Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Iceland: Day 2

On our second day in Iceland, a false fire alarm woke us up at 5:30. It felt like college all over again, like someone had burnt popcorn in the microwave. One of my biggest fears is getting caught in a fire, so with my heart pounding, even for a false alarm, I could not go back to sleep. So our second day got a bit of an earlier start than we had planned!

We had breakfast in the hostel, which was a nice option (although they were late in setting it up, which was annoying since we had been up for about two hours already!). For ~$15 each we could partake in a buffet which included bread (for toast or sandwiches [there were also cheese/meat/tomato/cucumber slices), skyr (Iceland's version of yogurt), cereal, and hard-boiled eggs. So we filled ourselves up since we weren't sure when we would eat next.

We rented a car that day to explore the southern coast of the country. Hannah already had a plan for where we would stop along the way, so I just enjoyed the ride (and also napped...).

Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, a big waterfall that is quite the tourist attraction (I even found a postcard featuring it). Iceland had a very rainy spring and early summer, so the water was rushing; it was quite the sight!

We walked behind the waterfall, so we got a little wet from the mist.
When we had talked to someone at the tourist office downtown the previous day, we told him we were going to see the falls. He told us about a smaller, less-known waterfall (called Gljúfrabúl) that was just a short walk from the bigger one. So we took his advice to check it out. 

Notice the little sheep at the bottom of the photo!
We walked past some small waterfalls before reaching the one we wanted to get to. This one was inside of a cavern, so we had to use stepping stones in the water to get inside of the cave to see the falls. That was quite the balancing act, especially since people were trying to get out while we were trying to get in, but there's only one path!
Picture by Hannah Churn

After that we drove a little while longer to get to Skógafoss, a waterfall that Hannah visited the last time she was in Iceland. There is a tall set of stairs to get to the top, and all of my gym classes definitely prepared me for that climb!
This was a mountain near the falls. We saw a lot of these mossy mountains.
There are the falls, and you can see the winding staircase to the right in the photo.
Picture by Hannah Churn

This is what the falls looked like at the top.
There was a long trail that we could hike at the top of the falls, but we didn't have time to linger. We were off to our next stop, Dyrhólaey, to see the black sand beaches. They weren't beaches where people lay out or play in the surf; it can actually be dangerous to swim there. So we just took some photos before moving on to our next adventure.

We made a quick stop to see Sólheimajökull, a glacier that, like all other glaciers, is melting and shrinking in size due to climate change.

First we saw this big pond of water, and soon realized this was water that used to be part of the glacier.
You can see how enormous the glacier is: those tiny dots by the water at the bottom of the picture are people!
Then we were back on the road. We saw more misty mountains, and lots of happy cows, sheep and horses.

Our last stop was to check out a pool that Hannah wanted to visit. This wasn't a hot spring, but the pool was heated by geothermal energy. We had to hike in the rain to get there, but Hannah did get her quick dip in!
We saw these pretty purple flowers EVERYWHERE!

We were walking along this valley to get to the pool.

Hannah enjoyed her brief swim, even if it was raining a bit!
We finally saw a bit of blue sky as we were heading home. Such amazing landscapes!
We wanted to make sure we returned the rental car on time, so we were bookin' it back; it was fun reading 110 on the speedometer, even though that was in kilometers. As we drove back we saw a fence with bras all over it, an Arion bank, valleys of steam, and little hobbit houses nestled at the base of some of the mountains. But it was mostly lava fields (i.e. the usual).

Image found here

We got the car back just in time so that we could head to the Harpa for a showing of "Icelandic Sagas," a funny performance that summarized many of the viking stories. The room was much smaller than I expected for such a well-known performance hall, and for the ~$40 I paid for each ticket, I was surprised by the minimal set and the fact that the show only had two actors in it. I was amused and entertained, but the experience was like expecting to go to the Kennedy Center and ending up at Atlas Theater: still good, but not what you thought you had paid for. But we then went out for Indian food at a place called Gandhi, and that made it all better. The atmosphere was quiet and romantic actually, and the food was delicious. Then we had some ice cream as we walked back to the hostel.

