary between the movie theatre and the bowling alley. I happily manage what Roseburg is missing with making any excuse to go to Portland for the weekend. In March, having some friends in town for a conference provided more than enough reason to leave my small town in southern Oregon for the big city of Portland.

Things I enjoyed in Portland that I cannot find in my little hometown included the food (of course), a chic hotel, and some iconic Portland sites, including a spot on my “Oregon bucket list.”

Because of a great deal on the HotelTonight app, we booked a room at the Hotel Eastlund in downtown Portland. This hotel had everything – style, comfort, amenities, and a great location with convenient location to the light rail.

There was even a great rooftop bar where we enjoyed sunset cocktails against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.

Afterwards, we took a pleasant walk across the river into the Pearl District for dinner.

As I mentioned, I had friends coming into town for a conference. As the token Oregonian, I had chosen Irving Street Kitchen as the spot to meet for dinner. Pros: Excellent cocktails, an ideal location in the Pearl District, and great style. Plus, it was one of a handful of restaurants that easily took reservations for large groups.

We pretty much closed the place down – believe me, it was packed when we arrived. Even with a reservation there was a bit of a wait.

Cons: The food was solidly good, but not as wonderful as comparably priced restaurants in Portland and the service was slow.

Calamari and clams over squid ink risotto – perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandon’s risotto, but the squid ink seemed to add more novelty than flavor
Brandon shared that his steak was excellent and perfectly prepared

Even if Friday’s dinner slightly disappointed, we knew that Saturday morning we would get an unbeatable meal at our favorite restaurant – Le Chon. For the first time, we went there for brunch. It was not disappointing.

I’ve had many good meals in this place and hope there will be many, many more. If you go to Portland and have not eaten here, just do it. And maybe take me with you. And by that I mean definitely take me with you.
Oh my word. These were some type of apple fritter covered in honey with a side of marionberry butter. Oh. my. word.
Of course we had to get the empanadas. These are always a must, no matter the time of day.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he gets tired of waiting to eat until after I’ve taken pictures.
We chose a couple of entrees to share, one of which was the mushroom breakfast tacos.
My favorite was the chicken and biscuits – perfectly fried chicken (says the Southern girl) alongside a cheddar jalapeño biscuit topped with an egg and sausage gravy. This was legit.

Needing to walk off a few calories, we strolled along the river among the blossoming cherry trees before perusing the Portland Saturday Market.

And then!

And then we went to Powell’s.

Somehow, this book loving heart of mine had not managed to make it to this iconic Portland bookstore in the 2 1/2 years I had lived in Oregon. This was literally the biggest bookstore I had ever seen. I spent a blissfully undetermined amount of time (thank you, love) wandering among the maze of books, feeling both overjoyed and overwhelmed, inhaling deep breaths of the book smell, utterly content. It was perfection.

Although at heart, I will never be a city girl, I do love to spend some time there now and then doing all the city things that I miss. And Brandon, wonderful man that he is, tagged along for a weekend of some of my favorites.

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California Dreamin’: Santa Rosa

So all that spontaneity and stress from the drive to California was not pointless. We were going to California for a wedding, a very fun wedding. Although much of the weekend was spent in wedding related activities, we did manage to fit in a few extra activities. It was fun for me to get to see a place where Brandon had lived. And I think it was fun for him to show me around.

But, before I get into all that, this one picture from the wedding must be shared. Because he just looked so darn handsome.

For the weekend, we stayed at a VRBO on a small farm. It was quaint and comfortable and there were alpacas and big fluffy dogs that Brandon may or may not have considered stealing.

We also ate a lot of really good food. When the friends getting married are both professional chefs, you’re in good company. Everything, from the wedding catering (there was an entire pig), to the post-wedding brunch, to simple dinners out, was fantastic.

One of the great challenges for me about living in Oregon is the scarcity of good Mexican food. I couldn’t go to California without getting my fix. We began Saturday morning with breakfast burritos from what had been Brandon’s favorite spot for breakfast burritos when living in Santa Rosa. My veggie burrito did not disappoint. Too often vegetarian breakfast burritos are bland with an overabundance of eggs or under seasoned potatoes to other flavors. This one was perfect, with an ideal balance of eggs, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, onions, and bell peppers. No lack of flavor here!

