Awe of What’s New (and also very, very old)

Warning: this post is going to be a bit mooshy and philosophical. Rather than recounting the events of our first three days in Turkey (which Dustin has already done a nice job of on Facebook, if your’e interested), I am going to ramble about my impressions of what it’s like to be here. I promise to add some photos too, if you hang in there (or just scroll to the bottom), but I’m feeling so many things right now, I can’t help but toss this out there.

The feeling I have right now, being in Turkey for the very first time, is the same feeling I remember having as a 17-year-old, setting foot in France for the very first time. Everything is new. Everything is familiar, but just a little bit different than the way it is at home. Street signs are different shapes. Houses are built in different styles. Roads are different widths. The sounds, the smells, the hum of life around you – it all feels different and therefore somehow magical.

In the almost 20 years since my first visit to France, I gained a lot of experience with Europe. That magical shine wore away, changing instead to a kind of familiar otherness, comfort that can be quickly relearned with each new visit, like riding a bicycle. I can travel to France or Belgium or almost any other European country with the confidence that I will be able to handle myself well.

But Turkey… I might technically still be in Europe (for now!) but it’s all so new. I’m back to being the giddy teenager who shot 13 rolls of film in 20 days. The shapes of buildings and fountains and people are bright and foreign and fascinating and I can’t even soak them all in because there’s so much, another amazing sight around every corner.

And it’s old. I mean old. We’re practically in the Fertile Crescent here, guys. Civilization as we know it bloomed here. If the signs in the archaeological museum are to be believed, humans (or some of our nearest ancestors) have been living on the land now known as Turkey for 65,000 years. Sixty-five thousand. I mean, at that point they were still banging rocks together to make fire, but you can throw a stone from here and almost hit the place where written language was invented. Neolithic (late stone age) settlements existed in Istanbul as long ago as 9,000 years.

Istanbul’s existence as a city was established around 66o BCE when settlers from a Greek city-state arrived and founded Byzantium. A couple hundred years later, some Persians came along and took control. Then it was the Greeks again. Then the Romans. Then the Christian Romans (Constantine, to be specific, and now Byzantium becomes Constantinople). Then the Ottomans (and now the city becomes Islamic and started to be known by the name Istanbul).

Architectural and artistic remains from all these civilizations litter the streets, or in some cases are the streets. Ruins of city walls, palaces, churches, mosques,  monuments, markets. Houses and shops are built around or on top of foundations that are 2500 years old. The Hagia Sophia was built as a church in 573 and is still a functioning museum today. The only other buildings I’ve visited that can compare in age (the acropolis in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, etc.) are all in ruins. The ancientness of this place, the impressiveness of it, absolutely blows my mind.

My masters degree studies focused on the Eastern Mediterranean, which means I have significant background in the pre- and proto-history of this area (the parts when they were just developing writing techniques). To finally be able to set my eyes (and in some cases, my hands) on this history is so damned thrilling that sometimes I catch myself just standing there, gaping.

What’s become of this place, in the modern day, is no less fascinating. The piles of people (and cats!), the transformation of what is old and defunct into what is new and useful. Architectural styles from all over Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, swirled and blended together. Muslim women wearing their hijabs (head scarves) along with shoes that might have come out of a boutique in Paris, looking as stylish and self-possessed as any New Yorker – other women wearing niqab (scarves that cover everything except the eyes) and keeping their eyes firmly pressed to the ground – other women with bare heads, looking like they’d be at home in Los Angeles or Deadwood. (Haha.)

It’s beautiful. It’s eclectic, eccentric, electric. I’m bobbing about in the middle of it, trying to soak it all in.

And now, before I move on to the pictures you really came for, a word of reassurance: we know there have been political tensions in the area and we have done/are doing everything we should to stay safe. In fact, the parts of Turkey we are in and will later visit are statistically safer than many large US cities. That being said, it doesn’t matter where you are, you can never know what might happen. We are being and will continue to be smart and cautious about our travels.

Now, pictures!

Tiled lions from Babylon! Yes, that Babylon. So beautiful. So old. So happy they found my phone after it tried to run away.

