Shippensburg, Pennsylvania to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

I often find myself unexpectedly in Washington DC – my best from from college days Ursula lives there and there’s always an excuse to visit her. There are direct flights from Keflavik daily to Dulles and Baltimore, Maryland, and I had never realised how close Pennsylvania, New York, Virgina and Delaware all are to eachother in that corner of the states. The east coast is a confusing place geographically.

Shippensburg University Main Building

This time around, I was making a pilgrimage to Shippensburg – the university town my father studied for many years and met my mother back in the seventies. I was taking parts of him and his memories back to the few remaining friends I found there, retracing some of his footsteps and rediscovering a history I had never known.

the last of dad’s ashes left in Shippensburg

I stayed with Charles, a retired, 81-year old professor who met Einar through friends. He never taught him, but they became close and Einar lived in his house for a year and spent some time helping fix up the 19th century home in exchange for Charles’ help in buying his first car – a Ford Pinto. Charles still lives in the same street on North Earl Street, and I stayed in the same room my dad lived in nearly forty years ago. He described dad as a womanizer. A glutton that always wanted immediate gratification.

my gentlemen hosts

Charles is a historian plagued with short term memory loss, and I don’t think theres anything more ironic or confusing than being obsessed with history while losing your memory. He walked with a cane made from a ski pole, and always wore a hat outside after recently removing some cancer cells from his nose. He has catalogued every belonging in his home, with binders of inventory that describe the origin, worth and inheritance of each item. I inherited Dads inheritance – a beautiful clay pot from Mexico.

my father in the same house I stayed

We visited the Franklin science Center where my father took all of his biology and chemistry classes on campus. We drove to the address where he first lived in a trailer with my mother. The trailer is gone, but the address still existed on google maps. We went to the pubs he frequented. I visited the home where my parents were married in 1978. We went to dinner with his college buddies who shared stories of my father and mother, and lunch with the best man from their wedding John, whose wife is also suffering from short term memory loss and rediscovered the date of her own mothers death thru a letter I returned to John from 2006 that I found in dads office. They described dad as a charmer, never free of a cigarette or a beer in his hand.

a common sight in Shippensburg

After a whirlwind visit and a roller coaster of emotions, I dried the tears from laughter and sadness with a solo roadtrip thru Amish country. The peaceful scene of passing farms and horse drawn carriages made it feel like time travel, and Rehoboth Beach was worlds away from small town Shippensburg. I spent three days there, a stones throw from the sea, in Ursula’s beachhouse that her grandmother frequented back in the 1940’s.

oysters for happy hour

We were three ladies, the mandatory cute gay guy and two purse-dogs to accessorise the beach by day, and danced every night away back to the beach where skinny dipping was no big deal in the warmth of the darkness. Our diet was mostly a combination of beverages, and a gaggle of men was never far away at one of the bars, nightclubs or drag queen shows we spent the evenings.

old time selfie

It was nearly 30°c every day, I got a beach tan, verging on a burn, and took an old time photo of our group as an inter-racial group of bandits from the 1920´s. I cant imagine a better way to have ended the week, a perfect, mindless holiday to distract me from the realities of yesterday and tomorrow.

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Southern Greenland in September

Air Iceland Connect has the occasional package deals to Greenland, which are significantly cheaper than just buying a return flight, even though it includes a hotel for 3 or 4 nights. Steve and I decided to go to Ilulissat in February for a joint birthday celebration, and paid for a 3 night package that turned into an 8 day, all inclusive trip, courtesy of Air Iceland, because flights for grounded for 5 days after our original departure day, due to bad weather. The bad weather wasn’t in Ilulissat, so we didn’t mind the extension, especially considering the price of things to travel to Greenland.

Hej Greenland!

We tried our luck with fate again, this time to Narsarsuaq, for another 3 night trip. We flew low over the glaciers, with spectacular views of the ice fjords. Since it was southern Greenland in September, there were less chances that weather might delay us, but we had fallen so completely head over heels with Greenland (and a couple of Greenlandic people) that it was always going to be worth going again.

the taxi boat

We flew into Narsarsuaq airport, and took a one hour boat taxi to Narsaq where we’d stay at the Narsaq Hotel, run by an Icelander and his Greenlandic wife. The sun was shining and the sea was dead calm, and we had returned to a completely different paradise. We even went seaswimming, enjoying the icecold sea just fine knowing the sun would warm us dry.

