Nordics. Part 4. Iceland.

Our flight from Bergen was relatively easy, we had a quick layover in Oslo and landed at the Keflavik airport around noon.  We were ushered through the duty free store, and decided to be smart about booze this time, and just buy it now - so we stocked up on wine and beer at the airport.  We grabbed our luggage, our sweet little rental for the next few days and headed out to explore, but first we had to dig out our winter coats, hats and gloves, it was a bit chillier here.  We had the good fortune of having a friend who had a friend who lived in Iceland, and we pretty much did everything they suggested to do - including checking out the Reykjanes Penninsula on our way to Reykjavik.  

Sloane and our awesome little Suzuki Jimny.  This car was pretty capable, but honestly - of all the places we went - this was the only one we even came close to needing high clearance or 4 wheel drive - but we did use them both immediately on this side trip.

Our first stop was the bridge between two continents.  This is a foot bridge over a fissure in the ground, that happens to be a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.  The big deal is you can walk from Europe to North America - its honestly a bit under whelming - but worth a quick stop if it happens to be on your way to something else.

Sloane standing between the continental divide, some classic Iceland skies in the background.

Our next stop was the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs, which are sheer lava cliffs that rise straight up from the ocean below.  We had about a 15 minute hike from the dirt road that we parked on, and getting to the trail was a bit of an adventure its self - I almost got our car stuck in some seriously loose sand.  We eventually made it.  I would suggest parking on the main road - and hiking a bit further, rather than driving down the shitty road like we did - it probably took just as long.

Some colorful lichens along the trail to the cliffs.

Looking out over the North Atlantic Ocean.  It looks warm, but it was the opposite.

Long exposure at the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs.

Lava rocks below.

At the cliffs.

We hung out at the cliffs for half an hour, and then decided we needed to get back to the car, we had to meet our air bnb host in Reykjavik soon.  I decided to follow the GPS, which took us the opposite direction we had come from on the dirt road.  It came to what seemed like a dead end after about 10 minutes of driving - although the GPS said it was still a road.  Instead of turning around and driving the half hour back out to the main road, which we could see where we were sitting, I decided to use the four wheel drive and climb over some small boulders blocking the way.  It was a pretty bumpy few minutes, but we got safely to the road and saved our selves some time.  We had plans to visit a few other sites on the peninsula, but we decided to skip them and get over to the city so we didn't miss our window to check into our apartment.   We got to our apartment complex around 430, and after some language barriers, finally found the right place.

Our home in Reykjavik - it was great.

We splurged on this AirBnB, but it was worth it.  This apartment was super modern, brand new, had an amazing bed, was pretty much right on the water and was walking distance to all the cool stuff in town.

Perfect little kitchen, our host even stocked it with some local yogurt and other food.  

Super comfy king bed, and a balcony that we never used, since it was so cold.  They do this type of bedding throughout Scandinavia, and we kind of fell in love with having our own personal comforters - no one steals it from you in the middle of the night.

The view from our balcony.  Grass on a roof - Iceland is such a green country.  

After meeting with our host, and exploring the apartment a bit, we made ourselves a grocery list for the next few days, and headed out to get some grub.  Firs thing I noticed about the particular grocery store we went to was there was no individual coolers for meat and cheeses - they were all just in a giant walk in cooler - it was pretty interesting.  We loaded up on snacks stuff for dinner and lunch, then made our way home for happy hour.

Sloane makes the best cheese plates!

We gorged ourselves on cheese and crackers, unpacked all our belongings, got laundry started and basically got settled into our home for the next 3 nights.  We started to plan our next adventure, which would be driving Iceland's "Golden Circle", ate some dinner and took some time to relax, we were pretty exhausted from jet lag.  I was feeling a little more energetic than Sloane at this point and decided to go walk around with my camera for a bit to see if I could find anything interesting in our neighbor hood.  

A view of the water from outside of our apartment.

A statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler in Reykjavik at Arnarhóll Hill.

It was pretty cold and windy - so I didn't stay out very long.  When I got back I found Sloane getting ready for bed and was about to do the same, but decided to sit down and do some more planning for the following day.  I got pretty involved, and an hour later found myself searching the internet for the Aurora Borealis forecast.  From what I could tell - this was the only night during our time in Reykjavik that they could be visible, even though it was currently cloudy.  I checked the cloud cover and found a spot about 45 minutes away that had somewhat clear skies.  I was incredibly tired, but seeing the Aurora was on the list of top things for me to do here, so I packed my camera bag, some food and water and informed the now sleeping Sloane I was heading out.  I did invite her, but since she was in a deep sleep already, she wasn't interested.  

As I left the city, the rain began which made it hard to see where I was going, the Jimny's windshield wipers weren't the best.  I was a little discouraged, since clear skies are necessary to view the Aurora - but I drove on, with hopes that the forecast I had viewed online was accurate.   When I got to my destination - Lake Kleifarvatn - which I had been told was a good place to view the Aurora - the clouds were clearing, and I could see stars, as well as a full moon.  I parked the car and began to watch the skies above for any sign - not really sure what I should look for.  To help pass the time, I decided to photograph the car, painting it with my headlamp - it turned out pretty cool, as you can see below.

Waiting for the Aurora to show up a lake Kleifarvatn.

The temperature was just around freezing, and I of course was getting cold, so I got back in the car after about half an hour of sky watching and drove a little further down the lake.  I pulled off at the next car park, and decided to hike down toward the water.  I set up my camera and began taking long exposures of the clouds, which were passing very quickly and creating great motion in the still photographs, lots of cool shots, but no Aurora.  I was freezing, it was actually snowing at this point and I was getting frustrated, not to mention exhausted, so I decided to pack it up and head back to Reykjavik.  I picked up my tripod as the shutter closed on my last exposure, I was folding up the legs as the camera processed the 30 second exposure - just as I finished the image appeared on my LCD, and there it was - a faint green line across the sky - not yet visible to my naked eyes.

My first shot of the Aurora, this was before you could actually see it with your eyes.

 I hurried up and re - framed my photograph as I excitedly looked up at the sky - snapping away every 30 seconds.  It took a few more minutes, but all of a sudden, there is was - the Aurora Borealis, dancing across the sky - I was super stoked to finally be seeing this, and I definitely yelled in excitement. It was pretty awe inspiring and I didn't know what to do, watch it or try to photograph it.  They showed up quickly, and vanished just as fast.  I probably only saw this amazing phenomenon for a total of four minutes, but I will remember it forever, and I have some pretty great shots to help out with that.

Getting stronger.   You can see the light pollution from Reykjavik in the background.

This was the peak of the show, so incredible.

The last photograph I captured before they pretty much disappeared. 

The clouds closed in, and I could not longer see the show -  so I hopped in the car as fast as I could, and began driving back toward Reykjavik.  I stopped a few more times alongside the road, to try and capture them again, but it seems the show had ended at the lake, and just a few little glimpses here and there were all that were left.  If you find yourself in Iceland and want the forecast for the aurora - try this link - its what I used to find the best spot.  

I drove toward home, excited about what I had just witnessed, but sad at the same time that Sloane hadn't been there to see it - I knew she was going to be disappointed when I told her it had come out.  We looked every night afterwards at the forecast - to see if we could head out again, but it was always too cloudy to see anything - so I am really glad I braved the lack of sleep and snow to go when I did.  Of course a few days after we left Iceland - the city of Reykjavik shut off all the street lights one particular evening, and you could see the Aurora from anywhere.

