Cambodia pt. 2 – Siem Reap

Hello!

I’m back with part 2 of our trip to Cambodia! Have you read about the first half? If not, I highly encourage you to read it before this one! Especially if you love the beach or need a little warmth in the dead of winter right now. 🙂

In my last post, I left off with us returning to Sihanoukville via the ferry. Once we got off the boat, we paired up with a European couple and took a Tuk Tuk to the local airport together. It took around 30 minutes, and the airport was extremely small. Since we were early for our flight (always aim to be early, not just on time), we sat around and chatted with our new friends. That’s the magic about backpacking! You never know who you’re going to meet along the way. Everyone has a unique story that’s led them to where they are, and it’s fascinating.IMG_7621IMG_7677We decided to take a flight to Siem Reap rather than a bus for several reasons. For starters, the flight was only $30 a person. A bus was $15 a person. Second, the flight was only 40 minutes. The bus was overnight and was estimated to take 10 hours. We really contemplated taking the bus because it was half the price AND there were bunks in the bus. However, we didn’t want to waste time. We needed to be up early the following morning, so we wanted a good nights rest as well. Untitled design-6I was pleasantly surprised by Siem Reap. This city in the northern part of Cambodia exists almost completely because of tourism. All the grand hotels and restaurants give the locals jobs and it’s truly thriving. I really thought Siem Reap was going to be a little dusty and empty city, but I was very wrong. It’s only growing! We checked into our hotel downtown, took hot showers, and headed straight to bed. The following day, we hired a driver to take us wherever we wanted for the whole day. He picked us up at our hotel at 6:30am and drove us straight to Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is famous for this massive temple and kingdom that was founded in the 12th century. What was once a Hindu temple, eventually transformed into a Buddhist temple.DSC_5605DSC_5629DSC_5632DSC_5674 We purchased tickets that gave us access to any of the sights we wanted for the whole day, which cost $37 each. The pass allowed us to enter any of the historical buildings we wanted for the whole day. We didn’t have a problem paying almost $40 a ticket, because they are doing an amazing job restoring these ancient temples. Angkor Wat sat untouched for years, so you’ll see a lot of natural destruction. Restoration first started in the 1860’s. 2DSC_5625DSC_5624DSC_56101DSC_5614I’d say we spent 4-5 hours walking through all the temples. I HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend getting up as early as you possibly can. Tourists visit Siem Reap for the same reason – to see Angkor Wat. Even though we visited during February, it was still very hot and jam-packed with people. The combination of the two makes for an unpleasant experience. I’m sure it get’s even busier during the Summer months. IMG_76323DSC_5722DSC_5660DSC_5665DSC_5667We explored the temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm (in that order). As you can see by the map below, Angkor Park is huge! You can truly spend all day here. map1_large.jpgDSC_57582DSC_5741DSC_5784DSC_5772Untitled design-7DSC_5763DSC_5764We called it quits shortly after noon because it was way too hot and there were way too many people around. We didn’t eat dinner the night before with all the traveling, so we were starving and exhausted. Learn from our mistake and stay fed and hydrated. We drove back into downtown Siem Reap and ate at the Paper Tiger. Taylor and I both ordered pasta and it was delicious! I’d highly recommend eating here. IMG_7649 Once we were done, we headed to a local school with Caring for Cambodia. Taylor was invited to speak about science and achieving goals. I’m so proud of Tay for sharing his educational experience and inspiring high school students who are about to make big decisions not only for themselves, but for their family! IMG_7662After an exhausting day exploring in the heat, we ate a quick dinner downtown and headed back to our hotel. We had another early morning, because we were flying back to Phnom Penh before flying back to Nanjing! IMG_7684IMG_7690Can I be honest with you? Here’s where I wanted to end the blog. The rest of our time in Phnom Penh was spent visiting the killing fields and S21 prison camp from the genocide that took place in the early 70’s. I didn’t want to write about it. I felt like it was depressing and I didn’t want to relive what we saw and learned. However, during our tour, they mentioned that if nobody talks about it, nobody will ever learn about the horrific loss Cambodia suffered. And if nobody hears, then we cannot learn from experience. Taylor encouraged me to briefly write about our experience.

