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Back to reality (and a few final words on Iceland)

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lol just using this pic because I like it!

Well I’ve been back to my current real world and wearing only one layer of clothing for almost two weeks now.  I’ve pretty much been catching up on sleep, catching up with friends here, working and watching Netflix (OA you sucked me in) —- and, of course, planning my next two big adventures (spring break and summer).

Work is full of changes, which is a constant, and I’m as ready as I can be to guide my girls through it (and it’s good to hear their voices and see their smiles again). InshAllah we end it all in May (when they finish classes; I finish work in July?) with all of us having learned some good things.

The hardest thing for me right now is NOT applying for jobs.  I’m so used to having something lined up, and some good posts are popping up all over the place.  But, Joe keeps reminding me to relax and allow some chill time (heheheh maybe even Netflix and chill time). This will be the only time I can take some time off while he’s working because once I begin my next full-time position he’s retiring and it’s all on me (well except for the fact that we’re totally using his monthly pension for trips here and there).  I’ve never been a kept woman before, so that’s a new border to cross, and I really do like lazy.  I’m also really excited about going home to my family and beginning our next phase, wherever that will lead.  But first I will have to begin the process of closing my life here, but let’s save that for February or March or, knowing me, later.

Before any of that, I need to tell you the rest about Iceland.  I loved that we visited in winter, but I also wish we could go there during the summer.  Summer offers MUCH longer days, better weather and more sites.  I’d love to see their green!  Oh and the sheep taking over the landscape, and the puffins, and, and…those of you who go during summer can tell me all about it.

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Pic by Joe

That said Joe did get to go inside a barn and meet the sheep.  Um, apparently, the rams are living high on the hog making lambs while they all are warm and protected in their barns.  Come spring, all of them are allowed to wander outdoors and feast themselves into a juicy, plump frenzy.

 These are the best pics I have of Gullfoss falls, a famous stop on the Golden Circle drive, because it was windy AF and frigid.  I was terrified I was going to get blown away.  One gust literally blew my feet from under me, and I was pleased with myself for using the poor petite woman in front of me to stop my fall — she, however, had some choice words in her language for me (although didn’t hear them — too busy yelling oh shit).  Besides, I’m pretty sure I saved her from becoming a kite, so all is well.

And these are the best pics I could get of a geyser going off.  Love the first one because whoops it went off spewing silica my way before I was ready to capture the geyser.  But, again thanks to winter weather not the best shots.  You will see no selfies of me that day because I was the antithesis of sexy.

My pros and cons of visiting during winter

Pros:  Ice caves and experiencing the weather!  There’s a tourist ice cave all year long somewhere on the island, but that’s not the real deal.  There’s nothing like knowing you are inside — INSIDE! — a flipping glacier.  And, my man now has bragging rights — he can drive through anything.  Trust me he’ll remind me of this the next time I bitch about his driving.

  • Doing the Blue Lagoon while it’s snowing.  I’m sure it’s amazing in summer, but I love that we were swimming outside during a snow storm.  Sadly, I have no good pics to show.  We were there at night in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, which we did that night, but at our hotel.  And, I didn’t have my son’s GoPro on the right setting, so lots of stupid videos of Joe and Me thinking we’re taking selfies. p.s. know that this IS a tourist trap and it will be busy, not something Joe and I tend to like to do, but for we nonlocals it’s still worth it — as are the other geothermal pools we didn’t get to experience.
  • The Northern Lights!  Who doesn’t want to see that?  There’s no guarantee that you will see them, but we lucked out and saw them twice — both times totally unexpected.
  • It’s off tourist season, so prices are lower.  BUT, let me caution you there are more tourists here during winter than you expect.  Somewhere in Asia there’s a super cheap deal going on because there were busloads of groups, every where we went.  Joe and I wanted the isolation and solitude of winter — we needed it — and while we had plenty of alone time, we were never totally alone on the roads.  Every time we saw horses near the road, there were carloads of folk pulled over petting them — damn it all I wanted one to myself!

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These are the only good people-free shots I have, and I’m telling you this horse and I connected.  She WANTED me to pet her, but alas the people I politely shoved out of the way were craftier when it came to actual touch time.

I can’t imagine what Iceland is like in summer when it is tourist season.  I love people and everyone was really nice (except perhaps me), BUT it’s not as much fun visiting nature’s wonders when there are busloads of us around.  That said in summer you could hike remote areas!

  • New Year’s in Reykjavik.  It’s something you should try to do at least once in your life.  It’s a fun city, and this is — so I’m told — the biggest party of the year.

