An Open Letter to Us All on Earth Day

Over the last few years, we’ve heard of several grim discoveries due to climate change, like the ice of Greenland and Antarctica melting significantly faster than predicted; or the prediction that more than 90% of earth’s once vibrant coral reefs will be dead by the year 2050.

An Open Letter to Us All on Earth Day | A Great Big Hunk of World | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | sustainable travel

We’ve witnessed things that will go down in history for the most dreadful reasons, like the death of Sudan, the last male White Northern Rhino who survived 45-years after being captured and placed in captivity, before finally being brought to a wildlife conservatory in Kenya. Similarly we’ve seen species that once ran rampant decline in numbers until they were barely in existence.

And unfortunately, we’ve also seen policies implemented and reversed, that threaten the futures of several species – and that reduce their existence to nothing more than a challenge to win, or a trophy to be hung on a wall or to hang from someone’s wrist.

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We’ve experienced and watched the virtually endless succession of natural disasters all across the world that have affected entire cities, entire regions, and entire families. We’ve witnessed the challenges that these communities face when trying to rebuild.

And unfortunately, we’ve also had the displeasure of listening to skeptics who refuse to acknowledge the negative actions that have played a role in these catastrophes.

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We’ve heard horror stories, such as that of a sperm whale washing up on the shores of Spain with a stomach filled with 64 pounds of plastic, and of towns plagued by toxic drinking water, where many are facing crippling health affects due to consumption.

At times it’s hard not to cradle your head in your hands and think, “Look what we’re doing. Look what we’ve done.”

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And yet, just when we feel we’ve gone too far and that all the damage caused is irreversible, we bare witness to how much of a difference a small group of people can make. And we see how strong mother earth is despite all of the strikes against her.

Though we’ve seen many species fall to the demise of extinction, there have also been discoveries of over six dozen new species of plants and animals in the past year.

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We’ve seen the Chesapeake Bay, at one point one of the most polluted estuaries in the United States, regrow a substantial amount of seagrass due to new farming and sewage methods, and the actions of volunteers.

We’ve seen children with vision clearer than those triple their age take action to better our planet, such as sisters Melati and Isabel Wisjen who’ve set a goal to make their home island of Bali plastic-free.

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And when we see how much has been done and how much can be done, we can say much more enthusiastically, “Look at what we’re doing! Look at what we’ve done.”

And so what it comes down to is which side you’d like to have the largest hand in; whether you’d like to be the hand that drops the bottle or the one that picks up the shovel and helps. Whether you’d like to be the one who takes a stand and takes a conscious look at your actions, or the one who turns a blind eye.

And so my challenge to everyone this Earth Day (or a few day’s late) is to take a step back and ask yourself, “What have I been doing?”

And then do better.

An Open Letter to Us All on Earth Day | A Great Big Hunk of World | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | sustainable travel

 

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How to Spend St.Paddy’s Day Weekend in Boston, Massachusetts

Let’s be honest, if there is any place I’d most want to spend St. Patrick’s Day, it would be in Boston.

Okay, maybe Ireland would be my first choice, but Boston is definitely a close second despite my aversion to overpacked bars and unnecessary chaos. In fact, compared to some of the St. Paddy’s day celebrations I have witnessed in my own state, the one’s in Boston are relatively calm. Boston is a fun weekend getaway for those in the Northeast in general, but come St. Patrick’s Day weekend, there are even more experiences to be hard.

  1. See the Dropkick Murphy’s live from Boston’s House of Blues.

Attending a Dropkick Murphy’s concert during St. Patrick’s Day weekend has become a staple event when visiting Boston for the holiday. The Dropkick Murphy’s are one of those bands that are absolutely fantastic live regardless of where and when you see them; but even the upper-mezzanine seats at Boston’s House of Blues give you access to a great view and two bars with drink prices that won’t break the bank. The band even brings out a bagpipe player for tracks like “The Spicy McHaggis Jig” and Irish step dancers for their most popular song, “Shipping Off to Boston”, making this a pinnacle of Irish festivities in Boston.

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2. Grab a post-concert sweet Italian sausage outside of the House of Blues.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably end up grabbing a pre-concert sausage to inhale while waiting on line to enter the venue as well. During concerts and ballgames at Fenway park, you’ll find these sausage stands up, running, and waiting to serve street delicacies like hot dogs, sausages, and beef tips.

In more recent years, some street vendors have noted a slight decrease in visitors as many choose to stop by chain restaurants like Wahlburgers before local events. PSA: If you have yet to ever try Wahlburgers, do not spend your money at Wahlburgers. But if you have the opportunity to grab a $9, almost footlong loaded Italian sausage, spend your money.

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3. Skip the hotspots when bar hopping. 

If waits in potentially freezing weather, cover charges, and standing chest-to-chest with sweaty strangers who pre-gamed way too hard seems like your cup of tea Guinness, then by all means head on over to the West End. But if you prefer a good-sized crowd that still allows room to breathe, good energy, a shot at grabbing a table, and four dollar beers, then the Fenway area might be for you. While these areas aren’t necessarily known for their strips of bars, you’ll a handful that’ll offer you a great time. And isn’t quality over quantity better anyway? We could’ve spent hours at spots like Puddingstone Tavern where the drinks are cheap, the crowd is chill, and you’ll find every board game to drunkingly challenge your friends to.

We too are guilty of wanting to follow the crowd, however. After a couple of hours of playing Phase 10, we actually headed over to the West End. I can say with no exaggeration, that we lasted approximately a half hour before heading back to our new favorite bar. Up the block from Puddingstone, you’ll find Flann O’Brien’s, which on St. Paddy’s day even hosts a $15, all-you-can eat corned beef and cabbage buffet.

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4. Have a bite at America’s oldest restaurant.

During your St. Paddy’s day weekend getaway, there are really only two reasons to visit the West End – the Freedom Trail and Union Oyster House, which is apparently American’s oldest restaurant. The building itself dates back to the post-revolutionary war era and is an official historic landmark, thus the building and booths themselves are quite snug. As a restaurant, this spot has been serving food since 1826 and is most known for their oysters, if that wasn’t obvious. While I wouldn’t say this place offered the best food I’ve ever had, my opinion may be a bit skewed since I’m highly allergic to oysters and therefore had to pass on what was apparently some amazing clam chowder. But the atmosphere of dining in a place of history is worth a visit. Plus, the complimentary cornbread is probably some of the best I’ve ever tasted. And if you have some time post-meal and are interested in some Boston sightseeing, this restaurant sits right in the center of the Boston Freedom Trail.

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5. Make sure you have a breakfast spot picked out to ease your St.Paddy’s Day hangover.

Nothing cures a hangover better than a good breakfast platter, which is why many breakfast spots will be packed out. Luckily, we stumbled upon Milkweed pretty early and were only given a 30 minute wait, which not only allowed us time to grab a quick drink at the bar across the street, but also proved to be more than worth the time.

The platter below included eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, home fries, and the most amazing french toast! PSA: For an extra $2, you can trade in your simple-yet-delicious french toast for one of Milkweed’s signature options, such as Nutella french toast or Lucky Charms french toast. With a coffee, I think I paid roughly $12, making this a bargain and a win in my book.

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Whether you come to celebrate St. Patrick, to cheer on the Celtics, or for absolutely no specific reason at all there are so many things to do in Boston.

Already planning your next St. Paddy’s Day getaway? Pin this for later!

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6 Days in Iceland: A Self-Drive Itinerary

When it comes to planning a trip to Iceland, especially during the winter months, it’s best to accept prior to your trip that every day may not go exactly as planned. While going through security before our flight home, we heard numerous groups discussing their own trips to Iceland, complaining that all of their tours had been cancelled or that they hadn’t been able to experience every single thing they thought they would.

