Showing posts with label Pride Journey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pride Journey. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Pride Journey: Iceland


By Joey Amato


The only way to describe Iceland is...magical. It truly is. Iceland is like no other place I’ve visited in the world. It’s topography, climate, people, culture, history, and nightlife blended together make Iceland a surreal adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. In my case, this is my second visit to the country, and probably not my last.

The first time I set foot on the island, I was on a mission to see the elusive northern lights. While they evaded me during that visit, this time was different. I didn’t see Aurora dancing through the sky, but I did see a hint of the lights, enough to make me stop and stare in awe of their beauty.

One of Iceland’s many strengths is its people. I met an incredible group of people who helped make this visit extremely memorable, including openly gay Icelandic pop star Friðrik Ómar, who invited me to his Christmas concert. Although most of the concert was in sung in Icelandic, many of the songs were recognizable, including a fabulous version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. Friðrik was a former contestant on Eurovision, and it was easy to see why. His vocals and stage presence were extraordinary, reminiscent of George Michael.

Book your stay at the Reykjavik Konsulat hotel located in the heart of the downtown Reykjavik, just a short walk from all of the city’s main attractions including Harpa concert hall, Sun Voyager and the iconic Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, the largest church in the country which and towers over the center of Reykjavik. Its 240-foot-high tower provides a wonderful 360° view of the city. Visitors can either walk up the stairs to the top or pay a small fee to use the elevator.

Our spacious room at Reykjavik Konsulat included a walk-in shower, king bed with ultra-luxurious linens as well as a seating area. Every day the hotel offers a complimentary happy hour as well a delicious breakfast buffet, featuring a variety of local specialties including smoked salmon. The hotel also offers a nice fitness center as well as bath house complete with sauna and hot tub. Don’t get too excited, bath house means something completely different in Iceland than it does in the United States.

Going to Iceland in the winter is an adventure. It definitely isn’t a relaxing trip; more like a journey to the most extraordinary ends of the earth you will ever discover. With that in mind, book a full day private excursion to the South Coast with Friend In Iceland. Our wonderful guide Gunnar picked us up from our hotel in a Mercedes mini-bus and we were off to explore a part of the country I hadn’t been to on my prior visit.

The nearly 9-hour tour took us to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls where we had the opportunity to stand at the base and feel the power of these natural wonders. Next, we journeyed up to the top of a cliff which provided views of the ocean as well as a rock formation jutting out into the sea which connects to Reynisfjara black sand beach. Words can’t describe how beautiful this moment was. I’m almost in tears again just thinking about it. The waves crashing on the beach coupled with a clear sky and mesmerizing sunrise made for an absolutely majestic view.

Gunnar then brought us to a cute restaurant where we had lunch which consisted of pizza and a sandwich, not typical Icelandic cuisine, but it was delicious non the less.

Reykjavik is home to one gay bar, called Kiki. Although it was closed during this visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, we did happen to meet the owner who invited us back to the country this summer for their pride celebration. 2022 marks the 23rd annual Reykjavik Pride, which is held in early August. The festival attracts over 100,000 people to the city for a week-long celebration including a festival, parade, and numerous parties.

Wake up early the next morning and get ready for your next Icelandic adventure in the Golden Circle. Although this region is easily drivable from Reykjavik in the summer, I wouldn’t recommend venturing on your own during the winter months as many of the roads are icy and the weather can be quite spontaneous. One moment it will be sunny and then 30-minutes later you can find yourself in a winter storm with 40-mile per hour wind gusts.

Begin your Golden Circle tour with a trip to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO heritage site and home to Gullfoss, also known as the 'Golden Waterfall', one of the most beautiful and powerful waterfalls in Iceland. I recommend descended the stairs to the lower viewing area to really comprehend the size and scope of this natural treasure. Not too far away is Geysir, Iceland’s version of Old Faithful. The geyser erupts about every 7 minutes, so keep your camera ready.

Finally, end your tour with a snowmobile ride on the Langjökull glacier. This is also something I didn’t experience on my first visit, and I can honestly say it was one of the coolest (literally) experiences of my life. We had to jump off our luxurious tour bus and board a souped-up monster truck looking bus which transports you to the glacier where a team is ready to outfit you with protective gear and teach you how to use the snowmobiles. The hour tour of the glacier will make you feel like you were on another planet. There are points where the sky and the glacier meet, and you can’t tell them apart. I was fooled by a few optical illusions a few times.

Iceland can be inexpensive to get to, but then very expensive while you are there, so please plan accordingly. Food and alcohol can add up really quickly, so pace yourself when visiting the bars. One of my favorite restaurants we visited in Reykjavik was Noodle Station. Guests can order soup three ways: with chicken, beef, or just vegetables. It is the perfect way to end a long day spent playing in the ice and snow and quite affordable. Do your research before visiting to find some of the city’s hidden gems and cheap eats.

Icelandair offers direct flights to Reykjavik for relatively low prices from Boston, New York, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, and a few other U.S. cities, so check their website regularly to catch a great deal.