Turkey Ayasofia Selfie
The Hagia Sophia – 1400 years old and still functioning – sits in the background. It was built as a church, turned into a mosque, and is now a museum.
Turkey Ayasofia
It is a chunk of a building. When you put up a structure this magnificent with a dome this big in the year 537, it doesn’t get to be elegant on the outside if it’s going to stay standing for more than a millennium.
Turkey Ayasofia Selfie 3
There’s no way to convey in a photo the immensity of the inside of this building, or the awesomeness of its antiquity and beauty. You’ll just have to come visit for yourselves.
Turkey Ayasofia Selfie 2
That’s the central dome, about 55 meters above us. That’s 15 stories, give or take. Built in the year 537, let me remind you. (Okay, the dome was reconstructed in 562, but still. 562!)
Turkey Dustin Assyrian
Walk like an Assyrian.

Turkish food. You guys, it’s so good.

Turkey Kitty - Copy
Kitty. With some Byzantine sarcophagi someone just left laying by the side of the street.
Turkey Kitty 2 - Copy
Kitties in a tree.

Now things get random and uncaptioned, because I’m late for a date with a Turkish breakfast. Enjoy!

Turkey StatuesTurkey Lion GateTurkey SumerianTurkey Mosaic AyasofiaTurkey Mosaic Dervishes


All of Paris, in One Update

I have visited Paris five times (if you don’t count that one time I got stranded there on my way home from my study abroad program), and every single time I am happy to arrive again. This is the second time Dustin has arranged a surprise trip to Paris. On the first occasion he proposed to me (spoiler, I said “yes”), and this second occasion marks ten years of happy marriage (officially, as of the 21st).

Paris is a comfortable kind of foreign. We know (generally) its streets and its customs. We know a lot about its history and how to find a good meal. We know how not to be Those Horrible Americans making asses of themselves on the subways and in the cafes.

On the other hand, these days I remember only enough French to embarrass myself. Fifteen years ago (FIFTEEN!), at the end of my study abroad program, a French man in the Paris airport told me I spoke French beautifully. It’s been a downhill slide since then, the bottom of which was illustrated on this trip by the fact that I could not prevent Parisians from switching to English while talking to me.

No matter! We passed a beautiful five days in the French capital, visiting a few of the nooks and crannies I’ve missed on previous trips, munching on fresh pastries in the spring gardens, and toasting to ten years over meals fit for kings.

A few highlights:

We rented a tiny apartment on Rue St. Michel, just across from the Jardins Luxembourg, with a straight-on view of the Eiffel Tower. A perfect location and a perfect view.

Paris View 1
This is the picture I took off our balcony, trying to impress you all with how close the Eiffel Tower was. In this picture, it looks 600 miles farther away than it actually was.
Paris View 2
This is the picture Dustin took. And now you know why he takes all the pictures.

All of Paris came out to sit in the parks on Monday, which was a beautiful, sunny day after a long cold spell. The fountains were full of water and toy boats, the gardens were full of flowers and pigeons.

Paris Gardens 1

Tuesday morning was our first chance to sleep in, and we took advantage of it. Then it was off to find the day’s fresh pastries and hot beverages, followed by a guided tour of the Opera Garnier, the opera house made famous by Gaston Leroux’s (and maybe, more, by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s) Phantom of the Opera. Most of the tour was dedicated to the astonishingly beautiful architecture and design of the building (called a “palace” for its grandeur) as well as its history, but our friend le fantôme certainly got a mention. We learned that the lake he supposedly inhabited below the Opera does not exist, but there is a pool of water down there, intentionally built by the architect to counterbalance the negligible weight of the interior stage area against the immensely heavy marble outer portions of the building. Also, it’s full of goldfish rather than murderous musical savants.

Paris Opera 1
When one came to the Opera in the 19th century, it was to be seen. See me?
Paris Opera 2
The opulence of this place was out of control. Can you imagine it lit by candles?
Paris Opera 3
Inside the theater, with a background view of boxes and the controversial new (1960s) dome mural. No phantom present, but they were setting up for a ballet.
Paris Opera 4
The Phantom’s box. You can’t read it in the photo, but the plaque under the “5” clearly labels the box as belonging to the Phantom. It’s the most rented box in the building.

Dinner on Tuesday night was an accidental adventure, when I misunderstood the waitress’s explanation of what “rongles” were, confused “ris” with “riz” and managed to order myself a bowl of kidney and pancreas stew. House special!

