After leaving Iceland, Vivienne and I flew into Munich, picked up our rental car and headed into the countryside. I love traveling with Vivienne, because we both prefer quirky small towns and beautiful nature to big cities like Munich, and it really paid off on this trip. Our first stop was Oberammergau, a town best known for its once-a-decade performance of the Passion Play, and the fresco paintings that cover most of the buildings in the old town center.
It was a dark and rainy evening when we pulled into Oberammergau, but the first impression was still one of awe as we took in the quaint cobblestone streets and painted facades. We checked in to Hotel Kopa, where we were met by the very friendly owner Sandra. Our room was on the top floor, with our windows giving us great views of Kofel, the city mountain.
Since it was raining on Saturday evening I didn’t bring my camera when Vivienne and I went searching for dessert. We came across a cute cafe that served Hugo cocktails: a cocktail with prosecco, elderflower syrup, sparkling water, and mint leaves that would become our go-to for the rest of our trip. Add in massive slices of cake, and you have two happy travelers.
The next morning, we loaded up with a wonderful breakfast at our hotel, before going for a walk around town. We were so impressed with the abundance of flowers decorating the house facades, despite it being cold during the days and even freezing overnight. After wandering through the deserted streets, we got back into our rental car and started on the 1.5 hour drive to Neuschwanstein Castle.
Halfway to Neuschwanstein, a traffic accident blocking the road forced us to turn around. Thanks to Google Maps and my lack of fear driving on the narrowest backroads I’ve ever seen, we managed to find a detour that took us past the Pilgrimage Church of Wies before putting us back on the road towards our castle.
When we arrived at Neuschwanstein, we had the choice between waiting in line for half an hour to buy tickets for the tour of the castle, and then wait another two hours before our scheduled tour, or make the 60 minute walk up to Marienbrücke to take in the castle exteriors for free. 25 minute later, we high-fived each other at the top for saving time and money while getting our workout in. Apparently walking estimates are not calculated with two fit Coloradans in mind ;-)
Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal refuge, but unfortunately he passed away in 1886 before its completion. The castle was opened to the paying public right after, and has since seen more than 60 million visitors. And if the castle looks familiar to you, it’s because it was the main inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland!
While there were a fair amount of visitors at the castle along with us, it was pretty quiet compared to many of the photos I have seen from high-season, where you’re pushing your way through the crowds to get any photos.
After exploring the castle grounds, we made our way down to the hill and back to our rental car … where we were greeted by the parking lot attendant who was surprised that we were back so soon. Turns out that walking and seeing the castle on our own put us back at our car before our tour would even have started if we had gone that route!
Bidding Neuschwanstein Castle farewell, we continued on to Tegernsee for the next part of our trip – but that stop deserves a post of its own!
In October last year, I spent 48 hours in Iceland on my way to continental Europe, and I fell head over heels in love with the rugged nature … despite the never-ending wind and rain. When I booked more photo shoots in Reykjavik this year on my way to photograph Pole Theatre World in Prague and Pole Theatre Scandinavia in Oslo, I was excited for the chance to explore new places and revisit old favorites along with my travel soulmate Vivienne.
My first stop on Day One, after a mandatory stop at a grocery store in Selfoss to pick up leverpostei and Skyr, was Seljalandsfoss. It is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland, in part because of it’s easy access off the ring road, and in part because you can walk all the way behind the falls – which makes for some beautiful photos!
Right after taking this photo, I dropped my iPhone and watched it slide 50 meters down a rocky path before ending right by an edge that would have taken it down into the water. I ran after it as best as I could, while the dozen tourists sharing my view gasped and shouted out in concern for my phone.
It survived the fall, and I went back to taking photos while getting splashed as the wind kept blowing the water back towards me.
My favorite part about visiting Iceland in October, especially when the weather is gray and gloomy, is avoiding the big crowds. I’ve seen “behind the scenes” photos from photographers where they are standing elbow-to-elbow in groups of 100+ people to get the one magic shot of a landmark, and that is so not my idea of a good time. I much prefer the risk of bad weather, if it means I can easily find a parking spot, and have an unobstructed view of the Icelandic highlights.
