Saturday, August 12, 2017

That's a Wrap

Pride-themed coffee cups
Reykjavik, Iceland

Outdoor photo exhibition at Skólavördustígur Street
Reykjavik, Iceland

Old Harbor
Reykjavik, Iceland 

Laugavegur Pedestrian Area
Reykjavik, Iceland  

Sunset at Newark Liberty International Airport
Newark, NJ

I've traveled from a country of 330,000 people back home to my country of ~330 million. Yes, that means my seven week trip has concluded, and I'm back in New Jersey. My 28-hour day was epic because it was Pride in Reykjavik. (Ironically, it was Pride in NYC when I departed on this adventure). We missed the afternoon Pride parade due to our flight, but I imagine it was still gorgeous day to celebrate "pride in feeling different," as the Icelandic term literally translates. In the morning, the sun was shining, the air felt fresh with a light breeze, and rainbows (the flags) were everywhere. My Mom and I sauntered along the main streets of Reykjavik's center and the old harbor, did the souvenir search, and had coffee and lunch to commemorate an incredible week. Today brought our time in Iceland full circle as we admired the beauty and creativity that is Reykjavik yet which felt so blatantly odd and strange to us a week ago. The people, the places, and everything Iceland made this week extraordinary, a trip of a lifetime. ...and a trip that brought my country count up to 47!

We returned our rental car at the airport after a lovely ride with many more forms of rock in the landscapes than I'd wish to count. At check-in, my Mom and I landed the last two seats on our flight after the plane was downsized. I guess, the early bird catches the worm, or in this case, the transatlantic flight back home. With that said, there is a lot left for me to process from this adventure. It was an incredible whirlwind that I'm grateful to call my summer vacation.  I have a few thousand pictures to process, and I still have to figure out the logistical (places, transportation, etc.) and financial totals. Like I said, lots to reflect upon. Expect me to write in the near future (reflecting on this trip and reporting on others, too!). Until then, thank you for following my travel chronicles. :-)

Un abrazo,
Matt

Friday, August 11, 2017

Iceland Forever


Glanni Falls
Bifröst, Iceland


Grábok Volcano
Bifröst, Iceland 


Deildartunguhver: Europe's largest geothermal hot spring 
Deildartunguhver, Iceland 


Hraunfossar Falls
Highway 50, Iceland


View from Fossatún Hotel
Fossatún, Iceland


Last sunset in Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland

It's hard to put in words how great this day was, or more so, how unforgettable this this trip has been. Today was my last full day in Iceland. My Mom and I road-tripped from Borgarnes to Bifröst then to Reykholt and lastly back to Reykjavik. Sounds straightforward? Like every other day, Iceland provided us with marvelous sights and interesting weather. Some of the stops in between climbing and walking around a volcano, visiting Europe's largest geothermal hot spring, admiring some astonishing waterfalls (there is a plethora of those here), and soaking up the landscapes during every moment of this picturesque drive. The sky felt infinite as the horizon overpowers that massive mountains in the distance and dances with the wind. Iceland is a very special place, and I count myself as very lucky to visit here with "good" weather and to have my Mom as a stupendous travel partner. (You rock, Mom!) We enjoyed our favorite Icelandic dish (mashed potatoes and fish with melted cheese on top) in Reykjavik for our last night here. It has been a glorious stay, and Iceland has been a trip unlike any other. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Snæfellsnes Peninsula


Arnarstapi, Iceland


Black pebble beach
Snæfellsnes National Park, Iceland


Kirkjufell Mountain and Falls
Grundarfjördur, Iceland 


Highway 56 at 10pm Sunset
Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland 

Fourteen hours. Two adventurers. One rental car. One Snæfellsnes Peninsula. That was the objective for today, and it was Iceland in her glory. My Mom and I spent the day driving around, hiking, and exploring the many popular and secret gems of this part of Iceland. While the photos may seem lovely, I'd like to add that there was so much wind, I had to dress for a blizzard to retain any warmth while outside the car. (Slightly dramatic but still today's wind made Chicago seem stagnant.) Throughout the peninsula and the National Park, there were charming seaside villages, a one (called Budir) was only a church and a hotel. The waterfalls were plentiful and all jaw-dropping. And the mountains were marvelous - colorful and wondrous from every angle. I felt like a kid in a landscape candy store. If you come to Iceland, add the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to your plans. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It's Not about the Destination


