Vik, Iceland

Ring Road Trip Around Iceland: The Beauty of Vik

At the southern tip of Iceland, only a few short hours drive from Reykjavik lies the lovely, quaint coastal village of Vik. This mystical seaside town is a beautiful place surrounded by long black sand beaches, craggy green mountains, and sharp sea cliffs.  The trademark Vik is most known for is Reynisdrangar, a row of pointed basalt sea stacks that raise up to 217 feet/66 m into the air and have long been used as a landmark and navigational point for sailors. Local lore believes that they were formed when two trolls were unable to find land and turned into stone at sunrise.

I had been to Vik thirteen years ago on my first trip to Iceland and quite honestly was astounded by how much it had grown and changed in such a short time. When we had first went there in 2007 it felt like we were traveling almost on another planet with barely another car in sight and only the crossing sheep to keep us company on the road. The town was only a few homes surrounding Route 1 with not much else except endless nature. Thirteen years later and I was stunned by how much Vik has changed. The once sleepy coastal village of roughly 300 souls has grown into one of Iceland’s premier tourist towns with rows of newly built lodging, hip restaurants and a large grocery store (which if you are traveling around the Ring Road in Iceland, you will instantly realize what a pleasant surprise and rare find a grocery store is!).

To me, the transformation of Vik foreshadows the transformation of Iceland itself. The country immersed from a rather off the wall place to visit for only the true diehard adventurers into a full-blown mainstream tourist destination.  With such incredible growth in tourism comes growing pains and perhaps some unwanted changes. There have often been arguments that there are more tourists than Icelanders in Iceland during the main tourist season of summer. Furthermore, you no longer have famous spots and destinations all to yourself like I did 13 years ago when we went to Jökulsárlón (how disappointing it was to hardly be able to find a parking spot this time!). But if you get off the beaten path enough and are mindful of where you go and stay, you are certain to meet Icelanders and learn a bit about their fascinating culture, history and Icelandic pride. It just takes some research and wanderlust.

Iceland

Europe Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Skaftafell Glacier, Iceland

Ring Road Trip Around Iceland: Hike to Skaftafell Glacier

Curving alongside the southeastern tip of Iceland lies the immense Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap outside of the poles which has over 30 glacial tongues sliding down its mystical ice mass to the volcanic ground. A drive around the Ring Road passing the “Glacier of Lakes”, the Icelandic translation of Vatnajökull to English, is a magical, wondrous journey. It is a drive that encompasses some of the most spectacular glacial scenery on earth passing by nostalgic Icelandic farms with everlasting green, Icelandic horses, glacial tongues falling from the sky, the black sand beaches of Vik, the waters of the sea and the dreamy glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón with its sensational icebergs floating harmoniously atop its aquamarine waters. The South of Iceland is so incredibly striking that it feels like a dream.

We left Jökulsárlón around noon continuing our incredible drive south along the Ring Road. I had remembered this very drive from 13 years ago when I first came to Iceland and was mesmerized by her beauty. At each bending turn, one is rewarded with an enormous frozen valley of ice jetting off from the ice cap down into the black, hardened lava fields and dead gray sand.

If it is a cloudy day which is frequent in this part of the world, the view is even more fantastic and mystical. At times it looks like the ice cap rising above is floating high up in the sky like a cloud. It is such an impressive sight that the drive took us double the amount of time to account for each and every stop along the way to take photos of these mammoth glaciers. The glacial tongues seemed to be everywhere and go as far as the eye can see. I continually had to pinch myself to see if I was really there in such an unbelievable place, in a world that is still in the process of being created.

South Iceland

Europe Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Travel During the Pandemic: A Visit to Jökulsárlón

I rose late after a restless night of endless tossing and turning and worry. The perfect trip that I had planned for our family to Iceland had been drastically altered. I tried to think about the options and the “what if’s” over and over again, spinning circles in my head. The more I tried to research everything online, the less answers I found. I felt like we were in one big mess and there was no easy way out.

We were still in Höfn, with two days left in our Ring Road Trip itinerary. We were in a bit of a pickle as there was no way for me to get back without riding in the rental car with my family who all tested negative, and it would take a minimum of six hours to drive all the way back to Reykjavik. We had already paid for our hotel in Vik and had two of the best days planned of our trip ahead. The only solution we had was to go on with our trip as planned, and try our best to distance me from the rest of the family and not go near anyone outside of our family for the next three days. I layered up in three masks, only left the room to use the bathroom once the whole car was packed up and we set off with all four windows open, heading to our next destination, Jökulsárlón.

