Over the past few weeks, I've spent a fair amount of time on travel sites, both researching and leaving reviews. My go-to's are Expedia, TripAdvisor, and the ever handy Google.
Most of the time, I find useful guidance but sometimes it's because of someone else's negative review. This was the case with the Strahov Library in Prague. Someone had given a one-star review because they didn't do their research. This TripAdvisor user had rocked up to the front door expecting to get a tour. Yet on the library website it states clearly that all tours must be arranged prior to arrival and that they have limited availability, therefore cannot accommodate everyone's request. Now, that's not to say that the TripAdvisor user didn't have a bad experience, but I don't think it's fair to put all the blame on the library, or any similar tourist attraction.
As tourists, world travelers, curious minds - it's on us to do some research and not expect tourism workers to hold our hands and spoon feed us while we visit their countries.
That being said, I think it's also on us to read reviews and conduct research with a grain of salt. As I've gone back to leave my own reviews, I've read some of the new ones posted at the attractions we visited. Many are like the one mentioned above. Travelers that do no research and therefore have created their own mythical expectations and are outraged when a place does not meet the false realities they've conjured up in their minds.
While those are funny enough to me, the ones that make me chuckle even more are posted by users that have done their research and expect things to be carved in stone. I read a couple reviews for different restaurants where the people seemingly had a nice enough time, but they had looked at the menu ahead of time and when they arrived, the menu had changed. They could no longer order the food they had been looking forward to. Part of me gets it - half of the fun of travel is in the anticipation. Looking forward to all of the new experiences you'll have on your trip. But the other part of me wants people to manage their expectations. When we stayed at the Lokal Inn, their hotel restaurant had a daily menu. They posted an example menu online but every day their options were a bit different depending on what kind of food was fresh and available. Use these opportunities to ask your server for a recommendation and try something new. More than once something similar happened to us and we were always delighted with what was recommended.
Finally - the most amusing reviews to me are those from users that want to seem worldly but come off as pretentious and ignorant. In Amsterdam, we visited the Rijksmuseum. A gorgeous museum in the heart of the city housing spectacular paintings by Rembrandt and Caravaggio and Monet and even one or two from Van Gogh (the Van Gogh museum is the neighboring building). Huge exhibits including relics from the houses of the outrageously wealthy. But then you have reviews like the ones below.
My favorite is the first. I just want to send them a dictionary definition of the word museum, which according to Merriam Webster is "an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value." But please, John P, continue to tell the world more about how you define museums.
All of this is to say, when you're planning your next trip do some research with the context of what interests you and some reasonable expectations. I'd hate to think that people decide not to go visit the Rijksmuseum or Strahov Library because someone else had a bad experience due to their poor planning. There's so much history and art to be experienced in the world. What a shame it would be to travel all that way and miss it.
You see that white house boat across the river? That was our home for the three days we were in Amsterdam. Already on our trip, we had lucked out with two boutique hotels, that were slightly off the beaten path while still being close to city-center, and that we could book with travel points. It was great! But Amsterdam was unlike Prague and Lisbon when it came to booking accommodations.
When I look for a place to stay, I have an order of operations in terms of where to look first. I always try to get a measure of the average hotel cost compared to a vacation rental. But most of the hotels that were available to book with points were part of a big chain, had the same food that I could at anyone of their other locations, and they were much farther from the central area that we wanted to be. I moved my search to Airbnb. I think ideally, I'd like to say I always prefer Airbnb but it always comes down to cost for me and they don't offer loyalty points.
We ended up staying on a houseboat in the Weesperzijde neighborhood of Amsterdam. Though we know not everyone in Amsterdam lives on a houseboat, it felt like a very local experience to be had. Every day we'd go out and explore the streets and canals of the city and every night we'd be rocked to sleep by the gentle wake of passing boats out enjoying the late summer sun
Highlights of Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum
Like many others, I grew up seeing his paintings as prints in a book or as a poster in my public school art class. And while those images are impressive enough, they don't come close to doing justice to the paintings themselves. On a two-dimensional surface, you cannot appreciate the three-dimensionality that Van Gogh painted with. Layers close to an inch thick created ridges on the canvas, casting shadows onto the painting where they otherwise wouldn't exist.
I learned a lot about Van Gogh, but perhaps my favorite thought is one that I had while walking through his self-portrait gallery. Over the course of two years, Van Gogh created nearly thirty self-portraits all in varying styles. That's, on average, two a month. I think he would've enjoyed Instagram and been a selfie king.
In any case, this was certainly one of my most treasured experiences in Amsterdam. If you're visiting make sure to book tickets online ahead of time. You cannot buy tickets at the museum.
If you're an art lover, go early and plan to spend some time here. Reese and I visited and thought we were walking through at a decent pace, but still ended up spending four and a half hours here. While the prized piece is Rembrandt's Night's Watch (which is pretty spectacular, but I love Rembrandt), Rijksmuseum has an extensive collection. From paintings to carved weapons to antique furniture with intricate inlays to books (they have their own impressive library), there's something for everyone.
And while we had two great days looking at beautiful art in hanging on museum walls, my favorite part of Amsterdam was the city itself. Every time someone has asked what I enjoyed most, I can't put my finger on any one experience or moment. It's a city that will forever charm me with its buildings of all shapes, colors, and leanings; forever beckon me to wander along the edges of the canals, marveling at the cars parallel parked without any guard rail between the wheels and the water (or houseboat) below; forever provide an abundance of captivating doors to photograph.
I'm not saying it was my favorite stop of the trip, but I can't say that it wasn't either.
Nestled in the heart of Lisbon, between the Chiado and Bairro Alto neighborhoods, Reese and I spent three days exploring the coastal city. Lisbon is much larger than I imagined, but fairly easy to get from place to place. There is the famous tram system in Lisbon as well as the metro and bus system, but Reese and I walked just about everywhere. As long as you're staying in the central area, sites are fairly walkable as long as you don't mind some hills.
In many ways, Lisbon felt like patches of other European cities stitched together but somehow still its own, unique place. Walking through the close streets of Bairro Alto reminded me of Dubrovnik and Dublin, with all of the bars tucked into the old buildings. The streets were paved with small, square stones like in Barcelona. Terra cotta roofs like Florence. Graffiti like Rome. Tiles so detailed they could've been seen in Granada, Spain. But yet, Lisbon had it's own energy and life. Like many coastal towns, seafood was abundant though octopus seemed to be the specialty, though neither of us dared to try it.
Highlights of Lisbon
Time Out Market
Can't decide what to eat? Traveling with a big group? Only in town for a quick trip? Go to the southern part of the Bairro Alto neighborhood and stop before you hit sea. The Time Out market is home to over 50 different merchants, ranging from food and drinks to home décor to flower shops. There's truly something for everyone. Reese and I ate there twice in three days and we were not disappointed.
São Jorge Castle
Reese and I are always ready to explore a castle. The São Jorge Castle let us view Lisbon from a birds eye. You could see the sprawling city for miles past the Moorish fortress. The best part of the castle was being able to walk the tops of the walls, but it is not for those afraid of heights. Proceed with caution but the payoff is totally worth it.