The following morning we had a nice breakfast at home, packed ourselves some lunch and headed out to drive the golden circle - along with the rest of Iceland's tour groups.  The sun was out, but it was still cold.  The first thing we noticed while heading north east from the city were the horses - they are everywhere, and pretty handsome as well.  At first we thought they were statues, because they stand perfectly still for long periods of time, but turns out they were all real.  We stopped to photograph a few of them and say hello - they were very happy to do the same.  

An icelandic horse with a beautiful head of hair.

Our first stop was Oxarofoss - a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park - where Iceland's parliament was founded in 930 AD, and also the place where witches, wizards and convicts were executed.  Once you can see past the grim history, it's easy to see why this is one of the most visited places in Iceland.  One thing you will learn quickly in Iceland - any word ending in "foss" is most likely a waterfall, and probably worth stopping to see - there are a lot of big ones here.  We hiked down from above, which was a good move, since all the tour busses stopped below the falls.  It was a nice short hike through what seemed like a crack in the earth.

Sloane at Oxarofoss waterfall in Þingvellir National Park.

We spent a few minutes looking at the waterfall with the rest of the folks, then headed back up the trail towards the car and our next stop the Kerid volcanic crater.  Unfortunately the sun had been covered by clouds at this point, and the wind had picked up, so we didn't stick around very long.  The colors here were pretty amazing, and would've made for a great shot if the sun had been out to give them some more depth.

Kerid crater.  

Our next stop was Bruarfoss, another waterfall, and one of the less trafficked attractions we had the pleasure of visiting, since it is difficult to find, and you have to hike about half a mile (through some serious mud) from your car.  It was worth the trip for sure.  We had our lunch in the car as we drove, to save some time and money.  When we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead for Bruarfoss the wind had begun to pick up and the temps seemed to have dropped even more, but it didn't discourage us.  We began the muddy hike over creeks and through thick brush, I almost ate shit a few times, but was able to save my pride by awkwardly skating in the mud.  We finally reached the waterfall after about 20 minutes of walking - and below is what we found.

Bruarfoss from afar.

The moody skies of Iceland made this gem stand out even more.

I could've stayed here all day, waiting for the sun to poke out, or a wild rain storm in the distance to create a more dramatic sky - but we had more to see.  So we slogged our way back through the mud to our car and headed up the road towards Geysir - a very active geothermal area in Iceland, and Sloane's first time seeing an active geyser.  

Some more blue water from below the earths crust at Geysir Geothermal area.  

The wind had really picked up when we reached Geysir - and it was cold.  We put on our heavy coats, gloves and hats and stepped out to see some water explode from the below the surface of the earth.  It didn't take long, maybe five to ten minutes until we heard the first eruption.  We managed to catch a glimpse of it and decided to head down to stand right beside it for the next eruption.  This one took a little longer, but we stuck it out and were pretty stoked to be standing right in front of the geyser when it spewed forth from the ground.  We stuck around for another eruption, then headed back to the car pretty quickly - we were freezing at this point.  I pulled over at the visitor center and Sloane got us some hot beverages, then we were off to the next spot.

Geysir erupting.

Our next stop on the tour was Gullfoss - one of the main attractions of the Golden Circle tour.  There were people everywhere, and keep in mind - we were here during the off season, I can only imagine what it is like during the warm months.  We parked and began the walk towards the first overlook, dodging old folks with walkers and little kids throwing mud at each other.  It was cold, windy and wet from the mist, which was being blown towards us.  We made it to the first overlook, saw the waterfall and quickly decided we had seen enough.  Had it been warm and sunny, I would have petitioned to stay longer and try to make some photographs, but it was down right miserable.  We walked quickly back to our warm car and began our journey home to food and alcohol.   

Sloane at Gullfoss, her expression says it all.

On our way home we made one last stop along side the road to check out this lava field covered in iconic green moss.  

A field of moss over an ancient lava flow.

That evening we again made ourselves some kind of dinner in the apartment that I can't remember.  Then we went out on the town for a few (expensive) drinks at a local bar.  I'm pretty sure a beer was twelve dollars, but we had a good time anyway.  The next day was another day trip out east.  We again packed ourselves a lunch and were on the road around 9AM.  Our first destination was a hike to some natural hot springs, where we planned to hang out for a while.  The spot we were going is known as Reykjadalur hot springs - it is about a 45 minute drive from our apartment and we pulled in around 10.  The weather was very discouraging - it was in the 40's and there was a light mist - with some seriously dark clouds looming.  

Sloane on the road to Reykjadalur.

We put on our rain gear in the parking lot and started up the trail - there is a considerable amount of elevation gain at first, and it is a bit of a work out.  The trail is just under 2 miles one way, and some of the views are fantastic once you  are up on the ridge line.  There is an amazing waterfall in the valley below, about halfway to the hot springs.  It was visible both times we came across it but each time I finally had my camera and tripod set up, fog had quickly rolled in to hide it from view. The rain was pretty constant during our hike, so very few pictures were taken. As we got closer to the hot springs, we began to smell sulfur in the air, and it wasn't long before we were literally walking through clouds of warm steam.

Getting close to the hot springs 

There are mud pots and steam vents all through the valley, but the closer you get to the hot spring area, the more concentrated they become.  The rain slowed to a drizzle as we made our way to the hot springs. There are boardwalks built along the stream to reduce errosion as well as a few areas for changing - which were basically walls you could turn and face while putting your bathing suit on.  There were 3 or 4 other groups of people already at the bathing area, so we tested out the water as we made our way upstream - it gets much warmer the further up you go.

The bathing area of Reykjadalur

 We found a spot where the water seemed like a good temp and I began the painful process of taking off wet rain gear, boots, pants and shirts in a light drizzle at about 40 degrees.  I simply wore my bathing suit under all this to make it as simple as possible.  I wrapped all my gear up and stuffed it under the board walk in an attempt to keep it dry, then proceeded to wade out to the deepest spot I could find (which was about 1.5 feet) and lay down completely to cover myself with the water and warm up. It felt great, but I soon realized why no one else had chosen this spot, there was a cold water spring pouring in on the side, which obviously made the water here not so hot in most spots.  We grabbed our gear and headed a little further upstream to a small pool with only a couple other people, and quickly got back in the water - it was much warmer here - so we sat and relaxed for about 10 minutes before deciding it was time to dry off and get dressed.

These folks had the warmest spot - just off the beaten path.

The rain held off until we had completed this difficult task, and just as we were heading back past all the mud and steam pots, it began to pour.  The wind picked up, and soon it was actually sleeting.  There were a number of people we passed who were hiking to the springs in jeans and hooded sweatshirts, they were in for a wet, cold miserable hike for sure.  We made it back to the car, again took off our sloppy wet rain gear, and drove up the road to have a quick lunch in the car, then to the closest town to find a coffee shop to warm up in and have dessert.  

Just outside the hot spring area.

Our next destination was the famous waterfall Seljalandsfoss, which was an hour drive to the east.  We drove along the coast, on the ring road, with sun and clouds interchanging every 5-10 minutes, it made for some pretty dramatic skies, and lots of rainbows.  

Uridafoss, a lesser visited waterfall on the ring road, and of course a rainbow.

Uridafoss, a lesser visited waterfall on the ring road, and of course a rainbow.

