Travel Diaries: Iceland

Góðan dag!

I just got back from a short 3 day trip to Iceland. It was my first time to Iceland, and yes- I chose to go in the dead of winter. As I wrote a while back, seeing the Northern Lights was a bucket list item of mine. Beyond that though, I have been having a really strong urge to visit Nordic/Scandinavian countries. This happens to me fairly frequently- I’ll become hyper-focused on a place after some inspiration strikes, and I try to make it happen. I’d been thinking about Iceland for a while, and asked a lot of friends if they wanted to go. Everyone was interested, but no one could commit. So what did I do? Booked it anyways and took off on my own.

I flew over on IcelandAir on a red eye. I have to say- I was astounded by how great this airline is. Both flights got in early, the planes were nice, and they actually treated passengers like humans and not cargo. I also liked their upgrade option- a few days before your flight, you get to bid on an upgrade, as much or as little as you’d like. I ended up getting both legs of my journey upgraded which was so worth it. Lounge access alone made it worthwhile.

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Really making the most of the lounge.

Anyways, we landed before 6 AM, and I was dropped at my hotel. Obviously I couldn’t check in yet, so I decided to go exploring. I bundled up and headed up a hill, through the woods, in the dark, to Perlan.Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.58.50 PM.png

Perlan is an architectural landmark in Reykjavik- it’s a dome topped building with 360 degree views of the city. I didn’t go in at that point since I looked like a creature after traveling all night, and I was rounding 24 hours of being awake. I did, however, get treated to some pretty incredible views.

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I spent a few hours wandering around the building, and the hill it is located on (Öskjuhlíð). During WWII it was actually used by the US as a place to build bunkers, so there are a lot of markers/remains of that time.  I watched the sunrise through the trees, and eventually, I headed back to my hotel, checked in, and (as lame as it is) napped for a few hours.

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Post nap, I took off for Reykjavik. Honestly, not my favorite city. Reykjavik didn’t feel like it had as much character as other cities in Europe, but even so, there were a lot of parts I did like.

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in a geothermal spa. Iceland is basically run on geothermal energy, someone told me 90% of the country’s heat comes from geothermal energy (which is crazy). Beyond that, Icelandic culture is also heavily focused on spas; Icelandic people spend a lot of time relaxing in thermal baths and saunas. I ended up in geothermal spas every day I was in Iceland. The most unique was on my Golden Circle tour (the Golden Circle is a driving route in the south of Iceland that takes you through a National Park, the geysers, and to some serious waterfalls- It’s an insanely popular tourist spot). We stopped at Laugarvatn Fontana, which is on the bank of the Laugarvatn Lake (largest in Iceland) and is a hot bed of hot springs. In fact, Fontana Spa literally bakes bread by digging a hole in the sand and leaving dough in the hot sand for 24 hours. The bread is delicious and definitely worth trying if you go.

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It didn’t look quite like this while we were there, as it was snowing, and the winds were insane. However, it was really cool to be in a naturally heated pool in a snow storm. I also am a big sauna person- dry heat is right up my alley. The whole visit to the spa was invigorating and relaxing all at the same time!

Speaking of the Golden Circle, we hit up Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geyser geothermal region in Haukadalur. It was heavily snowing when we were in the National Park, so visibility was minimal. They did film scenes from Game of Thrones (those Beyond the Wall) and it was very easy to picture.

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Really getting a Game of Thrones vibe

Our visit to Strokkur (a geyser) was also very cool. There is a slight smell of sulfur in the air as the entire area is basically bubbling with geothermal energy. I watched Strokkur shoot like 40 feet into the air twice, and it was pretty spectacular.

The crowning moment of the Golden Circle, for me, was Gulfoss. The weather had cleared, and the view of the falls was spectacular. I would love to come back in the summer when you can get way closer to the falls themselves.

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As it had been snowing all day, and the aurora forecast was low- not to mention that the tour the previous night had been cancelled due to poor conditions, I was not optimistic that I was going to get to see the Northern Lights. However, the forecast called for the skies to clear so I decided to take a shot and see what there was to see.

