The Curious Case of Hansel the Cat

Hansel and Gretel sitting in their cat tree

For the past several months our little family has been wrestling with a medical mystery that feels like it came straight out of an episode of “House” only for cats. I felt it appropriate to share our ongoing story for anyone who may go through something similar. But first, happy backstory! Cue the “sounds-like-disney-but-isn’t-disney-to-avoid-getting-sued” music!

In December of 2015 Mike and I added two new additions to our family! No, not the tiny human kind. Even better! We adopted two adorable, mischievous kittens named Hansel and Gretel.

Hansel and Gretel as kittens
Gretel is “undecided” calico/tabby (left), and Hansel is a black and white tuxedo (right)

Their mother, Pancake, was abandoned and left outside after her previous owners moved [insert creative profanities here]. Luckily she was found and brought to the MSCPA in Boston, MA. Mike’s sister, Marissa, fostered her while she was pregnant and soon she gave birth to six beautiful kittens!

Pancake and her six kittens
“Look what I made! I made dis!”

We immediately fell in love with Hansel and Gretel before they could opened their beady little eyes. Gretel looked like she couldn’t decide whether or not she was going to be a tabby or a calico, and Hansel was the only black and white tuxedo kitten. He was the gentleman of his rambunctious siblings. Since all of the kittens were unique, we theorized that they may have had two different fathers. Oh nature. You crazy.

As they grew, their personalities evolved from shy, curious kittens, to unafraid yet still curious young cats. Gretel wants to know what you’re doing constantly and has a dainty strut (#typicalgirl) but still causes a ton of trouble, and Hansel is the most well-behaved (#knockonwood) laid-back cat I’ve ever encountered. He also has a weird obsession with my hair. Sorry Mike…

Hansel snuggles
“Give me your hair, hooman.”

The past several months however have been rough. This is where it gets “Pixar emotional,” so if you abandon ship now I wouldn’t blame you. In November of 2016 we began to notice that Hansel started acting strangely. He was more lethargic than usual, was losing weight, and he started licking plastic surfaces. However, it wasn’t until we caught him eating his own clay cat litter that we determined that something was really, really wrong.

We took him to the vet and found out that he was anemic (low red blood cell count), and that he tested positive for feline leukemia (FeLV). His red blood cell count was at 12%. Normally cats should be between 25% to 45%.

Scientific mumbles: Feline leukemia, despite the word “leukemia” in its name is not a cancer. It is a retrovirus similar to the AIDS virus in humans. It is the common cause of cancer and blood diseases in cats. It is a virus that is only transmittable between felines through saliva and other mucous membranes. Some cats can get the virus and fight it off, however, kittens with FeLV often do not survive past their first or second birthday. Cats with luck on their side can live with the virus for any number of years without symptoms, but they are seen as “ticking time bombs,” and can be struck other diseases at any time. Great. “Exploding Kittens” the game is now real life.

So, as you can imagine this news was as devastating as it was baffling. Before we adopted the kittens, the MSCPA tested both the mother and the kittens for FeLV and they all came up negative. This is standard procedure before adoption can be completed. Then, approximately six months later we had them tested again after being away from their mother and the rest of the litter. They came up negative again, which usually this means that they’re in the clear. However, Hansel, ever determined to defy medical convention, came up positive.

With the possible threat of Gretel having FeLV as well, we had her re-tested. Usually litter mates or cats who live together, share food and water, and clean one another are exposed to the virus since it’s transmitted through saliva. However, Gretel came up negative! We felt like we won the lottery and immediately had her vaccinated, which should protect her from infection. The vaccine is not 100% guaranteed, but it’s better than nothing.

Gretel up close and personal
“Oh, hai!”

Now, you’re probably wondering “Why didn’t you get them both vaccinated when they were kittens?” Since they all tested negative twice and they were not going to be exposed to other cats (AKA they were going to be indoor cats only), usual protocol doesn’t deem it necessary. You wouldn’t get a vaccine for Malaria unless you were going somewhere where you’d be at risk of exposure. The same concept applies here.

Usually if a cat has FeLV, vets advise that you keep them separated from non-infected cats. However, because Hansel and Gretel are a bonded pair, we were advised that it would be cruel to separate them now. If she was exposed to the virus it would have happened already. A life of solidarity was no life for these cats.

Hansel and Gretel cuddle together

We immediately started Hansel on a four-week treatment of steroids (Prednisolone) that would stimulate red blood cell production, and an antibiotic (Doxycycline). The latter was just in case he caught something from a mouse he had eaten a few weeks prior. The little monster caught the rodent in the house from the basement. He’s a killing machine!

After just a few days of being on steroids, his red blood cell count went up to 25%, which was a good sign. We had him re-tested for FeLV with both the “SNAP” test, as well as the IFA test. The SNAP test is a quick blood test that can be done in the clinic. While this test is accurate for the most part, it can give false positives or negatives. According to veterinarian articles and the vets themselves, any positives should be backed up with the IFA test. The latter is also a blood test that looks for the virus in the bone marrow without having to take actual bone marrow.

This is where the plot thickens on the worse episode of “Meouse.” Hansel’s SNAP test came back positive, but his IFA test came back negative. This could mean that either one of the tests is wrong, or that he doesn’t have the virus, or that he was recently exposed and should be re-tested again in 30 days.

Since Hansel’s case was becoming more and more complex, we were sent to Ocean State Veterinarian Hospital to get a more in-depth diagnosis and treatment. As of today, Hansel has had four positive SNAP tests, and four negative IFA tests, and because of this our Ocean State vet can’t say for sure if he does have FeLV. Even after testing an actual sample of his bone marrow, the IFA test came back negative. CURSE YOU MEOW-STERIOUS DISEASE!