Yet another busy day!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Iceland: Day 1

My friend Hannah was already planning to go to Iceland for a professional artist retreat, and she was going a few days early just for fun. I have been wanting to go to Iceland for some time (so many of my friends have been), so I asked her, "Not to invite myself on your vacation, but...can I invite myself on your vacation?" And she said yes!

Since it really was her trip, I let her do the planning. I told her, "You put the trip together, and afterward I'll write you a big check." So she decided where we would stay, when we would get the rental car and where we would go, etc. And she did a great job! She was so organized, which I appreciated. I felt safe and secure; I was in good hands.

Our WOW Airlines flight attendants looked just like this. I felt like it was Pan Am in the 1960's! Everything else was pink/purple, too: the lights on the plane, the WOW planes themselves, etc. Image found here.
Our trip began at BWI Airport around 10pm. Our flight wasn't until midnight, but we wanted to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to get through security, find our gate, etc. Well, the airport was dead, and we made it to our gate in less than 30 minutes. Then it was just a waiting game. I was so exhausted, and luckily once I was on the plane, I nearly slept through the whole flight.

We arrived at 7am, but because of the four hour difference, it was already 11am when we touched down. Getting through security wasn't too bad, and we made it easily to our bus to take us to BSI, the main bus terminal in Reykjavik (the international airport is about an hour from the capital city). I slept on that bus ride, too; I swear that the best way to prevent jet lag is to take naps whenever possible and get as much sleep when you can.

From BSI we walked about 25 minutes to our hostel. After sitting on an airplane for seven hours and then being on the bus, it felt good to stretch our legs. I noticed lots of purple and yellow flowers as we walked, as well as some starlings and what looked like a robin.

We saw many of these yellow flowers as we were walking around. 
Since we hadn't had breakfast, I was afraid I would get hangry on the long walk to the hostel. So I bought this HUGE pastry to hold me over on the walk. It's nearly the size of my face! Picture by Hannah Churn.

The Oddsson Hostel is so colorful! It was right on the ocean, so we couldn't get lost: just follow the water!
Then we made it to the Oddsson Hostel. It was really great! There was some issue with our online booking (which we didn't know about), so we got a free upgrade to a private room. Score! The hostel also offered free yoga classes to guests, had a bar downstairs, and you could eat a breakfast buffet there each morning for an extra cost (if you chose to do that; we did two mornings). There was also a kitchen and a hot tub; we used neither, but it was nice to know they offered those things.

This was our room. It was small but served its purpose. We were just ecstatic that we didn't have to share a room!
This was the view from our tiny room. The smaller islands in the water would completely disappear at high tide.
We spent the first day exploring Reykjavik, and we could easily walk downtown from the hostel. Since we were right next to the ocean, there was a sea or marsh smell in the air. While walking around, we saw lots of murals, or street art if you will. That was pretty neat! Here are several we saw:

The little orange thing at the top is a tiny My Little Pony!

This one was my favorite, obviously.

We spent most of the day walking around downtown, window shopping along all the little shops. I had read (and Hannah confirmed) that souvenirs would be cheaper at the duty-free store in the airport, so I did not buy too much stuff while shopping. It was fun just checking things out. There were many restaurants, and several specifically targeted tourists: there was a Hard Rock Cafe, a Chuck Norris restaurant, and on one block all next to each other were an American bar, a British pub, and a Parisian bistro. I was actually surprised how quiet the city was for a Saturday afternoon; not many people were out and about, but in the main square area there was a crowd gathered to watch soccer on an outdoor screen. It was fun to spend the day wandering the streets and exploring the city.

Our pastries held us over through lunch, but for dinner we wanted to check out a restaurant for true Icelandic food. So we went to the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant, where I had fish and chips along with their daily vegetables (beets and carrots). The food was very good, and it was a filling dinner that was quite satisfying after a long travel day.

