GATLINBURG

It may be just my circle of friends and family, but prior to this trip I had not heard of Gatlinburg. It’s a small town in Tennessee on the northern side of The Smoky Mountains with a population of less than 5000. My husband would send me Instagram posts of activities going on in Gatlinburg and I was immediately drawn in by the fairy lights and outdoor activities. I just didn’t think we’d be heading there anytime soon.

For my surprise anniversary trip we arrived in Gatlinburg mid afternoon. WOO! But we were hangry. More accurately, I was hangry. It seemed appropriate we would end up at a place called Dick’s Last Resort. In hindsight I should have noticed the character on my menu. For reference, there he is down below…

Tony remembered seeing a video about this years ago. Basically the premise is they don’t have to be nice to you. Far from it, they are known for being mean and not taking your shit. They get a kick out of throwing napkins and straws at you; no save the turtles here lol. It’s family style seating whether you like it or not. And you get paper hats with custom names courtesy of your waiter. Turns out a “lot lizard” is not a reptile. Google it…

Here’s two things stood out to me the most:

  1. Tony asked for a seltzer and lime and I asked for a water as is our custom. The waiter followed that with calling us cheap for not ordering alcohol. The waiter then brought Tony the seltzer with no lime. We thought he just forgot about it. But five minutes later the waiter rolled an entire lime towards Tony on the table. A WHOLE LIME! I laughed pretty hard at that one for a while. I did not see that coming.
  2. The next thing that happened was to the elderly woman sitting next to me. She politely asked the waiter to cut her burger in half. He turned around and said, “Listen Mee-Maw, I ain’t your grandson and I don’t have to listen to you!” At first I was shocked, and then I laughed pretty hard at her expense lol. Sorry not sorry.

Overall it was fun. I wouldn’t make that the establishment I take my parents to, but I would definitely recommend people do it at least once.

After filling our bellies we explored the area by foot. There is an entire distillery called Ole Smoky Moonshine tucked away behind Dick’s last resort. The entire town was decked out with harvest decor too.

You can both see and smell the process, as well as read about moonshine’s history and origin. I’m all for a nice alcoholic beverage, but that smell was nasty BLEGH!

To make up for the smell there was a band playing live music and plenty of rocking chairs to enjoy the tunes. Inside the store I found some of the most aesthetically pleasing shelves ever!

Later on that night once the sun had gone down we were feeling especially adventurous. Tony, who is afraid of heights on most days, had the bright idea to venture into the Skylift Park. He didn’t realize you needed to ride the yellow and orange sky lift in order to get to the sky bridge. For reference I’ve added an image below that was taken the next day with daylight.

Normally I would be making fun of him because it’s not that high. But the swinging yellow death traps do not secure you into your seat. The restraint, if you could even call it that, lifts and does not lock in. Needless to say, we were both slightly freaking out. Don’t judge us.

Did I mention the Sky Bridge has glass floors too? We didn’t know until we were up there either lol. Oh, and the bridge swings in the wind too.

Once we were done exploring the bridge we found a bar inside the cafe. We had some beers and enjoyed some nice views of Gatlinburg. Well, at least I was enjoying myself until Tony reminded me we still needed to ride the death traps down to go back to the car. FML.

Obviously I’m exaggerating when I call them death traps lol. I’ve never gone skiing and didn’t know that in order to keep the flow moving the restraints didn’t lock. Don’t let my over-dramatization deter you from heading up either. It’s real nice up there. The views include the space needle and the mountain coaster. The beer is also a bonus. Sort of like a prize for conquering your fear of heights (not that I have one). And sort of like liquid courage to help you head back down.

Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.

-Lewis Carroll
Advertisements

CLINGMANS DOME

What do you do when your tent has been pitched at Elkmont campground and you’ve got a couple of hours of daylight left? You drive to Clingmans Dome! This entire weekend was about spontaneous plan adjustments and Clingmans was no different. We originally intended on driving up and hiking around midnight to stargaze (I had seen some pretty milky way pictures from here). However, according to my weather app it was going to be a cloudy night, and therefore little to no stars to see.

When we arrived at the parking lot around 6:30pm there were only a handful of spots left. The sun was still peaking through the clouds and it was way colder up there than I anticipated. Thank God for parkas! There were plenty of tripods and cameras set up at the lot and for a moment I wondered if it was even worth going up to the top. Maybe these photographers knew something I didn’t.

This is where my FOMO kicked in and I started taking some pictures of the sky. It was nothing to be impressed by though. I also had no idea what the sky was about to do. So we stopped at the restrooms real quick and headed to the trailhead.

