a collection of certainly special, uniquely unusual, and equally momentous thoughts: memoirs of me

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Our Icelandic Saga: Part 2

As promised, here's part 2 of our Icelandic adventure! We were still cold and still wet, but the views were still magnificent. 

Day 3
Glacial Lagoon & Svartifoss

Jumping just to keep warm and because there's ICE in the ocean. 

The glacial lagoon behind me with floating pieces of iceberg. 

One of the highlights of the trip was taking an amphibious boat tour around the glacial lagoon. Once again, I don't remember another time when I was so cold but we tried to concentrate on the majesty of the experience instead of the numbness of our fingers. At one point two guys on a zodiak boat brought us this big piece of ice and claimed it was more than 1000 years old. I'm not sure if I believe that but it was definitely cool getting a small chopped-off piece and being able to suck on it. The water is so good here!

The great Svartifoss! Can you even believe those basalt columns? We had to hike 45 minutes to get to this one but it was one of those moments where you come up a hill, see the waterfall for the first time from a distance, and find that you've lost your breath. This place was incredible! It was slightly less cold (maybe that was because we'd been hiking) but when we arrived it was just us and the falls. I couldn't believe we were there! All I could think was that I wanted to bottle up those moments and somehow share them with my loved ones. I wanted them to see it! I wanted them to experience what I was experiencing! #lehi'sdream

Finished the day off with a beautiful sunset (around midnight).

Day 4
Churches, Waterfalls & Reynisfjara Beach

A beautiful view of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrimskirkja church.

I feel like I've been to a lot of churches during my travels with my family and friends but the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church in the heart of Reykjavik was really something special. When we walked in we found the church's choir practicing for their services later that day and so we found a few minutes to sit in a pew and listen. I don't think I'll ever forget those few minutes and the Spirit I felt there. It was so special. 

Straight after that, we drove to Selfoss and found the small LDS branch there. Situated on the second floor of an unassuming white building, we walked in and found just a dozen members of that small branch. Immediately we were approached by most of them and welcomed in the sweetest way. What a joy it was to sit there and enjoy that Sacrament meeting. I loved hearing the hymns and talks in Icelandic and listening to the Sacrament prayers. It never ceases to amaze me how you can go anywhere in this world and find members of the church. Even more, the Spirit was so strong! Oh how I love being a member of this church. 

The rain stopped just long enough for a few beautiful minutes as we approached Seljalandsfoss. This was probably my favorite of the big, well-known Icelandic waterfalls because of the trail behind the falls on which we could walk. 

I mean, come on. 

Behind the falls. 

Okay so I know this one looks really similar to Seljalandsfoss but if I had to choose, this would probably be my #1 favorite moment of the entire trip. The branch members had told us about a hidden waterfall close to Seljalandsfoss so after searching a little nearby, we happened upon a slot canyon and then found THIS! We had to step across several stones in the river but then found ourselves literally surrounded by walls and a long, tall waterfall falling right in front of us. We got majorly wet but standing on that large rock right in front of the falls was an exhilarating moment that I will never forget. 

Dunking our heads in the river to drink the water. 

Skogafoss! Iceland's most recognizable waterfall!

At the top of Skogafoss. 

Reynisfjara Beach & Basalt Columns- I remember when some friends went to Iceland a couple years ago and took a picture on the basalt columns like those pictured above. I remember thinking "That place looks so cool, I need to get there someday" and that was really the propellant for choosing Iceland. Let me tell you, this place was wild. The waves were humongous, the fog and rain created a really mysterious ambiance, and we just felt like we were on a different planet. I could not have planned a more dramatic finish to our trip. 

And finally, our last morning was spent at the Blue Lagoon. Although a major tourist attraction, I'm not mad about the money we spent doing this. We donned our swimsuits and sat in these steaming hot hot springs with a couple hundred other tourists, and you know what? It was pretty darn fun. We wandered around the place, rubbed our faces with silica mud, tried the sauna rooms (I lasted less than 30 seconds) and then, slowly, got dressed and made our way to the airport, extremely tired but also, for the first time in five days, warm. 

Since getting back many people have asked me how my trip was. I respond by saying that it was fantastic or amazing. What I can't put into words is how it really was. Iceland was magical! It was so much more than just fantastic or amazing. We saw moss-covered lava fields, gigantic waterfalls, snow-capped volcanos and mountains, and so much more, and I wish there were words to really describe it. More than anything, I wish I could take all my loved ones there to actually show you. I wish I could hike with you to Svartifoss or stand underneath Seljalandsfoss with you. I wish you could see the green of the moss on the lava fields or experience the purity of the water in the streams. I wish I could bottle up the amazing moments and share them with you. That is the thing about traveling, it is best to do it with people you enjoy so that you can have someone there to share in those glorious moments. 

So even though I didn't have all my loved ones with me, here's a shout-out to my three amazing travel companions- Whitney, Kathryn, and Eric. There wasn't a moment of frustration or confusion. We worked as a team and enjoyed nothing but easy-goingness. I could not have asked for three more fun companions. We laughed until we cried more times than I can count, enjoyed deep and thoughtful conversation, and got to share this amazing trip together! So thank you. 

And that's it! One more vacation come and gone and one more stamp in my passport. If anyone wants tips or tricks for traveling around Iceland I'd love to talk to you. Till then, I'll be planning my vacation somewhere in the world and eating lots of Skyr in the meantime!

