Tag Archives: travel

Iceland 2014 and Euro+Morocco 2014 Thoughts Part 1

I promised someone I’d post a recap of things I experienced, learned, and realized after coming back from Iceland. Since I went on another trip since then I figured I’d combine the two somehow. First step: Iceland. Those who have already seen numerous photos of Iceland may not feel the same, but for me seeing them again always gives me a sense of joy. The country stole my heart and soon you shall know why.

Iceland was the first destination I ever planned and went to on my own. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and everyone insisted that I go with at least one other friend. Well, that one other friend never appeared and I didn’t want to just do nothing. My flight was purchased after some research via Google Image Search. That’s how it happened. Two months before the trip I found out about ice caving and booked a tour for that. Two weeks before leaving I did more research and planned my route and booked two hostels out of the five I eventually stayed at.

Isolation and loneliness right off the bat. Getting off the plane and the rest of the day after that was a period of adjustment that didn’t quite got adjusted. Knowing no one and not knowing the area well (other than from a Google Maps perspective) made me feel lost. Lost. My being there at that point was meaningless, pointless, and useless. The memory that stands out most from that day is pulling over at the side of a road, pulling out a map, and alternately staring at it and the outside of the car. I probably sat there for a good 30 minutes unable to make any decisions. It felt like hours. Finally, decision made: get out of the car and just look around where I am. Outside the car the air slipped through the cracks of my clothing, the wind tried its best to push me away from the comfort of the rental car I had. My fingers by that point started to feel like they were expanding and contracting at the same time and I started to shiver. I grinned and let a warm chuckle escape from my mouth. “I’m in Iceland” I realized. And for the first time on that trip I felt excited. But it didn’t last the whole way through.

Experiences like this taught me that, sometimes, moments of loneliness just happen. I can never expect to get rid of them forever, even when doing something that is supposedly fun or exciting. Experiencing isolation and loneliness can feel either positive or negative depending on the context and realizing that only made me more comfortable in doing things on my own. That being said, I can never get away from the desire to share an experience with another person. By that I mean one of those “I wish you were here” moments. In any case, enjoy the moment. I do so more now than I used to as a result of this trip.

Excitement, wonder and confusion at being in Iceland. The things I could experience, see, and do! The oddity of how everything seemed to be. Recognizing nothing was refreshing. The newness made every experience wondrous. Not knowing anything was confusing. Doing things such as grocery shopping was always tough since most things were in Icelandic and half the time I couldn’t figure out what the item itself was. That made it fun. A typical experience born anew. Realization: “boring” things can be made fun or exciting by throwing in a different context to it. We need consistency in our lives, but it’s always nice to change it up and going on far flung trips isn’t always necessary for that. Admittedly, this is one realization that I have yet to apply in my own life.

Calmness is pretty important for travel and especially for  life. The being lonely part helped me rethink priorities, goals, and needs. Admittedly, this is easier when you aren’t stressing out about any events that actually affect your life. My main concern for the trip was finding things to do on certain days the day of. It seemed like a waste of time to be doing nothing or not seeing sights, but at some point I just stopped caring. As long as your enjoying yourself there is no need to be having some life changing experience every moment of every day while traveling or being able to see everything. Doing so (if it were even possible) would make every travel experience the same. What sights others found beautiful I found bland and vice versa. Just be calm and enjoy the moment as it is. If it’s boring, then it’s boring. If it’s amazingly life changing, then it’s amazingly life changing. No big deal if it isn’t what you expected. Don’t stress when you travel, you went traveling to relax. Why stress if things aren’t going like you expected? One of the big things I got back from going to Iceland.

Traveling can be boring. 

Strangers can be more fun than you realize.

Make it your own when you travel. Being asked “Why Iceland?” sometimes out of genuine curiosity, other times out of shock as if “Why would you ever go somewhere cold?” reminded me of how often people tell you how to travel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course since the experiences of others are often extremely helpful. It all depends on what you want to get out from traveling. If you want to go somewhere different then you don’t necessarily have to go off the beaten path. If you don’t want to be surrounded by other tourists then off the beaten path you may go. If you want to go and find yourself then the way you travel is probably going to be more grabbing your own bootstraps.