Carmo Archaeological Museum
Once a Gothic church, now a Archaeological museum after it was ruined in an earthquake in 1755. While quite a bit of the church fell apart in the earthquake, much of the original structure still stands. I love Gothic architecture, so I'm biased, but it is an amazing structure in the heart of the city. Definitely worth a visit. Even if you don't go inside, there's a nice square near by to have drinks and enjoy the view.
Some extra recommendations
Chiado Arty Flats: Our accommodations that were a perfect mix of hotel and Airbnb, surrounded by plenty of good food and drink.
The Decedente: Just north of the Chiado neighborhood, The Decedente has amazing cocktails and food. Just make sure to make a reservation.
Livraria-Bar Menina e Moça: Of all the cool things we got to see on our trip, little places like this often end up being some of my favorite moments. It's a bookstore and a café. Reese and I spent a couple hours reading, writing, and enjoying some drinks and snacks. It was perfect.
We're at the beginning of our three city tour but just about out of time in the first city, Prague. I've heard so many good things about this city over the years, so it has been amazing to finally see it in person!
Overall, we have been really pleased and surprised with our accommodations. We stayed at the Lokal Inn, which is a great location in the heart of the city near the famous Karlov Most bridge. But it also happens to have one of the best restaurants in the city. What's more is the restaurant, also called Lokal, is in Michelin's guidebook for having high quality, affordable food. And that's not just by Michelin standards. In a city full of affordable food and drink, this was one of our cheapest (and most delicious) meals.
Highlights of Prague
This was absolutely at the top of my list in Prague (and maybe Europe). And it delivered. Past the Prague castle is a beautiful monastery where they make delicious beer (according to Reese - I'm not a beer drinker) and grow grapes and cherries, they also have a gorgeous library that was ahead of its time. On the ceiling of the room dedicated to spirituality, religion, philosophy, the founder had painted "Science leads, faith follows." He wanted to make knowledge accessible to the public but he wanted the library to be progressive and thoughtful; to have purpose. So when many private libraries were being auctioned, he bought the books to be housed in the second room, dedicated to science. He came back with books and very tall bookshelves and remodeled the building to fit the needs of the books.
There are many more details about this heavenly library, but it's so much better to hear it in person. If you're ever in Prague and want to see the Strahov Library, be sure to book in advance. They only do limited tours and book up quickly. If you don't book a tour, you just get to see each of the rooms from the threshold. Worth every penny!
Inspired by Hemingway's drinking habit, Hemingway Bar in Prague has crafted some delectable cocktails. They have twelve signature drinks but can make any classic cocktail (and I'm sure other ones you haven't heard of). Be sure to book ahead or show up when they open their inconspicuous doors.
While we've seen the castle from almost every angle, we did not actually go in the castle. It's the beginning of summer and there were many, many tourists and school/camp groups visiting. But we did walk around the gardens and building grounds (which is free) and admired the architecture. From the castle, you get a great view of the whole city, but be prepared to walk up some steps to get there. We were told there's also a tram, but we try to walk whenever possible.
One thing we weren't able to see while we were here was the Astronomical Clock. Unfortunately, it's under construction until August 2018. But hopefully we'll get a chance to see it in the future.
We've had an amazing few days exploring Prague and getting to know some of the Czech culture. Now off to Lisbon!
Well, it's been a good minute since I've written anything here. Time has been whirling past, it seems, and it seems to move faster as the years go by. That said, it's somehow the middle of 2018, Reese is almost finished with his program, and soon we'll start the next chapter, wherever that may be.
In April I had the lovely fortune to be able to visit with family and friends back in Seattle. After seven months of seeing people via video chat, it was great to talk to people in person; share drinks and meals together at the same table.
While I was in town, I got to catch up with a friend of mine, Dan, who recently started a new website called Pleb Story. While it's a strange thing reading about yourself through someone else's perspective, I am honored that he asked me to be his first guest and look forward to seeing who else gets featured in the future.
I also had the particular privilege of photographing one of my best friend's wedding. It was one of the most special days filled with love, friends, and family. Though I wish I had more time for my visit, I'm really thankful that I got to be present for some wonderful moments.
Creatively speaking, the last few months have been some of my favorite. I've immersed myself in my writing in a different way than I have in the past. One of the most rewarding things has been discovering my own style, the way I like to put string words together and create the fictional people and places that are in my head. A lot of that has to do with reading other good writers. At the top of my list right now are Lauren Groff, Roxane Gay, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (in no particular order). All three of them write such authentic, complex, compelling, interesting women. They weave stories that are thought provoking, bizarre, and evocative. I'm grateful to have them in my life, or at least my library, while I continue to find my own literary voice.
And this brings me to my biggest life update - starting in September, I'll be attending University of Glasgow's Creative Writing program working towards my master's degree. It's really rewarding that the all of the work I put in these last few years is starting to pay off.
Now it's back to working on some edits for stories I'm supposed to submit.
Then this past weeked, Reese and I took a holiday with our friends, Ruth and Kaleb, to Isle of Islay where we tasted some of our favorite whiskies at their respective distilleries.
The first day, we tasted whisky at Bruichladdich (brook-laddie). If you're looking for an unconventional whisky, look no further. Though each bottling boasts of the flavors from bottlings past, each bottling is achieved by a unique blend of their single malt casks. For instance, my favorite whisky made at this distillery is called the Classic Laddie. Some years it might be only made from ex-Bourbon casks while others they might blend ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks together to get their desired taste. And because they're blending different finishings together, it's still a single-malt whisky.
After Bruichladdich, we took a ferry over to Isle of Jura. I was particularly excited about this stop. The island itself is sparse and beautiful. The ground is painted with rich, amber soil highlighted by dormant heather bushes. We drove down the island's single lane, two-way road until we reached our destination, Jura Distillery. It's the home to my favorite whisky, Jura Origin. As Jura recently released a whole new series of bottlings so my beloved Origin will soon be non-existant. However their new line is equally delicious.
If you'll be in town for a meal, stop at the Jura Hotel for a bite before catching your ferry back to Islay.
On our second day of whisky tasting, we lucked out with some amazing weather. We were headed to Lagavulin, Reese's favorite whisky. Their grounds are picturesque. White stucco buildings with dark roofs ordained with plants potted in old whisky casks. Nestled in Lagavulin Bay, the Lagavulin Distillery looked out on castle ruins and wee cliffs leading into the bay. On a day like this one, the view hardly gets better.
I adored our time in Islay and could've extended my stay. I loved seeing all of the small, coastal towns and the rugged terrain throughout the island. For me, it is idyllic and quintessentially Scotland.
The world feels really chaotic right now. Whether you look at politics, religion, climate change, job markets, or anything else, everything seems in flux. The unfortunate part, from my perspective, is that a lot of it could be fixed with education.
The problem is, education is not readily available to the majority of the global population.
Currently 260 million children, globally, are not enrolled in school. That's over half of the entire US population. Women around the world face tremendous hurdles when it comes to receiving education. It's estimated that 131 million girls are not enrolled in school. Furthermore, even in developed nations, access to higher education disproportionally impacts women, people of color, and cis-gendered individuals.
And while I think education should be a fundamental right to everyone provided by the government (EX: all public universities in Scotland are funded by the government to enable young people to obtain a bachelor's degree), that is a hard concept for many people to grasp and support. However I think the US, for instance, could begin to tackle this problem from a different angle.
