Earlier this year, I was invited by Global Yodel to spend a weekend exploring Seattle, Washington. What I found surprising is that no matter where you are in the city, you are still so close to nature. When I think of big cities, I think urban jungle. That’s not the case with Seattle, from the mature trees lining the streets of downtown to the lush forests nearby and Mt. Rainier looming outside the city – you always feel the presence of nature despite being in a bustling environment. 

To read more about my weekend wandering with Global Yodal, click here.

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AuthorKaren Grubb

I was invited by Alaska Airlines to share some of my favorite places around my hometown, San Luis Obispo, as part of their Local Wanderer campaign. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and only minutes from some of California’s most beautiful beaches, San Luis Obispo (SLO) County offers something for every type of vacationer. Whether you are looking for a relaxing time enjoying the sun and sand, or a healthy dose of outdoor activities from hiking, biking, kayaking, and surfing, to exploring the countryside and tasting some of California’s best wines, brews, or farm-to-table eateries, SLO County has it all.

With an average of 300+ days of sunshine per year, an abundance of coastline and open spaces to explore, and plenty of year-round music, culinary, and wine events to enjoy, it is not hard to understand why San Luis Obispo was named the “Happiest City in America”. Despite living in SLO for most of my life, I still find myself regularly reflecting on how fortunate I am to call this place home.

There is no shortage of adventures to experience in SLO, which makes it difficult to narrow down a few recommendations for what to see and do in the area, but I’ve put together a list of a few of my favorite places to help you get a dose of the “SLO Life” that locals love.

Click here to check them out.

 

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AuthorKaren Grubb

Ahhh, New Zealand's South Island…land of the long white cloud, lush green forests located beside spectacular glaciers with azure rivers flowing only a short distance out to the ocean. This small island is a place where you can go from rugged alpine terrain to tropical crystal-clear beaches in a day's drive. Home to some of the most scenically diverse landscapes, the South Island is a must-do for anyone looking for the adventure of a lifetime. 

For me, there is no question, campervan is the ideal way to travel the island and you'll find the best option in a Jucy campervan. You can't beat the tranquility of sleeping under the starry skies, the freedom of not having to follow a set itinerary, and the joy of slumbering peacefully surrounded by the exceptional natural beauty that New Zealand has to offer. This was our second time traveling in a Jucy Condo. Happy to be traveling again in our favorite home on wheels, we set off to revisit some of our favorite places and explore a few new spots. Here are some highlights from our return trip to the South Island. 

Kaikoura

Similar to our last visit, we began our journey in Kaikoura. At the top of my list of things to do was another swim with Dolphin Encounters. I struggle to find the words to express how incredible this experience was. The last time we visited, swimming with the dusky dolphins was one of my favorite memories of our trip. The boat takes swimmers out and drops them 5 times among the pods of dolphins. Each swim lasted roughly 5 minutes. After about 3 minutes, the dolphins would lose interest in checking us out, and swim away. This time, we did one drop and the choppy waters were too much for many of the swimmers to stay out. The boat dropped us a second time and because the majority of the swimmers chose to stay on the boat, those who were left in the water (about 5 of us) were allowed to stay in and swim for 30 minutes. The dolphins stayed the entire time, curious and playful swimming circles around us. Above water I could see them jumping right in front of me, while below water they swam so close, seemingly exchanging eye contact. Swimming out in the open ocean with these beautiful creatures will remain one of the most memorable experiences of my life. 

Arthur's Pass National Park

Following our swim, we hit the road headed for the alpine region of Arthur's Pass National Park. From the tussock covered grasslands to the snowy mountain peaks, Arthur's Pass is one of the island's most scenic drives, stretching from Christchurch to the west coast. We stopped to explore the interesting rock formations at Castle Hill which, according to one of the locals, was named the 'spiritual center of the universe' by the Dalai Lama. 