Paris Food 2
So the meat parts were creepy, but the flavor of this dish was outstanding. I ate nearly all the vegetables and managed to eat enough of the meat bits not to completely embarrass myself.
Paris Food 1
And then we rewarded my daring culinary accomplishment with a Grand Marnier Soufflee, my first ever soufflee.
















Wednesday we headed down to the Catacombs, an ossuary established in an old system of mines after the cemeteries started becoming public health hazards in the 18th century. The remains of some six million Parisians are at rest down here, dating back to medieval times and beyond. It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of it all, but it was very impressive nonetheless.

Thursday, official date of our anniversary, we took a train down to Giverny, home of impressionist painter Monet. We got off the train in Vernon and rented bikes to cover the last six kilometers to the gardens. What a fantastic way to see that bit of countryside and town.

Paris Giverny Biking
First item on the agenda: find a good spot for a picnic lunch, featuring pastries from the Best Pastry Shop in Normandy.
Paris Giverny Biking 2
A very nice old man walked by, declared our picnic on the lawn “the most French thing to do” and offered to take our picture.
Paris Giverny Biking 3
This is me looking at my sandwich with adoration. It’s hard to explain how great a sandwich on really French French bread is.

We and six zillion other people then enjoyed a tour of Monet’s painting gardens and home-turned-museum. I’d visited once before, on a high school trip, but I don’t remember the gardens being anywhere near this magnificent. (Stand by for a LOT of photos.)

Paris Giverny 1

Paris Giverny 3
I hereby resolve to plant all the tulips.

Paris Giverny 2


(Look! I’m a flower!)

Paris Giverny 5
Mandatory photo in front of the bridge over the lily pond. It’s back there. Trust me.
Paris Giverny 6
This is a photograph, not a painting. Just in case you were wondering.

Incidentally, while we were in Monet’s house, I found a new stove for my kitchen.

Paris Giverny Stover
Dustin’s just measuring it to make sure it will fit.

Friday we headed to the Grand Palais, one of the magnificent buildings constructed for the same World’s Fair that produced the Eiffel Tower. They were hosting an exposition on rare books and art prints. Dustin teased me, going in, that we might have to buy another suitcase before leaving, but all we could afford to do was gawk. The manuscripts on display were incredible. Everything from illuminated medieval Bibles to letters written my Napoleon. I paid less for my house than I would have paid for some of those books.

Next stop was a tour of the towers of Notre Dame, a wildly popular tourist activity in Paris that I’ve managed to miss every single time I’ve visited. Dustin wisely scheduled it for after public hours, which meant we (our group) got exclusive time on the towers.

Paris Notre Dame 1Paris Notre Dame 2

The views were incredible, the gargoyles were delightful, but the very best was the bells. We only got to see the two in the south tower – Emmanuelle and Marie (catholic bells are named and baptized) – but boy, were they doozies. It used to take eight men to ring Emmanuelle. She is the oldest of the bells, cast in 1686. The other bells had dated to 1856, when they had been cast and hung during restorations after the French revolution, but they were recast in 2013, following 160 years of complaints from the choirs that the bells were ringing off-key.

Paris Notre Dame 4
There’s no scale, in this picture. That bell is about 4 meters tall and weighs 8 tons.
Paris Notre Dame 5
People who mess with Notre Dame’s bells are fed to this gargoyle.














The last stop of the day was for dinner in a restaurant called Dans le Noir, a dining experience that happens completely in the dark. It is staffed by blind guides who lead you through total darkness to your table, serve you a mystery meal that you cannot see, which you eat in the dark however you decide is best (I may have used my fingers a lot), and at the end, led back into daylight, you are shown the menu of what you ate. We don’t have any pictures (obviously), but the meal was delicious and the experience was absolutely fascinating.

And now, having gobbled down one last delicious pain au chocolate, we are en route to…. Istanbul! I am wiggling with excitement. Opportunity and exhaustion permitting, I’ll post slightly more frequent updates as this next adventure unfolds.

Glaciers, Part 3

Okay, okay! Last Iceland post. I’ll try not to post too many more pictures of rocks, but I may not be able to help myself. I really love rocks.

When last we met, our glacier-touring adventure had been foiled by mechanical difficulties, so we found some other adventures to go on instead. The great thing about Iceland is there are adventures everywhere. For example, we drove by a huge cliff face. A single car was parked in a pulloff, and I spotted tracks leading through the snow… into the side of the cliff. So we decided to go explore.