Our Icelandic Saga: Part 1

I forget what it's like to not be able to understand. For the most part, wherever I am in the United States I can understand everything because it's in either English or Spanish. 

But then I went to Iceland. 

You try pronouncing Hallgrimskirkja or Seljalandsfoss or Jokulsarlon and see if you don't look a little like an idiot. It's impossible. After 5 days I could probably say takk fyrir (thank you) and skyr (yogurt) and not receive a cringe-worthy look, but that was about it. 

Notwithstanding the language barrier, my recent trip to Iceland was once-in-a-lifetime. I've widdled my pictures down to only the best and figure it most fitting to describe them one-by-one. So here goes nothing.

Snaefellsness Peninsula

The girls- Whitney, me, and Kathryn- ready to board our flight. We left at 7:30 pm D.C. time and got to Iceland around 1:30 am D.C. time, or 5:30 am Iceland time. No, we did not sleep on the plane and we didn't take any time to sleep once we got there. That means we were up for two full days, or 37 hours total. Thank heavens for caffeine pills, adrenaline, and amazing sights the first day that kept us awake. 

Our first stop, a local Icelandic bakery to get some pastries. This was also our first encounter with Skyr (Iceland's yogurt) that I became a little obsessed with over the course of the trip. Between me and Kathryn, we tried every flavor at least once. My favorite was probably cantaloupe. Skyr is like a type of greek yogurt but it actually has MORE protein than greek yogurt and isn't quite as tart. Loved it. 

Our first to-do was travel to the town where "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was filmed. There wasn't a ton there (no surprise) but we did hike to this pretty lighthouse on the hill. Just behind us is the restaurant where Walter Mitty encounters the drunk helicopter pilot and just behind us is the helicopter pad where he jumps into the helicopter. I think we were also realizing at this point that it's freezing in Iceland and were evaluating if we had brought enough warm clothes. The answer to that evaluation was definitely no. We were freezing for five whole days. 

You can see in the distance a partially frozen waterfall. Little did we know that there would be waterfalls around almost every turn in this country. This was one of dozens that we saw from the road. 

Kirkjufell Mountain- the most photographed mountain in Iceland. This was the beginning of our excursion around Snaefellsjokull National Park. Once again, try pronouncing that. 

Another waterfall we saw from the road. This was also the first time I used my beloved selfie stick and I'd say it was pretty awesome. #notashamed

One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Not sure where we are or what we're doing but I'm mid-jump and Whitney is pretending to push me off the stump. The whole thing is a perfect depiction of our relationship. We're crazy fun. 

Vatnshellir Cave- We saw this ad on the side of the road to hike down into a lava cave and decided to go for it. Totally worth it. Our guide led us down into a large, dripping, troll-infested (that's what he said) cave where he pointed out stalagmites and stalactites and told us stories of how the trolls come out in the darkness. This is also where we learned that all the water in Iceland is so pure that you can drink it straight from the rivers. We even got to drink some water from a pool in the cave and it tasted amazing. No kidding. From then on we were dunking out hands into every body of water and drinking. Here's to hoping we don't get parasites. 

Our first black sand beach- so very cold but so magical as well. 

As everyone knows, I was raving about this cabin that we'd found on Air BnB and was so excited to get there. It did not disappoint. After more than 35 hours of being awake, we arrived at this cabin and it was perfect. Comfy beds, a mini-fridge stocked with bacon and toast for the morning, and a HOT TUB. Words cannot fully describe how it felt to relax in that hot tub after all we'd been through. It was PERFECT. If we had been in Iceland just a few weeks earlier we probably would have been able to see the Northern Lights from this cabin but it was just a little too late in the year. This is also where we figured out that the sun doesn't really set at this time of year in Iceland. At midnight, the sky is still that grey blue- like it might be at 5 am here in the States- and even in the middle of the night it's not pitch black outside. It was definitely a weird sensation and does something funky to your brain. You don't feel like you ever need to head to bed because it's still light outside. 

The Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park- This spot is significant for two reasons: (1) This is where two tectonic plates are continually separating, not very fast mind you, but just a couple of centimeters each year and (2) this is the site of the word's first parliament. Pretty cool. 

One of the few words we didn't struggle with is geyser. That's because geyser is Icelandic! We've changed the spelling a bit- in Icelandic it's spelled geysir- but even still, a word we could pronounce! Behind us is the most famous geyser in Iceland. It's not very reliable these days and only goes off 2-3 times a day, but there were other geysers in the area that we saw so we weren't mad. 

The first of the humongous waterfalls we saw on our trip- this one is called Gulfoss. This is where I need to point out that these pictures really can't do anything justice. The vistas were so much grander and magnificent than a picture could portray, and for that I'm a little disappointed. I wish I could help you understand just how big and amazing these waterfalls were.

Our last stop in the Golden Circle- Kerid volcano crater lake. Hard to imagine these volanos actually erupting thousands of years ago.

After booking our trip to Iceland, I realized that we would be gone for the premier of Pitch Perfect 2. I was determined that I was going to do everything in my power to try and see the movie while in Iceland so I did a lot of research and called every movie theater in Reykjavik. To our dismay it was not showing anywhere. I was worried this would happen so I had bought me and Whitney t-shirts so we could celebrate all day long, but I still think it would have been cool to see it in country. Oh well. 

And that was our first day!