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Takk Fyrir Iceland!

I just returned from a week and a half winter adventure in the beautiful island country of Iceland.  Right now the tickets to fly to Iceland from the East Coast of the United States are averaging around $300-400 RT, so it’s a no brainer for those looking for a spontaneous getaway.  I chose to fly the discount airline WOW Air, which offers you the cheapest flight ticket but charges you for literally everything else.  It’s a good idea until things go wrong, and then you have to deal with their lackluster customer service, which I had to do.

My friend Inna and I flew into Keflavik Airport, which is about a 45 minute drive from the capital of Reykjavik.  We chose to rent a 4×4 vehicle instead of using one of the many bus tours that the country has to offer.  There were upsides and downsides to this, but ultimately we were thankful to have the freedom that renting a car provides you.  We had organized a road trip across the southern part of the island, following the primary highway that circles Iceland, Route 1.

 

 

 

 

 

For those that are unfamiliar, Iceland is full of volcanoes, glaciers, and lakes.  There are dried lava fields randomly peppering the landscape, and the ridiculously majestic mountains pop up across giant fields of flat terrain.  Most of the population lives on the fringes of the island, with 2/3rds living in the capital of Reykjavik.  It’s sparse and extreme country. Inspirational and terrifying at the same time.

Driving in Iceland in the wintertime is challenging. There is no denying it. Your vehicle must be prepared for weather, and you have to be comfortable driving in rough situations.  With that said, it’s completely worth it.  You won’t see this kind of otherworldly terrain anywhere.  The fast island weather just adds to the atmosphere.   My senses were constantly overwhelmed, and I came home with a sense of enlightenment.

Here is Priscilla, our rental.  She ain’t pretty, but she’s stalwart and sure footed.

 

 

 

 

 

The people who live in the countryside are very acclimated, and are undaunted by the vastness that surrounds them.  They are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met while traveling, and are unhesitatingly helpful.  There is a sense of ease that Icelanders carry, something that I am constantly seeking.  Obviously the lack of traffic and noise has its perks!

 

 

 

After reading blogs and write-ups about what time of year is best when exploring Iceland, I felt that winter would offer me a degree of contrast and intensity that could shake some cobwebs from living comfortably in the modern world.  My takeaway is that there are different comforts here.  Aesthetic beauty moves to the forefront.  Nothing is cluttered or crowded. Buildings compliment the landscape instead of dominating it.

 

 

 

 

My favorite thing about this trip was the glaciers.  I’d never seen a glacier in person, and it was beyond what I expected. They are huge oceans of ice that carve through the landscape over thousands of years.  And they’re distinguishable from regular snow and ice by their beautiful blueish hue.

 

 

 

I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded that there is volcanic activity all around me.  From the geothermal hot springs and geysers, to the beautiful black sand beaches that sprinkle the coastline in pockets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other things of note:

  • There are waterfalls everywhere
  • The hot water may smell of the sulfur springs they come from, but the cold water out of the tap is cleaner than the bottled water being sold in stores. You can actually taste how pure it is!
  • If you go there, don’t forget that wintertime means less daylight due to your proximity to the arctic circle. And of course, the complete opposite in the summertime.

 

 

 

 

Terimah Kasi Bali! (Bali Pt. 1)

I just got back from a two week vacation with my mom to Bali, Indonesia and Seoul, Korea, and I’m still a little euphoric.  I’m dividing my experience up into a number of posts due to the sheer amount of pictures that I brought back with me, as well as a separate section on Seoul.

 

 

So for the uninformed (which was me before this trip), Bali is essentially a paradise island, complete with your standard tropical beaches, rain forests, and magnificent mountains, all packed into an island the size of Delaware.  On top of that, the majority of the population of Bali is Hindu, so there are these gorgeous Hindu temples all over the place.   Every town you drive through has multiple open air temples, and most houses have their own shrines in their gardens so that the people can worship at any point in time.

 

 

 

For anybody that has been to Siem Reap in Cambodia, the vibe is basically the same.  Hindu architecture and worship sites are built to integrate into their surroundings and heighten beauty.  It feels very natural and very spiritual.  Also they have these beautiful statues of their gods and goddesses peppered everywhere, with their daily offerings of flowers and rice.  My mother said it best, that it’s amazing how people will build these magnificent structures in the middle of the jungle.

 

 

 

 

 

So to describe the topography and scenery, Bali is comprised of the peaks of mountains along the edge of the Eurasian plate, which inevitably brought about heavy volcanic activity.  So driving through and around the island, you have expansive plains of rice fields with large forested mountains on the horizon.

 

 

 

Driving into and over the mountains is an adventure.  Fortunately the roads are all paved, but they’re windy and narrow.  The infrastructure of Bali was established with roads that are essentially single laned but eventually split into two lanes.  On top of that, the majority of the locals drive scooters and motorcycles, and there are a lot of them.  So driving requires extreme vigilance.   There are very little rules of the road. You have to carve your way to where you need to go.  Motorcyclists there are bold and reckless, often stacking their entire family of 4 or 5 onto one scooter with no helmets on.

 

 

Denpasar, the capital of Bali, is rapidly becoming gentrified and commercialized due to the heavy tourist population.  Once you get outside of the city though, you can find Bali’s beauty everywhere.

The Balinese are extremely friendly island folk, and are quick to smile if you show them friendliness and amicability.  If you go to Bali, be friendly and kind!

 

 

 

The weather in Bali is tropical.  We visited during their summer, which means a lot of rain.  Since Bali is an island, the weather moves quickly and there is a lot of breeze.  The rain only emphasizes the lush green foliage that is everywhere.  Bali is chock full of beautiful flowers and plants, and there are lovely (and scary) insects everywhere.  If you’re afraid of bugs, you probably shouldn’t go! Lots of mosquitoes, dragonflies, praying mantises, and these stupid annoying things my mom called gamu-gamo , which are apparently large flying termites!!!!  Lots of ants, so you can’t leave any food or crumbs, or you’ll wake up to a sea of ants on the table. There are insect eating geckos all over the walls, which are cute but gross when they fall on you.  Stray dogs are everywhere, crossing the street in front of you on the road, and the island does have its share of cats.

 

 

 

Next week I’ll talk about the food and the must sees.

Night Shots With the Zeiss Batis 25/2

Just trying out the new Zeiss Batis 25mm F 2.0 on my Sony A7II.  Wonderful performance!! Really pleased with this lens. Distortion in virtually nonexistent (and even less so with some Lightroom adjustments).

So happy with this lens. Can’t wait to take it out into nature in the daytime.

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2