So before we continue, take a deep breath, and accept that your plans may perhaps fall through. Winter weather in Iceland is wildly unpredictable, but at the same time, winter there is so visually stunning. I would’ve been fine if we did nothing but drive around “oohing” and “ah-ing” at volcanic ranges. Secondly, if you or another person in your party has experience with harsh winter driving, rent a car. I’m not saying that it is necessarily a smart idea to drive into a blizzard despite all tours being cancelled, I’m just saying that on certain days we drove into a blizzard despite all tours being cancelled.

All joking aside, renting a car gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes to your schedule. Whereas booking a tour could result in a wasted day, driving gave us the option to change our plans at last minute notice if roads were closed or there was inclement weather in certain areas. We definitely left Iceland having missed out on a couple things we had originally wanted to see, but to be honest, we experienced so much that those things were barely a thought. Plus, that just means we have to go back.

Day 1: Reykjavik
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Day 3: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 4: The Langjökull Glacier
Day 5: The South Coast
Day 6: The Blue Lagoon

Day 1: Reykjavik

Coming from New York meant that a majority of flights we could’ve booked would get us to Reykjavik at approximately 4:30am-6:30am the following day. Personally, I always prefer earlier arrival flights because I’m able to run on adrenaline for almost twelve hours after landing; but also because it can often mean a whole extra added day to your trip.

First things first: get your rental car. When you exit the “arrivals” area of Keflavik, you’ll find various car rental depots for popular car rental companies, such as Budget, Hertz, Enterprise, etc. However, if you’re like us and booked your car through a company exclusive to Iceland, you’ll have to hop on a shuttle to the actual rental car office. This shuttle is a bright yellow bus that you can catch at the designated bus stop about a minute walk from Keflavik. I’d assume if it were summer and you had minimal luggage that you might be able to walk to the rental office, because Blue Car Rental was the second stop and we were there in what felt like three minutes.

    • While I highly recommend Blue Car, please be smarter than we were. Just because a car says “7-seater” does not mean it’s the type of 7-seater you may be used to. In fact, once we stored our luggage, it only really fit five of the six of us. Sitting awkwardly atop two of my friends while my head was bent in an a 90 degree angle, definitely did not make for the most comfortable 45 minute ride to Reykjavik. To make matters worse, even after we unpacked our luggage, we consistently rotated since the back two seats were suitable for people 4″11 and under. Long story short, if you’re more than five, get a second car.
    • We opted to have Wi-fi included with our car rental and it was the greatest choice we made. Your wi-fi comes in the form of a portable little egg shape device that one us kept in our pocket even when we left the car. Because what’s better than being able to Snapchat data-free virtually everywhere you go?
    • Purchase all the car insurance. It’s better to pay upfront than have to worry about a potential large payment later.

Next stop: Breakfast.

It had been a goal of mine to have breakfast at the Laundromat Cafe, and luckily that’s exactly where we ended up at 8:00am on our first morning in Iceland. The Dirty Breakfast which consists of eggs, bacon, potatoes, tomato, sausage, and yogurt is just as heavenly as it sound, and the ambiance is a liberals paradise.

Unfortunately, I found out a few days ago that the Laundromat Cafe shut its doors just a week after we left. But never fear! The owner insists they are currently seeking another Reykjavik venue to re-open. Until then there are a boatload of other great spots for breakfast in Reykjavik like Bergsson Mathús, Cafe Bablu, and C is for Cookie.

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After breakfast, head to the Saga Museum; but don’t forget to stop along the way and appreciate the beauty of Mount Esja, which isn’t actually a mountain at all, but an entire volcanic range. We spent a good fifteen minutes just gawking at its beauty – this was before we realized that the entire country is one giant scenic view.

The Saga Museum uses life-like figures to depict different moments in Iceland’s history, and is a great way to learn a bit more about the country you’re visiting before diving right in.

The Saga Museum is open daily, from 10:00am-6:00pm and entrance is 2100kr ($20).

The next two stops are quintessentially Reykjavik. First, stop by the Sun Voyager statue for a quick photo opportunity. Jón Gunnar Árnason, the sculpture of the statue has said its design was meant to convey, “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom.” In a way, it reminds me of the meaning behind the Statue of Liberty back home.

When visiting you’ll also have an excellent view of both Thufa, an outdoor art piece by Ólöf Nordal; and Harpa, the majestic concert hall of Reykjavik.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

From here, head over to Hallgrimskirkja. This structure which took 41 years to build is not only the largest church in Iceland, but is also among one of the largest structures of Iceland in general. I guess that’s why most visitors can’t leave Iceland without heading to the top to take in the view of Iceland’s largest city. And once you’ve descended, don’t forget to check out the statue of Norse explorer, Lief Erikson who greets visitors as they enter.

Hallsgrimskirkja is open from 9:00am-5:00pm during the winter months, and 9:00am-9:00pm during the summer. Note that on Sundays, the tower is closed from 10:30am-12:15 due to mass. Admission to the tower is 1000 ISK.

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If you’re a history buff, your next stop should be the not-to-be-missed National Museum of Iceland, which is home to over 2,000 artifacts.

The National Museum of Iceland is open daily from 10:00am-5:00pm, though it is currently closed on Mondays. Admission is 2000 ISK, and free for anyone under 18.

At this point you may be getting smacked by hunger pangs and sleep deprivation. So run over to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur and order one (or two) with everything, and take a relaxing walk around pond Tjornin. Then when you’re done, do a quick grocery run at the closest Bonus, stock up Skyr, and head to your accommodations for a much deserved nap.

NOW WAKE UP, because you have to spend a night experiencing Reykjavik nightlife at least once. Literally, maybe just once, because the booze prices in this country are astronomical.

The first bar we stopped at was the Lebowski Bar, where we ordered White Russians all around. If you don’t get the reference, add watching the Big Lebowski to your list of post-Iceland activities. The Lebwoski Bar has a list of about a dozen different White Russians, though I prefer a classic.

If you’re feeling lucky, for 2500 ISK you can have the bartender spin a wheel which might leave you with 10 “free” beers. Our first friend to spin actually hit the jackpot and won 10 (really 8 if you subtract payment) free beers to start the night. But don’t get too cocky; the next two to spin both hit “gutterballs” and walked away 2500 ISK poorer.

Hopefully you didn’t spend all your money spinning the prize wheel, because Lebowski’s bar food is surprisingly delicious. After all, nothing goes down better with a White Russian than mozzarella sticks and a Honey Boo burger.

Side note – our bartender was beyond awesome! By the end of the night we felt like she was part of the gang.

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American Bar was next, which also had a spin-to-win wheel, but thankfully we had learned our lesson by then. One of the best parts of Reykjavik is that a majority of the bars are all in a five block range, so walking between them is super easy. Others worth checking out: The English Pub and The Dubliner.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com


Day 2: The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular sightseeing routes in Iceland and offers an array of different stops along the way. The weather was a bit back-and-forth on this day and due to the minimal light hours during the winter, we had to cut out some of our hidden gems off the itinerary. That being said, it’s definitely possible to hit more stops than we did depending on the weather and time of year, so definitely pick out your favorite gems to add to your own itinerary.

Stop one: Thingvellir National Park

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How much you enjoy your time at this park is going to be based on how adventurous you are willing to be. At first glance, the park seems pretty barren, though even barren is stunning with the sun shining through. The deeper into Thingvellir you go, the more there is to see – from towering lava rock to a small church with adjacent buildings, which was apparently the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 960 AD.

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Many of the paths had been snowed over but we, along with a few other visitors, trekked through the slush to experience as much as we could.

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    • If you’re traveling in winter, make sure you have a pair of waterproof winter boots. There is nothing fun about attempting to make your way in sopping wet sneakers, or injuring yourself by slipping on an icy patch.