Cons:  The weather and shorter days.  While we liked experiencing the arctic’s touch of crazy, it prevented us from doing and seeing so much.  If we ever go again I’d like to hike all over, explore the north and maybe even make it to the western fjords.

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Take for example the area around Vic.  While these pics look harmless enough, the weather was relentless that day.  We pulled over at one area to walk the black sand beaches, and we couldn’t get out of the car because we were pummelled with black-sand wind gusts.  It was like a killer bee movie, only with sand and hurricane force winds.  The waves are also no joke!  I’m told that’s an all-year thing, so watch out for them.

While we were there some days only had 4 hours of sunlight, some had less or none thanks to storms, but oh my goodness when the sun did come out — she and Iceland showed off their stuff!

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Even the fog coming in did lovely dances with the sun.

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A plus to other tourists is they’ll take a pic of you in the sun!  LOL Joe braving it all with his jacket off, my polar bear.

Regardless of whether you visit Iceland in the summer or winter, it’s worth the money, but please do pay attention to the people who live there.  This might be a wonderland of ewws and aahs to you, but it’s been their home for thousands of years.  When they tell you it’s going to be a bad weather day; it’s CNN Breaking News weather to you.

They love their land, and they’re such a fun, welcoming people and happy to share it, but some of us disrespect that welcome when we do things like drive places we’re not supposed to drive or stop in the middle of the damned road to take a pic — or even worse disrespect the land and its people by polluting, etc. (although we didn’t see any of that).

Darn it all I’m going off on tangents now, and wishing we could plan a summer trip back to Iceland.  There’s people we’d like to see again and camping and there I go drooling again.

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Oh too-small SUV how we miss the adventures we took with you! and we’re off the road, I swear!

And since I’m back in my real world for now, there are things I should get done today.  Farewell Iceland, our new beloved friend!  InshAllah we’ll meet again.

p.s. We also have so many video clips of our crazy experiences driving.  I’m hoping one day I’ll actually put them together for a quick clip, but, well, you know how much I love lazy.

 

Happy New Year!

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As is always the case, all good things must come to an end (although most would argue 2016 needed to hurry up and end).  I’m sipping mint tea made from fresh mint leaves and wiping off sausage roll crumbs from my bosom while on my very long layover in Amsterdam.  My original plan when I booked this flight was to stroll around the city, eat a meal at a cafe and find my way back to the airport.  But, I’m beat.  The idea of bundling up and finding my way around another city was just too much for me, so instead I’ve tooled around the airport, which is actually a lovely place to lose oneself in, bought some cheese, chatted with friends, and now I’m taking the time to write all about my last day of 2016, which topped 2016’s birthday — another fun filled, firework-laden night!

Reykjavik is an awesome place to say goodbye and hello!  Icelanders stock up on fireworks and go all out.  Just like in Copenhagen the fireworks show is put on by the inhabitants not the government, and believe you me these viking decedents love their fire.  Holy hell it was amazing.  Joe noticed that the police helped folks with the larger boomers, keeping people at a relatively safe place away from take off — although I got plenty of ash in my eye.  We have no idea where we’ll be this time next year, but it’s going to be hard to top this new year’s.

First off at around 8:30 p.m. bonfires are lit all over the country.  We went to the big one on Ægisíða, near where we were staying (about a 30 minute walk).  The bonfire goes back to pagan days, and it’s either a way to burn off last year’s stuff or light the way for elves and the new, or just a chance to burn up shit while the kids play with sparklers.  Either way it worked for us!  Families and tourists all gather around and bond with the coming and passing of another year.  Reminded me (a little, our fires weren’t this massive) of the cul de sac bonfires we used to have near my place every New Year’s Eve.

Best part is the fire wasn’t the only thing putting on a show.  Right behind us the Northern Lights danced away, letting us know the skies too were whooping up the death and birth of time.  I cannot believe we spent a week in remote areas looking for the northern lights and boom they show up in a city while fireworks and bonfires pollute the sky with light and smoke.  That’s Iceland for you — sure read the guide books (and by all means do pay attention to the warnings!  they’re legit!), but Iceland is gonna do what she wants to do when and where she wants to do it.  She is not a land who plays by tourist rules.

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The lights arched over our fire, way out to sea.  They flared and twirled, but since I’m the laziest photographer in the world I did not have my tripod and DSLR on me (hey that shit is heavy).  So, while I’m pleased to have captured the green, you don’t see the bits of purple and the seductive dance they weaved.  The video on my camera just couldn’t capture it.  But, I worked up a sweat keeping my arm high and still while clicking stills away.

