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May 2018

Destination Dubai 1024 683 Chase Jennings

Destination Dubai

It’s just after midnight in Dubai, U.A.E., and my driver, a young Emirati named Omar, just made a sharp right turn off the highway. “Shortcut,” Omar tells me. We’re driving north from Dubai International Airport to the seaside emirate Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) and all I can see out the passenger side window, save for the occasional factory and camel farm, are vast swathes of desert that surround us. “OK,” I said. Not that I had much say in the matter.

Thirty minutes of desolately dark desert road later, our destination, Waldorf Ras Al Khaimah came into view. A colossal oasis shining so bright I wouldn’t be surprised if you could see it from the reaches of outer space. Pulling in to the grand Porte Cochère, it soon became clear that this was not only reminiscent of the palace in my Arabian desert dreams, it was actually designed to embody the look and feel of one.

Walking inside the grand foyer, a large open atrium with sand and sea inspired colors and décor, a nod to the properties windswept sand dunes and Arabian Seaside surroundings were only secondary to the 20-foot grand lobby clock. Designed to honor the regional Arabic culture, the clocks dials include the five daily prayer times and is inscribed with a traditional Bedouin poem “From your homeland travel abroad to find glory,” around its circumference.

With a total of 346 rooms, I made my way to the third floor where my one-bedroom sea-view suite was waiting and didn’t waste any time ordering a glass of red wine and a club sandwich from room service before sliding my balcony door open and letting the sound of ocean waves crashing against the shoreline lull me to sleep.

The next morning I put on my most modest floor-length maxi dress and made my way down to Azure—a Mediterranean inspired breakfast buffet when I was immediately struck by something. A woman in a cut-off tank top and shorts, standing behind another woman in a fuchsia bathing-suit and polka-dot sarong. This was not the “modest attire” I was expecting to see in U.A.E. I soon learned, RAK, unlike it’s emirate counterparts, is known for its relaxed, easy going ways. Because of it’s proximity to nearby Hajar mountains, local hot-springs, Bedouin camp sites and thousands of acres of desert where dune-bashing, a colloquialism for off-roading, and sand surfing have become popular pastimes, it’s only recently that RAK has firmly established itself as a premier adventure-seeker destination, with all the modern luxuries and over the top elegance you would expect to find in U.A.E of course.

I spent the next four days both off, but mostly on property. One of several five-star hotels in the area, with nine bars, lounges and restaurants, including my personal favorite Marjan—a stylish Middle Eastern eatery serving up local specialties including camel and reindeer meat, destination spa complete with a variety of steam and herbal sauna rooms, as well as my personal favorite amenity—pillow service menu, not to mention heated pools, water sports and 18-hole golf course, this really is seaside luxury at its finest. Even if you do have to trek through a dark desert road to get there.

Where to Eat, Drink & Stay in Reyjkavik 1024 683 Chase Jennings

Where to Eat, Drink & Stay in Reyjkavik

Canopy by Hilton
Centrally located on Hverfisgata Street in the heart of downtown Reyjkavik, Canopy by Hilton opened last year and is Icelands answer to boutique modern luxury. Surrounded by iconic attractions including Laugavegur, a street known for its shopping, eateries, and pubs, Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Center, as well as Old Reykjavik Harbor, which offers incredible views of Mount Esja and the landmark Hallgrimskirkja church, complimentary artisanal breakfast buffet, complimentary tastings of local beverages and canapés and bicycles for exploring the city are available.

Restaurants

Baejarins Bezty Pylsur
Everyone from Kim Kardashian to Bill Clinton and Madonna has tried the Baejarins Bezty Pylsur famous hot dogs. Be sure to order “the works” or “eina með öllu” in Icelandic which comes with a sweet yellow mustard, raw and fried onions, and a brownish mayonnaise-based remoulade with sweet relish.

Café Loki
Located directly across from Hallgrímskirkja Church, Café Loki is a perennially popular spot mongst locals and tourists alike. It’s also one of the best places to try some of Iceland’s delicacies including hákarl, fermented shark fin that’s as local as it is pungent, rye bread served with chunks of hand churned butter and meat soup.

Tapas Barinn
Smoked puffin with blueberry ‘brennivin’ sauce, langoustine in garlic sauce and minke whale, are just a few of specialties on offer at Tapas Barinn. It’s a casual affair here with some of the best eats in town. Whatever you do, don’t miss trying the succulent Icelandic lamb, some of the best in town.