After visiting Seljalandsfoss I drove down to Dyrhólaey, a small peninsula at the southern tip of Iceland. The view from the top was incredible, with the black lava rock formations of Reynisdrangar peaking out of the breaking waves. The wind was blowing at a strong 26km/h at the time (that’s 16m/h for my American friends), and with no shelter from the gusts I was glad to have fences surrounding the cliffs.
Dyrhólaey means “he hill-island with the door-hole,” and I’ll let this picture explain where the name came from.
I love the way this lighthouse looked sturdy enough to withstand storms three times the strength of the strong winds I experienced. Can you imagine living here, looking out to sea for lost ships?
The ocean meeting the black lava beach at Reynisdrangar is one of the most stunning sights I have seen on Iceland, or anywhere in the world for that matter. I’m a sucker for the ocean, and I can never resist walking down to the water’s edge to stick my hand in, no matter how cold it looks. At Reynisdrangar I didn’t have to, as the breaking waves made their way up to meet me instead.
Right next to the water’s edge is a mountain lined with basalt rock columns – what little I remember from my geology classes at CU Boulder was in awe of the forces that created such a sight, while my pretentious side couldn’t help but giggle at everyone climbing up on the rocks to take photos (*cough* like I’m one to talk *cough*).
As I made my way back north toward Reykjavik after my stop in Vik, I had two more items on my itinerary for the day: Skógafoss and Seljavallalaug. Storm clouds were rolling in over the mountains, and so I decided to save Skógafoss for some other visit, and head straight for Iceland’s oldest pool instead. I found the trailhead without too much trouble, and started hiking at a rapid pace to beat the rains.
I was very much hoping to find the pool deserted (I blame Instagram for my highly unrealistic expectations), but I arrived to find a group of British friends there, along with one of their moms – hands down the toughest one in the group! After quickly changing into my swimsuit in the rustic dressing rooms, I got into the geothermal pool as the first raindrops started falling.
Swimming in the warm water while surrounded by incredible nature is a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am so glad that I made the trip out there. I am already planning on going back next time I visit, and bringing friends along to share the fun.
On my second morning in Iceland, I drove out into the middle of nowhere, parked by a farmhouse, and walked across a field to find this hot pot down by the ocean. I had the place completely to myself – a rarity in Iceland – and spent a glorious fifteen minutes looking out over the fjord while soaking up the geothermal heat. This place was pure magic, and as I found it by pure chance on some obscure travel blog, I don’t even want to name or map it of fear that it’ll turn into another overpopulated spot … or worse – that the landowners will shut down public access to it.
My view at 9:00am on a cold and windy October morning. It was the perfect relaxing start to my day, before the evening disappeared in a whirlwind of photo shoots at Erial Pole.
The next morning, I picked up Vivienne at the airport, and our first stop for the day was Kerið. It is a volcanic crater lake, best known for the contrast between the red volcanic rock caldera and the turquoise waters. We were the first car to pull into the parking lot that morning, and had the place completely to ourselves.
Next up on our trip around the Golden Circle was Gullfoss, one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. The last time I visited, I arrived at the same time as three tour buses, and as soon as I set up my tripod I was surrounded by tourists who wanted to take their photos from the exact same spot as me. This time, we shared the place with two young women, and had all the time in the world to take our photos and enjoy the uninterrupted view.
A drive through the Golden Circle is not complete without a stop to see Geysir, but as I’ve seen it before I wasn’t all that impressed. Standing in a crowd to watch water erupt out of the earth isn’t all that exciting to me, but maybe that’s because I prefer water that I can swim in? (Although Monika, my host and friend in Iceland, said she regularly has tourists asking if they can swim in the 98-100C / ~200F degree waters of Geysir…)
Our last stop before lunch was the one I had been looking forward to the most: the beautiful blue-watered Brúarfoss. This waterfall is not marked with signs, so you have to know where you are going, and I was stoked for the possibility to have it to ourselves since we had been so lucky at the much more popular Gullfoss.