Iceland Crevice 1
The weather, at this moment in time, was utterly awful. It was rain/snowing and the wind was blowing about 7000mph. Getting to that crevice you see aaaaall the way back there was my life goal in this photo. 
Iceland Crevice 3
Worth it. The light made it in, but the wind and snow mostly didn’t.
Iceland Crevice 2
We tried to see how far back we could hike. In keeping with their Danger Tourism policy, the sign at the pulloff advised us we could hike back as far as we wanted, but eventually it would get so narrow we might get stuck. Instead I just got stuck on this snow boulder. It took me about five minutes to figure out how to get back off it without getting dunked in the stream below. 

Also, we went down into a lava cave. Lava caves form when huge quantities of fast-flowing lava cool from the top, leaving the crust behind while the rest of the lava flows on out, leaving an empty space.

The good news is I didn’t get too many pictures because taking pictures in caves is hard. This is the only photo of me in with lava rocks you have to suffer for now.

Iceland Lava Cave
That’s LAVA! Right behind me! Clearly not hot, anymore, but it very obviously used to be.

But back to glaciers. As soon as we realized our first glacier tour was foiled, we started trying to reschedule. Our accommodations for the night were in Reykjavik, so we couldn’t go back to Snæfellsjökull or to the big glacier over in the east, but Langjökull isn’t too far from Reykjavik, and their schedules had plenty of open tours.

The unique thing about tours on the Langjökull glacier is that they’ve carved out an ice cave way up on the ice cap, allowing people to go into the glacier to see all the layers and formations that make up the inner workings of a glacier. Honestly, I was not as giddy about that prospect as I was about standing on the top of the glacier itself, looking down from the crown of this monstrous, mysterious, earth-changing force, but the inner-glacier tour did seem like a nice bonus.

Have I mentioned that the weather in Iceland is fickle? Like, puts-Black-Hills-weather-to-shame fickle.

It was snowing when we woke up the morning of our second scheduled glacier tour. By the time we arrived in Husafell for our rendezvous at the base of the glacier, the sun was shining in patches, but the wind was wicked. The tops of the mountains were not visible, and there was no sign at all of the glacier.

But we hopped into our monster truck (ex-missile launcher, to be precise) and started rumbling up the side of the mountain. We stopped at base camp, just before the edge of the glacier and got out for photos and a quick chance to use the “ice toilets.” (Not actually made of ice, but you wouldn’t know that to sit on one.)

Iceland Langsjokull 1
Missile Launchers the whole family can enjoy, in weather that no one can. This was at the base camp, about 500 meters lower than the point on the glacier where we entered the tunnels. I had no idea, when this picture was taken, that it would seem tropical in retrospect.

Back in the truck to head to the glacier proper. Things got whiter and whiter. Here’s a picture:





Haha, just kidding, that was only a few blank lines of text, but it might as well have been a picture. I could not see where the snow stopped and the sky began because it was all the same color, and it was frickin’ freezing.

Turns out it was a really good thing we decided to sign up for the tour that went into the glacier, because anything that would have been scheduled on the glacier that day would have gotten canceled, canceled, canceled. (On the way back down after the tour, our guide said they would have even canceled our tour if they had known the blizzard was going to start so early. Never realized I could be so grateful for an 8-wheeled monster truck with deflatable tires and double-paned windows.)

Iceland Langsjokull 2
You can actually see it blizzarding in this photo, if you look at our faces. Behind us is nothing by the white void and the tunnel into it.

The insides of a glacier are SO COOL. (Also SO COLD. I think Dustin and I were each wearing 4 or 5 layers of shirts and sweaters, plus those parkas I’d been so worried would go to waste.)