Serious rainbow on the way to Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss is another one of those road side attractions with bus loads of people, not my favorite - but it was pretty impressive.  You can walk behind this waterfall, and if you happen to be there when the sun is out you can catch a pretty good rainbow in the mist from the falls.  We were lucky enough to see if briefly when we first arrived, then the sun disappeared as we made our way under the falls with the 300 other people there.

Seljalandsfoss.  Creative cropping here, to camera right is hoards of people taking the same picture.

Seljalandsfoss rainbow.

We hiked beneath the waterfall, which was pretty cool, took a few pictures and were back to the car pretty quickly.  At this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had plans to eat dinner out in Reykjavik - so we decided to quickly check out one of the black sand beaches which was close by.   

The view from behind Seljalandsfoss

Mega rainbow, looking inland toward Seljalandsfoss.

Sloane taking a few photos on the beach

Sitting on the rocks at Landeyjahöfn harbor, in the distance is Vestmannaeyjar, a group of inhabited volcanic islands.

We were cold and hungry, and had an almost 2 hour drive home, so we didn't stick around long.  I of course stopped along the road for some photo - ops on the way home, the light was crazy beautiful, but it was only out for a few minutes at a time.

Epic skies and Icelandic horses.

The Icelandic horses near Seljalandsfoss

That night we had a great french dinner at Snaps Bistro in our neighborhood - we had a bit of a wait - but had some delicious booze to help kill the time.  Sloane requested I leave the camera at home, so I complied - no dinner pictures to share here.

The following day was our last in Iceland.  I was up early to grab some pics of the famous church in town Hallgrimskirkja, and a very cool statue down by the water, the Sun Voyager. 

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja and Leifur Eiríksson - the viking who is believed to have discovered America.

Sunvoyager statue on the water, right near our apartment.

After my morning safari I came home to find Sloane up and ready to go - we started off strong by having breakfast in the harbor area at a place called KAFFIVAGNINN - it was simple and delicious.  The sun was out, so we decided to eat outside, the staff thought we were crazy, but kindly wiped down a table and brought us out our food anyway.  

Killer breakfast at Kaffivagninn.

After breakfast we took some time to walk around the harbor area, the light was amazing once again.  

Sunfllares and boats

After a little tour around the harbor area, we drove back to the city center, parked and started walking around being tourists.  Poking into various shops, getting lost, eating amazing pastries - the sun was out and it was glorious.

Harpa, Reykjavic's stunning concert hall and conference center.

Harpa, Reykjavic's stunning concert hall and conference center.

Harpa from the inside.

After our morning exploring, we made our way back to our apartment to have a quick lunch and get ready for our spa day at the Blue Lagoon.  You will read a lot about this place on the internet - it is by far the most visited attraction in Iceland - and for good reason.  Lots of people will tell you to stay away, it's too crowded, too expensive, yada yada.  But if you have made the trip to Iceland already - I will tell you what people told me - treat yourself! go to the Blue Lagoon - its freaking awesome.  

Right outside of the Blue Lagoon

We made it, Sloane was so excited. 

After all the hard miles I had put Sloane through, hiking to stare down at villages and waterfalls, she was so happy to have a relaxing day in a giant hot tub, and so was I.  The sun had disappeared by the time we got into the water, but the experience was still amazing.  We grabbed a couple of drinks at one of the swim up bars, and started exploring all the nooks and crannies of this place.  It rained on and off for the next hour but we didn't care - we were in heaven.  We slathered the healing mud on our face, put silica in our hair, sat in the sauna and showered mud off in waterfalls. Of course no vacation is complete if I don't injure myself. After being submerged in the water for over an hour, I accidentally kicked a lava rock on the side of the lagoon - this of course put a very large gash in my soft skin and I was bleeding pretty good. Instead of freaking everyone out by walking around with blood gushing from my foot, I decided to alert someone - who then took me to the nurses station.  I was patched up quickly and we were both very relieved to hear that the water is supposedly good for wounds, and wouldn't cause any more harm than I had already done to myself.

Moody skies at the lagoon.

Moody skies at the lagoon.

Sloane in all her glory

The moment that Sloane had been waiting for had finally arrived, it was time for our in water massages.  This isn't cheap, but it's and incredible experience.  They put you on your back on a foam pool float which keeps you just under the surface of the water, cover you with warm towels and massage your legs, arms, neck and back.  After our massages we had another drink and relaxed for a few more minutes before heading to the locker rooms to shower up and get dressed.  Although my foot never hurt while we were in the pool, it was incredibly sore when I put my shoes on, good thing there was no more hiking to do.  I got dressed and hobbled out to meet Sloane at the entrance, where we walked around the resort a for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

Some of that famous milky blue water outside of the Blue Lagoon.

Blue lagoon water and epic iceland backdrop.

We loaded back into the car, and started our journey back to Reykjavik for the night, to pack up our belongings and get ready for a long flight the next day.  The Blue Lagoon was a great way to end such an incredible trip, and it has been great going back and recalling all the details for this blog.  Hopefully after the next trip I can get these out in a more timely manner.

Our last sunset in Iceland was incredible.

So long Iceland, it's been real.

Nordics. Part 3 - Bergen, Norway

Sloane and I had one final hike to accomplish in Voss, from our AirBnB to the train station, with all of our crap.  This is where rolling luggage would have been a good choice.  We made it, with a few minutes to spare, purchased our tickets, and sat down to enjoy the last leg of the scenic train ride to Bergen, on Norway's west coast.  We arrived in Bergen, a gorgeous city on the water and surrounded by mountains, around 10:30 AM that day.  We hailed a cab after a failure to find the correct bus, and made our way to our apartment for the next 2 nights.  We dropped off our luggage, and set off to find something to eat for lunch in our little neighborhood of Bryggen.

Lunch in Bryggen, the sun was in and out all day.

We ended up in a little cafe, ordered some sandwiches and found a spot to sit outside - and enjoyed the little bit of sunshine that would poke through now and then.  After we finished our meal we headed out to explore the rest of the harbor by foot, and see what we could see.

Norway has some of the best man-hole covers ever.  I assume this is a scene of the Bryggen Harbor.

Sloane walking past some really cool graffiti in our neighborhood.  Sleeping kitty.

We wandered around for a few hours and visited the local fish market, tried to visit Illums Bolighus, a Danish design store - but it of course was closed like most things, since it was a Sunday.  We found this out the hard way,  we were searching for an open grocery store or pharmacy to buy laundry detergent, toiletries that I had left in Oslo and some food, but no dice.  We visited at least 3 places that had Sunday hours listed on Google Maps, but no one was open.  We gave up around 2, when our apartment was ready and headed back to change into some hiking footwear for a light hike on top of Mt. Floyen just outside of town.

Sloane outside of our city apartment. 

We walked down to the station for the Floibanen Funicular, which was only about 10 minutes away from our apartment.  We purchased our round trip tickets for the tram, which would take us to the top of the mountain where we could do some exploring.  We didn't have a solid plan, just that we wanted to see the sunset from up high.  We began hiking in the general direction of up, under some serious cloud cover, and soon found ourselves at the treeline, with a spectacular view of the city below.  The sky kept threatening rain, but it began to clear as we approached the summit of Mt Floyen

A DNT cabin at the top of Mt. Floyen, the North Sea in the background.

It was a very unexpected, and incredible view - and we were alone - most of the folks who rode the tram up here didn't make it past the gift shop, we were pretty glad we did.

Our best impression of Jack and Rose from "Titanic" - this view, with the light just poking out below the cloud layer was incredible.  Below is Bergen, and beyond is the North Sea.