Best Bars

Kaffibarinn
A perennial favorite in Reykjavik, Kaffibarrin is most recognizable by its London underground logo. As quaint and cozy as it is casual, this candlit local is a popular spot to try a pint of beer and enjoy a slice of Reykjavik nightlife.

Micro Bar
Craft beer is having a major moment in Reykjavik right now and Micro Bar has some of the best local brews in town.

48 Perfect Hours in Iceland 1024 683 Chase Jennings

48 Perfect Hours in Iceland

If it seems like everyone and their mom has been to Iceland these days, that’s because they have. And for good reason. From the country’s picture-perfect landscapes, ethereal lava fields and geothermal natural hot springs, roadside waterfalls and gushing geysers, Iceland is well deserving of its proverbial ‘hotspot’ title.

Even Hollywood royalty has even cashed in on the trend of late. Who can forget the plunging bathing suits and selfie toting Kardashian clan take a dip into the Blue Lagoon when they were there last year. Or Justin Bieber’s tighty-whitey polar plunge into glacial waters in his music video ‘I’ll Show You.’ Most recently, it was reported that the cast of Game of Thrones was seen filming on the black sand beaches in Southern Iceland.

As glamourous as it all sounds, this portrait of perfection wasn’t always the case. In 2008, Iceland at its core was rocked by a massive economic recession that left the country close to bankruptcy. The hits kept on coming in 2010 when a volcanic eruption of epic proportion stunted international air traffic for nearly a week.

Today that seems all but a distant memory thanks in large part to Iceland’s Tourism Board who together with Wow Air and Icelandair are offering some of the most competitive flight deals in the friendly skies. Most notably, Wow Air was the first airline to release $69 one-way transatlantic flights. Comparably, Icelandair’s stopover program allows you to take a free ‘layover in Iceland for up to seven days.

A word to the wise. While flights may be cheap, Iceland itself is not necessarily a budget friendly destination so it’s best plan accordingly. From puffin and bird watching in the East to the black beaches of the South and whale watching in the North there’s a lot to choose from depending on your interests and the time of year. For the uninitiated, this itinerary will help get you started.

Day 1 –Reyjkavik

It’s roughly a 40-minute drive from Keflavik International Airport (KEF) to Reykjavik and depending on your schedule, at 2500 ISK ($22USD) the Flybus, is by far the economical option. You can check the schedule here but Flybus run daily every :45 or :15 minutes on the hour and for an extra $4.50 you can even arrange to have it drop you off directly at your hotel. If you’re planning a self-guided tour of the Golden Circle (more on this later) car rentals are available at the airport and parking lots are well marked in Reykjavik. Cabs are also on hand however they are by far the most expensive option and range in price from $120-160 USD.

Another option, depending on what time you land, is to book a transfer through The Blue Lagoon. One of Iceland’s most popular attractions, you can book directly through their website or make arrangements once you land. Due to the lagoon’s close proximity to KEF, this is a good way to spend a relaxing couple of hours soaking in the geothermal hot springs when you land.

Check In

Centrally located on Hverfisgata Street in the heart of downtown Reyjkavik, Canopy by Hilton opened last year and is everything your boutique luxury dreams when in Iceland are made of. Surrounded by iconic attractions including Laugavegur, a street known for its shopping, eateries, and pubs, Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Center, and Reykjavik Harbor, a complimentary artisanal breakfast buffet, tastings of local drinks and canapés and bicycles are all available completely gratis.

If you’re looking for something a bit more budget friendly, housed just outside of the downtown area in a former biscuit factory, Kex Hostel is nestled nicely along Reykjavik Harbor. While the rooms are relatively basic, the stellar views of Mount Esja, on-site gastropub, art gallery, gym and hair salon make this easily one of the best bangs for your buck in Iceland.

Explore Reykjavik

Home to 120,000 people (roughly two-thirds of country’s total population) Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik is not only one of the smallest capital’s in the world, but it’s also one of the most charming. Downtown Reykjavik is where most of the shops, bars restaurants and boutiques are concentrated, mainly along Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur streets.
A great place to start your walk is around beautiful Reykjavik harbor, once the lifeblood of fishing and commerce in Iceland. Make your way towards City Hall. Conveniently located downtown on Reykjavik Harbor, City Hall features a small art gallery and information desk as well as a 3D map of Iceland which features geographical points of interest including the locations of both active and dormant volcanoes, mountains, craters, fjords and glaciers.

Lunch at Loki

For a truly local Icelandic lunch experience, head to Café Loki. Located on the top of Lokastígur street, directly across from Hallgrímskirkja cathedral, Loki’s locally baked rye bread, jams and cakes along with their traditional meat soup and Icelandic plate options are some of the best in town.

