Our Iceland Adventure – Day 1

I’m finally finding time to sort through and edit the hundreds of images from our trip to Iceland and Scotland back in the fall.  We took the trip because I won a contest on another blog which included airfare to Iceland and a cash prize for accommodations.  We decided to add Scotland to the trip since it was nearby and held interest for both of us.  We planned the whole trip around my nephew’s wedding in Virginia since we had to fly out of an east coast hub and the timing worked for both the Hubs and I to be gone for a long stretch during that time.

Fall in Iceland is very similar to fall in Alaska – cold and often wet, but filled with amazing scenery.  We landed in Keflavík early on a Saturday morning thanks to a red-eye flight.  The airport had very modern architecture and reminded us of an IKEA store with a maze of shopping areas, resturants and gates to navigate.  We picked up our rental car and headed straight for the capital city of Reykjavik, which is about 40 minutes away, for some sightseeing.  The first stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish, which is the city’s main landmark.  It is also the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country.

It was an overcast, rainy and windy day so the church’s smooth grey basalt stone blended into the sky.  Because it was so early, nothing was open yet, so we wandered the grounds around the church noticing it’s details, like the statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the church, which was a gift from the US commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament and the modern clean lines of the clock at the top of the tower.

Iceland has seen a huge boom in tourism in the past several years so it’s often crowded at attractions like this, but the weather and early morning kept everyone at bay and we practically had the place to ourselves.  I was a little bummed we couldn’t see the inside and the massive German organ which has been used for a variety of famous recordings, but we couldn’t stay long as we had a full schedule of things to see in the couple of days we were there.

Having seen all of  Hallgrímskirkja that we could, we wandered the nearby streets taking in early morning life in Reykjavik.  A few blocks away I spotted this cute little pub with classic Icelandic style including a turf roof and rustic but modern vibe.  I wished they had been open so I could sample their fare – or get a warm drink.

Across from the pub was this public water closet, which required payment to use.  We’d never seen anything like it but thought it was a smart concept given the masses of tourists the city sees each year.

We got back in the car and drove down to the city’s waterfront in search of the Solfar Sun Voyager, a modern culture of a viking ship.  I’d hoped to catch a shot of it at sunrise, but obviously the weather had other plans. We met a Taiwanese tourist there who was by herself and obliged when she asked if I’d take a photo with her.  I’m pretty sure we both looked like drowned rats, but it was fun to experience another culture taking in the sights.

We had planned to check out a weekly swap meet where the prices were rumored to be the best, but weren’t able to locate it despite several laps of the city.  During one of those laps I spotted this church and asked the Hubs to stop for a few minutes to let me investigate.

I discovered that it is Landakotskirkja, the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.  You’ll notice that bot churches have “kirk” in the name.  We quickly learned that was a standard throughout the country, just as “foss” is part of all waterfall names.

The classic architecture make it seem much older than it’s 1929 consecration.  The only Catholic school in the city was located right next door and featured charming cottage style buildings.  I was drawn to the ornate door of the church, which had a unique handle that the door had been modified around.

Since most attractions wouldn’t open for a few more hours and we had time at the end of our trip to visit Reykjavik again if we wanted to, we decided to head out into the countryside toward our hotel for the evening, which was a couple of hours drive away.  As we left the city, the scenery quickly changed to wide open expanses of mossy landscape, dotted with structures, the occasional farm and power lines to feed the other side of the island.

We stopped for lunch along the highway at a lovely little café, where we enjoyed baked brie sandwiches, the BEST mushroom soup I’ve ever had and a wonderful hot chocolate for dessert.  We encountered several interesting vehicles on the road which we assumed were operated by the local wilderness or extreme adventure tour companies.  We’re accustomed to large vehicles accessorized for wilderness travel and the situations you may encounter doing so, but these rigs took it to a new extreme with massive tires and a variety of extra lights, even for us Alaskans.  But it’s better to be prepared when in the back country, especially in remote areas where help may  not be able to easily reach you and it’s certainly a new experience for tourists who likely only encounter small scale vehicles.

By late afternoon we arrived at Stracta Hotel in Hella, where we would be staying for two nights.  I was delighted to discover there was a small herd of Icelandic horses right across the street from the hotel.  Seeing this special breed up-close was at the top of my list for this trip and this was the perfect opportunity to spend a few minutes petting them.  They quickly realized we didn’t have any treats for them and lost interest in us, but I stood in the rain for a while longer admiring their unique features.

After checking in and getting our bags to the room, we explored the hotel’s café and gift shop before hopping on the wi-fi to check messages.  Jet lagged from the overnight flight and weather, we decided to take a quick nap to recharge.  Refreshed from our rest, we headed back to the café for a delicious farm-to-table style meal over candlelight and discussed our plan for the next day including more country side driving, waterfalls, a historic turf house and the black sand beaches and basalt pillars of Vik.  We called it a night soon after so we could further acclimate to the time zone and get an early start in the morning.  I’ll be sharing those adventures next so be sure to stop back by to see them!