Steve seaswimming, not so far from a skinned seal carcass we noticed later on the beach

The boat captain dodged small ice bergs as we watched the farms roll by, many only reachable by boat or horse, and noticed some familiar looking sheep and freshly rolled hay bales. This area of Greenland is the only place where Icelandic sheep and horses are kept, and we had planned on riding and spending as much time as possible on the water or hiking near it. The only problem was that roundup time had also begun here, and the few horses normally rented to tourists to ride were now being used by farmers and their friends to bring the sheep home.

newly cut hay fields and the colourful homes of Narsaq

Instead, we checked into our hotel where the view from our window looked straight down at the slaughter house. We fell asleep after a long night of barhopping, which involved moving between the towns only two bars a couple of times to catch a glimpse of the changing crowds and live music, and most of our drinking comrades were actually Icelanders who had come in on the same flight. The DJ adapted accordingly, playing a spotify playlist of top 50 Icelandic songs, and it was hard to remember where we really were. We woke up to sounds of belting sheep, and really thought we had come back home, when we looked out and saw an entire herd of sheep herded into the field adjacent to the slaughter house. Their numbers slowly dwindled over the next few days, so we tried some local lamb and felt good for contributing to the local economy, but slightly guilty for their murders.

the quant little harbour of Qaqortoq

We took a boat trip to Qaqortoq, the biggest town in Southern Greenland, and felt as though we had arrived in a metropolitan city. The town was cutely nestled in the slopes of hills and valleys, all meeting in a charming harbor, much more densely inhabited than anywhere I had imagined in Greenland. We visited the Viking ruins at Hvalsey, where the remains of a stone church still stand, but the last farm in the valley had been deserted a few years earlier.

Hvalsey church ruins

We learned a lot about the differences of West and South Greenland, and have east Greenland on our horizon soon, depending on Air Iceland’s next offer. The night before our flight back, rumours about strong winds started circulating among the hotel guests and a panic arose that the flight might actually be cancelled. The others, including the hotel owner himself, left that night on the latest boat back to Narsarsuaq to increase their chances of making the flight, but we grinned at the chance to be stuck again, staying put until the morning. We woke up to an empty field of sheep, and a perfectly calm morning, so grudgingly packed our bags and walked down to the harbour for our ferry to the airport. The boat temporarily broke down, and we thought we had cheated fate again, as half the boat moved over to a smaller one and left us at the docks. Only fifteen minutes later, the boat started, and we were off too, and made it to the airport where the plane would arrive on time. We chatted with Fridrik the owner, and Im pretty sure we were both offered a job at his hotel or soon-to-be brewery, so we may be back sooner than we know.

Rainy Days in Bergen

It was hot, dry and summery in the rest of Norway, and apparently also in Bergen until I arrived, but the rains came in with a cooling relief.

coffee at the harbour

Walking around in rain boots and an umberlla were welcomed changes, especially since I had both in my backpack, and I couchsurfed with some friendly students at the University of Bergen dorm.

cobblestone skipping

I spent the majority of my two days there jumping in puddles and finding cafe´s to write at, and I accidentally ended up at a couple of concerts. I saw an organ concert at St. Mary´s church, Mariakirken, and a brass quintet at Statsraaden Bar. I wanted to see a Grieg concert as well, but my vacation got cut short for a family emergency.

Mine and Steph´s reflection in the mirror ball

The photographer from Liv & Benni´s wedding was also in Bergen, so we took the opportunity of traveling together to try and get some more photoshoots done.

an American diner´s outside seating in Bergen

The original plan was to find a fake fiancé and do an engagement shoot, since she specialises in engagements and weddings, but tinder didn´t work well enough for that.

wishing that was my vespa

Instead we ended up roaming around Bryggen and old town Bergen in the first break in the clouds, and even managed to see the sun shine on us in rainy Bergen.

a Banksy-esque moment

Check out Zakas Photography for more photos, and if you know anyone getting engaged or hosting a destination wedding that needs a photographer, Steph is your lady.