We walked back to our hostel along the coast so we could see what "sunset" there would be, since there are only a few hours of darkness during the summer in Iceland. We had a few drinks at the bar at the hostel, then showered and cleaned ourselves up, which was very refreshing after our long day. We went to bed pretty early so we could get a good night's sleep for Day 2!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fourth of July on Cape Cod

Happy Birthday, America!
Sorry for the delay in posting this! I just got back from Iceland (those blog posts will be coming soon!). 

I love Cape Cod. Anyone who has ever been must say the same thing. And I hadn't been back for five years (here are my blog posts related to my trips in 2012 and 2013), so I was overdue.

This was the beautiful sunset that welcomed me on my arrival.
I arrived on July 3rd, and I was lucky enough to grab an earlier bus from Logan Airport to get to Woods Hole. Just as I arrived and was waiting for my friend to pick me up, I saw fireworks going off over the water. So the town was already celebrating!

In case you don't take the time to read my earlier blog posts about my trips to the Cape, this friend I was visiting, Athena, is my "shenanigans friend." I never know what we're going to be doing or what kind of trouble we might get into, but I know things are going to happen that I don't expect. So when she picked me up in a white pick-up truck and told me to sit with her friends in the bed of the truck, I thought, "Yup, that's about right." We piled in and drove right around the corner to her friends' house. Kim and Jake had just gotten married less than two weeks beforehand, so they still had decorations around and lots of leftover booze. We enjoyed some rum and grapefruit juice while the groom set off Roman candles and a miniature cannon. My vacation had officially begun.

We spent "America's birthday" out on the water ALL day. We woke up early and took Jake's skiff (like a big rowboat but with a motor) out to Quissett, a tiny area within Falmouth. We wanted to catch the parade there before watching a second parade in Woods Hole.

We saw several huge vacation homes as we motored by, like this one.
We took a little dip at the beach at Quissett before the parade was supposed to start. I waded in the water (I'm not much of a swimmer), and mostly enjoyed watching the two puppies playing on the beach. Athena's dog is Clio, and Jake and Kim's dog in Yanmar (named after the diesel engine), and they are best friends. They're always playing together; Yanmar is like a "frat bro," barreling into Clio when she's not watching and always looking for food. Yanmar was also fond of making herself into a "sugar donut," swimming in the water and then immediately rolling in the sand on the beach. We were all very amused by this!

This is Athena's dog, Clio. She's 11 months old, and very well behaved!
And Yanmar, a dense 5-month old chocolate lab who has A LOT of energy!
The parade was cute but short, featuring some older cars, people dressed up in costumes, and a dragon.

After that parade, we zipped our way back to Woods Hole for the next parade. This was one of the few times that day we were on land, and we docked the boat so we could watch the parade from the bridge. I had never seen a parade like it before. Rather than boasting cool cars or a big band, most of the groups featured were highlighting the sciences. People were dressed up like marine animals, and a whole group was dedicated to eradicating the Guinea worm; a group of butterflies highlighted the importance of migration, and high school students chanted about recycling.

A little boy who is obsessed with Yanmar dressed up like the dog for the parade!
After the parade, we ran to Woods Hole Market to stock up on snacks. We bought chips, hummus, dips, peanuts, Goldfish, the whole she-bang. We also picked up the leftover beer from Kim and Jake's wedding, threw them in some big coolers with ice, and then we were back on the water. We took the skiff out to Athena's boat "Towny" and settled in for the afternoon. They had told their friends we'd be hanging out, and those people told their friends, and eventually we had at least four other boats tied up to each other for a full Cape rafting experience.