Luckily, there was some good news. After an extensive bone marrow biopsy, it was determined that Hansel does not have cancer! It looks like the anemia stems from an autoimmune disease, which is the better of the two possibilities.

Hansel sitting in a pan like a boss
“No cancer? Pan-tastic!”

However, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t get cancer in the future, BUT one day at a time.

So far, the steroids seem to help him the most. However, these drugs are a double-edged sword since it can raise the glucose levels in the blood and cause diabetes. Our vet explained that ideally he’d be weened off of the steroids and become stable on another drug such as atopica, which is another immunosuppressant drug that does not come with the danger of diabetes. However, he did not seem to be reacting to the lower dosage of steroids plus atopica as much as we’d like, so he was recently switched to another drug combination.

Hansel stretched forward
“Moar drugs? C’mon, Mom!”

Now he is being treated with steroids and cyclophosphamide, which is a used as chemotherapy to suppress the immune system. Crazy right?? He doesn’t even have cancer and yet we’re using a chemo drug. We find out on Monday the 27th if the new drug is working well.

Please note that “chemotherapy” for cats and animals in general is very different from human treatment. The word “chemo” is often associated with a lot of pain and discomfort. However, this isn’t the case for animals. Most cats on this drug handle it well and have no side effects, and are completely comfortable. While chemotherapy for animals involves extending their life like it does in humans, it is not practiced at the cost of their comfort.

Since November, Hansel’s anemia has had its highs and lows. Sometimes his red blood cell count would be up to 40%, and at others it would go back down to 12%. On his good days he’d be bouncing around, chasing Gretel and being his normal self. On his bad days he’d be more lethargic and seek out closets or other hidey holes to sleep in.

We’re hoping for the best, and will continue to make him as comfortable as possible as we try to stabilize his anemia. But, no matter how he feels, he still has enough energy to judge you.

Hansel sitting on a table judging you
“Feed me more drugs, hooman, and I will end you.”

30 Days of Yoga – Bending, Bumbling, and Breathing

Hansel and Gretel are natural yogis

Winter is coming. Or rather, fall is in the air, and like the changing season I wanted to make a change in my life. When it comes to fitness, I try to stay active most days of the week. I take 2-mile walks at work during lunch time, and occasionally run when the weather permits (AKA when the temperature isn’t “oh god why,” or when Thor isn’t having a hissy fit). If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll head to the gym and “pick things up and put them down,” but I needed something more. I felt like an autumn leaf on the wind – moving, but not really going anywhere. #sodeep

I needed a change. I wanted to be excited about exercise. I wanted to find something that I could stick with and wouldn’t dread doing every other day. Running and I have had an on again, off again relationship that could rival any soap opera couple (damn you, Victor!). I liked it well enough, but I wasn’t IN love with it. #itsnotyouitsme

CVS Health Downtown 5K Race 2016
We may be smiling on the outside, but our insides are crying!

I had always wanted to incorporate yoga into my daily routine, so I decided to take the plunge. Luckily, I wasn’t a complete stranger to the practice so it wasn’t such a…stretch. #punished I used to do Pilates which incorporates a lot of fast yoga-like moves, and I even went to a yoga class at a brewery where beer was the reward! Now THAT’S motivation. However, I wanted to stick with it and see why so many people were becoming yogis.

I decided to try “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube, and discovered her 30 days of yoga videos. This series is meant to ease you into the practice, and I was immediately hooked. They fall anywhere between 15 to 35 minutes in length, and I often added on one of her other videos to make my sessions at least 30 to 45 minutes long. If I had the time, I would aim for 50 minutes to an hour total. The difficulty of each video ranged from “easy breezy” to “I’m sweating so much that it’s raining me!” They have a nice balance of flexibility and strength with a focus on the importance of the breath. Adriene really tries to give you the tools to help you grow your own practice, and encourages viewers to not just become “yoga robots” as she likes to say.

I’ll confess that I missed several days during this 30-day challenge. Sometimes life happens and it’s okay. Yet, as the challenge progressed, I could slowly feel myself begin to change.

Day 1 to 5

The beginning was difficult. Period. “Wobbly” and “stiff” were my two main poses, and I was their master. I could barely even cross my legs to sit down (plus having weak ankles made it fun on the bun). However, by the end of day 5 I noticed that my downward-facing dogs and planks were getting just a teeny bit easier (although my flexibility range was more like a plank of wood…wood’nt you guess it). #punished

Gretel wants to do yoga
Gretel wants to do yoga, too. What a cat-astrophy.

Day 6 to 10

I could finally cross my legs like a kindergartener without ankle pain! Hallelujah! I found that my vinyasas were getting just a tad easier as well. We’d flow from chaturanga (think of it as a low push-up) to upward-facing dog to downward-facing dog. It’s a tough flow, but I wasn’t struggling as much like I did on day 1.

Day 10 to 20

I found myself craving the mat once I got home from work. I wanted to let go of the day and just let all of the stress melt away. I was looking forward to my yoga sessions with Adriene, even if she wasn’t technically in the room with me. Her quirky humor and “less-serious-but-still-serious” lessons really worked for me. I wasn’t just craving the physical exercise, but sought out the mental benefits that came with each session. I felt mentally and physically lighter.

Day 20 to 25

I could now miraculously do 4 full push ups! I know I know, it’s a tiny number compared to a lot of people. HOWEVER I haven’t been able to do proper push ups since high school, and you know what they say: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I could finally reach the low push ups to vinyasas as well! But, if I had to repeat them over and over during a practice, my arms would throw a full-scale rebellion and wouldn’t cooperate. #heavilyarmed

Day 26 to 30

I had moved my yoga practice to the mornings due to evening obligations, and found that I enjoyed starting my day off on the mat. Sure, I had to get up at the butt crack of dawn (“who dare disturb my slumber”), but I found myself becoming more mindful throughout the day. I was more aware of what I was eating and how my body was feeling. It was very subtle and almost an unnoticeable change, but I felt better because of it.