Liv & Benni get hitched on the Aurdal farm

Liv and I studied geeky old Norse things together in a master’s program back in 2012. She’s from Norway, but had a special place for Iceland in her heart and never really left. Except for that one semester she ‘studied abroad’ in Oslo. A couple of years later, a fateful Tinder swipe right (that her gay best friend’s finger decided for her) led her to Benni, her Icelandic better half. Their ‘legal’ wedding took place in Keflavik a few weeks ago, but the ceremony and celebrations went down during a long weekend getaway to the Aurdal farm.

Liv & Benni say I do

Somewhere between Oslo and Honefoss is a little place called Aurdalsveien. The 100+ year old log farm house has been in her family for four generations, and her brother is the resident farmer, and her parents still live there. There are cabins all around, hidden among the forest and hills, and the nearby lake at Jevnaker makes a perfect beach. It was hot, I mean like tropical hot. Temperatures above 30°c, and one of the worst droughts in a hundred years.

Liv’s stagette party

The bride-to-be had a surprise bachelorette party two nights before the wedding in the nearby town, Honefoss, Her childhood friends from the region and college friends from Oslo joined the Iceland-era friends and a group of girls, plus one male guest of honor (he likes men too so he fit right in). We didn’t find any mens feathers to rustle, but we decorated Liv in some balloons, dined in Liv’s favourite, historic Brasserie, and had sunset cocktails with a view over the river.

dining at the far during prep days

I stayed in a guest house cabin across the field from the farm with the bestman and a few other overnight guests. We drank sparkling water with various fruity flavours, and filled the rest of us with joy, booze and grubs. The first few days were spent preparing for the wedding – name tags, decorations, slideshows and speeches, and the last couple of days were lost in recovering from the wedding. Lazing in the sun or a hammock, filling our bellies with more Norwegian home cooked meals, was the only way to survive the wedding aftermath.

bathing with the groom and honorary guest in the creek

The heat was wonderful, except for the fact that it dried up all the wells on the farm and surrounding cabins. Bathing in a shallow creek in the forest beside the farm was the most sustainable way to bathe, though I was never sure if I was cleaner or dirtier after stirring up all the leaves and mud on the creek bottom while washing my hair.

the barn interior before the wedding

My contributions to the wedding included a bit of artistic creativity – decorating the cold drinks fridge and writing name tags for the seating arrangement that didn’t include any real names. People had to identify with their personality type at each table, choosing from options like
‘the intellectual’ or ‘the lustful.’ I made potato salad for 100 people in a small kitchen that had more flies in it than potatoes, so the most difficult choice of the day was whether or not to keep the windows closed after killing them all and having fresh air or preparing the salad in a small sauna (we decided on the latter, for hygienic reasons).

wedding guests cure their hangover at Jevnaker

A large lake nearby in Jevnaker was a refreshing dip with a bit more success, which we finally got to on the day after the wedding. The bustling little farm started to empty, the first overnight guests leaving in their RV at 8 am. We started shuttling guests to the airport and I left a day later, and made my way to Bergen where my Norwegian journey could carry on in the cool rain.

Bocuse d´or Europe 2018

I´ve been following team Iceland in the Bocuse d´or competitions since 2011 and every other year, they place top ten in the European pre-qualifying competition. 2018 was no different, and chef Bjarni Siguróli, who was the assistant chef in 2011, placed ninth to qualify for the Bocuse d´or worldwide competition taking place in Lyon 2019.

candidate Bjarni Siguroli, Sturla Birgisson, Ísak Darri the commis, and Viktor Orn coach and bronze Bocuse winner 2017

The support behind each and everyone of Iceland´s chefs since Iceland started taking part, in 1999 with Sturla Birgisson, has been nothing short of amazing. As the smallest country taking part from Europe, we have edged out 13 other European countries in every pre-competition to qualify for the Mondial competition in Lyon every other year. In the finals, we are also nothing shy of top 10, and have placed on the podium twice with a bronze Bocuse to take home.

in the heat of the competition Bocuse Europe 2018

This year, the European Bocuse took place in Torino, Italy. Placed in the heart of Piemonte, the region itself was inspiring for any foodie or wine lover. Watching Europe´s best chefs and the cutting edge of haute cuisine on display for two days was motivating for anyone that took the time to watch – and thousands of people did just that.

beach day in Geneva

[Surrounding the competition is also a food, wine and kitchen expo – I went wine tasting from Hungary to Russia and tried all the newest technology to make the best ice cream or freshest espresso. I also made a small weekend trip out of the journey – there aren´t direct flights from Keflavik to Torino so I flew in through Geneva and out through London.

perfect timing to hit on the street food festival in Geneva

Both were worth it for different reasons – it was my first time in Geneva and I met three amazing couchsurfers and, by chance, two Icelanders that happened to be there the same day. I went to the beach, which I didn´t believe was actually a thing until I sat suntanning beside Lac Léman, looking across the lake to France. I drove through Mount Blanc to get to Italy, and flew home through London to pick up a new passport… I think its my tenth, and I´m never quite sure how many years until it fills up too, since I´ve only had two out of nine make it to their expiration date.