Urridafoss Falls
Off Highway 1, Iceland


Reykjadalur Hike
Hveragerdi, Iceland 


Highway 39
Southwest Iceland 


Highway 47
Hvalfjördur, Iceland 


Hvalfjördur Fjord
Hvalfjördur, Iceland

The wind here brings many surprises. Sometimes it's rain or clear skies, but it may also be rogue sheep in the middle of the street. Today was full of many surprises that reminded me that it's important to embrace the journey, at times even more than the destination. It took a few tries to find a hidden waterfall, a closed road prevented cave explorations, and a there was more hiking (several hours each way) involved that time-wise did not fit in the itinerary. While this may sound disappointing, it led to explorations and moments of observation that blew my mind. The roads and landscapes were so captivating, it was hard to focus on the road. With countless blind turns, you never know what is around the corner in Iceland. That is the beauty of Iceland, and I'm learning to go with the flow of the wind. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hella to Vík


Seljalandfoss Falls
Eyrafjöll, Iceland 


Skógafoss Falls
Skógar, Iceland


Reynisfjara black sand beach 
Katla Geopark, Iceland


Sólheimajökull Glacier
Skógar, Iceland

From Hella to Vík, my Mom and I had a "hella" good time exploring the hotspots of natural beauty in South Iceland. We were windswept and soaked by waterfalls (as to be expected when you walk around them), greeted by curious puffins at the black sand beaches, and drenched around the Sólheimajökull Glacier. It was all amazing to experience in the varied overcast, rainy, and intermittent sunshine of this Tuesday. The storm driving home also taught us of the power that Mother Nature exemplifies here rather frequently. Iceland, the Land of Fire and Ice, is giving us a crash course in these extremes.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Golden Circle


Thingvellir National Park
Golden Circle, Iceland


Öxarárfoss Waterfall
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland 


Gullfoss Waterfalls
Golden Circle, Iceland 


Kerid Crater
Golden Circle, Iceland 

Iceland is a masterpiece of water, rock, and weather. Today's adventure with Mom and Britta was the Golden Circle: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs Area, and Gullfoss Falls. We drove through jaw-dropping, out of this world landscapes under the sunniest of days. At the national park, we traversed the American and European tectonic plates. The geysirs  were mind-blowing. And the waterfalls at Gullfoss roared with majestic beauty (rainbows included) and more power than Niagara Falls. To conclude the trip, we made a quick stop to Kerid Crater. The Golden Circle was extraordinary. Iceland is spectacular. I needed to use GPS coordinates to find our Airbnb in the Icelandic countryside tonight. It too is stupendous. And the sun has yet to fully set at 11:00pm, just thought I'd mention that whole midnight sun concept. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Puffins and Blue Lagoon


Harpa Opera House
Reykjavik, Iceland


Sun Voyager
Reykjavik, Iceland


Seltun Geothermal Area
Seltún, Iceland


Blue Lagoon, Iceland

This place is surreal. Did I board an airplane or a rocket ship from Norway two days ago? Everything done today was literally out of this world. I observed the most incredibly adorable creature on Earth on a boat tour: the Puffin. Although difficult to photograph, it was unbelievable to witness such a versatile, little bird thrive in a climate like Iceland's. My Mom and I meandered more through the creative and witty Reykjavik streets and opera house before heading out of town. Our two stops were the Seltun Geothermal Springs and the Blue Lagoon. The ride to Seltun was a nerve-wracking adventure to see boiling water sizzle out of the Earth. At the Blue Lagoon, my Mom and I soaked, relaxed, and loved every moment in these warm, frosty mineral waters in the midst of a breathtaking crater-like landscape that is unlike any other on this planet. A perfect Sunday in my opinion. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Warming Up to Iceland

Many homes in Reykjavik are rather colorful
Reykjavik, Iceland 

Public art exhibit 
Reykjavik, Iceland 

Hallgrímskirkja (Church)
Reykjavik, Iceland

View from the Hallgrímskirkja 
Reykjavik, Iceland 

With the long summer days, the last two days have felt eternal. And today, I have been up with the sun and it's almost time for us both to rest finally. My Mom and I are back together at another adventure. After a safe arrival and picking up the rental car, we ventured to our Airbnb (I checked us in yesterday) - driving in a different country is always an adventure. Today was relatively low key to compensate for jet lag and overall fatigue. We enjoyed a sunny side of Reykjavik (the weather changes constantly here) during an animated historic walking tour on the city center. In some ways, Iceland seems to be nearing a democratic utopia - still a ways to go, but much further on the trail than other world powers. In the evening, we joined my friend, Britta, for dinner. We sampled a variety of seafood and Icelandic delicacies over much laughter and great discussion. With the Hallgrímskirkja in sight, we visited the top to enjoy the sprinkling of colorful Reykjavik rooftops and to admire the simplicity of this church. To conclude the evening and make the most of the late sunset, we strolled the streets and observed the variety of street art, home colors, and businesses in this eclectic and creative city. 