Take me to church

Perhaps Reykjavik’s most notable landmark, Hallgrímskirkja Church is a national monument dedicated to the most renowned poet of Iceland, Hallgrimur Petursson. Among the church’s most notable features is the 50-foot tall pipe organ designed and constructed by German organ builder Johannes Klais. Climb to the top or take the elevator up for amazing views of the city from the Church’s observation tower.

Dinner

Dinner at Dill is the hottest ticket in town of late. Recently earning Iceland its first Michelin star, popular dishes here include the arctic char, langoustine and organic lamb and pork belly.

Bar Hopping

Reykjavik’s nightlife is not to be missed. Located along a side street off the main drag, Kaffibarinn is one of the best places to get a bit of local flavor. Most recognizable by the London Underground logo adorning its red façade, this bar is as dark and cozy as it is casual. Word to the wise, this is most definitely a beer bar and while there are cocktails on offer the menu is limited.

If you’re looking to kick things up a notch, Loftid is one of the trendiest spots to see and be seen in Reykjavik. With an assortment of high-priced cocktails, whiskey drinks and beer, there is a dress code to imbibe here.

End your night like a local at Islenski Barinn. Literally translated to Icelandic Bar, this bona fide locals spot offers a wide variety of locally produced beers including Gull, Einstok, Kaldi and Borg, as well as a curated menu of local offerings including traditional meat soup, fin whale and fermented shark.

Late night snacks
Something of a right of passage when traveling to Iceland are Baejarins Bezty Pylsur famous hot dogs. Be sure to order “the works” which comes with a sweet yellow mustard, raw and fried onions, and a brownish mayonnaise-based remoulade with sweet relish.

Day 2 – Road Trip to The Golden Circle

There’s no better way to see and experience some of the best Iceland has to offer than taking a drive through Iceland’s Golden Circle. While you could easily spend two of three days doing this trek alone, it is very doable to see some of Iceland’s greatest hits including the black sand beaches of Vik, Gullfoss waterfall and the hot springs and fumaroles in Pingvellir National Park in a single day. Word to the wise, there’s a lot to discover along this route and driving times may vary depending on weather conditions.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls

With hundreds of waterfalls scattered across the country, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss just off Iceland’s Ring Road are not only two of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, but they are both conveniently located just off the Ring Road. While some of you might recognize Seljalandsfoss from Justin Biebers music video “I’ll Show You,” what really make it so unique is that you can actually walk in a cave behind the falls. It’s worth the vantage point, however just be prepared to get wet, especially if the winds pick up. Continuing along the Ring Road, you will probably see the hoards of people before you see Skógafoss waterfall itself. After Gullfoss, it’s probably one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland.

Black Sand Beach in Vik

With miles upon miles of beautiful black sand beaches, jagged coastal cliffs and remarkable rock formations in the middle of piercing blue ocean, Reynisfjara black sand beach is truly something that needs to be seen to be believed. Located on the Southernmost point of Iceland just outside of Vik, Reynisfjara black sand beach is as beautiful as it is windy so be prepared with an extra set of layers.

Lunch in Vik

There’s not a wide variety of restaurants to choose from in Vik, in fact the restaurants you will find will mostly be filled with other visitors like yourself. Sudur Vik is a good option if you’re eager to sit and take a breather. Don’t miss the soup of the day with homemade bread and pan fried local char served with sunflower seeds and potatoes on the side.

Drive to Gullfoss Waterfall

The drive from Vik to Gullfoss Waterfall is just under 2 ½ hours. If you do want to stop or if you’re eager to learn a little bit more about Iceland’s agriculture, it’s well worth a visit to Solheimar Ecovillage along the way.

Gullfoss, or Golden Falls is not only the largest waterfall in Iceland, it’s one of the most impressive waterfalls in the world. With thousands of tons of icy water thundering into the deep canyon below, is not to be missed on your Golden Circle drive.

Thingvellir National Park

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with numerous hot springs, fumaroles and geysers, Pingvellir National Park is not only a remarkable geological site, it’s a historic site as well. Home to the oldest existing parliament in the world dating back to 930 AD, from here it’s only a short drive to the geyser area where you can see Iceland’s most famous strokkur geyser sprout up to 30 feet of water.

Check in

Not far from Thingvellir National Park and nestled among lava fields and a now dormant volcano, Ion Adventure Hotel is the perfect place to post up after a long day of sightseeing. Take a much-deserved dip in the hotel’s outdoor pool followed by a steam and possibly indulge in a spa treatment at the aptly named Lava Spa.

