Travel by Any Means Necessary

Tag: landscape Page 1 of 3

12 Hours in Iceland

Posing Sheep of Iceland

We ended our time in Europe with a twelve-hour layover in Keflavik, Iceland. Out of all the crazy things we did on our trip to Europe, when I look back on our trip, this is the one thing that doesn’t seem real. We had a night flight from Madrid to Iceland that was so strange because the later it got, the lighter it got outside as we got closer to Iceland. I think I mentioned in my last post that it was very hot on our last day in Madrid (101°F). It was hot in the airport and it was hot on the plane, so I was still wearing shorts and sandals when we landed and I was OK being cold (40°F) as we walked from the airport to a rental car agency at 2 am.

Something to know if you are planning on exploring Iceland a little during a long layover, all the rental car agencies that we looked into require you to pay for a minimum of two days. If you want to explore on your own it won’t be cheap. If you land during the day, there are shuttles that will take you to the famous Blue Lagoon if that is what you want to do on your layover. There are not many other options when you land at 2 AM. So, we got into our very expensive rental car and drove to our expensive, lackluster, hotel where we crashed for a few hours and took VERY hot showers before heading out to see as much of Iceland as we could before it was time to go back to the airport and finally head home.

Road going by Kleifarvatn Lake

Road going by Kleifarvatn Lake

We found a guided driving tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula on the free app Locatify SmartGuide. It took us around the volcanic features, lakes, and hot springs and told us about the geology as well the some of the local legends about trolls and fairies. Our first stop was an overlook on Kleifarvatn, the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The interesting think about Kleifarvatn is that most of the water comes from underground. The water level has diminished greatly since the Icelandic Earthquakes of 2000.

Gunnuhver Hot Springs

Gunnuhver Hot Springs

Our next stop was the Gunnuhver Hot Springs, a collection of mud pots and steam vents with an intense sulfur smell that took me right back to the hot springs of Yellowstone. The name Gunnuhver comes from a local legend about an angry ghost, Gudrun, who legend says, was trapped in a hot spring by a local priest 400 years ago. Iceland’s largest mud pool can be found at Gunnuhver and unlike the other geothermal areas in Iceland, the groundwater is 100% saltwater which gives a different look to it.


Our next stop was Krýsuvíkurkirkja, a historic church (above). It was built in 1857 and closed in 1929 but has since been used as a residence until being transferred to the National Museum. The original church burned down in 2010 but it has since been rebuilt in the historic manner.

Bridge Between ContinentsOne of the final stops of the trip was at the bridge between the continents (left). This is the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. Visitors can stand on a bridge separating the two plates. One side of the bridge has a sign that reads “Welcome to Europe” while the other says “Welcome to North America”. The giant fissure the bridge scales really drives home the tectonic theory that the plates are shifting a few centimeters each year.

After that, we headed back to the airport, dropped off our rental car, and flew home. Even though we got to the airport several hours early, we really didn’t wait around much at all. Since we were leaving the Schengen area (a group of 27 European countries where you don’t need to show your passport to cross their borders. This is the area that will be requiring a visa for Americans to visit at some point in the future) we had to go through passport control and additional security screenings. The boarding process was very complicated and involved multiple escalators and a bus to the plane. If you are flying out of Keflavik to a non-Schengen country, give yourself more time than you think you will need.

My one complaint about this experience is that Icelandair seems to be expanding its U.S. service faster than Keflavik Airport can support. It was very crowded in the area after passport control. There was only one set of bathrooms and one food option, but that seemed to be where all the people in the airport were. There weren’t even enough gates for all the flights. We had to be bussed out to our plane.

Overall, we had an amazing time in Iceland. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. If you are thinking about a trip to Iceland, be aware it is VERY expensive and it is not easy to convert Icelandic Kronas to U.S. Dollars in your head like it is with the Euro. The few meals we had there were pricey for what they were and the hotels were outrageous. The sights are unlike anything else I had ever seen, just make sure you budget appropriately for your time in Iceland or you may be in trouble.

Thanks for stopping by! This marks the end of my recap of our Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. Next week I will post a final recap, so keep your eyes out for that. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Night in Porto

One Day in the Douro Valley

Quinto do Jalloto

The view from Quinto do Jalloto

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra.

One thing I knew I wanted to do with our time in Porto was a tour of the Douro Valley. We chose a tour with Oporto Tours which picked us up near our Airbnb and took us on a tour to really get to know the Douro region, its history, and what makes their wines unique. Our guide, Tiago, expertly navigated the steep, twisty roads of the Douro while telling us all about the region.

The Douro Valley is a World Heritage Site and is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. People have been expertly growing grapes in terraced vineyards for generations. Many of them are still harvested by hand with the grapes being stomped by feet. The annual grape stomping has become a tourist attraction at many Quintas with stomping having to be booked months in advance.