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Exploring Homer

This past weekend I headed down to Homer to photograph a wedding and had a couple of hours to explore before the ceremony.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day, which was a welcome change to the constant rain we’ve had in south central Alaska for the past several weeks.

Since I was only in town for a few hours I opted not to rent a car.  Instead I decided to focus my sightseeing on the Spit, which is easy to walk.  Although I’d been to Homer before I hadn’t had time to wander and check out all the little shops so this was a rare treat.  I started at the Seafarer’s memorial which is dedicated to those who are lost at sea.  Fishing is a big part of this region and with that comes the risk of not making it back to safe harbor.  The base of the statue was covered with trinkets and messages from loved ones and friends of those honored here.  Nearby there is a bell that is tolled during ceremonies when names are added to the plaques contained in the memorial.

Nearby the memorial was this uniquely decorated laundromat for an RV park.  The wall had an eclectic assortment of things from the region including buoys, urinals used as planters and even a petrified moose leg.  It’s definitely one of a kind!

My next stop was the iconic Salty Dawg Saloon.  I waited several minutes to get an unobstructed shot of the lighthouse style building and original log cabin.  I also took a quick tour around the inside of the cabin, which is virtually wallpapered with messages written on money and a variety of other items.

Back outside I took a peek at the less famous side of the Salty Dawg, which had an adorable free form garden containing a variety of nautical accents.

The shops were grouped in clusters up and down the road, including this batch which were built on a pier over the waterfront.  It reminded me of the Outer Banks in North Carolina where I used to visit often when I lived on the east coast.  Looking out from the deck of the pier you can see RV’s parked near the shoreline.  Since the Hubs wasn’t with me I texted him to say that I wanted to plan a long weekend road trip in an RV here next summer.

I popped into one of the shops on this boardwalk called Sunken Treasures.  They had a great inventory of nautical and Alaskan items including these fun signs.  The sunny days one is sooooo me! 🙂

One of their shop windows had cracked and rather than try to hide it they had embraced it and added an inspirational quote to follow the curve of the crack, which mimicked the curves of the mountains across the bay!

Out on the deck were several spots to sit and enjoy the food options available.  Most included some sort of repurposed fishing equipment, like this table.

A little further down the road was this cool cabin style store, which looked like a cross between an Alaskan Mountain Man’s hunting lodge and a Viking Hall.  I almost came home with one of the cute stringers of carved fish displayed out front, but decided to save my money for another trip we have coming up.

Up and down the main road were a variety of artistic and unique signs, including this massive milepost and hand-painted Salmon Dawgs ad.

I had to chuckle at the ingeniousness of this shop owner’s signage, which can be changed by just moving the velcroed N to indicate if they are open or “nope”…

Another shop I stopped in, called the Blue Urchin.  There were a lot of unique items here too, but the ones that I fell in love with were small vintage style bells that will be added to the ends of driftwood garlands I plan to make from driftwood collected on our many adventures.  In fact they had one just like what I’ll be making for sale in the shop, so I snapped a picture for inspiration.  I’ll share my finished garlands when they are done.

Another fun thing I spotted was this classic truck parked outside one of the many small eateries.  There were two older gentlemen standing nearby discussing the truck who were surprised I showed interest until I told them I have a 1955 F-100 at home. 😉

After my sightseeing was done I made my way to the end of the Spit to have lunch on the deck at Lands End, where the wedding reception would be held.  On the way there I passed the ferry terminal docks which were occupied by a swarm of seagulls who were in constant chatter.  All I could think about was the Finding Nemo scene were all the seagulls chant, “Mine. Mine. Mine!”

The sun was out in full force when I made it to the hotel.  I’ve stayed here with my family when we traveled through Homer to take the ferry to Kodiak.  It’s THE landmark for the Homer Spit.

I snagged a table out on the deck with a fantastic view of the bay and watched the boats go back and forth.  Although I couldn’t enjoy a cocktail since I still had work to do it was a much enjoyed little break with my Dr. Pepper fix.

While waiting for my lunch I spotted several sailboats crossing the bay.  It was so peaceful to watch them glide across the water in contrast to the fishing boats that powered toward the marina leaving waves in their wake.

Lunch was a cup of clam chowder and this amazing caprese stuffed mushroom.  It was just the right amount to keep me full until dinner at the reception.  And it was well complimented by the sunshine and surf.

It was only a couple of hours, but it was a wonderful little mini-vacation as summer begins to wrap up.  I hope we get to enjoy a few more beautiful sunny days like this before the white stuff arrives!