 

At one point on our adventure, we accidentally stumbled upon Öxarárfoss, a small waterfall that remains semi-frozen during the winter months. This ended up being one of those accidents we questioned not originally having on our itinerary; though it may be much smaller than some of the more popular Iceland falls, it’s slight seclusion and simplicity make it that much more beautiful.

After your excursion through Iceland’s only UNESCO Heritage Site, head over to Strokkur, Iceland’s most famous geysir that erupts every 6-10 minutes. Though on our trip it seemed a bit more frequent. Not every eruption is as dramatic, so it may be worth sticking around for a two or three.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

After freezing your fingers off trying to capture an image of Strokkur blowing its top, head over to Fridheimar for a late lunch/early dinner. I highly recommend making a reservation to be on the safe side, though we had made the latest reservation available and were dining with only four other groups.

Fridheimar is located inside one of Iceland’s geothermal tomato greenhouses, and hence every menu from the entrees to the desserts are tomato-based. This restaurant is more of an experience than a meal, and is worth every penny.

Fridheimar is open daily from 12:00pm-4:00pm.

Finally, it’s time to visit the majestic and popular, Gullfoss. Gullfoss is one of those natural wonders that leave you wondering why so many places to choose to pave over beauty for skyscrapers. Be sure to do some walking among the open space surrounding Gullfoss as you’ll be able to get a few differently angled views of the falls.

This is one of those rare occasions where I’ll suggest stopping at the visitor center gift shop before departing. Were some of the items overpriced? Of course, it’s Iceland. But I was able to grab some stunning post cards and prints that actually didn’t break the bank.

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Other stops you may want to make during your Golden Circle self-drive tour:

Faxi Waterfall (64.2254° N, 20.3372° W)

Porufoss (64.260707, -21.369836)

Kerid Crater (64.0413° N, 20.8851° W)

Solheimar Eco-Village (64.0656° N, 20.6419° W)

Gamla Laugin Geothermal Pool (64.1377° N, 20.3097° W)


Day 3: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Often called “Little Iceland” due to the varying landscapes that exist in one location, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula had been calling out to me from the initiation of our trip planning.

If you’re driving from Reykjavik, which is about 2.5 hours, this definitely requires an early start if you’re attempting to see much of the peninsula in the same day. So quickly down some of that Skyr you purchased at your local Bonus supermarket and hit the road.

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  • Reminder: Though not quite as north as the Westfjords, in winter this area was approximately 8-10 degrees colder than Reykjavik. We also experienced some intense winds that at times were almost painful if your face wasn’t covered, so I’d recommend bringing along some extra layers and a ski-mask.

Stop 1: Búðir

You’ve probably seen snapshots of the Búðir or “the little black church” without even realizing, as it’s become a common stop for photographers visiting the peninsula. To many, this may seem an odd spot for church – secluded from much else. But this little hamlet provides an erie but stunning break from the snowy surroundings.

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Stop 2: Bárður Snæfellsás

Legend has it that Bárður Snæfellsás, half troll and half man, was the settler of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In 1972, co-founder of the Icelandic Sculptors Society, Ragnar Kjartansson built a stone figure of Bárður, which now stands tall in the fishing-village of Arnarstapi watching over his land.

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If traveling in winter, don’t be surprised that Arnarstapi is almost completely deserted. It seems that this town is mostly utilized during the summer season, which makes sense considering how dramatic winters in the area can be.

Stop 3: Hellnar

Hellnar is an ancient fishing village one stop over from Arnarstapi, and is a great place to stop for the perfect view of Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000 year old glacier.

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Stop 4: The Londrangar Basalt Cliffs

  • Warning – If you think the rest of the peninsula is windy, just wait until you stroll along the Londrangar Cliffs. In the wintertime, there are also some difficult-to-see ice patches, and one almost sent me flying off of a ledge. So walk slowly, take your time, and pay attention to your surroundings.

The view, however, is completely worth it.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 5: Vatnshellir Cave

Vatnshellir is the cave that apparently inspired Jule’s Verne’s, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and with Summit Adventure Guides you can journey down into the 8,000 year old lava tube. We had a great tour guide who went by “Gummy” during our 45 minute tour, and his knowledge, jokes, and Marvel references really added to the experience.

At one point, once you’re two stairwells, a bridge, and a walk deep into the tube, everyone is asked to turn of their lights, leaving you absolute darkness. This is the level of darkness that your eyes will never be able to adjust to. Despite this proclamation, we all still attempted to stare at our own hand, thinking at some point we’d make out an outline. But nothing.

Summit Adventure Guides provides several tours including the Vatnshellir Cave Tour, which runs all year. Tours should be booked in advance and run 3750 ISK, roughly $37.

Stop 6: Djúpalónssandur & Dritvík

While Djúpalónssandur is known for being the “black-lava pearl beach”, Dritvík is known for something a bit more somber. In 1948, an English trawler ship slammed into the beach, killing 14 of the 19 crewman. The few iron remains of the ship remain in the same location out of respect and memory of those who passed.

Despite the snow covering much of both areas, these destinations are not to be missed.

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Stop 7: Feast in Ólafsvík

We had asked our Vatnshellir tour guide for some restaurant recommendations, considering a majority of businesses in West Iceland were closed for the winter. He eagerly suggested two spots over in his hometown of Ólafsvík, one he described as “a black house with a green roof”. This restaurant ended up being “Hraun”, which was not only run by some of the most accommodating staff, but also is home to some of the best tasting burgers you will ever eat.

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Stop 8: Hunt the Northern Lights

We had booked an Airbnb for one night alongside Kirkjufell to experience the countryside and hopefully catch a glimpse of the northern lights. We had accepted the day prior that we probably were going to leave Iceland without having seen them; after all, we had daily snow, almost complete cloudy skies, and on that night the aurora forecast was extremely low. But hey, at least the views from the cabin were stunning.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

While we hung inside, I made a point of running outside every twenty minutes or so to see if we could at least get a view of a dark starry night sky. But due to the weather, all I kept seeing was solid darkness. But luck was on our side. On my fourth time out, there finally seemed to be a gap in the cloud cover, and I was greeted by a strip of stars like I had rarely seen. If this was all we got, I’d have been happy. However, after calling my friends out, one pointed out what appeared to be a mild bright, white light from behind Kirkjufell.

Slowly these light patches lightened and began to spread out and few snaps of my camera proved we were finally getting a glimpse – a few green stripes were in fact streaking the sky. During the peak, there were even what appeared to be some vertical moving lines. But just as quick as they appeared, the cloud cover regained its position over West Iceland.

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We might not have experienced the most intense aurora borealis, but the experience was still memorable – and waiting it out was half of the fun.


Day 4: The Langjokull Glacier

We had originally planned to wake up early and drive the almost three hours to the Husafell Base Camp, where we would begin out Snowmobile Into the Glacier tour with Mountaineers of Iceland.

This tour would’ve taken us snowmobiling on the second largest glacier in Iceland, followed by a cave tour. However, there are only so many experiences that can be saved by self-driving in Iceland. And it is extremely dangerous and never okay to enter an ice cave or take part in activities like glacier hiking without certified professionals.

But if the weather wasn’t a deterrent, this would’ve been a great chance to take part in some action-packed activity on your way down from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

On the flip side, Mountaineers was great to work with and processed our refund in a timely manner with no issues. Be sure to check out their official site for other awesome Iceland tours.

The Snowmobile Into the Glacier Tour with Mountaineers of Iceland must be booked in advanced, and runs 29.900 ISK for two guests on one snowmobile. All drivers must have a valid driver’s license. 