People were hanging out in floaty rings while drinking beers (the cans float in the water, FYI) and listening to a mix of 90's rap and Beyoncé.
After spending several hours on the boats (and getting a wee bit sunburned), we motored over to Devil's Foot, a tiny island that our group renamed Shrimp Dick Island (great). By the time we made it over, there were SO many people there! When I had visited previously, the island was completely deserted, so to see ~100 people on the beach was crazy. We spent several hours there, too. I walked around the island once (it's quite rocky, so going barefoot was a mistake), but mostly hung out on the boat. Even though I was just standing/sitting there for hours at a time (and not drinking since I don't like beer), it was still very relaxing. And it was amazing how quickly time went by; I don't think we left the island until about 7:30 at night.

I told Athena, "I've never seen so many beautiful people." She replied, "Well, you usually don't hang out with a whole bunch of people who are ten years younger than you." Touché.
We headed back to Kim and Jake's house for dinner, since they had so many leftover burgers and hot dogs from their wedding. They were very accommodating and made veggie burgers for me (since I'm not eating pork and beef at the moment) and even brought me ketchup when no one else was really into it (a brand new bottle, too!). Such hospitality. Then we all got back in the truck and went to a nearby beach to watch fireworks. There were actually several firework shows going on at the same time, and they were all across the water from where we were, so we could see them all. We were further away (separated by the bay), so we could barely hear the fireworks, which was weird, since usually they are nearly deafening. It was a very good firework show, and the perfect way to end such a quintessential summer day!

The next day Athena had to work, so I was left to my own devices to entertain myself. I was not very creative: I watched Netflix, read the entire book 37 Seconds, and took several naps. I hate that I was so lazy, but isn't that what vacations are for? I do love the feeling of being productive and accomplishing things, but vacation isn't the time for that, so I'm not going to dwell on the fact that I spent pretty much the entire day laying on the pull-out couch.

I did make it out of the house for a little while, though. Athena picked me up during her lunch break and we went to the farmers market. We bought fresh eggs and veggies from her favorite local farm (I love supporting local businesses, but $6 for a dozen eggs is a little much), as well as donuts ($1.50 each, much more of a bargain) and arepas ($10 each, but that was our lunch and they were filling). Then she dropped me off back at home, where I repeated my morning routine. 

After work, Athena came home and we worked in the garden for a little while, weeding out around the carrots and lettuces. Athena picked the lettuces for our salad that night, and we played a short game of badminton before making dinner. We made our salad, which consisted of vegetables from the farmers market or from her own garden, so that was cool; we also grilled up the zucchinis and yellow squash we bought earlier that day, and their friend supplemented our meal with a baguette and Vermont cheddar. It was a delicious veg meal, but afterward we had a hankering for dessert. We took a short drive to Dairy Queen, and I was very excited that they had the Jurassic Blizzard I had heard about on TV (essentially it's all about the peanut butter cups; mine actually wasn't like the ad in the above link). The ice cream really hit the spot!

Friday was another slow day since Athena still had to work. I mostly hung out at the house again. I did some yoga outside, and then pulled some weeds from Athena's garden (I figured I might as well make myself useful). It ended up raining, so I laid low for most of the day. But by the time Athena got back from work, the weather had cleared up. We went to Main Street in Falmouth for some shopping. At Boardstiff she found both a new pair of sunglasses and several bathing suits, so that was a successful outing.

We went to dinner at Casa Vallarta, where the margaritas were huge! Our waitress also mixed up our check with someone else (who accidentally paid our bill and had already left), so five of us had dinner and drinks for just $55! It was our lucky day!

Another amazing sunset!
After our bellies were very full from all the delicious Mexican food, we took the dogs for a walk through Woods Hole. Walking on a leash is pretty easy for Clio, but Yanmar is still trying to get the hang of it. They were happy to be let off leash and run around Trash Beach (a tiny beach in town that is pretty grungy with all the seaweed and stuff that washes ashore). On our way back, since we were feeling so lucky after our dinner, we bought Mega Million tickets, and I got a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream to eat as we walked back home. (Note: we did not become millionaires.)

