Three Things To Do On/Around Chincoteague

For a quiet island along the Mid-Atlantic Coast of United States, Chincoteague and its neighbor Assateague, are jam packed with activities. A person who visits here and complains of boredom or not enough to do, is wildly off the mark.

 

Once you’ve decided what time of year to visit, the Chincoteague  website is a great starting place to keep planning your visit. As far as things to do, options range from seeing the ponies of Chincoteague, visiting the wildlife refuge, hitting the beaches, crabbing/clamming, hiking, fishing, go-carts, miniature golf, etc. If you factor in what’s off the island but accessible with a car, the options become overwhelming.

To help, or because we all have a little FOMO from time to time, here are my top three picks for how to spend a few days on Chincoteague.

  1. Book an island cruise. There are several cruise operators on the island, we used Daisey‘s and were happy with our excursion. “Cruises” are done on a pontoon boat, so its flat and generally means no need to worry about sea sickness.The boats will take you to the north area where ponies live. While its possible you’ll see them on beach, this is a great way to see them in their natural state.  Depending on your Captain, you could also be treated to the history and lineage of each of the ponies. On the cruise you are also sure to see birds and dolphins so pack your good camera.
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  2. Go to the Library. When was the last time you went to a library? Years I’m guessing. The Chincoteague Island Library, formerly a barber shop, is an independent library supported by donations and grants. But the beautiful architecture and attention to detail inside the library make this worth a visit. The children’s area will make you want to grab a book, a cozy chair and stay for a while.
  3. Hit the (Dog) Beach. Interesting fact: pets are not permitted on Chincoteague or Assateague. Apparently not even the car. But, the Guard Shore Beach is a great, hidden spot about 20 minutes away that you can visit with your dog. I wouldn’t recommend it for laying out in the sun, but dogs will love the sights and smells. If you watch the water closely, you’ll also see crabs scurrying around, or in some cases, fighting with each other.
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Honorable Mention(s): NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Although this small museum is geared more for kids and families, it’s a great way to spend a cloudy morning (or afternoon). The Visitors Center is a self-guided tour featuring exhibits about aeronautics, NASA missions and the history of the Wallops Flight Facility. Pro tip: Don’t skip the observation deck for beautiful views around the area.

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Island Creamery, rated the best ice cream parlor in the US, is a great place to stop and treat yourself. This family run shop features homemade ice cream and waffle cones (duh) as well as coffee and espresso’s. Note: the selection of non-diary treats is limited so bring your Lactaid.

Packing for Iceland

Hopefully by now i’ve convinced you that Iceland should be on your “must visit” list. Even if that’s wishful thinking on my part, i’m still going to forge ahead and offer some suggested items to pack.

They say Iceland has the same climate as New York. I think they mean upstate New York (hello Buffalo) since i found it be cold and was really unprepared to deal with the elements. Thankfully i was unprepared, not inappropriate. There is a big difference.

So that you can learn from my mistakes here are some must-haves for your bag. Above all, layers are key. It’s chilly in the morning, evening and around the water. Other important items to have handy:

  • Fleece jacket. This comes in handy when you are chilly and unlike winter jackets it won’t take as much room in your bag.
  • Water proof/resistant gear. You don’t need full on Weather Channel hurricane reporting stuff. A basic Patagonia/LLBean/North Face (insert other brand x here) jacket will protect you at key destinations like the South Shore and Seljalandsfoss.
  • Sneakers, hiking shoes. Since i only wear sneakers at the gym, i prefer hiking boots for walking around on vacations. Obviously you know your feet best. Heels are are best left home unless you want to go crazy at the clubs.
  • Jean and Khaki Pants or Cords. Jeans are fine for excursions and day activities. But you should really consider something a tad nicer for hitting the restaurants and bars.
  • Fun clothes. But not full-on NYC clubbing clothes. You want to enjoy the bar scene but not in ridiculously short mini’s and sheer tops. (Think Jessica Alba, not Kim K)
  • Extra battery for your camera. Iceland is chilly and i found my camera used a lot of “juice.” i spent half of the time out praying it didn’t die.

Maybe others can confirm, but i was told booze and cigarettes can be offered as tips. These are luxury items in Iceland and if offered correctly and respectfully, very appreciated. Stock up at the airport in Reykjavik if you plan to go this route. Iceland has very strict rules about bringing booze and smokes in the country.

Good luck packing and safe travels!

