A Magical Weekend in Stockholm, Sweden

how to spend a weekend in stockholm sweden

Narrow cobblestone alleys and ochre-colored buildings are the blueprint Stockholm is built upon. The capital city of Sweden has a rich history dating back from the Middle Ages when the Vikings first took control of this land. Although much has changed, visiting the old town of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, is like stepping back in time. As an archipelago, the many islands making up the urban region are joined together by ornate bridges and intricate pathways. While there are so many valuable sights worth visiting, the best advice one could give when traveling to Stockholm is to plan to get lost. The city is best understood when exploring the charming passageways with no real destination. It is when you close your map and let the cobblestone lead the way that you begin to notice the tiny details of its vibrant heritage still so very alive. The church steeples, royal palaces and market centers have vivid stories to share if you’re willing to dig a little deeper.

stockholm 2
On our way to Ă–stermalm

Arriving by train is one of the easiest ways to enter the city center. We booked a hotel close by and were able to walk to most of the sights. Luckily, we scored beautiful sunny days that meant we could spend the majority of our time outside.

We knew we wanted to head straight to Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. We made our way across numerous bridges to finally enter into Stortorget, the public market square in the center of Gamla Stan. It reminisces of an urban medieval time, but since the old town was built over a period of many years, it’s easy to see how the styles slowly shifted as you extend outwards. The towering buildings with unique architecture oversaw the bustling streets. Crowded restaurants with outdoor tables extending onto the cobblestone made for excellent people watching.

Stortorget
People-watching in Stortorget

It was here that we stumbled across the Nobel Museum, full of inspiring stories of past Nobel prize winners as well as artifacts donated by Nobel Laureates. Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill were just some of the featured exhibits. Old notebooks and journals were some of my favorite things to see. An inspiring look into the world of the infamous people we hear about, but know so little about they’re lives and interests outside of the spotlight.

After absorbing all the knowledge we could, we stepped back into the market square to refresh with ice cream cones before we moved on down a narrow alley towards the notable cathedrals, no real end point in sight.

Cathedral, Gamla Stan
Cathedral steeple, Gamla Stan

As soon as you step off the main drag, the narrow tunneling walks become secluded and picture-esque. Despite being a tourist hot spot, the intricate detail of the streets make you still feel as though you were a part of the city, rather than an outsider looking in.

gamla stan 2
Warrior 3 in Gamla Stan

When we’d had our fill of the old, we crossed back over the bridges to explore the more current regions of Stockholm. Despite being filled with high end shops and edgy restaurant, the skyline of the city maintains a look of heavenly castles from the medieval ages. It’s possible I spent most of my time looking up into the sky than actually down at what was eye-level, it was that captivating.

Ă–stermalm
Steeple-topped buildings in Ă–stermalm

Our adventures led us to the Royal Palace, where the current residence of the Swedish Monarch. It also functions as a workplace and culture-historical monument open year round. The palace fits in with the city surrounding it, and except for the large courtyard out front, you might mistake it for an oversized city building. While there are numerous museums you can visit around the palace, we opted to watch the guards and horses marching up and down the square as onlookers stopped to make way. We waited long enough to view the changing of the guard, which include a lengthy ceremonial event once a day in the afternoon. This wasn’t the greatest event for someone of my height as I spent most of the display squished between to larger visitors, but the excitement in the air and music from the palace was interesting enough.

stockholm royal palace
Stockholm Royale Palace

As we walked along the water’s edge, we stumbled upon a boat tour that was heading out for the afternoon. Not to be one for missed opportunities, we figured we’d be able to get an overview of the city before we ventured any further. Fittingly titled since Stockholm is made up a bunch of tiny islands connected by bridges, the low-lying boat allowed us to weave in and out of the different areas. Even still, the bridges were a little too close for comfort for me so I spent most of my time on the back of the boat in order to avoid spying the incoming bridge passes. Along with Gamla Stan from water, we also got to see the islands Södermalm, Lilla and Stora Essingen, the new area Hammarby Sjöstad and the green areas of DjurgĂĄrden.

bridges
One of the many bridges of Stockholm

Having had a quick tour of the areas from the water, we could pick and choose the sights we most wanted to revisit later on.

We spent the rest of our night on the rooftop of our hotel watching the sun go down as we prepped for tomorrow’s day. We created a loose outline our of plan and, knowing we had lots of walking ahead of us, snuck off to bed at a reasonable hour.