Crab stuffed deviled eggs should be a thing everywhere. Imagine the best deviled egg you’ve ever had and then multiply that by 100.
Burrata has been a slight obsession of mine recently.
Smoked bacon omellete
A fancy Monte Cristo – I loved all the pickles on the side

The day after a wedding is as good an excuse as any for brunch. We were treated to a delicious brunch at Monti’s. Despite staying out a bit to late the night before and having to drag ourselves to the 11 am brunch, we quite enjoyed it. Everything was delicious.

Our last night in California, we went out for an excellent dinner with friends at Jackson’s in downtown Santa Rosa.

When you have to wait 45 minutes for a table, a pre dinner cocktail is a good idea. I tried the Shredder – Humboldt rum, orange amer, lemon juice, and pear puree.

And then there was the food, starting with way too many appetizers – chicken wings, more burrata (because obsessed), roasted cauliflower, and truffle fries.

And then somehow we ate more. I managed to eat about one shrimp taco and I think Brandon ate about half of his turkey sandwich. Nothing like the post-wedding happiness haze to contribute to rash food over-ordering.

We also fit in just a bit of sight seeing on Sunday. I think I mentioned that we had stayed out way too late after the wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, for every second of the entire day, we were struggling. Just imagine in all of the smiling pictures you will see below that behind the smiles, there are pounding headaches and profound fatigue.

When in Sonoma County, one must go wine tasting. Although the thought of alcohol may have been unpleasant at that moment in time, we somehow forced ourselves to go to exactly one tasting room. Our choice was Seghesio Family Vineyards. Although I certainly want to return to the area at a time when wine tasting is more, ummm, palatable, this was a great choice. I loved see how the vineyard was so different from the much smaller operations in the Umpqua Valley and I enjoyed the wines that are not grown in Oregon. We may have come home with multiple bottles of Zinfandel.

After rallying through wine tasting, Brandon wanted to show me downtown Santa Rosa. Specifically, he wanted to show me the Peanuts. Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon, moved to the area with his family in 1958. They eventually moved to Santa Rosa, where he lived until his death. There are tributes to Mr. Schultz and the Peanuts throughout the city, including a museum. We were not really museum material that day, but we did enjoy walking around downtown and posing with the various statues. After stopping for coffee at the impressive Aroma Roasters.

All in all, not too shabby for two people who could barely walk.

The wedding was certainly the highlight of the trip. Even so, we had a great time fitting in some more fun things while we were in Santa Rosa. I can’t wait to go back!

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Birthday Edition

Sometimes I can be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. Like when I’m deciding upon the layout for my master bathroom addition (just ask Brandon) or when I am creating a menu plan for the week. But none of that compares to how obsessive I can become when planning a trip. Recently that was taken to a whole new level. I was not planning just any trip; I was planning Brandon’s 30th birthday. It had to be perfect.

Because if it were perfect he would know just how much I love him. Because I wanted him to begin the next decade of his life knowing that the best is yet to come. Because if I’m going to take an entire week off work it better be awesome.

After considering the countless options of where to go, I eventually settled upon Washington. I know, I know. It’s hardly my usual far flung destination. And it was, after all, Brandon’s 30th birthday. But this ended up being the perfect option for several reasons.

First, there were no airplanes involved. It had not been my year for airplanes. With delays and misplaced luggage and looooong days of rescheduled and redirected flights the norm over the previous months, I did not want to risk the stress of that for this particular trip. That, obviously, meant going somewhere within driving distance.

Second, Seattle is one of my absolute favorite cities and I wanted to share it with one of my absolute favorite people.

Third, Brandon loves the people in his life with a generosity and loyalty I admire daily. Choosing Washington as our destination allowed us to fit in time with friends and family, without which Brandon’s 30th birthday could not have been perfect.

So Washington it was. Specifically Bainbridge Island.