Another honest confession. I never heard about the mass genocide in Cambodia, until now. I NEVER knew. The only mass genocide I knew about was the Holocaust. 3 We did the audio tour for both the killing fields and prison. From personal experience, while these tours were wonderful and full of information, I think this was way worse than visiting a concentration camp in Germany. (If you had a rough time with that, then this isn’t for you.) These tours are fantastic for learning and never forgetting, but they are not for everyone. I couldn’t complete the prison because my heart was aching and I couldn’t look at the photos. I listened to the full audio, but I physically couldn’t do it. IMG_7703IMG_7702.jpgThe only way I can end this post, is by encouraging you to learn. Although it’s painful to hear about the horror that occurred, millions of lives were effected and still are. Cambodia is still recovering. The only way we can prevent anything like this happening again, is by learning.

The Great Wall of China | Beijing Part 2

If you missed my last post, it was all about our first day exploring Beijing! You can read it HERE. Taylor and I had such a fun and relaxing day wondering around the city, but we were even more excited for our second day. Like most people, we have been dreaming about seeing the Great Wall of China because it’s one of the 7 Wonders of the World. We knew we were going to see it during our time living in China, but we strategically planned to go during the month of October. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s less crowded, cooler, and the leaves would be transitioning.

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If you haven’t figured it out by now, Taylor is no average guy when it comes to traveling. He always takes the path less traveled and strives to make his experiences the most unique. The Great Wall of China was no exception. His boss whom we had lunch with the previous day made sure we had the most authentic and wonderful experience. He’s been living here for over 10 years, so he was very helpful!!

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At 7:30am, he sent a driver to come pick us up at our hotel for the day. If you’re planning on traveling to Beijing to see the Great Wall, please remember that the most popular sections of The Wall will take 40 minutes to an hour to get there. There are various ways you can get there:

  1. The Bus – Probably the cheapest route.
  2. A tour group – make sure you do your research on this one. I’ve heard people talk about how they were scammed by doing this.
  3. Hiring a Car – I’m not sure how much this costs, but I’m sure it’s not cheap.

Most tourists visit a part of the wall that has been rebuilt by the government for tourism and accessibility. There’s nothing wrong with this, but we didn’t want hundreds of people around and we wanted to see something real and historical. We were taken to Huang Hua and it took 2 hours to get there by car. Once we arrived, our driver dropped us off in a very small farming town. We paid 5RMB each to walk through a woman’s restaurant, which lead to a small opening in the wall. The view from that first lookout was amazing!

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We hired a photographer named Tony to join us because we really wanted to enjoy the moment and take our Christmas card photos. Tony was a friend of a friend, and he’s currently earning his bachelor’s degree in Beijing. He was absolutely phenomenal and a joy to have along. If you’re in the Beijing area and want a photographer, I’d highly recommend him. I know we’ll be asking him to take photos again in the future!! He was such a sweet guy.

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Walking along The Wall was a lot more difficult than we were expecting. Some parts were straight up! It didn’t help that we were dressed for photos. 🙂 We hiked to the next town, which took close to two hours with all the pictures. We crossed paths with one other person during the whole time. This is unheard of with The Great Wall. Even Tony was astonished and said he’d never return to the popular sections again. He told us that he visited during the summer and he could barley walk or take photos with all the people.

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We paid another 10RMB each to exit the wall through someone’s orchard. Our driver was waiting there ready to take us home. I was so exhausted after all the hiking and photos that I fell asleep the whole two hours back into the city. We were dropped off in Sanlitun, and headed straight for lunch.

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We ate at another favorite, Home Plate BBQ! As you can imagine, we were starving! Taylor ordered the fried buffalo chicken sandwich and I ordered their classic pulled pork sandwich. We also split an order of bbq pulled pork fries! Yum!

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After scarfing down our food, we went back to The Bookworm to look at our photos and reflect on our Great Wall experience. Tony took all the photos on my memory card so we’d have access to them immediately. We were also able to edit them however we wanted!

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Before heading to the train station, we walked around one of the markets. To be honest, we didn’t really enjoy it. The stuff there was almost “too nice” and the sellers weren’t willing to negotiate much. Nothing stood out either. We prefer the markets in Shanghai much more. We got to the train station a few hours before our train because we were meeting our wonderful friend Jenny!! We met her years ago when we visited China the first time, and we finally had the chance to reconnect because she lives in Beijing now. We got Starbucks and caught up on life. I’m so thankful for a friend like Jenny!

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Side note: if you’re a Starbucks mug collector like me, the Beijing train station has almost every Chinese city you can imagine!! Don’t stress if you can’t find one out and about.