Beyond day 30

After the 30 day challenge was up, I reflected on where I started and why. I went from barely being able to touch my toes, to touching the floor while I was “cold” (as in, not exercising beforehand to warm up). My heels can almost touch the floor while in downward-facing dog, and I could hold my planks far longer than I thought I was capable of. But most importantly, I had found that thing I had been craving, and it wasn’t an apple cider donut! Mmmm…donuts.

Hansel and Gretel are natural yogis
Hansel and Gretel are naturals, and put me to shame.

Yoga doesn’t feel like a chore, and I look forward to the when I can practice. Have there been bad days? Of course. However, I know that I’ll come off of the mat feeling better than when I started. I’ll continue to make yoga a part of my life, and might even suck Mike into it while I’m at it. Muhahahaha!

What to Wear When Visiting Iceland in the Summer

So, you want to visit Iceland during the summer? Congratulations! You’ve chosen a great time of year that doesn’t involve heavy snow drifts, frost bite, or 20 hours of darkness! Great choice! Yes, yes, visiting Iceland during the winter comes with its own amazing experiences, but summer in Iceland is when you can really let loose and show some skin (and by “skin,” I mean your base layer of clothing underneath your parka). Summers in Iceland are still somewhat chilly compared to the typical American summer. For those of you who hate anything below 65 °F, you should probably grab a sweater before you continue reading if you haven’t already.

Iceland what to wear weather

Visiting another country is exciting and intimidating. You never know what you’ll experience, which is probably one of the reasons why you want to travel in the first place. However, it’s good to be prepared. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I spent Googling “what to wear to Iceland” before I even opened my suitcase. Hopefully this post will reassure you that you aren’t the only person searching for answers.

Mike and I recently returned from our trip in the beginning of August, and we’re already talking about going back. Mike wants to visit during the winter, but I think he forgets that I can’t grow my own beard for warmth (I have two factors working against me, people). If you are planning on visiting this beautiful country during the summer months, here are a few tips that I’ve gathered.

First off, what is an Icelandic summer like?

The summer months usually hover in the mid 50’s °F, but it can often reach into the 60’s and 70’s if you’re a lucky duck. It can also be very windy, and random rain showers can take you off guard. Think of it either like the beginning of Spring temperatures (minus the mud), or the beginning of Fall when you’ve brought out some of your winter gear, but you haven’t quite put away all of your summer clothes.

The country also experiences 20 hours of daylight. It doesn’t get dark until around midnight, and the sun rises around 3 or 4 AM. If you’re like me and have to have total darkness in order to sleep, blackout curtains and sleeping masks will be your best friend.

The sun is also lower in the sky throughout the day, so you don’t necessarily get that “high noon” heat, but you can sometimes get the “let’s make driving a pain in the ass” ray of sunlight that bypasses your car’s visor and strikes you in the face! The saying “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes” is true when it comes to Iceland. One minute it can be sunny, then it can downpour, and vice versa.

Iceland what to wear weather landscape

So what do I wear for an Icelandic summer?

The answer to this varies depending on what you want to do while you’re in the country. Are you planning on hiking the glaciers? Wandering the cities? Or just flying by the seat of your pants?

In general, check the weather in the places you plan to be before you go. This may sound like a “well, duh” statement, but it helped me plan what to pack, and I’m the type of person that will spend hours staring at my suitcase with a vacant expression. I get so caught up in what to bring or what not to bring, that I have to keep myself “tethered to the weather.” Do I really need to bring 80 sweaters? Probably not.

Iceland what to wear mammut rain shell
Me in my rain shell and hiking pants on a rainy day.

Also, “know thyself.” If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get cold very easily, maybe you don’t need to bring as many sweaters as the rest of us cold-blooded mammals. (Yes, I know that statement is all wrong science-wise, but you still understood what I meant). If you get cold even during hot summer days to the point where people look at you like you have two heads, pack warmer clothes.

Iceland summer what to wear
Notice how Mike is just fine in a button-down shirt and jogging jacket. The beard keeps him warm…

The key to dressing for Iceland is layers. This applies to both summer and winter months, but to varying…degrees! #pun-ished If you dress in layers, you have more control over how warm or cool you are. If you’re used to hot, muggy summers where being a human puddle is a way of life, forget about it! That will most likely not be the case when you get to Iceland.

For our trip, I had in my bag:

  • A Smartwool thermal wool sweater (keeps you warm, but doesn’t feel thick or heavy)
  • A fleece vest
  • A few “normal” sweaters and cardigans
  • A few long-sleeved cotton shirts
  • A t-shirt and some cotton tanks (to wear under the sweaters)
  • Jeans
  • Hiking pants (lightweight, yet wind and water-resistant)
  • Plether biker jacket (like the cool kids)
  • A Mammut rain jacket shell (wind and waterproof)
  • A light scarf
  • Light/medium wool socks (great for when you know you’ll be walking around a lot)
  • Hiking boots
  • Brown dress/casual boots
  • Bathing suit (for the Blue Lagoon Spa)
  • Fleece headband and light gloves (the just-in-case accessories)

When we ventured into the capital, Reykjavik, I usually wore jeans, a light shirt, my plether jacket, and my hiking boots. Since we were doing a lot of walking around, I could take the jacket off and cool down. If the wind picked up or the sun went away, the jacket was a nice layer to throw on. I decided to wear my hiking boots into the city because they offered the most support, and we walked around A LOT.