Dinner

Dinner at Silfra Restaurant & Bar which serves up a nice variety of new Nordic cuisine with highlights including lazed lamb shank, cauliflower, grilled scallions, mustard glaze or the steamed Cod served with cabbage, roasted onions and creamy mustard sauce.
After dinner, grab a drink or two at the Northern Lights bar to round out the day is a must.

Lights Out.

Day 3

Check Out

From Ion there are a number of activities at your fingertips. One of the most unique you can choose from in Iceland is snorkeling the Silfra fissure. Float through four distinct areas including Big Crack, Silfra Hall, Thingvallavatn and Silfra Cathedral. Tours are offered year-round and this is a not to be missed activity in Iceland.

If you’d prefer to stay on dry(ish) land, glacier treks and ice caves are one of the most interesting way’s to experience the true meaning of Iceland. It’s highly advised to book these activities in advance of your travels however it is possible to book directly through the hotel as well.

Spa Time

You’ve had an active morning and an afternoon at the spa is well deserved. Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths is the perfect place to spend the day soaking in one of Iceland’s most picturesque hot springs. Just note, you need to bring a bathing suit and towel otherwise they are available for rent.

Lunch at the world’s only geothermal bakery is an experience you definitely don’t want to miss. This area is rife with geothermal hot springs and you can even try bread that’s been baked underground on property at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have a few extra days..

Home to Viðelmir cave, the largest lava tube in Iceland, Kirkjufell or ‘Church Mountain,’ and Langjökull Europe‘s second largest glacier where, as of 2015 visitors can see and explore the glacier from the inside through a series of man-made ice cave and tunnels, there’s a lot to see and do in Iceland’s western region.
One not to be missed experience is a boat ride out to Breiðafjörður bay in the West of Iceland between Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords. Puffin colonies are prominent in this location and the scenery is amazing.

Or, Go North

Dubbed the capital of the Shining North, Akureyri is the biggest town outside of Reykjavik. A good base for exploring North Iceland, go whale watching, relax in hot geothermal pools or play on the northernmost 18-hole golf course in the world. Less than an hour’s drive visitors can reach Goðafoss waterfall, Lake Mývatn, the Nature Baths and the islands of Hrísey and Grímsey.

Tel Aviv 1024 683 Chase Jennings

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is a city very much in transition. A mosaic of cultures, religions and influences, for a city of around 450,000 people according to a 2015 poll, this modern Middle Eastern metropolis is as varied and diverse today as the buildings and architecture that have preceded it.

But I didn’t really know all of that prior to my latest visit. I was invited to Israel this past March courtesy of The Israel Ministry of Tourism primarily to celebrate Purim—a raucous carnival–like holiday in which thousands of young party-going Israelis dressed head to toe in costumes (this year’s unofficial theme was unicorns) take to the streets, and bars, to drink, dance and celebrate, something. Why exactly Purim is such a raucous drinking holiday was never totally made clear. But that’s beside the point. It’s good fun and people are happy, so why ask too many questions. Just imagine the level of craziness that ensues in New Orleans around Mardi Gras meets the revelry of Halloween. That kind of crazy.

While Purim certainly provided a unique perspective into the pervasively popular nightlife scene in Tel Aviv, it was seeing this urban metropolis and just how incredibly much it’s expanded over the years that’s really the big story here. You see this actually wasn’t my first time to Israel. I was here ten years ago, almost to the day on a Birthright trip that left me wanting to learn more than how much alcohol my body could physically weather before passing out only to wake up again the next morning only to do it all again for ten days straight. Sure, I learned a few things too, but that was really the biggest takeaway.

In the years since I last visited, Tel Aviv has exploded both economically and culturally. And, to be fair, I’ve done a bit of growing up too.

Tel Aviv—which is referred to as ‘The White City’ due to the consortium of some 4,000 Bauhaus style buildings erected across the in the 1930’s—has not only broadened its architectural horizons over the years, it’s expanded, and there no better evidence of this than seeing it through the lens of some of the city’s most historic hotels, many of which I had a chance to visit while I was in town last.

Talking Travel With Samantha Brown 1024 590 Chase Jennings

Talking Travel With Samantha Brown

Over her tenure as TV’s most loveable travel show host, whether she’s dressing up head to toe in geisha attire to attend a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto or donning bright yellow waders to harvest oysters for lunch in Galway Bay, nobody knows how to embrace the spirit of travel quite like Samantha Brown.