Another view of Bergen from the porch of the DNT cabin.  I would highly recomend anyone looking into staying up here - I wish we had.

As the sun began to set, we made our way back down the mountain, to the tram platform.

Sunset over Bergen, just off the beaten path - and away from the hundreds of other folks taking pictures of sunset.

We decided to get some food at the mountain top restaurant - the Fløien Folkerestaurant - but in keeping with the days events, they had all ready shut down the kitchen.  So we ordered some drinks and "salty sticks" (pretzels) from the nice gentleman at the bar and headed out on the patio to enjoy the rest of the sunset.

Delicious booze at Mt. Floyen.

As dusk settled in, I left Sloane with her wine and took a walk to the overlook at the top of the tram, for some night time shots of Bergen, just below us.  I kept hearing what I thought were goats, and finally after lots of head scratching I found these guys, hidden under the cement overlook I was standing on.  The city keeps a small herd of goats on the summit to keep the underbrush from growing up and ruining the view of the city - pretty clever.

One last shot of Bergen at dusk - the bright lights on the bottom right are from the tram, which carries people up mountain from the city below.

I made my way back to Sloane - who had found a stray kitty while I was gone and had made best friends with it - we finished our drinks and headed back to the tram which would take us back down the mountain to the city to find an open restaurant.  We made our way back to Bryggen, and the fish market - which had people dining outside - a good sign!  We found an open restaurant - I don't even remember which one, but they had the most amazing mussels and we were very, very happy.  We sat, ate and drank outside, right beside the harbor, under the glow of heat lamp - watching a full moon rise over Mt. Floyen - it was perfect, except for the extremely drunk guy who decided he was going to woo the woman eating alone behind us - he failed.  When we were done eating, I decided I wanted to get a quick shot of Bryggen from the harbor, so I left Sloane once again, to go on a photo safari.   I was gone for what I thought was ten minutes, but after making quick friends with a man from Poland, who also happened to be photographing the moon, I had let more time than intended pass (it was more like 25 minutes).  Sloane was understandably upset when I finally caught up with her just outside the restaurant.  I spent the walk home doing my best to apologize for leaving her alone - which she finally accepted later that night - after I promised to pay more attention to the time, and not leave her alone in foreign countries, at night, for long periods of time.

The neighborhood of Bryggen from across Bergen Harbor, with a full moon rising over Mt. Floyen.  

The next day we had plans of taking a boat to see Ole Bull's Villa - a famous violinist who grew up in Norway and oddly enough tried to start a Norwegian settlement in Pennsylvania.  This abandoned settlement is now Ole Bull State Park and somewhere my family I spent a lot of time while Jim and I were growing up - my parents now own property right next to the park.  It turns out the Museum is closed on Mondays, along with the design stores Sloane had wanted to visit., so I went about planning a hike for us - which I of course thought would be easy - as I usually do.   

Our route, which was 8.7 miles and took us 6.5 hours from start to finish.  It was a long day.

We made a plan to hike from Mt. Ulriken, which we would take a bus, then a tram to the top of, to Mt. Floyen, which we had been at the night before.  This would be a nine mile stroll on top of the mountains.  We found an open grocery store right around the corner and stocked up on snacks for the day, as well as some food to make for dinner that night, and laundry detergent to clean our filthy clothes.   We made our way to the bus stop, about a half mile away.  We surprisingly found the right bus this time, and got off exactly where we needed to for the short walk up to the Ulriken cable car, which took us almost to the top of Mt Ulriken, the highest mountain in Bergen.

The Ulriken cable car - Bergen below.

Sloane at the top of Mt Ulriken, after some serious rock scrambling.

The weather was looking good, with lots of clouds and intermittent sunshine.  We began following the rock cairns and sign posts - on our route to Mt. Floyen.  This hike was entirely above the tree line, and mostly over very rocky terrain except for the last 1/2 mile - so we would be relying on these types of trail markers most of the day, which made navigating slightly more difficult.  Thankfully the signposts were very informative.

Sign posts and cloudy skies along our hike.

The sole saver.

After about an hour and a half of hiking we decided to stop for lunch on a large rock.  While we ate we discussed the chance of Sloane's boots falling apart on us and ruining the day.  This was a problem we had noticed in Voss, her sole was delaminating from her boot, and we hadn't had time to get them repaired.  So we decided to be proactive and keep the issue from getting worse.  With little to choose from in materials, I found Sloane's backpack had a long thin bungee on the outside, so we wrapped it around her boot and sole mulitple times to keep the sole attached.  It thankfully did the job, we had to re apply it a few times, but her sole stayed on the entire 9 miles.

The tops of these mountains were gorgeous - they were covered with small and large lakes, giant boulders, colorful grasses and lichens and dotted with DNT cabins everywhere.

The lakes in the foreground of this image are part of the drinking water reservoir system in Bergen.  Some of the prettiest reservoirs I have ever seen.

Sloane, about to begin a serious decent to the reservoirs below.  The North Sea can be seen in the distance.

Scrambling down to the resevoirs.

Sloane by one of the signposts marking the way.  in the valley below is the town of Ervik, just outside of Bergen, and beyond that is the North Sea.

We powered through at least 7 miles of very windy and rocky terrain before we began to tire out and lose enthusiasm.  We were at the bottom of an old ski jump, that is no longer in use, with a very steep climb ahead of us - we sat here for a few minutes and had a snack, while I reassured Sloane we would be done soon.  Our small trail joined up with a much larger, and much more used trail here, we watched 3 groups of folks walk by us as we gathered energy for this final climb uphill.

Fog rolling up the valley where Ervik sits.

When we reached the top of the hill, we looked back and a thick fog had begun to roll into the valley that we had just climbed out of.  It happened very fast, and soon we were simply hiking in the clouds, with almost zero visability. 

Sloane hiking through the clouds.

With our energy levels at almost zero, and a thick fog that had set in all around us - we decided to cut our hike short and stick to the paved road to take us back to the tram. It was all downhill from here, and very eery.  We passed old viaducts, things that looked like bunkers from WW2 and guardrails that were falling into the valleys below.  In our last 1/2 mile - when we finally could recognize where we were from our hike the previous day, it began to rain, hard.  We tossed on our rain coats and made a final push to get to the tram.  When we finally arrived, it had stopped raining, just as fast as it had started, and we waited patiently for the tram to head down the mountain, along with a bunch of other very wet people.  We got into town with enough time to make a beer run (finally) , so I did that while Sloane prepared our final Norwegian meal - which I'm pretty sure was actually Italian - although I can't quite remember.  That night we finished up our laundry, and hung our clothing up to dry around the radiators and fans - since the clothes dryer didn't seem to be doing the trick.  We got as much packed as we could, because the following morning, before the sun would rise we had to be on a bus headed for the airport.  We made it to the bus right on time the following day, and watched the city roll by in the cover of darkness, our last glimpses of Bergen were from some very heavy eyes.  As we sat waiting for our flight to board at the Bergen airport, I grew increasingly excited for what lay ahead - Iceland.

A wet adventure in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area

My friends (who all happen to be RIT alumni) finally got me out backpacking, for the first time in about 5 years, this past October.  I took a long hiatus from carrying 40 plus pounds on my back, up and down mountains, due to a knee surgery I had a few years back.  We decided to head to wild and wonderful, West by god Virginia, to a spot known as the Dolly Sods WIlderness Area.  This place looks very similar to an arctic tundra, like parts of Alaska or Canada, and it is amazing to have such a unique landscape so close to home.  I had been here before, and hiked a very short section of the trail we were hiking this time, but had never done any overnight trips.  