I had found the perfect location to celebrate Brandon’s new decade of life. What next? This really gets at my planning process. Typically, when determining where to go, I either jump on a good travel deal or, if I have somewhere specific in mind, I book airfare first because this is often the most expensive and/or least flexible aspect of the trip. On the one hand, wanting to go everywhere can be challenging because, well, everywhere is a big place. On the other hand, when the right opportunity comes along, it is easy to say yes. All that aside, not having to worry about airfare (thank goodness) on this particular adventure (see above), I was on to my (usual) next step – where to stay.

There are generally two approaches to booking a place or places to stay on a trip – either it is a central part of the vacation experience and thus choosing a beautiful or unique, and often more expensive, property with amenities is a priority or it is simply a home base from which to explore, often meaning that nondescript but affordable lodgings in convenient locations become most important. In short, either the hotel matters or it does not matter. Generally, I lean somewhat toward the former approach, although spending hours of research in order to find the little known budget hotel or rental option in a great location with some character is my idea of a good time. For this particular trip, I wanted everything to be flawless and that included the places we stayed.

I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. In fact, this inn is overwhelmingly the reason why I settled upon Bainbridge Island rather than Seattle as our primary destination.

You may recall that I stayed there once before and absolutely fell in love. It is, hands down, one of the loveliest and most comfortable places I have ever stayed. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for Brandon’s actual birthday. But only for one night because the inn is rather expensive and I am not a “real” doctor and don’t make real doctor money! Don’t get me wrong though; staying there is worth every penny. The Inn at Pleasant Beach has everything one could want – a gorgeous location on the water, beautiful and cozy rooms with unbeatable attention to detail, and a friendly staff.

Those chairs are seriously the most comfortable ever. I’m pretty sure I spent the better part of the afternoon in that chair by that fire staring at the view.

No part of me regrets splurging on a night here. And let’s be honest, I say it was for Brandon, but really, it was for me. Although this was his favorite spot, too.

With one night of the trip taken care of, I needed to find another place to stay on Bainbridge Island for a night or two. I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the ferry (so that we could come back from Seattle without worrying too much about how many glasses of wine we enjoyed with dinner), something affordable, and, preferably, somewhere with style. Little Rabbit Studio, which can be booked through VRBO, fit the bill exactly.

An impeccably decorated studio next to the owner’s home, we both loved our stay here. Again, it was all about the details – the bottle of wine and sweet bread left for us to enjoy, the weather forecast written on the chalkboard, the umbrella to borrow, the books and pamphlets of local attractions. It was such an easy place to stay.

The details reflected how much everything else about the studio was carefully curated and on point. We loved the hot tub, the perfectly outfitted small kitchen, and the location.

A small, private courtyard with a hot tub. There was also a fire pit in front of the house.

I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

That was initially the plan – a couple of nights in Little Rabbit Studio and perhaps a couple of nights at the Inn. But of course, plans evolve. Because I love Brandon and wanted his birthday trip to reflect that love. Not at all because I am an obsessive perfectionist who sometimes gets out of control and starts making plans bigger and bigger.

I decided that I wanted to add a night in Portland so that we could eat at our favorite restaurant. Plus, Brandon gets a little stir crazy in the car and this would break up the drive from Seattle to home. In a super complicated decision-making process, I chose the subtly wine-themed Hotel Vintage because I love Kimpton Hotels and we had not stayed there before. Like I said, super complicated.

This was another absolutely perfect stay. From the gorgeous lobby bar to the slightly edgy décor to the birthday gift greeting us in the upgraded room to the complimentary wine hour, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.

The wine hour was great. And we could go upstairs to the game room where there was a pool table and shuffleboard.

Can you tell that I love the details?

And then, there was my last edition to the itinerary. After decided that Brandon really needed to go skydiving for his birthday, I booked a night at the RL Hotel Olympia. This was a night when location and a good price were my priorities, but the recently remodeled hotel was a nice bonus. Despite a late arrival, it was a nice, quick stay that put us in the perfect spot for the plans of the following day.