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I still can’t believe we hiked The Great Wall of China! Everything about our experience was perfect, and I can’t wait to take family and friends there in the future. ❤

We’ll be traveling to Hong Kong for our second visa run tomorrow. Make sure you’re subscribed for all the details. Thank’s for reading!! xoxo

Visa Run to Hong Kong

AHHH we traveled to Hong Kong!! I’ve been eager to write about our time here, but was setback with a few hitches in our plans. However, when things settled down I whipped out my computer and began typing! I hope you enjoy all the photos! 🙂

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Taylor and I had to leave the country in order to satisfy our visa requirements, so the MLB sent us to Hong Kong for one night. (Incase you’re wondering, Hong Kong is an autonomous region of China, and it used to be a former British colony.) Therefore, it counts as leaving the country.

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Just a little boring background information, you need a visa to enter China as an American if you’re staying for more than a few days. There are multiple visas you can apply for, but we received the multiple entry, tourist visa several years ago when we visited China for the first time. Our visa is good for 10 years, and allows us to continuously enter the country. However, we can only stay in China for 60 days before we have to leave and re-enter. This is what we call a “visa run.” We are in the middle of applying for work visas, but that is an even longer process.

Anyway, we traveled to Hong Kong for 24 hours! 🙂

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I’m not sure what I was expecting when visiting, but I was blown away! I thought Hong Kong was just going to be a bigger Shanghai… with a lot of cement and high rise buildings. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Hong Kong is actually a bunch of islands and the city is beautiful! Taylor even mentioned that this is now his new favorite big city! That’s a big statement! I’d say it’s a mixture of Hawaii and Los Angeles, but definitely more Chinese. If that makes sense?

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There are millions of people living in Hong Kong, but the islands separate the city so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. Almost everyone speaks english here, and there is a huge western influence. The surrounding mountains and blue waters are so serene, that it really doesn’t feel like you’re in China anymore! If you’ve wanted to explore China but are scared to jump right in, I’d highly recommend traveling to Hong Kong first. It won’t give you such a harsh culture shock.

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There’s so much to see, do, and eat in Hong Kong. You can shop, hike, take a tour, go to the beach, try some local food, or just wonder around on your own! I’d highly recommend taking the ferry from one island to the next. Not only is it super cheap, but the views are incredible. This is what we did during our one day.

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Once we got off the ferry, we decided to do something touristy and take the trolley up to one of the peaks. It was a long wait, but totally unique and a great experience. If you don’t want to ride up, you can hike! No matter how you find your way up the peak, you HAVE TO do it while in Hong Kong. You won’t regret it!

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I think the pictures speak for themselves. Fortunately, we were blessed with a beautiful day so we were able to see everything. We took the trolley up the peak, but took Chatham Path down afterwards.

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If you do find yourself in Hong Kong, you need to stand along the harbor and watch all the pretty lights twinkling in the night. They have a “light show” every evening at 8pm, but it’s nothing spectacular. It’s just a bunch of spotlights shining into the sky. If that’s your thing, then you’d love it! I just enjoyed admiring the city lights.

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We had a fantastic time in Hong Kong, and can’t wait to return during more of future visa runs! I’m working on the YouTube video of our time in Hong Kong, so stay tuned for that! Make sure you’re subscribed so you’ll be notified when it’s posted. 🙂

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What We’re Eating!

Hello!

Welcome back for another exciting topic about our lives in China! First and foremost, incase you haven’t heard already, I’ve started a YouTube channel! You can click this link HERE to watch my first video. Making videos is a new challenge for me because I have no idea how to film or edit. It’s been a learning experience for sure, but I hope you’ll subscribe to our channel and follow along for a different perspective!

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Now, onto today’s topic about what we’re eating in China! There is so much to be said about the food here, so I’ve decided to get creative. Here, you’ll see a breakdown of our meals, what we’re eating, and some of our favorite restaurants in Nanjing. On my YouTube channel, you’ll come grocery shopping with Taylor and I and see a haul at the end! 🙂

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Before I jump into the food we’re eating, I need to give you some background information. In America, Taylor was the picky eater and I was willing to try anything. When it comes to eating internationally, the roles are reversed. Weird right? I ate little to nothing during our first week here. I physically could not bring myself to eat anything. I had to get over this phobia real quick, because I was wilting away. Taylor and I set out to find foods we could enjoy eating.

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When it comes to food, we have a routine that is consistent and safe. I know what you’re thinking…Ashley, if you moved all the way to China why aren’t you eating all the different foods?! My answer is this: First off, I don’t like a lot of the food here. Second, absolutely everything has changed in my daily life, but the one thing I can control is the food I choose to eat. If you’re coming to Nanjing and looking for Western food that makes you feel comfortable like me, then this is the blog for you!

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Let’s start with breakfast! Sometimes, I will walk to Starbucks and grab an iced latte, but lately I’ve been having McDonald’s delivered to my apartment. I order one hash brown and one hot coffee with cream and sugar. It’s so easy and convenient.

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Lunch is always provided at the school! (The office for the Nanjing MLB development center is at one of the local schools here.) During the academic year, we eat in the cafeteria with all the other students. Now that it’s summer vacation, we just eat in the teacher’s lounge. This is where we eat our authentic Chinese food. Typically, they have several different proteins and vegetables, and then you can choose between rice or noodles. They also always serve soup, which is more like a drink for them. The food isn’t bad, but it’s never warm. Normally, I try to stick with chicken, rice, and a veggie that looks appealing. I always ask the Chinese players what the food is, but they don’t even know what it is half the time, ha! 🙂

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Dinner is almost always eaten out. To be honest, this is one of our only expenses here so we don’t mind eating out often. The only dish I’ve figured out how to cook in our apartment is pasta. Once a week we’ll make that and then eat the leftovers another night. If I had to estimate, we eat dinner in our apartment 2 nights a week. On the nights we choose to eat out, we have 4 staple restaurants that we love!

  1. Blue Frog: This is where we get our burgers! Every Monday night they do BOGO burgers along with BOGO drinks. Do they have the best burgers I’ve ever had? No. But, we ALWAYS see other travelers or expats here. They also serve brunch on weekends! Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset098eb592-6748-4263-8486-17bcfe84072a.jpg707784c3-235b-48ce-85b6-c9c38d378360.jpg
  2. James: This is probably my favorite place at the moment! I think it’s a great spot to end our week, because we can enjoy a drink and relax. It’s an Italian restaurant and I haven’t tried anything bad yet! I really love their caesar salad, pizza, and spaghetti! Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset
  3. Lugas: Here, you’ll find a lot of Mexican and Italian food. This is probably one of the cheaper options, but they have great comfort food! I’m not a fan of their pasta, but their pizza, nachos, and mozzarella sticks are fabulous! Processed with VSCO with c1 preset522fde80-ba82-48aa-a980-1a58aa60e12d.jpg
  4. Finnegans: This is an Irish pub that we’ve only eaten at once, but discovered it through friends who live on this side of town. The owner is Scottish and we had a great time talking to him and learning about his story! Of all the places we eat, this is the most expensive, but that’s because it’s all imported. However, when I’m craving some pulled pork or fish and chips, this is the place to go!Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I’m happy with the restaurants we’ve discovered so far! If you’re traveling to Nanjing and looking for western food, I’d recommend any of these places! You’ll also find a lot of other travelers and expats eating here, I promise! Each week we rotate where we go, and we almost always eat with friends from work. Although we eat a lot of the same food here, our diets have changed significantly. We eat way less than we used to, and we eat a lot more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Taylor and I have both seen a drastic change in our bodies and overall health since being here.

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I hope you enjoyed reading about what we’re eating in Nanjing! I’m sure it will change a little as we grow more comfortable here. Don’t forget to check out our grocery haul on YouTube!

 

Our Second Week – Visiting Shanghai

Hey Y’all!

Before I get into the update about our second week here in China, I wanted to start by saying a huge THANK YOU to everyone who reached out to Taylor and I this week. I was super nervous about being so raw and vulnerable about our experience in my last post, but there was nothing but kind and gentle encouragement. I was shocked at how many people called and messaged us! We really appreciate the friends and family who encourage us through all seasons of life. These messages and phone calls gave me so much hope, and have been making my transition much easer. If you haven’t read my first post on China, you can click HERE.

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With that being said, another week has come and gone here in Nanjing! This week didn’t feel as dreadful and long as the last, and I’m relieved. If you’ve been praying for peace over us it’s working, so thank you! There were a lot less tears and no anxiety attacks this week!! So that’s a HUGE win in my book! I’ve also gotten my camera out again, so there’s a lot more pictures in this update!

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Right now, I’m holding onto routine, routine, routine. My mom recommended that I try and make my daily life as “normal” as possible. Although things are much different here, her advice has helped tremendously. Moms are always right. 🙂 Taylor and I get up, go to work, come home, go for a walk, then go to bed. This routine gives me something to look forward to and keeps me from being “bored,” which triggers my anxiety. I’ve also been trying to redirect my thoughts. Instead of focusing on all the negatives and the things I’m missing, I’m thinking about all the positives and what I can have! Unlimited travel opportunities, experiences, less distractions, growth, and unlimited time with my husband. We chose to move to China because of all the amazing benefits, so I may as well enjoy them right?

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Our weeks are structured a little differently here because Taylor’s schedule revolves around a baseball team. We always have games on Saturday’s and Sunday’s, so Monday’s and Tuesday’s are our days off. This week, we chose to visit Shanghai during our “weekend.” We chose Shanghai because it’s a lot more western compared to Nanjing!

This was our first time taking the bullet train within Asia and we were super impressed! They were exactly on time, clean, and Taylor didn’t think it was too hard to navigate. I’m directionally challenged, so I just follow him around everywhere. 🙂 We are 5 hours away from Shanghai by car, but only 1.5 hours away by bullet train.

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We booked one night at the Grand Hyatt downtown, and had a very chill weekend. This was exactly what I needed mentally. Shanghai is very diverse, so we didn’t feel completely out of place. We saw so many other non-Chinese people, which made my heart very happy! We ate American food, shopped, and did some exploring! The Grand Hyatt was beautiful and I’d really like to stay here again! It was perfect for a one night stay.

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Traveling to Shanghai for one night really made me happy and gave me some normalcy in my life. The smooth train ride makes me giddy, because I can’t wait to start traveling to a lot more parts of Asia during our days off! It gives me peace, knowing that when things get rough here in Nanjing, I’m one short train ride away from Shanghai. Taylor has continuously gone above and beyond to make me happy and comfortable here in China! I don’t know how I got so lucky. 🙂

I’d like to start writing about other things in China like, the differences, what we wish we’d packed, working, etc. Please comment what kind of content you’d like me to write about! Thank you!

 

 

 

The City of Reykjavik

Before we headed to the airport for our flight back to the states, we did some last minute exploration around the city of Reykjavik. We were so thankful that we reserved a rental car, because it made sightseeing so much easier and overall better.

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We spent so much time in the countryside of Iceland, that we hardly had time to enjoy the capital!

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When Taylor and I were planning our trip to Iceland, we were excited! It was somewhere we’d always wanted to travel to, plus we knew it would be the perfect winter getaway. Although we were excited, we really didn’t expect to fall in love with the country.

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The city of Reykjavik was straight out of a Christmas Hallmark movie! The streets were decked out with Christmas trees and lights everywhere. They have such an abundance of Christmas trees, that they literally hang them off the buildings, and apartment complexes display them in every window.

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While we were walking around in the morning, we stumbled upon a small watch company. When we went inside, there was a wall of famous performers who purchased watches from this very place. The owner of the company told us that a lot of famous people will travel to Iceland because they can walk around freely and not be bothered.

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Iceland is one of the safest places to travel to and we felt very comfortable during our time there. This is one of those places that I would feel completely comfortable traveling to by myself.

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We were also blown away by how fluent the locals were in english. From the city to the countryside, everyone could understand and speak english with us! We’re used to traveling to other countries and not being able to communicate.

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On our first day in Iceland, we ate at a fantastic hotdog place and loved it! On this day, we ate hotdogs at their competitors!

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This place had more of a selection and a variety of toppings to choose from!

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These hotdogs were soooo yummy! We had a very difficult time deciding which one was better!

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On our way to drop off our rental car, we stopped and took some last minute photos of the city and the ocean.

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Once we returned our rental car and headed inside the airport, we found out that our flight with WOW Air was delayed by two hours.

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There’s nothing worse than trying to get home for the holidays and having a delayed flight. We passed time by checking in our luggage, visiting the duty free store, and ordering coffee and food.

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Honestly, Iceland was an incredible country and it has so much to offer. We’d highly recommend traveling here to anyone. Whether you’re well travelled or not, there’s something for everyone. We chose to visit during the winter season, and we were still able to see so much. We can’t wait to return one day, but hopefully during the summer season!