We drove up on a Thursday evening and had planned to camp out at the only car camping spots in the area - Red Creek Campground - which is right near the trailhead.  We arrived at the top of the mountain around 1030 pm, and were surprised to find a lot of the roadside parking was full, and the campground with its 11 or so sites was also full.  So we parked and left a note for Loren, who was meeting up us later that evening, that we had hiked in on a nearby trail and to meet us there.  Thankfully we found a cell phone signal and were also able to text him our coordinates so he could find us in the darkness.  Loren finally showed up around 1230, with some more cold beers, so we were obligated to stay up and drink it with him until about 2 am.  We sat by the fire and caught up with each other  while the fog rolled in heavily all around us.

Camp night one. 

Camp night one. 

Our camp the following morning, the calm before the storm.

The next morning we woke to a log of fog and slowly got our wet gear packed up for the journey ahead. Nate cooked us up some bacon egg and cheese muffins while the rest of us finished up packing.  We headed out to the car and began to gear up for some serious hiking.  Just about the time we were ready to go, it started raining - and raining hard - that big ol fat rain, like in Forest Gump.  We jumped in the vehicles and put on all our rain gear, at least we didn't have to stop along the trail and fish it all out of our packs.  The trail head was a few miles up the road, and we were there quickly, after a brief stop to see if we could get a weather forecast, but no luck.  For now we just assumed rain all weekend, which was a pretty accurate assumption.  The weather could only improve!

Frank, Loren and Nate testing out the rain gear.

Heading into the Dolly Sods, wet and wild.

We started off at the trail head at Bear Rocks, and planned to hike about 8-10 miles each day, doing a loop and ending up back at our the vehicles on Sunday.  Fall was definitely setting in here, and the colors were gorgeous, even when blanketed in a thick fog.

Crossing Red Creek for the first time.  The water was a bit higher on the way back.

Frank and Loren doing some stream hiking.  We did a lot of this.  

Some vibrant red and green on the forest floor.

The boys checking the map

The rain that morning was on and off, but it was always foggy.  When we go to the ridge, where normally you could see across the valley to the next mountain range, we couldn't see more than 100 feet in front of us.  Up here the wind was relentless, but thankfully the rain was either non existent or a light drizzle most of the time.  We found a few massive boulders to hide behind while we ate lunch, but mostly we were in a hurry to get off of this section.

Hiking across Raven Ridge.  The view could've been awesome.  Instead we saw puddles and rocks.

There should be one hell of a view up here somewhere.....

We finally got off the ridge, and decided to head down into a valley to a water source (left fork of Red Creek) and hoped to find a campsite there as well.  When we got down to the creek - there were people everywhere, but thankfully they continued on their way after filtering water and we were able to find a nice spot beside some other hammockers in the pines.  These neighbors helped us get a much needed fire going with the aid of a small hatchet and some vaseline soaked cotton balls.  I won't ever rag on Frank again for wanting to bring a hatchet backpacking, it was a huge help.  The rain held off until much later that evening and we had a relatively peaceful dinner around the warm fire.

Nate and Loren prepping some dinner.

The Dolly Sods is know for having been a testing ground for artillery during WWII.  There are signs at every trailhead warning you to stay on the trail to avoid the possibility of finding a bomb or mortar that may not have exploded back in the day, and could potentially still go off.  We didn't find any of those thankfully, but our neighbors learned an important lesson about warming up canned goods around a fire - put a vent hole in it first.  This is something we all knew all ready, however the fellas from WV we were camping next to did not.  I was off in the trees throwing the rope for our bear bag when I heard a loud explosion come from the campsite, no one was screaming so I assumed all was ok.  When I got back to the campsite, I found our neighbors scooping chili off the ground with a trowel, and realized that the chili had exploded. So much for keeping the bears away from the campsite.  Luckily no one was sprayed with molten chili, or shrapnel from the can, it could have been so much worse than someone's dinner being wasted.

Frank's fire side chats.  He told Nate and our campsite neighbors the story of wrecking a Honda S4 that belonged to another one of our RIT roomies.

Our camp on night two, right before the rain set in for the night.  Frank's set up was too far away to be seen.

We decided that night if it was pouring in the morning when we got up, that we would sleep in.  We all turned in as the fire died down, and fell asleep to the sound of rain pelting our tarps - we woke up to that same sound.  I slept in as long as I could, but eventually I had to get up to take a leak.  When I did, I decided this rain wasn't going to stop, and set to work getting the rest of the crew awake - by noisily beginning to pack my gear.  After everyone was up and we had some breakfast under the protection of tarps we slowly began to take down our tarps, cover our packs and put our rain gear back on for a wet uphill hike.  

Crossing one of the many creeks on our second day of hiking.

Crossing one of the many creeks on our second day of hiking.

We started off the day with some entertainment, as we watched a group of about 15 cross the creek that we had camped near, and witnessed at least 3 of them step off the rock bridge and up to their knees in the water.  They then turned around to watch us cross, hoping for more of the same, but were let down when we all made it across with dry feet.  We headed up the hill and were soon hiking in a literal creek.  I tried to take some shots, but the combination of body heat and moisture in the air were fogging up the lens too much, and since it was pouring rain still I didn't want to leave it out long enough to acclimate.  We rock hopped with the aid of our trekking poles for about 1/2 a mile through this creek (trail) until we finally connected up to another trail that was a little less waterlogged.   

Loren in his creek crossing pose, probably the 3rd crossing of the day, unfortunately he was the first one of the day to get his boots wet in our group.

This was the day of water crossings.  We managed to avoid a few serious crossings by bushwhacking until we found our trail again, but some just were unavoidable.  The rain let up for us by midmorning, and was on and off again all day long and we once again found lots of fog as we gained altitude.

Grabbing a snack and changing socks after a wet creek crossing.

Heading through the rhododendron bushes.

A pretty large waterfall on Stone Coal Run.  

Once we passed the waterfall, we took a trail that was called Rocky Point Trail, and it turns out this was a very good name for it.  Our pace slowed as we picked our way across large slick boulders, trying not to twist an ankle or knee.

More fog from the view on Rocky Point Trail near Breathed Mountain.

We attempted to find a spur trail that went to the top of Breathed Mountain, to a spot called Lion's Head.  We missed the first turn off, so we decided to keep going and pick up the other side of the trail where it connected back up to Rocky Pt. Trail.  When we found it, we wished we had turned around and chose the other route - because this one was pretty much straight up huge boulders.  But we decided to climb it anyway, hoping to have a good view while we ate lunch.   We made it to the top after a lot of nervous scrambling, and were disappointed to see more fog, so we quickly headed off the overlook to get away from the wind.  We found a spot in the rhododendrons that was protected from the wind and we had a quick lunch, all the while considering if we should actually climb down what we had come up.  We decided that it was worth the risk to climb down, rather than hike an extra mile and half to go back around the opposite way, so we slowly made our way back down the boulder field, and everyone got down safely.

Frank at the bottom of the Lion's Head scramble.  It was a bit too nerve-wracking to take any photos while we were on the boulders.