Some blogs or articles often talk about how to “not dress like a tourists” when you venture into the cities – especially during the nightlife. I just dressed for comfort, and you can too if you so choose (I’m not fashionista and have no idea why jeggings are so “in” right now). This is your trip. My advice is use logic, dress how you like, and don’t worry about what others think. If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of walking around, you may not want to wear those high-heeled boots even though they’re “totes adorbs.” Chances are, no one will notice and you and your feet will have a bad time. There are so many tourists in cities like Reykjavik, and most locals are very nice. I’m pretty sure they won’t give two licks about what you’re wearing, and even if they do then that’s their problem. #lookatmycareface

Iceland what to wear
Best. Hat. Ever.

We didn’t hike this time around so I don’t have an in-depth list for that, but when we decided to venture outside of the city to go sight-seeing I usually wore my hiking pants, thermal or long-sleeved shirt, and rain jacket. Them waterfalls can be misty. Plus, wind and rain can take you by surprise, too.

Iceland what to wear sunny day
Mike is wearing a button-down shirt, his jogging jacket, and hiking pants. He wore the wrong shoes for this particular outing though…

Overall, having a good rain jacket, boots, and water-resistant or wind resistant pants can go a long way, and they’re good investments. Also, don’t forget to carry a water bottle or two with you. Sunscreen is equally as important. “You may not feel it, but you’ll be peeling it” can become a reality, and sun burns are never fashionable. #un-appeeling

Iceland Day 6 – Homeward Bound

Iceland WOW airlines return to Boston

D-Day had finally come – the day of departure. It was hard to say goodbye to such a beautiful country, but we vowed to return some day.

Iceland drive to Keflavik Airport

The journey home from Iceland was probably the longest day of this vacation. Our flight was at 3:30 PM, but we wanted to get there earlier than normal since we were traveling outside of the country. We rose from our slumbers to checkout of our hotel, and said goodbye to the various wooden statues that were placed around the lobby.

Iceland hotel wooden sheep statues

Once we got to Keflavik International Airport, we headed straight for the tax refund desk. The nice thing about Iceland is if you’re a visitor (AKA you aren’t staying for more than 90 days), you can receive a tax refund on items you’ve bought if they’re over 6,000 ISK, or approximately $52 USD. The sales tax is a whopping 24.5%, and is included in the price of an item (so you don’t need to do a lot of math). If you decide to visit Iceland, don’t be surprised by the prices. If you buy anything that isn’t a meal at a restaurant and you’re asked if you want a tax-free receipt, go for it. It’ll take about 8 weeks to see the money returned to your account. Be forewarned, sometimes the tax refund associates will ask to see what you’ve bought to make sure it matches your receipt, so make sure to do this before you check any bags.

After we got our money back, we grabbed the elixir of life. Mama needs her fix.

Iceland Joe & The Juice coffee

Then, the Waiting Game began. First off, at least for WOW airlines at this particular airport, you cannot check in at the front desks even though they say “check in.” Those are only for baggage checks. Plus, they didn’t say when they opened so we stood there awkwardly for a while. Regardless, we didn’t have to wait in that particular line, and instead had to check in at the unmanned kiosks! #rage But, we were able to check our own bags since the kiosk printed out the tags so I guess that was nice…

Our journey through TSA was actually more cumbersome than the one in Boston. They didn’t have the full body scans, and instead, had you walk through a metal detector that was more sensitive than a hormonal-raging tween. I set the thing off about three times. I even took off my jewelry and it still went off. Maybe the government DID install those brain chips. I had to step aside and get frisked which was super fun, but the lady officer was nice about it. Ladies, please note that underwire bras can set off metal detectors.

After our TSA excursion, we headed to our terminal which was about a 15 minute walk away. Hurray. We grabbed some food and I had to have Icelandic yogurt one last time. It is now my favorite yogurt, and I can never go back to Chobani. Fage is good, but Skyr ran away with my taste buds on a romantic and fruity getaway. #toneitdown

Iceland yogurt Skyr

After lunch, we continued on our journey to the elusive terminal. We were blocked by a passport check and had to wait another hour for them to open. Again, Keflavik is a very nice airport, but they don’t announce when things open, or they do and I’m just blind. Yes you can ask someone, but that requires you to A.) find someone who works there in that particular department, and B.) general social interaction. And nobody wants that. Good thing I had the new “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” book to keep me occupied! #potterhead

Once we got through the passport check we finally reached our terminal, or rather, the door to our terminal. A woman observed out loud that “they don’t make this easy,” and it’s true. In retrospect, with the way this airport is designed there were no seats near certain gates to wait in. That may be a reason they shut us out. Or they just hate us.

Iceland Keflavik airport

After another hour or so, they finally let us in! We were slowly loaded onto a bus and taken to our plane. I’ve never been happier to sit in an airplane after all of that.

Iceland WOW airlines
WOW airplane next to ours. Ours was better.

The flight would take about 5 1/2 hours to reach Boston, so we had some time to kill. I convinced Mike to read the new Harry Potter book, and the guy sitting next to him also had the same idea! #nerds4life

Iceland airplane reading

I’m usually pretty good on airplanes (no screaming or crying from me that’s for sure), but I was getting a bit antsy. I felt slightly claustrophobic, but through sheer willpower and my “superpower” to fall asleep in any moving vehicle or mode of transportation, I fought through it.

Finally, we reached Boston! The city never looked so beautiful! Yeah, yeah, argue with me later, but I wanted LAND, people! LAND!