Iceland: A Suggested Itinerary

If you want to power through your vacation, you can visit Iceland and see the main attractions in 3-3.5 days. I recommend a little more time so you can really take in Reykjavik. It might be smaller than other major European cities but the people are friendly and city has a lot of hidden gems.

Day One: Reykjavik. Visit the tourist office and find out when the next walking tour is. The tours are an hour/90 minutes (depending on your guide and how many questions people ask) and really interesting. You’ll hear a lot about Iceland’s history (a dry country until the 1980’s!?!) and start to get a feel for the downtown area.

After your tour, grab some lunch and chill out. You are on vacation after all. When you are relaxed, walk to Hallgrimskirkja, the cathedral that over looks Reykjavik. This is the main attraction in the city so it won’t be hard to find. In the summer they have (or used to have) organ concerts so check for details if you are interested. While you are there, take the lift up to the bell tower for a stunning look at the city.

View of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrimskirkja cathedral.
View of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrimskirkja cathedral.

Day Two: Golden Circle Tour. A bus will pick you up and bring you to Iceland’s Geysir’s, Gullfoss Waterfall and Pingvellir national park. Here you can stand on two tectonic plates at once (hey, somewhere deep down that’s cool to all of us).

Day Three: Spa! After spending the previous day on a bus sightseeing, hit the Blue Lagoon today. After you are relaxed and in your happy place, hit the clubs and bars that everyone raves about.

Day Four: South Shore Adventure. Indulge in another tour, this time the South Shore adventure. You’ll see the Seljalandfoss waterfall and get to walk behind it. The experience can be surreal – getting sprayed with water and feeling kind of like you are in a movie at the same time. You’ll also see black sand beaches and the Reynisdranger rock formations.

Black sand beaches as seen on the South Shore adventure.
Black sand beaches as seen on the South Shore adventure.

Day Five: Northern Iceland. I missed this in Iceland due to poor planning on my part. If you are staying longer than the typical three days, consider this tour because there is more to Iceland than Reykjavik. I’ve also heard the great things about the lava tours in Iceland.

If you’ve been to Iceland, feel free to add your itinerary suggestions via a comment.

Blue Lagoon (the spa, not the movie!) Musings

Here I am on the West Coast for some work meetings. I was not expecting to have free time to read, let alone write a post. But, that’s the funny thing about jet lag and waking up at 4:00 a.m. So, here you go… more musings on Iceland.

One of the country’s biggest attractions is the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. I’m certain there are millions –okay, dramatization– hundreds of blogs on the quality of the spa, when to go, etc. I really don’t know because i haven’t bothered to look. It’s not the purpose of me writing. What i mean is, if you are going to Iceland, you are going visit the spa. The purpose of me writing is to share some observations and things i learned so you can get the most out of your visit.

Make a day of it. Icelanders are smart. They have made it so you can stop at the spa as soon as you arrive in country. Or, you can arrange a trip as you leave the country. While i am sure both options are great, i say take a half day and really enjoy it. Your hotel or guest house can make arrangements for you. The tourism office downtown is also a good resource for transportation to the spa.

With the extra time, you aren’t rushing to catch a flight (i.e., hair half dry, wet clothes in bags) and you are also hopefully acclimated to your temporary time zone. It means you can stroll around at a leisurely spa-like pace and really enjoy the experience.

Stay for lunch and drinks. The Blue Lagoon has a restaurant on the premise. Although its buffet style, the food is good and consists of a variety of Icelandic and non-Icelandic dishes. The best part about the restaurant are the views. Get up, walk around and take some pictures. My personal favorite is the view from the roof. You can see the entire spa with some interesting geological contracts (blue spa, black rock in the background). If you don’t want to eat, at least get a drink or a coffee while you take in the views.

The products make great gifts! I purchased a ridiculous number of gift size mud masks and lotions. Really, ridiculous. All were enthusiastically received from co-workers and family members. Note: you can also purchase products at the airport when you depart. As i recall, the price was about the same. We also bought shampoo and conditioner. In retrospect, it was an impulse purchase that you can skip. Stick with the mud masks.

Beware of urban legends. People will tell you that if you have chemically treated hair, it will turn to straw (or green) after getting in the spa. What to do? Slather it with Vaseline of course. I really don’t recommend this. It took me a week to get the damn stuff out of my hair. In the meantime i had oily, greasy hair that was just gross. Honestly, if this is really true, a little bit of straw would have been a better alternative. That is all i have to say about that.

Keep your eyes open. Although this did not happen to me, friends of mine ran into Duran Duran and got invited to their concert.