Another interesting stop along the way is the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, a self-guided walk that takes you nearly 600 meters through a pitch black cave in water. If you visit, be sure to bring a warm layer, water shoes, and a headlamp with extra batteries. 

Just beyond Arthur's Pass Village is the Punchbowl Track, a worthwhile stop to take a short 45-minute walk to the Devils Punchbowl waterfall. 

Franz Josef to Wanaka

Leaving Arthur's Pass, we headed down the west coast with a pit stop for the night in Franz Josef. It's a lovely little town, but I imagine the constant buzz of helicopters taking tourists up to the glacier would get tiresome after an extended period of time. We took the 40-minute walk to the terminal face, before hopping in the campervan and heading south towards Mount Aspiring National Park. 

A definite must on the drive to Wanaka is a stop to visit the Haast Blue Pools. It's a quick 30-minute walk through lush, moss-covered trees to the most azure glacial water you'll ever see. Just don't forget your insect repellant (Goodbye Sandfly is a savior). I took my boots off to wade in the water and nearly had my feet chewed off. After the pools we headed into Wanaka.

There is no shortage of places to explore around the Wanaka region. A somewhat quieter version of Queenstown, this lakeside town has plenty to occupy travelers without all the hustle and bustle of its larger neighboring city. The main street is lined with an excellent selection of dining options, as well as a lively bar scene. Our favorite place in town was the Cinema Paradiso. I had heard about this theater during our last trip but, short on time, we weren't able to visit. We made sure to carve out an evening this trip, and watching the New Zealand film "The Hunt for the Wilderpeople" in this cute little theater turned out to be one of our favorite memories. For anyone in the states, this move is a MUST SEE when it comes out in June. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. 

The next day, we headed up one of Wanaka's popular day hikes, Roys Peak. This hike is not for the faint of heart, or weak of knees, but is worth every second of the roughly 5-hour trek, virtually straight uphill, to experience the incredible views over Lake Wanaka. 

Queenstown, Arrowtown, Glenorchy

Of all the places I have visited on the South Island, no other place stole my heart like the Queenstown/Glenorchy area. It wouldn’t be a true Queenstown experience without feasting on Devil Burger (Fergberger’s lesser known, but equally delicious burger brother) and jumping off a bridge again.  

It seems like we never have enough time to experience all that this area has to offer. We did, however, manage to make it out to neighboring Arrowtown, where their Autumn Festival was in full swing. Driving into Arrowtown in fall is like driving into a Bob Ross painting, full of the most vivid shades of red, orange, and yellows I’ve ever seen.

By far my favorite place on the island is the nearby town of Glenorchy. Situated at the head of Lake Wakatipu, this sleepy little place feels like New Zealand’s best kept secret. We had intended to stay only one night and ended up staying three. Even after four days exploring the area, it was still hard to leave. It's no wonder Peter Jackson chose this region for many Lord of the Rings filming locations, and there is no shortage of tourist companies that will take you to the filming spots. 

One of the best ways to experience the surrounding landscapes is by air. During both our last trip and this one, our favorite activity was a helicopter tour to see the breathtaking scenery from above. 

Mount Cook

Making our way back up towards Christchurch, we decided to pay another visit to the Mount Cook region. A noteworthy stop on the drive through the Omarama area are the Clay Cliffs. These interesting pinnacles are reminiscent of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park.

While in Mount Cook, we did the scenic Hooker Valley track. This hour and a half walk takes you over three swing bridges to the terminus of the Hooker Glacier, with the humbling peak of Mt. Cook towering behind it. 

Rangitata Valley

Our final stop was a return to the Rangitata Valley. If you are at all familiar with The Lord of the Rings films, this area was home to Edoras. The desolation of the valley is one of the main reasons I think I am attracted to it. There is nothing to see for miles but fields of tussock surrounded by snowcapped peaks.

 At last, it was time to drop off our Jucy Condo, with hearts full of wonderful memories and already a yearning to return for more. 

