down under again: a belated briefing of Brisbane – my favorite city in Australia (part 1)

For my second trip Down Under, I was lucky enough to check off another city on my Australia list: Brisbane!  Business trips can be long and stressful, but it certainly helps when you’re in a spectacular place with amazing people.

Oh yes, this blog post is quite late.  I have looked lovingly at these photos on my phone for months and meant to get around to posting but life of course got in the way.  I’m excited to finally sit down, reminisce, and share with you my very favorite city in Australia (so far!).

September 4, 2017

Off on another trip to Oz, I left IAD en route to Los Angeles on my favorite airplane, the 787 Dreamliner.  I had a long layover at LAX and the weather was spectacular so I stepped outside in the United lounge to have coffee in the warm LA afternoon.  Not too shabby for an airport view!


The flight to Sydney was long but comfortable.  One of the most incredible moments of the trip was seeing the sun rise 40,000 feet in the air as it peeked over the Australian continent just before landing.


I hopped a quick flight to Canberra on a prop plane (which did wonder for my aviation fears) but it was incredibly quick and you could see the ground the entire way.


I took a short nap when I checked in to my hotel and met my coworker and his wife for dinner in Kingston Foreshore at an amazing contemporary Thai restaurant called Morks.  The food was incredible– pork belly buns, spare ribs, Thai fried rice… yum.


The weirdest part was the dessert.  I ordered a banana ice cream dish that had all sorts of honeycomb pieces, and Darcy ordered something with “fairy floss” (kind of like cotton candy).  It absolutely looked like a pile of HAIR and the texture was similar, but it melted in your mouth.  So weird!



Full and exhausted, I slept from 8PM until 6AM the next morning.


After a great day couple of days of training with my clients out about 30 minutes from the middle of Canberra, I was lucky enough to be driving home at dusk– or PRIME KANGAROO TIME.  Check out these babies in motion!


The drive back from the client site was really stunning.  Canberra is a beautiful city!


After work on Friday I hopped a flight to Brisbane where I was set to teach a course on Monday and Tuesday.  While waiting for my flight, I found my all time favorite food at the airport.  The caption says it all.  Nothing better!


I arrived in Brisbane around 10PM, grabbed an Uber, and found my hotel in the center of the CBD.  I was on the 25th floor and the views of the city, even close to midnight, were spectacular!


I went straight to sleep because I had to be up early for another all-day tour starting at 7AM the next morning.  Off to explore the city!


September 9th, 2017

Bright and early the next morning I left my hotel and walked a few miles through the city to the Brisbane bus station where my tour was leaving from.  It was a slightly chilly morning but the sun was just starting to come up. I took some shots of the city on my walk:




I even spotted the “bin chicken”, or Ibis, which is cute upon first glance but can eat its weight in rubbish and are all over Brisbane.  I loved the little guy :)


We boarded our tourbus, similar to the one I took in Sydney, and it was a small group of about 14 people.  We were on our way to Stradbroke Island for the day– an island that sits just off the coast of Brisbane.  We drove about an hour outside the city to Cleveland (haha) which is where the ferry left for Straddie.  It turned in to a really beautiful day!


We cruised on the ferry for about 40 minutes and enjoyed the blue waters with a flat white the whole way.  Once we got close, everyone climbed back in to the bus and we drove off the ship to explore!

Our guide was fun and friendly and took us first on a koala hike to his secret koala spot on the island.  He was tucked in the crook of a tree branch, and super cute!


The trail also led to a private inlet on the side of the island called Amity, with some of the most beautiful views I’d seen in all of Australia.  Just look at these colors!



We headed to our hiking spot up on a higher peak of Amity.  The trail was about 5km long but a leisurely path around some spectacular sites.  This was easily my favorite part of the entire day!

We started at the overlook to Main Beach on North Stradbroke Island.  One of the most popular beaches on the island, and its easy to see why!  Our guide stopped to take photos of each of us at this picturesque spot.



We continued around to a really cool spot on the North Gorge which had a blowhole.  You could hear the water and wind rushing in and out of the rocks and it created an amazing sound.



Farther down there was a beautiful gorge that had sapphire blue waters.  We walked around the perimeter of it and felt a warm breeze and ocean air.  I could have spent all day in this spot!



The end of the hike was unexpectedly full of wildlife.  A mama kangaroo holding a joey walked RIGHT in front of me!  Look at his little face in her pouch!


