Day 7: Home Sweet Home.

I landed in Fargo around 10:30 a.m. today and a friend from work picked me up. We grabbed lunch and then I finally made it home around 1:30 this afternoon. It’s been a productive day, too. I have successfully avoided jet lag upon my return home as planned. My bags are unpacked, my clothes are in the dryer, and my Christmas tree is up and fully decorated!

Both Agnes and Bodhi are glued to either side of me as I type this and have been transferring my journal entries to a blog format. I’m going to call it a night and enjoy their company; I love that they are the family I can come home to. As I type this, I have one last post to fully put together and a couple days left to type out from my journal, then this adventure will officially be a wrap!

I’ll elaborate more on my “What I Learned” post that I typically do at the end of each trip but for those reading now, thank you for all of the comments, texts, and snaps spreading words of encouragement and love as I’ve embarked on this international solo adventure. It’s been a whirlwind of unbelievable moments and the cheering from afar means more to me than you’ll ever know. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many good people in this world.

Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!

Day 6: Eég mun sakna þín svo mikið.

The title of this post translates to “I will miss you so much” thank you and brought to you by Google Translate.

Today I leave Iceland and I can already see the teardrops on my guitar. Or ukulele, I should say.  We got back very late from hunting for the dancing lights in the sky. I have no idea the time but I would guess 1:30 a.m. (or so). I had intended on waking up at a semi-decent time to at least get breakfast but I missed my alarm completely and woke up around 9:45 a.m. It was too late to get dressed and grab breakfast so I decided to just relax and enjoy the last moments of quiet in Iceland.

I stayed in bed until around 10:30 a.m., took my last long hot Icelandic shower. Water is their number one resource here and they have more than enough to go around so I took full advantage of it. I packed my bags after getting ready for the day and watched out the window for a little while. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it but my view is of the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Esja, a volcanic mountain range just north of the city. Watching out the window from my hotel was so peaceful and the perfect way to soak in and reflect on this adventure.

I brought my things down to the lobby around noon to check out and visit with my fellow travelers one last time before we all got on the bus to head out. For the third or fourth time this week, I could feel my eyes filling with happy tears once again. I didn’t expect to meet people on this trip; it hadn’t even occurred to me that I would. Hugging everyone goodbye at the airport was bittersweet. I was sad to be saying goodbye, not knowing if I’d see anyone ever again but full of glee to have met so many like-minded people.

In the airport, I filled up my water bottle one last time with the precious and absolutely delicious Icelandic water. I may need to ship some to my home, I’m not even kidding. I don’t care how Real Housewives that makes me sound, you have to taste it to understand.

On the six and a half hour plane ride home, I forced myself to stay awake so I could beat jet lag. Time will tell if I succeeded. I started watching Outlander after being encouraged to watch it for some time by a friend of my moms. Ya girl is on episode 6 and I have a feeling it will overtake my entire weekend back home.

I can’t believe I’m almost already home.

Oh! I flew over Greenland! Unless or until I visit Iceland again, I don’t know that I’ll ever see Greenland in my life so I had to snap some photos. Stunning and completely untouched!

Night 5: The Glorious Aurora Borealis.

There are no words to describe the incredible nighttime beauty that Iceland embodies when the dancing lights in the sky appear. One thing I found fascinating and never really realized before is that what we see with the human eye is lighter and more dull than what a camera can capture. I don’t know the science behind it but that’s the way it is.

That’s not to say that witnessing the Northern Lights in Iceland’s night sky wasn’t worth seeing; it was. After falling short the evening before on the Atlantic Ocean aboard an Elding Whale Watching boat, our entire group was eager for the weather to cooperate with us. Of all the bucket list items I’ve ever written down, seeing the Aurora’s in a Scandinavian country was one of my top 5 and it happened. IT HAPPENED! The aurora forecast was strong at a 4 and the clouds stayed at bay which made the evening a perfect one for viewing.

And with that, I’ll leave you with the visuals of that evening. I wish I could transport every person that sees this back to those moments with me. We were the only group in a man-made Icelandic forest about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik (I’m guessing on the distance). The driver, Igor, and our tour guide, G, were perfect hosts to their country sharing this event with us.

To read more about the Northern Light’s in Iceland, check out this article by Travel & Leisure. Or to learn more about the Aurora’s in general, Wikipedia is always my go-to starting point.