We had been hearing about the Vasa Museum since we first mentioned to friends and family that we were going to Stockholm. In 1628, the Vasa ship capsized and sank after only setting sail an hour or two before. As the only museum to display an only almost fully intact 17th century ship, we were eager to learn more of how a masterpiece of construction had such a doomed fate.

vasa meseum
The Vasa

Located on the island of DjurgĂĄrden, it’s best to get an early start to beat the lines. The walking tour of the ship is well worth it and clues you into the details you might have overlooked otherwise, such as how no ship would be able to sail with the obscenely heavy materials the builders insisted on using! In fears of giving away too much, this is the sinking ship that should no longer all in Titanic’s shadow.

With enough ship knowledge to last us the next few years, we made our way to Södermalm, stopping at Ă–stermalms Saluhall, a farmer’s market, for a taste of Swedish produce.

Södermalm, the Brooklyn of Stockholm, is a hip and artsy neighborhood that is not only filled with vintage shops and trendy restaurants, but also is home to one the greatest viewpoints overlooking the city.

Katarinahissen Tower
Awkward poses from Katarinahissen Tower

Before entering the neighborhood, we trekked up a series of stair cases, enough to brak a sweat, to reach Katarinahissen Tower just in time for the sunset. While it odes offer a glorious view of Gamla Stan, you do have to look past the abandoned bus lot directly below. But eh, you win some you lose some.

Södermalm
Södermalm

After a less than stellar viewing, we went in search of the coziest restaurant on this side of town for our last night in Sweden. When we were filled to the brim with freshly baked bread and buttery fish, we took our last stroll home, taking the long way to witness the evening crowd in Gamla Stan and take in our last views of the Royal Palace and historical cathedrals. Getting lost abroad has never felt so good!

Sweden local
Sweden local

Have you ever been to Stockholm? What’s your favorite way to see a city, by land or by water?

xx,
Juliette

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Top Five Things to Do In Dublin, Ireland

top five things to do in dublin ireland

Unlike most people, Ireland was not a country that had ever topped my travel list. Sure, I’d seen the incredible pictures of its sprawling mountainous landscape and the large foamy pours of Guinness, but, I had other a lot of other items to check off first. That is, however, until I realized the due to it’s location, a flight from D.C. to Dublin wasn’t only affordable, but one might even say, cheap. Seriously. Willing to be flexible with our dates and travel times, we could cross the pond for less than $400, round trip. Sign me up! Suddenly I was a HUGE Ireland advocate. Plus, at clocking in at approximately five hours, the relatively quick flight didn’t take up too much of our precious exploration time.

Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland
Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland

Although there is so much more to see on all regions of this country, today we’re just going to focus on the top five things you must see or do when you visit the capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin. This dynamic city offers attractions for everyone’s interests. You could easily spend a week here seeking out the crowded, dark pubs or strolling through the open gardens.

We opted to stay in the heart of the city at Blooms Hotel. A cheeky building built above a popular nightclub. However, lucky for us, the nightclub is only open on weekends and since we were staying Tuesday through Thursday, we wouldn’t have to rock ourselves to sleep with pumping EDM. The intricate graffiti sprawled across the building looks like something in a museum. The gorgeous colors and designs make in stand out even in the Temple Bar neighborhood known for its various spectacles. Most importantly, Blooms Hotel allows for easy access to all areas of the city. While there are many attractions you’ll witness on your walks through the winding roads and cobblestone alleys, such as Jame Joyce’s House and Ha’Penny Bridge, these are the top five places you must make sure to visit.

library in Trinity College in Dublin Ireland
Trinity College Library

Trinity College
As the university of Dublin, this bustling college is in the heart of the city. While walking on the green and through the old stone building are enjoyable, the main attraction is the old library and Book of Kells (Side note: I had to look this one up. The Book of Kells consists of four gospels of the New Testament in Latin). Given the long lines, it’s best to buy your tickets ahead of time here. While you should certainly have your camera ready when you first enter the vast library to capture the infinite rows of books, put your camera away to take time to read though the shelves available and soak in the knowledge that is stored here. It can be more powerful than when viewed through your lens.