Saturday was a gorgeous day: it wasn't rainy anymore, and it was much cooler and less humid than the previous days. Unfortunately Athena had to move her sailboat from one harbor to another to get it out of the water for a new paint job; since I don't know how to sail, it was yet another day of me entertaining myself. But I didn't spend the day at home! She dropped me off at the Woods Hole Yacht Club, and I quickly found my way to Stony Beach where I laid out in the sun for an hour.

After my little trip to the beach, I did some shopping in town, where I found these two rings at Under the Sun. The claws also reminded me of Maryland, and I just love dainty gold jewelry.
The shopping spree was brief (there are only a handful of stores on Water Street), so I relaxed on a grassy hill across from the post office until the lunch crowds died down. I then had lunch on my own at the 41-70 (named for the coordinates of Woods Hole), which was not completely satisfying (read my Yelpreview). I still had about an hour to kill before Athena could pick me up, so I checked out the WHOI Ocean Science Discovery Center to learn more about WHOI (where Athena used to work). WHOI actually found the wreck of the RMS Titanic, and I learned that a lot of what we see in the movie about the wreck and its discovery is pretty realistic! There were also a lot of fun facts about marine mammals. Did you know there are only 11 species of baleen whales, or that a sperm whale's head accounts for 40% of its entire body length? So that visit was certainly worth it (although the gift shop was pretty cheesy, with a mix of WHOI merchandise and random sea animal toys you would find at any aquarium).

You can see the tooth marks from where sharks bit the camera!
Athena wasn't quite finished with her boat outing for the day, so once we made our way back to Quissett, Clio and I went for a little nature walk out to the Knob. There were some beautiful views, and I'm glad there are protected areas like that in such a tourist destination like the Cape.

One of the views from the nature trail I was walking on to reach the Knob.
Then we walked along the beach until we found a quiet shady spot to relax. I read a little bit while Clio sniffed around, and then Athena swam out to us and we hung out for a little while. Afterward, we went to the Landfall, a local restaurant, for cocktails and snacks out on the dock. At this point it was pretty late in the day, but since it was a Saturday night, we didn't want to call it quits yet. So we had a chill dinner at home and then went to a friend's place to check out his new house. There was quite a good group gathered outside the home, and we chatted with some people before taking a tour of his new pad. We only stayed for about an hour, but we were proud of ourselves because we did not "grandma it" and just stay in for the night.

Then it was my last day of my trip (sad!). This was the day Athena and I got to hang out the most. We did yoga in the backyard, and then spent a good hour gardening. For lunch we had a quesadilla that included some greens from her own backyard.

The fruits of our labor! Okay, I just did a little weeding, but her garden is looking good!
After our slow morning, we stopped by the Pariah Dog Farm for some strawberries before heading back to Quissett. Athena did some more work on her boat while I made my way to the beach for one last hour of sunbathing. I  took note of all the hermit crabs and tiny sea snails in the shallow waters, and soon the tide had come in so quickly that I had to walk through the water to get off of the beach and back to the main road. After that we went home, I cleaned myself up and packed by bags, and that was it!
I'm going to miss these guys! And the boat, too!
It was SUCH a relaxing vacation. The "Cape life," or boat life in general, is so ideal: you're out in the sunshine and fresh air, you're with your friends, you don't have to keep to a time schedule...You don't think about anything but relaxing; you don't have to DO anything. I felt so refreshed after this trip. It was just what I needed!

Epilogue: How do you know you're truly a Woods Hole local?

1. You're forever sunburned, even though you wear sunglasses and a big hat all the time.
2. You most likely drive a Jeep Wrangler, and you probably own some sort of boat.
3. You know how to hold your liquor. Or at least don't mind being around a bunch of people who can.
4. You always see or run into people you know. That's how small towns are.
5. You wear the same clothes several days in a row. Who cares?
6. Most likely you have something like this is part of your home decor to hold sea shells and other tiny things.

Image found here.