 

Traveling Momma

I’ve been traveling most of this week for events in three cities across Alaska.  That means there hasn’t been much time to do things at home or blog, but I wanted to share a few images from my overnight trip down to Juneau.  I’ve been to Juneau several times now for work, including a visit where the hubs got to join me and we stayed a few extra days to see the sights like this, this and this then toured downtown and visited the famous Red Dog Saloon. This trip was all work, but I did catch a pretty sunset just after take off on the way down and a quick view of the mountains along the way.

12Since we arrived late at night I quickly settled into my room and hit the sack, but in the morning I awoke to a lovely view of the channel and the Coast Guard boats.  Luckily our event was happening right next door so I got to check out the view as I walked over too.

3Once the event was done I considered stopping in at the Alaskan Fudge Company to get some of their cranberry white chocolate bark, but I didn’t have a rental car and had several heavy bags to carry on the 6 block walk from the convention center which would put me another 5 blocks downhill from our local office.  It was about that time that the wind and rain that had been forecasted decided to make an appearance so I opted to lug my gear and aching feet straight to our office instead and get some work done.  It is no-spend April after all and skipping the calories is probably a good thing anyway.

I’ve got one more event tomorrow and then things will be back to the normal schedule.  After all this work I’m certainly looking forward to the massage I have scheduled on Saturday, which is also a freebie thanks to a trade I did with an in-home masseuse a few months back!

The hubs has been working on a big project while I’ve been gone so I’ll be sharing that next week and check back tomorrow for a big announcement! 😉

Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 2

Today I’m sharing our experience at the Volcano National Park.  We started the day by going out to the overlook we’d visited the night before which was located at the Jaggar Museum.  It was amazing to see the view during the day, having first seen it in darkness under the glow of Kilauea.

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In addition to interesting exhibits about volcano stats there were several artistic depictions of Pele and other Hawaiian gods at the museum.  As someone interested in Greek and Roman mythology I found these very interesting.  This one was so large I had to use the panoramic option on my phone to get it all in one shot, which distorted Pele’s face a bit.  Hopefully she’s understanding and forgives me.

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This was one of my favorite depictions of Pele interacting with the water goddess.

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There were also depictions of the stories about Pele’s vengeful nature such as this.

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I also found the statistics about the local volcanos interesting, especially when paired with other famous volcanos for reference. 5

There were several displays of various types of volcanic materials which showcased the diversity needed to study these evolving formations.

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Although I hadn’t considered it before, this display showing how geologists can determine the temperatures of lava from its color made perfect sense.

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There was an active seismic monitor for all of the local stations at the museum along side an area where you could jump or stomp to create your own “earthquake” on a separate monitor, which was fun to test.  This legend of how different seismic activity are depicted was good info – especially for those of us who live on the ring of fire!

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This damaged uniform was on display to showcase the dangers of working around volcanos – even for the professionals.

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It was amazing to see historical photographs of how residents of the island have lived alongside the volcanoes as they change the landscape.

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It’s easy to see why people would come to watch the eruptions, they are amazing and so little was known about the dangers that it wasn’t really considered.  I thought this display should have been titled ignorance is bliss!

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Even Mark Twain stuck around to watch the action and described it in his writings and drawings.  24

At one point while we were touring the museum several visitors, including myself started coughing occasionally.  Just as I noticed that others were coughing consistently as well,  the ranger on duty went around closing the windows and doors noting that the air quality had decreased on her monitors.  Because the air quality was changing, we finished up inside and decided to head out to the other areas of the park.  Outside the smell of sulpher was stronger than it had been when we arrived so I snapped this shot of a sign about the formation of the caldera and we headed to the car.

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Next we visited the steam vents, where pressure from the lava turns rain and ground water to steam and it is released through cracks in the ground.  There was a strong sulpher smell here as well.

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We walked out a short trail to see the steaming bluff, where vents in the side of caldera release steam up the cliff.

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The view across the caldera showed where the lava had pooled in times past and gave a different vantage point of the active portion of the crater.

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There were dozens of these pretty orchids growing everywhere along the trails.  I was surprised to see them growing like weeds, when we have to coddle them in Alaska to keep them alive.  I later learned these are not native plants, but bamboo orchids brought in from Asia.

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Next we walked the trail to the Sulpher Banks, where we saw more steam vents on either side of the path.

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Eventually the trail opened to a meadow along a hillside where mineral deposits from the venting steam have colored the rock.33 34 35 36

We also saw many of these flowering bushes, which apparently like the sulpheric conditions and are often the first plants seen on new lava flows.

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We stopped for lunch at the Volcano House, where we enjoyed the view as we ate and it seemed appropriate to try the “volcano” drink while doing so.