We made it to a decent campsite, right beside Red Creek around 6pm.  After some back and forth on whether or not we should stay here, a decision was finally made to stay. Frank and Nate had hiked ahead to a stream crossing just a 1/4 mile up the trail and found people everywhere - they came back with the news and we all decided this secluded spot would be our home for the night.

RIT engineering at it's best - how to start a fire with toilet paper and wet wood.

After about 2 hours of carefully tending a very poorly burning fire - which needed to be fanned constantly, with my trusty origami bowl - we finally had enough coals to let it burn on its own.  It was quite the team effort, and it all paid off in the end.  We were able to enjoy our mt house meals around a warm fire - the best way to raise your spirits after a hard day of wet hiking.

A roaring, wet birch fire to warm us up and dry out some wet socks and boots.

Our creek side paradise right next to the campsite.  Loren almost tore his toe nail off while trying to get to the spot behind the boulder to paint it with light, it was looking pretty rough.  

We went the entire night with out any rain, and woke up to dry tarps and gear the next morning, it was quite a welcome feeling not needing to put on rain pants to start the day off.  We had breakfast, packed up and were on the trail by 9, after a quick group shot with some blue skies.  

Frank doing some morning chores after a dry chilly night.

The crew at our last campsite.

We were quickly at the creek crossing where Nate and Frank had seen all the people the night before - and we were very happy we didn't stay here - there were about 8 sites, and it seemed like everyone of them was filled up the night before.  We watched folks crossing the creek where the trail said to, wading up to their knees through the water, and decided to go off the trail to find a spot we could boulder hop - to keep our boots dry for the long hike ahead.

Frank getting some use out of his new gaitors. 

Nate crossing the creek.

Loren keeping his feet dry.

Unfortunately all Nate's hard work to dry his boots and socks the night before was in vain.  

After crossing the creek, we again had a steep climb to get up onto the plateau that we would hike along for the rest of our trip.  Thankfully we didn't have to hike up a creek today.

Sunshine and blue skies, it felt so good!

Nate and Loren avoiding the pond that had formed in the middle of the trail.

Frank hiking right through that pond.

Early fall colors on some windswept trees.

Frank and Loren in the sunshine.

More reflections and blue skies at a trail intersection

Heading up the hill to our first truly enjoyable lunch spot.

We completed the loop by hooking back up to the Bear Rocks trail.

After a glorious lunch in the sunshine, we made it to the end of our loop, and began retracing our steps, on the bear rocks trail, back to the car.  We passed about 20 times as many people on this leg of the trip than we had on our way out in the rain.

Frank on the bear rocks trail - that "don't shoot me orange" really pops.

When we got back to the trail head, it looked like a parking lot for Disney World, there were people everywhere. 

After about 7 or 8 sunny miles, discussing what we would be eating for dinner on our way home, we finally made it back to the trail head, along with the wind.  As we stowed our gear in the trunks of the cars, being careful to not let anything blow away, I made an amazing discovery - we had saved two beers from our first night, and they were still cold!  Victory was ours.  We were on the road by 1:30, and on our way to a gluttonous meal of pizza and wings at a little spot in Cumberland MD.  

This hike wouldn't have been possible without gaitors and trekking poles, so I want to thank them for the support and dry feet.  This was the most adverse weather I have had to endure on a hiking trip in recent memory, and it was good to find out I could still hack it.  We plan on doing more overnight hiking trips next year, hopefully discovering some more awesome spots in PA and MD - places that may be a little closer to everyone, although WV never disappoints.  To keep up with future adventures, scroll to the top of the page and enter your email in the subscribe box on the right.  

Nordics. Part 2 - Oslo & Voss, Norway.

I was up around 7 am, after a fantastic night of sleep while cruising to Norway - much better than the sleep I was able to get on the plane to Denmark.   I headed out to the deck, expecting to see the fjords and Norway in all their splendor, instead I saw fog.  It was thick, and it was everywhere.  Disappointed, I grabbed a coffee from the cafe for Sloane and headed back to the cabin to take a quick shower while Sloane slowly woke up.  After packing our things we headed down to the restaurant where we had a free breakfast waiting for us, to our surprise it was way better the expensive dinner we had the night before.  We even had a seat with a view of the fog.  The ship arrived in Oslo's port around 930am, where we had expected to see the whole city from the water - which we had heard was fantastic - but again it was more fog.  

A foggy Oslo view from the top deck of the cruise ship.

After we got off the boat, we dropped our luggage off at the airbnb, had a quick chat with the owner about what to see, and headed out on foot to see what we could.  We were in Oslo for less than 24 hours, but made the best of our quick visit.  Our first stop was the palace park, right down the street from our room for the night.

Sloane at one of the new huts for the Norwegian Trekking Association, A.K.A. the DNT.   This new modern hut, along with an old school one were brought to the palace park as part of a celebration this past summer.

Some cool mirrored sculpture in the palace park.

We found a design store, imagine that.

Sloane was in heaven.  All of the throw pillows!

Found while wondering the streets of Oslo.

This fellow stared at me the entire time we ate lunch.

After some serious wandering, a great lunch at a small burger joint, and some shopping, we found ourselves at an old fort near the water.  We decided to check it out.  Turns out this was the Akershus Fortress, it was built around 1290 and has been defending Oslo ever since.

Sloane on a foggy path in the Akershus Fortress.

More fog at Akershus.

A foggy view of the small harbor from the walls of Akershus.

There were these creepy statues of little girls crying and hiding all over the fortress grounds.  I talked Sloane into imitating one of them.

Akershus reflections.

Fallen soldier at Akershus.

After a magical hour of fog rolling in and out of the fortress, Sloane got bored watching me chase light around and decided it was time to see something else.  We headed towards the new Opera house on the waterfront, which is pretty impressive.

The new opera house at the Oslo waterfront, you can walk all the way to the roof of this awesome building, and people were certainly taking advantage of the sun that had finally poked out.

The ship we came in on.

Sloane on top of the opera house roof, that Norwegian fog off in the distance. 

Texture and angles on the roof of the opera house.

This lobby (opera house) was ridiculously amazing.

An old section of Oslo.

I'm pretty sure these were hops growing on the side of an old house.

We were pretty exhausted after our city tour, and headed back to our room to take a break before dinner.  We stopped and grabbed a few snacks and beers at the corner grocery, and enjoyed them on our balcony overlooking the courtyard of our building.  Our dinner that night was good, and fast .  We ate at a very old restaurant called Lorry that was directly behind our apartment.  We sat outside and enjoyed the brisk evening air, drank some expensive booze while we waited for our food.  We watched what we could only assume was a group of kids taking part in one of those games where you are locked in a room and need to find clues to get out, in the apartment across the street .  It was quite ammusing  to see from the outside - everyone just kept picking up random objects in the room looking closely at them and then setting them back down.  

The following morning we were up at 5 AM to catch a train from Oslo to Voss, as part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, one of best ways to see the different landscapes of Norway.  Norway in a Nutshell is a group tour that uses public transportation to take you from Oslo to Bergen, with the option to stop over at any town you want along the way for a night or two.  I found out that if you simply book the tickets yourself, instead of using the Norway in a Nutshell site, you save about $100 per person, so we did it that way.   

Our train coming out of a tunnel, passing a mountain lake en route to Voss.

A mountain stream along the way, near Finse.

The platform view from Hallingskeid station.

The tour takes a detour from the Bergen Railway at Myrdal Station.  From here you board the Flam railway and descend almost 3000 feet in 12 miles, to Aurland and the Fjords, making it one of the steepest train routes in the world on normal tracks.  