There are all these posts telling you about what traveling has taught people (case in point, this one) and how amazing it is (it isn’t always going to be the case, sometimes your trip will suck, briefly or the whole time). Travel itself isn’t what gives you life lessons or amazing experiences. It’s what you decided to do when you go travel. Each experience is different and not every form of travel works for everyone. And here’s something that’s possibly blasphemy in the travel world: You don’t have to travel to live life, learn things, or be open minded. Traveling doesn’t always make you a better person, be happier, or help find your life’s path. If it were that easy, then holy crap go travel! You don’t have to travel to some far flung place with a different culture. Sometimes doing it all at once is just too much and sometimes it backfires. Rather than appreciate a different culture, a person could just as easily find it below their own and use that experience to justify being superior. Yeah, that happens.

If you do learn anything, it doesn’t stop once you get back from your trip. Even now, I find myself discovering or rediscovering realizations based on my experiences from my solo Iceland trip. If anything, traveling does tend to enhance certain qualities of a person more so than others so traveling has that going for it.

TL;DR Travel your own way, don’t always listen to others. Especially those talking about how traveling is amazing, more amazing than rainbows.

Iceland, Day 10

This day, I wake up and end up having a short, but interesting, conversation with a lady from Sweden who was originally from the United States. Long story short, she packed up her bags and moved to Sweden for neuroscience. She even made every effort to get her dog over there too! Obviously she loves that dog. From here, I’m off to the KEF airport area to drop off my rental car. But first, some more exploring of a place I had Googled a few nights prior. Really, all it was was a massive frozen lake and some geothermal spots. It wasn’t particularly interesting. The drive on the other hand I did enjoy. As a city boy there was something fascinating about driving on unpaved roads. Here are some more shots of the car:


I should consider shooting car ads. Yeah.

My last stop was the Blue Lagoon. It seems like something everyone who visits Iceland should do so I told myself I’d shell out the ~$50 and give it a go. However, by the time I got there and saw the line up I really couldn’t justify sitting around in a pool of water for that much. If I were there with friends, it would be different. It would be like a social gathering, a nice way to wind down and chat. By myself…well that seemed a bit pointless. Granted I could have struck up a conversation with some strangers, but the lagoon really did not appeal to me. I ended up just walking around the outside and taking some pictures there. The following shots are from my phone:

The next stop: the airport. I drop off the rental car and I have to say, Blue Car Rental was very accommodating and we did a quick review of the car. Everything seemed to be in order and I was on my way to take the bus back to Reykjavik. If you go to Iceland, Blue Car Rental is a great place to rent a car from. Highly recommended. The bus ride to Reykjavik was, in a way, boring. I imagined what Iceland would look like to many people who took the bus there. It wasn’t really all that special. I ended up taking a little nap for most of the trip since I had a whole two seats to myself. Spread out and pass out. My final hostel location, the Loft Hostel, was only a short walk away from the BSI Bus Terminal. The one thing about the streets in Reykjavik, at least in the winter, was the sand. Bits of it would get stuck in the wheels of my suitcase, making the walk there longer than it should have been.

Loft Hostel, check in, get to the room, and lie about. Clean some of my gear, dry out my tripod, and sort out the suitcase so I’m ready to leave for my flight. Yes, I still had three nights but I like to pack early. It helps keep things clean I find. It’s at the Loft Hostel that I meet more solo travelers. It hit me that most solo travelers wouldn’t venture out on their own with a car or such. It’s much easier to make a place your base of operations as a solo traveler than it is to move about all over the place. At least, that’s what it seemed like. It’s not only safer, but it is less stressful. Of course, costs also play a factor in all this. It is indeed much more expensive to rent a car on your own. The trade off is that you don’t get to explore on your own either, not in a lonely sense anyway. There were moments where I didn’t drive past anyone for a long time and it felt like I was the only person in Iceland at that moment. It’s a strange feeling to be alone in an unfamiliar place where the closest person could be dozens of miles kilometers away. I’m not really sure how to describe that sort of feeling.  The words that come to mind are vulnerable, isolated, and despair. Traveling solo in Iceland in the main city seem to be much safer, less stressful, and more relaxing than the previous 10 days than I had just experienced. Here I gained a sort of appreciation for the different kinds of travel that exists. Solo travel is overly romanticized, or at least that’s what I found. That being said what I do it again? Yes, I probably would. Are tour groups good for travel as well? Yeah they probably are. They’re just a different kind of travel; more relaxed and less stressful. They have their upsides and downsides Group travel? Probably a better form of travel, best of both worlds. It is definitely less lonely than solo travel and less restrictive than tour groups. I’d have to say the spectrum goes like this: solo travel—group travel—tour groups. That is that for this day.