St. Stephen's Green in Dublin Ireland
St. Stephen’s Green

St. Stephen’s Green
A rather long but pleasant walk from Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green is best seen around lunch time if you want to fit in like a local. Grab a sandwich at one of the shops close by *(fried fish is also a favorite) and find a spot to enjoy the fresh gardens, trickling fountains and prime people-watching. This public park is one of Dublin’s main Georgian garden squares and is right next to the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and Iveagh House, other sites worth a peak for their notable architecture.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The tallest and largest church in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is breathtaking both inside and out. While you can attend various functions held at the church, a tour through the structure was fulfilling enough. As the heart of Dublin’s history and culture for centuries, it is recognized as being one of the most vital pilgrimage sites. Even just walking about the greens surrounding the cathedral and taking in the red tulips lining the sidewalks is enough to understand the significance this building had on Dublin as well as Ireland.

Gravity Bar in Guinness Storehouse in Dublin Ireland
Gravity Bar, Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse
Although the storehouse is farther away from the city center, it is more than worth the trek to the outskirts of Dublin. If you’re looking for a simply brewery tour, it’s best to turn around now. The Guinness Storehouse is a giant warehouse that holds some of the most unique beer-based experiences. Ever. Be ready to be blown away by dynamic exhibits that test all of your senses. From a scent bar, to personalized video exhibits all the way to becoming a certified Guinness Pourer, there isn’t much that isn’t here. Plan to spend a few hours exploring the actual museum-like portion and another hour enjoying a cold one on the rooftop bar, Gravity Bar, with 360 degree aerial views.

Live music in Temple Bar dublin ireland
Live music in Temple Bar

Temple Bar
Nothing compliments a visit to the Guinness Storehouse quite like more Guinness. Temple Bar is the hip and edgy neighborhood in Dublin that provides just that. It is often noted as the cultural quarter of the city, with its live street shows and active nightlife. After enjoying some local favorites at an intimate bar in the area, we spent the next few hours listening to the live shows on the street corners. More than a guy drumming buckets on the streets of NYC, these shows shut down roads and gather crowds by the 100s as everyone tries to peak at the next up and coming singer. It’s easy to make a night of it without even stepping inside a club. Better yet, after a Guinness or two or four, we were able to walk a couple block back to home base, The Blooms Hotel to get ready for the adventure to follower.

Having explored the ins and outs of Dublin, stay tuned as we head out into the Wicklow Mountains to see a whole other side of this diverse country.

Have you ever been to Dublin? Which coast is your favorite in Ireland? Dublin or the Cliffs of Moher?

xx,
Juliette

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Best Way To Spend 24 Hours in Oslo, Norway

24 hours in oslo norway

When we initially booked our Scandinavian excursion, Oslo was merely a city to pass through on our way from point A to point B. We were spending a quick half day there before moving on to Bergen, our intended destination. However, as soon as we walked out of the train station that opened up into the center of this metropolitan, I knew we were very, very wrong.

what to do in oslo norway
Quiet street in Oslo

While the city center is reminiscent of New York City’s little sister with towering buildings, floods of taxis and city buses, along with bright, vibrant billboards, walking just a block or two takes you back to the northern European styling we’re so used to seeing. Unique architecture, quaint parks and a beautiful main road that opens up to the Royal Palace make Oslo a cosmopolitan all its own.

Although known for costing a pretty penny, it is definitely possible to explore Norway without draining your savings account. To get the most bang for your buck, consider purchasing the Oslo Pass that gives you free entry to over 30 museums, as well as free public transportation.

Conveniently, Oslo’s buses travel all over the city. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll get on the bus the wrong way and get to see the entire city before actually arriving at your destination. Yay. But really, the maps are easy to follow as long as you read the direction of the bus ahead of time. Our first stop, after our unanticipated hour tour, was to Bygdøy Peninsula.

What to do in Bygdøy peninsula
Bygdøy Peninsula

This peninsular is home to five of the national museums, a royal estate, along with beaches, forests and parks. Basically, it’s your one-stop-shop if you’ve only got a day in the city.

We thoroughly researched the museums before our arrival to make sure our time was well spent. We started at the Viking Ship Museum which was filled with, you guessed it, viking ships (along with tools and supplies from that era). The ships are extremely well preserved and you can get up close to their construction and read stories about their assumed travels.

oslo viking ship museum
Viking Ship Museum

Next, we rode the bus further down the peninsula to The Fram Museum, which displays the ins and out of Norwegian polar exploration. The Fram is the strongest wooden ship ever built and still holds the records for sailing farthest north and farthest south, as noted on the museum website. The short introductory film is well worth your time before exploring the museum. The exhibits hold nothing back and go so far as to offer a polar simulator to give you a taste of the arctic, brrr.

