Dose of Awesome# 270

Happy New Year!

It is my last day of a two-week vacation in Toronto. After a difficult couple of months and a sudden, last-minute change of holiday plans, I came to Toronto for what turned into a fantastic two weeks of fun, healing and relaxation both by myself, and with a variety of friends from some of my favourite stages of my life.

As I sit here digesting an excessive Chinese hot pot lunch, and fight the urge to take an early-evening nap, I thought, what better way to begin a new year than re-visit my blog of awesome. Here are some of the things I’m thankful for as of late:

  1. Awesome was the opportunity to spend time with so many friends from various parts of my life. I had dinner with Ashley (a friend from my first year in Tasiujaq), Melissa (a friend with whom I worked in the Yukon), Alex and Anthony (my close friends from my undergrad), Tresa (a friend from Kangirsuk), and Jenny (a friend from Kuujjuaq). Some of them I hadn’t seen in a really long time (it’d been 8 years since I’d last seen Melissa!
  2. Awesome was the opportunity to not only meet Amelia and Katherine – Alex and Anthony’s wonderful twin babies – but to spend 3 entire days with them during my time here.
  3. Awesome was lots of time and space to enjoy many of the things that make me feel good – working out, massage therapy, journaling and reading. I am thankful for time in nice cafés with a cup of great coffee and time to write or read a good book. I also went to see 3 movies in the little theatre beside my hotel.
  4. Awesome was being welcome with open arms for Christmas dinner at Anthony’s parents’ house. Even though it’s been 10 years since they’d met me (and last seen me), they were happy to include me in their family gathering, and for that, I am thankful. And…
  5. Awesome were relaxing evenings with a glass of wine and much-needed conversation to help me understand better some heavy things.

 

Dose of Awesome # 269

If we fast-forward 24 hours, I’d flown from Reykjavik to Montréal (7 hours, plus a 5 hour layover in Boston), slept 4 hours in a Dorval hotel, and endured the excruciatingly early 5 hour flight from Montréal to New Orleans, Louisiana. Just before leaving for Iceland, my boyfriend and I had decided to spend a week together in the south. After finding an unbeatable deal on Expedia, we decided to spend it in New Orleans.

But the first thing I had to do upon arrival was deal with a minor case of jetlag. Mixed with severe lack of sleep and the shock of going from Iceland’s dry, crisp nordic climate to the stifling humidity of America’s south, the 5 hour time difference seemed a thousand times greater, and I knew I wouldn’t make it very long. So, after a late lunch of po’ boys at a shop near our hotel, I enjoyed an epic nap. In the meantime, my boyfriend was busy on Google planning a surprise evening for the two of us out in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Five hours later, rested and freshly showered, I joined him in the lounge of our hotel where we commenced our evening out with a cocktail. The rest of our surprise evening out consisted of a walk down Bourbon Street with a stop and another cocktail at the Old Absinthe House, a walk along the Mississippi River, dinner at the Crescent City Brewhouse, dueling pianos and “hurricanes” at Pat O’Brien’s piano bar, and a live jazz performance at the Jazz Preservation Hall.

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Our second day in New Orleans took us for much-needed haircuts, followed by some shopping. Our first order of shopping business: shorts. We both expected New Orleans to be hot, but, living in Canada’s north, neither of us were even remotely prepared for this level of heat.

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We spent the rest of our day souvenir shopping and walking through Jackson Square before dinner at the highly recommended and extremely popular Red Fish Grill.

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Day three consisted of a 3 hour demonstration class on how to cook authentic jambalaya, gumbo soup, bread pudding and pralines at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and an afternoon at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

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On our fourth day, we went on a cruise along the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez (complete with lunch and live jazz), and escaped the heat for the afternoon with a visit to the Voodoo Museum and the Museum of Southern Food and Beverages. In the evening, we met up with an old friend at Café du Monde for coffee and beignets.

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A slight change of plans on our last day had us enjoying an airboat ride on the bayou (we were supposed to kayak, but this was cancelled on account of the heat). Though initially disappointed, we were grateful not only for a last-minute spot on an airboat, but also for a bit of wind as we propelled through the bayou. We even got to hold a baby alligator.

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By the time we boarded the shuttle back to the airport for our flight home, we really felt like we’d made the most of our time in New Orleans.

Dose of Awesome # 268

With the music turned up, we concluded our day on Sólheimajökull glacier with a two hour drive back to the city of Reykjavik. Upon being dropped off at Hlemmur Square, we all went our separate ways, for the first time since the start of the trek, to do our respective things. I chose a solo walk around the city, a quiet dinner, and a bit of souvenir shopping.

Walking from the restaurant along Laugavegur (the main shopping street), I saw a familiar face. As we passed, we each did a double-take, followed by a loud, dramatic greeting as we realized we knew each other. It was Krisha, a woman with whom I’d trekked in the Dolomites in Italy last summer. She was in Reykjavik and beginning the Laugavegur trek the following morning. What are the odds?

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Krisha and I in the Dolomites last year.

The following morning, Krisha and I had breakfast together before she departed for her first day of the trek, and I met my group for our last. It was so nice to catch up, despite how little time we had together.

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Gulli picked us up at 10:00 am for a short drive to the town of Hveragerði, where we spent the morning and afternoon hiking in the Hellisheiði mountain range and soaking in the volcanic water running from Hellisheiði. It felt amazing on our tired, aching muscles.

Refreshed and smelling like sulfur, we ate our last picnic-style lunch together in the field at the foot of the mountain before driving back to Reykjavik, where I spent the rest of the afternoon souvenir shopping and eating Icelandic ice cream with Vlad, the Polish-Torontonian member of our group.

