Icelandic Adventure

After spending time in the city of Reykjavik, I headed out for the second part of my Icelandic adventure. Although it was very different than being in the city, it was no less amazing. I took a guided tour through an outdoor expedition company called Goecco. We met at the Hallgrims Church in the center of Reykjavik and from there we started our adventure by traveling along the south shore of Iceland. Our first stop was the beautiful Skogafoss falls and from there we traveled to Reynisfjara black beach in the city of Vik.

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Leaving Vik we drove through the biggest lava field in on the planet and across the black desert of Skeidarasandur. (Fun fact: Iceland has 200 earthquakes a day and has 150 active volcanoes!) We finally arrived at the highlight of the tour, Vatnajökull – Europe’s largest glacier, which is located in Skaftafell National Park. The glacier was a brilliant shade of blue and so clear that you could see down into it where layers of volcanic dust were captured beneath the gigantic blocks of ice. We stayed on the glacier for hours, walking around taking in all of its beauty and listening to the sounds of the water running beneath the glacier.

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Our next stop was Jökulsarlon, the Glacier lagoon. Surrounded by mountains and the pristine glacial water was full of floating icebergs and seals who make it their home. The glacier beach was also nearby and I got to touch a piece of the ancient iceberg that had floated ashore!

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These places are just a few of the many highlights from my trip and overall, the Goecco excursion was an amazing experience and the tour guides were knowledgable, personable and funny. I would highly recommend it to anyone and would do it again myself in heartbeat! Iceland is one of the most beautiful and surreal places that I have ever seen and hope that one day I can go back and experience even more of it.

Reykjavik, Iceland

This past week, UNC had spring break. I decided to travel to Iceland for eight nights and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I stayed in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city and it was unlike any place that I have ever been to before – a coastal city, but also one with thriving economic and cultural activity. Colorful homes and shops line the city, which is one of the cleanest, safest and greenest in the world. One my first day in Reykjavik I climbed to the top of Hallgrímskirkja church and got an incredible view of the entire city.

The things to do and see in Reykjavik are endless. From beautiful mountain views across the water to delicious authentic food and cultural landscapes that are must sees. I tried to fully grasp the culture of Iceland by eating as many different authentic foods as possible and the best thing that I discovered was Sheep’s Bone Marrow. When I first saw it on the menu I admit I was a bit nervous, and when it came out to the table still in the bone, I was even more nervous. But, after my first bite I was hooked. It was delicious, and paired perfectly with Iceland’s famous Viking Stout. 

Reykjavik intrigued me because it had both a cosmopolitan and also a small-town feel to it. I could have wandered through the colorful streets for days on end and found new and beautiful places every time, and with a huge number of cute cafés and independent shops to visit when you get tired of walking, it is a feasible thing to do.

Eno River State Park

With the past week finally beginning to feel like spring, there is nothing I want more than to spend time outside relaxing in nature. The best place in the area that I have found to do this is the Eno River State Park. The Eno River flows through both Durham and Orange County and past mature forests, historic mill sites, and river bluffs. There are almost 30 miles of trails that provide the perfect place for a leisurely walk or run, practice photography or just enjoy nature.

Growing up in Durham, the Eno River was part of my every day as I not only lived by it but would also go running on it every day. The Eno River State Park is interesting and unique because there are several sites along the trails that you can explore, including the Pump Station Trail , which is known as the best spring wildflower trail in the park. The Pump Station Trail is an easy 1.5 mile loop that will take you through Durham’s first water pumping station!

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Some of the other great trails include: the Laurel Bluffs Trail, the Quarry Trail and Bobbit Hole Trail. Each trail is distinct and I hope to continue exploring the Eno River State Park until I have walked or run all of the trails – and if the weather continues like this it should be a welcome challenge.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Growing up in Durham, Duke Gardens was always a magical place to me. It was somewhere that my family and I would go almost every week and there was simply nothing better than going to explore the Gardens on a nice day. Children can run around in the open field near one of the ponds, or you can grab a light lunch at the cafe that is nestled inside the garden. There are also miles of pathways and trails to walk along, and in the spring with all the blooming flowers you will not want to leave. Unfortunately, I do not get to go to Duke Gardens every week now but the place still holds a sense of beauty and awe for me and I go back as often as I can.

One of my favorite things about Duke Gardens is how old and established all of the plants and trees are. The Gardens just celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2014 and many of the trees and plants have been around that long! The Magnolia trees are some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen and a stand as a symbol for Duke Gardens.

The gardens are also divided into four areas: the Historic Core and Terraces, the H.L Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, the William Louis Culberson Asiatic Arboretum and the Doris Duke Center Gardens (including the Page-Rollins White Garden). With these distinct garden areas there is always something new to see and explore, regardless of if you only have a few mixtures or few hours – you will always find something!

You can learn more about Duke Gardens by taking part in some of their programs and becoming a Friend of Duke Gardens, which insures that the Gardens are maintained and supported for years to come, so that everyone can have a change to appreciate their beauty!

Lucha Tigre

There is almost nothing better than waking up late on Sunday morning and going to brunch. The mixture of breakfast and lunch is my favorite meal to have on weekends and one of the best that I have found in Chapel Hill is at Lucha Tigre. Lucha Tigre is a fusion of Latin and Asian cuisine and the result is both delicious and unique.

The restaurant is sleek and creative and the atmosphere caters to college students, as well as families and older couples. On nice and sunny days the ideal seating is outside on the patio which is open to the sun. Picnic tables allow enough seating for groups of friends and on weekends Lucha Tigre also has a DJ play music from 12pm to 4pm and serves bottomless mimosas which are always a big hit.

