Part 5: 36 Hours in the Land of Fire and Ice

The sun was setting over Amsterdam as we took off as a final farewell to that beautiful country.

Ironically, the sun was also beginning to set when we landed three hours later in Iceland. (at midnight.)

Thanks to my time in Alaska, the midnight sun is something I’m used to. On the other hand, counting by the number of times John woke me up after I fell asleep at our Air bnb, he was not used to the sunlight peaking through the cracks in our blackout curtains.

My control freak friend, gave me power over two decisions this entire trip: spending a day at a castle in the Netherlands, and spending a night in a tent in Iceland.

Of course with my luck, these are the two things that went wrong and he got to rub it in my face. First, the castle was closed the day we decided to go, and second, the store I had rented the camping equipment from opened at noon…. and we had planned on leaving Reykjavik at 9 a.m.

As it was, we only had about 30 hours to enjoy in Iceland to begin with, and we weren’t going to waste four waiting for a tent. New plan: spend the night in our rental car.

After a quick stop at the grocery store and Dunkin Donuts, where we spent $20 on six donuts(!), we hit the road.

Iceland is the kind of place that makes you feel small, like really small. Whether you’re driving through the valleys between vast fields and mountain ranges, or walking along paths next to glacially charged rivers and waterfalls. Everything is huge.

Pingvellir was our first stop along Ring Road. This is the location where the European plate is diverging from the North American plate. The rift in the Earth is now huge and beautiful to hike. We started our hike with 25 mph winds and 55 degree temperatures, this sent us right back to the car to add more layers just to finish our hike sweating when the wind died down.

Our next stop was to check out the Strokkur Geyser. I think the thing that awed us the most about this was that this series of geysers and hot springs were located right next to the main road, so close that I saw the first burst of water as we were pulling into the parking lot.

On our drive to the next location we passed the perfect pull off o the side of the road. Right next to a pasture full of friendly Icelandic horses. I say passed, but you know we wouldn’t have actually passed up this opportunity to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures.

Gulfoss was the next location on our tour of Iceland. This was the biggest waterfall I have ever seen. The wind had picked up again and I’m not sure if it had started to rain or if the wind was blowing drops of water from the waterfall towards us – maybe both.

Our next stop was Skogafoss, these were our two stops that had the greatest distance between them and the sky decided to let loose during our drive. I won’t complain because we had spent hours at different locations without it raining yet – though I wasn’t the one who had to drive through it.

Just as we were approaching a giant plateau the sky cleared up and we both were amazed at this huge waterfall falling from the rocks in front of us. The road didn’t appear to get close to it so a mental image was going to have to do. It was so windy that the smaller waterfalls next to it were blowing away and evaporating before the water could hit the ground, which shows just how big and powerful this one waterfall was in comparison.

There was a small gravel road that lead to the base of this waterfall, so we made a quick detour to Seljandsfoss. There was a path that lead us behind the waterfall and I got my kiss behind a waterfall. (The #3 most romantic thing to do in Iceland according to a book we found in a gift shop, FYI.)

And then we moved on to Skogafoss, where we didn’t hike around or behind the waterfall, instead we climbed 600 stairs to the top. If we had kept hiking we would have made it to the Eyjafjallajokull glacier – after a day or so.

Our next stop was Vik and although we felt tired and it was already after 8 p.m. it looked like noon and we had no desire to stop. The plan was to get dinner in Vik but we got there after 9 and everything was already closed so we enjoyed a cup of soup heated in the one gas station in town.

Instead of hanging around Vik where the fog was too thick to see a mile in front of you we drove back and parked our car at the the base of the glacier we saw earlier and tried to sleep to the sound of pouring rain on the roof of the car as the temperature dropped.

Around 5 a.m.we decided sleep was pointless and went to hike the glacier. Literally, past the warning signs and onto the glacier itself. I was scared for my life but couldn’t be the only one to not do it.

On our way back to Reykjavik we made a quick pitstop to check out the volcanic crater in Selfoss. Back in Reykjavik we had a couple hours to check out the Harpa Concert Hall, a history museum, and grab lunch before our flight home.

We reached the end of a fairytale, and it was time to go back to reality. Happily ever after?

 

“Not all fairytales have a happy beginning, but they always have a happy ending.” JM

Part 4 – I’m the Queen of the Castle and He’s the Dirty Rascal

Finally an early morning in Amsterdam. For me at least – I had to drag John out of bed, but I didn’t care because the one thing on top of my Amsterdam Bucket List was to go see a real life fairytale…. sorta.

I wanted to visit a castle and Kasteel de Haar was my dream come true; surrounded by a moat, flower gardens, and even a maze, it had everything.

It took us two trains and a bus to get there just to find out the castle was closed for a private event. Fortunately, the grounds were open and it still took us over an hour to see about two-thirds of it.

It was vast and amazing, with green everywhere you looked dotted with pink and purple flowers. There were swans roaming around the different bodies of waters and if we had had more time we could have wandered down to their deer pasture.

