2014 Recap: The Gift Year

I know that by this time, we've all stopped rehashing 2014 and have started looking ahead to 2015. But I can't just summarize last year with pretty photos of Paris and Europe - I need to pause and share my reflections of a special year.

21 Trains
19 Flights
5 Buses
5 Rental cars
14 Countries
21 houseguests
131 blog posts
2 camels 
And countless sheep

2014. I think of this year as my “gift year.” That’s not to say that every day we get on this earth isn't a gift, because it is. I mean it in the sense that when I think about 2014, I think “we shouldn't still be here.” Michael had a contract to work on an assignment in Paris for almost two years, ending in December 2013. Except by the end of that year, we had realized that Paris wasn't merely the home base for our travels throughout Europe. We had somehow built a life here, entered into community, and fell in love with life in the city. Things were looking bleak for a while and it seemed that we did in fact have to move back to the US as planned. Until things turned around and we were able to stay. We weren't supposed to still be hanging around the City of Light this year, but somehow in the end we were gifted with more time.

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Canvas-Worthy Europe, 2014 edition

Last Wednesday I shared my round-up of my favorite photos taken in Paris in 2014. Now it’s time to see the year in review through a collection of my canvas-worthy contenders from our European travels outside of Paris. Here’s where I traveled to during the year!

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Northern Bound in Iceland: On the Way to Akureyri

Planning a trip to Iceland can be hard. There are so many options of areas to go, that unless you are planning on an epic 2-week trip around the ring road, the simple decision of which section of the country (West fjords, north, south…) to visit is overwhelming.

Having already visited Southern Iceland, and having read that the West fjords are best visited in the summer when there’s more daylight, we came to the decision to visit Northern Iceland in October.

If you’re thinking of visiting Northern Iceland, but are put off by the long (6-hour) drive there, here are some things you’ll see along the way that might help to change your mind.

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The Golden Question

Bon lundi!

“What was the highlight of your trip?”

I ask this question often. I love to hear others reflect on the most memorable experiences of their travels. I am always interested to gauge what the best parts in Paris were from my American visitors who spend time with me. And I’m often accused by my husband for being too eager to reminiscence and rehash a trip halfway through the vacation.

So if you have been asked this, have you ever come up with an odd answer? Because if you asked me what the highlight of my Iceland trip was, I undoubtedly would start giggling a little. Iceland was so beautiful with its waterfalls, natural wonders, and all-around jaw-dropping beauty at every turn. We even got to see the northern lights for our first time! But the most memorable moment of the entire trip? Being silly with my hubby.

Endless possibilities unfolded when Michael purchased a remote clicker for the camera a week before the trip. A tripod, clicker, amazing scenery, and isolation provided the most hysterical photo shoot ever. We laughed like hyenas until we cried. Until our stomachs hurt. 

Want to see the highlight of Iceland?

Did you see that iceberg?

Come on, you know you want to listen to this song now.

(And these are the tamer ones. Possibly more to come later if the mood to embarrass myself strikes…)

Assembling a Trip to Iceland: The Toolbox

I love doing travel research for European trips. I have a grasp on how to find interesting historical sites, museums, markets, local food specialities, and other things to do when visiting cities and small towns. But give me the span of the great outdoors and I don’t have a handle on the first thing to do.

My trip to Iceland this past October was one of the most incredible and wonderful trips I’ve taken in all of my time traveling through Europe, yet it almost didn’t come together. I was intimidated to plan, information seemed less accessible than other destinations, and the possibilities of what to see and do seemed endless. When the entire country is gorgeous, how do you narrow it down?

If Iceland at all appeals to you, I hope you don’t pass up the opportunity to go because it feels daunting to figure out. I am the least outdoorsy person out there (remember my appearance in Seefeld, Austria last December in a peacoat and jeggings among the Olympic-clad cross-country skiers?!), yet I can vouch it is possible to make this trip happen. So take heart! I’ve put together a few pieces of advice that would have encouraged me and helped me along the task of trip-planning an Icelandic adventure. So let’s do this together.

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Chasing Waterfalls in Iceland

Iceland is the most active, geologically dynamic place I have experienced. It’s a fascinating country filled with volcanoes, moon-like lava fields and craters, glaciers, boiling mudpools, shooting geysers, and the list goes on. I’ve even seen the result of what happens when a volcano erupts beneath a glacier and causes flash flooding: a steel bridge on the side of the road mangled beyond recognition. It’s truly a land that makes you recognize and appreciate the majesty of creation and a powerful Creator.