Universities, public and private, need to change the way they use funds. Full stop.
I'll use my alma mater as an example.
At the start of my first year, Iowa State University was completing a fundraising campaign with a goal of raising over $800 million to support university. As of October 1, 2010 they raised over $804 million. Nearly all of the donations were restricted, meaning the donors had earmarked their donations to fund a particular initiative that may or may not benefit the needs of the Iowa State community.
Universities all across the country, and I assume globally, run funding campaigns similar to this one. They release mission statements that pull on the nostalgic heartstrings of its alumni but how those goals and initiatives actually manifest can have some unintended consequences.
While I attended ISU, a myriad of new buildings went up. Many were for the STEM and architecture programs, as they are the money makers of the university. During that same time, several of my classes were held in older, under-utilized STEM buildings. It was fairly surprising to me to see new buildings being constructed when older buildings that were still in good shape, several recently updated, were not being utilized to their capacity. While universities have to be forward thinking and plan for growth, this did not seem like an economic use of resources. The growth of campus buildings compared to student population seemed disproportionate.
As I mentioned, most of the donated funds are restricted and many departments go underfunded and are downright neglected. In contrast to all of the new construction happening around campus, the English department was saddled with a number of concerning, though not unique, problems.
First, the English department was forced to decide whether they should continue funding graduate students that also doubled as teaching assistants or keep phones in department offices. There was no question - they chose the graduate students. They could not lose resources that were teaching required courses. In turn, many professors lost privacy as they handed out their personal cell phone numbers so their students would be able to get in touch with them. While it's an unrealistic expectation to think that liberal arts departments will suddenly receive a massive influx of funding, choosing between graduate students and office phones is an unnecessary decision for any department to make.
In addition, the English department did not have enough professors to ensure that students, both declared English majors and those seeking general education credits, could take required courses at the appropriate time to graduate in four years. I remember signing up for my second semester courses when I was told the class I needed to take in order to continue my major the following year was full. There were no plan in place for mitigating the lack of professors and influx of students. The administration office shrugged their shoulders until I brought it up to the dean of the college. For those that know me, I have no problem hiking things up the flag pole, but students shouldn't have to do that in order to take required courses. If institutions are impeding a student's ability to graduate in four years, that only piles on debt at the national level.
Then there's a different spending issue, one that puts the pressure directly onto students. Another building that was being renovated was State Gym. When it was done it had a leisure pool, a hot tub, and a giant projection screen so that you can watch the big game without ever leaving. The remodel of the old State Gym cost $52.8 million dollars, almost $10 million over budget, which was foisted onto students for the next 23 years after the grand opening in 2012. Each year, students pay an additional $214 to cover the cost of that particular renovation. While that cost is included in tuition, which can cost over $12,000 per semester, that doesn't include housing, books, food, and any cost associated with some semblance of a social life.
And while that awesome rec center seems like a lot of fun, the percentage of people using this service is much lower than the percentage of people paying for it. According to the tuition fee summary, everyone who attends the university pays into the renovation cost of State Gym, even if you're only attending for 1 credit hour.
Both of these scenarios illuminate the problem with funding and spending in education - we are paying for things that students, faculty, and staff are not using, and we are underfunding or cutting necessary programs. I think we could make higher education far more accessible by changing the way universities raise and spend money.
If I really wanted to get controversial I would say universities should slash their sports budgets (no coach needs to make $2 million a year) but America loves football almost as much as it loves guns so one step at a time.
Globally, around 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty with a secondary education, which would drastically change the government spending that so many people often complain about. There's no good reason not to address education access and inequality. But too often greed gets in the way of the conversation. We need to change this.
In reality, I can't accurately project how my suggestions would play out. I don't have access to university P&L's. But based on my experience, I think they'd be a step in the right direction. I'd love to hear what you think or hear about your own university experience.
Our travel day got a little lengthy due to the poor logistics of SAS Scandinavian Airlines (I don't recommend them) but we finally got into Tromsø.
Last summer, Reese and I spent our honeymoon in Iceland during the period of midnight sun where we didn't see darkness for about ten days. This time, it's the exact opposite. It's not dark the entire time, but this is as bright as it gets:
Yesterday, we wandered around town today, taking it easy while everyone recuperates from their exams and lack of sleep. The town center is small but lively, full of people enjoying the holiday market and lights hung across the snow and ice covered streets.
It's not as cold as everyone expected - at least not as cold as I was expecting, thank you Midwest winters. Right now (as the sun is almost down at noon) it's about -1 Celsius or 28 Fahrenheit. Overnight it snowed about two more inches and has been snowing on and off all day. They only use plows when they have to, trying to keep the roads nice for the summer, so they drive around with giant snow blowers to clean the fresh snow off the streets.
Tonight we are chasing the Northern Lights! This is what we came here for, why we even booked the trip - the Northern Lights. High on everyone's bucket list, we were determined to see them and see them we did.
I have pictures. If you're impatient to see them (dad) you can to scroll to the bottom and take a look. But, even though they say a picture is worth a thousand words, there's so much you cannot see in any of these photos.
We drove out with a small group of eight bracing for the colder air as we moved inland towards Sweden. Just a few miles from the border, we stop and pull over to the side of the road. "This is where we'll make our camp for the night," our guide told us. There was nothing in particular around. Our eyes had not adjusted yet. The only tracks in the snow before ours was that of a dog sled pack and the skis. "We'll make our own," the guide said.
Head lamps lit reflected off the snow in front of us making our immediate path bright and narrow as we lifted our legs through the foot and a half of virgin snow. We came to a clearing and set our stuff down. Our guide instructed us to turn off our headlamps and give our eyes a moment to adjust. We were nestled in between three mountains covered in snow bathing in the glow of the stars hanging in the night sky, undisturbed by city lights. It was almost brighter without the lights. The trees around us and up in the mountains had distinct outlines even without the lamps. The ground below us was not true ground but a frozen marsh leading to a lake. Our guide made a fire and hot chocolate and we settled in for the evening.
At first, you notice a cloud but it looks more like a stream in the sky. Your eyes adjust and then the stream is dancing. Then there are more colors. More beams of light. As if we'd summoned them, the lights appeared diffused and then more distinct. For a good portion of the night I captured the light and the colors in my camera, forever a souvenir of this magical night. But I'll be the first to admit, the photos I share are not the greatest lights of the night. No. For those the camera was untouched, unmoved while I laid on the ground in my heavy snowsuit and boots staring up at the sky hand in hand with Reese. Those are our moments.
But I'll share a few moments with the rest of the world and then it's bedtime for me.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending a week, up near Inverness, writing and doing almost nothing else. At a place called Moniack Mhor, writers gather several times a month to attend tutored or non-tutored writing retreats to finish a project, improve a particular skill, or find some creative inspiration in the midst of the highlands.
I spent the week working with Michèle Roberts and Romesh Gunesekera, and twelve other eager writers, where we discussed writing short stories, what we were all reading at the time, and what troubled us most in our creative endeavors. The layout of the week was split between the two authors and their different workshops they had planned for us each day. We spent the mornings in workshop, doing various exercises, having interesting discussions, and then spent our afternoons writing, editing, sharing, reading, and sometimes taking a walk through the highlands.