Obviously Joe and I had a blast.  It was magical, and we didn’t want to pull ourselves away, but eventually the lights dissipated and we found our way back to our part of town to prep up for the great big fireworks display (although they had been going off all day).

So we may have hit a pub or two… and an ice skating rink.

Another big tradition amongst natives is to gather around a t.v. and watch an annual comedy show that is loaded with comedic skits.  The entire city calms down to almost a standstill while close friends and family members feast, laugh and watch the big show.

Looks like the only people on the streets during show are tourists, folks coming back out after the show is over.  As for those fireworks they were still blasting away midnight last night, and are probably still booming away today.

Joe and I ate dinner at our apartment and watched some of the show.  We were happy to be able to figure some of it out (thanks to some English thrown in and good ole fashioned fart jokes — apparently everyone understands those!).  And then we were out in the thick of it kissing 2016 good bye.

New Years Day we headed over to Keflavik where we walked around the harbor and into a giant’s cave.

But mostly New Years Day was bittersweet for us because within a few hours we’d both be off to our corners of the world, but OUR countdown begins today.  Seven more months, and we’re back to being together full time — lol for better or worse.

Some daytime Reykjavik pics for you

And, my flight is getting ready to board.  Yay me I land early tomorrow and go straight to work from the airport.  I’m so not looking forward to how exhausted and crappy looking I’ll be.  But, come on 2017.  Let’s see what you’ve got in store for us!

Ice, ice baby!

For our first few days it’s been nothing but wind and snow.  On the day we set off for our ice cave adventure it was all about the rain — OMG so much rain (and wind).  It seems the only constant in Iceland weather is the brutal wind (it’s whipping against our window as I type — kudos to the carpenters, the shit holds).

As uncomfortable as walking on ice in the rain is, we lucked out because our guide said he believes the rain will make the cave unsafe.  The poor souls who booked hikes for today will not get to see the wonders we did.

According to Wikipedia Iceland has 13 large glaciers, we went with the biggest one, Jokulsarlon Glacier, but don’t worry our tubby selves didn’t hike much of it.  Thanks to the family that owns Hali County farm, which also includes lodging, food, a museum and glacier guides, we didn’t have to work hard.  They did it all for us.  Every winter they hike the glacier in search of the right ice caves to bring their clients to.

Ice caves are formed by the glacier rivers that flow in the summer.  The caves are basically tunnels created by melting water.  They are monitored daily (hourly, I believe, on rainy days) to ensure they are safe enough for we tourists to eww and ahhh and click selfies like there’s no tomorrow.  So far this season it’s only been used a few times thanks to unstable conditions.  Again, Joe and I are grateful for our luck.

The rules are you keep your crampons (if you want to walk without falling) and helmet on, and you don’t leave the cave without a guide.  We were also advised not to venture into the dark portion of the cave because it’d be too narrow for us (just wait until you see how rounded Joe and I truly are when layered up and wearing a helmet that emphasises our chunky chins).

As for global warming, we learned that shrinking and growing is a normal part of a glacier’s life cycle, however, the rate of its melting the past few years is unprecedented.  It’s changing the landscape of Iceland, and Icelanders are seeing things they’ve not seen before.  Each year its retreat is significantly different.

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This picture doesn’t show it properly, but you see our snow vehicles right? (and while I know fossil fuel is part of the problem, it was awesome being in a snow jeep)  Okay look way beyond them and you see a black band of sand where three vehicles are parked.  That’s where the entrance to the ice cave was last year.  Basically, its melt has brought it that much farther in.

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After visiting the cave we stopped at Glacier beach and lagoon, and oh wow.  I just wish it wasn’t raining so hard, so I could whip out my DSLR and get better pics, but my hardy little Sony bridge camera (love that thing) held out in the rain and still captured some of it.   Anyway here’s proof that Iceland isn’t just blue.  It’s black and crystal clear too!

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Don’t those ice fragments look like crystal seals/walruses/pick your blubber critter.

Some shots of glacier beach and lagoon…

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I’ve got to hurry and finish this up since we’re checking out and facing another windy/wet drive (to Vik).  This is blow your house down weather.

Anyway, here’s some more shots of Iceland ice…

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and a taste of how the weather and landscape change in just 24 hours

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snowy landscape one day

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fog, dormant grass and rain the next!

Of course there’s plenty more to share, but we’re off again!  When I have more time I’ll whip up a post about all the rest.

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until then we’re off exploring this great island (and it’s totally worth coming here in winter if you’re okay with bad weather).

Our Christmas Story

We’re in our little cottage, although it’s listed as a studio apartment, made of rock and driftwood, nestled up against a mountain listening to the wind batter our Christmas home.  Way up the mountain is a waterfall that I’m sure is blowing horizontal at this point.  We’re on a farm that has been run by the same family for 200 years.  It’s ice cold water comes from the water behind us, as does the electricity.