The lobby was very trendy with a morning coffee bar with complimentary coffee and that also served made to order drinks

I know not everyone sees hotels as a splurge-worthy aspect of a trip. And honestly, if it were between not going somewhere because I could not afford a nice hotel and going somewhere and staying somewhere less than luxurious, the latter option wins every time. Assuming it is clean and safe. Those are my minimum criteria (ask anyone who has ever stayed in a less than clean hotel with me, I don’t do well). But sometimes it is fun to live it up a little and enjoy a fancy hotel, especially to celebrate a special occasion.

With the hotel situation mostly settled, I could move on to the details – what to do and, perhaps my favorite, where to eat. More on that to come.

For those considering a similar trip, our itinerary ended up looking like this:

Day 1: Drive to Portland. Have a birthday party in Portland at Brandon’s mother’s house with friends and family who live in the area. Drive to Olympia, Washington, getting in really late and slightly irritable (just keeping it real).

Day 2: Wake up. Inform Brandon that he is going skydiving. Have Brandon insist that if he is, I am to. Feel secretly relieved when we are unable to skydive because of weather. Drive to Bainbridge Island and move on the Plan B for the day. Check into Little Rabbit Studio.

Day 3: Spend the day exploring Seattle and spend our second night at the studio.

Day 4: Happy Birthday Brandon!! Welcome to the thirties, which has, thus far, been the best decade yet of my life. I can only hope the same for him. Reluctantly check out of our rental and feel quickly consoled after checking into the lovely perfection that is Inn at Pleasant Beach. Spend the afternoon relaxing before a delicious birthday dinner.

Day 5: Drive back to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Vintage. Have a fun evening in Portland that included dinner at our favorite spot.

Day 6: More Portland fun before I had to drive home and Brandon had to fly out for work.

Day 7: Enter into post-vacation blues.

 

A Year Isn’t Long Enough

Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.

We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.

But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary  provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.

Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.

We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.

We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.

Staying here is on my Oregon Bucket List. Maybe next year.
We shared the soup of the day, which was a flavorful, brothy soup with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.

Brandon’s choice of the frittata was, no surprise, shockingly similar to breakfast food.
And I chose the crab salad in avocados because everything is better in a bowl made out of an avocado. And because calories do not count on vacation.

After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.

At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.

See that teeny, tiny building at the top? That’s where we were going.

It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.

The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.

It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.

What a way to start the weekend!

After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.

At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.

As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.

But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.

Built along both sides of the Deschutes River, river views were plentiful. Although our last minutes plans prevented maximizing the trip with a river view room, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to enjoy it while we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the main part of the hotel or to the pools.

I should probably mention that immediately prior to the trip, Brandon had spent 2 days singlehandedly moving 10 yards of dirt that had been delivered unceremoniously onto my driveway to the backyard so that we could plant grass. Not only did that effort make me feel incredibly loved (I mean, the guy literally moved a mountain of dirt for me), but it also meant Brandon was really in need of a hot tub to sooth aching muscles. Good thing Riverhouse delivered with not just one, but two, hot tubs.

Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.

True love on a plate. We both felt good about this decision.

So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.

 

A Tale of Two Campsites

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.

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Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.

Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.

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Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.

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Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.

She was working hard
She was working hard

After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).

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Love him!

In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.

Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.

See. Snow.
See. Snow.

I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.

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The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.

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At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.

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The lake is Hemlock, where we were camping

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If you look closely, you can see the pain in our faces

Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.

Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.

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Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.

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We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.

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Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.

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There is nothing quite like hiking this section of the Oregon Coast Trail

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He did keep feeding me random berries along the hike that he swore were edible. Some were quite unpleasant. I still haven’t decided whether or not he was actually trying to kill me…

And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.

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But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.

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Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.

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Sydney, however, was in her happy place.

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The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.

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He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.

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About 2 seconds after this picture was taken, Brandon put Sydney down. About 2 seconds after that she had managed to run across the beach, up the trail, and back to me. It may have been the fastest I’ve ever seen her run. She was not a fan of the “Lion King pose.”

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The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.

