20 Years of Travel #19: Chernobyl

_DSC5065The 20 Years of Travel series continues with our day trip to Chernobyl in Ukraine. If there was any trip my husband and I have taken where people ask the question “Why?”, it would be our trip to Chernobyl in 2016. The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl happened on April 25-26, 1986, when I was a little kid. When my husband and I heard that they were opening the13770367_267208830320350_1063754274685798828_n areas around the reactor for visitors almost 25 years later, we immediately put it on our list of places to visit. We were definitely interested in learning more about the accident and the reactor first hand. However, there is something unique and a bit post-apocalyptic about seeing towns that have been completely deserted and as a result have remained completely the same for the last 25 years. The only differences are that grass and weeds are overgrown everywhere and the buildings are rundown. When the people evacuated these towns after the accident, they were all under the impression that they would get to return to their homes in a week or so. However, as most of us know, that did not happen. Even the carnival rides from the fair that was being held in Prypyat during the time of the accident continue to hauntingly remain standing and abandoned.

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Journey to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone:
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is safe! It would not be open to public tours if it wasn’t. Actually, you are also allowed to stay overnight in the Exclusion Zone, however, due to time constraints, we decided just to take the one-day Chernobyl Tour that leaves from Kiev early in the morning. The drive to the Dytyatky checkpoint into the Exclusion Zone takes a couple of hours, so you have a chance to nap in the car or watch the Chernobyl documentary that they put on the television for us. This documentary was amazing, and I really wish I had written down the title of it. It gave an overview of what led up to the explosion, including power failures during testing. I think the most shocking part of this documentary for me, as I was very young when this disaster occurred so knew little about it, was the cover-up that occurred after the explosion. As this was a Soviet nuclear power plant, they tried to keep this incident a secret from the international community and even from their own people. Many individuals in the nearby town of Pripyat felt the explosion in the middle of the night. As firefighters were risking their lives, trying to contain the explosion, people in Pripyat were told to continue with their daily activities and enjoy the carnival that was in town, while fumes and smoke spread through the city. More than 24 hours later, they finally decided to start evacuating nearby towns. The international community became aware of the situation, when Sweden started detecting high radiation levels. If Sweden was detecting high radiation levels, just imagine the radiation levels in the towns near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

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Geiger counter & Homes:
Once in the Exclusion Zone, we started visiting some of the towns that were abandoned. _DSC5173To get a clear idea of the vast impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the picture above is a memorial to all the towns that were affected by radiation and had to be evacuated. When we exited our vehicle, our guides gave us individual Geiger counters (see picture on the right) to be able to track radiation levels. The Geiger counters were sound an alarm if radiation levels were above 2.0 mSv’s. I think I saw our Geiger counter hit 4.0 at one point. However, even when the alarm sounds, the radiation levels are not harmful. Basically we were just given our yearly dose of radiation in one day. We first started visiting some of the abandoned homes (see pictures below).

Abandoned Community Facilities
We also visited some community buildings including a local school, gymnasium and public pool (see pictures below).

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Duga-1:
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union built this missile defense system, which was designed to detect the launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles. This structure, located only a few kilometers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, was irradiated during the Chernobyl disaster but remains standing, as all the valuable metal has been contaminated and the surrounding sand too. Since it can’t be knocked over without releasing dangerous amounts of radiation, it’s one of the few remaining Soviet missile radars still standing in the former Soviet Union.

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Pripyat Carnival:
The nearest town to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was Pripyat. The town of approximately 50,000 people were enjoying a carnival that was in town when the explosion happened. The carnival rides are still standing (see pictures below).

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The Reactor:
Less than a month after the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, a cover was designed, called the Sarcophagus, to go over the reactor to contain the radiation. The Sarcophagus was only designed to be a useful cover for 20-30 years, so work was done to build the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement (aka the Arch). This Arch would cost billions of dollars and be constructed next to the reactor. We got to view the reactor with the Sarcophagus and the Arch next to it from a safe distance (see picture below). In 2017, a year after our visit, the Arch was moved over the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as a more permanent containment system.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was one of the most interesting places we have ever explored. We have never seen so many abandoned towns. The expansive reach of such a tragedy was astounding. It was quite a haunting and somewhat unnerving site to behold. We would definitely recommend visiting this area if you are ever in Ukraine.