I stood in the freezing blackness for an hour and a half with like 100 other people (all getting more and more anxious- the shouts of ‘please turn off your flash’ turned into ‘if you don’t turn off that motherfucking flash- I SWEAR TO GOD’). If we hadn’t seen a super vibrant shooting star about 45 minutes in, I’m fairly certain the crowd would have turned on one another. Staring at the insanely bright stars was nice, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. I started to lose steam, and once I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, I went back to the bus to warm up. Within (I kid you not) 30 seconds, the entire sky lit up. I ran off the bus without my gloves or purse (I did grab my camera). Standing under those lights with 100 people cheering, and at one point there was singing, was mind blowing. I felt so connected, to strangers and to the universe. It is awe-inspiring and every bit as magical as I had hoped. I have caught myself staring up at the sky anytime it is dark just trying to catch a glimpse of those lights again. You know that feeling when you finally hook up with someone you’ve been into for a long time, and you catch yourself smiling for no reason for days afterwards? That is exactly what this was like for me. I’d just be maniacally smiling, and acting giddy because of the lights. I am so thrilled I got to cap off my trip by knocking this off my bucket list. Although, I already want to see them again. This time though, I want to be in an isolated spot, maybe in a hot tub with some prosecco to really top the moment off.

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The lights were actually dancing. So worth it.

All in all, Iceland gave me everything I was looking for. I came back feeling refreshed and satisfied, and I can’t wait to go back. I am hoping to make a summer trip and hit up the Blue Lagoon and go trekking on Icelandic horses. If you’re thinking about going- go. It was spectacular.

Skál!

Kate

‘What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding’

I just finished reading What I was Doing While You Were Breeding, and I absolutely loved it. The author, Kristen Newman (who wrote for That 70’s Show and How I Met Your Mother), put together an insightful and insanely entertaining memoir. Spoiler alert: While her friends were ‘breeding’ and settling down, she was traveling the world. Her anecdotes are inspiring and poignant, and at times, hysterically funny. I think her book speaks to what Sarah was talking about in her last post, perhaps we need to stop worrying about where we are and what we’ve achieved, and simply enjoy our lives… Try to separate societal expectations from your own, because society doesn’t give a shit about your happiness, but you should.

Seriously, who can’t relate to this?

“I wanted love, but I also wanted freedom and adventure, and those two desires fought like angry obese sumo wrestlers in the dojo of my soul.”

She gives you a lot to ruminate on, and what I found especially important is that she never casts a judgmental light on anyone’s choices (despite what the title of the book might suggest).

“Life is almost never about choosing between one thing you really want and another thing you don’t want at all. If you’re lucky, and healthy, and live in a country where you have enough to eat and no fear that you’re going to get shot when you walk out your door, life is an endless series of choosing between two things you want almost equally. And you have to evaluate and determine which awesome thing you want infinitesimally more, and then give up that other awesome thing you want almost exactly as much. You have to trade awesome for awesome. Everyone I knew, no matter what they chose, was at least a little in mourning for that other thing.”

Basically, reading this book reinvigorated my desire to travel, and to go on some solo adventures. I’ve done one large international trip by myself (and some smaller domestic/international trips), and it was amazing. I chose to go to Ireland, on a road-trip down the Wild Atlantic Way. In honor of Kristen’s memoir, I decided to share some things I learned from my solo adventure.

Buy the damn rental car insurance.

Buy the Damn Rental Car Insurance.

I am typically against spending money on the non-essentials when traveling (I’d rather save my money and blow it all on some amazing souvenir or experience), but paying the extra $60 dollars for my rental insurance was the smartest thing I could have done. It ended up sparing me a $2,000 repair bill for a scratch. Scratching a car in Ireland is easier than finding a pint of Guinness, and it costs a hell of a lot more to deal with.

Minimizing stress and protecting yourself from potential incidentals when traveling by yourself is a major step in enjoying yourself.