Kjosfossen - a 780ft waterfall along the Flam railway.  There is a small Hydro power plant here used to power the railway.

Heading into the valley on the Flam Railway.

Another giant waterfall along the Flam railway.

At the bottom of the railway is the small village of Flam with a visitor center, a brewery and a few restaurants.  We were suppose to have a few hours here to explore the area, but our first train had an issue that delayed us just enough to miss out on exploring.  So we grabbed a few cans of beer from the local store and hopped on board the next leg of the tour, a cruise through Naeroyfjord.

The waterfront in Flam.

Our first real glimpse of a Norwegian Fjord that wasn't covered in fog.

I forgot to mention there were a few other people with us on this journey.

We found out that the lower deck, where cars would normally go was absent of people, so we spent most of our time down here.

The village of Undredal, accessible only by boat until 1988.  The population here is 100 people and 500 goats.

Looking back at the rock faces climbing straight out of the water.

Looking towards Gudvangen, our destination.

Looking up to the peaks from the water.

This cruise was pretty amazing, and we were lucky enough to have some sunshine grace us during the tour.  We docked at a much smaller town called Gudvangen - from here we boarded a bus and headed for Voss.  Along the way is a famous road known as the stalheimskleiva.  This is one of northern Europes steepest roads, and has some serious hairpin turns.  It is a one way road, thankfully, and some how the busses were able to navigate it.

A view of the Naeroy Valley from the stalheimskleiva.

Coming up on a hairpin bend, at close to a 20% grade.  Sivelfossen waterfall in the background.

The hair pin turns of the stalheimskleiva.

After a very eventful bus ride, we finally arrived at our destination for the next two nights - Voss.   Voss is known as the outdoor adventure capital of Norway.  White water rafting, kayaking, paragliding, bungee jumping, canyoneering and skydiving are all things we didn't do, because they cost about a million dollars in Norway - and I will never willingly jump out of an airplane.  We opted to do some serious hiking.  Our Air BnB this time was hosted by a friendly Canadian, his Norwegian wife and their kids.  We had a small apartment in their basement, and a view of the valley from the front yard - it was pretty fantastic.  The hosts even picked us up from the bus station, which was above and beyond AirBnB standards.

Sloane on the way into town, checking out some Norwegian graffiti. 

We decided to cook our meals in Voss, not many restaurants were open anymore - since it was past peak tourist season - so we headed to the grocery store to get some food and booze.  To our horror, the grocery store stopped selling alcohol at 8pm, and it was 8:15.  We got our food and decided to try another store on the way home.  We got a bunch of beer up to the register, only to be turned down by the clerk, it ended up being a very sober stay for us in Voss.  The following day we had a leisurely breakfast and took our time getting ready for the our hike.  It was nice to not pack all our belongings up for a change.  We didn't get out the door until close to 11 - not the best way to start a 12 mile hike. The trail we were hiking wasn't actually 12 miles, but to get to the trail head was a 3 mile walk from our house, so that made it a little longer.

Sloane on the footbridge over the Vosso river, just the beginning of our day hike.

Looking over the Vosso river, if you look close you'll see a paraglider - they seemed to be raining down from everywhere.

Vosso River Foot bridge.

We had a quick detour on the way to the trail head, to hike the bordalsgjelet gorge.  This is similar to Watkins glen in NY if you have ever been there - only much shorter.  

Sloane in the gorge

Waiting for the crowd to clear to get a shot of the gorge.

Really the only view in the gorge, very pretty, but we had bigger things to see, like the top of a mountain.

After a quick hike in the gorge, we were back on the road and on our way to the trail head, only 1.5 more uphill miles to go.

Finally at the trailhead, it was 2 pm, and the sun was still hiding.

The trail started out pretty much straight uphill, and continued that way - forever.  We quickly were surrounded by the colors of autumn as we climbed higher and higher.

Rosett Cabin, part of the DNT system for hiking trails in Norway.  Any one can rent/ and stay in these cabins.

The sun came out while we took a rest after nearly 2600  vertical ft of hiking, the fall colors were pretty vivid here for mid-september.

We thought we had found the view, but it only got better from here with every step.

Above the treeline, at 2900 feet.

Up we go.

This was our summit at 3200 feet, not the actual summit which was 4314 feet and still a mile away.

We made it to this cairn in the boulder field around 5 pm, and decided at this point it was best to turn around and head back down.  The climb down would most likely be quick, but could also be a bit dangerous with a lack of light due to how steep it was.  We also wanted to get to the grocery store before 8, so we could get some much deserved booze to go along with our dinner.  And I forgot to mention, Sloane's boots were falling apart - you will hear more about this later.

The top to us.

Snow!

Voss is down there somewhere.

Sloane begining the trek back down.

Long Shadows and boulders.

Mountain top pond.

On our way back down, we discovered a herd of cows grazing on the trail - Sloane was super excited, I was a bit nervous.  I had never encountered mountain cows before.

Sloane amongst the cows.

This guy stared me down the whole way, he definitely made me the most nervous.

We timed our hike perfectly, just at the bottom of the gorge that we had hiked earlier, we had a great view of the sunset over the lake in Voss.

We made it down off the trail before dark, and across the river to town just as the street lights were coming on, around 745 - plenty of time to get some booze, or so we thought.  As we started loading up our basket with different types of beer, the cashier came back and informed us that today, for some weird reason, you could only buy alcohol until 7pm.  We thought he was kidding, but unfortunately he was not.  We left the store empty handed again, and decided we would head to a bar to get a beer instead.  Nothing was open.  The only place we found was a semi-fancy steak house type restaurant - and it had 2 bar stools, which we quickly sat upon and asked for a beer and a red wine.  We sat and drank our victory drinks, in our stinky, sweaty hiking clothing as people filed past us to have a fine dining experience - but we didn't care - we deserved this.  We headed home, still a 3/4 mile walk, with some very sore feet after having sat for half an hour, and made our selves some dinner at the apartment.  We took some time to pack our belongings once again, as the following day we would be leaving Voss for Bergen, the next and final stop on our tour of Norway.   

Our mountain view from the apartment window in Voss - it was pretty spectacular.

Nordics. Part 1 - Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sloane and I took a serious trip over seas in the middle of September, and it was amazing.  I have never really traveled abroad, aside from a quick work trip to Israel when I was fresh out of college.  Sloane used to do European trips with her family quite often, but hasn't done so since she graduated college.  So, for her 30th birthday this past summer, we took some tax return money and decided we would go somewhere awesome together.  Sloane was in charge of choosing where we went, and she ended up on Scandinavia, after seeing some other blogs that she followed who had some pretty great shots and descriptions of their travels to the area.  We began our journey in Copenhagen Denmark. We arrived around 12PM on September 12th after taking a red eye from DC, through Iceland.  The plan was to sleep on the plane, but I didn't do much of that.  So we would need to fight through the afternoon to stay awake and get on a normal schedule according to the six hour time difference.  We got to our AirBnB - which are the only places we stayed during the entire trip - later that afternoon after a long lunch and an even longer walk with all our luggage.  

Sloane and bikes outside of our apartment in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen.

The view from the dining area of our Copenhagen apartment.

We met our host, got a little tour of the apartment, took showers and then headed out to discover the wonderments of this bike friendly city.  We were lucky enough to have a city bike share right out side of our front door.  We paid a monthly fee to access the bikes and then less than a dollar an hour while using them - if the ride was under half an hour, it was free.  There are a ton of these bike share stations around the city, and you can just grab a bike from the closest one to you, and then drop it off at any other station around the city.  It's a fantastic way to travel around the city.

