The Schengen Area. Ever heard of it? As much as your brain wants to associate it with Japan, it actually makes up most of Europe. And if you’ve thought about traveling across the pond for an extended period of time, it’s something you should be familiar with.
The Schengen Area comprises 26 member states that have officially ceased an operational border control between each country. Expanding its zone since, the Schengen Agreement occurred 33 years ago in Schengen, Luxembourg for the purposes of creating a sole jurisdiction for country-to-country travel, with a uniform visa approach. Currently, all but 6 of the EU countries are members, with the exceptions being Cyprus, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Ireland, and the UK. In addition, 4 non-EU participants, in Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland, also abide by its role.(http://biblio.ucv.ro/bib_web/bib_pdf/EU_books/0056.pdf)
“So what’s the big deal?” you might ask. Well, depending on your nationality, you might need an initial visa to be admitted into the Area, unless you’re from North America, which for these purposes, we’re going to assume that you are. So don’t worry about that commencing visa, North Americans! BUT, take heed, as a carefree jaunt between the many wonderful European-outposts may quantify into a very unfortunate situation down the road.
When we spent a month in England (picture in front of Buckingham Palace) & Scotland, we thought our time started over for Schengen (since the UK is not part of it), not realizing that it counts your time over 180 days; so our time in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Belgium all added to our total days in the Schengen Zone
Under Schengen policy, no outside traveler is to extend his or her stay over the allotted 90 days within a half-year period. In other words, you have a 3-month total stay over a 6-month duration inside any of the Schengen countries. We know, you were told there would be no math, but please bear with us…so, if you initially flew into France and remained for 2 weeks, visited England and Ireland for another 2 weeks, then went over and stayed in Italy for a month, you would be roughly halfway through your allotted time you could stay, as England and Ireland don’t count towards your total. You would then have about 45 days within the Area, spread over another 4 months, if you so chose. There are, though, a long-stay visa and residency permit options you could apply for in advance (see bottom link for more details).
When planning your European trip, especially if you think there’s a possibility of being there a while, be cognizant of the landscape and know exactly what countries are represented in the Zone (which are most) and neighboring states that don’t adhere to it. In addition to the UK and Ireland, another nearby country we visited was Morocco, which obviously isn’t part of Schengen, as it’s located in Africa. Thanks to our time spent in these states, we were able to sneak under our time allowed with a few days to spare (we unwisely weren’t aware of the Schengen duration-limitations until about halfway through our trip).
So what happens if I’m a few days over my 90-day limit?” you might later ask. Really, it depends on if the customs officer at the airport is having a bad day or not, or if in fact he notices the offense. If he doesn’t realize you’ve overstayed your welcome, well, you’re good to go. Likewise, if the officer sees it, but is in a good mood, he will likely convey the infraction to you and just warn you not to go over next time. However, even if only a few days, and ESPECIALLY if you’re a week or more past your 3-month limit, things could get rather serious. Contingent on the country, penalties could range into the hundreds-of-Euros. And even in some extreme cases, border control has the power to ban you for a year or longer from re-entering the Schengen Area.(http://biblio.ucv.ro/bib_web/bib_pdf/EU_books/0056.pdf)
Odds are you’re not going to spend near 3 months during your visit to Europe. Although it’s possible to spend a lifetime and not see even close to all that Europe has to offer, we get it, people get busy and can’t take off for that long. However, for some, like us, an opportunity arises where it’s possible to make the journey and spend a longer duration. And for these instances, have fun planning and experiencing your trip (it’ll be a blast!), BUT, do so with regard to your ever-running clock of time spent within the Schengen Area. Ignorance, at the immigration desk, can no longer be used as an excuse (not that it could before)!
When we left Malta for Ireland, we thought we were finished worrying about how many days we had to spare. It wasn’t until we were in Belfast that we realized we were wrong...we had already booked our cheap flight from Belfast to Reykjavik, but luckily, not our flight to the US yet. We hadn’t even thought that Iceland could be part of Schengen. So when planning our flight to the States, we had to make sure we left within our limit
Check out this site for more helpful information on the intricacies behind the Schengen Area and how it relates to your country of origin: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/
When you think of NYC, what is the first thing that comes to mind? The Statue of Liberty? The Empire State Building? Times Square? Central Park? These most assuredly stand as triumphant symbols of the Big Apple and it's very likely any layman has heard of at least a couple of them. What many people may not realize, however, is that these icons reside within only one of the 5 boroughs (or in the harbor), that being Manhattan.