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After lunch we headed down the Chain of Craters Road to see the other sites in the park.  Starting out it was a beautiful road through a lush rainforest, but soon we were crossing several ‘recent’ lava flows like this one from the 70’s. You get a whole new perspective on the massiveness of the flows when you’re standing among its formations and caves.

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These forms in the lava are called tree molds and are created when the lava flows around a tree which eventually burns leaving a cavity in the cooling lava.

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There were several areas where the road had been cut back into the landscape through a lava flow which sat as an impressive reminder on either side of the road.  But the it also created uniquely beautiful landscapes along the way.44

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At the end of the road is a sea arch formation created by the pounding of the waves against lava deposits.  I’ll share a video of this location on my Facebook page later today for you to enjoy.  The view out the other side of the lookout was just as amazing.48 47

Although the lava can be devastating to vegetation, it also becomes home to new life as it cools and solidifies, creating pockets where seeds gather and grow such as this interesting flowering bush. We later learned the legends surrounding this plant also involve Pele, you can read about them here.  There were also some pretty yellow flowers that gave quite a pretty contrast to all the dark lava.

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Looking back up the hill we had traveled down it was easy to see the course each lava flow had taken and imagine the sight it must have been as it coursed down over the ridge toward the sea.

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When we stopped at one of the pull offs we realized that the road had previously been covered by a lava flow a few feet away. If you look carefully you can see patches of pavement that survived in the left side of this picture.

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Our final stop was the lava tunnel, which you can walk through. You’d never even know it was here if they didn’t point it out as it’s at the bottom of a dense rainforest area.  It was cool to see the roots from the plants above hanging down from the rock and considering the whole structure had been carved out by molten lava.

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Upon exiting the tunnel we went up a small set of stairs and found ourselves on this beautiful trail where the birds were in a constant chatter of songs.  At the end of the trail there was a sign about the many unique creatures that call this spot home and aren’t found anywhere else in the world – such as the happy face spider.  I wouldn’t want to interact with him but he’s still cute.

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We had a bit of time to kill before sunset so we decided to check out the Muana Loa lookout on the suggestion of someone we’d met the day before not knowing that the road became more primitive as you climb the mountain. We drove for several miles on this single lane road, spotting numerous wild chickens but not much else. When we finally made it to the top just before sunset we found a stone structure with a view of the caldera and signs describing an intense hike to an overnight cabin farther up the mountain.

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We enjoyed a beautiful sunset from atop the mountain and then headed back down.

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Which proved to be even more of an adventure than going up the mountain!

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Once we’d found our way back to the main road, we decided to get some dinner and looked up a delicious Thai restaurant. The food was so good it didn’t last long enough to be photographed but I did get a shot of my passion fruit margarita, which was so fresh it had seeds – those little black dots you can see there.

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We ended the evening back out at the overlook watching the glow in the caldera and listening to the rumble of the lava. This time I had the DSLR and got several good shots of the steam rising from the crater along with a few videos as well. I’ll share one of those on my Facebook page as well.

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Next up will be our adventures in Kona where we saw a sea turtle and swam with the manta rays!  Until then enjoy reading these other Hawaiian legends you should know about before visiting

Juneau: Part I (The Red Dog Saloon)

When I sat down to write about our trip to Juneau I realized that we’d actually done so much it would make for a very long post if I shared it all at once, so I’ll be doing several installments, documenting each activity we did over the next few days.

RedDog

One of the first things we did was visit the world famous Red Dog Saloon. Established during the territorial gold rush days, the saloon has been a part of Juneau for decades. Although it’s been housed in several different locations around downtown over the years, it still has that saloon feel with swinging doors and sawdust floors.RedDogBalcony

Just about every visitor to the saloon has left a mark, literally. Names and dates are carved and written on every surface in the place. No surface is safe, even the emergency lights.

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Local artifacts such as Wyatt Earp’s gun and souvenirs from visitors also cover the walls and ceiling, including life preservers from each of the Coast Guard ships that have docked there – including my hubby’s old boat, the Mustang.  My personal favorite was the bear chasing ‘someone’ up the pole in the middle of the room.

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Since we’d already had dinner when we visited we shared a cup of chowder and ordered a couple of drinks. Although the duck fart sounded interesting I opted for the glacier margarita, which was pretty good.

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We enjoyed listening to the singer, who often paused mid-lyric to tell a story or chide someone. And I couldn’t help but chuckle at his tip jar – the blind puppie fund, which later changed to estrogen!

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The entire place had a truly laid back, Alaskan style, but the best way to sum up the Red Dog Saloon is this sign.  In fact it’s so perfect they offer it on t-shirts and other merchandise in their gift shop.

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So if you find yourself in Juneau with a few hours to kill this is a good place to do so.  Kick back, read the writing on the walls, marvel at the odd collection of items and definitely enjoy a cup of chowder. 🙂