And just as I turned the corner, I got about three feet away from another beautiful roo!  Look at this baby:


After the hike we jumped in the van and headed to lunch at the Stradbroke Island Resort at Point Lookout.  It had a beautiful view of Shag Rock and we ate huge ceasar salads overlooking the beach.


By this time I had made friends with two AMAZING girls– a Swede traveling on business and a British au pair working in Sydney.  My, Charlotte, and I became fast friends and spend the next hour relaxing on the beach in the sunshine after lunch!


My and Charlotte braved the water and I caught the two goofing off in the waves! :)



Our last stop of the day was an incredible tea tree lake.  Tea trees have leaves full of oils that are very popular in lotions and soaps because of their skin soothing and softening properties.  This lake, called Brown Lake, literally looked like the water had been steeped with tea bags– and thats almost exactly what happened!  The trees surround the lake and their leaves dry up and fall off in to the water.  They “steep” in the lake leaving the water full of tea tree oil!  Look at the color of the water– its just a little brown like tea!  I snapped a shot when the water was nice and calm.


This photo (from this photographer) gives a great visual of the tea-colored water:


The water in the lake was quite chilly but our guide urged us to put our hands and feet in the water for a few minutes.  I dug mine into the sand and waited.  10 minutes later my hands and feet felt unbelievably smooth and soft.  It sure works!

Over the course of the day I had turned My and Charlotte on to the wonders of jumping pictures, so we decided to get one together at Brown Lake.  I love this shot and these women!



We got back to Brisbane around 7PM and all agreed that we wanted to meet up for dinner and drinks later in the evening.  Unfortunately, we were all zombies as soon as we hit our beds, so we rescheduled for the next day.  Sunday’s plans were to explore Southbank– after a much needed rest. :)




Síðustu daga á Íslandi með jarðhita, kökum og íslensku vodka!

July 14th, 2017

After our exploration of the Icelandic countryside the day before, the rain returned and we had a leisurely morning at home playing with Eva while we waited for the weather to break.

Ingun had ridden Icelandic horses with her sister growing up, so she found a tour that would take her back out in to the beautiful mountains and waterfalls on her very own horse. She was so excited and we got a few snapchats during her 6 hour riding adventure!



While Ingun was out, the rest of us decided to explore downtown Reykjavik and do a little shopping.

First we passed by the Icelandic Phallological Museum which had an interesting display of things in the windows.  We might have stopped in just for laughs but we didn’t want to pay admission!


Alec wanted to grab coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, so my parents and I went back to the big church to show my dad how cool it was!  It was also chilly outside so we went inside the church to escape the wind for a few minutes.  Such a beautiful hall inside!


We made our way towards the water and weaved through the city all together.  There was a really cool clothing shop that had all sorts of Icelandic clothing words translated in English on a big plaque outside.  The language nerd in me was thrilled!


Little Eva and I played as we walked and enjoyed the sights of the city.  There were some cute shops and painted buildings which made it look like a perfect Scaidianvian city, even though it was nice and cloudy out!




We walked for a while until it was about ready for Eva’s nap.  We grabbed lunch on the way home but took it to go, so my mom and Eva danced while we waited and it was SO stinking cute!

Ingun came home that night and told us all about her day.  Unfortunately it rained a good deal (sideways!) but she said she had a lot of fun!  We were all ready for dinner and I cooked in our tiny Airbnb kitchen.  Pasta salad, grilled chicken, and sauteed spinach on the menu.


By the way, don’t forget the eternal summer this far north!  Check out the level of sunlight at 10PM…



July 15th, 2017

The next day was the last full day we had in Iceland, so we went to find a geothermal pool to play around in.  Before the pool, my dad and I went out, nice and early, to an amazing bakery we found the day before called Braud & Co.  It was, beyond a doubt, the best bakery I have ever been to in the world.


The smell of beautiful, buttery pastries wafts down the street at the crack of dawn and we salivated just thinking about them on our 20 minute walk over.  Cinnamon buns, vanilla cream pastries, traditional and chocolate croissants… lord have mercy.  The shop was stunning inside– all wooden and cozy, loaves of bread with hard crusts on the outside next to the buttery delights, and the baker himself visible behind a small window inside the shop.



You can’t miss this shop for two reasons: 1) the pastries are legitimately mouth-wateringly good, and 2) the outside of the shop is a stunning rainbow that stands out among the other painted shops on the street!  This is easily one of my favorite photos I took on the trip.