The information flyer tells us to keep an eye out for elves because they exist here, and I’m sure they do because something is banging the dwelling we’re in, and right now we’re the only guests.  Oh those wild tiny people are whooping it up,  and who am I to break up their party.  The flyer also states that this is one of the windiest places in Iceland and assures us our place is built to withstand it all, so Joe and I are quite safe and snug in our comfy bed.

We didn’t stay in bed all day though.  We drove to one to the two famous waterfalls near us (Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss).  One of them is lit up at night, and we drove there for Christmas Eve, but forgot to bring our flashlight, so we admired it from our car.  Today’s waterfall was bigger, but the winds kept whipping our faces with snow, so we didn’t last long.

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We’re in an area called “under the mountains,” which is near the Eyjafjallajokul (a glacier) and I believe near where the 2010 volcano eruption happened.  I cannot imagine a more perfect place for us to celebrate our holy day —- God is certainly with us (plus  the elves).  I’m in love with where we’re staying, The Garage in Holt (by all means book here if you’re looking for a cozy escape near Vik and all kinds of things to explore).  The family who owns the place has been nothing but welcoming and accommodating, even sprucing up our place with holiday touches including gifts and a crispy candle wafer, which went well with the soup I made last night.

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There is so much more to tell you about our trip:  The Blue Lagoon, a ribbon of the Northern Lights (we tried to catch them again last night but no luck), a harrowing drive to a remote resort, our drive to here, the people, the land.  But, those stories will wait for another day because today is all about our Christmas and how very blessed we are.  Of course I wish my children were here experiencing this with us, but being here just gives me more stories to one day share with their children —- oh what a lucky life we lead.

Day after Christmas

Oh my goodness the family invited us over for Christmas dinner, and we had a fabulous time.  We feasted on smoked lamb, potatoes in white sauce, red cabbage and grapes, and a certain brand of peas for Christmas, plus more of that crispy thing, which I learned is traditional bread.  A lot of wine, Viking beer, laughs and good stories were shared.  We hope to one day do this again with them.

Joe was even treated to a hidden cave on another family’s land (I chose to remain warm).  I’ll post pics of that in another post.

There’s so much to share, but we just finished a long drive.  Tonight we sleep near another glacier and tomorrow we hike it and crawl into an ice cave.  I promise I’ll eventually post more about all of the other cool stuff we’ve gotten to do, but for now I’m off to get some more Icelandic food in my belly.

Merry Late Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you —- may you all be safe, loved and warm wherever in the world you are.

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The view from our front door.

Travel planning (google is my friend).

icelandImage taken from Wikitravel.com

The weekend is already on its last day.  Man, they go by too quickly, even when I’m spending most of it chilling on the couch — either with friends or my laptop.

There’s a whole lot of fun we do on our off time, but the one thing most expat teachers (at least in the UAE) have in common is we spend a lot of time planning our next trips.  Check out our internet history and you’ll see an ungodly amount of flight-deal searches.  It’s almost pornographic how much we voyeur into potential voyages.

As soon as I know I have days off coming up, I’m on it (hahaha sometimes a year in advance).  Since most of my trips are long weekend trips, I usually start off planning by scanning for a deal — groupon (yes they have great travel deals, although I have yet to buy one), Cobone (a local version of Groupon), Kayak, Skyscanner, Googleflights (although I’ve only used this for ideas), etc.  Then I chat with friends who’ve been there, check for visa requirements and costs, book it, and go.  Easy, peasy.

The longer vacations take a bit more work.  Currently, I’m in the midst of booking the bits and bobs of  Joe’s and my future trip to Iceland (in 10 more weeks, but whose counting).  Iceland has been a bit more of a challenge for me because of its cost and unpredictable weather (hello Arctic winds!).  There’s so much we want to see, but within our timeframe (12 days) and limited wallet, we’ve got to narrow it down.  So, what I do in a case like this is I google the hell out of other people’s blogs, and I cross check their experiences with sites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, and then I write the list of “holy shit we gotta do this!”  and, then, logical me takes over and says, “bitch, let’s be real, are you really gonna be able to do all this?”

This time around other people’s blogs have played an integral role, and one of the things that has helped me most is their advice on how to plan, which of course made me realize that hey maybe I should share some of how I do this as well.  Because I do this so much it feels like I’m writing the obvious, but if it’s helpful to anyone — yee haw!  If not, hang in there folk, I’m sure I’ll have something new to write about next week (or I could tell you how we go about voting from overseas — in a nutshell we pay to mail our vote or drive to drop it off at the embassy — but this year’s election hurts too much to talk about, so probably not).