We hopped on our gobikes and headed down to the happening area of Islands Brygge - right along the main canal in Copenhagen.  This area of town has a bunch of bars with outdoor seating, a few restaurants and a beautiful park that has public swimming areas right in the canal.

Islands Brygge, from the Langebro bridge.

Some one taking the leap from the high jumping platform.

As you can tell by the people swimming, we were greeted in Copenhagen with some pretty excellent weather, given the time of year.  It was in the low 70's and exceptionally sunny.  Apparently the weather had been pretty miserable and rainy up until the week we arrived.

Kayakers in the main canal.  Islands Brygge had a court for kayak polo, and we arrived just after a match had ended, so I unfortunately didn't get to witness this sport in action.

We headed over to Nyhavn from here to find a place to get dinner.  This is another incredibly popular area of town, and has a ton of restaurants to choose from - and the majority of them have outdoor seating.  It is directly on a canal, that has all types of boats moored up. 

Nyhavn canal.

Nyhavn.

At this point, the struggle to stay awake was a real one.  We sat down and had an incredibly slow, but good italian meal on the water as darkness approached.  After our dinner we took a quick walk out onto the Inderhavnen pedestrian and bicycle bridge - which we later learned had just been completed after some serious issues building it - i guess they built it from both sides, and it didn't meet up in the middle like planned.  

Nyhavn, as seen from the newly completed Inderhavnen bridge.

From here we found the closest bike share, grabbed our rides and headed back to get some much needed sleep, and rid ourselves of jet lag.  We woke up early the following day, to sunny skies and more warm weather.  We again hopped on the bikes and headed back out to do some more sightseeing.  Our first stop was the national library of Denmark - one of many incredible architectural wonders in Denmark.

Sloane at one of the bike shares, outside of the national library of Denmark.

A view inside of the national library.

We didn't hang out inside the library for very long, but were able to get a good overview of the space, it was pretty amazing.  Sloane ordered a smoothie from the cafe here. We couldn't translate the menu, so she ended up with some beets mixed in with apples, which wasn't too bad actually.  We grabbed a seat out on the patio of the library, which is right on the main canal and planned what to do next.  

View of Christiana from the National library Patio, a great mix of new and old architecture.  

The National library.

We decided to head to Amager Square and the Danish design stores that it houses, for Sloane to oogle all the things she and I both would love to fill our home with.  We went to Illums Bolighus first, there was 4 floors of fancy here, and we easily killed an hour walking around.  We then headed across the square to HAY House, and found even more Danish design to look at.  Both of these places made Ikea seem like walmart.  

Lighting and furniture in HAY House.

A view of Amager Square from the windows of HAY House.  

After looking at all the pretty things, we grabbed a couple sandwiches at a local cafe, ate lunch in the neighboring park, and attempted to over come our envy of Danish design.  We then headed over to the Danish Design museum to see their extensive collection of all things Danish, and it was quite impressive.  Obviously, failing at our attempt to rid ourselves of any envy. 

Sloane among the many reams of fabric hanging in the Danish Design Museum.

A sweet sofa in the design museum.

After a long day of design sightseeing, we rode back to Islands Brygge with the plan of renting a goboat - which are solar powered boats you can take out on the canals - but we neglected to make a reservation and our plan was quickly squashed when we learned there was no availability that evening.  So we instead grabbed a few beers at a waterfront bar, and tried to decide what to do for dinner - this was difficult, since both of our phones had died.  We again grabbed bikes and made our way back to the apartment to clean up for dinner.  We rode our bikes, (accidentally) through a pitch black graveyard, to a seafood restaurant called Oysters&Grill - it may have been one of the best meals we had while in Scandinavia.  Fried shrimp, steamed shrimp, mussels, razor clams, ceviche and booze - it was fantastic.  

The following day was our last in Copenhagen, and we definitely made the best of it.  We were again up early (still adjusting to the time difference), we hopped on our bikes and rode our way down to the main canal, where we were scheduled for a kayak tour of the canals with Kayak-Republic.  I typically do not do kayak tours, but in Denmark and Norway, you must posses a euro paddle pass, which you can get from taking a very long and expensive course - basically like being certified by the ACA in the US.  Since we do not have  EPP certificates, we had to be on the water with a guide.

Sloane took the bow position, and did a great job paddling while I took photos.

The Royal Danish Opera house, as seen from the kayak tour, was completed in 2004.  Check out how RedBull uses this building.

Amalienborg - guest residences for the royal family and the largest dome in Scandinavia, from  Frederiks church, rising in the background.

A back canal in Christiana with lots of expensive boats.

Kayak touring

The National Library and the cirkelbroen bridge, which rotates to open up and allow tall ships to pass.

Marmobroen bridge.

After a great two hours on the water,  we thanked our guide, and grabbed a quick lunch at the Kayak Bar, which is part of Kayak Republic.  It's a pretty great place, with very good food.  Right on the water, and you can eat on a floating dock, complete with sandy beach and palm trees.  While we were waiting for our lunch to be prepared, soaking in the sunshine - I decided we had to jump in the water - it seemed like the thing to do here.  So I went for it, and played it off like it wasn't that cold so Sloane would follow.  It was cold.  But I am glad we did it, and it's not everyday you get the opportunity to swim in the canals of Copenhagen while drinking and waiting for your food to arrive.  

Danish smorrebrod.  Open face sandwiches from Kayak Bar - they were delicious.  Sloane got salmon and I got roast beef.

After we dried off from our swim and had our lunch, we jumped back on our bikes and made our way back to the apartment to get packed and organized for the next leg of our journey - an overnight ferry ride to Norway.   We managed to squeeze everything we brought back into our luggage, something we would do many more times, and called ourselves an Uber to get us to the ferry terminal in time - we were worried we wouldn't make it using the public transportation. One of only a few times we ubered - despite Sloane's strong lobbying attempts on many occasions.   

We got there with plenty of time to spare and boarded our cruise ship, the Crown Seaways.  A cruise ship - that is exactly what it was - this was not a ferry. It had 5 restaurants, a huge duty free store, 3 bars and 2 clubs.  We dropped our bags off at our cabin, which was a great little room with a window on the 9th deck of the ship, then headed up to the bar on the 12th deck to take in the last bit of Copenhagen, and Denmark from the water.

Sun deck beverages.  We quickly learned it was much smarter to buy alcohol at the duty free shop.

The Danish and Norwegian flag, along with the DFDS seaways flag

Sloane enjoying some wine while cruising up the Swedish coast.

Sunset from the sun deck.

Sloane enjoying the sunset and moonrise on the Crown Seaways. 

After a not so fantastic meal at the pizza restaurant on board the Crown, we headed out to find the nightlife.  What we found was an empty club.  I guess since it was a weekday, they were not operating the late night entertainment.  But we did find another club, full of folks well into their 70's, enjoying some live polka type music.  Sloane made me dance in front of the crowd, no one seemed to care that I suck at dancing which was nice.  Afterwards we went back to the room and decided it was time to sleep. And when we woke up, we were in a different country - Norway.

Late night shot of the smoke stack billowing that pollution into the crisp sea air.  I found out its pretty much impossible to use a tripod on a cruise ship - everything shakes like crazy.

Up next - Oslo Norway, Stay tuned.