For me personally, it was a concentrated week of creativity. I've never really experienced anything like it. All we were meant to focus on was writing with the least amount of distractions possible. It was amazing. I tried to get in a routine in the short time while I was there. Each morning I woke up, had tea, read, went to the workshop, took a walk in the afternoon, went back to my room to write, and then joined the group for dinner.
I can't say enough good things about getting to spend concentrated time with other writers. For one, there was a distinct understanding between everyone about how nerve wracking it is to share new work or to start a new project. Everyone was kind and thoughtful to one another but also really pushed each other to think about our own stories from a different perspective. Almost every time I've gotten into a room with a new group of writers in a classroom setting, I get a bit nervous that my writing will be too similar to someone else's. But each time I am reminded that every voice is so distinctly different. We all were native English speakers working from a similar education level, but each person approached the same writing prompts with our own, unique perspectives that always resulted in a distinctly different story.
During the week we each got a one on one feedback session with Michèle and Romesh, which was wonderful. They were each very thoughtful in their critiques but approached my stories from a different angle which gave me a very thorough and well-rounded understanding of things I got right and areas of my writing that I needed to work on.
I'm so grateful to have had such an experience in such a beautiful and relaxing setting. I look forward to my next trip up there in January.
It's been a while since I've posted anything so I thought I'd give everyone a proper update.
This last month has been busy! Since our trip to Skye, Reese finished his first class, I went to a writing retreat and course up in Inverness, and the dogs are still living their best lives.
Holiday season is officially underway. This is the first time that I've been out of the US for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, but I think we found a good alternative. Reese and I joined a bunch of friends to go to the Christmas market in Edinburgh for some delicious food and mulled wine. After, we went and watched folk music at a pub on the Royal Mile.
Before Christmas, we're headed to Norway and Sweden for some Nordic adventures and (hopefully) some Northern Lights. Can't wait to share stories and photos of our adventures! We're not sure what we have planned for Christmas yet, but I'm hoping it would be filled with relaxation, movies, and puppy cuddles.
It's hard to believe that we've been in Scotland for a month now, but it's fascinating to me how quick a new place feels like home. Reese has a busy school schedule while I've written more in this last month than I probably have this whole year. And it feels great.
And I think what makes it super official is that we've driven on the left side of the road! To give credit where it's due, Reese drove because our car was manual and I haven't learned how to drive stick yet, but it was an experience for both of us. I think we can safely say we've experienced most of the different types of driving Scotland has to offer all in a 36 hour period. We packed up the dogs and headed north to the Isle of Skye. We drove through the city and then onto highway driving. And for the first hour or so, it seemed fairly manageable, like a good way to get used to driving on the other side of the road. Then it went down to a normal two lane road with standard lane widths, painted lines, shoulders. Then they narrow and you lose your shoulders. Then for the better part of the trip it was a narrow two-way road with no lines - just signs suggesting when you might want to slow down (FYI - no one really slows down). Then, should you decide you want to see anything of significance, you're down to a one lane, two-way road that winds through the highlands around blind corners and up blind summits (that usually have a drive way at the top) with the occasional passing shoulder. Mind you, you follow the national speed limit on all of these roads, which is 60 miles per hour. So the first day was stressful but successful. Adapt or die, right?
Overall, it was a pretty quick weekend trip. The first day we made a quick stop at Talisker Distillery, the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, and then went to the Fairy Pools. It was towards the end of the daylight hours so there weren't many tourists, but some to share the path with. We were surrounded by the deep amber hills that ascended into the clouds. And even with other people around us, most of what you heard was the water falling over the rocks and making its way down stream.
We stopped in a little town called Uig for the night. It was a little hotel and lodge just near the cliffs on the north western point of the Isle of Skye. When we left the next morning, the hotel staff advised us to drive through the highlands rather than around the peninsula. We had debated our route given the previous day of driving but decided to take their advice. Though the roads are tricky, they come with quite the reward. Rich, emerald green hills dotted with wild roaming sheep and beautiful rock formations that you wouldn't see driving around the coast.
Our last stop before heading home was Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Cliffs formed the edge of a seaside farming village adorned with Mealt falls. We were lucky that we got to see as much of the cliffs as we did because as we started driving towards our next location (Old Man Storr) some serious fog rolled in where we couldn't see much at all. So we're saving Storr for another, less foggy day.
All in all, it was a great trip. We're lucky that the dogs travel so well and don't seem to mind one another. Hopefully we'll have more trips like this in the future. For now, back to class and writing projects.
This weekend was one for the books… more specifically, the blog.
It started a bit early as Reese finished his first week of classes on Thursday and we took the pups up to Arthur's Seat. Edinburgh is a pretty great place for those the love an urban setting as well as the outdoors - there's (as one woman I met put it) a wee mountain in the middle of the city. Not many places are that lucky. And we are certainly beneficiaries of such luck! It's only a little over a mile away from our flat. So we walked the dogs over to Holyrood Park and headed up the path to the top. We also got pretty lucky with the weather as it had been raining on and off that day, but it was just sunshine while we hiked (or hill walked - not sure what elevation gain constitutes something as a hike vs. a hill walk).
Nala, of course, loved every minute of it. She's a seasoned hiker and I think much prefers to hike is sixty degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. Most of the time, she lead our pack down the best paths and made new friends with other hikers by surprising them with a lick on their hand. Most people didn't seem to mind (phew). Islay now has two hikes under her belt and this one she did entirely off leash! Not to mention we did not have to carry her up or down - we had a hunch that she might get tired. But this little batpig likes to hike. In fact she's quite the little explorer. She would climb up on ledges so she could see what we were seeing an hike by our sides rather than by our feet, go off and sniff the heather that was blooming all along the hillside, meet all of the other hikers, and possibly sneak up on some of them to give them kisses while they were sitting for water breaks. All in a days work. Safe to say, they were beat when we got home.
Then Saturday Reese and I went to our first Ceilidh (pronounced: kay-lee) dance with his MBA cohort. For those wondering, a Ceilidh dance is a gathering with lots of food, drinks, and dancing - they are traditional Scottish dances but think along the lines of square dancing. We had a wonderful time! We spent the night mingling with Reese's fellow classmates and getting to learn more about what made everyone choose Edinburgh and why they decided to get their MBA in the first place. They seem like a great group to spend a year with. Plus, almost everyone seems interested to meet our dogs, so that's a plus in my book.
We've since spent the rest of the weekend lounging around the house while Reese prepared for the first week of full-time lectures.
My courses start in two weeks and I'm excited to meet with new professors. It'll be really interesting to see how fiction writing is taught differently here than it is in the states and hopefully I'll learn some new skills because of it!
I hope everyone's enjoying their last few days of summer!
After two days of travel on their own, the dogs made it to Edinburgh safe and sound last Friday. We've spent the better part of the days following making sure they were getting adjust. As you can see from the photos, they seem to be good and comfortable. Making themselves right at home. Both of them already have their favorite napping spots.