  1. Once I’ve (in my case it’s usually we) settled on a location (and this is after we checked out visa requirements, potential costs, etc.), I scan all the flight sites for the best flight deal.  Experience has taught me best is not always the cheapest (and if you can get a good deal nab that higher-end airline flight — woo hoo I nabbed an Etihad one for my return flight).   Kayak tends to be the one that lands me the best flight deals, but beware.  Kayak sometimes takes you to other travel sites, which are not all created equally.  Google those sites before you book and check their fees (some charge you extra for everything, including booking with a credit card!).  I’ve had issues with some, and great experiences with others.
  2. Google travel blogs, if you’re old school and like something bigger than a phone in your hands buy guide books (although, in my case, I just bought the book to send to Joe), check out travel sites and WikiTravel, create your dream list.  Then wake up the logical bitch and map out what you can afford (and what your body can handle).  For the Iceland trip our must-dos:  an ice cave hike (we shall see how I walk with crampons on), Glacier Lagoon area, Golden Circle, some of their famous waterfalls,  Vik and black sand beach area, Christmas in a cabin in a remote area (InshAllah which includes a successful Northern Lights hunt), New Years Eve in the heart of Reykjavik, soaking in an outdoor thermal bath (Blue Lagoon is on the list for our last day, but we’re hoping to do another one somewhere else), and since we are a couple that spends too many months apart, one night in one of Iceland’s luxury hotels (we chose Ion Luxury Adventure; it was available and seemed more our style) and whatever else happens along the way.
  3. Book the tours, extra things you want to do.  At first there were all sorts of tours I wanted to sign us up for, but logical bitch put me in my place.  We decided renting a car and doing a lot of this on our own was our best bet.  That said we weren’t going to go to Iceland in winter and NOT attempt an ice cave hike, so I googled the hell out of that and booked the one that we think works best for us.  Mama is getting her fat ass on (and in) a glacier — much more doable than getting it in a dry suit and scuba diving between tectonic plates (seriously you can do this in the winter!  alas it is no longer on my list).
  4. Map out journey and begin the lodging, rental car search.  We’re exploring the south east coast, Reykjavik area, and a little bit of the west.  We would love to do more of the west and northern parts, but it’s winter and we can only afford so much.  Joe and I are rustic souls (that said I can also be a diva), so we’re good with lower-end accommodations (although lower-end price isn’t really a thing here).  If it were summer time, we’d probably rent a camper, but it’s not, and we haven’t seen each other in quite a few months, so we went with a mix of apartments, cottages and hotel rooms that included our own bathrooms.  It would’ve been cheaper had we included hostels or guest houses with shared bathrooms.  So, for us we’ll have some nights out for dinner and some where we’re nuking leftovers, but we’re good with it — it’s what works for us.  We’re also using a week to do what most people would probably do in about two or three days because we know we like to sit, stare and sigh at nature.  But, we’ll be busy checking things out during those few hours when the sun is awake!
  5. Research nuances of where you’re going.  For me the best part of travel is the stuff you don’t plan, unless it’s effing up by ignorantly violating a cultural norm. Then it’s just awkward or painful.  Well, it’s sometimes awkward doing the local stuff as well, but that’s part of the deal.  For example:  I now know that we’ll get naked and shower with strangers before going into a thermal bath, and there’s something about not wearing your shoes in the locker room (will just watch and do what everyone else does).  I also need to get the pin number for my credit card since we might need it to gas up, but I also read there’s these prepaid gas cards (we’ll figure it out, but I’ll have the pin in case).   Joe is reading up on driving their winter roads since we both know it’s best I don’t drive narrow, icy roads (not that I couldn’t do it — I’d just rather take pics and not pollute the vehicle with loud profanity).  Basically, get a taste of what you’re in for, so you can enjoy it versus being a bad tourist stereotype.  We’ll learn how to say please and thank you in their language, but something tells me they’d rather we not mangle their words so badly (Amen!  their English is probably better than ours).
  6. And last, but not least, research the basic stuff:  what to wear, food and bevie costs (um, we’ll be doing a lot of pre-gaming before going out), etc.

And that’s pretty much how I spend my free time when I’m not whooping it up with friends, binge watching t.v. shows or reading a book on my chaise lounge.  Okay and every once in a while my free time is also spent grading, but shhh we’re not talking work right now.  Come on December, get here already!

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Image taken from Wikipedia — oh Iceland how I’m dreaming of you (and, of course, my man).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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