Day 4: All the colors and such extremes.

Today was a perfect leisurely day all around. We were supposed to head to the South Coast today but due to the weather, our guide opted to swap days 4 and 5. I think this was a perfect decision because yesterday was jam packed and tomorrow will be too. A less physical day is a good break between leg day and.. leg day, haha!

The morning was my oyster. We headed to the Blue Lagoon today (which I’ll get to) but weren’t slated to leave until around noon. With that, I met up with four of the gals I’ve met on this trip for breakfast. Valerie, the timely solo chick she is, arrived first and I second. Sylvia, Sharon, and Theresa joined us shortly after. The breakfast at this hotel, Haust, is on point! A full breakfast buffet that is longer than my apartment is wide welcomed our hungry American stomachs each morning.

We all ate more than we probably normally would on a Tuesday morning but meh, we’re on vacation and we bouje. Once we were finished, we decided to roam around downtown Reykjavik for a couple of hours. It was still dark, have I mentioned how dark it is here? The sun doesn’t fully rise until after 10:00 a.m. and nothing was open quite yet. The only place we happened upon that was open before 10:00 was a quaint little bookstore with a store cat named Lucy. We wandered in there a bit and then continued on our way past a bizarre penis museum (ask me about it, and I’ll indulge you) and along the narrow streets decorated in full holiday attire. I felt like I was in a storybook.

We found what we dubbed the Hipster District. Turning the corner, all the buildings were fashioned as works of art. From a black and white house that looked like a Sharpie sketch come to life to a pride-inspired dragon pathway. I felt like I’d been transported into the minds of Salvador Dali and Lewis Carroll. I could have spent the entire day walking up and down each street but we eventually needed to continue on our way. Nearing our hotel on the way back, we captured the amazing views of the mountain in the distance from the hilltop streets we were on between the tall apartment buildings. Could you imagine waking up to that each morning? What a treat.

Bláa Lónið aka The Blue Lagoon was next up and man did it deliver. No article or photo I’d ever seen of the Blue Lagoon does this place justice. Seeing the bright blue ribbons of silica filled water and steam run through a lava field is otherworldly. As soon as we started on the pathway towards the entrance of the building to this geothermal spa, before we even entered, I immediately felt a sense of calm. I couldn’t believe I was there. We were welcomed by beautiful white birds just wandering around minding their own and got a glimpse of the water up close before we hit the doors. (I don’t know my birds so forgive me but I just want to refer to these dudes as swans. If they are swans, whoa.)

Once inside, we were given sweet wristbands in case we wanted to buy anything; we didn’t have to carry money with us. Checking out with the wristband seemed supes high tech and just furthered my level of impression. There are two ways to enter TBL; the spa way or the Nordic way. Once you exit the locker rooms, you walk down the steps. If you continue walking straight, you approach TBL inside, the floor dips down and you walk into the 100+ degree water while still in the building and making your way towards the wall eventually exiting outside fully submerged. If you go that way, you’re welcomed by a lava wall cave and bridge once outside. This is known as the “spa way.”

Or, you can enter The Blue Lagoon the Nordic way; wild and free! Through a bit of coercion by Sharon in our group, a handful of us decided to do as the Nordics do. We hung up our already soaking wet towels (you have to shower before entering the Lagoon), shivering, feet bare, and left only in our swimsuits.. we opened the building doors to the outside. The air temperature was sitting right at freezing and we felt like Nordic Queens as we walked the path from the building to the shimmery blue water in front of us, the steam rolling far higher than we were tall. And wow, what a feeling. From catching our breath because we were shivering to feeling the warm, healing-esque salt water hug our bodies was unexplainable.

The Blue Lagoon goes on and on and on. There are nooks and streams everywhere you turn. There are two bars; a mask bar and an alcohol bar. After applying mud masks, we made our way to the bar where I tried some Somersby Cider. Between the two places lies a waterfall that you can stand beneath and get a waterfall water massage, it was incredible. The water isn’t deep. Standing at 5’8″, I think it reached my neck at the deepest. We visited with others on our trip, floated aimlessly on our backs, eyes closed and took in as much as we could in the time we had. Iceland has so many “worth it” factors and this one is right there at the very top of the list.