Day 5: The South Coast

Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is the first of the two main waterfalls you will hit on your South Coast drive. Though it appears smaller in comparison to Skogafoss, it actually drops about 197 feet. During the summer months or when icy paths are no issue, guests can walk a path behind the falls for a unique view.

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Stop 2: Skógafoss

Skógafoss is one of the biggest and most accessible waterfalls in Iceland, making it a popular stop all year round. Pictures really don’t do this waterfall justice, as you really don’t understand its power or size until you’re there in person, walking right up to it.

  • If you’re traveling in winter and want to get up close and personal, make sure to bring a waterproof jacket or poncho. You do end up walking right into a thick wall of mist, and wet clothing isn’t a great combination with potentially strong winds.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 3: Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage

On November 24, 1973, a US Navy plane ran out of fuel and crash landed on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. Later on it would be found that the pilot actually just switched to the wrong fuel tank. Fortunately, all onboard survived but the wreckage still remains on the beach as a popular tourist attraction.

Though driving to the wreckage used to be allowed, in order to preserve the beach it has since been prohibited. In order to reach the wreckage, you now have to walk approximately 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back. This walk, I’m sure, can be relaxing in the appropriate weather. We chose to do walk in an almost zero-visibility blizzard – and let’s just say, I would not ever recommend it. But in general, I do recommend taking the walk to the site. It’s really something.

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Stop 4: Reynisfjara Beach

Despite Iceland being home to primarily black sand beaches, Reynisfjara has always been the iconic black sand beach to visit. This is due in part to it’s unique features, like Hálsanefshellir Cave, basalt columns, and stunningly tall rock formations.

  • When exploring the beach, be sure to avoid walking to close to the shoreline. Reyinsfjara is home to sneaker waves, which can appear suddenly and are strong enough to pull you out to sea. Putting yourself in dangerous situations is not worth the photo op.

If you feel you didn’t take in enough of the sites on your drive, never fear, because you just might get a glance when you turn around to drive all the way back to Reykjavik!


Day 6: The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is the perfect last stop before your flight home, due in part to it being not too far from Keflavik Airport.

  • Be sure to look up sunrise time for the day you’re planning to visit when booking your tickets. Watching the sun come up behind the bridge of the lagoon was the highlight of our time there.

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Tickets for the Blue Lagoon run from 6990 ISK – 53000 ISK depending on your package. We went with the cheapest package, which ended up costing about $80 for our time slot, and have no regrets. Just a heads up: bring a towel, as the cheapest option does not include one.

While the Blue Lagoon can seem a bit pricy, the entire experience seemed worth the price of admission. The staff, premises, shower/changing rooms (which are even equipped with blowdryers) are clean, spacious, and top of the line. If you’re envisioning a giant swimming pool, yes, $80 is a bit steep. But if you appreciate the Blue Lagoon for the spa experience that it truly is, then it’s a steal.

Plus, when it begins to hit you that your spectacular Iceland trip that you spent months planning is finally coming to an end – you can drink your sadness in beer and Skyr smoothies at the pool bars.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

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The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At In Iceland

There are certain trips that you expect to revolve around local cuisine: Italy, France, South Africa. Well, safe to say that when planning my trip to Iceland, I at no time envisioned myself in a week-long food coma. Yes, I had been urged to try the dairy products; and I’ll admit Icelandic yogurt and ice cream has ruined dairy products for me forever. Yes, I’d watched at least a dozen reaction videos of travelers tasting Hákarl or fermented shark, a taste that you really, really only need to experience once in your life.

But despite my lack of original enthusiasm, our series of delicious dining experiences definitely solidified Iceland in my mind, as a foodie mecca.

      1. Friðheimar
        Reykholt, Iceland
        Great Big Hunk of World Awards For: Most Unique Experience, Sustainability-Friendly Business
        Friðheimar was one of the first meals we had while in Iceland and it really set the bar high. Due to Icelands generally cold, and often unpredictable temperatures, much of the countries crops are grown within geothermal energy supplied greenhouses; and Friðheimar lets you dine right in the heart of one. The restaurant also holds a Vakinn certification, which is an Icelandic system that recognizes businesses that maintain high standards of business ethics and environmental service.

        Unsurprisingly, dining in a greenhouse that produces tomatoes all year round, means that the entire menu is tomato focused; yes, even the desserts. The entree portion of the menu is only three items long: Unlimited Friðheimar tomato soup, served buffet style with unlimited bread, sour cream, cucumber salsa, butter and fresh herbs; A spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with tomato sauce and served with a fresh tomato and cucumber slice; and a grilled tortilla with fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Naturally, I wanted two or all of these options; and my boyfriend and I actually ended up each getting an a entree and splitting the tomato soup. #NoRegrets

        The soup was delicious, but it was the olive bread that really stuck out to me; I won’t lie, we ended up refilling our soup bowl about three times. I’ll never turn down a good ravioli, and this time was no different. Though a spinach and ricotta filling isn’t anything too uncommon, it still managed to taste like something I hadn’t tasted before. The sauce, as expected, was very well seasoned and while I could’ve done without the cucumber garnish, that raw tomato on the side is one of the best tasting tomatoes I have ever had. Did I mention there is a basil plant and scissor on your table, so that you can add it to your dish as you please? While we’re at it, let’s say thanks for that portion size; no New York upscale, five-ravioli entrees here.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        Splitting a dessert for the table was so necessary; one, we were all way too full for our own; and two, because when do you have the opportunity to try tomato-based desserts? I was leaning towards the ice cream, which gives you a taste of two ice creams made from two different tomato varieties, but the vote landed us with the green tomato and apple pie. While the presentation gets an A+, the topping reminded me more of a granola than an apple pie crumble; but the filling was warm and paired perfectly with the whipped cream which tasted like it was just made that day.

        Friðheimar is a learning opportunity, experience, and meal in one; and I would go as far as to say that it was my all-time favorite meal of the trip.


        2. Hraun
        Ólafsvík, Iceland
        Awards For: Hit with the Locals, Best Burger, Most Accommodating Staff

        Word of advice: If you’re unsure of where to eat, ask a local. During our lava tube tour of Vatnshellier on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we had an amazing tour guide. Aside from being witty, knowledgeable, and able to sneak Marvel references into his tour spiel, he also provided us with a few dining recommendations, about a half hour from us from his hometown of Ólafsvík. Originally, we had planned to stop there on our way to checking into our Airbnb cabin but found out it wouldn’t open for another hour and a half when we arrived. However, a nice women from the bakery across the way let us know that it was “definitely worth the wait.” Spoiler alert: It was most definitely worth the wait.

        Hraun has a pretty extensive menu, and includes items like freshly caught fish, fish and chips, pizza; and many, many burgers. I had heard that Iceland serves up a pretty mean burger, and decided on a burger that was topped with bbq sauce, bacon, and gouda. This burger didn’t last long before I inhaled it; and for someone who never really finds fries necessary, I gobbled those down too. I don’t know what it is that restaurants in Iceland season their fries with, but I would pay for the recipe. We had also gotten two orders of “Nacho Dip” which in my head was tortilla chips and cheese, but at Hraun, is tortilla chips with a combined mixture of cheese, cream cheese, and salsa – and it actually works.

        Props to the waitresses at Hraun who were also super accommodating, letting us sit in the restaurant and read the menu even ten minutes before they had officially opened.


        3. The Laundromat Cafe
        Reykjavik, Iceland
        Awards For: Best Atmosphere, Best for Breakfast

        Our first couple of hours in Iceland involved landing at 5:30AM, getting our rental car at 7:00AM and driving straight to the Laundromat Cafe at 7:30AM. The Laundromat Cafe gives off such a quirky, happy-go-lucky vibe, but I’d say avoid this spot if you’re one of those people who aren’t too fond of wonderful things like world peace, Bernie Sanders, and breast feeding. After all, this spot pretty much bleeds liberalism. Decorating the walls are various posters, maps, and photographs of laundromats all around the world.