After a two-year hiatus, today, the 47-year-old mother of four-and-half year-old twins Ellis and Elizabeth is back with her new show Places To Love on PBS.

“It’s the show that I’ve always wanted to do, but without the constraints,” Brown told me when we sat down with her last June. “I’ve always wanted to do a show based on what I’ve learned in travel and what I’ve learned is that every destination has a soul whether it’s a huge metropolis or a small village.”

In one part of the pilot episode which aired this January, Brown kicked things off in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York where she schmoozes with vendors at Prospect Parks beloved Smorgasburg trying everything from jelly Raindrop Cakes to a Pakistani version of a lentil cheeseburger and chicken mole nacho’s.

“What I’m not doing is an itinerary show,” Brown said. “It’s more about the journey and there’s more of a story behind everything and everyone we meet along the way.”

According to Brown, each 30-minute episode will have a strong focus on the people she meets in cities around the globe while highlighting culturally enriching moments from foods that define a city to historical landmarks.

“When it comes to travel, I’m always looking to have those moments that really connects me with a place or a person,” Brown said. “There are number of ways to do that, but perhaps my biggest piece of advice is to go for a walk. Go down streets because you think they look good, sit in cafes you haven’t heard of or haven’t been talked about, they don’t have to be on Trip Advisor. Go where people live and those moments start to happen where people treat you like you’re one of them and there’s a really wonderful feeling where you’re like huh, ‘I’m not an intruder, I’m not an observer, I’m actually a part of this’ and it’s your moment too.”

While Places to Love is very much Brown’s baby, it’s also a family endeavor. Her husband and the show’s producer Kevin O’Leary travels with her often as do her two young twins Ellis and Elizabeth. How does she do? Brown shared her one fail safe trick to the trade.

“My little trick is that we board (the plane) last, Brown said. “So the pre-board, my husband goes in with all the gear and sets up shop, secures the overhead bin space with car seats while I wait until the very last person gets on the plane so now were not subjected to the most stressful part of the entire trip which is the boarding process. No one likes that, I don’t like that, people have bags going over their heads you have announcements being made, people are stressed and little kids can feel that stress they absorb it, then they let it out.”

As far as what the future holds, Brown says she hopes people will love and connect with Places To Love. “I hope people love it, and that they’re happy to see me in a different role,” Brown said. “Nothing gives me more joy as when a 22-year old woman comes up to me and says ‘you know when I was ten-years old I watched you all the time, you were the one who said I could travel because you were the only woman.’ Now I’m traveling and now I’m still doing this because there really isn’t another woman doing it right now.”

The Truth About Being a Travel Writer Michelle Gross 1024 683 Chase Jennings

The Truth About Being a Travel Writer Michelle Gross

When I tell people what I do for a living it’s often met with one of two reactions. The first, and something I hear more and more these days is “Oh! I love to travel and I’ve always wanted to be a travel writer, how can I do it?” I literally get this question all the time. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great meeting likeminded people who share a love and passion for travel, so it’s not something I take personally or am offended by. Yes, I get how looking at my Insta or Facebook can seem like it’s all sunshine and pina colada’s on the beach for these perfect #instaready moments. But here’s the reality: it’s not all sunshine and sugary drinks. It’s working seven days a week, sometimes on long bus rides or wherever you can grab free Wi-Fi on the road, at weird hours, pitching, following up on pitching, writing. More pitching. It comes with a fair share of rejection, egos, flight delays and long layovers, missing friend’s birthdays and special occasions. Those things don’t make my IG feed though. They would be sad and frankly not sexy and no one wants to see that. All that said, being a travel writer is, in my opinion a tremendous privilege and something I wouldn’t trade or change for a second. It’s fun and crazy and exhausting and a constant roller coaster of emotions that lets you travel and eat and experience people and places that you may not otherwise be able to. I love it, highs and lows, smiles and cries.

That was what I told Anabella Brito, a Freshman at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida when she interviewed me recently. Anabella said she was interested in becoming a journalist and wanted to know if I had any advice or insight that I could share. I was on the road at the moment but asked her to email me her questions and I’d see what I could do. She sent over a few questions: ‘What drove you to become a journalist,’ ‘what’s something you weren’t expecting that comes with the job,’ and ‘what advice could you give to where it is I haven’t had the chance to go but would like to.’ All of Anabella’s questions are good ones and I spent a fair amount of time crafting my response to her. I’m also still on a journey of self-discovery and while I don’t have it all figured out just yet, I do know that I love and am so passionate about my job, and I hope that this site will be a space for me to share my travels more candidly and