Being American, a gentle reminder that you are very close to Europe AND at a spa. Other countries are more comfortable with their bodies. No they aren’t naked in the spa but they sure are in the changing rooms. Please don’t embarrass the rest of us with your gawking. You can tastefully look the other way.

Finally, the spa has some nice footpaths with descriptive plaques along the outside of the premise. It’s a fun walk and worth doing if you enjoy taking pictures of less photographed areas of the spa.

Enjoy.

Dog Sledding in Iceland, Naturally

Hands down, my favorite memory of Iceland is dog sledding. At home, I have A Siberian husky. Years ago, I saw a flyer in Riverside Park, NYC looking to find him a “forever home” and the rest has been history.

It’s been a long time since i saw that poster and we’ve been through a lot together. As he nears 17, i remain sad that he’s never pulled a sled in his dog life. People talk about animal instincts and comment ‘of course he would know what to do’ but i really doubt it. If you hooked him up and yelled “mush,” the end result would be nothing. That doesn’t mean i don’t harbor a deep-rooted desire to give it a go. With or without my own dog.

When i realized dog sledding was one of the many adventure activities in Iceland, i just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. If you’ve never wanted to go sledding, the joy of the experience will be lost on you. Sorry. For me, i loved it.

The dogs were enormous. Easily double the size of my own husky. They remain outside, in the wild at all times so when they see visitors they welcome you with lots of enthusiastic barks. (Yes, i have mixed feelings about this.)

Two of the dogs in my sledding team. It's tough to tell in this photo, but they are HUGE
Two of the dogs in my sledding team. It’s tough to tell in this photo, but they are HUGE

The art of slowing down and just “being” while sledding was incredible. I’m a go-go-go kind of person who doesn’t slow down much. After dog sledding, i started to really understand the concept of being and what that means to people.

The scenery deep in Iceland was beautiful. Since you only travel at about 25 mph, it’s easy to take all this in. To this day, i have never seen anything like it. Ice, snow, lush green mountains in the background as our team just pulled us along.

Sledding views. I love the contrast of snow, ice and green mountains in the background. To me, it's beautiful.
Sledding views. I love the contrast of snow, ice and green mountains in the background. To me, it’s beautiful.

My dog sledding team was a mixture of mature dogs and two younger dogs being trained to lead sleds. My favorite memory came after a quick break. The dogs had done a really great getting us out for our ride. But puppies will be puppies! When it was time to start again, they just wanted to play. It was so cute, we could not control our laughter despite the trainer begging us to. You can hear his frustration with puppies in my amateur video on YouTube.

I’m off on work travel for the rest of the week but plan to share at least one more Iceland post when i return. Until then, safe travels wherever you may go.

Iceland, Naturally! (the foodie version)

I don’t follow Anthony Bourdain much but i get the gist of what he does. Armed with this little knowledge, i can say if he hasn’t been to Iceland, he’s really missing out.

Let me preface, i am no Anthony. What I am, is a picky eater. I am polite in public situations but when left to my own devices, i would eat a very limited number of foods that are probably not healthy. It’s a texture thing. Either you understand what i’m talking about or you don’t.Texture aside, Iceland was going to push me to the limits as far as my eating habits go.

Obviously, the country has an abundance of seafood. The absolute best place to go is Sagreifinn (Sea Baron). It is a tiny, tiny place on the water and the owner speaks very little English. Bring your patience and flexibility as you will need them both when trying to communicate. Rest assured, it’s worth it. We had the most amazing lobster stew. I grew up in New England so that tells you something. The menu also includes a range of sushi, cooked fish and other soups and stews. It’s all delicious and worth the walk (roughly 20 minutes from Hotel Centrum).

If you get hungry along the way, stop at the hot dog push cart. There you can sink your teeth into a hot dog. But not just any hot dog – a hot dog that combines sheep and lamb meat. Was a bit tough for me to enjoy especially loaded with onions on top. I’m hot dog purist (ketchup and a bun, thank you very much).

You won’t find the cart in many guides so here’s a shot of what you are looking for.

Baejarins hot dog cart in Reykjavik. Home of the sheep & lamb hot dog.
Baejarins hot dog cart in Reykjavik. Home of the sheep & lamb hot dog.