Europe Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

Travel during a pandemic: When things go wrong

We were seven days into our ten-day Ring Road Trip around Iceland when our long-awaited family trip turned upside down. That morning, after a lovely hike along the waterfalls outside the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður, we loaded up our rental car and set off for what was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: A two day visit to the majestic South.

The South of Iceland is so magnificent that most tourists simply fly into Reykjavik and head straight there. Nowhere in Iceland has such immense beauty and hypnotizing magic. Home to the mighty Vatnajökull Ice Cap encompassing 12% of Iceland’s territory, the South of Iceland is graced with endless glacial tongues dripping down to the plains, countless waterfalls, evergreen farmland and stunning seashore all wrapped up in one surreal place.  It is so insanely beautiful that it takes your breath away.

I will never forget my visit 13 years ago, when my father and I first went to Iceland and set off from Reykjavik heading south along the Ring Road to Vik and ending in Skaftafell National Park. I had fallen in love with the South of Iceland and this time, thirteen years later I’d be back bringing my family to this incredible place. I knew exactly where I’d take them, what views we would see and what hikes we would do. Little did we know, our special family trip would soon turn upside down.

Europe Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

2021 Gifts that Give Back Holiday Guide

It’s back! My annual Gifts that Give Back for the Holidays Guide. For the past seven years, I have curated an ever-growing list of amazing Gifts that Give Back. My guide has become so popular that I have devoted an entire page on my blog that is updated frequently and features these wonderful organizations and the causes they support. Whether it be fighting hunger, gender inequality or providing educational or income opportunities, there are a ton of ways you can use your buying power as a consumer to do good and make a difference in someone’s life.

As the pandemic continues to drag on, the giving season consumers continue to have a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on the world at a time when it’s most needed. Let’s come together to support one another in the fight against COVID-19, and make this holiday season, a giving season. Wishing you and your family health, strength, and hope during this challenging time.

Anchal Project

www.anchalproject.org

Anchal [on-chal] believes design can change lives: The edge of a sari used to provide comfort to loved ones. Anchal Project is a nonprofit that uses design and collaboration to provide economic opportunities for marginalized women to empower themselves through the creation of sustainable products, holistic programs, and global market access.

Some of my favorites include: The Graph Table Runner ($64) for your holiday table, the Kantha Straight Scarf ($60) and the Kantha Bandana ($32) both made out of recycled saris.

Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD
Mirror Lake, Mount Hood, Oregon

Best Hikes Around Mount Hood: Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain Via Mirror Lake

On our second full day in Mount Hood, we chose to do a little bit longer of a hike which would afford us spectacular views of Mount Hood and four of the mightly neighboring peaks. The hike which is called “Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain via Mirror Lake” is a nine-mile out and back trail that starts off at the achingly stunning Mirror Lake and ends with a breathtaking vista of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson in Oregon and Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens in Washington State. It is the perfect hike to do in fall when the light is ephemeral with the changing colors of the leaves reflecting upon perfectly named Mirror Lake.

We set off for the trailhead around ten o’clock so we could time the hike with a picnic lunch on top. The weather was not nearly as perfect as it was on our hike to Bald Mountain from Lolo Pass the day before with its serendipitous deep blue skies and golden sunshine, yet it was still lovely in its own right despite the overcast skies.

As we entered the forest, it felt like out of a fairytale it was so magical. The tall trees gracefully pillared high above our heads, occasionally letting rays of light caste a mystical haze over the dirt path below our feet. Since it was a Monday there were not many fellow hikers on the trail and it was rather serene.

Mirror Lake Trailhead, Mount Hoot, Oregon

Adventure Travel North America Oregon TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States
Bald Mountain Hike, Mount Hood, Oregon

Best Hikes Around Mount Hood: Hike To Bald Mountain from Lolo Pass

Earlier this month, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to go on a weeklong trip alone without the kids. It was the first time in 15 years that we had traveled without them and for our destination we picked Oregon, a place neither of us had ever been. We wanted to spend our week outside hiking and after researching Oregon, it seemed like the place to go.