My dad and I walked back with about 12 pastries in hand (we wen’t a little crazy!) and found a little cat who followed us halfway down the block.


We brought the spoils home and I laid them out on a plate, still warm, and we had the most delicious breakfast.  JUST LOOK AT THESE BEAUTIES!  I only pray that someday I can make things as amazing as these sweets.


After breakfast, we were lucky that the rain stopped for a little while, so we asked Johannes where we should go for a geothermal pool and he recommended a local bath called Laugardalslaug.  It was not touristy at all and Eva was allowed to come!  Ingun and I needed to grab some swim diapers for Eva, so we stopped for coffee and then trekked to a pharmacy to find her some.  The coffee, from Reykjavik Roasters of course, was delicious and I finally got to take a photo of their coffee flavor wall.  What a beautiful way to draw tastes!


When we got home, we packed up the family and walked about 25 minutes and arrived at the pool.  We weren’t allowed to bring in cameras to the pool but this website had a great shot of the facility:


There were maybe 1/4 of the people in this picture there when we were, so it was a lot less crowded.  Off to the right of this photo was a small circle pool where we hung out with little baby Eva who had never been swimming before!  The pool was shallow and really, really warm (around 38ºC) but felt amazing.

On the left side of the deck there were 5 hot tubs, all heated geothermally, at different temperatures.  Ingun and I wanted to try them all, the hottest being 44ºC.  We could hardly stand it for more than 60 seconds!  The final hot tub was filled with sea water from just down the street and heated to a comfortable hot tub temperature.  It was super cool to lounge in the saltwater.

After we swam, we dried off and got dressed while we waited for the boys to finish in their locker room.  Eva found a chair to push and was a total ham guiding it around the floor!



We grabbed a quick bite on the way back home and Eva wanted to share my sausage.  Looks kind of like a Darth Vader grip going on there…


We chilled back home for a while and Ingun went out to shop a little (since she missed the adventure the day before) and my parents went back to check out a small shop in town.  I was wiped out and blogged a little while Alec and Eva napped outside.

Later in the evening, Ingun and I went to Bonus, the grocery down the street, and got ingredients for the last dinner in Iceland.  I made a homemade tomato sauce, pasta, and meatballs (I found the SWEDISH KIND!), and some KILLER garlic bread using a baguette from Braud!



Just before bed, Alec and Eva had a sweet moment with Eva’s new Icelandic book and he did his very best to read it to her… :)


July 16th, 2017

I got up at the crack of dawn to take a bus to the airport the next morning.  I grabbed a quick breakfast at the airport of a coconut milk and chia pudding with coconut flakes and sour currants, and took one last snap of the Icelandic fact board that welcomes you as you enter (and exit) the country.  So cool.



I also took advantage of Duty Free and stocked up on ALLLL the Icelandic vodka.  And a 6-pack of Somersby, of course!  I hardly had room in my backpack but I would have thrown out my clothing to fit in the Somersby :)


After some technical problems with the first aircraft, we changed to a new plane and off we went.  I got put in Economy Plus (my airplane luck is incredible lately!) and sat next to two adorable Swedes heading to Maryland for a week.  We swapped stories and I gave them a few recommendations while they were in the city.  What a welcome sound to hear my beloved Swedish being spoken so beautifully in my ear the whole flight!


All in all it was a fantastic trip to Iceland, but the family time was hands down the best part.  I loved seeing Alec, Ingun, and of course, my little niece Eva who stole the show.  I can’t wait to see everyone again this winter at our home this time!  <3

A fallegur dagur á Íslandi: Gullfoss, Haukadalur geysir og Þingvellir þjóðgarðurinn

July 13, 2017

We woke up Thursday morning ready to head out on our adventure at 9AM.  I made some breakfast with Icelandic eggs, bacon, and apple cake to get us started off on the right foot.  Our apartment’s kitchen is… “efficient”, to put it kindly, so I figured out how to make breakfast for 6 with only a few pots and pans.  There was a coffee shop, Reykjavík Roasters, down the street and Alec knew their coffee well so he popped down and brought some back for breakfast.


I set the food out and had a little friend peeking at me from the end of the table!


Our Airbnb host was also out tour guide for the day since we had the baby and didn’t want to commit to an 8 hour all-day tour with 100 other tourists.  We were set to leave at 9, but Johannes must have been on Iceland time so we didn’t leave until closer to 10AM.