At the base of the trail there are signs leading you in the right direction. I quickly found out why they do not allow strollers, wheelchairs or bikes on this paved trail. It’s only half a mile long, but it’s a steep 13% gradient! You’ll gain 332 ft. and break a sweat immediately. They have benches along the way and if you prepare with enough time you can get to the top at your own pace. The hike is a straight shot up. You’ll make a slight right near the end and the entire tower and walkway open up in front of you.

We did not have the luxury of taking our time and did it in one shot without stopping. Tony’s legs are way longer than mine and I tried keeping up with him. When I tell you my lungs were on fire. I mean, seriously. ON FIRE! It took us 16 minutes to get to the base of the tower.

The tower at Clingmans Dome provides panoramic views of the mountains below. You can see Tony (furthest right) at the top of the observation tower. It was really cold up there. About 20 degrees colder than lower laying areas. But the views are unlike any other we’d seen in the park so far.

Now, let’s talk about sunset. HOLY CRAP am I happy we did that instead of trying to stargaze with a poor chance of being able to see anything. The sky was so beautiful that it made me forget that we broke into a sweat climbing that steep incline. I completely forgot my lungs were on fire. I have to get the words out of my brain to describe what I saw this weekend! The best way to do it is to dig deep into my past undergrad memories and pull out every descriptor I’ve ever used in a college essay as follows:

The sky began its show by turning into soft shades of blue and barely-there pink. They were the kinds of shades found in freshly made cotton candy. So fluffy and perfect. As the shades deepened I could almost taste the sweetness of the colors moving through the sky. While at the top of the trail the sky decided rather haphazardly to turn parts of it’s cotton candy colored clouds into flames with help from the sun. It displayed bright reds and oranges burning through the clouds. The display of balanced colors between soft and sweet and brilliantly ferocious was the show of a lifetime. The sky gave us so much to see, so much to feel and demanded nothing in return…

Excuse my brain, it can be cheesy sometimes. But it’s as genuine a telling of what we saw as told by me. I’m sure the sensation of bliss and happiness was also amplified by the fact that I was with my husband and we were enjoying each others’ company. But look at these pictures!!! How could I not be?

I promise you these are not filtered in any way shape or form. No photoshop, no special lenses, no filters, just sheer beauty captured by a lucky amateur photographer dangling a Nikon from my neck.

My legs are still super sore by the way. My shins hurt real bad too lol, but it was totally worth it and I would 1000% do it again.

Here’s a video of us recorded on my iPhone 8 Plus on our way down to show you real time sky colors. Don’t mind us, we were rushing back to the car because it was getting colder by the minute.

“She knew she loved him when home went from being a place to being a person.”

E. Leventhal

BUDAKIRKJA

We’ve all seen it at one point or another on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook. The famous black church that was seemingly dropped in the middle of Iceland amidst a beautiful backdrop. Let me just say, pictures do not do this area justice.

Búðakirkja is located just off Road #54 in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. And this area has some of the best scenery! Even when driving there we were greeted by Bjarnarfoss well before arriving. It demanded attention with it’s massive size and I snapped this picture from the passenger seat.

I can’t help but to also see trolls hardened into the surrounding rocks guarding such beauty. Up until this point I wasn’t really a believer. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula convinced me otherwise.

When we arrived at the small lot adjacent to the church there was only one other vehicle in the area. Luckily for us, they took a few pictures and started on the trail into the lava field past the cemetery.

Being limited on time, we were only going to briefly admire the church and surrounding mountains before moving on to the next stop. After all, this church and I are the same age so we weren’t really in the presence of a relic lol.

From that same parking lot, don’t forget to look behind you. Just look at these landscapes! It’s impressive how massive they are while also being accessible.

You could easily hike to this waterfall from a parking lot located at the base.

Leaving the church behind us we continued driving to Snæfellsjökull National Park.

And then soon after that we stopped again. It was a “you had to be there” kind of situation. If you would have been one of the six individuals in our car you would have seen this in person. I swear! This horse was posing for me. Moving more than it’s neighboring pals (pictured below) who were all butts to the wind, and just giving me all sorts of piercing looks. Ask anyone that was there!

Of all the animals I photographed on this trip, this guy right here is my favorite 🙂 Bird and all lol.

There is no more sagacious animal than the Icelandic horse. He is stopped by neither snow, nor storm, nor impassable roads, nor rocks, glaciers, or anything. He is courageous, sober, and surefooted

Jules Verne

KIRKJUFELL

Any self respecting Game of Thrones fan would know that Kirkjufell is a must see when visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We were lucky to find an inexpensive Airbnb that was right on the water. From our Airbnb we could see Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss, circled below.