Bike Training in Provence

Provence is a place where the name alone triggers the smell of lavender and dreams of endless vineyards. I’d never been there before, but thats exactly what it was, plus some. There were meadows of red poppies as far as the eye could see, olive trees and strawberry fields, and picturesque villages on hill tops seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years.

Vines, poppies and an olive tree

I stayed between Carpentras and Pernes-les-Fontaines, visiting nearby Avignon, Monteux and Blauvac to name a few. Dinners included red wines from nearby Chateuneuf-du-Pape and freshly picked, local asparagus and artichokes. I stayed with 23 amazing individuals in our own Chateau, with a courtyard fit for a regal wedding, and we were all given performance street bikes that weighed less than my right arm to use as transport.

Practicing my French Duck face

During the days, we had a combination of hard and “soft” skills training, everything from bike mechanics to public speaking. We were on our way to become tour Leaders, not guides, since “leaders” implies we also have co-leaders and teamwork skills. We had to learn to be interested, not only interesting, and speak about our regions and activities with passion that couldn’t be staged. We learned how to use an intraweb interface that takes me back to the days of the internet in 1999 – its extremely mind boggling to filter through html links, url sites that cant be reached, tens of thousands of pages of information, and other trip resources without google.

My training group, aka Missy Elliot

Our group was mainly European, plus a few dual citizen North Americans, and about two-thirds female. Everyone spoke two or more languages, and the collective travel experience and skills in that group made all of us feel individually inadequate. I made some lasting friendships, and others I’ll never see again, and two of us didn’t even make it thru training and returned home with an abrupt end to their Backroads career.

Just another picture perfect Provence town

It’s funny how France keeps calling me back; first, a spontaneous backpacking trip in Bretagne over New Years, and now, the opportunity to get paid to learn about bikes and cycling in Provence. I thank Backroads for the opportunity, and can’t believe I’ve started making money while traveling to new places in my favourite countries.

The Maldives

Maldives, country #212, doesn’t have much land to call home. Little spits of coral reefs and raised atolls make up an island nation in the middle of the Indian ocean, and luckily one island is wide and high enough to land airplanes. When you walk out of Malé International airport, instead of a curbside pick up, theres a wharf with many boats parked and ready to shuttle you to your island paradise of choice.

the view of the Maldives from the plane

Many islands are completely private, with only one hotel or resort, and still the bedrooms are built on stilts, in various sized bungalows. Many have outdoor showers, private pools, and your own entrance to the sea, and others have jacuzzis and butlers to make your stay even more luxurious.

sundowners and tapas

The Maldives are popular for honeymooners and destination weddings, so make sure you’ve got a good excuse to be there if you’re just there for fun. Going alone seems like a great idea, but be wary of all the lonely looks you’ll get from the staff whose job it is to ensure you’re showered in hospitality nonstop.

home at the blungalow, comlete with a hammock and an infinity pool

Coco Bodu Hithi was home for five nights, for a price tag that could have housed me for 5 months in East Africa. But the dining options and wine list on this tiny island spit could have kept me happy for weeks if I was a rich girl.

the hotel lobby

The view from the bungalow was a turquoise blue sea, with coral reefs and colourful fish right below the step ladder. You didn’t even need to snorkel to see the sea life – I saw a sting ray, a coral shark, and a Mantaray just from the patio. Once I finally got in the water, I followed a green turtle grazing at the edge of the reef for as long as I could before he disappeared into the deep blue.

Coco Bodu Hithi island

It’s hard to have an impression of the Maldives as a place – I only met a couple of Maldivians, and set foot only on one square kilometre of land outside of the airport, but I can definitely recommend the Maldivian fish curry and Coco Bodu’s spa as things not to miss. I doubt I’ll ever see the latter again…