Iceland Langsjokull 3
Groping the glacier. Did you know that glacier ice is not the same as frozen water? It’s compressed snow, which has completely different physical properties, including the capacity to hold water, to warp, flow, and chew mountains to rubble. 
Iceland Langsjokull 4
Peering into the crevasse. Crevasses form due to stress and pressure on the ice that causes it to shift and deform, tearing apart in places and reforming in others. 
Iceland Langsjokull 5
Look at that blue. It’s caused by the way water molecules distort light as it travels through them. (Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with air bubbles.) The tunnels were lit by LED lights cached behind the ice. It was gorgeous.
Iceland Langsjokull 6
Look, the mythical Dustin! He was in the glacier too.
Iceland Langsjokull 7
Ermagerd, we’re in a glacier!
Iceland Langsjokull 8
❤ ❤ ❤

Now this next bit you’re not allowed to click on unless you promise not to judge, because when our guide asked if anyone wanted to sing in the ice cave, I wanted to say yes SO BADLY because – you guys! SINGING IN AN ICE CAVE! – which is not to say I really wanted an audience or really wanted Dustin to film it, or was in any kind of shape to perform, but since all of those things happened anyway, I might as well share. (Sorry it’s sideways. I don’t know how to fix that.)

YOU GUYS. I got to sing in an ice cave. They could have left me there doing that for a couple hours and I would have stayed happy (loss of feeling in toes not withstanding.)

But instead they made us go back outside into the blizzard, and it was really, really awful out there. They made up for it by feeding us hot chocolate once we were back in our monster truck.

Iceland Langsjokull 9
They heated the hot chocolates by sticking them on the radiator while we were inside the glacier.

So I didn’t get to stand on the top of a glacier and gaze at the grand expanse of ice and power, but I’d say what we got instead was a pretty good deal.

Now here are a few pictures of other random things we did and saw over our four-day stay:

Iceland Church 2
Here we are nearly getting blown away in front of the Hallgrenskirkja.
Iceland Church
Seriously. These people measure their wind velocity in meters-per-second. They predicted 40/mps winds this day (same day a the glacier blizzard). That’s about 90/mph, folks.
Iceland Houses
Just a couple old houses, sticking out of tufts of grass and basalt. Not sure how old. Iceland has been settled since around 900, but it’s a place where buildings don’t last. 
Iceland Rainbow 2
Bonus rainbow, with ocean, fjord, lava field, and snow storm.

Things we missed in Iceland that we’ll just have to make up for next time (ohhh, there will be a next time): We didn’t get to see any auroras because the hour of sunset and the clouds in the sky didn’t cooperate. We also didn’t get to see any puffins, even though there was one screeching of the breaks for a bird on the side of the road that turned out to be something else instead. Lastly (and most sadly), no volcanoes erupted while I watched. (On the other hand, I am now an expert on how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that blew its top back in 2010 and stopped air traffic all over Europe. I’ll demonstrate my skills for you when we get home.)

And now I’m in Paris and I can see the Eiffel Tower from my room and I’ll tell you all about that another time. 🙂

Glaciers, Part 2

The marvels of Day 2 didn’t stop with glaciers, though I confess I spent the rest of the day peeking back over my shoulders to check on the glaciers as we went.

Iceland Glacier 5
Look! Do you see that thing?! It grows up ABOVE the mountain tops.

Our next stop was at the basalt column cliffs and black sand beaches of Reynisdrangur where Dustin let me drool on the rocks to my heart’s content. The formations are stunning and sometimes even alien. These rocks are literally the earth being created.

Iceland Rocks 4
Coolest columnar basalt cliffs I’ve seen to date. It doesn’t hurt that they’re above a black stone beach.
Iceland Rocks 3
Yep, the formation is just like Devil’s Tower.
Iceland Rocks Selfie 3
These photos never capture scale. Let’s just say there’s a lot of cooled lava above our heads.
Iceland Rocks 5
Do you have any idea how amazing this guy is to let me run amok on a volcanic island for four days?
Iceland Rocks 1
Lava rocks! I mean, seriously!
Iceland Rocks Selfie 2
Holes in cliffs, black sand beach, volcanoes everywhere.


And sometimes the rocks look like trolls.

Iceland Rocks 6
See them? They’re really tiny at the top of this photo, by the cliff on the horizon.
Iceland Rock Troll
And sometimes they look a whole lot more like trolls. This is a sculpture of Bardur, a giant who lived on the glacier here.

We finished our day in a cozy little guesthouse that served Swiss food for dinner and didn’t offer coffee in the morning. (Coffee is serious business in this country. We are still confused.) This was particularly difficult since the morning of Day 3 saw Dustin insisting we be on the road by 8am.

“It’ll be worth it,” he said, as I hauled my jet-lagged booty out to the car.

We headed up to the Snaeffelsness, a peninsula on the western coast of the country that is home to some of the most gorgeous coastal mountain scenery I’ve seen.

Iceland Rainbow 1
And rainbows. Sorry about the bad photo. There will be more bad photos of rainbows coming up.

And also this wooly sheep. He was on the road and stopped to say hi.

Iceland Sheep 1Iceland Sheep 2

Iceland Sheep 3
Uh… hey. Got any cookies?

Most importantly, Snaefelsness is home to the Snaeffelsjokull, a glacier covering a volcano made famous by Jules Verne as the start of the adventures in Journey to the Center of the Earth. And the best part was that there was a snow cat waiting on the side of the road when we pulled off.

Y’know that thing about the best laid plans? Well, occasionally they spring leaks in their heating systems and can no longer be driven up the sides of glaciers, even for people who have giant crushes on glaciers and really need to be driven up onto one.

And thus did the Awesome Glacier Adventure turn into the Glacier Adventure That Was Not To Be.

But Iceland is full of amazing things, so we pulled over to the side of the road and climbed into this volcano instead.

Iceland Volcano 1
Just another roadside attraction.
Iceland Volcano 2
Peering into the crater.
Iceland Volcano 3
Deciding to venture into the crater.
Iceland Volcano 4
I’m in this picture. Do you see me?

Next up, the conclusion of my epic glacial adventures.

Glaciers, Part 1

When last I left you, Dustin and I were standing at the top of Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, like so:

Iceland Waterfall Selfie 6

And I was admiring the ice cap glaciers visible in the near distance. They are absolutely remarkable, and until I saw one with my own eyes, I had no idea how deeply impressed I would be by glaciers.

I started to wax poetic about how cool glaciers are, and how incredible it would be to actually visit one.

“What am I supposed to do?” Dustin asked. “If I have something like that planned, I can’t tell you about it now, or it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if I don’t have it planned, and I don’t say something, you’ll be disappointed and not surprised.”

“That’s easy,” I replied. “If we get to the top of this waterfall and I see we can reach a glacier by hiking for an extra hour, I’ll ask you if we can do that, or if I should wait because you have something else planned. But if the opportunity isn’t right at hand, I’m having fun so I won’t ask.”

And y’know what our next stop was?? Here’s a hint:

Iceland Glacier Selfie

Just around the corner from Seljalandsfoss waterfall lives the Sólheimajökull, an outflow glacier, which means a bit of glacier that is oozing in slow, geological time out from underneath another, bigger glacier, in this case the M<>jokull (I swear I’ll come back and spell this right later) glacier. A short hike led us back to where we could see it, just sitting there, flowing in the minuscule, macro, magical way that only megatons of ice can do. No picture can describe how immense it actually feels to be looking at this thing.

Iceland Glacier 1
This is a really big piece of ice, and I’m walking right toward it. 
Iceland Glacier 2
It’s right behind me now! (And, most likely, also under me. There’s so much debris at the tip of a moving glacier you can’t always see the ice.)
Iceland Glacier 3
I touched a glacier!
Iceland Glacier 4.jpg
I stood on a glacier!
Iceland Glacier Selfie 2
And I liked it. 🙂 

And once again, I have so many more adventures to share, but I’ve run out of hours and pictures. I’ll compose on the plane tomorrow. See you then!


Iceland is the Coolest

Figuratively and literally, Iceland is the coolest.

Two days ago, I stood in the security line at the Denver airport, wearing a tank top and toting a parka.

“Whoa,” said the surprisingly friendly TSA agent. “You must be coming from someplace cold.” The temperature in Denver that day had clocked in at nearly 80 degrees, the latest in a string of blissful Spring weather that we’d been enjoying for a couple weeks up in South Dakota.

“Nope,” I said. “We’re going to someplace cold.” Not for the first time that day, I wondered if the parka (not to mention the hat, gloves, and heavy wool socks tucked away in my suitcase) would turn out to be completely unnecessary bulk that I’d have to haul uselessly around Europe for three weeks. The warm days had lasted so long that I’d begun to believe they must be global.

Here are some pictures from our first two days in Iceland:


These are all from different waterfalls, I swear. 

As you can see, in addition to being cool literally (Day 1 stared in the low 50s, today was in the 40s, tomorrow’s going to be a little colder) Iceland is also amazing. An actively volcanic island sitting on the Mid-Atlantic Continental Rift, replete with hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, black-sand beaches, glaciers… My little geologist heart is a-quiver.

Day 1, which began with our plane landing at 6:30am, continued with the retrieval of our rental car and a SIM card for the phone, then off we went to a hike (death march) to a hot spring fit for bathing. yux8gxd

The hike was a little longer than expected, and the nap obtained on the 7-hour plane ride a little less refreshing, so by the time we got to the spring, the toasty hot soak was more than welcome.

The first day was the most beautiful weather day. No furry hood required… yet.
But it wasn’t exactly summer swimming pool weather. 
Compare the happy, beer-drinking Icelanders in the water to the fully geared tourists on the walkway.

From there we headed south to see the geyser in the town of Geysir, for which all geysers have been named. The geyser named Geysir hasn’t erupted since the 2005, but a new geyser, Strokkur (meaning “churn”) popped up to fill the vacancy. This funny little geyser erupts every 2-7 minutes, in a single tall gasp of water and steam (and tourists) before dying back down to refill its boiler. It was beautiful to watch from the ridiculously close spectating area (so close that signs warn visitors to watch out not to get hit by the hot water falling back down after the eruption…) as the water inside the geyser heaved and retreated before bubbling up.

Strokkur erupts so briefly we figured we’d watch it rather than try to time a selfie.

This also caused a good deal of introspection on how special it is that Yellowstone protects its features so carefully. In Iceland, there are no restrictions on how close you can get to thermal features, except for an occasional warning about how hot the water is. Perhaps the features aren’t as delicate as they are in Yellowstone? They’re certainly as dangerous. But while being able to step right up to the rim of a boiling mud pot is a thrill (and oh! the view!), I can’t help but worry about the people with no common sense.

Laura knows a safe distance from an erupting geyser when she sees one. Other visitors clearly (based on footprints) did not.
Stay out. Y’know. If you want to.
Boiling mud pot. I might have tripped on it.

Our last stop on Day 1 was at the edge of Gullfoss, the most spectacular waterfall I’ve ever seen. Between the slicing, gale-force winds and the falling-asleep-on-our-feet thing, this was as close as we decided to get, but do you see that blue? Do you see the levels and the awesomeness? It was fantastic.

Actually, you can’t see the blue in this photo. You’ll have to trust me that it was incredible.

Day 2 started with waterfalls as well, with our first stop at Skogafoss, then a short hike to Gljufrabui, where we took advantage of the Icelandic propensity to encourage rather than discourage foolhardy tourist activities and climbed up a rockface to get a better view of the waterfall.

See the sheer rock on the right of the picture? That’s what we’re climbing up in the following pictures. 
Dustin clings to the chain provided for “safety” as he comes around a ledge above a 40-foot drop. The sign at the bottom of this climb simply suggested that it “might not be for everyone.”
Made it to the top! I dangled over the edge to peer at the waterfall, but Dustin’s feet aren’t as sticky as mine. 
Taking a Danger Selfie.
The actual Danger Selfie, with Self and Waterfall.

We followed this up by dodging behind Skogafoss, where my preparedness came in delightfully handy once again.

I am the most prepared packer in the universe. I had a plastic poncho for Dustin too, but he said it didn’t match his beard. 

Then off we went to Sjelandfoss for a quick hike and mudslide.

This country is lousy with waterfalls. They practically photobomb you.

That wasn’t the end of Day 2, but it turns out it’s the end of photos I have access to at the moment, so I’ll be back with more a little later. Next up… Glaciers!


A wildlife day

We spent the day in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone, since Dustin had to come out this way for a couple of business meetings.

Let’s play a game. Can you spot the river otter? Hint, he really wishes we’d go away and leave him in peace.

2016 Otter 1

How about here?

2016 Otter 2

Or here? (He’s being sneaky in the other pics. This one is just proof that I’m a terrible photographer.)

2016 Otter 3

New game. Can you see the bears?

2016 Bears

That one wasn’t very hard. We found them right by the Yellowstone River Picnic area, where they were digging for grubs and merrily ignoring the 700 tourists who had stopped to see them.

Now here’s a bonus shot of us hanging out in Boiling River this morning.

2016 Boiling

It was a good day in Yellowstone. 🙂