Hello Iceland

Window-less window seat
Bergen, Norway to Reykjavik, Iceland 

Main shopping street 
Reykjavik, Iceland

There is a refrigerated room at the supermarket. The outside temperature don't vary much from the fridge area. 
Reykjavik, Iceland


Harbor area
Reykjavik, Iceland 

After about three-ish weeks on continental Europe, the time has come for me to fly to the next and final country of this adventure: Iceland. The trip to the airport provided some new sights of Bergen. The airport was totally automated - very cool but also rather intimidating when you try it for the first time. I booked a window seat with my reservation, but there was no window (nor view) to be had when I got to my seat. I guess, I can now say I've sat at a window-less window seat. 
After having spent the afternoon in Reykjavik, Iceland, I'm not sure if this places feels like a large town or a small city. The homes and buildings are colorful and quaint, and each one is unique. There is a strong, creative vibe in the air with numerous galleries, craft shops, and designer stores. I must say, it's hard to come up with a place that is at all similar to what I've observed here thus far. Let the adventure continue!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Bergen: Rainy and Colorful


Brygge (last night's sunset)
Bergen, Norway


Walking through the original streets of Bergen
Bergen, Norway


Bergen central residential area 
Bergen, Norway


View from Mount Fløyen
Bergen, Norway 

Today was my last full day on the European continent for this trip. I spent it in Bergen, Norway's second largest city and rainiest city. I'm not sure if I've emphasized how hilly Norway is. I think no matter where I go, I have to travel uphill both ways. Now I digress...
Bergen was at first sunny but then mostly overcast and rainy. Fortunately, I had enough time to see the highlights in dry conditions. The colorful buildings of the city center (around Brygge and the harbor) along with the way the homes seem piled on top of each other as you peer up the seven mountains that surround the city were whimsical and like a walk through an old fishing village (minus the smell of fish). My walking tour took us all around (we even sampled whale). The tour had to be one of the best I've been on this summer! My personal search for street art amplified my wanderings, and nearly every street was well-manicured and simply charming. My day concluded on Mount Fløyen for the panoramic views. In Bergen, there is virtually always something neat around the corner here; the trick is to enjoy every turn like a pleasant surprise. Thank you, Norway, for so many pleasant surprises this week.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Few Final Fjords

Solvorn, Norway

Ferry to Bergen
Sognefjord, Norway

Ferry to Bergen
Sognefjord, Norway

Norway has rainbows! (taken as we traveled along Norway's west coast)
Bergen, Norway

I woke up unsure if I wanted to visit the Stave Church in Urnes or hike around Sogndal. As I was reminded that many things are out of my control, the plan worked out in a different way. I dropped my things off at the bus station and then caught a bus (technically a van) to Solvorn, where I would catch the ferry to Urnes. The timing did not work out for my original plan, so the weather suggested Solvorn was worth a walk around - I got to see an old town and do a bit of hiking! The silence and lack of everything but nature and water made the afternoon a restful one, and the town was charming. Honestly, I don't think the day could have been better spent.
The bus/van ride itself was very scenic too. I had some downtime in Sogndal before catching the express ferry to Bergen, my final city in Norway. It was more than five hours of sailing through the fjords (with sunshine, pelting rainfall, and a full rainbow), which of course were breathtaking and magical. I must say this Norway in a Nutshell package made it possible for this solo traveler to get around Norway and still have money left for food. It's going to be hard for any other place to compare to these views for the next while.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fjords, fjords, fjords!


Bus driving through the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord
Somewhere between Stryn and Geiranger, Norway


Electric car rental
Geiranger, Norway


Panorama from Eagle's Nest
Geiranger, Norway 


Views while driving back to town
Geiranger, Norway 

Two things that Norway has a lot of: money and fjords. After today, I'd say that both improve one's quality of life. From Sogndal to Geiranger, I took a UNESCO Fjord bus tour for four hours each way driving through the windy roads through valleys, mountains, and sophisticated tunnels. From rainy to cloudy to sunny, the sights were endless and magnificent. I couldn't pick where to turn (and admire/photograph) next. In Geiranger, I had three hours before the bus would drive the same route back. After losing the last spot to someone else on a fjord boat tour, I decided to treat myself to some fun. I rented an electric car and drove up 11 hairpin turns in regular traffic to reach the Eagle's Nest view point. The ride was as fun as the view was spectacular. Better than any boat tour, I'd say. The ride back was just as lovely but with more sunshine. Although we took the same route, everything looked new and excited from a different perspective. For a strictly sightseeing day, hot darn was it awesome!