Friday, March 2, 2018

Iceland

Once upon a time back in May of 2016, Kyle and I met up with our travel buddies, Jason and Liz in Iceland! Jason and Liz had been doing some travelling in Paris and London, and made the stop in Iceland on their way home. We are always so happy to see them!

Kyle and I arrived in the capital, Reykjavik, a day before they did, so we had plenty of time to see the city. The temperature wasn't too bad, but it was very windy!!! We spent our first day strolling around and warming up in cafes. The food and drinks in Iceland are very expensive since most things are imported and they don't grow anything there. Reykjavik is a cool city. It's not the prettiest city ever, but there are some really fun and funky neighborhoods that have character.






We had half a day the following day before Jason and Liz arrived, so Kyle and I went on a whale watching boat excursion. They warned us about the exceptionally rough waters and the likelihood of seasickness, but we went for it anyways. I was really hoping to see an orca even though it was a bit early in the season, but no luck on that. We did see some porpoises and the head of a mink whale.(Actually, Kyle saw it. I couldn't find it.) We also saw some puffins, which are super cute!





Jason and Liz made it safely to Reykjavik that evening with our rental car. We took a quick walk around the city and had some great food and drinks before setting out the next day on a self-guided tour of southern Iceland. First on our itinerary was the Golden Circle. It's a route from Reykjavik that stops by many interesting geological points of interest. The first stop was Thingvellir National Park, where we took a short walk to see where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Again, it wasn't that cold, but the wind was pretty fierce!!




Stop number two was the Strokkur geyser and geothermal area (which smelled like eggs). It was really cool; I've never seen anything like it! The geyser erupts every few minutes, so we got to see it several times. There is a visitor center right by the geyser that has a cafeteria. Some hot Icelandic stew warmed us right up!



Probably my favorite part of the Golden Circle was our stop at the Gullfoss waterfall. It was massive and so beautiful! It looks like the earth was split open and water was just pouring into it. We spent a while taking photos from all different angles. We really lucked out with seeing a bit of sun while we were there!





That evening we stayed the night in a cabin near the end of the Golden Circle. The cabin had a hot tub that was empty when we arrived, but was quickly filled with thermal waters right from the source!

We continued the next day on the ring road which would eventually take you around the circumference of Iceland if you had the time. We didn't have the time, so we just did the southern part of the island. The first stops of the day were two beautiful waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, which were an easy walk just off of the main road.




We then continued driving through lunar landscapes to the coastal areas of Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar which are just a bit off of the ring road.  There we saw beautiful black sand beaches and rock formations.  We spent a bit of time walking around to check things out.  We even saw some more puffins from a distance!









We had to get a pic with our travelling Moroccan argan nut! 

Steel girders are all that's left of the Skeiðará Bridge, which was wiped out by volcanic heat and glacial floods. 

We stayed that evening at a B & B in the middle of nowhere amidst those lunar landscapes.  The owner was so kind.  We had an amazing homemade meal along with other travelers from all over the world.  It was quaint, cozy, and pretty perfect!

We spent a lot of time in the car on our last full day in Iceland, but it was worth it! Our last destination on the ring was Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon.  This is a surreal place where glaciers break off and float out to sea.  It was definitely a highlight!







Driving towards a huge glacier

We all flew out of Reykjavik the next day, but we were a ways a ways, so we stayed the night about halfway back to the city at a cute little cottage.  There were absolutely no restaurants around, so we made hot dogs, beans, and mac and cheese (using nacho cheese) for dinner on a little hotplate.  We also caught views of an amazing sunset that evening!


We couldn't visit Iceland and not relax in the Blue Lagoon, so that's what we did before our flights on our last morning there!  We made reservations in advance as pre-booking is required.  It is such a unique and dreamy place.  The Blue Lagoon is made of geothermal waters in an area full of the minerals silica and sulfur.  The minerals are good for your skin, so they give you masks to put on while you're bathing in the waters.  The lagoon is usually between 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit.  The lagoon is huge with many areas to explore, and even a swim-up bar!  It wasn't cheap, but I think it was worth it to feel like you're at a spa on the moon!  It was a great way to end our adventure.





We headed straight from the Blue Lagoon to the airport.  Jason and Liz were heading back home to DC, and Kyle and I were heading on to Scotland!  (We were up north anyways, might as well!)  We always have such a fun time traveling with Jason and Liz, and it was another amazing trip!  I would love to go back to do more hiking and to see the northern half of the country.  Iceland is out of this world, and I highly recommend a visit!  It was also the perfect place to take a picture for our big announcement!


