Happy One Year Ex-Pat Anniversary to Me!

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Well, here it is. My ex-pat anniversary. 365 days since I’ve been out of the States and counting! Exactly one year ago I was sitting in the airport in Washington, D.C. waiting for my plane to Reykjavik to start a new life adventure. Fast forward to today- I am sitting in an airport in Vienna waiting for my plane to Copenhagen to start a new life adventure (my exchange semester there).

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It has been the most incredible year of my life. I finished half of my master’s degree program, traveled to five new countries, hitchhiked around Iceland, learned to read Old Norse, started an addictive film photography habit, fell in love, and spent my first Christmas away from home. From the moment I arrived in Iceland, I knew it was where I was supposed to be. I have been challenged intellectually, socially, and emotionally- which of course has led to immense personal growth. Most importantly, I’ve learned how important it is to be surrounded by good friends when you are in a new home (I say this rather than ‘far from home’ because the states doesn’t feel like home anymore). I have been so blessed these past 12 months with interesting, loving, adventurous friends and a whole host of fascinating new acquaintances and encounters. happy2 Today is the last day of two months of summer wandering before I get to Copenhagen and start the mad scramble for a room/apartment and start my summer course in manuscript studies. I spent June driving through the west coast and Westfjords of Iceland with my mom and hitchhiking the rest with a friend-found-on-the-go. I spent July in Finland, blissfully free of responsibility, exploring Helsinki and beyond with my (Finnish) boyfriend and getting to know his delightful family. He joined me on a mad dash through Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia before I hopped over to Austria to spend a week with a friend I made in Iceland.

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I’m excited (and a bit nervous) to start my semester in Copenhagen. I’ve never lived in a city that size before, but I think I’m up to the challenge. And no matter where I go or what situation I’m in, I know I will have peace and joy in the assurance that God is in charge. I can’t wait to see what new twists to this novel of my life come in the next chapter (year). Hint: Scotland and Canada might be in the works.

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happy7[A few of my favorite 35mm film shots taken over the last year with my Canon Rebel 2000]

 

June 18 || Seyðisfjörður to Skaftafell

20140626-153843-56323960.jpg June 18th was a slow day for rides. We got stuck for extended periods of time at least twice. But as always, there were some kind people who picked us up. Including a French couple who had to wake us up when we got to the spot we were headed and a tour bus driver who gave us a lift on his empty bus out of Höfn to a better hitchhiking spot.

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20140626-154229-56549674.jpg It was late by the time we arrived at Skaftafell. The campground there, right on the edge of the Vatnjökull, is beautiful. While we were setting up out tents, we stuck up a conversation with an English traveler from the same part of London as my traveling companion. Our little conversation eventually merged with the two Icelanders camping with their Canadian friend next to us. They generously shared their wine, scotch, and a huge leg of lamb they had leftover from dinner. We all stayed up till 4, laughing and drinking as the sky turned pink instead of dark.

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20140627-163212-59532008.jpg[Photos taken with my iphone 5c]

 

June 17 || Independence Day in Seyðisfjörður

20140624-142950-52190128.jpg June 17th was the 70th anniversary of Icelandic Independence from Denmark. There was a delightfully small town celebration in Seyðisfjörður that felt completely removed from time, as if it could’ve been a small town celebration in the 80’s or in Tom Sawyer.

20140624-143744-52664328.jpgThe town gathered on the lawn in front of the church to hear some musical performances by the youth. Then, the firetruck pulled up and every kid big enough to walk ran en mass to get a ride. They piled as many as would fit in the front, turned on the sirens, and made a big circle through the town, making several more trips until every kid got a chance.

20140624-144225-52945538.jpg There was also face painting and some calves and lambs to pet.

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20140624-144428-53068600.jpg[Photos taken with my iphone 5c]

 

June 16 || Seyðisfjörður

20140624-132558-48358051.jpg Seyðisfjörður is an adorable, tiny town tucked away at the end of a fjord. On three sides, dozens of waterfalls pour into the fjord. Wherever you go in the town you hear the sound of water rushing and falling.