        Despite being quite popular, we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves other than two smalls groups. I guess landing an hour earlier than scheduled has its perks.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        I could’ve ordered every item on the menu and been happy, but in the end we all went the same route – “Six dirty breakfasts and six coffees.” The dirty breakfast includes sausages, hand-cut bacon, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, a grilled tomato, and a honey, nut, and granola topped greek yogurt. So it’s essentially everything you could ever want in a breakfast. And to top it off, each dirty breakfast comes with a small bread basket which includes that delicious brown bread that they’ve come to be known for.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow


        4. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
        Reykjavik, Iceland
        Awards For: Most Affordable Icelandic Meal

        I know, this stand barely constitutes a restaurant, but you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of Bæjarins. Though hotdogs are a common quick food all over Reykjavik, these are apparently “the best hot dogs in town”; after all, it’s in the name. It also happens to the cheapest meal you’ll have while in Iceland. It’s no secret that food and alcohol prices are ridiculously steep in this country; and when I say steep, I mean they sell a six pack of Budweiser (aka beer water) for about 25 bucks.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        I’ve eaten many a dirty water dog while home in New York, but I’m actually pretty picky when it comes to hot dogs. Can you really be too safe when it comes to random combinations of meats? But there was nothing stopping me from getting my hands on one of the best hot dogs in Reykjavik. Little tip: When ordering, order “one with everything.” A friend of mine asked for one hot dog with just ketchup, and received a nod from the cashier before she handed him a hot dog…with everything. But you won’t regret trying the classic toppings- the ketchup like sauce, mustard like sauce; and fried onions make for a very tasty combination. I even went back for a second.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow


        5. Reykjavik Fish Restaurant
        Reykjavik, Iceland
        Awards For: Friendliest Staff, Minimalism

        We actually only ended up at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant after waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more at Reykjavik Fish & Chips before realizing that nobody was going to come assist us in ordering or seating. While Reykjavik Fish & Chips might need to take some pointers on service, we were greeted at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant by the most friendly employee who quickly gave us the run down – order at the counter and then grab a seat wherever we pleased.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        The “menu” at this restaurant is a handful of items written on a blackboard and I was glad to finally come across a menu that wasn’t thirteen pages long. I had already had my heart set on fish and chips, and so barely glanced at the other options before ordering. While the breading of my fish and chips could’ve used a little a lot more salt, the fish was still perfectly flaky and the portion size was large enough that it filled you up, but not too large that you felt sick to your stomach.

        I also stole some of a friends salmon, which was came atop a mixture of roasted carrots and beets. While I don’t think I’d have ever thought to mix together those two particular vegetables, it actually makes for a delicious conversation.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

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The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania ft. Jennie Wade House

Considering how saturated the market is when it comes to haunted attractions and ghost tours, I was a bit skeptical when my friend suggested we book one of these tours during our short trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylavania; But for $15 per person, what did we have to lose? We booked our tour with Ghostly Images of Gettysburg due to their Orphanage/Jennie Wade House combination tour.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Bill who would be leading us through both the orphanage and the Jennie Wade House with about a dozen others guests. Right off the bat, I was glad we had been grouped with Bill as he wasn’t merely reading off a script but was extremely knowledgable on the history and backstories of both locations as well as the Civil War.

Considering the era, the role of most women was stay-at-home mom. If they did have a job, they most likely were not paying a livable wage. During the Civil War, if a father were to lose his life in battle, many children would be turned over to orphanages as it was believed their mothers lacked the financial support to provide for them. One of the these Civil War era orphanages was the orphanage we would be visiting this day. The orphanage was originally opened by a woman whose husband had lost his life in battle. Rather than give them up, she opened an orphanage where she cared for many parentless or abandoned children. Eventually though, she remarried and her and her children moved to a new home out of the orphanage.

Unfortunately for the children left behind, as well as those who had yet to arrive, the new mother of the house, Rosa Carmichael, didn’t share the original owners love for children. Rosa would apparently inflict cruel and unusual punishment on the children; these punishments included being shackled into the basement, being locked in an outhouse in the middle of winter, and at times being put into the pit.

The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg | Jennie Wade House | #agbhow | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg

The pit itself is really just a deep alcove in the cellar, but as we each climbed in, I couldn’t even bare think about young children sitting their for hours or days in the dark, and all alone. If this orphanage is truly haunted, and many feel it is, it’s easy to see why.

At one point, Bill told us that there is actually a family currently living in the floor above the old orphanage, which is where the bedrooms of the children and house mother would have been located. Bill then said what were all probably thinking, “I have no idea why anyone would want to live there.” To this comment one of my friends whispered, “cheap rent.” If that is not #facts.

The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg | Jennie Wade House | #agbhow | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg

In the cellar, you’ll find a few toys scattered throughout. These aren’t remnant of the past, but were actually put their by current owners. Some people have reported feeling a presence when playing with the toys, as if someone is trying to play with them. A few have even mentioned feeling a hand touch them. I didn’t personally have an experience, but Bill noted that oftentimes the toys will be rearranged or found in places not last seen, such as this one pink bear which was seemingly out of place, laying atop a barrel on our arrival.

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Once we left the orphanage, we had a ridiculously cold but quick walk across the street to the Jennie Wade House. Oddly enough, this wasn’t the house that Jennie actually lived in. She, at the time, was living across the street but had headed to her sister’s house where they baked bread and packaged it with water for the soldiers. Unlike most families who had holed up their cellars or fled the city, Jennie felt a need to be active in aiding those fighting. Unfortunately, this selflessness also led to her demise.

Bullets had already riddled the house an Jennie and her family had suffered a few close calls – and on the final day of the battle, Jennie lost her life when a confederate bullet shot through their roof. Almost 8,000 soldiers died while fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg; But only one civilian.

The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg | Jennie Wade House | #agbhow | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg

The middle photo is of Jennie Wade.

We explored two floors of the Jennie Wade house, which surprisingly housed more room than you’d think when viewing the house from the outside. Bill pointed out specific areas of the house that typically experience more activity in movement and in photographs than other parts of the house. And “introduced” us to certain ghosts – such as a ghost believed to be a young girl aged about 6.

The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg | Jennie Wade House | #agbhow | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg

It doesn’t seem like it from he outside, but the house is actually pretty large in terms of amount of rooms.

In many spots, Bill would shut the lights and allow us to take photos to potentially snap some paranormal activity; and while I didn’t get much, I did get a few small orbs, as well as some video footage of one of what seem liked a few mini small orbs floating by.

The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg | Jennie Wade House | #agbhow | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg

This tour definitely surpassed my expectations and was entirely different than what I ha expected. If you’re someone looking for a scary house to walk through, while teenagers dressed up grab at you every five minutes – maybe wait for the Halloween attractions. But if you’re someone who has even questioned the paranormal, and has an interest in history, even those parts that may seem a bit dark, then I think this tour is right up your ally.

 

The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg | Jennie Wade House | #agbhow | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

“We entered Gettysburg in the afternoon, just in time to meet the enemy entering the town, and in good season to drive him back before his getting a foothold.”

– Union General, John Buford

Driving into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is like driving back into history. The entire town stands as a monument and memorial to the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most defining battles during the American Civil War. And while some may find the thought unsettling, that roughly 50,000 men surrendered their lives for this battle; I personally felt that Gettysburg made me feel nothing but pride and gratitude.