Iceland WOW airlines return to Boston

Once we were free from the giant metal bird, we made our way through U.S. Customs, which honestly was not as bad as I thought it would be (disclaimer – your experience may vary). We scanned our passports, got crappy photos taken of us, and gave the Customs officers said crappy photos. We were only asked three questions – where did you go, how long were you there, and did you bring back any food? We told them we brought back some chocolate, but they didn’t seem to care. As long as it’s not meat, fruit, or vegetables, it should be fine.

We finally made it home, and our cats, Hansel and Gretel, were quite happy to see us. They did give us the stink eye at first (maybe that’s just because they’ve never seen Mike wear a hat before), but after 5 minutes they warmed up to us. And yes, they loved the wool blanket. And yes, they chewed on it as I predicted and much to Mike’s horror.

Hansel and Gretel love the Icelandic wool blanket

Our trip to Iceland was amazing, and we plan to visit again in the future. Maybe we’ll even hike the glacier (and remember to bring water with us). We would definitely like to explore the northern part of the island, especially where they filmed scenes from “Game of Thrones.” Mike wants to go during the winter where 20 hours of darkness is the norm. We could cross-country ski, see the aurora borealis, and be cold all the time! Maybe the first two would outweigh the third. Regardless, if you’ve ever thought about visiting Iceland, I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful country with a wonderful culture, and it’s always nice to get away from the usual hustle and bustle of life in the States once in a while. If you seek new landscapes, peace and quiet, and all the sheep and ponies you’d ever want to see, Iceland should be at the top of the list!

Iceland Day 5 – The Blue Lagoon

Iceland Blue Lagoon Spa

Our last full day in Iceland took us back into Reykjavik for a final view of the city (and to hunt for trinkets like typical tourists). We even got ourselves a wool blanket (thank you sheepies)! The cats will most likely love it and chew on it, or they will hate it and still chew on it. Too bad we can’t fully enjoy it until it’s cold outside. Maybe Christmas won’t be 65 degrees this year!

Iceland Reykjavik Prime Minister Office
The Prime Minister’s office

At one moment, Mike looked up and stopped in his tracks.  He said we came to Iceland one week too early. THE BACON FESTIVAL!!!! I think Mike even cried a little. #meatisneat

Iceland Reykjavic Bacon Festival

The last typical tourist site we visited was the infamous Blue Lagoon Spa, which is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula. It’s also near a geothermal power plant in the middle of nowhere (then again, this is Iceland).

Iceland Blue Lapp
Entrance to The Blue Lagoon is “rock” solid

Now, in order to go to the Blue Lagoon you have to make a reservation online or by phone. They then send you some information about what to expect when you get there. Before you go into the water you have to shower “without a bathing suit” (AKA your birthday suit) with their soap and conditioner. Hygiene is very important, and the minerals in the water can dry out your hair. Plus, sharing body grime is so not trendy.

The lagoon itself was warm and comfortable, but I couldn’t help but wish it was a bit hotter (not boiling lobster hot, but just a tad warmer). Our particular reservation included a free drink, which we ordered from the bar that’s submerged in the lagoon itself. #lazyforthewin

Iceland Blue Lagoon Spa bar

We also had silicon and algae mud masks, which I did not get photos of because I didn’t want to take my phone into the water (duh). A lot of people did just that though, so kudos to them for being daring. The bar even sold “waterproof covers” for your phones, which I’m guessing were just over-glorified Ziplock bags.

It was nice to relax and float around mineral-saturated hot springs. With strangers. If you ever do decide to come to this part of Iceland, you should go to the Blue Lagoon Spa at least once. Now, with that being said, I don’t think Mike and I would do it again. It was a one and done experience for us. Plus, we saw more naked people in the locker rooms than you see in an entire season of Game of Thrones.

Iceland Blue Lagoon Spa

Suffice it to say, the Blue Lagoon was a great way to end our trip in Iceland. It was relaxing albeit, visually scarring, but there’s always some tit for tat…literally. Plus our skin was wonderfully soft afterwards!

Iceland Blue Lagoon Spa Mike and Sam

Iceland Day 4 – A Beach of a Day

Day 4 was a beautiful day for another road trip, but like always we got sidetracked! Our main goal was to find the Black Sand Beach, and on our way we stopped by the infamous Skógafoss waterfall!

Iceland Skogafoss waterfall

At first I thought we were just going to “ooh” and “ahh,” take pictures, and then be on our way. However, Mike pointed out that we ARE in Iceland and should “take advantage” of our time here. AKA “let’s climb the exorbitant amount of stairs, Sam!” Yes, let’s climb to the top of the waterfall, he said. It’ll be fun, he said. #legday

After mentally cursing the inventor of stairs and the occasional break, we made it to the top! My quads were jelly and I immediately regretted leaving my water bottle in the car. Oh I’m sorry, I thought we were just going to take a nice stroll around the waterfall, not hike the terrain like Davy Crockett! Sorry, that’s the lingering dehydration talking. Regardless of my complaining, I will admit that it was worth the climb.

Iceland Skogafoss waterfall up river

We followed the river that created Skógafoss and the sights were breathtaking (like the stairs). The grassy hills were scattered with grazing sheep (the urge to pet one was great, but they were so far), and one of the popular hiking glaciers was sitting behind it. It was very peaceful, and very, very windy.

Skógafoss was one of my favorite places we visited on this trip. It was so open and it honestly felt like something out of the book, “Heidi.” Rolling hills, sheep, clean air, and mountainous terrain. Simply beautiful.

Mike and I finally pulled ourselves away from the falls thanks to our need for hydration. #h2over We then continued on our way, only to be drawn into part of the Dyrholaey National Reserve.