Almost every day since they've been here, we've taken them to explore some of the parks that are in the heart of the city and they've had a blast. Since Edinburgh doesn't have strict leash policies, they don't really have any traditional dog parks. All parks are dog parks - which is great for Nala and has been a learning experience with Islay. To be honest, Islay has impressed us. Before the move, we hadn't really done any off-leash training. We've gone to off-leash dog parks but they're all fenced in Seattle so there's not really a risk of her running away. But here, they have free reign if they're off-leash. So we decided to trust her. It's certainly been an experiment but it's gone great so far! Take a look for yourself - here they are at Bruntsfield Links and then at the Meadows.
Right now, they're fast asleep dreaming puppy dreams. Hopefully this week we'll be able to take them up Arthur's Seat.
This year while Reese is earning his MBA, I'll be spending my time on a different journey - a literary one. Writing has long been a passion of mine and this year I have the privilege of finally being able to dedicate quite a bit of my time to being a writer.
Leading up to this adventure I was both excited and uneasy with this next year. My excitement is easily explained - I'm spending a year living in Scotland with my husband and dogs while I write. It's a dream. But at the same time, this is fairly uncharted territory for me. Ever since I was sixteen I've had some sort of income, be it from babysitting, working odd jobs, working at my university, and finally working in marketing. This year, my job title is (currently unpaid) writer. And that is an adjustment for me. So to try and combat my anxiety about this new change, I put my project management skills to good use and came up with a two-part plan. I decided honing my craft and (eventually) getting published is my goal. My original plan to achieve this looked a little different, but I quite like the one I've come up with.
Part one is actual course work. Before we moved I looked for short term classes and writer's groups and retreats that I could benefit from and found quite a few in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland. This first quarter, if you will, will be my busiest. I am signed up for two short courses at The University of Edinburgh and two writers retreats later on in the year. Both will give me the opportunity to meet up with other writers, pick their brains, learn from them, and get feedback on my work. I hope to take some additional courses in the winter and spring as well, but for now the courses I have set up are a good start.
The second part is by my design. There's no two ways around it - I work best with deadlines. So I made myself some deadlines. I created a syllabus with writing assignments inspired by previous professors and specific readings so I can learn from some of the best. So from now until next September, I'm on the clock and I know it.
But still, whenever I sit down to write I feel a little like Ted Mosby in when he starts Mosbius Designs. I don't want to forget about the weight of the books, if you will. I worked really hard this last year to give myself this opportunity, but the last couple of weeks I can't help but think, what if I blow it? I do not want this to turn into a lost opportunity and write nonsense or binge watch shows on Netflix because I was too overwhelmed to start writing.
Cognitively, I know that the best way to overcome this particular anxiety of mine is by taking action. Just write (this blog might be a bit of a forcing function). But even still, my fingers still sometimes feel a bit frozen when they approach the keyboard.
After our first few days in Edinburgh, it's safe to say we're smitten. Though I've lived in Edinburgh before, I lived and experienced a different part of town. But before I get into all of that, let's do a quick recap.
Reese and I got up at 3am in Seattle to head out on our journey. After a thirteen hour trip, we arrived early in the morning, collected our bags and met up with our new landlord and tried to stay awake for the rest of the day by walking around the city. It only mildly worked. Side note - we somehow managed the impossible. We got a flat before we arrived in Edinburgh. On several occasions we were told this wouldn't be possible and it sure felt like it at times. But, to our luck, we answered a posting a couple of weeks before we left and managed to secure ourselves a place to live. Since we arrived, we finally got some sleep and have been setting up our house for the next year while anxiously awaiting the arrival of the dogs.
At this point I'm not sure if everyone is more excited to hear about the doggos or the house, but I'm going to start with the dogs. Currently, they're awaiting their flight at Sea-Tac and will arrive here on Friday. We are certainly ready for them. We've already scouted out the best dog food stores and gotten them a myriad of toys and treats. Those spoiled pooches will be set to go.
Onto the house. I'd be lying if I said anything other than it feels like a fricken fairy tale. We have a three bedroom furnished flat with a porch and a washer-dryer combo that actually dries. We live less than a block from the gym and three local markets shops, and on the way there we have a view of Edinburgh Castle. We're within twenty minutes from school, a movie theatre, and some great pubs. Best yet, we are a short walk from the Meadows, a perfect park to walk and play with the dogs. We think they'll love it - after they get over the fact that we put them on a plane by themselves for two days.
Well we did it. Reese and I are out of our house, bags packed, and currently on the last leg of our flight to Edinburgh. Safe to say that we didn't sleep much last night - it was akin to Christmas Eve's as children, anticipating what all lies ahead of us. Sheer excitement.
But over the last few days, as we finished packing things up at the house and stayed with our family for our final few days on US soil, I kept feeling as though a weight was lifted. I assumed it was just the fact that our gargantuan to-do list was nearly finished. After some thought, relief seemed to have little to do with us completing our moving preparations.
It was because we had stripped our lives down to our necessities and a few wants. From our townhouse, we saved four large pieces of furniture: our desk, dining room table and chairs, our bedframe, and a small Lay-Z-Boy chair. They were all of the pieces of "adult" furniture that we had slowly purchased. The rest of the furniture in our house was purged. Donated, sold, or thrown away.
We combed through the rest of the stuff we had accumulated over our lives, careful to only keep items that were truly cherished or useful. Over the matter of two weeks, we realized how much crap you keep because it takes energy to decide whether or not to get rid of belongings. The usual questions pop up: what if I want to use it in the future? What if it comes in handy? The answers are you won't and it won't . Many of these things were items that I had kept with me from high school or college. Little things that didn't take up a lot of space or weigh a lot, like graduation tassels. These little things take up space not just in your dwelling but in your heart and head too. Space you never knew was being occupied. Space you never realized you needed back.
And after five trips to the dump and just as many to the Value Village donation drop, I felt lighter. I could focus on stuff that actually mattered to me, not stuff I had assumed responsibility for along the way. It has been an incredibly freeing experience.
I hope and intention is that as I move forward after this purge that I take the time to be more thoughtful about the items I keep in my life, only welcoming the needed and useful material goods into my world.
This September, Reese and I are setting out on our best adventure yet: we're moving to Edinburgh Scotland!
First, let me say how proud I am of Reese. Reese was accepted into The University of Edinburgh International MBA program. This is a highly competitive program and has a rigorous schedule over the next year. Congratulations love!
Second, I am SO excited to be moving back to Edinburgh! It is one of my most favorite cities in the entire world. It has such a rich history and a fantastic culture - I'm so grateful that we'll be living in this medieval city for an entire year.
This is also a very special opportunity for me as well in a different capacity. I'll be spending the year pursuing a lifelong dream of mine - I'll be spending the year focusing on writing, hopefully concluding my time there with enough to submit to publishers and/or literary magazines. A lot of this I'll be doing on my own, taking guidance from the course I took at UW over the last year. But I also plan on attending some short courses at The University of Edinburgh and Moniack Mhor.
We will miss our family and friends more than we can say but we look forward to all of the new experiences we have ahead of us.
Over the last week, there have been a plethora of stories written by the press and shared by citizens regarding the ACA - the Affordable Care Act - ObamaCare. The ACA has afforded many people to get cancer treatments, cancer screenings, coverage for chronic conditions, coverage for preexisting conditions, free birth control, and so much more. Is the system perfect? Absolutely not. But the conversation has become so polarized. Since its inception, the GOP has been hellbent on repealing it but I've heard no talk about amending it.