As predicted, I fell in love with the place and for the first time on this trip, took hundreds of pictures. If I had actually been let into the castle I’m not sure if I would have ever left.

Before heading back into Amsterdam we spent a couple of hours in Utrecht. The first hour was spent searching for the “perfect” pizza place – only one owned and operated by Italians would satisfy John’s taste buds at this moment.

After pizza and gelato we explored the St. Martin’s Cathedral – originally built and designed by Catholics and destroyed during the Reformation in 1580. Catholic symbols were literally chiseled off the walls, making this an interesting place to visit.

The other thing that makes this place so interesting is that the entire central hall collapsed in 1674 and was never rebuilt. There is now an open air courtyard between the tower and the main building – you can visit both sections separately.

I guess we saved the best for last because this was my favorite day spent in Holland and after arriving back in Amsterdam we only had time to grab our luggage from the hotel before heading to the airport to catch our flight to Iceland!

Swagway, Skagway, Skagweezy

I am so lost in life right now and I think a huge part of that is because I should still be in Alaska. I should be all set with work for another month, but I am not.

Do I regret leaving Alaska? A part of me says yes and a part of me says no. There were a lot of good reasons for me to leave and a lot of good reasons for me to stay.

I made a hasty decision to leave though. I received a job offer and I took it without question which shows how ready I was to leave. Looking back now it was not Skagway that I was ready to leave; it was the company I worked for.

Looking back now I wish I had searched elsewhere for employment within Skagway. I could have finished out the summer with the crazy people I grew to love and the many freedoms Alaska had to offer me.

However much I should be embracing the future rather than relishing in the past, I find myself constantly looking through the pictures I took in Skagway and reminiscing. Here are some of my favorites.

They show the people who made my time in Skagway worthwhile. They show the wondrous views I got to witness daily. They show the puppies who acted as my escape at our worksite. And I hope they show how much I actually loved the place.

Sea Planes and Goodbyes

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I do not believe any picture I take could ever do Alaska justice, the natural beauty of this state is unreal. Tuesday I took a sea plane from Skagway to Juneau and flying over the Lynn Canal was absolutely breathtaking.

I have spent several days while in Alaska boating or hiking around the Lynn Canal, including my first trip into town on the ferry, but flying over the mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls offered such a different perspective.

Skagway itself is only one mile long, so the runway of the airport actually runs the length of the the town. After two months of living in a town that small, I enjoyed the feeling of being an outsider looking in. It kind of made me realize that life does not stop just because you decide to leave.

My heart broke a little as I looked back and saw Skagway growing smaller and smaller behind us; knowing I made such good friendships and memories in a place where I may never return.

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Sea planes are obviously smaller than jet planes, so they fly lower too. Our elevation was right along the tops of the mountains lining the fjord and right below the cloud line.

It seemed as if the mountains were endless, like there were rows upon rows of staggered peaks in all directions. The white caps of the mountains had melted in the two months since I arrived, leaving the gray rocks and the blue glacial ice exposed.

From below you look up and see a mountain range, from above you really see the definition of each mountain that has been carved out. I could almost picture the entire area being covered in glacial ice thousands of years ago.

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The glaciers that still remain fit so perfectly into the mountain side that you wouldn’t imagine one could exist without the other.

I want to imagine I am like one of these glaciers; like I fit so well in this place for a time before melting and drifting away.

Welcome to Skagway

From the minute the airplane dipped under the clouds over Juneau I have been speechless. The look of it whispers “peace” and “adventure.”

There are the mountains painted with evergreens and topped with snow overlooking the many inlets and rivers. Then there are the islands so densely populated by nature you could believe no person inhabits it.

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After my almost 15-hour journey from Boston, all I wanted to do was sleep and prepare for my ferry ride the following day. I cannot wait until I am able to spend more time in Juneau to see what it’s all about.

Taking the ferry from Juneau to Skagway was like riding through a piece of art. Apart from the many islands, mountains, and waterfalls we passed, I got to see different species of birds and a seal.

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It was gorgeous on a cloudy day scattered with rain, I can only imagine how this scene would look with clear skies surrounding it.

Roughly translated, Skagway means “windy city” and this burough certainly lives up to its name. I have already learned that a 50 degree day here is not the same as a 50 degree day back at home, it is much colder thanks to the wind.

Alaska is even more peaceful than I had initially thought on the plane on the way in. Skagway is located in a valley surrounded by several peaks, I could sit out and stare up for hours.

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There is virtually no crime in this small town, unless you count bike theft. I was told the only reason I should need to lock my door at night is because drunk kids may wander in looking for a place to sleep when they get lost on their way home. (But always, always, ALWAYS lock up your bike.)

People take advantage of the sunny days here, they are rare. Even at a measly 53 degrees this weekend locals were running around in shorts and flip flops enjoying the weather. I can’t wait to see what happens when it reaches 70 degrees.

With views like this on the sunny days, it makes sense why people put up with so many rainy ones. Like I said before, speechless.

I am so excited to get this tourist season going and to start work later on this week. So far, so good.