Lastly, we went to our favorite museum of the day. Although the Kon-Tiki Museum is often passed over for larger museums, we found this to be the most fascinating. The Kon-Tiki was a lightweight raft constructed of balsa logs built by writer and explorer Thor Heyerdahl and crew in 1947 to sail across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. The museum is set up like a movie come to life, providing you with a trail to follow to read about the events that occurred in a timeline style. Along with the raft itself, the museum also exhibits many artifacts and crew interviews to go along with the information.

what to do in vigiland park
Vigiland Park

Now museum’d out, we took the bus back to the main land and stopped at Vigeland Sculpture Park within Frogner Park. The beautiful landscaped area is perfect for an afternoon stroll or an evening picnic. Sculptures by Gustav Vigeland are located throughout the park and create an interesting, almost eerie, presence.

what to do in frogner park
Frogner Park

For our final stop, we made our way down the open markets on the street leading up to the Royal Palace as the sun set. A bustling city that offers so much variety in such a rich urban environment is one not to be miss.

Royal Palace of Oslo
View of Oslo Royal Palace

Have you ever been to Oslo? Do you like to go to museums when you travel? Or do you skip them?

xx,
Juliette

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So You Wanna Drive Ring Road? What To See, Do & Eat in Iceland (Part 2)

what to see do and eat in iceland while driving around ring road

The southern coast of Iceland is known for its unpredictable weather, icy mountain caps and steep cliffs. Which, while offering panoramic views in every direction, was taxing on the travelers passing through, to say the least.

iceland route
In case you missed Part One, here’s another snap of our route.

It had been less than a week and our hiking boots had already been thoroughly broken in, covered in ash and dust. Although it was a bittersweet goodbye, we were looking forward to a calmer few days in the north coast, a reprieve from the the challenges we had endured. If you’re just diving in, click here to check out the first half of our trip around Ring Road in Iceland!

Dettifoss
Dettifoss

After climbing back over the mountain from Seyoisfjorour, we made our way to Dettifoss, and its baby sister, Selfoss, two of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. The falls themselves were a magnificent sight to see, but the desolate rock fields leading up to them were even more intriguing. Looking something like District 13 in the Hunger Games, the deserted land offered the solitude one could only find on the moon. At one point, I wasn’t even sure if we were on planet earth anymore.

Trail to Dettifoss
Trail to Dettifoss

While continuing to drive through the volcanic lands, we headed up to the Krafla Volcanic Region where we would find Hverir, a geothermal area at the foothill of Namafjall.

Hverir
Hverir

If you can survive the strong smell of sulfur hanging in the air, you’ll be able to to witness a contrast of colors only few have seen in nature.

Krafla Volcanic Area
Krafla Volcanic Area

Spending the past week in temperatures hovering near freezing, we were looking forward to a group of natural hot springs that an AirBnB host had told us about on our way to Akureyri. While Iceland is often symbolized by its Blue Lagoon, the hot springs exist all through the country, although some are far too hot for people to go in or even near. Beyond the toursity appeal of the Blue Lagoon, the Myvatn area offers hot springs for the locals, or the few visitors who make it outside of Reykjavik.

Myvatn Nature Baths, Jarðböðin við Mývatn
Myvatn Nature Baths, Jarðböðin við Mývatn

A good soak rejuvenated us to venture onto the second largest city on the island, Akureyri, a colorful urban area at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord. At the center of the city sits the 1940s Akureyri Church that overlooks the main streets. Graffiti decorated the pathways in a tasteful and clever way, adding to the city rather than detracting from its beauty.

Graffiti decorating Akureyri

Instead of staying within Akureyri, we found a once in a lifetime farmstay in a van a couple miles outside of town.

Akureyri, North Iceland

The Icelandic farm sat on the edge of a lake pillowed between mountains, the perfect vantage point for the midnight setting sun.

sun set at midnight in Akureyri, North Iceland
Midnight sun setting in Akureyri

We spent the evening enjoying a home-cooked meal by the owner and gossiping with her 14 year old daughter, who dreamed of one day moving to L.A. After trading our stories, we cozied up in our camper van with the sunlight still hanging in the sky.

Homemade bread
Homemade bread

The never-ending daylight meant another early wake up as we prepared for our longest drive yet. Our kind host left us some freshly baked bread to take on the road. A much calmer drive than before, we headed to Snafellsness, a peninsula often overlooked on others’ trips around Ring Road. We stayed at another farmstay and took recommendation on where to explore.