20 million people who were previously uninsured now have insurance. Based on that number alone, its hard for me to imagine that our Representatives and our Senators want to pull the rug out from under 20 million people. On that I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
But the conversation has turning into one of all or nothing it seems, with no talk of compromise. And this type of rhetoric has trickled down to the citizens of our country. There was a particular story that stuck with me this week where it seems to be most evident.
This week, a MLB player named Matt Garza responded to a tweet regarding birth control, stating that "abstinence is…the best contraception." While his statement is factual - it is very, very difficult to get pregnant if you abstain from sex - his statement is also incredibly dense. Yes, the ACA guarantees the coverage of essential health benefits and contraception. And while contraceptives do prevent pregnancies, they also do so much more.
I've been on long-term birth control for almost a decade now. I started with Depo-Provera when I was sixteen and switched over to Mirena when I was twenty-three. When I started taking Depo-Provera it was not to prevent pregnancy - it was to regulate my hormones. After puberty my hormone levels were imbalanced causing me to miss, on average, two days of school every month due to harsh PMS which caused migraines, vomiting, and cramping.
Ahhh - to be a woman.
As a married woman in my twenties, my birth control is now dual purposed in that it still regulates my hormones and prevents pregnancy. My husband and I love each other but we are not ready for kids right now. In Matt Garza's tweet, I'm going to guess that he was (poorly) trying to talk sex before marriage, as he has six children himself. He and his wife are probably using some form of family planning or he's only had sex six times. But those are assumptions.
So my question to him and people like him: What about me? Do I not deserve to be able to plan my family dynamics in a way that works for us? In a way that is both personally and societally responsible? Will you write a note to my company every month when I'm out sick for two days?
We need to change the way we think about healthcare in this country. When I called Speaker Paul Ryan's office (because I stand with Planned Parenthood), his message said that they are focused on creating "patient-centered healthcare." That's all fine and well. People aren't going to disagree with that rhetoric. But the rhetoric and the facts are contradictory. How can you have patient-centered healthcare when you're not guaranteeing necessary healthcare for 50% of all patients? A more accurate term might be "hetero-male centered healthcare."
I mean, would you remove coverage of a medicine that treats pulmonary arterial hypertension? Probably not, but I bet you there are plenty of people that might have complaints over that medication because that medication is called Viagra.
Contraceptive medicines do so much more than just prevent pregnancies. These medications have a drastic impact on quality of living and family planning. And whether you believe in using these medicines or not, every individual and family has the right to find the best solution for them.
So please, talk to your representatives, call Speaker Ryan and ask them not to remove funding for Planned Parenthood and ask them not to repeal ACA until they have a replacement that is truly patient-centered solution for all patients.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I understand that it's history is messy and wrong, however I hope that it is, if nothing else, a forcing function for people to be kind to one another and reflect about the year. I am so grateful for my wonderful husband, Reese, our dogs, Nala and Islay, our families, our friends, our home. I also shamelessly love the food.
However, this year I've been especially reflective. There's a lot that's up in the air right now in American politics and the state of the world. And we can't afford to leave it up to people that don't care about the citizens that create our great nation.
So this year I'm particularly grateful that my husband and I have jobs that afford us the ability to give back to those that have been or will be directly impacted by the political ecosystem that has been created. And if you can afford it, I urge you to do the same. No amount is too small. People around this country are fighting for their rights and need our help.
Here are the great organizations that we donated to:
More than ever, it's important to vote with your dollar. Support the people and organizations you care so they can keep doing great things.
Your participation can make change possible.
This morning brought a whole host of different emotions. But one thing is absolutely for certain: our fight did not end last night. It has only begun.
Mr. Trump, if you thought you were dealing with nasty women before, prepare yourself. We've been fighting this fight and dealing with open and subtle misogyny since the day we were born. We won't be passive. We won't be quiet. We won't smile about it. We won't be happy that we're fighting the same fight our grandmothers fought. But damn it, we will fight.
You think you know this country, but you are so wrong. While, unfortunately, a good portion of our citizens voted for you, love will always trump hate.
This election will set our country back. The eight years of progress we've had will most likely be dismantled by those trying to secure the privilege they have been clinging to. But you're forgetting one thing. Minorities, be they different genders, people of color, different sexual orientations, those of different religions, know what it means to have certain freedoms. To vote. To marry. To practice their faith. To have a credit card in their own name. To manage their healthcare. Take these things away and you will meet the true America.
Unfortunately, the people that voted for you don't realize what they're elected. Many of them now have health insurance, better medi-care coverage, education, protection against domestic violence. How do you think they'll react when they actually realize you plan to take that from them so you can better support the top 1%?
I won't keep dragging on. You have a whole, four years to read about the strong, resilient, passionate people of this country that you will soon represent. But hear this: you are not the better choice for this country. You will not be able to solve our nation's problems, and certainly not on your own. And in four years, we will all be here to say we told you so.
I've always wanted to visit our national parks and I've been to a few before.
The Badlands, in South Dakota, for one. I've also been to Niagara Falls and Mount Rushmore National Monument but was rather unimpressed with both of them. At both locations I got out and said "I thought it would be bigger," (insert "that's what she said" joke here).
But, this week, I visited Mount Rainier National Park, not once but twice in since I moved to Seattle three years ago. And I also took the opportunity to drive through Gifford Pinchot National forest as I made my way down to Hood River, OR yesterday. And I have to say, these are, hands down, some of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
So, first of all, thank you National Parks Service. Thanks for taking care of the great landscape that makes up our country.
Secondly, if you live in or around Seattle, you have to visit these parks. With only a two to three hour drive in between you and this scenery, it's hard to say no.
I mean, are you looking at this?
There are hundreds of miles to be explored and I've only covered a small portion of it. So what's the hold up? Get exploring!
If you're ahead of the game, what's your favorite US National Park? I still have a lot of ground (and now ocean) to cover.
There were many things that my Pappap held close to his heart. At the forefront of that list was family and food. One of my favorite memories was when our family got together for Father's Day lunch at the Olive Garden one year. He and my grandmother arrived and Pappap was greeted by me and free passed appetizers and was faced with a decision: hug Alli or enjoy some free eggplant parm. The choice was tough. Pappap never turned down free food. So before the waitress disappeared and took the free food with her, Pappap went in for a quick hug and then chased after the waitress. It was a win for everyone.
Free anything was probably a close third behind family and food, and the best food was free food. Once, we went to a Chicago Cubs game, and as we were getting ready to leave, there was someone passing out jalapeno chips. Pappap had two handfuls and asked my brother and I to go get some more for him. At the end, we had two backpacks full and he says, "Do you guys like these kind of chips?" I told him no and he goes "Me either. But they're free, so we'll take them home." My brother and I laughed about it most of the bus ride home and every year since. Most recently he said, if its free get in line twice.
When you lose someone that has had such a profound impact on your life, you grieve a little more. Cry a little heavier. You realize all of the parts of your life they have touched. You hope you've learned all you can from them.