Aloha Maui: Lahaina

After two nights in Kahului, we spent the last two nights of our Maui vacation in the charming, although sometimes crowded, town of Lahaina.

Things I love:

Cute small town – Check

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There is a banyan tree covering an entire block in downtown Lahaina.

A great happy hour – Check

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Captain Jack’s
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Crab cakes
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Mai tais and lava flows

Ocean views – Check

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A lovely hotel with impeccable service – Check

The Plantation Inn was perfect! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.
The Plantation Inn was perfection! A small bed and breakfast in an ideal location, from the moment we checked in, the entire experience was fantastic.

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My room was gorgeous!
My room was gorgeous!
And there was a balcony
And there was a balcony
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Because a gorgeous room with a stained glass window, a balcony, a pool, and personable service (seriously – upon checkin, the front desk clerk gave us an individualized tour of the property ensuring we had everything we needed to be comfortable) were not enough, there was even a delicious poolside breakfast each morning. The menu was small, but I’m not going to complain about homemade granola, POG juice, and fresh pineapple.

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And most of all this guy – Check

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How could I not love a place with so many lovely things?

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Hotels

During my time in Iceland, I had the opportunity to stay at three lovely hotels. Although I did not choose these particular hotels given that they were part of the tour package I booked (i.e., I did not spend hours exhaustively researching options before finding the perfect place), I would stay at each of them again.

Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina

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For my night in Reykjavik, I stayed at the stylish and quirky Icelander Hotel Reykjavik Marina. Located, as the name suggests, right next to the water, the hotel provides easy access to the marina and some of the best seafood restaurants in Iceland. When I arrived extra early in the morning (my flight got in before 7 am, after all), the front desk kindly stowed my bags and prioritized getting a room clean for me while I set out for breakfast. The major shopping streets of Reykjavik, discussed in my previous post, were about a 10 – 15 minute walk from the hotel. Although, perhaps even shorter if I did not have to walk gingerly in order to avoid slipping on the ice.

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Not only was my room fantastic, the hotel had great common spaces, including a small cinema and a library, and served a generous and delicious breakfast buffet that was included with my deluxe room. I loved everything about this place.

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Hotel Grimsborgir

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For the next three nights, I stayed in the absolutely gorgeous Hotel Grimsborgir.  Located in the dark and quiet Icelandic countryside along the famous Golden Circle, this hotel had a unique set up that was both my favorite and least favorite aspect of the stay: the hotel was not a single building. The main building housed reception and the restaurant, where dinner was available and where the breakfast buffet was served in the mornings.

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The hotel rooms were located in multiple buildings spread throughout the property. This meant that going to dinner or breakfast involved a beautiful walk through the snowy landscape.

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There were also many hot tubs on the property.

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DSC03057It also meant that going to dinner or breakfast meant an icy, cold, and slippery walk through the snowy landscape.

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It was always a bit of a relief to make it back to my room each night knowing I had made it another day without wiping out in the snow. It also probably helped that my room looked like this:

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DSC03016Getting to end each day in this hotel room with a hot bath or by curling up in the cozy chair for a FaceTime call with my boyfriend was wonderful. My patio was also a great spot to keep my eyes out for the northern lights while in my pajamas. The Hotel Grimsborgir was perfection.

Northern Light Inn

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This was my least favorite of the places I stayed. Most likely chosen because of the convenient location to both the airport and the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Light Inn was perfectly adequate, but could not possibly compare to the other places I stayed. The room was clean and comfortable, but missing the small touches such as blackout curtains (which would sort of seem necessary during the Icelandic summer) and fancy bathrooms (I sort of have a thing for nice showers).

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I cannot speak to the breakfast, because I slept too late to enjoy it, but the public spaces were spacious and provided a nice place to spend time after checking out of my room and before my shuttle to the airport on the last day of my trip.

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DSC03749Overall, I could not have asked for better places to stay while in Iceland. I would not hesitate to recommend each of them to anyone traveling in Iceland. I know not everyone gets excited about hotels, but if, like me, you enjoy staying in nice places, these are fantastic options.