This trip was especially touching for me, as my third great-grandfather had served in the American Civil War on the Union side; he not only fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, but in the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Nashville, and Five Forks as well.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Charles Edmondson

The “327” on his collar represents the GAR post he belonged to, which was the Ulysses S. Grant Post 327, Brooklyn NY. He had originally enlisted a private, eventually becoming Corporal, and then Color Sergeant of Company H of the 13th New Jersey Infantry. There is even a monument for this regiment at Gettysburg National Military Park, though I unfortunately was unaware until we had already left.

While Gettysburg makes for an ideal weekend getaway, seeing as the town is concise enough to visit numerous stops in just a day or two, I wish we had visited at a time when the weather wasn’t hovering around 10 degrees (F.). I already know I’ll have to revisit during the warmer months when we’ll be able to take our time strolling the sights, taking in each and every monument.

That being said, I wouldn’t count Gettysburg out as a mini winter getaway; we were able to experience just enough history and other attractions in our short two days.

Day 1

We had driven up early on a Saturday morning, which can typically take up to four hours. Luckily we experienced little to no traffic, and made it from New York in approximately 3.5 hours, arriving around 11:00AM.

Our first stop upon entering was Sachs Covered Bridge, which stands between the townships of Freedom and Cumberland, and was used during the Battle of Gettysburg by both Union and Confederate armies. Some people have also said they’ve experienced a paranormal presence while visiting the bridge; though we didn’t on our trip, can’t say I would be surprised.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Sachs Covered Bridge

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | 2 Days in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Sachs Covered Bridge

After walking the bridge and taking in some of the surrounding area, we headed over to Gettysburg National Military Park, home to the Gettysburg Battlefield, other battle support areas, and monuments and memorials to those individuals and regiments associated with the battle.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Wentz House A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military Park

The road leading up to and surrounding the park is a tour on it’s own, as you pass a variety of canons, memorial stones, and historic sights such as a Civil War hospital and Wentz House.

Once we reached the park, we were able to park easily and conveniently right near Longstreet Tower. Climbing to the top, you get a bird-eyes view of part of the Gettysburg Battlefield. There is also a guide that gives the names of some of the outlying buildings and areas you may see from the viewpoint.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military Park

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military Park

We descended and made our way through the park, not following any specific trail, stopping occasionally to read plaques or take in the detail of individual monuments.

We were silent during much of the walk, as it’s a bit dismaying to remember that some of these monuments not only represent men who fought, but men who lost their lives at these very spots.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military Park A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military Park

In the distance we were able to make out the top of Culp’s Hill Castle. Culp’s Hill played a major role in the Union defensive strategy during the Battle of Gettysburg, providing shelter from attack and camouflage within the wooded areas.

While the hike up to Culp’s Hill Castle is not strenuous by any means, the previous snowfall had left to some muddy conditions that had some people in our party sliding around or winding up with drenched shoes. Luckily, I had considered the weather and wore my favorite pair of Sorel winters boots – which not only keep your feet totally insulated, but also provide that duck boot lower half, keeping your feet insulated from water or mud.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Best Winter Boots for Travel A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Best Winter Boots for Travel

Culp’s Hill Castle, also known as the Castle at Little Round Top, serves as memorial for the 44th New York and 12th New York infantry regiments. Though it looks like the top of building that could’ve been used as a forted lookout during a war, at the moment the only people taking in the view are visitors.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Culp's Hill / Castle at Little Round Top  A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Culp's Hill / Castle at Little Round Top

By the time we made it back down, which didn’t take more than fifteen minutes, the sun began setting, providing a beautiful backdrop the the historic landscape.

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We were ravenous at this point and made our way to Lincoln Square, which is essentially the heart of the city. Here you can find blocks of small museums, shops, and restaurants all within walking distance. Lincoln Square is also home to the well-known Gettysburg Hotel, which opened its doors long before the Civil War in 1797.

It took a few minutes to find parking but when we did, we exited the car to find The Pub & Restaurant; From experience, restaurants with the most simple, to-the-point names tend to offer delicious food and so we decided that’s where we would grab dinner.

Our waiter, who was very attentive and patient, let us know on arrival that this spot was known for their sandwiches. Obviously, we all knew immediately which section of the menu to turn to. I ended up choosing the buffalo grilled chicken sandwich, which was made with a homemade hot sauce, blue cheese, and jalapeños, on whole grain bread. Optional sides include fries, coleslaw, or applesauce.

I knew I had made a great choice from the first bite. Not only was the portion of chicken generous, but it was juicy and cooked to perfection. This was one of those meal’s I was sad to finish. Fortunately, our meal at The Pub & Restaurant was concluded with large, delicious complimentary chocolate chip cookies.

I devoured my food way too quickly for photos, but the atmosphere was just as warm and accommodating as our waiter.

For our final experience, we had booked a spot at 1863 Escape Room; I have yet to not enjoy an escape room experience, but being able to try one that was themed to the Civil War era seemed like a must-do on this trip. Tickets run $28 a person, and guests have the option of two different rooms: The Spirited Study and Rebel Recon. We went with the latter, and unfortunately missed our escape by one clue! But the theming of vintage weapons, tools, and maps was so authentic, and the room was challenging but very fun.

Day 2

The morning of our second day began complimentary breakfast at our hotel followed by an hour of snow tubing at Liberty Mountain Resort, because is a winter trip compete without a little outdoor snow activity?

Once we defrosted and grabbed and grabbed a quick lunch, we headed back into the town center to visit The Gettysburg Heritage Center, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. The Gettysburg Heritage Center is basically broken up into three different segments: The museum, the Gettysburg Animated Map, and the Cellar Experience. Did I mention tickets are only $8.95 per adult?

We decided to see the Gettysburg Animated Map first, which is essentially a 20 minute short film on the regiment movements of both the Union and Confederate armies. While history buffs may be intrigued, this may go over the heads of younger children. At the conclusion of the film, a red light shines bright in the theater showing a replica set up of the final moment of the battle.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg Heritage Center

The museum portion not only showcases life in Gettysburg during the Battle of Gettysburg, but before and after the war as well. While the Battle of Gettysburg is a primary focus, it’s interesting to learn about the development of the town and other informative facts about Gettysburg.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg Heritage Center

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg Heritage Center

Artifacts, information, and a couple of immersive films are scattered throughout the area, as well as an area where guests can dress up as a Civil War soldier. Kids may get a kick out this, but clearly so can a group of adults.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg Heritage Center

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg Heritage Center

After roaming the museum, it was time for the Cellar Experience. In one portion of the museum sits the replica external portion of a house. Beneath that are two doors leading into “the cellar”. During the Battle of Gettysburg, many civilians took shelter in their cellars, sometimes for days at a time. The war and danger was not confined to one small area, instead every day people were often living right in the firing zone.

We didn’t know what to expect when entering the cellar – after all the room was designed to look like any old basement. There are two “windows” in the cellar, with screens that give off the vibe of looking out of a cellar window. Slowly, we began to see the boots of soldiers running passed the windows, then gun fire. The loud sounds of muskets seemed to penetrate the cellar, almost making it seem like the soldiers were right in there with us. Wait, where they?

Suddenly we heard sounds from above, of soldiers running across the floor upstairs looking for us and rummaging through our belongings. These sounds only got louder and more intense. Finally, everything seemed to cease. We heard some soldiers yelling, and saw some carrying injured friends passed the windows, and dropping their guns.

The Cellar Experience was an amazing yet haunting experience, and while it gave me an image to imagine when trying to think up what it must’ve felt like to be a civilian stuck in the middle of war – I’ll never be able to imagine how terrified these families must’ve felt.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg Heritage Center

We spent the hour after the heritage center roaming the town center, enjoying shops like FourCorners Comics, Sweeet!, a candy store where you can find every old-school candy brand to kickstart your nostalgia; and A Little Irish Too, the cutest Irish shop that I couldn’t leave without purchasing a pair of Celtic stud earrings and a bag of brown bread scone mix imported from Ireland.