Pappap's stamp in on many parts of my life. He and I, we're cut from the same cloth. It's hard to say that without sounding arrogant. He was a great man and we shared many values. He was a hard worker. Strong, diligent, caring, loving, quiet.
Pappap was a man of few words. So much so that I remember a Christmas where he maybe said a handful of words. But he was always listening, always observing. Whenever I called my grandparents, I would hear Pappap talk on three occasions.
When my brother was in middle school, Pappap almost got kicked out of a match for berating the ref on a bad call he gave my brother. Once my brother was in high school, I was warned by the ref for berating him on a bad call against our rival school. You could say we were passionate supporters. Pappap was at every match he could be at for my brother and always called after the ones he could make. He knew the importance of showing up and being there for those that are most important to you.
Since before I was born, Pappap was in my life. He came to Illinois from South Carolina to decorate my room in a Winnie the Pooh theme. My grandparents eventually moved back up to Illinois to be involved our lives. Throughout my life, Pappap has been shaping it in ways I wouldn't realize until I was older. He taught me about the importance of working hard. He taught me that will power is just as important as having the right skills. He showed me what a good marriages, a true partnership, looks like. He always encouraged me to go after my dreams.
Even since his passing, Pappap is still teaching me the little things are the most important memories of all. Evidently, when I was seven years old, I had gotten back from a trip with my family and had a whole three dollars left over. I decided to write my Pappap a card and share my three dollars with him. I don't actually remember doing this. But upon getting into Chicago this weekend for his memorial, my dad handed me this card with the three dollars in it. Pappap has been saving this in his safety deposit box since 1998. I have never been so humbled by anything in my entire life.
While I miss him more than anything, I am happy that he's no longer in pain. I'm am so fortunate that he was in my life and that he helped shaped my perspective on the world and I will never take that for granted.
I love you Pappap.
The capitol of the island nation and absolutely buzzing after the win over England. For the rest of our trip, Reykjavik and the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina was our home base. (Side note - this hotels has one of the best cocktail bars in the city, Slippbarinn. Definitely check it out.) If you look at a map, the Marina might seem out of the way from city center, but everything was very accessible. Most things were no more than a ten or twenty minute walk.
While we were in town, we got our photos taken by Rakel at Flytographer. Given that it was our honeymoon, and the fact that I'm never in photos, we wanted a souvenir to commemorate our trip. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip because it was much more than a photoshoot. While we walked around with Rakel, we learned about everyday life in Reykjavik and Iceland and got to see the city through a local's eyes. A traveler's dream come true.
Reese and I left Reykjavik to head out on our DIY Golden Circle tour. Depending on what attractions you want to see, it may be better to do a guided tour but we were willing to forego driving on a glacier today, which made our trip entirely more doable on our own. We got our car and headed out of the city around 10am. There's no traffic and the roads were easy to navigate. We were on our way.
The Golden Circle
First stop, þingvellir (Said: Thingvellir. Pronunciation here). þingvellir is really interesting for several reasons. For one, it is the historical site where Icelandic parliament was held there from 930-1798. Secondly, this cultural site lies atop of the fault line between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. According to our Lonely Planet book, these plates are still moving every year causing major geographic changes over time. It was quite the site to see.
Heading East, Reese and I went to go see the Geysir that all others are named after. Now mostly dormant, Geysir is still one of the largest tourist attractions in Iceland with several hotels and shops across the street from the natural wonder.
The air is sulfuric and (non-biting) flies are abundant, but the views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and geothermal steam vents is pretty spectacular.
Skógafoss is by far my favorite waterfall I've seen in Iceland. It's not the biggest, or the most powerful, but it falls into a shallow valley between two mountains and a glacier and the view can't be beat. Across from the viewing platforms, on the opposite side of the river, are fields of Lupine, painting the rolling hills purple and white. I, of course, can't get enough of this flower. It's my favorite color, and here in Iceland, it covers the land. It's gorgeous.
You can get close enough to the edge of the falls to touch the glacially chilled falls. I didn't dare attempt to get close enough but I watched others do it and tell their friends how cold the water was. Instead, I took photo after photo of the beautiful scenery around me.
The Blue Lagoon
Opting for a late admission to the geothermal pool, Reese and I arrived at The Blue Lagoon around 11pm, giving us a chance to relax and enjoy the midnight sun. And boy did we luck out. Last night, we saw the best "sunset" since we arrived in Iceland. Of course, the sun only set enough to paint the skies with beautiful pinks, oranges, and yellows before it started to rise again. In fact, when we got to the hotel at 2:30am, it was brighter out than when we started to head back from The Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is a different from Myvatn in a few ways. For one, it is placed near a geothermal plant that mixes the water to ensure the optimal levels of algae and minerals in the water. These are what give you the light, milky blue color. The lagoon is also much more geared towards tourist than to the locals.
With a poolside bar, in pool spa services, and onsite restaurant, The Blue Lagoon caters to every visitor. Reese and I relaxed with champagne and algae masks until closing, watching the entire "sunset" and playing with our GoPro (so much fun if you like gadgets and photography).
Game of Thrones Tour
For those of you that aren't devout Game of Thrones fans, that is a common way to leave a conversation if you were a believer of "The Seven" or the old gods in the series. If it's not already apparent, we were having a themed day around the hit series Game of Thrones.
A gorgeous valley in Iceland
Our first stop, I can't find the actual name of, but it's at these coordinates (64°06'49.7"N 21°17'46.0"W) if you're interested in visiting. While it was a quick stop, it was a beautiful valley that was a filming location for Game of Thrones. It is quintessential scenery for what we've seen of Iceland thus far.
Þingvellir National Park
We also happened to head back to Þingvellir on our tour today, but this time from a different vantage point. We were there to see a waterfall and one of the travel routes used in the show. The ravine itself is not that long, but we learned that the actors walked back and forth in the ravine to create the image that producers were looking for.
Viking Lodge in Þjórsárdalur Valley
Another quick stop, but definitely worth it. Surrounded by Lupine flowers with a waterfall in the background, these turf houses were rebuilt as replicas of a commonwealth bar that Vikings used to frequent. This location was used to film a scene north of the wall though it wasn't a very long scene.
Gjáin in Þjórsárdalur Valley
My favorite stop! This location is basically irrelevant to Game of Thrones but it is everything I imagined I would see in Iceland. Only accessible if you have a 4x4 vehicle, this hidden gem is tucked away in central Iceland. With clear, drinkable (I actually drank out of the river. It was delicious) glacial waters, the gorge, or Gjáin, is a must see. Since it's featured in a fantasy, fictional, TV series, it almost seems redundant to say that this looks like it's out of a book, but it does. The waters are transparent to every depth of the river bed unless waterfalls are crashing over it. I'm so glad we got to experience such a magnificent place in Iceland.
Our last stop on the trip was a surprise visit to a nearby horse farm, where the owners breed, raise, train, and show the well known Icelandic horses. Extinct outside of Iceland, the Icelandic horse is a great artifact of what Viking life used to be like.