DritvĂ­k

We started at Dritvik and Djupalonssandur, another black sand beach where you can see the bright orange remnants of shipwrecks from hundreds of years ago. Not to waste the day, we quickly made our way to Vatnshellir Cave for a caving tour below the earth’s surface.

Caving in Vatnshellir Cave

Vatnshellir Cave

With a full day behind us, we savored another night on a new farm and set up a time to ride the farmer’s horses in the morning. Despite the chill in the air, we were eager and ready at 8am to ride off through the volcanic fields, observing lava tubes and glacier cuts through the mountains around us while on horseback.

Horseback riding through volcanic fields at Kast Guesthouse
Horseback riding through volcanic fields at Kast Guesthouse

After learning more about life on the peninsula from our horse riding guide, we were fascinated to learn that most people on the peninsula move back to the city during the winter. Only a farmer or two stay around to feed the horses, whose thick fur keeps them warm no matter what the weather.
As we packed up our things from our last stay around the island, we made our final list of sights to see on our way back to the capital. After a quick detour to Kirkjufell Mountain, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, we headed to Mount Esja for our closing hike.

Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell Mountain

Mount Esja overlooks Reykjavik and felt like the most fitting final stop on our adventure. The mountain appears to glow a lime green from the mix of wild flowers growing around the base.

Mount Esja
Mount Esja

A steep climb leads up to fresh spring water where you can fill your bottle straight from the creek, along with an extraordinary view of the city we had only left 11 days ago.

Mount Esja Summit

Heavy-hearted, we leisurely made our way back to Reykjavik, already planning our return to this unparalleled island.

For even more Iceland fun, follow us along as we tried out best to film through the wind, ice, fog and magic.

Stay tuned for a recap of what to do in Reykjavik! While I highly recommend traveling Ring Road to truly immerse yourself in the Icelandic way of life, a weekend in the capital will give you a taste of why Iceland has become loved by so many. I mean, Beyonce was here, wasn’t she?

xx,
Juliette

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So You Wanna Drive Ring Road? What To See, Do & Eat in Iceland (Part 1)

what to see do and eat in iceland when driving around ring road

The people in airports fascinate me. I often wish that travelers were required to wear a label when flying sharing where they came from and where they were going. Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way (although I get that’s where I’m headed), but more so because I believe you can learn the most about a person by seeing the places they value. Are the going home? Or faraway from it? There’s so many details that can be learned by merely scanning one’s boarding pass. It was during a conversation like this with the woman sitting next to me on a plane back from California when we got to talking about the greatest places we’d ever been. Without a moment of hesitation, she said that Iceland not only changed how she traveled, it changed how she lived. That sounds like a bit much, I thought to myself, but it didn’t stop me from doing a little research when I got home.

Views from the Golden Circle
Views from the Golden Circle

It quickly became apparent that the land where lava meets glaciers was drawing the appeal of millions. I, too, was not immune to its magical pull. Two months later, my best friend and I planned and booked 12 days driving around Ring Road for the middle of July (which allowed for optimal daylight hours and least chance of blizzards). Now that it’s been some time since our trip came to a close, I finally feel ready enough to pull out my journals and photographs to revisit the most enchanting country I’ve seen. Given the extent of this trip, I’ve split it up into three parts. Part one will follow us along Ring Road on the southern coast, part two is Ring Road leading up the northern side, and lastly, a separate post for all the gems to be found in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.

iceland route
Our route around Iceland. We spent one night in each of the labeled towns.

So go grab your hiking boots and sheep’s wool, it’s time to explore this land of beautiful contradictions. Welcome to the the place where fire meets ice.

Geyser in the Golden Circle
Geyser in the Golden Circle

After landing at Keflavik, the Reykjavik airport, we headed over to Sixt to pick up our rental car. A small hatchback we would use to travel around the highway circling Iceland. Given that we were traveling in the middle of the summer and planned to stick to main roads, four wheel drive wasn’t necessary. However, we did opt for the WiFi router and GPS (life saver!). Although it’s difficult to get lost when going in one direction, the street signs are less than stellar, especially if you’re not keeping up with your Icelandic. It was reassuring to have a safety net in case we got lost. Lastly, we stocked up on groceries since towns were sparse along the way. This is what they created trail mix for.

gullfoss
Gullfoss in the Golden Circle

Our first day was spent exploring the Golden Circle. This charming park is filled with rushing waterfalls, volcanic craters, steaming geysers and awe-inspring outlooks along the way. The route is easy to follow and we were able to see mostly everything in one day.