Posted
AuthorKaren Grubb

Nestled in the mountains just off Hwy 1, among a cathedral of towering redwoods, lies one of Santa Cruz’s best kept secrets, the Flipjack Ranch. Located on 10 acres in picturesque Bonny Doon, this bed and breakfast is an enchanting place to relax, reconnect with nature, and experience life on a working farm. The property owners, Robin and David Colleen go the extra mile to make guests feel welcome and at home. The property offers plenty of relaxing amenities including a pool, hot tub, fire pit, trampoline, and amazing farm to table meals sourced with ingredients straight from the property. There is also a farm store on site full of treasures and Robin’s delicious jars of preserves and pickled veggies.

We arrived to the ranch in the evening. Robin was there to greet us and show us to our room while providing a rundown on the property. We stayed in the upstairs Cowboy Room, a rustic western-themed room with a wood burning stove and a private deck. On each pillow was a box of delicious chocolates, and in the mini fridge a bottle of Prosecco with a note “Compliments of FlipJack Ranch”. Robin and David sure know how to make their guests feel special.

The next morning, we woke to a fresh tray of coffee and pastries delivered to our room. You know it’s going to be a good day when it starts with delicious coffee and pastries on a private deck under a redwood tree! After relaxing on the deck for a bit, enjoying the sounds of nature and the calls of the resident sheep wandering by, we made our way downstairs for a nice hearty ranch-style breakfast with the other guest while Robin and David shared a bit about the rich history of the property. The historic farm dates back to 1882, originally settled by Italian immigrants. In the 1950’s, the property was purchased by the Strong family, who added onto the one-bedroom house in order to accommodate their growing family of 11 children. After the children grew up, the Strongs ran a bed and breakfast until eventually selling the property to David and Robin in 2013. David is somewhat of a renaissance man, while Robin likes to joke that she’s a YouTube farmer, having learned some of her ranching skills from the internet. 

Following breakfast, we headed out to explore the property. Just steps from the front door are trails winding through old redwood trees. Despite being a short distance from Highway 1 and surrounding attractions (Beauregard Vineyards, Bonny Doon Beach, Henry Cowell Redwood Park), the property has the feel of being miles from civilization.

We spent some time visiting the farm animals, including the cutest little lambs I’ve ever met, Licorice and Chewie, and Licorice's mom and dad, Lightning and Blackjack. One thing that is very apparent is the amount of care Robin and David show for the welfare of the animals they raise. 

Also on hand to help with daily chores are the volunteer WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). We chatted a bit with Emily & Dusty, recent college graduates who left Georgia last year to embark on an epic road trip, traveling to the west coast while working on organic farms along the way. 

While wandering around, we ran into Robin who invited us to forage with her for ingredients for that evening’s dinner. We walked the property looking for sorrel and miner’s lettuce, and stopped to see what kind of bounty the chickens had laid. Aside from the serene location of FlipJack Ranch, the best part about being at a farmstay is actually seeing the origins of your food supply, and enjoying the direct farm to table experience.

After venturing off to explore the surrounding area, including wine tasting at neighboring Beauregard Vineyards, and sunset at nearby Bonny Doon Beach, we returned to enjoy an evening of hors d'oeuvres by the outdoor fire pit with the other guests. Robin’s experience in the restaurant business is apparent in her delicious creations and the presentation of everything she prepares. The main course was a ranch produced mangalitsa pork that, in all honesty, was the BEST pork I have ever tasted. Following dinner was a delicious homemade candy cap mushroom ice cream we took turns churning around the table before eating.  With bellies full of delicious food, and tired from a night of great storytelling and laughs with our new friends, we retired to our room for a quick game of Scrabble by the fireplace before dozing off in our cozy bed. 

We woke the next morning to another amazing breakfast. Adding to the unique ranch experience, before heading out Robin invited us and the other guests to join her and the WWOOFers while they took the pack goats on a walk to a nearby limestone quarry.