Iceland Dyrholaey cliff

Ocean waves crashed against rocks with tremendous force, and the surf had Mike itching for his board. However, that’s a good way to die, boys and girls. No one was surfing (take that as a sign), and the only ones who would be out there would surf during hurricanes. And the Darwin Award goes to…

Iceland Dyrholaey waves

Iceland Dyrholaey rocks

Finally, we reached the Black Sand Beach! It’s located in a quaint little village called Vik, which is the southern most town in the country. It had the normal “small town vibe,” and even had a church sitting on the top of a hill.

Iceland VIk Black Sand Beach

After always being around Rhode Island’s beaches (and “normal” beaches in general), seeing black sand was eerie and almost alien.

Iceland VIk Black Sand Beach

You could probably make some amazing Gothic castles.

Iceland VIk Black Sand Beach waves

We spent some time watching the surf and played with the sand, which was surprisingly cool to the touch. It was still warm, but not “scald-your-feet-off” hot. This might be due to the fact that the sun isn’t very high in the sky. Or, it just doesn’t get hot at all for science reasons.

Iceland Vik Black Sand Beach Mike and Sam

After our day of detours and delays, we returned to Reykjavik to rest up for our final full day, where we took one last walk around the city, and entered the infamous Blue Lagoon Spa.

Iceland Day 3 – A Fishy Day in Reykjavik

One day is not enough time to take in all that Reykjavik has to offer, so on our third day we ventured into the city once more. Luckily, we were actually awake this time around. Our first stop was Cafe Loki. We needed sustenance, and the restaurant at the hotel was a tad pricey compared to local restaurants. Plus, we heard great things about this particular cafe.

Iceland Reykjavik Cafe Loki

Mike ordered the smoked trout with cottage cheese on homemade rye bread, and I ordered the smoked herring with eggs on rye bread. It’s a bit intimidating when you first look at it, but the rye was very rich and filling, and the fish was sweet and flavorful. Plus, for all of you “paranoid fish eaters” out there, we’re alive and didn’t get sick! We also learned that water is usually free, and they place pitchers out for your own use.

We continued to explore the city, and even ran into some of the locals!

Iceland Reykjavik Cat

Our next stop was the infamous Icelandic Phallological Museum (Mike insisted of course). You can’t help but feel small when you stand next to a whale’s business that’s hanging off the wall. #whaleofatale And who knew that some mammals have actual bones in their “bones” while humans do not. Science is crazy!

Iceland Reykjavik Phallic Museum

After such a “stiff” experience we were lucky enough to witness the Gay Pride Parade! We had no idea it was going on the weekend we were there, so it was a pleasant surprise. Everyone was dressed up to show their support, and the atmosphere was absolutely fabulous!

Iceland Reykjavik Gay Pride Parade

Each float had their own music, whether it was through speakers or performed live! I almost forgot how loud trumpet players could be. It brought me back to the Clarkson Pep Band days where us flutists stood in front of the trumpets. I can still hear the ringing. #whatdidyousay

Iceland Reykjavik Gay Pride Parade Band

The parade came to an end with a fabulous sparkling rainbow unicorn float. Every time the speakers on the float dropped the bass, the fabric would shimmer to the beat. There were dancers and a singer on the back of the unicorn, and even though we weren’t sure what we were seeing (like most things on the Internet), we enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we went to the Saga Museum and learned an impressively depressing history lesson about Iceland. Long story short, man discovers Iceland. Man settles and fighting ensues. Man converts “willingly” to Christianity. The bubonic plague wipes out about a third of the population (thanks Einar Herjólfsson). Man keeps fighting. Yeah that sounds about right.

We had dinner at a restaurant called Reykjavik Fish. Mike ordered a traditional Icelandic dish called Plokkari, which was very similar to clam chowder, but instead of clam it had cod. I ordered the fish burger (#adventurous), and am now addicted to Icelandic fish. I guess you could say that this trip went…swimmingly! #pun-ished

Iceland Reykjavik Fish Restaurant

We ended the day with a nice, quiet stroll around the bay of the city and enjoyed the natural wonders and man-made structures.

Iceland Reykjavik across the water

 

Iceland Reykjavik Harpa Concert Hall

Even though Reykjavik is a small city in comparison to those in the U.S. (even Providence), it packs a cultural punch, and you can’t help but feel like you’ll discover something new every time you visit.

Iceland Day 2 -Amateur Outdoor Adventures

Iceland is known for its beautiful, yet unforgiving landscape. The alien-like terrain, natural wonders and glaciers attract lovers of the great outdoors from all over the world. One of the best things about the Icelandic outback, to me at least, was the lack of mosquitoes and deer flies. It’s the little things in life that should be appreciated. Of course they have their share of insects like wasps or midges (tiny black flies), but they lack the popular American bloodsuckers that bite your feet at night or attack your bare legs when you’re trying to sit by the bonfire minding your own business as you munch on s’mores. #allfliesmustdie

Iceland terrain

When it came to our venture, we wanted to go on our own private sightseeing adventure. A lot of tourists take “The Golden Circle Tour,” but that would have cost money, and we’d have to interact with other strangers in a an over-sized van that literally screams “tourists.” These were two things we wanted to avoid. We’re such socialites. We ended up visiting the Kerio volcanic crater, Strokkur Geyser, and the Gullfoss (Golden) waterfall.

But first, food break! We found a small restaurant call Hoflandsetrið in the town, Hveragerði. They made really good ham and pineapple sandwiches. We may or may not have randomly found this place due to my miscalculations when it came to where I thought Strokkur was…  Seriously, that whole “I can’t GPS my way out of a paper bag” thing is real, people.

Iceland Hofland Setrid

Our first stop was Kerio, which was essentially a giant glorified hole in the ground, but there was something very eerie about it. Also, we had to pay around $8 per person to see said hole. This was the only natural wonder we had to pay for but I think it was worth it.