However, there are many New Yorkers from the 4 outer-boroughs that will be quick to inform a tourist that the real NYC exists outside the glitz and glam of Manhattan Island. And after the pleasure of taking care of Lenna in Brooklyn for 9 days, we were made believers of that sentiment.
As one of the previously-mentioned 4 outer-boroughs, along with Staten Island, Queens and The Bronx, Brooklyn holds its identity as a hard-working and multi-cultural society, thanks to its rich history of industry and immigration. Walking along its streets, it's easy to run into communities from all across the globe, such as Jewish, Puerto Rican and Middle Eastern neighborhoods, which were a stone's throw away from Lenna's lair.
Venturing the countless blocks can be extremely interesting and rewarding, and a handy way that can be achieved is through one of the many Citi Bike stations that line the street. But, one can certainly utilize the dependable subway and bus systems that delve into most of the unique areas, as well.
After the short commute, some of our favorite locales were Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. See, we fancy ourselves as craft-brewery connoisseurs and these three neighborhoods certainly don't lack in the creation of new and exciting beer-tastes. Kings County Brewers Collective & Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co., in particular, offer a relaxing indoor-outdoor environment with top-notch suds, along with friendly & knowledgeable staff (and no, we are not sponsored by either of the two). A casual stroll to the next brewery will greet you with colorful murals, expressive people and up-and-coming cafes and shops, which all help to deem Brooklyn as one and the most trendy and hipster-friendly regions in America.
But it's not all super-tight jeans and music-snobbery in Brooklyn. Families can enjoy a fun-filled day at the beach, the nationally-renowned aquarium, or braving the historic Cyclone wooden rollercoaster, all on Coney Island. And for the money-conscious clan, it's hard to patrol many avenues without coming across one of the myriad parks, which act as an oasis amidst the hustle and bustle. A couple of the more well-established greeneries are Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can find majestic views of Lower & Midtown Manhattan, with the Statue of Liberty glistening to your left. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, there are designated piers that boast a vast array of recreational activities, such as basketball, skating, soccer and table tennis.
ProTip: The historic Brooklyn Bridge is definitely a sight to behold with its stone facade and 19th-century architecture. Here, you'll find stoic views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Lady Liberty, and its worth a trek across. However, if you want to beat the throngs of tourists on foot with cyclists swerving in and out, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND trying its sister overpass, the Manhattan Bridge, to get you across the East River. It offers most of the same scenic photo ops with a fraction of the foot traffic (and the cyclists have their own lane on the other side of the bridge).
Finally, there's Downtown Brooklyn. Although dwarfed by its neighboring Manhattan, Brooklyn's city-center acts as any other large city's downtown would. It comes complete with a large collection of high-rise buildings, lively bar- and restaurant-filled streets, and 2 professional sports teams, in the way of the Brooklyn Nets & the New York Islanders. An assortment of culture and unique opportunities are around every corner in this high-paced downtown of a borough within the greater City.
Having a sit in Lower Manhattan before embarking on our European adventures was thrilling and wonderful in itself, for obvious reasons. However, being able to also bookend our trip across the pond in the Big Apple, but in Brooklyn this time, allowed for us to get a different feel for another side of "The Greatest City In The World." Having said that, its use as a launch and return site couldn't have been more ideal, as it both helped prepare us for some of the cultures and ideals we were to come across in Europe, as well as provided a gradual re-integration into North American customs upon our arrival back.
Our stay in Brooklyn allowed for us to experience an area of New York City that's often overlooked by tourists. We can't wait to get back and explore more of it, as well as the other 3 outer-buroughs, and hopefully Lenna will be available for another play-date!
Nestled just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland stretches 40,000 square miles, but with a population less than that of downtown Cleveland, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Where it lacks in population though, it certainly makes up for with its awe-inspiring natural beauty. From glaciers and fjords to black-sand beaches and majestic waterfalls, it’s hard to look in any direction and keep your camera out of your hands.