Tonight we hunt for the Northern Lights but before that, I hit up the Bjór Garðurinn for dinner. I went down alone but found some people from my group that I hadn’t had a chance to talk to much yet. Deb and Dan and then Eric and Rosanne; both mother/son duos which I found very sweet. I travel with my mom at least once a year and I know I’ll forever cherish those trips so seeing other parent/child pair-ships makes my heart warm. Our conversations over dinner were great ones and the food was good to boot.

Following dinner, everyone met in the lobby bundled up in our warmest of clothes. We were about to embark on an Atlantic adventure off the coast of Iceland in search for the dancing lights of the north. I stayed on the top deck for most of our excursion visiting with Eric and G but also made my rounds and visited with a few other people while patiently waiting for the Northern Lights. There were these cool suits people could put on to keep warm, they looked like astronauts walking around. It was mighty brisk outside but I didn’t end up grabbing one.

I definitely have a vaca-crush on the Croatian tour guide, Lucas, of Elding Whale Watching. While we didn’t end up seeing the lights tonight, his commentary was delightful and his wit was on point. Only a certain type of person can make safety protocol instructions sound interesting enough to listen to. It’s the accent, I’m sure of it.

The trip out to sea wasn’t for naught, though. We saw the beautiful lit up skyline of Reykjavik from the boat and were the closest we’d been yet to one of the mountains we could see from shore. Even in the dark, it seemed majestic. We could also see the Imagine Peace Tower really well. Yoko Ono created the Imagine Peace Tower in memory of John Lennon in 2007, it holds the wishes, wisdom and peace of millions around the world. We didn’t get an opportunity to physically visit it but I still sent my wishes to it the same way I do when I see a shooting star.

Since we didn’t see the lights tonight, we go hunting again tomorrow but via bus instead of boat. The forecast was really good tonight but the cloud cover eliminated out chances of seeing anything. Thanks for reading!


Day 2: Jet lag is real.

I’m HERE! I’m in ICELAND! Is this real life?! I feel like my heart is going to jump right out of my chest.

I was welcomed at the airport by Gunnur (G), the tour guide for the week. I can already tell she’s going to be awesome. She welcomed everyone with the sweetest “Hello, Hello” and I love it; her voice is so clear and it’s soothing to the ear. The few people I met in Chicago during my layover arrived shortly after I did in the waiting area.

Once everyone arrived, we were ushered to the bus which was a lovely bright pink EF tour bus, we won’t be able to miss that this week! The drivers name is Ivar and I think he’ll be our driver all week. There were already a handful of people on the bus, I’m not sure when their flights arrived.

When we arrived at the hotel, it was still morning but I’m not sure of the time. The day is a little bit of a blur, I’m so tired. I did my best to sleep on the flight but I’m finding out that I didn’t succeed. We had to hang out in the lobby for an hour or two before the Welcome Lunch at 11:45. Most people, myself included dozed off multiple times as we waited. There’s a restaurant in the hotel called Haust and the lunch was, as they described it, a luxurious Christmas buffet including local delicatessen. It was elaborate and beautiful. Everyone loved the food; I’ll refrain from any criticisms because my taste pallet is that of a 5-year old so I can’t really provide a legit review. The dessert was hella bomb though. Icelanders know how to do dessert, that’s for sure!

We went around the table, I think there are 27 of us, and introduced ourselves. I think I may be the only person in the world not to have been to Australia and New Zealand, ha! Quite a few people in the group have traveled there and they said it’s just wonderful.

In addition to Valerie from earlier today (last night?), I have a feeling I’ll hit it off with two other ladies here together too, Sharon and Theresa. Theresa is a relative of Sharon’s husband and they’ve traveled together quite a bit it sounds. They’re both from the Baltimore area and have very inviting personalities, which I appreciate.

After a filling lunch, we headed out for a city sightseeing tour to jump-start our time in Iceland. We toured the grounds of the Ásmundarsafn Art Museum and Hallgrímskirkja Church. The museum’s grounds were filled with mostly naked and abstract statues created by an artist by the name of Ásmundur Sveinsson. If I remember correctly, the museum used to be his home and opened as a museum sometime after his death.

We also visited Perlan Observatory Deck where we had the most beautiful and picturesque 360 degree views of the city from above.  This definitely helped to wake me up. My favorite photo is at the end of this post. I captured a beautiful fall meets winter photo of Mount Esja. It was just stunning.

Our last stop was near the Parliament. Some of the people on our tour elected to walk to the Parliament. Others, including myself, took a walk along the river to catch the sunset (at 3:45 p.m.) and visit an abundant amount of birds flying every which way.