We piled in to Johannes’ jeep and set out to see three sights: the Gullfoss waterfall, the Haukadalur geysers, and the Þingvellir National Park.  These were three stops on the “Golden Circle”, or a set of popular natural sights that most people like to see when they visit.  We were only going to these three, however, so we joked that it was the “Golden Line” tour :)

Since we had chosen this set of sights, we decided to go to the furthest first, about 2 hours away, and work our way back.  Little Eva took a nice snooze during the ride out.  It was overcast and a little chilly but even the clouds were beautiful!


We arrived at Gullfoss, or the Golden Waterfall, which is one of Iceland’s most popular and beautiful waterfalls.  It is located in a canyon of the Hvíta River and is made up of water that melted from the Langjökull glacier.  It is truly spectacular; the view from the front is grand and the spray from the falls themselves blanket the area in a soft fog which adds to the mystery of the area.



There is a path along the ledge where you can walk through the spray to get to the edge of the waterfall for even more spectacular views of the “staircase” and crevice that the water has dug itself over hundreds of years of rushing water.


Here is the view from the edge of the waterfall, and then another pointing back to the staircase and crevice:




We climbed back to the front of the falls and up a set of steep stairs to the overlook at the top of the cliffs.  It was a beautiful sight to see!  I snapped a selfie with some of the family…


…and got my first jumping picture of the trip with the stunning landscape behind me.


We piled back in Johannes’ jeep and made our way to the next stop, the Haukadalur Geysers.  They were only about a 15 minute drive back in the direction we came.

Haukadalur is a valley with tons of geothermal activity which has caused geysers and geothermal pools to form in various spots.  The biggest geyser is named Geysir, which is actually where our word “geyser” comes from to begin with.  It is said that Geysir has been active for 10,000 years and used to erupt frequently, sometimes as a result of earthquakes (or with the addition of soap!) but Johannes told us it hasn’t had a proper eruption since 2009.  It was nice and quiet on the day we arrived. When it DOES erupt, it can shoot boiling water up to 70 meters in the air!


Since the geothermal energy also releases hydrogen sulfide, the area smelled fairly strongly of rotten eggs (the sulfur smell) when you got a puff of the steam emitted from the geysers.  Up close, once the steam wafted away, you could even see the hyperthermophiles, or organisms that can withstand incredible heat and live inside the springs.  This one was blue!


There were several other geysers just a few meters from each other.  The most popular, Strokkur, faithfully erupts every 5-10 minutes and blows water super high in to the air.  I got the end of the eruption in the picture below:


In total there are about 30 geysers in the valley.  It was really amazing to see them all, and the steam rising from the ground.


My brother snapped this great jumping picture in front of the smallest geyser, LitliGeysir.  I got one of them just afterwards!



After exploring for a while, Eva needed some lunch so we joined her in the rest area.  There was a nice cafe and shop with tons of tables and Eva crawled all around and made some new friends (and ate a bunch of our cheesecake!)

Finally, we made our way an hour back towards Reykjavík en route to our last stop. Even from the windows of the car I couldn’t resist taking pictures of how green everything was!  Look at these mountains:


Our last stop was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir).  Althing, the national parliament in Iceland, was established here in 930 AD.  Today it is still home to a lot of historical artifacts and some truly spectacular natural wonders protected now as a World Heritage Site.

Johannes dropped us at the bottom of a ridge so we could hike around the park. Eva couldn’t find her hat so she borrowed my dad’s.  Newest generation of Capitals fans ;)


Up at the top of some cliffs we found the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen called Öxarárfoss.  It was hidden away a little bit and surrounded by huge stones and rocks.  I could have stayed there all day!



It was a spectacular place for pictures!


And my favorite jumping picture of the entire trip!


Even turning around from the waterfall in the other direction, the cliffs were green and lush.  I felt like I was in Scotland!



We walked hiked along to another overlook where we could see the entire beautiful Icelandic countryside in front of us.  Breathtaking.




At the highest point of the park we also saw the best view of volcanic activity so far: wrinkly and folded hardened lava rocks all around us!  Look how slowly that must have set over hundreds of years.  SO COOL. (Literally!)


Tired and happy, we got back in to the car and made our way back to Reykjavík after a long day of exploring.  We relaxed for a while and my mom read with squishy Eva while Alec and I went to the Vinmonopolet (liquor store) and found some Thai for takeaway.


What a fantastic day we had.  We were all asleep by 9!