After returning from the walk, it was time to grab our things and head for home. We said goodbye to Robin and David, the WWOOFers, Chewie, Licorice, Lightning and Blackjack, and headed down Highway 1, feeling like we had just discovered a hidden mountain treasure, and knowing FlipJack Ranch is definitely a place we will return to again.

 

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AuthorKaren Grubb

Hard to believe that it is already August, the summer months are flying by! Summer got off to a great start with a trip to NYC for the Canon From Light to Ink gallery. What a fun event it was and a real treat to meet the photographers of the winning images. Below is a behind the scenes video from the gallery event and some snapshots taken during my weekend in NYC.

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AuthorKaren Grubb

It is my pleasure to announce the image that I have selected to be printed on Canon’s imagePROGRAF large format printer and displayed at the Joshua Liner Gallery alongside images from John Stanmeyer, Rafael “RC” Concepcion, Jacob Santiago, and myself.

Michelle Nicoloff, Sounds of the Pacific

This photo was one of those that grabbed me right away and made me pause to take in everything that was going on in the image. I was completely drawn in by the movement in the scene, from the wave rolling in the foreground to the sunlit water splashing off the swimmer’s hand, to the birds in the background flying off towards the sunset. The ocean and the setting sun perfectly wrap the swimmer in a gentle embrace. Seeing this image in a high quality large format print will enable the viewer to truly experience the vitality of the scene and to move through all the beautiful details of the photo.

birdchasing

I would like to thank Canon for inviting me to be a part of the “From Light to Ink” campaign and to experience the work of other photographers through the creative vision of “Embrace”. I look forward to seeing the collection of beautiful images infused with life from Canon’s high-quality imagePROGRAF printer.

A reminder that the “From Light to Ink” gallery will be open to the public from 11am-6pm on June 13th at the Joshua Liner Gallery in New York City. I hope to see you there!

 For more information on Canon’s line of imagePROGRAF printers, visit bit.ly/1GBeFJA.

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AuthorKaren Grubb

With the “From Light to Ink” gallery only two weeks away, I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few submissions that really caught my eye. For me, successful images evoke a feeling that the viewer connects with, sometimes through a dramatic scene, vibrant colors, or even the subtlest of details. The images below stood out to me as representations of that viewer connection, and excellent reflections of the campaign theme “Embrace”. These images exhibit qualities that would really come alive when printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF large format printer, allowing the viewer to fully experience the different elements of each preserved moment in time. 

Brendan Holmes, Currach Ashore

One thing I really like about this image is the link between the theme “Embrace” and the fact that the boat is tied up on dry land with nowhere to float away. To me this photo is a great representation of embracing the ephemeral quality of manmade objects in the face of the power of nature. The beauty of a large format print is in the details, and the details in the deterioration of the boat, the peeling paint and tattered rope, show so much character.

CurrachAshore

Della Huff, Palouse Sunrise

To me, there is a special magic in photographing sunrises, more so than sunsets. I really enjoy the tranquility of heading out into nature and experiencing the dawn before the masses have awakened, and this image perfectly captures that sense of embracing the start of the day. The detail in the crops and the wide spectrum of color in this image really lends itself to large format printing.

PalouseSunrise.jpg

Michelle Nicoloff, Sounds of the Pacific

There’s a mood and a spirit expressed in this image that really draws me in and perfectly embodies the campaign theme of “Embrace”. Through the motion of the crashing wave and the swimmer’s hand splashing the sunlit water, to the birds heading off into the sunset, the image elicits a powerful connection with the viewer. I really feel like I am a part of this peaceful and serene scene. I think the great composition and details in the image, coupled with the fine gradations in tone will really be impressive printed large-scale.

BirdChasing.jpg

Thank you again to everyone who submitted. It was a pleasure catching a glimpse into the way each individual uses photography to embrace the world around them. Stay tuned, we will be announcing the winners soon!