[Sidebar: If you are new to Airbnb and would like a discount on your first stay, please use my link HERE. If you’re already a member and would like to book the same Airbnb, click HERE.]

Iceland as an entity, as a whole, is chock-full of beautiful backgrounds and breath taking landscapes. I would randomly take pictures of my sister and no matter where I did that, it was a beautifully detailed Icelandic background. However, with social media exposing locations at an all time high, the serenity of it all has been lost in the more touristic spots. If you’re a reader, then you know I prefer hard to reach places. It was hard to fight my urge to avoid tourist while wanting to fan girl GOT filming sites.

So we parked at the lot seen below. We watched the desperation of drivers trying to find a spot to place their rentals. I even lost my cool myself when someone tried to skip the line and take my spot! Then we got out of the car to find that the walkway was flooded (see red arrow below). That forced us and everyone else to walk uphill on the road to get around the flooded area. I didn’t know at the time, but there is a new parking lot up the road. It’s much larger and can save you some time waiting for a spot. And more importantly, save your sanity.

I want to give you realistic expectations when visiting Kirkjufell. This picture below has 5 people poorly edited out of the shot. So if you want the place to yourself, I would recommend getting up before sunrise. And even then I cannot guarantee you’ll have the place to yourself considering this was off peak season. But good luck!

You’ll have people who don’t care about the railings and climb over them to get their “perfect” shot. These same people are the ones that will most likely be in your shots too. Patience is key in these situations!

Here’s what it actually looks like:

The person in the red jacket didn’t move once the whole time we were there. So frustrating!

And here’s what it’s like when the trail has flooded: The people walking up the road will also be in your shots lol.

If you give up trying to capture both the waterfall and the mountain in one shot (and you wait patiently) you can get a nice group shot with just your friends and Kirkjufell in the background. And at the end of the day, isn’t it really just about traveling with close ones and making memories? Looking at these pictures brought a smile to my face, other tourists and all lol.

As for the Game of Thrones reference: Kirkjufell can be seen in S6 Ep5, S7 Ep1, S7 Ep6. I would post an image here but as a newbie blogger, I’d like to avoid copyright infringement 😉

Overall here are my thoughts on Kirkjufell. It’s certainly an odd shaped distinguishable mountain. Is it worth going to Kirkjufellsfoss to see the waterfall and mountain in one shot? Probably not. Simply because the mountain can be viewed from different angles on road #54 and there are waterfalls everywhere in Iceland.

However, the next time I’m in that area I’d like to hike Kirkjufell. Now that’s a view I wouldn’t mind sharing!

Iceland, I’m in love with that country, the people are incredible.”

Kit Harington

SELVALLAFOSS

Selvallafoss, also known as Sheep’s Waterfall, is located off of Road #56. It’s a lesser known waterfall you can walk behind. Surprisingly when we got there only one other car was in the lot. There are picnic tables to help you spot the area and trailhead. I’m using the word trailhead loosely here because it took us less than five minutes to find it and the loop we did isn’t the most difficult.

The GPS coordinates for the parking lot are: 64°56’29.9″N 22°54’15.7″W. In the picture below you can see the worn trail to the left just above the left-most pillar.

Stay on the path from the picnic area for a couple of minutes. Enjoy the views, there are mountains in every direction. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling with family, you’ll spot some crazies too!

As you approach the waterfall, the sound of rushing water will get louder. Follow the sound and find the waterfall to your left.

Don’t be afraid to explore the different paths in the area. There are some great photo opportunities within short walking distances. Just remember to be careful as the rocks, mud and moss make the area very slippery. You can walk to the foreground to capture the tiers as my cousin did below.

You can also walk behind the waterfall all the way to the other side. Standing next to this waterfall gets really loud. Even standing where I was in the picture below I was getting wet from the mist of the falls. A waterproof jacket is perfect here if you’re crossing to the other side behind the falls.

Fair warning though, there is VERY low clearance on the other side of the falls. And it is extremely muddy. Do not wear shoes you do not wish to have covered in mud. My cousin can be seen crossing at the beginning of the video below.

Once all six of us made it to the other safely, we continued following the trail for a couple of minutes.

We made a hard left off the trail and climbed to the top of the hill. Essentially climbing to the top of the waterfall. This portion of the hike didn’t seem like it, but was very steep.

We followed the water up stream to the road and crossed back over. Below you can see Jessica in her beige jacket leading the group to the road. I prefer to do loops than in and out hikes. So this was a perfect way to get back to our rental car.

Here’s an amazing panoramic image of the area while we were trying to figure out which way to get back to the car.