I instantly noticed that Oregon was special as we landed in Portland in the heart of the Colombia Gorge. I was stunned by the vast size of the brilliant blue Columbia River and surprised by the conical peaks of so many snow-capped mountains. After a week in Oregon, I have to confess that I was utterly amazed by its incredibly greenery and raw untouched beauty. So many forests and so many places to camp and hike.

Portlanders are blessed to have the mountains and the ocean both only an hour’s drive away from the city. For our week in Oregon, we wanted to get a taste of the diversity of this glorious state so planned our route to first stop at the series of stunning waterfalls along the Colombia Gorge (only 30 minute drive from Portland), then spend two days in Mount Hood, followed by two days in Crater Lake and the remaining two days in Cannon Beach on the ocean.

The Mount Hood National Forest is located in northern Oregon’s Cascade range south of Portland. Home to approximately 1,000 miles of hiking trails, the Mount Hood National Forest extends south from the Columbia River Gorge across more than sixty miles of forested mountains, lakes and streams encompassing roughly 1,067,043 acres. The centerpiece of Mount Hood National Forest is the mighty dormant stratovolcano, Mount Hood which reaches 11,249 feet (3,429 m) and is capped with glaciers, alpine lakes and over 4,500 acres of skiable terrain. I was surprised to learn that Mount Hood has five ski areas and depending on snow conditions, you can ski almost year round at Timberline. Given its short distance from Portland (roughly 50 miles (80 km), Mount Hood is a popular playground for Portlanders and tourists alike.

At Mount Hood, we picked the tiny town of Rhododendron to base our stay and found a delightful truly magical  place on Airbnb called the “Little House on the Mountain”, a beautiful custom built, one-of-kind cabin. The cabin is nestled up on a forested hill above a main cabin, sitting on 4 acres of private wooded land, bordering Mount Hood National Forest Land. When you look out the large windows, all you see are trees! It was perfect for the two of us!

Adventure Travel North America Oregon TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States

A Stay in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

Nestled at the bottom of the rugged Fjarðarheiði mountain pass at the end of a long, narrow fjord in Eastern Iceland is the magical coastal town of Seyðisfjörður. Given its remote location (it is about a two and a half hour drive east from Mývatn and another 3 hours to the more popular town of Höfn), and its unique surroundings, we were in for a real treat. It was our sixth day in Iceland following our Ring Road family trip adventure, and we had just spent two fantastic days in Mývatn and Krafla exploring its volcanic wonders. Now it was time to enter into a fairytale world of endless waterfalls, lush green mountains and blue sea as far as the eye could see.

We arrived in the late afternoon, down a long, serpentine, gravel road, pulling out of the clouds and into lush green valley and fjord that surrounds the village. It wasn’t hard to find our hotel or the center of town given the compact size of Seyðisfjörður. Yet instantly we were charmed by the lovely, colorful wooden buildings for which Seyðisfjörður is known for. Since Seyðisfjörður is quite small, many travelers simply pass it by. However, if you love taking a hike and having literally the entire mountainside to yourself followed by world-class Icelandic dining, then a night in Seyðisfjörður is definitely something you should do and highly recommended.

Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

First glance of Seyðisfjörður

Seyðisfjörður Iceland

The tongue of the long fjord

Europe Family Travel Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

Iceland: Two days in Mývatn and Krafla, Iceland

Day Five of our Ring Road Trip around Iceland found our family of four arriving early afternoon at Mývatn Lake, probably one of the most geologically fascinating places I’ve ever been in my life. By this point in our trip, we were all a bit exhausted with all the driving and moving around. We had already slept in four different places, drove over 758 kilometers and had not been in one place for more than a night. (Here is our route and stops via google map since we left Reykjavík).

We had visited an active volcano, raced through the capital, and drove hours on the Ring Road barely having a moment to catch our breathe. Then finally we pulled into the tiny village of Reykjahlíð, located on the shores of Lake Mývatn in the north of Iceland, and we were at peace.

After a delightful lunch of fresh cod at the quaint Gamli Bærinn, we headed around the lake to our lovely apartment, the Stella Rosá, which was the best place we stayed at during our entire trip in Iceland. It was utterly a treasure of a find and the perfect place to base ourselves for the next two days in Mývatn.