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I topped off my last day in Iceland with a farewell dinner with the group at Þrír Frakkar Hjá Úlfari – the restaurant where I tried my first fermented shark, smoked puffin breast, and fin whale. Several courses and lots of laughs later, I walked the quiet streets of Reykjavik back to Hlemmur Square to finish packing and rest up for my early flight back to Montréal.

Dose of Awesome # 267

We woke up in the morning at Básar and packed up our camp one last time. We were finished the Laugavegur trail, and were on our way to do different things.

Surrounded by mountains of gear, we stood watching the bus slowly bumping over the lava and splash through streams as it approached us. The bus took us a scenic hour’s drive to a nearby town where we met up with Ævar, who would drive us the rest of the way in a private jeep, and help guide us on a walk on Sólheimajökull glacier.

At the foot of the glacier, we strapped on helmets, harnesses and crampons and set out with our ice axes on a slow and informative walk through the icy landscape. Caves, crevices and beautiful ice formations spread out around us as far as the eye could see.

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After some time, Gulli and Ævar scouted around for a good crevice to set up ropes and show us some basics of ice climbing. We each got to try. I have to say, they made it look so easy.

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I lowered myself down into the crevice, and posed for a photo that made it look like I knew I was doing. Then I began the not-so-graceful scramble back up. Though I had no trouble with the ice axes, the biggest challenge for me was kicking the teeth of my crampons into the ice well enough to hold me up without using every last ounce of upper body strength. My biggest fear was losing all grip, smashing my face into the icy side of the crevice, and pulling Gulli down into the dark and ice-watery depths. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

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After each of us had tried our hand at ice climbing, we continued our walk and eventually concluded at the same place we’d started, where we removed our gear and enjoyed a quick lunch at Sólheimajökull Café before a 2 hour drive back to Reykjavik (with a stop at Skógafoss).

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Though our adventure was not over, we would finish our second-last day with dinner in a restaurant and relatively luxurious sleep at Hlemmur Square hostel.

Dose of Awesome # 266

Our next day was supposed to entail a 24 kilometer trek between Þórsmörk and Skogar, passing by the foothills of Eyjafjallajökull glacier and Fimmvöruháls. We were to end the day’s hike and camp at Þórsmörk. However, due to dangerous weather conditions over the route, we had decided to spend one more night at Básar, and hike a different route for the day.

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Though I was disappointed to have lost some mileage, I’d only gained in every other way. Afterall, I’d hiked the better part of the Þórsmörk hike (from the other direction) with Otti just before beginning the Laugavegur trek. Therefore, I’d seen much of it all already, and it was on a much more beautiful day. The change in plan gave me the opportunity to see something different.

While a few members of our group opted to relax at the camp, the rest of us enjoyed the day together.

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The majority of our hike was steep, narrow path lined with pink and purple flowers, and vivid green foliage. We ate our lunch inside a cave (Trollskirkja – troll church) overlooking the valley and the glaciers.

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The sun shone strong, but off in the distance, clouds loomed over the glaciers, giving the nature a power you can only appreciate all the more. Though the weather stayed gorgeous throughout our entire hike, we could see we would have been cold, wet and miserable on the passes into Skogar. I wonder if even the sturdiest of rain gear would have held up.

Dose of Awesome # 265

Upon sitting down to write this post, I realized I’d mistakenly posted today’s photos along with yesterday’s. I didn’t take any photos at Emstrur, as I was so wrapped up in the luxury of a hot shower, a warm and cozy dinner tent and a good book. Also, for the sake of conserving my dwindling camera battery, I thought it smart to be a bit more selective of what I do photograph.

We packed up our camp and set out for Þórsmörk on what was supposed to be a fairly flat 19 kilometer hike into Básar. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to enjoy a day full of satisfying inclines.

We were faced with descents a bit steeper and lengthier than the days before, and after awhile, I, for the first time since arriving in Iceland, was starting to feel the pain of a foot I’d fractured a month before. However, some tape and an ice cold river crossing did the trick.

We’d witnessed a change of scenery again, as we’d entered moss, birchwood and shrub-covered terrain. Along the way, I’d discovered the world’s most beautiful washroom.

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Though it did sprinkle a bit in the afternoon, we were able to get through the entire day sans rain gear. We were even able to enjoy a lengthy lunch and nap on a plateau overlooking the canyon.

It was a day completely lacking any concept of time. Not once did I wonder what was happening outside of what immediately surrounded me. It was nice to be completely disconnected and satisfied with the moment.

Básar, beneath two majestic glaciers, became my next favourite camping spot, after Àlftavatn.

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Dose of Awesome # 264

You’d think that hiking an entire day through dark terrain, covered in black sand, under black clouds would be depressing. It was beautiful, in an ominous way.

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Craving a bit of quiet and solitude to go with the scenery, I stopped for a few extra photography breaks for the sake of falling just far enough behind the group that I could hike at a good pace, but keep my solitude for awhile. It was a good day for thinking.

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The weather held out until lunch. We quickly ate our lunch standing up, then hiked in the rain the rest of the way to Emstrur – where we would camp for the evening. It was a light, but persistent rain, but it went perfectly with my surroundings.

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Fifteen kilometers and two river crossings later, we arrived at Emstrur and set up our tents just as the rain cleared up and the sun came out. While some enjoyed a walk to the Markarfjlótsgljúfur canyon, I took the opportunity to shower and enjoy more solitude with tea and a book (which I’d bought at the Boston airport but hadn’t had much time to read since arriving in Iceland).

We topped off our evening with a delicious dinner of barbequed lamb steaks, salad and soup, and stories of Iceland’s 13 Santa Clauses.