Viera de Sousa Winery The first stop on our tour was at Viera de Sousa, a 5th-generation family-owned and operated winery, growing grapes on 4 quintas in the Douro Valley. The current generation running the winery are women which is uncommon in Portugal. Here we learned a lot about the difference in Portuguese wines. Traditional Port is a sweet, fortified wine made of a blend of grapes (common Port Wine grapes include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (AKA Tempranillo), and at least 50 others).  White port is typically more fruit-forward and less sweet than other port varieties. Tawny Port is aged at least 2 years in barrels before going into the bottle and typically has flavors of caramel and nut on top of the fruit flavors. Ruby Port is fruit-forward, sweet, and meant to be drunk young. After the wine ages in a barrel for two years, a sample can be sent off to the Institute of Douro and Porto Wine for an assessment, and if a wine is of high enough quality it can be declared for a Vintage where it will be aged in bottles for at least 15 more years. Therefore, Vintage Port is the most expensive and distinguished wine of the Douro Valley. At Viera de Sousa we sampled some of their still wines as well as a white port (which I had never had before), a Tawny, and a Ruby. Their wines were wonderful and their ports were very different than the mass-market port we have in the U.S.

Typical Boat on the Duro

After our first wine tasting, we headed to Pinhao to board a typical rabelo boat (right) for a tour of the Douro River. These boats were used in the past to get the wine from the vineyards along the Douro to the Port Wine houses in Ville Nova de Gaia. Before the installation of dams along the river, the Douro was treacherous many small chapels were built along the riverbank to protect the sailors from the river’s wrath. Nowadays with other ways for the wine to reach Porto, the rabelo boats are purely for tourists. I was really excited about our boat ride and while the views were amazing, the boat itself was crowded with groups from other tours. Since the tour, people have asked if I would recommend a ride on a rabelo as part of a tour of the Douro and I am really torn, because while it wasn’t the highlight of my day in the Douro, I think I would have regretted it if I saw the boats and I didn’t get to go on it. That is probably the least helpful advice I have ever given on this blog, but it is the only way to describe how I feel. It is possible to ride a rabelo in Porto for a tour of the 6 bridges that is only $16 for 50 minutes on Viator.

Pinhão Train Station Azulejo

After our boat ride, we had a great Portuguese lunch in Pinhão. with a choice of beef or fish. After lunch, our tour guide Tiago took to us the Pinhão train station to see the beautiful Azulejos depicting early life in the Douro (above).

Quinto do Jalloto

From there, we made our way to our final stop of the tour at Quinto do Jalloto (above) in Casal de Loivos. Besides, wonderful wine this quinta had the most breathtaking views of the “sharks” across the river (AKA the Dow’s estate, top). We learned that just like in Mexico, grapes and olives grow together in the Douro and their olive oil was amazing! Here we sampled three still wines, honey, and the delicious olive oil. The wine here was very unique and not like anything I had ever had back home.

Our tour concluded with the beautifully scenic drive back to Porto. If you have plans to visit Porto, definitely take some time to explore the Douro. It is an amazing place unlike anywhere else I have ever been. I can’t say enough good things about our tour from Oporto Tours. Our tour was pricey but absolutely worth it.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when we take a free tour of Porto! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Fjord

Tracy Arm Fjord Black and White

Wordless Wednesday: Cruising Alaska

Cruising Alaska

Wordless Wednesday: Haines

Approaching Haines

Wordless Wednesday: Vancouver

Wordless Wednesday: El Yunque

El Yunque Mountains

Wordless Wednesday: Logan Pass

Logan Pass

Exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park

CCC Pavilion in Theodore Roosevelt National ParkLocating in northwestern North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the United States. It averages about 600,000 visitors a year which might sound like a lot, but if you compare it to the 4 million that visit Yellowstone or Yosemite each year, 600,000 is not much at all. Coming from Glacier (which averages about 3 million visitors), the difference is very noticeable.

We started our exploration of Theodore Roosevelt in the North Unit which was closer to where we were staying. Of the two main units, the South Unit gets most of the traffic so when we arrived in the evening, we only saw a handful of other cars in the whole north unit. The north unit has a 14-mile one-way scenic drive that showcases the unique geological features of the park. There was plenty of parking at each of the overlooks and fresh air to breathe.

The South Unit of the park is larger than the north and is much busier. The South Unit has a 36 mile scenic loop drive that allows you to see the highlights of the park. Four miles of the road is closed indefinitely due to a landslide, although the area is open to hikers and bicyclists. Right where you have to turn around for the road closure there was one of the biggest prairie dog towns we saw on the trip.

Bison of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife is the highlight of a trip to Theodore Roosevelt. Muledeer, antelope, bighorn sheep, wild horses, bison, and prairie dogs can easily be seen in the park. When we were in the Black Hills we were SO excited to see a bison. By the end of our week in North Dakota, we were begging them to get out of the road so we could go home!

We had planned to do some hiking during our time at Theodore Roosevelt but with heat spell that was going on this summer, we determined it wouldn’t be safe. One day we stayed at the park until the sun went down and the temperature didn’t get below 90. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on our list to return to outside of the summer or when Chris isn’t working so we would be able to hit the trails before the heat of the day.

If you are looking to visit a national park and get away from the crowds, definitely head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, especially the North Unit. If I were to do this trip again, I would shorten the amount of time we had here, though. Unless you are doing a lot of hiking, you can see this whole park in two to three days.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I detail our experience at the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén