Reykjavik View from Hallgrímskirkja Church

Reykjavik is a quiet little city and the Hallgrímskirkja Church is the main landmark and a popular tourist attraction. Check out our video about the church and the view from the observatory.

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Waiting for the Icelandic Geyser to Erupt

This geyser, situated right next to Geysir – the oldest geyser that all others are named after – erupts every 10-15 minutes. While we were there it erupted four times. Two were 15 minutes apart and the other three erupted within 10 minutes! It was freezing but we kept ourselves entertained.

5 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Chernobyl

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv.

This past December I did something I have wanted to do for years! I got to visit Chernobyl. I considered it to be just another exciting day trip, but then my family membered began crossing themselves and praying under their breath whenever I mentioned it.

This made me a little nervous, so I started doing some research. The information I read on English-speaking tourist websites varied greatly from what local Ukrainian websites said. I ended up sitting in the van confused and slightly worried about my safety… I wish somehow had told me the following:

1. It is 100% safe to visit Chernobyl on a tour

Although thousands if not tens of thousands suffered from the negative side effects of radiation and even died, visiting Chernobyl today is completely safe. There are people living within the “danger” zone year round. Even in the frosty December temperatures, we saw a lady going about her day from a store in Chernobyl.

The city that no one lives in is Pripyat, where certain areas do have radiation hot spots. Although no one lives there, our tour guide told us that many people break in illegally and spend the night or several nights in the long-abandoned buildings telling ghost stories and sometimes creating beautifully haunting graffiti.

2. The dogs are not radioactive

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv. These dogs are all spayed, vaccinated, and they are taken care of by the local residents and employees. These dogs are also super sweet and love a good scratch. Our guide was petting them and reassuring us that it was safe!

3. Tour prices vary greatly, shop around

When Isaac and I were searching for tickets, we found tours for as much as $300 per person. Keep in mind that there are different tours, including overnight that let you sleep in a hotel in Chernobyl! But even the same day trip can vary in price, which is why I let my mom search Ukrainian websites for the best one.

The tour she chose had tickets for about $150 for foreigners and only $100 for Ukrainian-passport holders. Apparently it was the European Union, who have sponsored the protection of Chernobyl, who made the law that locals should be able to visit and learn about their history at a discount.

4. There are lots of rules on the tour

According to my mom, all these rules are just for show as part of the thrilling experience. I can see why she would think that, but I didn’t mess with any of them. One guy on our tour, however, broke every single one without consequence. He walked inside of buildings that he was told to stay out of and he took photos of things he was told not to.  Finally, I would bet anything that he snuck out souvenir that he collected along the way.

5. It is a unique and exciting experience

Even if it’s no longer unsafe and if all the precautions are overdone, what happened in Chernobyl is an important part of history. I hope that all tours play the Chernobyl documentary on the way there. You should watch it even if you never go on the tour.

The facts are that even today, there is no safe way to completely secure the reactor. Every few years, new precautions need to be made. While all of this is happening, there are still nuclear generators around the world and their dangers are 100% real. The accident at Chernobyl was unexpected and it was a miracle that it didn’t wipe out all of Europe. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of a handful of brave heroes, most of Europe would be unlivable today.

If you get the chance to visit Chernobyl, don’t forget where you are and what happened there. So many people suffered painfully and died in the most horrible way due to the accident. It was a terrible accident that could have been worse, but was absolutely devastating to so many already. Think about that when you walk through the abandoned kindergarten and past the homes of what was once the most prosperous city in the Soviet Union.

Is Kyiv, Ukraine Safe to Visit?

Kyiv is also not the only safe place to visit in Ukraine. There are dozens of safe and exciting places to see. The only reason I spend most of my trips to Ukraine exclusively in Kyiv is because that’s where my parent’s live.

Although the media has a short attention span and has long forgotten about the ongoing war in Ukraine, tourists have not. Nor reporting on the situation has led to some people worrying even more than they would if they were up to date on the situation.

What is going on in Ukraine right now?

People are still dying as they fight for the country every day. Crimea is impossible run by Russians and two eastern territories are now “independent” and the Ukrainians there are struggling to regain the territory. Pro-Ukrianian locals are often persecuted and we hear crazy stories about teenagers getting killed by other teenagers for wearing a Ukrainian flag on their backpack.

These terrible stories are terrifying and I understand why they would deter tourist from traveling to Ukraine. However, there are perfectly safe areas that you can visit without having to worry. For example, Kyiv.

I’ve visited Kyiv, or as some spell it, Kiev, six times since Euromaidan in November 2014. Each time I stayed in Kiev, during the beginning I even went to the protests. All evidence of the barricades and destruction of the revolution are long gone – replaced with memorials for those who died, etc. It’s been completely safe to visit for years.

Kyiv is also not the only safe place to visit in Ukraine. There are dozens of safe and exciting places to see. The only reason I spend most of my trips to Ukraine exclusively in Kyiv is because that’s where my parent’s live. This past trip, my mom, my husband and I took a very exciting day trip to Chernobyl! Now that comes with a very different kind of safety questions.

But I’ll be writing about that next time!

What to Expect from Reykjavik in December?

4 hours of sunlight, below zero temperatures but very few tourists…

My first trip to Iceland was far from ideal. First, it was just a 52 hour layover and second, it was in December. Don’t get me wrong, there are many positives about visiting Iceland during this time including fewer tourists seeing the rolling hills and waterfalls frozen in a winter wonderland.

Unfortunately, December is also the month when Iceland is freezing and there is only 4-5 hours of sunlight a day! Luckily, the roads are well lit so you can safely drive in the dark even if it is snowing. But it does take some planning around to make your trip worthwhile.

First of all, you need to keep in mind that when the sun doesn’t rise until 11-12 am, neither do the locals. We landed at 8 am and tried to get something to eat and drink. We ended up in a grocery store because everything else was closed including bars and cafes.

It took a lot of driving around for us to find a hotel by the port where we could warm up (it was unpleasant to spend more than 10 minutes outside). Unfortunately the tiny coffees were overpriced much like everything in the touristy areas of Iceland, but at least we had a place to wait for the city to wake up.

For the two days that we were there, we had to schedule our sightseeing around the darkness. To visit to Golden Circle, we got up early to drive 3 hours from the city to arrive right when the sun started to rise. We had to rush a little but we had enough time to see all three sights – the two waterfalls and the geyser – with some time to spare for lunch before heading over to the Blue Lagoons.

Due to our lack of time, we had to visit the Blue Lagoons during the evening and made an appointment for two hours before closing. We were worried that this wouldn’t be enough time, but it was hard for us to stay there too long because you start feeling faint after just 20 minutes in the water. It would have been cool to see the place during daylight, but it was magical at night too.

The biggest perk of visiting in the winer was definitely the lack of tourists. There were handfuls here and there, but the parking lots that were normally overcrowded were empty and we got to enjoy the sights in peace. So I definitely recommend a short trip to Iceland in December, however, I’m dying to return when it’s warmer and sunnier for a completely different experience!