Iceland Kerio Crater

According to scientists, they believe that Kerio was a cone volcano that erupted its magma reserve, which caused the cone to collapse and formed the hole. The pool of water is the same level as the water table and is not caused by rainfall. #damnnatureyouscary

We were able to journey into the crater itself, which was quite the challenge thanks to the rain and the mud.

Iceland inside Kerio

There were several signs around the crater that said “Help us protect the nature,” or AKA “Don’t be an ass, keep off the grass.” We ran into some tourists inside the crater who were a tad obnoxious and relieved themselves in public. I think they were American. Ugh I hate our stereotype…

Iceland Kerio Crater protect environment sign

Our second stop was at Strokkur Geyser, which consisted of even more holes in the ground, but these holes contained active water!!! (Man, if I had a dime for every time I said that…I’d have two dimes!)

 

Iceland Strokkur Geyser errupted

There were signs around the geysers and the runoff areas that said “Do not touch” because you’ll burn your hands off (unless your name is Daenerys Targaryan, Mother of Dragons). We saw people getting really daring when it came to the no touching rule. I’m pretty sure jellyfish have a higher intelligence than some of these tourists. #thatwillsting

Our last stop was The Gullfoss waterfall, which was the wettest of them all! The falls had carved a ravine that as geeky as it sounds, made me want to play Minecraft again. I know there are diamonds down there! I just need my iron pickax and a sword to fight off the spiders! #creepernocreeping

Iceland Gullfoss (Golden) Waterfall ravine

An interesting observation I made was that there was no official supervision when it came to viewing these three wonders. The only thing separating you from certain death or painful limb removal was a rope and good judgement (and one might be sturdier than the other).

Iceland Gullfoss (Golden) Waterfall

We grabbed a bite to eat and I had the traditional lamb soup. It was very good! I didn’t…lamb-ent…my decision. #pun-ished

Icelandic lamb soup

After we got back to the hotel, we settled in to watch the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics in Rio. After watching the abstract performance and observing the 10 Icelandic participants, we ended the day with environmental contemplation. I wonder if the seeds the athletes planted will sprout by the end of the games. #sowandgrow

Iceland Day 1.5 – Typical Tourists in Reykjavik

Day 1.5 of Iceland started with a refreshing four-hour nap to prepare us for the exploration of the capital city, Reykjavik. Hey, we aren’t as spry as we used to be. It was a fairly easy 20 to 30 minute walk from the hotel, and the cool 50 °F temperature was a nice change compared to the stifling heat of the New England summer. It’s nice not to be a human puddle for once. Iceland also loves their bike and foot paths. They have bridges over their highways just for pedestrians which makes crossing a breeze. #weatherpun

Reykjavik walkway

Our first stop was the giant church, Hallgrímskirkja, which sat at the top of a hill and served as a great landmark. If you can see the church from wherever you are in the city, you can always find your way around. Unless of course you’re like me. I can barely GPS my way out of a paper bag. Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran perish church that stands an impressive 244 feet tall, and took 41 years to build (1945 to 1986). Needless to say it was the largest church I’ve ever been in! Plus, I didn’t burn up on entry! #browniepoints

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik Iceland

We continued to be typical tourists and went in and out of shops looking at various cultural trinkets such as lava ceramics and wool sweaters. Wool is everywhere. No matter where you turn, wool-dn’t you know, it’s always there. #pun-ished Since sheep are a large part of Iceland’s history and culture, their wool is always “in your face” and guaranteed to see you through an Icelandic winter.

Icelandic wool hats and gloves

Reykjavik is a combination of eccentric, mix-matched buildings that carry their own quaint charm. Many streets are blocked off to cars on a regular basis and made for pedestrians only. Bicyclists are welcomed for the most part and many streets have actual bike paths built-in. However, if they don’t stay in their lane and try to use the street, they get fiercely honked at. Ah, just like home.

Iceland Reykjavik Streets

The city is splattered with random graffiti and psychedelic murals that could rival that crazy Willy Wonka tunnel. Historical statues and monuments are proudly displayed throughout the city. One such figure is Leif Erikson, who was an Icelandic explorer who discovered North America before Christopher Columbus. #1492late

We stopped at a quaint little bookstore in search of an Icelandic phrase book, you know, for those important questions like “where is the bathroom” or “where is the beer.” Oddly enough they only had dictionaries, and since mostly everyone in the country spoke English, we abandoned that mission. However, we did partake in their quaint little coffee shop above the store. Mmm, mama needs her caffeine…

Coffee shop

After our small pick-me-up we found The Settlement Exhibition, which covers the history of how Iceland was first, well, settled. #thankscaptainobvious There was no flash photography allowed and no one was taking pictures inside, so we didn’t want to be “those people” and followed suit. I can describe what we saw though. Rocks. Lots of rocks. And wooden “fossils” that archaeologists theorized were parts of common tools like shovels or pitchforks. How they came to those conclusions I’ll never know (until Google tells me later). The process probably involves carbon dating and the use of the legendary scientific Magic 8 Ball. #outlookgood

After our quick dip into history, we had dinner at Uppsalir Bar and Cafe where Mike had his first Icelandic beer called Gull. It was very light and refreshing. Even I enjoyed it, and I am so not a beer person.

After dinner we walked it off around Tjörnin which translates into “The Pond.” The running joke is that it’s “50% water, 50% something else,” which might just be true. I’d rather not know what the green mystery sludge was.