20140624-132921-48561545.jpg I think most of the tourist activity in the town comes from the ferry, which brings travelers from Denmark via the Faroe Islands.

20140624-133025-48625719.jpgSeyðisfjörður has a thriving arts community. It is home to artist and writers from all over the works invited there for residencies. There are design and knitted goods shops in abundance as well as several fantastic cafe/bar/restaurants. We had coffee at Hotel Alden and delicious dinner (they even had a gorgeous vegan burger for my traveling companion) at Skaftafell, which is housed under the art gallery.

20140624-133358-48838466.jpg On a hill a short walk from downtown, there is a fantastic art installation. It’s a cluster of connected cement domes. The acoustics inside are amazing. We carried out instruments up and spent a few house playing and experimenting with noises in the domes.

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20140624-133637-48997181.jpg I think this was one of my favorite towns I saw on the trip around the island. If you get a chance to visit, even just to stop in, you definitely should.

20140624-133809-49089220.jpg[Photos taken with my iphone 5c]

June 15 || Dettifoss & Seyðisfjörður

20140620-095355-35635121.jpgDettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. We hitched a ride there with the sweetest family from Bavaria (in the photo below, at another waterfall on the side of the road. They gave a ride there, back, and then all the way to Egilstaðir.

20140620-095652-35812904.jpg Egilstaðir is tidy and functional, but with little to nothing of interest for travelers. We stopped for a wifi/coffee break, and then carried on to the completely charming Seyðisfjörður.

20140620-100034-36034072.jpgWe were picked up by two young Icelandic men trying to make the most of their days off. One was on a two month leave from his job on a fishing boat. They decided it would be good fun to take us all the way to Seyðisfjörður, even though they hadn’t been planning on going that way. After picking up beer and cracking one open, we drove over a dip in the mountains that leads to the cozy fjord.

20140620-100351-36231850.jpg Having nothing better to do, Kolbeinn and Theodore (except Icelandic spelling?) gave us the “grand tour,” stopping at the scenic overlook and driving all through town. I’ve found that the average Icelander knows quite a bit about their history, literature, and the geology behind the landscape.

20140620-111204-40324288.jpgWe were then treated to our first rúnta: aimless driving around the same circuit through town, listening to music (DJ Muscle Boy and The Dead Weather in this case), drinking, and passing the time in a small town. [These photos taken with my iphone 5c]

June 14 || The Dimmuborgir Trail

20140618-144659-53219083.jpgOn Saturday we hiked the Dimmuborgir trail from Mývatn, which was almost 7km. It was a really great hike. The trail wound through small, gnarly fairy tale trees growing over huge rock formations made by lava thousands of years ago… Past Grótagjá….

20140618-144956-53396605.jpg… Till it came to a huge gravel hill with a gaping crater (the name if which escapes me at the moment as I pass the time while waiting to be picked up 20 min outside Egilstaðir).

20140618-145317-53597959.jpg A short walk from this-gates-of-Mordor-esque monolith, the actual lava fields of Dimmuborgir start. Huge lava formations in a stone henge-esque circle were filled in with hardy, dark greenery as well as moss and lichen of every color spilling into the crevices that the path twisted to avoid.

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20140618-145845-53925949.jpg In the evening we tried and failed to get to Dettifoss, but did see some cool geothermal something:

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20140618-150148-54108536.jpg [These photos taken with my iphone 5c]

June 13: Akureyri to Mývatn

20140618-114726-42446618.jpg I left Akureyri after meeting a fellow wanderer at the campsite. We connected over literature, and decided to hitch to Mývatn that afternoon.

20140618-114922-42562504.jpg We caught a ride with a weather old Icelandic man in an ancient RV. He didn’t speak a word of English, and rather than trying to explain where we wanted to be dropped off, we decided to ride all the way to Husavík with him. It was a charming little town, and we cooked dinner at a picnic table overlooking the colorful harbor.