We grabbed dinner a bit early, as we had booked a tour with Ghostly Images, a tour company that offers battlefield bus tours and a walking tour of the Jennie Wade House and apparent haunted orphanage. I’ll be going into detail on this tour in another post, which I will then link here. But the hour and a half tour was the perfect way to end our short weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

In just two days, we managed to cram in history, haunts, fun, and relaxation. This trip definitely made me feel more connected to my ancestor, and showed us that Gettysburg is so much more than a page out of a history book.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

Twelve Trips in One Year: A New Year Resolution

A friend of mine, an avid reader once noted how sad it is knowing that you will never have the opportunity to read every book ever written; never have enough time to enjoy or debate or consider all the thousands of perspectives, ideas, and stories.

As an avid reader myself, I can attest to this despairing realization. As an experience seeker, I’m often plagued by another thought as well – that none of us have the time to experience every single thing we have always wanted to – every trip, every first, every moment that makes us feel like tiny nothings in the universe. Between full-time jobs, or kids, or other aspects of life, I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling that time is fleeting and that there are never enough hours in a day, or months in a year. Thankfully, the optimist in me says loud and clear, “You don’t have to experience it all, but just enough.”

I have always found the idea of a New Year resolution to be kind of senseless, and so I’ve always instead made a decision to at least attempt to be better generally than I was the year prior. But this year I’ve decided to set myself a little challenge, and fine, I suppose you can call it a New Year resolution. This year I decided that I would attempt to take a trip a month for the entire year of 2018. Some of these trips may be pretty close to home; and I’m sure there are many to whom 12 trips can be taken in just a few months or who are lucky enough to live one never ending travel adventure year-round – but for me this is enough. Besides, there are dozens of books waiting to be written and 2018 is just one.

 

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Twelve Trips in One Year: A New Year Resolution | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Travel

 

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays

There may be no activity I enjoy more than events that allow me to stroll from booth to booth eating way more food than necessary, and Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays is no exception.

While Epcot has always been the park known for it’s annual events and festivals, it wasn’t until recently that food has become a focal point for other festivals other than Epcot’s Food & Wine. But we’re not complaining! After all, it’s the holidays; and food does bring people together.

The Alsache Holiday Kitchen

This was one of the first Holiday Kitchen’s we stopped at, as I had already had my heart set on the Bûche de Noël au Chocolat: Slice of Chocolate Christmas Yule Log. Despite the fact that it felt like we were walking around New York in the middle of December, I decided to pair it with a Spiced Rum Punch Slush. This drink was already a bad decision considering how cold I was, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the flavor either, which essentially tasted like kool-aid topped with cinnamon. The Yule Log however, was out of this world. The cake was perfectly moist, and the filling which tasted like a very rich dark chocolate was sweet and flavorful without being overbearing. If it were possible, I’d have ordered the entire log.

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The American Holiday Table

The American Holiday table offerings provide a lot of nostalgic holiday options. Though considering that I was living off Thanksgiving leftovers for a food portion of the week before our Disney trip, this wasn’t much of a throwback Thursday. While these dishes aren’t anything wildly innovation, it’s the simplicity of these classic dishes that made them so memorable. They turkey and pork were cooked well; and the green bean casserole, complete with fried onions, was delicious. Another benefit of the American Holiday Table is the portion size, which is decently larger than many other small plates you’ll find during both the Festival of the Holidays and Epcot’s Food & Wine. This pavilion definitely gets your more bang for your buck.

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

The Bavaria Holiday Kitchen

German cuisine has always been one of my favorites; this might be because I’m more than a quarter German, or because Biergarten provides some of the most delicious food on Disney property. Safe to say, there was no way I was passing by the Bavarian Holiday Kitchen empty handed. While the cheese plate was calling my name, and you can rarely go wrong with cheese fondue, I ended up deciding on the Sauerbraten, Red Cabbage and Spätzle option. The vinegar taste was strong with this one, so this dish was easily a clear winner for me; and the Sauerbraten, a.k.a German Pot Roast, was falling apart the way a pot roast should and was saturated with flavor. And of course a hard cider was the perfect drink to wash it all down with.

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The Cookie Nook

It doesn’t get more festive than inhaling a day’s worth of calories in cookies, and it’s pretty hard not to considering how many cookie varieties are offered a the Cookie Nook. My pick was the Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam and a dark chocolate glaze, because how does on pass up on a description like that? But the chocolate chunk cookie was tasty, and the snickerdoodles were just as delicious as the one’s you’ll get your hands on at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The Snowflake Sugar Cookie was easily the most surprising though, as it was so much more moist than I anticipated and despite being topped with a thick layer of frosting, still managed to not be too sweet.

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

Feast of the Three Kings

I was the most excited for Feast of the Three Kings for three reasons: coquito, yuca, and shredded beef. Unfortunately the coquito didn’t live up to expectations whatsoever, but coming from a half Dominican family I have drank my body’s worth in good coquito. Fortunately, Festival of the Three Kings provides food that is just as delicious and mouth-watering as the Islands of the Caribbean pavilion during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. Shredded Beef Tamale with Avocado Crema and Cilantro Rice was super filling, though it didn’t stop us from clearing the entire plate. And the Roasted Pork with Smashed Yuca and Pickled Green Bananas was so packed with flavor that we had to stop ourselves from ordering a second.

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

Las Posadas Holiday Kitchen

I originally stopped as Las Posadas strictly for a Frozen Kahlua Coffee Margarita, but while waiting in line I couldn’t help but stare as fellow customers as they walked away with their picks. So naturally, despite how full I was, I walked away with a coffee margarita and a Tamal de Chilorio, made up of slow-roasted pork shoulder, marinated in Ancho Paste and stuffed in a corn masa. The corn masa was the perfect consistency and the toppings of queso fresco and crema added a lot to the flavors inside. It just goes to show that during the holidays, your stomach is just as big as your eyes.

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

The Shanghai Holiday Kitchen

The Shanghai Holiday Kitchen left us the most indecisive and so we decided to just go down the menu, which I do not regret one bit, partially because it meant we got an couple extra fortune cookies. The egg rolls were filled with a pork and vegetable combination which will taste very familiar to those who frequent Chinese restaurants, though these were much less greasy than you may experience elsewhere. The Chinese bbq pork was a bit chewy in spots, but the sauce was delectable and was great to mix into the rice. But the clear winner at the Shanghai Holiday Kitchen was the Mongolian Beef Bao Bun. Oddly enough, this was the one we didn’t expect much from but if Disney bottled and sold whatever it is they cook their beef in, I’d buy it by the bottle.

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

The Tuscany Holiday Kitchen

Though they may make for the most aesthetically pleasing photo, the Crespelle di Mele at the Tuscany Holiday Kitchen are worth tasting. These cinnamon apple fritters are drizzled with powdered sugar, vanilla sauce, and a chocolate caramel sauce; though they’d be fine on their own. They made for a sweet, yet not too sweet dessert, which I love, and the warmth of this snack was great on such a cold day.

8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

What festivals have you been to at Epcot?

What experiences or treats were your favorite?

 

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8 Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Festival of the Holidays | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | #agbhow | Disney World

 

6 Reasons to Attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

When it comes to the best place to celebrate the holiday season, I’m a bit bias to New York. But Walt Disney World definitely ranks high on the list. The entirety of Walt Disney World from the parks to the resorts is decked out for the season; but when it comes to the ultimate Disney holiday experience, nothing beats heading into Magic Kingdom after the sun’s already set and Main Street is lit up with Christmas lights from the tree at the entrance all the way down to Cinderella’s Castle.