Overall I would say that if you’re in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula this is a great spot to add to your itinerary. In the small amount of time we were there, we didn’t encounter many other tourists. We freely enjoyed the waterfall and didn’t have to break out into a hardcore hike sweat session to get back to the car. All in all, a wonderful waterfall option!

I have fantasies of going to Iceland, never to return.

Edward Gorey

GERDUBERG CLIFFS

I can’t explain why, but I get true pleasure looking at naturally forming geometric shapes. Maybe it has something to do with my semester studying and implementing Fibonacci’s theory into my work. Or maybe because I enjoy predictable patterns… Regardless, these cliffs are oddly satisfying.

Standing at the base, there are moments where I can almost “see” the cliffs crumbling as they lean forward. The portions that have already fallen seem to be rolling downhill. And for a moment I believed the stillness of it all meant they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But sitting on a rock at the top of the cliffs, it shifted under my weight. It was a quick reminder that nothing on this earth lasts forever. A reminder to see as much as I can and enjoy it while it’s there.

The Gerðuberg Cliffs (or Gerduberg Basalt Columns) are located just off of Snæfellsnesvegur (Road #54). You can see them on your right as you approach the entrance to the dirt road. They are very unassuming and easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The GPS coordinates for the dirt road turn off are 64.846546, -22.368966.

We arrived in a low ground clearance minivan fully loaded with luggage and 6 adults. I wouldn’t worry about the dirt road all too much on a dry day. As you can see below, it’s pretty well packed with some expected potholes. I can’t speak for what the terrain is like after it’s rained heavily and would advise you proceed with caution. After driving on the dirt road for a few minutes you’ll find a small parking lot to the right.

Great minds think alike

Walking up the steep path like so many others have done previously, you get an idea of how tall the cliffs actually are. Below you can see the worn path with a three rock scramble at the top. If you find this area to be too steep, simply walk around to the left where the cliffs level out. It’s a longer walk but an option for someone who is not too keen on possibly sliding on some mud.

At the top you have views for miles.

Below I’m sitting on the rock I previously mentioned that shifts. The moss also makes climbing these rock formations precarious. Please use caution when attempting to get close to the edge. Safety is more important than “doing it for the gram.”

Our way down was interesting. The mud made for some slippery moves and that caused the whole group to laugh the whole way down.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll see plenty of sheep all along the dirt road when leaving.

The thing about Iceland is that we are trapped there anyway, all of us. We have been trapped there for thousands of years.”

Baltasar Kormakur

GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN

INTRO

What do you do when you have a free weekend in North Carolina? You brainstorm in a group chat with your cousins. One of your cousins will come up with the amazing idea to hike Grandfather Mountain. I saw one picture online and was immediately convinced!

So I landed at 9am in Charlotte. A car with 3 female cousins pulls up full of snacks, water, excitement and fear (more on that later). The drive from Charlotte airport to Grandfather Mountain takes over 2 hours when you stop for gas and pee breaks midway. Long enough to feel away but close enough to not need a hotel room if you live in Charlotte.

We were fine until we stepped out of the car. Not only was it a lot chillier than Charlotte, but the thunder was audible in the distance. I had asked the young lady at the entrance kiosk what time the rain was supposed to hit the mountain. She said 5pm and I thought that would be plenty of time to go up and back (assuming the rain didn’t come down earlier).

The lot attendants informed us that hikers park in the Black Rock parking lot. As you can see, the lot had plenty of cars when we arrived at 12:30pm.

HIKE

GPS: 36.095083, -81.829623

TIME: 5H

LENGTH: 3 MILES RT

ELEVATION:  5,964 ft

FEE: $22 PP

It’s hard to miss the sign pointing the way up. None of us had been here before and we weren’t counting on the extra .4 mile hike to the start of Grandfather Trail. But thems the rules!

It’s an unmarked trail, but very easy to follow. Many of the stones having been placed like “stairs,” which makes the walk easier. You’ll soon come across the bridge. And very soon after that the parking lot.

If you need facilities or want to buy a magnet to prove you came to see grandpa, this is the time to do it. Trust me, you won’t want to do anything after hiking the mountain. You’ll cross the parking lot and see this sign:

You’ll need the color/make/model/plate number of your car to fill out the permit. And take special notice of the “return to your vehicle by 6:00pm.” This is important so a search party isn’t sent out for you. We were on our way up, and the view from over my shoulder includes the mile high swinging bridge, the upper parking lot, and Linville Peak on the right.

Follow the blue trail markers the whole way up.