Monday, July 17, 2017

Chasing the Northern Lights in Finland

In January of 2016, Kyle and I ventured north to the Arctic Circle in Inari, Finland with our friends, Nate and Linda.  We were in search of the Northern Lights, but we did a lot of other fun stuff while we were there!  

Inari, Finland is in an area of Finland called Lapland.  We stayed in a hotel at the edge of the huge (and very frozen) Lake Inari.  I wouldn't really go so far as calling Inari a town.  It consisted of a hotel, a winter sports shop, a grocery store and a handful of other buildings.  Luckily, we weren't there to see a town.  We had a lot on our itinerary!  We got to our hotel very late, after a flight with two layovers.  As you can imagine, it was extremely cold; the kind of cold that takes your breath away.  They were even having a "warm spell" when we first arrived, and each day got a bit colder. The sun never rose above the horizon, but it was actually brighter than I thought it would be. Between about 10:30 am and 3:00 pm, it was bright enough to look like a very gloomy, overcast day.

On our first day in the Arctic circle, we went dog sledding, which was a blast!  The dogs were all husky mixes, but much smaller than you would imagine...probably because they actually get the amount of exercise that they're supposed to.  It was easy to tell that they love running!  The dogs were all hooked up to the sleds when we arrived, and they were ready to go!  After a brief demonstration we were off!  Kyle and I took turns driving the sled.  It was so much fun! 







Linda's photo





When we returned, we helped to unhitch and feed the dogs.  They were fed a big bowl of hot broth.  We had hot punch and a fire waiting for us in a teepee.




Later that night we had a sleigh ride, complete with reindeer and all!  There are a ton of reindeer in Finland.  We each had our own two-seater sleigh that was piled up with fur blankets and pulled by one reindeer.  We didn't catch any northern lights, but it was very peaceful and relaxing.




When we got back to the hotel, we went for a stroll out on the lake.  We thought we saw northern lights, but it turns out they were just light columns; a phenomenon that happens under certain conditions.


Light columns

The next day was pretty laid back.  We went to the Sami museum to learn about the culture of the people native to Finland.  It was a very nice museum considering it's location!  We did a bit of shopping at the one shop in town after the museum.  We bought some very cool knives that all of the Finnish men carried around with them.





That afternoon, we had a little cross country skiing lesson.  Linda and Nate have done some skiing, but it was the first time Kyle and I have ever been on skis.  It was a lot of fun, and a really good work out!!  Kyle didn't lug around his camera with us, so here are just a few cell phone pics:




That night we went snow shoeing in search of the Northern lights.  They escaped us again, but it was still really nice.  It's so calm and quiet trekking through the knee deep snow in the middle of an evergreen forest in the Arctic circle.  We stopped to make a fire and have some hot punch in the forest before heading back to the hotel.  We had our fingers crossed for Northern lights the next night since it would be our last night there!




The next day was our snow mobiling day.  We followed our guide onto the frozen Lake Inari to first visit an island that had been traditionally used as a graveyard by the ancient Sami people.  We spent a few more hours visiting different spots around the area that had cultural significance.





We stopped for lunch over a fire a little over halfway through.  My feet were nothing but big blocks of ice!!  I think I could have stepped on those hot coals without feeling a thing!!






That evening we headed out again on the snow mobiles to search for Northern lights, and we thankfully got to see them!!  We stopped first at a location in the middle of the lake before moving on to a darker spot.  Luckily, we timed our trip to be there during a new moon so that we could see the lights even better.



We went back to a spot where we had been earlier that day to see if we could get some more good views of the sky.  We were not disappointed!  It was so amazing to the green lights shimmer and move across the sky.  For the best viewing, you have to avoid looking at any light for a as long as possible to get your eyes used to the dark.  Even looking at the lights on your camera makes a difference in how well you can see the lights.

The pretty wooden church we saw that afternoon looks very sinister in this shot...



By the time we got to the hotel, I thought that my feet were going to fall off from being so cold (I even had foot warmers in my boots!), but we were absolutely thrilled that we were finally able to see the Northern lights.  It was definitely an item crossed off of the bucket list!

We had such a fun trip to the Arctic circle, and it was made even better by travelling with great friends!  I highly recommend going to Finland for winter adventures that are exciting, and a cheaper option than Norway.  If you ever get the chance to go chase the Aurora Borealis, take it!  It will become a life long memory!