And here’s what the dorm looked like, I have to say the Loft Hostel was fantastic. I highly recommend it if you ever choose to stay in Reykjavik. It’s a little odd as reception is on the top floor, but it makes it unique. Everything was super clean when I went and for about $25 Canadian in the winter, it was kind of a bargain really. One of the better hostels around I hear.

Iceland, Day 7

The day started off with a mixture of disappointment and acceptance that my new friend and I were going to be parting ways. Despite growing somewhat accustomed to traveling alone, company is always nice. We grab breakfast and then head our separate ways after dropping him off at the BSI Bus Terminal; another day on my own. It was surprisingly difficult to adjust back to being on my own again, which sucked. Immensely. Next stop: Thingvellir National Park. I had skipped this spot to drive to Snæfellsnes and it was more or less the last thing on my list to see.

SONY DSC

 

Along the way I stopped to check out a couple of views. It’s not often I get to see a clear road surrounded on both sides by snow. At this point I was really looking for ways to kill time as I had been told you could do the park in more or less a day. I thought I could go up to Snæfellsnes again, but the budget side of me told me not to. Looking back, I wish I had gone up to Snæfellsnes a second time. Enough with regrets. It was around this time I found myself offering to take pictures for people. A lot. It never occurred to me how many people don’t ask others to help them take a picture. In a lot of those travel shots you’ll often see someone missing from the photo (the person who took it). Anways, off to the national park. The most shocking thing I found about the park? Washrooms cost 200ISK to use (about $2 Canadian). Say what? I really had to go, but it took me about 10 minutes of wandering back and forth thinking about whether or not I should. Of course, $2 is a small price to pay for an intact bladder and dry pants. I can’t say I found the park all that great. At this point I realized that I have some sort of aversion to tourist traps. Walking into one just shuts down my brain and makes it refuse to do anything creative. Chances are someone else has done it before…I guess that’s the hipster side of me?

In the park I end up chatting with a pair of people who also happened to be from Canada and ended up asking if I could tag along their trip. What ends up happening is that I visit Gullfoss and Geysir again. What was surprising to me was that I was ok with that. One would think that going to the same place again while on a trip like this would be a waste of time, but it didn’t feel that way. The look of the place did chance as a lot of the ice melted and you could see all the big blocks of ice being thrown around like they weighed nothing. That was pretty awe-inspiring. It made me feel small yet again. It also reminded me that after I’m long gone, places like Gullfoss will look much different than they do now. It’s pretty hard for our minds to grasp things like the future, especially when they don’t involve ourselves.

Geysir was interesting. My two new friends decided to hike up this rather large hill that I didn’t really notice the last time I was here. Over a little ladder and up to the top we go. They crack open some peanut butter and a bag of bread, hello PB&J minus the J. It was by far the driest peanut butter and bread I had ever had but it was absolutely hilarious. I might have to do the same next time I go travel; hike up a hill with some peanut butter and bread. An interesting I discovered was what ends up making a good “adventure”. It was anything that involved at least a bit of effort to do or get to. Hiking up the little hill took some effort, and that bit made it fun.

I rather liked this shot, probably has something to do with things in tandem

Next up was a volcanic crater we went to. I totally skipped that before and it was pretty great walking around that. Afterwards, I ended up following them to their hotel and decided “screw it, I’m just going to splurge on a place to stay tonight”. I couldn’t be bothered to drive all the way to Selfoss just to get a cheaper place to stay. As a spoiler, I’m quite glad I did splurge.

Iceland , Day 6

Day six will probably remain in the top of my highlight list of Iceland. The day started off rather boring. Visiting Gullfoss and Geysir were underwhelming and after that I popped over to a gas station (petrol station?) to fill up and I noticed a guy standing beside the road at the gas station. I thought that was interesting, but proceeded to fill up. Once that was done, I decided to go over and talk to him. Two nights previously I had a nice chat with two folks from Austria who were hitchhiking their way across Iceland. Pretty ballsy on their part and they told me that a couple of Canadians had picked them up and taken them to some sights, the glacier lagoons for starters. When that experience came to mind, I knew I would regret not talking to him. So I did. Turns out he was headed towards Geysir and Gullfoss, the place I just came from. At first I thought, damn that’s a bummer. Then I thought to myself “screw it, traveling alone sucks so I’m gonna help this guy out”. I told him I’d give him a ride to those two places and that was the start of one random adventure.