When you get to “The Patio” there are wooden benches and a nice view to take in. Yup, that’s where we were hiking to, MacRae Peak. This is a good place to drink some water and catch your breath!

We came across the Grandfather Trail sign and continued hiking the blue blazed trail until we reached Grandfather Gap. This is another awesome spot to stop for snacks and water.

After our break we came across what looked like a rope on the trail. I had read about the 9 or so ladders and was just finding out about the cable. It’s meant to assist your ascent, especially if you’re wearing sneakers.

When you’re done with the cable, you’ll meet the first of nine ladders on the blue trail. The nine ladders include the final one you’ll need to climb to summit MacRae Peak. You can see that one of the ladders (second ladder) is tucked between two large rock formations. You’ll walk slanted to reach that one, and find a cable at the top to assist you. I won’t undersell the ladders, they are difficult. They are spaced wider than your average ladder and can be found next to very exposed sides of the mountain. If you’re afraid of heights like my cousin, I would avoid looking down! I saw the look of fear pass through our little group a couple of times. HOWEVER, I wouldn’t deter you from attempting the climb. One of my cousins had never been hiking before and was able to complete the climb (so proud!) without dying quitting.

Here’s an awesome pano I took while waiting for the hiker traffic to pass atop one of the ladders.

And as we continued to hike the blue trail I spotted a ladder in the distance. It’s at the bottom-center of the picture below. I didn’t know at the time but I was looking at the only ladder on the Underwood Trail. That ladder would round us out to 10 ladders total for the day.

Finally! MACRAE PEAK!

Just kidding lol, there’s another ladder first (ladder #9).

Ok, now I can say it…

MACRAE PEAK!!!

We took so many pictures up there. But one of my favorites is this one. I had made it to the clouds. The 360 degree view was nice and the snacks were totally welcomed.

Views? Check! Time to hike down? Yup! We continued past MacRae Peak into the saddle and found a cable heading down on the blue trail.

We made a left at the Underwood Trail to make a loop out of our hike. It’s a great way to avoid lines at the ladders as well.

And here’s the 10th ladder I had seen in the distance a while back.

The Underwood Trail dumps you back onto Grandfather Trail for a little bit. We made a right in the direction of the swinging bridge. At the next junction we hopped onto the Grandfather Trail Extension, which by-passes the swinging bridge. We were cutting it close and needed to be back to the car by 6:00pm.

We got to the car at 5:58pm and we were exhausted. Luckily we didn’t get rained on and we were back unscathed.

Truth be told, we were drawn to the park because of the swinging bridge. But after conquering MacRae Peak, none of us cared to walk up to it. Maybe next time we’ll get there earlier and cross the bridge, buy some magnets and make it all the way to Calloway 🙂

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” — Lucille Ball 

$5 FLIGHTS

DISCLAIMER: I am not getting compensated by Delta or American Express for this post. I’m simply sharing one of my methods for inexpensive travel. And if you’re interested or find this post useful, all I ask is that you use my link. Thank you!

I’ll leave this right here lol. AMEX LINK, CLICK ME!

So if you’ve ever been with me and watched me pay for something, it’s highly likely you saw me pull out a gold credit card. I use this bad boy to pay for everything. Food? Yes. Bills? Yes. Shopping? Duh! Have a large purchase you’ve been holding off on? Apply for the card and get a flight out of it!

When I applied for my Gold Amex I needed to spend $2000 in 2 months in order to receive my 50,000 free miles. And an extra $1000 to receive 60,000 free miles in 3 months. The rewards change depending on the promotion they’re running, so I would make sure you’re getting at least 50,000.

Here’s a list of the benefits I personally use:

  • 1 mile earned for every dollar spent
  • 2 miles earned for every dollar spent on Delta
  • 1st checked bag free (I use this all the time)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Amex offers

The Amex Offers are basically coupons you can activate on your account. Sometimes they seem insignificant but they can add up. I saved enough to cover my $95 annual membership fee. Yes, there’s an annual fee. But if you’re a savvy shopper like me, you’ll make that money back and then some in no time.

Screenshot of the 7 most recent offers redeemed.

I have had my Gold American Express card since 2016. So far I have used it for the following travels:

 Points Redeemed Destination
RT25,500LAS
RT25,500LAS
OW30,000BCN
OW30,000BCN
OW25,000RDU

I’ve paid about $5.50 in taxes for each flight. So technically it’s not 100% free, but close enough!

These benefits are by no means the only ones. This post is just highlighting the ones I take advantage of most. Again, if you’re interested or found this helpful and will be applying for the card, please use my link below. Also, don’t hesitate to ask questions, I would be happy to help as best I can!

Gold American Express referral link