Ăžingvellir National Park
Ăžingvellir National Park

We spent the night at the Bus Hostel in Reykjavik and were up early to join a day tour to explore the glaciers. This hostel was more than just a bed to sleep in. We enjoyed the free breakfast in the morning and the ability to chat with others in the common area (and use the speedy Wifi!). It was the perfect spot to get suggestions from others who had been in the country for several days ahead of us.

Solheimajokull Glacier Hike
Solheimajokull Glacier Hike

This was our only pre-booked adventure, as we were determined to have the freedom to travel wherever the road took us. Yet, I couldn’t suggest this group enough. Although the high winds prevented us from walking across much of the glacier, a common weather disruption here, we were able to make up for it with other sites.

Solheimajokull Glacier
Solheimajokull Glacier

History buffs will be enamored with the Sólheimasandur plane crash that occurred on Saturday Nov 24, 1973 when a United States Navy airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in the south of Iceland due to severe icing. All of the crew members survived, and many of the Icelanders would visit the plane to use its leftover fuel.

SĂłlheimasandur Plane Crash
SĂłlheimasandur Plane Crash

Since we were in the land of waterfalls after all, the guide took us behind the sheets of water to view the world from another perspective.

Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss

Sometimes the smallest waterfalls were the most moving to stumbling upon, a hidden secret you weren’t exactly looking for.

Hidden waterfall
Hidden waterfall

In between waterfalls, we encountered grass huts built into the sides of mountains. The folklore of trolls and elves is alive and well in Iceland. So much so, Icelanders reroute their highways to respect the land of the trolls.

Grass huts along Ring Road
Grass huts along Ring Road

Lastly, we visited Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs and the Black Sand Beach. Known for its high wind, you could full let your body fall against the strong gusts and feel your weight being supported. While difficult to breath, the thin air only added to the dark contrasts of the black sand against the icy water. Straight out of Game of Thrones, the area looked more like a movie set than an actual landmark.

Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs, Black Sand Beach
Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs, Black Sand Beach

We stayed overnight in a small AirBnB in Hvolsvöllur and prepared our snacks for the next day. It was important for us to always check the weather for impending storms and make sure we dressed accordingly. Our next night would be in Hofn, a small fishing town in the southeast. We woke up early to beat the rain and headed off to Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park (say that three times fast..or actually just try and say it once) and Skaftafell to hike to Kristínartindar Mountain and the Svartifoss waterfall, which tumbles over black basalt columns. A popular walk, we felt as though we were on the edge of the earth. Each turn led to a view across mountain tops and the glaciers sliding in between until we reached the diamond shaped rock of the basalt falls, signaling it was time to turn back.

Svartifoss in Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park
Svartifoss in Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park
Vatnajökull Glacier
Vatnajökull Glacier

Since we still had time left in the day, we drove past Hofn in search of another hike before doubling back for dinner. We began to notice a series of cars pulling off the road towards large sand dunes. Curiosity got the best as off as we followed their lead. After climbing over the mountains of sand, we were rewarded with one of the the most unique scenes of the north.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

A large lagoon reaching towards the edge of a glacier lay on the other side of the sandy mounds. Ice chunks had fallen off the glacier and turned an electric blue when they hit the water, creating a pool of neon ice cubes.

Jökulsárlón - Glacier Lagoon 2
Capturing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

When we’d had our fill of nature’s miracle, we trekked to our hostel in Hofn after a meal of skyr and langoustine, Icelandic lobster. We mingled with the locals and conversed with a geographer from Europe who was staying up near the glaciers to create topographic maps.

View from our hostel in Hofn
View from our hostel in Hofn

Our bed for the night overlooked a inlet of water with the mountains in the distance we would be driving to the next morning.