Enjoy the Journey

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Pride Journey: Palm Springs, California


By Joey Amato

Palm Springs is my happy place. The city and the surrounding area provide me with the perfect mix of relaxation and entertainment. Having been to Palm Springs numerous times prior to this visit, I wanted to partake in things that I have never tried before, most notably a full body massage at El Morocco Inn & Spa, but we will get to that later.

After checking in to Triangle Inn (pictured above), a lovely mid-century modern gay guesthouse located just one mile from the Arenas Road district, I decided to unwind from my flight and take it easy by the pool. I struck up a wonderful conversation with another guest from Los Angeles who was in town for the weekend. Apparently, Palm Springs is his happy place as well. Everyone I encountered at the clothing-optional resort was very friendly and eager to give advice on the hottest spots to visit during my stay.

I decided to head to Cathedral City for happy hour. Before Palm Springs became the gay mecca of today, Cathedral City was the epicenter of LGBTQ culture in the desert. The area is home to an array of nightlife establishments including The Barracks, AMP Sports Lounge and One Eleven Bar, a beautifully decorated space which on the evening of my visit was celebrating female voices of the 80s. I sipped a delicious Espresso Rum-tini while grooving to music from Whitney, Madonna and Tina.

The time change was hitting me hard, so I decided to retire early to my room at Triangle Inn and when I say room, I mean something closer to a 1-bedroom apartment. The suite contained a full living room, dining room and kitchen, in addition to a king size bed and large walk-in shower.

Triangle Inn usually offers a continental breakfast to guests but current COVID restrictions didn’t allow them to provide that during my stay, so I grabbed breakfast the next morning at a cute LGBTQ-owned restaurant called Sunshine Café. I don’t normally eat a heavy breakfast but when I saw the Banana Nut Pancakes on the menu, I knew I had to at least give them a try. The extra calories were definitely worth it.

Today was my Zen day in the desert and I heard about this wonderful shop creating organic skin care products called The Body Deli. The business uses raw and organic superfoods to create their products which range from facial moisturizers and scrubs to hair shampoo and conditioner. I sampled a few products while there and you can actually smell the freshness of the foods they use to create the products. The store offers a variety of travel-size skincare kits that are perfect for those out-of-towners looking to bring home some product.

My next destination was El Morocco Inn & Spa, located in the town of Desert Hot Springs, known for the mineral properties in its water. I decided to indulge myself with a two-hour Moroccan Mystical Ritual, which begins with dry brushing to stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory system and provide exfoliation. My body was then covered in organic Rhassoul clay from the Atlas Mountains. As I lay on the massage table, the clay began to harden, and I felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon. At times it was a bit uncomfortable, but I knew the end result would be wonderful. I was then asked to jump in the shower to rinse the clay off my body before the Moroccan Rain massage began. This is a process of using a raindrop technique to apply seven different essential oils along the spine, which all aid in detoxification.

Feeling refreshed, I was ready to enjoy a night on the town. I met up with my friend Brad Fuhr who publishes the Gay Desert Guide, a one-stop-spot for everything you need to know about LGBTQ culture and nightlife in the Palm Springs area. We
enjoyed dinner at Trio, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I began my meal with the Roasted Beat Salad and then ordered the fish special, while Brad went for the Pesto Crusted King Salmon served over squash and angel hair pasta. Consistency is key and you can never go wrong with a meal at Trio.

No visit to Palm Springs would be complete without partying on Arenas Road, the LGBTQ cultural and nightlife hub of the city. Coincidentally, the owner of Hunter’s was in town (there is also a Hunter’s in Wilton Manors, Florida). Mark Hunter and I had met briefly in Florida many years ago and spent the evening reconnecting. We had such a good time chatting that before I knew it, midnight had rolled around, and it was time for bed. I know what you’re thinking, midnight is early, but I was still suffering from jet lag and had a full schedule of activities to get to the following day.

I woke up early to visit multiple public art exhibitions around the downtown area. The days were really starting to heat up and it topped 100 degrees the day prior, so I wanted to get to the art before the heat became unbearable. There are many art displays and murals around the Palm Springs Art Museum that are worth checking out.

If you happen to be in town on a Sunday evening, there is no better place to be than Oscar’s for their world-famous T-Dance. The iconic party takes place every Sunday from 4-8pm and recently began again after almost a year-long hiatus. I was told people from around the world visit Palm Springs specifically to attend T-Dance at Oscar’s.

Of course, dancing will make you hungry, so for your final meal in the desert, head to Roly China Fusion, a multi-level space which also hosts a weekly Drag Brunch on Sunday. While there, you must try the Lobster Dumplings, which are served in a delicious truffle butter broth with shitake mushrooms and napa cabbage. It was one of the best dishes I’ve had in Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Pride Festival is scheduled to take place this year on November 6-7. After a year off, I’m sure it will be a very festive occasion. Start making plans early as reservations at Palm Springs’ numerous guest houses tend to sell out during this time. If you have never been to Palm Springs, I’m sure you’ll find it to be your happy place too. To learn more, visit www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com and to book your Palm Springs gaycation, visit www.Orbitz.com/pride.

Enjoy the Journey!