He also found Gullfoss and Geysir a bit underwhelming. I learned that originally he had more time planned in Iceland, but a mixture of unfortunate circumstances meant that he had to resort to hitchhiking. That and he was leaving the next day. He didn’t even get to see the good parts! He mentioned that he had wanted to head up to Snæfellsnes, but obviously couldn’t since he was unable to get a rental car. I told him that I was thinking of going up there at some point too, so today we were both going to head up together. He couldn’t believe his luck and I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Long story short, the drive is about 3-4 hours and when we get there we start doing some hiking. We ended up digging some snow out from the entrance of one of the caves there and went inside. The cave was quite something, I found it fascinating seeing all the markings people from years past made. Old script from god knows how long ago and things as recent as the 1960s. It made me wonder about what sorts of stories these people had. Now for some obligatory selfie sort of pictures. Because my mom would want them.

After the cave, we hiked up some more and watched the sun set (and took pictures of each other). All in all that was pretty good, so off to Reykjavik we go. Halfway there, I decided to pull over to check out the stars. Seeing a full starlit sky with at least limited light pollution was something of a dream of mine and boy was the sky full of stars. It was mesmerizing and just to add some luck in there, the northern lights showed up too! They didn’t fill up the whole sky or anything, but I could see them with the naked eye and they were snaking around. Quite frankly, I didn’t care. The stars were the highlight and the lights were just an added bonus. Both of us were extremely giddy and excited, we pretty much wouldn’t shut up about it all.  After all this, we continue driving and end up in Reykjavik at about 11 or 12 at night. We found a room and passed out. What a day.

Just an FYI that is not a sunrise, but light pollution from the next city. Some people have thought it to be a sunrise and it does look like one. One day I’ll try and get one with the sunrise.  

Feeling quite addicted to astrophotography now.

 

Iceland, Day 4

What happened in day four? Well, it’s been a while since I actually thought about it so here it goes. Day four was the day I went ice caving. What I didn’t mention in the previous post was the benefit of interacting around with other people who are also traveling. You can easily learn some new information. In my case, I learned that a hostel called Vagnsstaðir was actually open for business. When I looked on the website before, it was closed for the winter. This was beneficial because it meant that I didn’t have to drive back and forth between Vik and the southeastern part of Iceland (going back and forth 200kms or so). That and the option of sleeping in a car overnight…

Other than that, it was a very long drive to get to the meeting point for my ice caving tour. It was something I was looking forward to and one of the few things on this trip that wasn’t flexible. The tour started off well enough. Some of us were able to drive our cars to an area somewhat close to wear the cave was, then got into a large van for the final leg of the journey. Being that it was full of people, I found it a bit strange that no one was really talking with each other. Everyone was already with someone else, so I guess I found it strange because I’d been traveling alone for so long already and longed for some social contact. I’ll admit that. Though we were all probably thinking about the photos we’d take in the ice cave. Would I go ice caving again? Yes. With a tour group? Not so much. I would say that I’d spend the extra money to get a private guide.

Ice cave entrance

DSC05068

Being inside an ice cave was both an underwhelming and overwhelming experience. I was expecting so much more and the cave still blew me away in its own special way. If you haven’t gotten it yet, an ice cave is underneath a glacier. It is what the name suggests. A cave that is formed by the surrounding ice of a glacier. Such things are only around for so long and once that part of the glacier melts away, it’s gone. The ice cave walls were a mesmerizing blue to the eyes, forming no specific shape as small grooves littered its surface. The sounds of footsteps crunching along the snow and gravel faintly echoed as they bounced along the uniquely shaped ice walls. The small stream trickled along, following the path of the ice cave to its mouth. It was calming.

DCIM101GOPROA lower angle of some ice

DCIM101GOPROPicturesque looking I’d say

It was a place I wanted to explore more of and stay longer in. Had I fully waterproof boots, I probably would have tried to walk further in along the stream; at the utmost annoyance to my guide because safety for him comes first.

