The Stark Beauty of Iceland

View of Reykjavík from the top of the Hallgrimskirkja tower (a Lutheran church).
View of Reykjavík from the top of the tower of the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church.

Iceland is a country of stark beauty — one in which no pictures truly capture the experience of being there, present in that place of fire and water.

Driving from the airport can seem at first underwhelming. The surrounding countryside feels barren — until you realize that the fields are actually comprised of lava rock covered in a spongy grey-green moss, which lends everything an alien appearance. We were lucky enough to come when the Lupine was blooming, covering the landscape in bright purple-blue patches of vibrant color.

lupine in Iceland
Bright blue-purple lupine covered the fields of Iceland in June.

Further exploration of Iceland reveals a grand compilation of stunning landscapes, making it feel like we were traversing different countries while driving along. Over the course of our trip, we saw bubbling hot springs and geysers, astounding waterfalls, black sand beaches, craggy coastlines, and stony green mountains.

hot springs
Bubbling pools of sulfuric hot springs at Geysir.
Kirkjufellsfoss at the Snaefellsnes National Park, Iceland.
Kirkjufellsfoss at the Snaefellsnes National Park, Iceland.
Gulfoss Falls, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland.
Gulfoss Falls, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland.

While the weather ranged from cool to quite cold, we were blessed with beautiful weather on our trip. Generally, Iceland tends to be quite rainy during the summer months — but we mostly experienced sun-spattered days and were only hit with rain on our last days. The biggest weather challenge was the constant wind, which on one hike was so intense I thought it would push me off the slim trail.

selfie - the wind in Iceland
The wind in Iceland was intense — to say the least.

A lot of blog posts I’ve read about Iceland have focused on how expensive traveling within the country is — and it is true that it is not a cheap place to travel, the prices were not as exorbitant as we expected them to be (with the exception of the gas prices). The cost of food, for example, felt like it was on par with eating at decent restaurants in Bay Area, California, where my siblings and I are from.

All of my siblings and I fell in love with Iceland. The people, the communities, the landscapes, all made us feel as though the seven days that we were there were not nearly enough. I hope we will all be able to return at some point in the near future and take even more of the country in.

Seljalandsfoss, a stunning waterfall with a near constant rainbow, was my favorite experience of the trip.
Seljalandsfoss, a stunning waterfall with a near constant rainbow, was my favorite experience of the trip.
One of the reasons Seljalandsfoss awed me was being able to stand behind the falls in a cavern-like alcove and watch the sun “set” behind the water. I had such a lovely moment of peace while I was there.

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Six Things I Loved About Egypt

When my sister and I told family and friends that we were planning to spend nine days touring through Egypt, we were often greeted with warnings — it was dangerous, they said, we should stay away. But that didn’t stop us.

Egypt was a phenomenal place to explore. Although there were annoyances (as there always are when traveling), both my sister and I felt safe during our nine days in Egypt. The food was (for the most part) great — often kebabs or chicken with rice, salad (a mix of cucumber and tomatoes), tahini sauce, and pita bread for dinner and falafels for breakfast in the mornings. We also tried and rather enjoyed koshari, a dish with rice, pasta, lentils, and fried onions with a red sauce.

My sister and I packed as much as two people could humanly pack into our nine days, visiting dozens of pyramids and tombs and temples while we were in Cairo and Luxor, as well as managing a trip to Dahab on the Red Sea and a day trip into Jordan to visit Petra (which I’ll talk about in a separate post). With the heat — which varied between oven and hell most days — and out packed itinerary, we were exhausted by the end but it was all worth every second. Here are a few of the moments I loved.

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Travels in South America (Part III): Argentina 

Wrapping up my journeys in South America — following Peru and Chile — my sister and I elected to drive across the border from Puerto Varas, Chile, into the Patagonia region of Argentina. Renting a car provides a freedom when traveling that going by public transportation and by foot does not. We were free to take any road we wanted, to wander and explore. Plus, the roads were well maintained and most people seemed to obey the traffic laws (at least as much as they do in the U.S.), so driving around Patagonia was fairly easy.

We drove past lakes and up into the mountains, where we quickly went through the border checkpoints (since it was the slow, winter season). In between each set of checkpoints is the actual border, welcoming drivers into Argentina on one side and into Chile on the other.

When I saw “we drove,” I should really clarify and say that my sister was the one to do the driving — and she hates driving. I would have been happy to drive, but since the car we rented was a manual transmission and I don’t know how to drive manual, she was stuck with it. She didn’t complain though, because it was some beautiful driving.

Argentina
The twisty road we drove over and through mountains from Chile to Argentina.

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Travels in South America (Part II): Chile

Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.

For Love of Pablo Neruda

My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.

I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.

La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.

La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.

Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.

My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.

The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.

La Chascona
A very happy me standing outside La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s home in Santiago.

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My Travels in Photos: Dubai, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur

I’ve done quite a bit of traveling over the past two-and-a-half weeks. I flew into Dubai and Singapore to attend conferences and exhibitions for work, and then took a bit of extra time in order to take the train up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All three places were quite a bit too hot and humid for me, but were quite interesting to explore.

It was a fantastic experience, one I could probably write many words on, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged and sleepy, so I’m going to keep things simple and just share some photos from the journey (more along with videos are on my instagram).
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Dubai, UAE

Hanging out by the Burj Khalifa — currently the world’s tallest building. (I know a bit about it because at my day job, we reported about the use of extruded aluminum frames in its 1.2 million sq ft of curtain wall).
Near the historical district, where I found this happy looking building.

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