Unlike many other cultures, Icelandic horses were raised for their temperament and their strength as they were only needed for transportation and farm work. In modern days, Icelandic horses are used primarily for show, breeding, and racing. They are indeed the most friendly horses I've ever met and far less intimidating as I am of a similar height. Much better.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip and it was all made possible by Greyline Iceland. We had an amazing guide and driver and got to ride in an awesome 4x4 bus all day. We were worried that the tour would be a little kitschy and lame, but it was great. A perfect balance of themed fun and historical information. I highly recommend the tour and the company.
On one of our last days, we rented a car and headed south. This was a pretty breath taking day. We headed down to Vík to see where the black sand beaches and glaciers meet. All at once the sea looked clear but black as the surf crashed into the sand.
We could've spent a whole day walking around the beach looking at the different geological formations and wild sheep that occasionally wanted to visit. I highly recommend taking a drive down, especially without a tour group. Give yourself all the time in the world to see a new part of the world.
To start our honeymoon, we head to the north. Akureyri is our first stop.
The first two days we stay in town, exploring shops, celebrating a friend's wedding, and enjoying the community pool which is quite the experience and nothing like the pools in the US, in the best way possible.
Enjoying geothermal pools is not just an activity that people in Iceland do; it's a way of life. As I understand it, many people plan their days around trips to the community pools. Go in the morning before work, during lunch breaks, and before their day is over. These baths also create an enjoyable way to end your hikes, as there are many you can choose from in any town in Iceland.
These aquatic traditions have been said to have been around since the island was settled. Hot water runs abundantly through, over, and under the entire island, creating these natural baths for its citizens to enjoy. As a visitor, it was wonderful to experience such a ritual that is so deeply imbedded into the culture.
I went to the Akureyri pool with my friends and their family. Many of my friends family members had been going there since they were children and said that there were many years where they would go every single year. For some, that may seem like a lot of pool time, but it is so much more than that.
The facility has a lap pool, a leisure pool, a kids pool, two slides, three hot tubs (all at various temperatures), and a steam sauna. Not to mention various workout equipment that is on the grounds both indoor and out. There is something for everyone, young and old - lazy and outgoing. Personally, I enjoyed the hot tubs and the steam sauna. It was great to go from hot and cold and enjoy the fresh, Icelandic air while spending time with my friends.
If you plan to stay in Akureyri for a few days, I highly recommend Accommodation Akureyri. We found out about this company on VRBO and I can't say enough good things about it. The prices are half of what you'll pay at any hotel in town, and your money goes a long way. The unit is nicely furnished, recently renovated, and spacious all in the heart of town. It's one of my prouder booking moments. Everything, including the airport, is less than a 20-30 minute walk, or 5 minute drive if you're renting a car. The place also has a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and a balcony so it's the perfect place for longer stays.
I know TLC told us not to do it, but when in Iceland, I highly recommend it. Reese and I spent the last two days exploring Iceland's aquatic features from Dettifoss to the center of the island.
To do any of these trips, we found it easiest if you rent a car and journey with your map. We saw several tour buses at each place we stopped along the way, so if tours are your thing, you won't miss out. However, from our experience, Iceland is by far one of the easiest places to rent and drive a car. Renting the car obviously gives you some additional freedoms to change your course, stop and get lunch or snacks, leg room, and saves you plenty of money. While car rentals and gasoline are more expensive in Iceland, you will double your costs on tour fees, unless you are traveling solo.
We spent all day driving around Northern Iceland from Akureyri to Dettifoss and if you have the time, I highly recommend the trip.
Heading out of the Akureyri, we were instantly surrounded by rolling hills and mountains and occasionally the shorelines of a fjord. On the way to our first destination, we are greeted in the country side by Icelandic horses and vast Lupine fields. Not far out of Akureyri, we reached our first stop.
Goðafoss (pronounciation)is not the biggest waterfall in Iceland. That one we visit later. Instead, the waterfall is of cultural significance. It is the location where Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland around 1000 AD. We were able to walk around two sides of the waterfall and feel the spray from all angles and even hike down to the river bed at the base of the falls.
This may have been one of my favorite stops of the day. Not far from Dimmuborgir, there are two small openings in the ground that lead to the clearest, blue waters I've ever seen. These caves used to be popular geothermal baths but from 1975-1984 the temperature of the water rose above 122 degrees Fahrenheit due to eruptions in Iceland , forcing people to find other bathing sites.
The temperature of the waters have since cooled to a soothing temperature but are now considered to be for private use only of nearby landowners. You can sit inside the caves and enjoy the view but check out nearby locations if you want to soak in the geothermal waters.
Second to last stop of the day was Dettifoss - the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Only a kilometer or two from the visitors center, Dettifoss can be heard before it can be seen. The thundering waters plummets to the river below with immense force, pushing spray back up the cliffs making it partly cloudy and rainy at all times, regardless of the surrounding weather.
If the sun does happen to peak through the clouds, you will see one of the most stunning views of a rainbow. I can officially say I saw the end of a rainbow and there is no pot of gold. Just the muddy lands that used to be covered with moss.
Myvatn Nature Baths
Similar to the Blue Lagoon, the well-known geothermal bath near Reykjavik, Myvatn (pronunciation: Mee-vat) Nature Baths are wallet friendly alternative with an equally stunning view.
This was the last stop of the day before heading back to Akureyri to catch our flight to Reykjavik. I won't say we saved the best for last, but it is certainly a relaxing way to end a day of adventuring. With the sun still high in the sky and the air a crisp 55 degrees, Reese and I nestled in the warm, mineral rich waters for an hour or two, surrounded by mountains and pastures on all sides.
We got back into Akureyri in time for two things: The Iceland v. England match and our flight. We had our priorities sorted out, for sure. We huddled up next to all the locals, in the rain, who had gathered in the town square to watch the match on the big screen they had brought in especially for the event. The match was happening against all odds and Iceland came out victorious. About 20 minutes before the match ended, we had to head to the airport (a 5 minute drive) to return our car and check in. Even after all that, we caught the last 10 (most stressful) minutes of the game. We celebrated with everyone in the (singular) terminal. It was an incredible moment to be a part of. Reese and I were here by chance at the same time as this match, but made memories to last a life time.
Everywhere I travel, I constantly hear how different cultures are. Mostly how different the culture is from home from whoever is talking about it. But, during my travels, I've found that cultures aren't all that different and they all have universal truths, currencies, and languages. Among them are love, pride, and kindness.
Tonight I witnessed many of these translated among many international guests. I don't speak Icelandic, but tonight I easily understood what my friends parents were saying at their wedding celebration. There was such love and pride in their hearts, minds, and voices, and I am so grateful to have been a witness.
In times of such political and financial turmoil, it's important to remember what's important in life and to recognize what we all share with one another. Tonight, I witnessed two families celebrating the love between two wonderful people. Words were said in two languages but many of it did not need a translator. Love poured from their hearts as they celebrated and cherished the love shared by two people, and they could ask for nothing more.
As the night carried on (minus the darkness), Reese and I got to know the family and friends of our friends and found many more things in common than we had differences. These are people thousands of miles from the familiar for us and we all wanted nothing more than to be happy and healthy.
It is nights like this that remind me how fortunate I am to:
Love knows no bounds. This is what people forget. I am on my honeymoon, in a foreign country, and EVERYONE should get to know this bliss. This feeling, this experience should not be privilege but a right. And I will do all that I can to make sure that happens for all during my lifetime.