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

Oh, and I got to see some glaciers too.

Glaciers

2014

First post in over a year and the first of 2014. It would be rather cynical for me to say that I find the whole New Year celebration concept to be a joke, an excuse to party and feel good about one’s self. Then again, I used to feel hopeful about the start of a new year and chances are I’ll feel that way sometime in the future. I just don’t feel that way for 2014.

Writing in my personal journal has grown to feel more normal. I remember thinking private topics were a matter of choice and very few things are needed to be private. Of course, I’m beginning to value private thoughts and musings more and more as I grow older. Funny thing about time and age. Well, what can I share?

A few things I’ve started and/or will be doing:

  • Learning how to code, starting with HTML (soon I’ll be attempting to write posts using HTML as practice).
    • First step, make at least two posts using some bit of HTML
  • I’m traveling to Iceland in a month and a half. Truth be told, I’m a bit nervous; there is a growing desire to travel
  • Brushing up, or at least attempting to, on my languages that I’ve learned
    • Continue using Duolingo and watch a few shows in Russian, German, French, and Chinese. No particular order
  • Organizing more: selling things on Craigslist, cleaning (albeit slowly), getting rid of unnecessary things, going a more minimalist route
    • Make one posting of stuff per month (minimum)
  • Getting more financially involved in budgeting (before I just estimated everything)
    • Bought “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) on steam for $14.99, normally $59.99US and it’s making budgeting more fun. If that is even possible
    • Budget for the month of January and figure out where it is specifically I’m spending the most, rather than estimates; first step to financial independence. Get rich slowly
  • Blog more, this time more focused on a person’s day to day life (mine) now that it’s become post-post-secondary
    • One post a week, about said goals
  • Find ways of describing things and events more visually
    • Describe things I talk about in future posts, one overly descriptive post at a time
  • Continue improving myself and my thoughts, never staying the same  for too long
    • Read outside of my comfort zone with one book a month. Science: biology, physics, space. Business: the random business textbooks I have lying around
  • Tinker more
    • Start by taking apart one random object a month

I don’t have to care about the new year, but I can still add some new goals. Hypocritical? Yeah. Next post will be about preparations for Iceland

What’s real and what’s not?

I should have taken Political Science a lot earlier, but that being said maybe it’s just the international politics aspect that is extremely interesting. Who knows?

Anywho, the world is one confusing hodge podge of craziness and who am I to decide what is right or wrong? what is the best way of doing something and what is the worst way of doing something? I’m pretty well informed about what’s going on in the world, but I can’t say it’s enough to make decisions. Heck, not even enough to maybe even form an opinion. Perhaps this is why the career of a journalist/photojournalist is so appealing to me. But even then, I have questions about that sometimes in terms of morals (I guess that would depend on the kind of work that is done right?). I don’t feel like I am able to really do anything. I want to help with doing SOMETHING, but what can I do? Yes, you can throw in some argument about donations but that really does not fly with me. I need to be on the ground doing something in person. Human connection? Perhaps.

The phrase “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind. Does knowing about all the not so great events in the world help? Heck, let’s not call it “not so great”, sugar coating is a pet peeve of mine anyway. Without using profanity, a lot of what’s going on in the world on a basic human level just plain SUCKS. It makes your social problems look like a joke. Seriously. Don’t make me laugh. Got troubles with that significant other? At this point I’d sooner punch you than listen to your problems. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be sympathetic, but at this point in my state of mind it would be best to talk to someone else. Just saying *giggles*.

So is ignorance bliss? Probably not, as much as I have whined before (and will probably complain some more in the future) it is better to know than not know. Some days, it would probably be best for me to put aside the news in the world and just go out with friends and have some sort of fun. A mix of information and just enjoying life. Think globally, act locally? A phrase that is used more often than I would like, but it describes it pretty well.

I know I’m crazy lucky to be where I am now, but I feel like I need to EXPERIENCE the fact that I am lucky. Travel to locations that are of the “other world” would perhaps do me some good. Photography beckons me to go in that direction rather than do the typical thing and get a job over the summer. Strange.

So in order for the world to become “ideal” is there a way so that everybody can be helped along the route? or in order for anything of that sort to happen do some people need to suffer greatly? The answer to that is something I’m quite afraid of.