The Pond

Besides the questionable pond water, we took in the nice weather, contemplated life, and watched the ducks and geese go about their day as if we weren’t even there. #notgivingaduck

Iceland Reykjavik The Pond Contemplation

Once we returned to our hotel we turned in for the night (“night” being used…lightly). During Iceland summers, it doesn’t get dark until around midnight and the sun rises around 3:30AM. Basically, Mother Nature is a troll. “Sure, I’ll give you infinite daylight in the summer, but you’ll also have to deal with infinite darkness in the wintertime.” Some say that that’s a good price to pay for long summer days. All I can say is thank goodness for exhaustion and blackout curtains.

Our first true night’s sleep was abruptly interrupted by the fire alarm. Everyone evacuated and huddled outside in their pajamas as firemen went in and out of the kitchen. We suspected that it was a grease fire from the smell alone. Remember kids, “grease is tough so it gets snuffed. If you wet it you’ll regret it.” And yes I made that up. I should sell t-shirts.

Iceland Reykjavik Hotel Firetruck

About 20 minutes later they let us back inside, but we couldn’t go back to our rooms yet. The hotel was nice enough to give us free juice boxes, cookies, and carrot cake, and tried to make us as comfortable as one could get in a hallway. Mmmm, carrot cake. Finally, we were allowed to return to our slumbers to prepare for our next journey into the Icelandic frontier!

Journey to Iceland – Planes, Pains, and Plains

Blog cover photo

After years of serious discussion, Michael and I have finally decided to take our relationship to the next level! Vacationing together! In a foreign country! We like challenges, and trial by fire (or in this case, ice…land) was our next great adventure. We have never flown together and I’ve only ever flown by my lonesome. When I stated that it would be nice to fly with someone for a change, Mike’s response was “Yeah, it’ll be nice to have someone watch your stuff while you get food!” Take notes, fellas. #romance2016

Iceland landscape

We took a direct flight out of Logan International Airport in Boston, MA. After we fought with the check-in kiosk who switched our identities, and trudged through the Candyland that is TSA, we found ourselves with a nice view of the tarmac. Mike’s wide-eyed, childlike wonder at the giant airbuses taxiing and taking off made getting fondled by a state worker with the warmth of Cersei Lanister (almost) worth it.

Logan International Airport

We flew out of WOW airlines, which is the “budget” airline to and from Iceland. Think of it as a the younger cousin of Icelandair who has to sit at the kiddie table during holiday dinners, BUT has the most fun regardless. We knew we chose the right airplane when we saw one taxiing in all of its bright purple glory! #absolutelyfabulous

The flight to Iceland was mostly uneventful, but was a wonderful wading pool of observations when it came to people watching. The businessman sitting next to us tried his hardest to get comfortable and fall asleep, and squirmed around more than Mike does when he sees a spider. The Icelandic man across the aisle was very friendly and introduced himself to his seatmates. Later, he proceeded to accidentally spill his drink in the aisle and acted like it never happened. Good man. The family sitting directly behind us consisted of a father and two young sons who did not stop talking or high-pitch “squealaughing” (yes, it’s a word now), or hitting our seats until an hour before we landed. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much. Now, I usually have as much tolerance for “airplane spawn” as the next person (which is probably the same tolerance a Freshman has when drinking for the first time), but when they began to sing “Watch me whip, watch me nae nae” I wanted out. And when the father started singing along, oh I was so cat-in-a-bathtub-of-water out. #idontneedthisadult

Once we landed and exited the petri dish of a plane, we waited in line to get through Customs which was pretty simple. They asked us how long we were staying “in Europe” and if we were staying in Iceland only. Then, they stamped our passports and sent us on our way like good little wayward children. This was probably the second easiest Customs I’ve ever been through. The hardest part was waiting. However, nothing will beat getting through Canada before passports were mandatory for U.S. citizens. The only thing keeping us from entering that country back in the day was a single guard reading a newspaper behind a desk, and guard rails like the ones you find while waiting in line for rides at amusement parks. U.S. Customs on the other hand is like trying to traverse Mordor. The officer is essentially Gollum who claims to be helping you, but in actuality just asks you odd riddles and wants to know what’s in your pocket, Precious.

When we picked up our rental car, the only one available was a Hyundai i30 hatchback. The exact car Mike did not want to drive. I laughed internally…and externally. While he preferred driving something he’s never driven before, I preferred something familiar, especially in a foreign country. Then again, he’s never driven a Hyundai before so… Potato pot-ato. Most rental cars in Iceland are standard transmission (which translates into “automatics are more expensive”) so Mike was the main driver on this trip. I’ve always wanted my own chauffeur. Christmas came early.

Car rental Hyundai i30

Driving from the airport to the hotel was fairly easy and was a sight to behold. The mountains were in the distance and humanoid stone statues were scattered throughout the rocky terrain. The land barely had any trees and was mostly covered in moss, which you are not allowed to walk on due to the plant’s sensitivity. Iceland moss is apparently like coral – it takes time to heal and it’s against the law to step on them.

Iceland landscape from airport

We saw at least two rainbows, a black sand beach, and went through about five rotaries. Iceland. Loves. Rotaries. #stoppingisforsquares

Once we reached our hotel it was only 6:30AM, and their website stated that check-in wasn’t until 2PM. Just for funsies and sheer curiosity, we went in to see if we could access our room early. Luck was on our side! Oh sweet baby Jesus I could have kissed the receptionist. What a nice lady.

Now, Iceland is very environmental and their hotels reflect this. In order to turn on power to the room, you need to insert your key card by the door. They “highly recommend” that you reuse your towels, and you have easy access to recycling bins. The country as a whole commands respect for the environment, which is a nice change of pace compared to the general attitude in The States.

We promptly passed out for a few hours to recover from the devil plane spawn, and to prepare for new explorations!