Posted
AuthorKaren Grubb

Iceland truly is one of the most remarkable places that I have ever been. I first visited in 2013 and quickly fell in love with the geographically diverse environment. It is a place that will haunt you for months after you have left. There is no secret why this country has become such a trendy travel destination. From the surreal landscapes and friendly people, to the northern lights and the abundance of friendly long-haired Icelandic horses - there is so much to fall in love with on this awe-inspiring little island.

Tak - First and foremost, I owe a big thank you to Inga Kristjánsdóttir from Tiny Iceland for helping me plan our two-week itinerary and to Geysir Car Rental for providing us with a trusty rental car that got us safely everywhere we wanted to go. We ended up in a few rough driving situations and were so happy to have the Land Rover Defender to get us through stormy conditions. Also, thank you to Trawire for providing us with a portable WiFi hotspot to keep us connected throughout our journey around the island.


Reykjavík and the Golden Circle

The excitement of our trip started before we even left the plane. Halfway through our Icelandair red-eye flight, the pilot made an announcement that the northern lights were active on the right side of the plane (lucky seating for us). Talk about in-flight entertainment! Of course, the excitement of watching the northern lights meant no sleep during the rest of the flight.

First stop after landing was the Blue Lagoon, the perfect remedy for a long flight and sleepless night. There is nothing quite like soaking in the warm, turquoise water while it's snowing out. A stop at this geothermal pool and spa is a definite must when visiting Iceland.

After our soak, we headed into Reykjavík to check-in and do a little sightseeing. It felt so good to be back in this charming city. For me, no visit to Reykjavík is complete without stopping at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Icelanders love their hot dogs, and these really are the best. The magic is in the toppings (grilled onions and 3 different sauces) so if you visit, be sure to order everything on them. Following lunch was a stroll along the harbor and a visit to see the architectural beauty of Harpa Concert Hall.

For dinner we met up with my two favorite Icelandic ladies, Inga Kristjánsdóttir and Jórunn Guðlaugsdóttir. Jórunn and I met during my previous trip to Iceland. She also writes for an Icelandic travel site, Guide to Iceland, which features plenty of excellent travel tips written by locals. Dinner was at Kol Restaurant, located just down the street from Hallgrímskirkja, a beautifully designed church that resembles the basalt columns found throughout the Icelandic landscape. Aside from the wonderful atmosphere and the excellent service, the food at Kol was incredible. Their menu features plenty of fresh and locally sourced food, and a great selection of wines. They also offer a wonderfully creative cocktail menu, arranged by how “experienced” a drinker you are. This is a first-rate restaurant with a warm vibe and extremely friendly staff.

The following day we headed out on the most popular tourist drive along the Golden Circle, visiting Þingvellir National Park (where Vikings established the world's first democratic parliament), Strokkur geyser, and the waterfall Gullfoss. While definitely one of the more tourist packed areas of Iceland, the Golden Circle is still worth a visit, especially if your time is limited. The Þingvellir Visitor Center has an excellent mutli-media display highlighting the significance of the area throughout Iceland’s history.

After our first full day of sightseeing around the Golden Circle, we headed to Hotel Ranga in Hella. I had discovered this countryside hotel while watching an episode of “Booze Traveler” on the Travel Channel. The show featured Hotel Ranga and the locally made Icelandic birch-infused liquors, Björk and Birkir. Frederick, the owner of the hotel, was the consummate host, making the rounds regularly in the restaurant and lounge areas to make sure all the guests were enjoying themselves. After dinner, he sat down with us and I told him how I had discovered the hotel through the TV show. He immediately got up and returned with a bottle of Birkir, a schnapps, and Björk, a liqueur. It was a real treat to sit down with Frederick for a few drinks while he told us about the history of the establishment. In addition to the wonderful service, Hotel Ranga also offers panoramic views of the area, geothermal hot tubs in front of the rooms, and the best part, a separate building dedicated to stargazing and northern lights viewing.