While tickets can cost a pretty penny, especially for larger families (this year’s MVMCP tickets ranged from $89 – $99), the party is filled with fun and interactive activities that are worth experiencing at least once. The best part? You’re free to rock your favorite Christmas pajamas or ugliest holiday sweater while you take part.

 

Complimentary Cookies & Holiday Drinks

Similar to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP), where guests are given trick-or-treat bags to gather treats as they pass treat-spots, guests at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) can collect various cookie and holiday drink pairings at select outposts. But it gets even better, because you’re free to revisit any outpost as many times as you would like! This year’s pairings included a ginger molasses cookie and eggnog at the Liberty Square Ticket Office, a snickerdoodle and hot chocolate at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, a Santa Claus cookie and a snow-cone at Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies, dove chocolate and apple cider at The Friar’s Nook, a peppermint chocolate crunch cookie and a Nesquik at Pete’s Silly Sideshow, and a snowman soft pretzel and a snow-cone at Tortuga Tavern. I know, it’s a mouthful…literally. And I’m not ashamed to say that we grabbed a hot chocolate and snickerdoodle combination from Cosmic Ray’s three times in an hour.

 

 

Rare Character Meet & Greets

Holiday parties at Walt Disney World are an excellent time to snag that keepsake photo with less-commonly seen characters such as Jack Skellington, the Seven Dwarves, or my personal favorite Scrooge McDuck and his family. This is also a great opportunity to meet some male leads like Flynn Rider and Prince Charming, since one of the only opportunities currently available to meet some of the princes is the Bon Voyage breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. Wait times can get pretty long, so it’s best to choose one or two must-meet characters, and plan your night with their meet-and-greet schedules in mind.

6 Reasons to Attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party | MVMCP | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

After the loss of the Main Street Electrical Parade, Magic Kingdom has remained without a nighttime parade for quite some time, but in my opinion Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime parade is even more magical. Visitors are able to enjoy all of the classic characters, like Cinderella, Belle, and the Fab Five, as well as newcomers like Vanellope from Wreck it Ralph; and of course the entire parade ends with Ol’ Saint Nick himself. I recommend grabbing some snacks trying to arrive about 45 minutes prior to the start time. While some nights are less packed than others, there is nothing better than grabbing that curb spot along Main Street. Warning, you’ll be humming “Once upon a Christmastime at Christmas” for about two weeks after leaving.

 

 

Shorter Wait Times for Attractions

For some, the best part of Disney holiday parties are the shortened waits for popular attractions. Once the party starts, only party ticket holders remain in the park; once the party crowd disperses between holiday shows, attractions, snack depots, meet and greets, you’ll find that many wait times are significantly shorter than usual. For those who may not have been able to snag a Jungle Jingle Cruise Fast Pass during the day, or those who just want to ride Big Thunder Mountain three times in a row, this is a major advantage to purchasing party tickets.

6 Reasons to Attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party | MVMCP | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Holiday Wishes

It wouldn’t be a night at Magic Kingdom without a nighttime fireworks spectacular with Cinderella’s Castle as the backdrop. Personally, I don’t think anything can beat the original Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, though the Happily Ever After Fireworks were very well done. But there is something that warms the heart when you’re standing on Main Street with a hundreds of other families in their Christmas sweaters, drinking hot chocolate, watching the castle light up with some holiday tunes.

 

Snow on Main Street

Except for a few rare occurrences, I think it’s safe to say one doesn’t picture a “white Christmas” when it comes the holiday season in Florida. But at the Magic Kingdom, anything is possible. During our trip this year, it was actually colder in Orlando than it was back home in New York, and we ended up throwing on three or four layers at night. It may not have been what you’d expect during a trip to Florida, but it definitely made the snow feel that much more realistic.

There are a handful of other things that make the Magic Kingdom one of the most magical places to spend the holidays, from the family photo ops in front of the Main Street Christmas tree, to the seasonal lunches of red velvet Mickey waffles and ice cream, to watching your family and friends break out there worst dance moves at Club Tinsel. And remember, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party isn’t only for families of kids, but also families made up of kids-at-heart. After all “adults are only grown up kids anyway.”

6 Reasons to Attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party | MVMCP | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

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Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Before trendsetters flocked the streets of New York’s Fifth Avenue and the flagship store in Paris, Louis Vuitton was the sought after designer of steamer trunks. This may seem a far cry from the current designs of boho purses and luggage bags we see imprinted with that famous LV monogram today, but at the time these steamer trunks were a staple amongst travelers.

The Volez, Voguez, Voyagez Exhibition takes you back in time, to the mid-1800’s when Louis Vuitton had only just introduced his collection of steamer trunks that rose to fame due to their light weight, airtightness, and convenience due to how easy they were to stack. One minute you’re entering the exhibition through the American Stock Exchange on Trinity Place..

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

But once you make your way through the entrance queue, which includes a virtual subway car gliding passed ordained in Louis Vuitton embellishments, you arrive in last century France where Louis Vuitton was just becoming a household name in Europe.

While at first glance the variety of steamer trunks stood out because of that famous print, I quickly became intrigued by just how many variations Louis Vuitton went on to create.

Are you going off on a glamorous adventure, but for the life of you can’t choose which outfits to bring? Never fear, just bring your entire closet! Leather glove compartments available in all designs, of course!

Are you a go-getting travel writer? Then this trunk is for you! Take your research very seriously? Then up your budget for this writer trunk that includes a built in bookshelf for all of your sources!

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Interested in a Kindle e-reader, but happen to live 150 years prior to it’s existence? There’s a trunk for that!

It’s no mystery as to how Louis Vuitton built his empire; his constant innovation combined with an eye for design were a driving factor behind his success. And while Europe had already jumped on the Vuitton train, it wasn’t until his father’s passing that Louis Vuitton decided it was time to go global.

In 1893, Louis Vuitton stepped foot in the United States for the first time. By the 1920’s , known as the golden age of travel, he had opened his world famous store along Paris’ Champs-Elysees and became a leader in the luggage industry.

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

The exhibit displays a variety of artifacts from Louis Vuitton’s original designs, to photographs, train tickets, and some original Louis Vuitton advertisements.

Slowly, we make our way towards modern-day when Louis Vuitton decided to begin using leather as a staple material of his products. Louis Vuitton, as well as his collaborators knew that to stay relevant it was necessary to stay up-to-date on the new styles. This was a turning point of the Louis Vuitton label as purses, wallets, and more-modern luggage became increasingly common in his lines. Louis Vuitton also stores began springing up globally from India to the United States to South America.

According to Business Insider, today Louis Vuitton ranks as the 19th of best-selling high-end designers. To put that in perspective, Dior ranked at 95, and Prada at 94. Louis Vuitton label designs can be seen on actors and actresses as they sashay down red carpets, and on the shoulders of label-enthusiasts as they walk the city streets.

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

It’s been approximately a century since Louis Vuitton’s passing, but his successors have done a pretty outstanding job at keeping Louis Vuitton as a focus in modern-day high-fashion. Of course, this is also due to some popular collaborations with brands such as Supreme, Jeff Koons, and many more.

And while I think many would agree that many Louis Vuitton items are a far cry from a necessary purchase, it’s pretty dang inspiring when you realize that this entire enterprise started with one man and a simple idea.

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition is a free exhibition, though you must reserve a time-slot for either a guide or self-guided tour through the exhibitions main link.

Visitors have until January 7, 2018 to stop by the exhibitions New York location before it makes it’s way to another city. Whether it’s fashion, history, travel, or even business, there will be some part of the Louis Vuitton story that resonates with you.

Remember that Walt Disney quote, about how it all started with a mouse?

Well, in this case, it all started with a trunk.

Visiting Volez, Voguez, Voyagez: the Louis Vuitton Exhibition in NYC | NYC Travel | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

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