And as much as Iceland shows its powerful natural “guns” if you will, it also is full of peaceful farmland, lakes, and an incredible amount of waterfalls. Without even pulling off the main Ring Road, you can see countless little cascades trickling down, flowing rivers, and carved-out gorges. Driving around Iceland is just as much a highlight as reaching “destinations,” which are also pretty spectacular. Today I want to share some of the waterfalls I sought out between two trips to Iceland, which were well worth the stops! 

Here they are, 11 of Iceland’s seemingly countless waterfalls:  

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Up Close and Personal in Iceland

Bon lundi!

I've said it and I am going to say it again...and then a few more times. Iceland is an incredible country to visit! And I have LOTS more to share from my stopover trip earlier this month, so I hope you are just as excited as I am to explore the country together.

I really did not know much about Iceland before my first visit last May. Until then, the memory that popped into my mind at the thought of “Iceland” was nervously watching the news in 2010 to track the volcano eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull. Solely for selfish reasons - my European vacation was at stake with all of the airline disruptions. Who knows what would have happened if my flight was canceled? It was my first trip to Paris, which kind of started something…

But aside from becoming acutely aware of a bit of the geothermal activity going on in Iceland, I still did not know much more than that. Icelandair helped fill me in on some of the gaps with the fun facts they feature while flying. You know, things like 80% of Icelanders believe in elves and everyone is on a first-name basis, even the president. 

And here is one of my own fun facts from experience in Iceland: You can pretty much walk up to just about any waterfall in Iceland. No fences or barriers restrict access - no, you can go right up to the falls, as close as you dare. This was about as close as I wanted to get to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe! 

What comes to mind when you think of Iceland?

Cruisin' through Iceland

1 Toyota Land Cruiser
4 Tanks of gas
2 Volcanic craters
8 Waterfalls
5 Days

And 1,800 km of Icelandic roads covered. (Or 1,100 miles and change. Or for those like me who numbers don’t register much, the equivalent of over a third of the way from coast to coast of the United States.) 

Any way you choose to look at it, it’s certainly a considerable distance for two people to cover. Especially two people who rarely drive these days being city dwellers and all.

Even though neither Michael nor I particularly enjoy driving, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat to explore Iceland by car. There is so much to discover in this country with such a diverse landscape and a car grants great freedom to do so. Here’s a look at what we saw along the way from the confines of our four-wheel drive monster of a vehicle, most photos being taken as we cruised along at 90 kmh (56 mph), the speed limit on paved roads.

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Stopover in Iceland

Bon lundi!

Sometimes promotions work. It's what got me to Iceland for the first time last year and started my love affair with the island.

You see, Icelandair has a promotion that when you fly with them between Europe and the US/Canada, you can build in a stopover in Iceland for up to seven nights at no extra charge. (Maybe I should interject here that this post is not sponsored by Icelandair, but merely my honest opinion.) Michael proposed trying it out last year for a trip back to the US, and we spent three nights in Iceland on the way to NJ.  (A word of warning I must share: even though the stopover is free, don't expect the trip to be cheap! Just renting a car, filling it with gas, sleeping and eating will easily run $250 per night for 2 people)

Before then, Iceland was never on my radar. It just never really crossed my mind as a travel destination. And then when Michael put it on my radar, I was a bit overwhelmed by how to plan a trip there. (I'm used to navigating cities but the great outdoors, not as much.) But our trip last year to the south part of the island turned out so well that we were more than up for another stopover to discover the northern coast.

There is so much to share and I promise more in the coming week(s) as I gush on and on about just how beautiful the country is. For now, I'll leave you with one picture to illustrate some autumn colors on a cold October afternoon just a few days ago.

Autumn colors by Lake Mývatn (northern Iceland)

European Adventures in Pictures

We started by looking at our best canvas-worthy photos of Paris and then expanded the scope to all of France. Now it is time to conclude with our best pictures from our European travels of 2013.

There was much to discover on our travels in Europe. The first trip of the year outside of France was to Iceland, a country completely off my radar to visit. Now I can't help hoping to spend more time there enjoying its spectacular natural beauty.  

The summer brought an amazing trip to Sevilla which once again proved just how wrong I was about Spain. I once had no interest in seeing Spain at all. Then I got acquainted with tapas (oh, the tapas) and the warmth of the country. Now I keep trying to scheme ways to return. 

In August I joined my fellow Parisians in a mass exodus out the city. I found myself in Ireland on the most relaxing trip of the year, drinking lots of tea with dear friends in a house overlooking the Dingle peninsula. 

Fall brought a trip to Bruges with good friends who, not coincidentally, were very knowledgeable about Belgium beers. I was afraid that I overly romanticized Bruges from my first trip there in May 2012 but found that I love the city all the more. 

I closed out the year on a Christmas trip making my way through Germany to be in Seefeld, Austria over Christmas. All I can say is I'm already planning to be there next year for Christmas.

Here's the year in review: 

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