South and Southeast Iceland

The next several days were spent following the Ring Road along the southern coast. There is so much to experience from Hella to Höfn, including waterfalls, ice caves, glaciers, geothermal areas, black sand beaches littered with icebergs, and plenty of surreal landscapes. We could easily have spent the entire two weeks in this area alone.

The first stretch along the Ring Road in the south is equally as busy as the Golden Circle, and even more so since we were travelling during Spring Break. We stopped at the popular waterfalls Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi (bring your rain boots to wade to this hidden waterfall), and Skógafoss, as well as the famous DC 3 plane carcass on Sólheimasandur beach.

One place I couldn’t wait to return to was Jökulsárlón, located at the base of the outlet glacier Breiðamerkurjökull. This pristine glacial lagoon is a favorite among travelers, and rightfully so.  One could spend hours here watching the icebergs drift down a small channel and onto the black sand beach, eventually washing out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Another highlight along the southeast coast was the area around Höfn, in particular, the craggy peak of Vestrahorn that towers over the black sand beach of Stokksnes. The windblown sand facial I got from walking along this beach was definitely worth the beautiful sights. At the end of the road near the Viking Café is a beautifully weathered movie set. Walking into this replica Viking village, you really feel like you’re stepping back in time. From what we gathered from the locals, the set was built in 2010 for a movie that was never filmed. It sat abandoned for years, but will finally be brought back to life in a new movie from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, set to begin filming next year.


East Iceland

After a fortunate few days of sunshine, we woke up to ominous clouds. The drive from Höfn to the Eastfjords was mostly whiteout skies with an occasional break in the clouds revealing the moody Atlantic Ocean, and silhouettes of the mountains rising above the fjords. This was our first real dose of the danger of driving in stormy conditions in Iceland and a reaffirmation of just how important it is to check the road conditions regularly while traveling. After a long five-hour drive through the storm, the sun finally peaked out as we descended into Seyðisfjörður, cruising the same road Ben Stiller longboarded down in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". This picturesque town turned out to be one of our favorite stops during the whole trip and left us wishing we had allotted more time here. The brightly colored wooden houses coupled with the fresh snow made us feel like we were walking around in a snow globe. Dinner and breakfast the next day were both in the wonderful Bistro Skaftkell, a café with a cozy, artistic vibe and very sociable staff that introduced us to some great Icelandic music. Next time we visit, we will definitely be spending more time in this lovely little town.


North Iceland

Leaving the Eastfjords, we headed north towards the otherworldly landscapes of the Lake Mývatn area, stopping along the way to see the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss, and neighboring waterfall, Selfoss. As we neared Lake Mývatn, we turned off to see (and smell!) Kroflustod Power Station, Iceland’s largest geothermal station. This was an impressive facility but even more impressive were the steaming vents and gurgling mudpots of Hverir, located just across the Ring Road.

We checked in at the Vogafjós Guesthouse just in time to see them milking the cows. This delightful guesthouse includes a restaurant with panoramic views on one side, and a glass wall on the other that offer diners a view into the cowshed. During milking time, visitors can either watch through the glass wall or head inside to meet the cows and try their fresh warm milk. If you stop here, be sure to try their Geysir bread baked in a geothermal oven at the hot springs nearby.

That evening, despite incredibly strong winds, we decided to visit the Mývatn Nature Baths. I’m sure on a much calmer day this would’ve been a lovely experience, but on this particular night, we ended up huddled in a long pool-type Jacuzzi with the locals while the larger pools remained empty. Despite the bitter wind, it was a very beautiful location with incredible views.