Puffin is really popular in Iceland. You can try it in a lot of restaurants around Reykjavik, but i recommend Tapas. The menu consists of over 50 types of tapas, which can be overwhelming if you’ve got jet lag or are hung over. In addition to some exotic eats, you can also find “safer” tapas like chicken, lamb, etc. The restaurant is quite popular so it’s worth having your hotel make a reservation for you. In case you were wondering, Puffin tastes like chicken.

Another popular dish in Iceland is lamb stew. If you venture outside of Reykjavik, i recommend grabbing this for lunch. The stew looks deceptively light but is warming and quite filling. It’s great meal after walking around pingvellir national park or the Geysir area.

Delicious Lamb Stew. It looks light but is actually very filling.
Delicious Lamb Stew. It looks light but is actually very filling.

I am told petrified shark is a big deal to Icelanders. We asked a few and they were non-committal. I was warned not to try this “delicacy” and heeded that advice.

I did this because i was daring and tried the “traditional” Icelandic dinner that consists of: whale, fish salad, potatoes with parsley and feta, monk fish and lamb pate.

Traditional Icelandic Dinner
Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the before picture)

Believe it or not, i tried everything on the plate. Here’s my “after” shot to prove it.

Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the after picture)
Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the after picture)

Never eat whale. That’s all i can say. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. Beyond the texture, i found whale has an accompanying smell. It must be an acquired thing but, man, i had to use my best big girl attitude and a whole lot of water to swallow the food and not spit it out across the table. After feeling that way about whale, there was no way in hell i was going to try petrified shark.

It’s clear Anthony Bourdain would scoff at having to travel and eat with me. While i did not love everything i ate in Iceland, it opened my eyes up to a lot of food adventures i was ignoring. Since then, i’ve been a much slightly more adventurous eater. For that reason alone, Iceland holds a special place in my heart.

Iceland, Naturally!

After a lot of debate (in my head mind you, because isn’t that the best kind), i finally settled on my next series of blog posts: Iceland, Naturally!

If you asked me 10 years ago if my travel plans included Iceland, the answer would have been no. But, a few years ago co-workers talked me into visiting this country after sharing their own adventures.

When they say “something for everyone” they mean it in Iceland. Outdoor activities, both leisure and adventure, are plentiful. The Blue Lagoon is perfect for people looking for a spa experience. The nightlife in Reykjavik is as crazy as you want it to be while the food is delicious, and again, as crazy as you want it to be.

Iceland's Blue Lagoon
Iceland’s famous geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon

If you are considering a trip to Iceland, here are some helpful details.

Airfare. From the East Coast, Iceland is ridiculously easy to get to. Visit Icelandair to plan your flights. I’m sure there are other airlines that fly in and out of Iceland but truth be told, i didn’t bother to find out. Iceland Air had a good site, the prices were reasonable and they also offered combination packages as far as lodging and transportation from the airport into Reykjavik.

Lodging. There are numerous hotels in Reykjavik. The Hotel Reykjavik Centrum was recommended to me and i went with it. The location was better than i could have imagined. Located in downtown Reykjavik you can easily walk to the main attractions in the city. Our hotel package included a continental breakfast, with delicious coffee and a substantial breakfast offering. The rooms were clean, while perhaps a little small for most U.S. expectations. The staff was terrific offering suggestions of things to do that are both popular with tourists and their own personal favorite things. There is also a tourist office one block away that was incredibly helpful providing maps, arranging excursions, etc.

One of Iceland’s many waterfalls, Skogafoss.

Rental cars. I say skip it. If you stay at the Hotel Centrum, you can walk everywhere in Reykjavik. All of our excursions included bus transportation which was a great way to meet other tourists.

Spending money. This was our first country on a two country vacation. We spent roughly $800 on excursions (three of them), meals (lunch, dinner and drinks), tips, the spa and gifts for people. You can absolutely spend less than we did. However, when we go on vacation, we like to be not be worried about money. We’ll be frugal at home so we can enjoy our travel as much as possible. Do keep in mind, the exchange rate does not (unfortunately) favor the dollar. If possible, try to bring some extra cash or invest more time on the upfront looking for travel deals.

Views around Iceland
Views around Iceland

One caveat to this, my trip to Iceland happened before the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull. At this point, i would imagine the country and is back on track. I do still encourage you to reach out and confirm details, especially when it comes to suggested itineraries that i will share in future posts. Better safe than sorry! I do hope this won’t dissuade you from a visit.

And, full disclosure: these are my own opinions. I am not affiliated with any of the organizations or company’s listed. I love to travel and want to share my adventures with everyone.

More to follow on Iceland, Naturally!