Before booking our trip, I honestly had no idea that Mývatn Lake combined with neighboring Kafla, was such an absolutely surreal place. I had only known that it was a recommended stop along the Ring Road Tour and thankfully it was the only place we allowed ourselves two full days. There is so much to do, see and explore there that we could have almost used another day. It ended up being one of my favorite places in Iceland because of all the incredible sights together in one place. We often felt like it was the closest place to being on another planet all together.  It is that surreal.

Entering the lava fields feels like walking on the moon….

Europe Family Travel Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

A Hike up to Iceland’s Newest Volcano: Fagradalsfjall

On July 29, our family of four took our first trip out of the country since before the pandemic to the magical, surreal landscape of Iceland. I had first visited Iceland back in 2008 with my father and was spellbound by her unearthly beauty and astonishing mystique. While I had wanted to return to this phenomenal country and explore it more, the idea quite frankly did not pop back into my head until late in the Spring when our family had all been fully vaccinated and heard the news that Iceland with its small population of roughly 368,792 hearty souls was welcoming back vaccinated tourists. As someone who follows travel news closely, Iceland’s clever tourism pitch got my attention.

Icelandair has long had direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavík, and to meet the increase in demand, Delta Airlines also launched a non-stop flight from my home town airport as well. The flight to Iceland from Minneapolis is roughly six hours. The only downfall is that the flight is too short to really get any sleep and the time change is a difficult five hours ahead meaning jet lag was going to be an issue that first day. The good news is we would have nine full days to adjust.

The route from Minneapolis to Iceland takes you directly over Greenland. The view was jaw-dropping!

CULTURE Family Travel Iceland TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

How the Vicente Ferrer Foundation is saving lives in rural India

It is almost unimaginable how vastly different life in the pandemic is here in the United States and thousands of miles away in India and other parts of the world. As Memorial Day Weekend comes to a close and life has bounded back to almost as it was before the pandemic across much of the United States, India is faced with a second wave of Covid-19 that is more aggressive and deadly than ever before. While the US still sightly leads the world in number of reported cases and deaths, a huge difference exists in the overall impact of the fierce second wave that is striking India and other parts of the developing world: The desperate lack of healthcare and infrastructure that was problematic well before the pandemic struck.

Due to the crowded living conditions of disadvantaged communities, lack of adequate sanitation, and proper health care services, India is very vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 especially in its rural communities which represent a vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion people of population. Furthermore, with vaccination rates well below that of the United States (41.2% fully vaccinated) and only 3.2% of India’s 1.3 billion fully vaccinated, India has a long, difficult road ahead.

For over 20 years, the Rural Development Trust’s Bathalapalli Hospital has provided quality healthcare in rural India. Today it is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic and thankfully organizations such as the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and its local partner, the Rural Development Trust (RDT) in India are taking charge and doing whatever they can to save lives. While the challenges ahead are huge, there is hope.

Learn more about what they are doing on the ground to change and save lives, and how you can help today in this thought-provoking interview with Moncho Ferrer, President of the Board of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation.

For the cost of two cups of coffee, you could refill an oxygen cylinder and save a life in rural India through Vicente Ferrer USA’s COVID Relief Fund

Global Health Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD
LifeStraw Follow the Liters

Why every shot matters: My stint as a volunteer at a Covid vaccination site

For the past few months I’ve been volunteering at M Fairview Hospitals and Clinics at their Ambulatory Covid Vaccine clinics. I’ve done all different roles ranging from greeter, observer, labeler to patient registration, and I have truly enjoyed interacting and talking with people from all walks of life. It has been a profound experience participating in the massive effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. In the first few days of working my four-hour shift, our team vaccinated over 400 people just in the morning at the site.

Since January,  M Fairview, one of the many mass vaccination clinics in our state, has provided over 300,000 vaccines to over 150,000 individuals (including me!) in the state of Minnesota. As of today, over 60%  percent of Minnesotans who are eligible are totally vaccinated.

It has been an astounding feat and also for me, a very rewarding experience being a part of it especially in the beginning when people would literally be crying tears of joy because they were so happy to get the life-saving vaccine. After over a year of isolation at home and hardly any social face-to-face interaction with people, I was able to suddenly be around people again and make connections with strangers from all walks of life. As an extrovert, it has been a healing experience after so much isolation this past year.

Humanitarian SOCIAL GOOD