Hofn
Hofn

We enjoyed a communal breakfast in our hostel the next morning as we planned our trip up the eastern fjords. Little did we know that some of the most dangerous moments lay ahead of us as we penciled our route. One small turn off the main highway led us to a dirt road a mere inch away from the edge of a disastrously high cliff. I never realized how much I took guard rails for granted, or double yellow lines tbh. As we held our breath for the entirety of the drive, we were finally able to relax having reached our hike of the day, Hengifoss.

fjord driving
The only picture taken after our death-defying drive through the fjords

We lucked out that the Icelanders we spoke to were more than eager to offer suggestions for their favorite trails left off of google searches. This is how we came across Hengifoss, a strenuous trail tilted at a 45 degree angle with a rushing river below. Yet compared to what we just came from, this would be a breeze. Hiking through the bright green moss to reach a towering single stream of falls was worth the fire and ice to get there.

hengifoss
Hengifoss

Although we believed we had had enough heart attacks for one day, our journey had one more in store. We found a quaint hostel in Seyoisfjorour, a small town that is typically only reached by boat from the east. Thus, the only way to get there from inland was to drive up a steep mountain with so many switchbacks that made you began to question your car’s breaks after each turn. To add to the fun, a thick cloud laid on top the mountain for a darling zero visibility.

Driving through the clouds is only romantic theoretically
Driving through the clouds is only romantic theoretically

Finally, we arrived on the other side, our hands still shaking from the day’s unintentional adventures. We made a modest dinner in the abandoned hospital-turned-hostel and recapped our snafus with the older gentleman who had just come off a boat from Norway for a fishing trip. After briefly considering leaving our car behind to sail away, we shook off our fear and got back in the saddle…er driver’s seat. After a restless sleep, knowing we would have to go back across the mountain a second time to make our way to Akureyri, we prepared for the second part of a trip filled with a little more than we bargained for.

Seydisfjordur, Iceland
Seydisfjordur, Iceland

Stay tuned to learn how you can go spelunking underneath the glaciers and horseback riding through volcanic ash as we continue around Ring Road. Check out part two here! SPOILER ALERT: we survived.

Iceland

xx,
Juliette

P.S. I lucked out to have a best friend who is an incredible photographer. I suggest you make sure you have one as well so you can catch these sights from unique perspectives. Check out more of her talents here.

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How To Visit Yosemite in The Spring

how to visit yosemite in march, april and may

I’ve always referred to myself as a ‘park person’. I’m most comfortable in hiking boots with unwashed hair and only the slightest idea as to my exact location at any given point in time. I find comfort in falling off the grid and only interacting with those I meet on the trail or at the general store.

Upper yosemite falls hike
Upper Yosemite Falls

Visiting national parks is an unparalleled experience, so much so that you are going to meet people who are just like you, other *park people*. Folks who abide by a different clock than the outside world. No morning is too early, no mountain is too steep, no person is a stranger. We’re all here for very similar things: fresh air, peace of mind, adrenaline rushes…and distance from anything and everything that hinders all of the above. Nothing brings people together quite like the desire to escape from daily routines, albeit how different those routines might be.

Chilnualna falls hike in wawona
Chilnualna Falls hike in Wawona

Which is how we decided on visiting Yosemite in April. Although peak season isn’t until June since many of the park areas are closed due to snowfall this early in the year, we wanted to immerse ourselves in nature, not tourists. Visiting Yosemite in the off-season allowed us to venture from trail to trail uninfluenced by mass crowds trying to sneak a peak of this waterfall or that overlook. There’s something magical about this time in-between, the empty roads, the chill in the air, the determination to overcome obstacles that cease to exist in the summer sun. The secluded cabins up in the woods where it’s just you and the bears. And the other park people. The people who live there year round and are so eager to suggest where to go during this down time. The travelers who come every April to witness the gushing waterfall flow that is all but a trickle in August. This is the best way to spend four days in Yosemite in April, and how to prepare for any obstacle that comes your way.

Deer in Yosemite Valley
Deer in Yosemite Valley

After landing in San Francisco, we rented a 4WD SUV to take us the four hour drive into Yosemite. While chains are needed in the thick of winter, we kept our fingers crossed that we would avoid this hassle. The scenic drive into the park is only a small taste as to what you’ll witness once in the valley. We made a quick stop near Livermore to pick up groceries to last the week. With limited access in the park, we wanted to be sure we’d have enough food for all three meals, plus hiking snacks, each day. Luckily, the studio condo we rented out came equipped with a tiny kitchen which made soup and pasta nightly favorites for us.

Driving into the park feels like you’ve entered into a different world. The towering cliffs framed with strikingly tall evergreen trees is the only preview needed for what’s to come.

driving through yosemite national park
Entering Yosemite National Park

The winding roads with snow banks on either side led us to our condo in a small neighborhood in Yosemite West. Fitted with a living space, kitchen area, large bed and fireplace, we were excited to call this home for the next few nights. While there were many people who opted to camp, I wasn’t yet ready to give up my hot shower each morning. After settling in, we prepared for a long day ahead of us.