Unfortunately when we showed up, we were met by the sight of a group of photographers (all old British men) standing in the middle of the water with wading boots and fishing pants, taking long-exposure photos of the waters. We waited around for a good half hour, but they clearly had no intentions of moving out of the way for long enough for me to get a good shot, so we left and vowed to come back another day.
Despite the crowded waters, I am so glad we made the hike out to these falls as the bright blue water truly was something to be seen. After a delicious lunch at Restaurant Mika, we finished our day at Laugarvatn Fontana with hot springs and a refreshing dip in the cold waters of Laugarvatn itself.
Iceland is one of those places that I can’t get enough of, and I’m already planning a trip back. It’s so easy for me to travel there since Icelandair has direct flights from Denver, and since I can take a connecting flight to visit my family in Norway on the same trip. Next time I need to make it an extended stay of at least a full week, so I can explore further away from the Reykjavik area.
It’s time for me to see what else the country of fire and ice has to offer.
On our second day in Portland, we woke up to heavy rain and cold weather. Instead of staying inside in the city, we decided to drive out to Ecola State Park. I grew up right by the water in Norway, and since I now live landlocked in Colorado I can never turn down a trip to the ocean!
We had planned on doing the Clatsop Loop Trail, but since my knee was still aching from our hike the day before, we decided to skip it and headed straight for Indian Beach instead. It was so windy that the rain came in sideways, but we still ran into surfers on their way out into the choppy waves. I could not resist sticking my hand in the water, which ended with soaking wet shoes. Totally worth it for ocean contact ;-)
From Indian Beach we took a quick walk up to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse viewpoint. How anyone decided that building a lighthouse on that rock was a good idea is beyond me, but it makes for a fun and unexpected sight.
I would love to come back and explore Ecola State Park more, and hopefully the weather will be in my favor next time. Still the low rainclouds made for beautiful photos in true PNW style.
Last weekend my husband and I flew out to Portland to visit our friends Graham and Gwendoline, and their adorable one-year-old boy. After a slight detour on the way, thanks to Southwest asking for two volunteers to get a $400 travel voucher each in exchange for taking the next flight – obviously I jumped on that! – we made it to a rainy Oregon.
When we visited Portland last year on our way to Bend, we didn’t have time for any hikes. Naturally getting a solid hike was high on our list this time. Lucky for us, G&G know all the best spots around, and since I wanted to see waterfalls they picked the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop Hike. Most tourists stop to see Multnomah Falls, but we went for the full 5.2 mile hike that took us up by Multnomah, past Ecola Falls, Weisendanger Falls, Dutchman Falls, and Fairy Falls, and ended at Wahkeena Falls.
I can’t get over how lush and green nature is out in Oregon – especially when compared to the dry high-desert terrain in Colorado. My brain just kept going “OMGITSSOPRETTY” no matter where I looked, so I have a feeling this wasn’t my last Oregon hike. After all, we now have $800 in Southwests vouchers to use in the next year!
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
On a rainy morning in August, I headed out into the wilderness with Justin for an overnight backcountry camping trip at Mirror Lake: Rocky Mountain National Park’s northernmost lake. I picked the campsite based on it being one of the most quiet hikes in RMNP, and we hardly saw people anywhere. My idea of heaven!
It was a beautiful hike, but the seven miles of uphill from the trailhead to the campsite was harder than I expected. I’m used to hanging upside down, not carrying 40lbs around on my back ;-)
I loved having a weekend in the middle of nowhere, with reading time in our hammocks, and napping in the tent during an afternoon rainstorm, and waking up to mountain views, and holding a mug of hot tea in cold hands, and meeting a friendly and curious deer while eating our breakfast as the sun came up over Comanche Peak.