The following morning we woke and headed out to explore the forested lava areas of Hofdi, the strange lava columns at Dimmuborgir, and my favorite, Grjótagjá, a beautiful geothermal spring hidden in a cave. I had read online that this location was used for the Game of Thrones scene where Jon Snow broke his Night’s Watch vows in favor of getting fresh with Igrit. I could not figure out what part of that scene was filmed in this cave other than maybe where they entered it beneath the fissure. Either way, this geothermal cave was incredible and definitely a must see in the north.

After making our way around the lake, we headed off again on the Ring Road towards the northwest region of Skagafjörður. After enjoying a nice Easter dinner in Sauðárkrókur, the second largest town on the northern coast, we checked in for the night in the beautiful Hestasport Cottages in Varmahlíð, complete with a stone hot pot right outside our front door. If you are a fan of horse riding, or just horses in general, this area is one of the best known destinations for riders in Iceland.

The following morning, we woke early and headed out to visit the 18th century turf farm house museum at Glaumbær. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but a peek inside the windows of each beautifully preserved structure, filled with old furniture and utensils, gave an interesting view of rural Icelandic life centuries ago.


Westfjords

Back on the road, we headed out towards the Westfjords. The roads, which are largely unpaved, weave in and out of beautiful fjords and over dramatic mountain passes. Faced with gale force winds, snow drifts that completely covered the road, including patches of iced over sections next to perilously steep drop-offs, this is definitely one point in the trip when we were extremely glad to have the Land Rover Defender. While rough driving at times, including one point where we actually had to dodge a large tumbling boulder, it was easily the most beautiful stretch of road we had seen during the trip.

With a strong storm blowing through and many of the surrounding roads closed, the next two days were spent in the tiny village of Bíldudalur, on the coast of Arnarfjörður. It was nice to have a couple days of downtime in this sleepy little village. We really got a sense of what life is like living in the rural Westfjords. Once a booming fishing village, the town is now home to a factory that employs most of the local residents. It produces vitamins made from mineral-rich algae found in the fjord.   


West Iceland/ Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Following another harrowing drive out of the Westfjords, we arrived on the western peninsula. We stopped for lunch in Stykkishólmur, the site of another great scene from "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" where Ben Stiller daydreams of Kristin Wiig singing Space Oddity to him as he jumps into a departing helicopter. After lunch we headed further down the road to Grundarfjörður where we stayed in the most picturesquely located Airbnb situated at the base of the famous Mount Kirkjufell. After visiting Kirkjufellfoss and making friends with a sweet group of Icelandic horses, we spent the majority of the night until 3am playing a cat and mouse game with the northern lights and snow showers. Patience and tolerance for extremely cold weather is a must for northern lights viewing.  

The next day we took our time exploring the western peninsula. This area of the island has so much to offer in such a short driving distance. One thing I learned in my time spent on the island, as much as possible when time allows, follow the signs that look like the Apple command key. You never know what kind of beauty you will find. Following these signs led us to  Öndverðarnes and the dramatic birds cliffs of Svörtuloft. The windy dirt road weaves through charcoal lava fields, sprinkled with green moss. We stopped at Skarðsvík, a golden sand beach surrounded by basalt cliffs. At the top of the beach lies a marker where a Viking gravesite was discovered in the '60s.  After exploring this area, we headed south around the peninsula making a stop along the way at Dritvík - Djúpalónssandur, a black pebble beach with scattered remnants from an old shipwreck. From the beach there's an excellent view of the Snæfellsjökull glacier, made famous by Jules Verne's story "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in which the mountain is the entrance to the center of the earth. Our final destination for the day was the beautifully remote Hotel Budir, an elegantly decorated hotel situated in the middle of a lava field. I had stayed here previously in 2013 and couldn’t wait to be back. After enjoying one of the best meals of our trip, we headed out to the lounge to find the auroras were putting on the most dazzling show we had seen yet. Words cannot describe how awe-inspiring it is standing underneath these streams of glowing plasma, as they dance around in a dome-like shape overhead. It is something I wish that everyone could experience at least once in their lifetime.