I don’t know what to expect these next few days but this city has already exceeded any expectation I could have had. The jet lag is hitting me so hard, I can barely write so I think I’ll call it a night. I don’t even think it’s dinner time yet but I need to crash. Tomorrow is full and I’m in ICELAND. I’ll never get used to this.

Day 1: That airport life, though.

It’s nearly 5:00 PM and I’m at gate M20, terminal 5 in O’Hare. I’m tired and I’m hot. Why is it every time I visit O’Hare (this is only time numero dos), I have to walk thirty thousand miles? Gate M20 is the last M-gate at the end of a marathon length hallway with nothing to eat or drink. The struggle! But it’s whatever dude, I’m almost to Iceland.

YES. ICE ICE, BABY. I can’t believe it either.

On my trek back towards M-something-that-is-not-20 but basically at the beginning, I ran into this really cool couple. They were cool because they were wearing a light blue, almost periwinkle Schrute Farms sweatshirt. Why is that cool? Because I’m wearing the SAME exact sweatshirt. We have a club now.

I’ve also met a few people on my tour. Sue and Jim, they’ve been everywhere, man. I’m not kidding. Paris, Australia, New Zeland, Kenya, Egypt, China.. you name it. Oh Hawaii too; Greece next year. Sue doesn’t stop talking. Jim doesn’t talk.

I also met a chick named Valerie. I spotted her Go Ahead tag about 20 minutes ago but I didn’t know which level of creep was acceptable. Eventually Sue and Jim found her too and they connected the four of us.

That’s about all for now. I don’t know how much writing I’ll get done on this solo adventure. I received two travel journals as birthday gifts this year so I’ve packed one along. I have a feeling I’ll be writing in that and transcribing my ramblings into a blog format when I get time after returning home. I’m trying this really foreign thing called living in the moment. It’s pretty cool.

We board IcelandAir in about an hour or so. I’m going to catch up on an Elevation Podcast and re-fill my water bottle. Bless (bye in Icelandic).

Pre-Trip Feels.

I never used to have anxiety. If I did, I think I pushed it way way down into the pits of my soul. It started creeping in about two years ago which coincides with a significant choice in my life. Of course it does; when something shifts, all of you shifts. That was the case for me, at least.

Anyway, while I acknowledge that I struggle with anxiety, I don’t and won’t allow it to define who I am. Example: The night before my trip (last night), I had two meltdowns. One on the phone with my mom and one as I tossed and turned throughout the night. Who needs sleep?

Both were over things the good-frame-of-mind version of myself would think are ridiculous but I can’t help when it creeps in. Praise Jesus for my mother. I know that she doesn’t always “get it” but she does always know how to bring me back down to reality. I’m so grateful for the life I have and the opportunities I’ve been given and allowed myself to have so when I start feeling anxious about those same things, I get so frustrated. Like, I just want to shake it out of me.

Anyway, to sum it up; similar to my last trip just a couple of months ago.. my pre-trip feels were filled with self-induced stress and anxiety. Why though? I really do firmly believe hugs solve so much. In those moments, all I needed was a hug. Hugs weren’t available but my kittens were. I’ll miss those two this next week.

Oh, I haven’t even said what this trip is! I’m going to ICELAND! Shut up, I know. I can’t believe it either. I’m sure I’ve annoyed my co-workers to death talking about it, and my family too, but I’m just so excited!

This is my first international solo trip and I’m freaking out a little! Okay, I’m freaking out a lot. I had tossed around the idea of doing a solo trip to the UK since returning from an international voyage with my mom last fall. I wanted to visit Scotland again and hit up the London area. But I’ve been so busy with life and work that time was ticking and I hadn’t planned a single thing. I didn’t want this entire year to go by and not go on a solo adventure that I really felt like I needed.

I remembered visiting with a gal earlier this year about EF (Education First) and kept finding myself back on their travel sites. I kept switching between Ultimate Break and Go Ahead (both EF companies). The main difference was that UB is for those 29 and under. It was already late September by this time and after analyzing my calendar, the only time I could make a trip work before the end of the year was a very specific timeframe in November. So here I am! Go Ahead Tours it is! I hope to give a thorough review of GAT once my trip concludes so I can share all the deets from pre-trip to post then. So far, 10/10 recommend.