Although it might seem daunting to visit this Nordic island in winter, many would argue this would be the optimal time. The northern lights, or aurora borealis, has been gazed upon since the Vikings established colonies in the 9th century and that sentiment of wonder has been carried on today by Icelanders and tourists alike (unfortunately, we weren’t part of those tourists, as we came a few weeks later than the ideal viewing time). And a great spot to view the lights, while beating the chill of winter, is immersed in a hot spring-fed lagoon, which there are plenty for your choosing.
Conversely, late April through September offers its own advantages in the forms of 15-22 hours of sunlight per day and the opportunity to traverse more areas of the island that otherwise would be buried in snow and ice. Additionally, for you bird-watchers out there, it’s during this time that the Atlantic Puffin nests along the rugged cliffs throughout the island.
Through our experience and suggestions from friends and locals, we discovered a few helpful tips for those of you that might be interested in visiting this magical island.
With a trip of a week or less, don’t be a hero; try and focus on more of the local sights:
Due to its deceivingly-large size, and especially with only having 6 days to work with, we found that it would be too rushed to try and circumnavigate the whole island. By looking at the map and planning out our days, we decided to cut our losses on the far-off places and focused more on local areas that we could explore in a day (from Reykjavik across to the other side of the island is just under 9 hours one-way).
A day trip took us to Glymur Waterfall, where we went on a 3-hour hike without a tour bus in sight. This waterfall is the tallest on the island and the way in which it’s situated makes it difficult to photograph. This is only the top portion, which we couldn’t see until we got within 15-minutes of the summit
For those who are cost-conscious, we suggest opting for a rental car and an Airbnb in Reykjavik:
There are certainly advantages to seeing the island via tour bus and we were actually close to going that route. However, after price-comparisons with car rentals we found that it was a little cheaper going with our own set of wheels (this included full protection, which we advise you get, due to prevalent gravel roads) for a few days than 3 bus tours. Adding to this, the freedom to explore key sites on our own time as well as off-the-beaten-path-type places gave us all the more reason to get our own buggy.
Regarding the second half of this tip...because of the vast majority of the population being located in Reykjavik, Airbnb’s are much more common there than in the ancillary cities along the perimeter. Thus we found prices to be much more affordable than not, especially for the private-dwelling variety, which is extremely scarce (and expensive!) when you get out of Reykjavik.
Don’t eat or drink:
Well, OK, you can do these things if you are either really wealthy or heed our advice. Being a remote island-nation, Iceland is very expensive and when it comes to restaurants and bars, this is no different. From just perusing the local establishments, we found your average beer to be about $13, soup $20 and a burger $25. Most places however, have happy hour for drinks that have varying timeframes which brings a pint down to $6-8. But, unfortunately for food, we didn’t see any such deals. We stocked up at the “cheap” grocery store, Bonus, which had some reasonable prices within. That being said, make sure your lodging accommodation comes complete with a kitchen, as it came in really handy for us to prepare meals.
Don’t fret about exchanging your cash:
Virtually EVERY business in Iceland accepts credit card. So save your frustration, poor exchange rates and ATM fees, because you’ll be able to swipe everywhere.
Leave your translation book at home:
Normally a priority of ours when we travel, we try to speak the basics of the country’s language as much as possible. However, Icelanders might be better at English than Americans. In addition to Icelandic, most everything is written in English and locals are quick to offer assistance in English first. Although reveling in these comforts might not be the most cultured thing to do, we did find Icelandic to be both highly-complex yet similar in certain instances.
By incorporating our newly-found tips, we were able to execute our main objective: explore the vast beauty that Iceland exudes. And even with time constraints limiting us to a fraction of what the country has to offer, what we did see was truly extraordinary.
All within a two-hour drive of Reykjavik, we discovered some fantastic sights along the Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir & Kerid Crater), Glymur - the tallest waterfall in Iceland, at 198 meters, the Secret Lagoon, and Dyrhólaey.
Last, but not least, Reykjavik itself is a quaint, modern city set amidst the picturesque landscape. If you can get by the exorbitant prices, this capital city boasts great museums, a lively art-culture and very friendly locals.
So if you’ve always dreamt of going to Iceland or you discover one of your possible flights to Europe stops-over in Iceland for any length of time, DO IT. It’s a place unlike any other and most certainly worth your while. We will definitely be back to continue our adventure where we left off.