Road to West Yosemite national park
Road to West Yosemite

After an early meal of oatmeal and bananas, we headed down towards the village to plan out our adventures for the day. However, the park had other plans. Since it was the off season, many of the roads were in the process of being repaved, causing an unbelievable amount of detours. After failing to find the Visitors’ Center, we got hike suggestions from a hotel lobby we stumbled on and headed on our way.

Lower Yosemite Falls hike
Lower Yosemite Falls

Our first walk was to Lower Yosemite Falls. A short one mile hike with close-up views of the bottom falls. The ice that clung to the rocks before it had a chance to melt only added to the pristine view. Looking for more of a challenge, we trekked towards Upper Yosemite Falls which is made up of 6-7 miles of steep inclines and snow-covered trails. After passing a family of deer, we headed into the most challenging hike of our trip. Yet, with spectacular views of the entire valley, it was easy to get lost in the hike rather than focused on how many miles we had left.

Upper Yosemite Falls hike
Upper Yosemite Falls

The ice had frozen onto the tree branches and would drop off in solid chunks whenever the wind blew, knocking us with hail-like balls of ice periodically. Luckily the day warmed up quickly and the ice *almost* felt refreshing. We made it to the top fall and stopped for lunch. Peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix (which will reappear each afternoon) were easy to travel with and fueled the long days. It took us about four hours in total and with just a little steam left, we had one stop left for the day.

Mist Trail to Vernal Falls hike rainbow
Mist Trail to Vernal Falls

The free Yosemite Valley bus took up to Happy Isle for us to check out the most popular Yosemite hike. The Mist Trail is heavily-trafficked, even during the spring, for good reason. It’s a quick hour hike to cover 3 miles if you stick to the Vernal Falls. Another four miles if you want to head all the way up to Nevada Falls. The waterfalls are at full force and colorful rainbows spread across the wet stones. With limited daylight left, we headed back to warm up with soup and sandwiches and to plan the next day.

Chilnualna Falls Trail hike
Chilnualna Falls Trail

Having spent the previous day in the valley, we headed south to the Wawona region of the park. Chilnualna Falls, a lengthy 8 mile hike up a mountain along side a powerful creek, was one of the highlights of our trip. After driving through the small town of Wawona and prepping our whistles and flashlights in case we encountered any mountains lions (a real concern in these parts), we set off around 9am.

Chilnualna Falls trail
Chilnualna Falls trail

The trail varied from rocky hills to flat fields to staircases dipping below the waterfalls. We didn’t pass another hiker for four miles, and only then saw a few groups of people on our way back. The summit opened up to the top of Chilnualna Falls, large boulders overlooking the valley. We ate our packed lunch on top of the falls and soaked in the warm afternoon sun until we made our way back down the mountain.

Overlooking the top of Chilnualna Falls trail hike
Overlooking the top of Chilnualna Falls

Since we were in the area, we had one final stop for the day at Nelder Grove. Although Mariposa is closed for the next few months for restoration, we were set on seeing some Giant Sequoias, trees so large that the diameter of their trunks are twice my height. After stopping at the Wawona General Store for directions, we made our way down the series of dirt roads to the park entrance. Sadly, the park was filled with giant stumps, very few live sequoias to be found. Fittingly, the trail was named “Graveyard of the Giants”. We only walked a mile of so into the park and actually found the walk to be more depressing than we anticipated. It was devastating to see the impact humans have had on nature, the dead trees a symbol of the irreversible damage done to these woods. We stuck to the trails so as not to destroy anymore of the treasured area, and made our way back to Yosemite West before the second half of our trip.

Giant Sequoia in Nelder Grove hike
Giant Sequoia in Nelder Grove

Although Yosemite is a beautiful learning environment for all who visit, it’s also a reminder of the carelessness of mankind and its impact on the land. Black trees stick out along the highway like burnt toothpicks from past forest fires, and constant warnings to stay away from the endangered animal life are posted everywhere. It’s with optimism and subtle confidence that one hopes that the more people visit national parks, the more knowledge and power they’ll have to protect them.

View from Yosemite Valley
View from Yosemite Valley

Stay tuned for the second half of our trip, including a view of the park from the river and an early sunrise over Half Dome! Make sure to visit part 2 here!

Have you ever been to Yosemite? What is your favorite national park?

xx,
Juliette

If you’re interested in learning more about our rental, check it out here!

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