The brunch menu is on the smaller side but filled with flavorful and interesting dishes that will make you want to try everything. I have already been three times and have always loved what I ordered. Last Sunday I got the Chilaquiles, which is corn tortilla chips tossed in tomatillo salsa, topped with pulled pork, cotilla cheese and crema and an egg. I also tried the Banana-Nutella Empanadas. The empanadas were filled with sliced bananas and chocolate-hazelnut spread, and topped with strawberries and homemade whipped cream. The two dishes were drastically different but both fantastic, each in their own way.

While I have only been to Lucha Tigre for brunch, I can imagine that their lunch and dinner is just as good. I plan on going back again soon and trying another new dish!

Honeysuckle Tea House

I stumbled upon Honeysuckle Tea House last summer. Nestled into the countryside of Chapel Hill and surrounded by woods and gardens, it is beautifully serene. The Tea House itself is open air and made from repurposed materials and there are many comfortable spots to relax. While they are currently closed for Winter, they re-open on March, 16th and I can not wait to go back!

Honeysuckle Tea House serves a variety of herbal teas, locally roasted coffee, honeys and tinctures – many of which are made on site. Last time I went, I got a mint tea that was made with mint from their herb garden and it was refreshing and delicious.

Looking out onto the gardens and into the woods, you can almost forget where you are. The open walls make the setting even more relaxing and my friend and I stayed for several hours just talking and enjoying each others company. Honeysuckle is a definitely a place that everyone should visit at some point as it shows a new perspective of Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

TRU Deli & Wine Bar

In my quest for finding everything good that Chapel Hill has to offer and exploring new places, I came across TRU Deli and Wine Bar. TRU features gourmet build-your-own sandwiches in a relaxed environment. You can sit inside at one of several reclaimed wooden tables or go outside and sit on the patio for comfortable couch seating, perfect for drinking a glass of red wine and eating one of their cheese platters.

I have since come to TRU several more times and each time has been as good, if not better, than the last. The relaxed environment is also very fitting for the college atmosphere. You order/create your sandwich on an iPad, which is both fast and convenient and the options are endless. They have a variety of vegetables, meats and cheeses to make sandwiches with, but also give you the option of creating a wrap a salad – all of which are completely customizable and affordable. The sandwich I created had turkey, cheddar cheese, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and cranberry sauce on toasted sourdough. It was delicious!

I look forward to going back to TRU and trying something new!

Gonza Tacos y Tequila

I have always loved Mexican food, but it wasn’t until recently that I called a Mexican restaurant my favorite restaurant. I went to Gonza Tacos y Tequila in Raleigh for the first time the other day with my family and I loved it. However, it was not just their amazing food and friendly staff that I liked, but the incredible atmosphere. The music is fun and upbeat and the staff is energetic.

Walking into the restaurant you immediately are enveloped in the warm and colorful glow that comes from dozens of star lights hanging from the ceiling. These stars are the sole source of light in the restaurant except for a few others over the bar and hostess desk, which creates a very inviting space. The entire time at dinner I felt my eyes wandering up to the ceiling to look at the lights because no two stars are the same and it is impossible to ignore them.

The menu is fairly small and simple but all dishes boast uniquely blended flavor. I ordered the Chile Relleno, which was a poblano pepper stuffed with black charro beans, mexican cream, pico de gallo, cheese, avocado and chicken tinga. It was an authentic dish bursting with taste and flavors that melded together perfectly – and certainly one that I would order again.

Overall, Gonza Tacos y Tequila is a must-try for everyone in the Raleigh-Durham area. Its great atmosphere and food are sure to please and be unlike anything you have experienced before!

North Carolina Museum of Art

I have loved art for as long as I can remember. I find beauty in all forms of it and appreciate different perspectives. When I first visited the North Carolina Museum of Art I was astounded by how many different collections they had. The museum’s permanent collections includes American, Eygptian, African and pre-columbian art – to name a few. However, they also host a variety of traveling exhibits.

When I visited the Museum in January it was to see The Worlds of M. C Escher – the most comprehensive exhibition ever shown in the United States. Escher combines nature, science and imagination in his art work, much like the museum itself.

After walking through the inside exhibits, you can venture outside into the gardens and reflecting pool, or eat lunch in the cafe. The Museum provides space for relaxation and is a great spot to go for both entertainment and education.

Bald Head Island

Accessible only by ferry, Bald Head Island is located to the East of the Cape Fear River. Although fairly small and remote, it is a perfect vacation spot. Picturesque and relaxing, Bald Head Island is a place that has something for everyone.

I went last summer with my mom and it was a day trip unlike any I have had before. The islands unique geography allows the sun to both rise and set over the Atlantic Ocean every day. Beaches surround its eastern, southern and western shores, and 10,000 of the islands total 12,000 acres are set aside as wildlife preserves. Bald Head Island is also home to the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina – Old Baldy, which was built in 1817.

We started off the day with a 20 minute ferry ride from Southport over to the island where we rented a golf cart for the day because there are no cars allowed on the island! I loved this because it gave the island a peaceful feel, no one was in a hurry – just there to enjoy themselves and the surrounding environments.

Driving around the island we were able to see the abundant wildlife, especially birds – over 260 species – that the island is home to. The Bald Head Island Conservancy monitors the wildlife very closely and ensures that the people of the island live harmoniously with nature.

We spent most of our time on one of the pristine beaches, walking along the shoreline, collecting shells and enjoying each others company. When the day was finally over, I did not want to leave because it felt as if I had spent time in another world, one in which time stopped and people were at peace. I look forward to the day when I can go back and spend even more time there.