Befriend Bartenders. When you go out alone, especially as a woman, it is important to be safe. Ideally, this wouldn’t be something we would have to deal with, but that is not the world we live in. While on a night out in Galway, I made a point of sitting at the bar and chatting up the staff. They realized I was on my own and were invaluable in keeping drunken fools away from me. At one point, a guy had overindulged, and was getting a little too handsy with me, and the bartenders asked the guy to leave. Quick, clean, and easy.

You can also get free drinks…

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Meet Locals- of all ages! My very first night in Ireland I met an elderly man that I ended up having dinner with. He was full of amazing stories and introduced me to a few of his friends. One of them played music in a local bar and invited me along. I went, and I was treated to complimentary Irish coffees. I ended up making friends with some people around my age, and we sang along to Irish folk songs and Beatles tunes until 3 am.

 Treat Yo Self. Traveling is stressful. Taking a break and relaxing will only help you enjoy the craziness of touring a new place. Towards the middle of my trip, I decided to go to a spa and get a facial. Being pampered for an hour reinvigorated me, and made me beyond ready to hit the road. Obviously, not everyone is going to a spa, but taking the time to sleep in, or pass on a crazy night out to get some extra shut eye can turn a trip around completely.

Get Lost.

Turn off your GPS and get rid of the map. Part of the charm of going somewhere new is wandering off the beaten track. I went for a walk in one of the towns I stayed in, and I had no set destination, but headed out towards the ocean. I stumbled on a completely deserted ruin of a castle (I might have hopped a fence or two). It was a surreal and out-of-body experience for me- it was like something I had dreamed up. Since it was my first day, and I was severely jet-lagged, I didn’t actually believe what I was seeing until I climbed into the castle in the picture above (even my imagination isn’t good enough to come up with a complete floor plan).

Bring Books. While I could wax poetic on the wonders of traveling along forever, it can also be lonely. I’m not going to lie and tell you that eating alone is a wonderful, magical experience all the time. It can be really awkward to be surrounded by couples and families giving you a pitying ‘you have no friends’ look or the more aggressive ‘are you a murderous lunatic?’ stare. Having book can turn a lonely dining experience around. You don’t need dining companions when you can disappear into a solid story.

Do something unique.

Have you always wanted to bungee jump? Or learn a traditional jig? Or go surfing? Whatever it is- just go for it. There is no one to tell you it’s stupid, or silly, or not worth it. Don’t have regrets.

For me, it was horseback riding across the open fields of Ireland. I ended up on a one-on-one trek where they let me canter and jump over trees and fences. Riding over the green hills with (I kid you not) a rainbow over head, was enough to make me believe in the magic of Ireland.

No One Knows You… do what you will with that There is a 0% chance that your friends and family know anything you did unless you tell them (within reason- if you get arrested people will know). If you want to have a crazy one night stand with a random person you can! If you want to pretend to be someone else for a day, go for it! If you want to flirt with someone all night and then run away, you do you! (I’m not saying I did that, but I’m also not saying I didn’t). You can do and be whomever you want without worry that your friends or co-workers or family members will judge you. Go crazy- OR DON’T!

Seriously, you can do whatever you want. Well, within the confines of the law and normal human levels of decency. You have no schedule and no one to be beholden too besides yourself. If you’d rather sit in a pub than hike a mountain, go for it! If you want to spend an hour staring at a painting, you can! If you want to see every tourist attraction in a 20 mile radius, get in your car and get going! The freedom of traveling alone is amazing, and you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t enjoy your trip. There are no excuses.

 In summary, traveling alone is the best.

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On my first trip, I tried to wade into it by going somewhere known for being friendly and English-speaking. I was absolutely terrified to go. The week before I left, I didn’t sleep well since I was so nervous.

I can honestly say it was on of the best experiences of my life. I learned I don’t need to rely on other people to have an amazing time. I can trust that I am enough for an incredible adventure. I am so much more confident after having had this experience. I feel like I know myself better, and (luckily) still really like myself.

Get out there. The world is yours.