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20140618-115325-42805929.jpgAftet that detour we got two more rides to Mývatn. The flies, although not biting, were miserably thick, so before pitching camp, we took the nearby 2km trail to Grótagjá, a super hot spring in a small cave. It used to be open for swimming, but now there is a sign saying you can’t go in. So, of course, we followed the sign and the following anecdote is pure fiction:

20140618-115753-43073275.jpg While standing outside the steaming rift in the ground, debating whether to climb in and see if it was cool enough to get in, an Icelandic guy and his Swedish cousins showed up and led the way. After sharing some beers while detoxing in the 43+ degree water and steam, the farmer who owned the land appeared ominously at the mouth of the cave to let inform us that , “You are leaving now.” So the Icelander gave us a ride back to the campsite by the lakeside, and we curled up to sleep soundly, our bodies feeling clean and refreshed by the natural sauna.

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20140618-120254-43374608.jpg[These photos taken with my iphone 5c]

 

June 10-13 || Akureyri

20140615-185359-68039934.jpg My mom and her friend left after one night in Akureyri, leaving me to explore it on my own. I fell in love with this tiny city. With flowers and trees everywhere, the green lush was a good respite from the rugged countryside. And I think it’s the best smelling city I’ve ever visited.

20140615-185615-68175665.jpgThe adorable main street had a plethora of cute cafés and shops. I spent a whole day wandering from one to the other reading the second half of Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad and all of The Fault In Our Stars.

20140615-185852-68332794.jpgIf you like museums, check out the three poets’ houses. The main museum had a great exhibit of new photos taken with 19th century techniques and a collection of maps of Iceland from the Renaissance to the late 1800’s. The main museum is a 30 minute walk out of central Akureyri through Old Akureyri, which is home to rows of gorgeous old houses from the lat 1700’s onward. Definitely worth a wander.

20140615-190208-68528150.jpg I didn’t get a chance to visit the Botanical Gardens, but several people told me they were fantastic. The best thing there was the view of the mountains and water at midnight, when the sky turned orange as sunset and sunrise met.

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20140615-190604-68764496.jpg[These photos taken with my iphone 5c]

 

June 10 || Blönduós to Akureyri

20140615-180043-64843772.jpgThe way to Akureyri took us through several delightful little towns. We took the long way around the north of Tröllskagi via Siglufjörður.

20140615-180426-65066648.jpg In Hofsós, there were three great exhibits houses in historic houses by the water, as well as a great restaurant/cafe.

20140615-180549-65149711.jpg The museums all focused on Icelandic emigration to North America in the 19th century, mostly via old photographs and individual stories. I really enjoyed the exhibits and learned a lot. The cute restaurant by the museums had great food, wifi, and a lovely view of the water.

20140615-180806-65286104.jpgSiglufjörður was probably one of the most picturesque little towns I’ve seen in Iceland. Tucked up between snowy mountains and accessible by tunnels running through the steep peaks, it had a charming downtown and bakery. A great spot to stop and rest.

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20140615-181118-65478365.jpg[These photos taken with my iphone 5c]

 

June 9 || Ísafjörður to Blönduós

20140613-140550-50750057.jpg We didn’t do much on the 8th. Just read and rested up for the next bit of adventuring. My mom’s friend flew into Reykjavik and drove up to meet us. The plan (which we followed) was for me to continue with them till Akureyri and then let them finish in a week while I putzed around for another two weeks.

20140613-141013-51013469.jpgThere was not much to mention specifically along the way from Ísafjörður to Blönduós, where we camped, but the scenery was gorgeous and there were tons of horses and sheep with their babies.

20140613-141145-51105382.jpgWe took a detour around Vatnes peninsula as we drove east in the hope if seeing some seals, but there was a delicious fog all around us for most of the gravel road. However it was still with the extra time. We stopped to check out a pretty sheep round up pen by the water (see my post from the fall about the roundup for more info) and Hvítserkur, a neat rock formation just off the coast.

20140613-141550-51350139.jpg[These photos taken with my iphone 5c]