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

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WWW Wednesdays – September 12, 2018

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

Currently Reading

Finished Reading

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

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I’m assuming that if you are reading this blog post, you enjoy reading. This is the book for all you readers. It touches on developing one’s reading life and what/who inspires it (aka libraries, bookstores and friends/family). It talks about the comfort of bookshelves and the act of giving/receiving book recommendations. I’d Rather Be Reading contains so many beautiful lines:

“For everyone who’s ever finished a book under the covers with a flashlight when they were supposed to be sleeping.” (Her dedication)
“I’m grateful for my one life, but I’d prefer to live a thousand.”
“My simple rows of library records may not be as pretty as personal photographs, but when it comes to remembering – well, they take me right back.”
“Reading is personal and never more so than when we’re sharing why we connect with certain books.”
“Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts.”

This book will be gracing and beautifying my bookshelf for a long long time. I hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I did!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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I recently read the book Educated by Tara Westover and really enjoyed it. I felt for the main character who grew up in an extremely sheltered and ignorant world with a very abusive brother. I found similarities in reading The Glass Castle. This book was an even more intense read in my opinion. Trigger warnings for individuals who have a difficult time reading about sexual and alcohol abuse. Mostly I think I found it heartbreaking how the parents used their (and sometimes their kids’) money to feed their own addictions instead of their kids’ stomachs. When I read memoirs like this one and Educated, it puts a lot of my own feelings of my childhood into perspective. I don’t know that anyone has a perfect childhood, but I am grateful that I had a childhood that contained a stable roof over my head, food on the table and a good education.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

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I literally just finished this book last night. It was a quick read for me, as I really enjoyed it. It was a thrilling true crime story with a taste of what New York was like in the late 1800s with Theodore Roosevelt in charge of reforming a corrupt NYPD. (Trigger warning: graphic details related to the murders, including mutilation.) I especially enjoyed the character of Sara, whose main ambition is to be the first woman in the NYPD. The men all try to be delicate around her, but then she will shock them by cursing. It is a wonderful cast of interesting characters with a thrilling and mysterious plot. I am hoping to get access to the TNT series (based off this book) soon. Also, if you are interested in audiobooks, Edward Herrmann – for all you Gilmore Girls fans – does an amazing job!

Reading Next

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading lately?

HAPPY READING!!!!

WWW Wednesdays – September 5, 2018

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

Currently Reading

Finished Reading

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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I didn’t get a lot of time to read this past week, as I had family in town for the holiday weekend, so I just focused on completing this epic novel for a book club that meets tomorrow. I found an unabridged audiobook version through my local library’s Hoopla Digital. (I like to plug my local library and its services as much as I can.) This version was longer and contained more chapters than any book copy I own, so I thought this would be the best option. Just a heads up that it is a beast. The audiobook was 52+ hours long. Unabridged physical book copies are more than 1,000 pages. I do wonder what the abridged versions cut out, because I did find sections to be slow, but on the other hand, those same sections helped the ending play out. It was a bit more of a thriller than I expected.

A young Edmond Dantès was set up for a crime of which he was wrongly convicted and sent to prison, which he escaped 14 years later. He then starts executing a plan of revenge against his conspirators.

While I was overall happy with this audiobook version, the narration was not the best. I listened to the version narrated by Bill Homewood. As this book spans both France and Italy, the narrator has to sometimes speak French and Italian. I can’t speak for the French pronunciations, but his Italian pronunciations were terrible – even in relation to locations. I also am not quite sure I always agreed with his voice interpretations. I have heard that there are better narrations, so I recommend looking into that before settling on this one.

I sometimes found it difficult to keep the characters straight, which maybe a symptom of my getting older, but I did find a Spark Notes link that I referred to every now and then, which really helped (see it here). Overall, if it wasn’t for the length and my occasional character confusion, this book was fantastic. It would normally take a month for me to finish a book of this size, but I finished it in just two weeks. With family in town, I found it difficult not to hide from everyone, so I could listen to what happened next.  This is definitely a classic everyone should read.

Reading Next

I am so thrilled to have just received my pre-ordered copy of Anne Bogel’s recent book I’d Rather Be Reading. I’ve been obsessed with her other book Reading People, since I picked it up last year, so I couldn’t wait to read her new one. This might be moved to my Currently Reading list by the end of the day.

What are y’all reading this week? Have you read or have any thoughts on the books mentioned on this post?

HAPPY READING!!!

20 Years of Travel #18: Paris

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues by featuring the City of Love: Paris, France. I grew up watching old movies that were set in Paris: An American in Paris, Funny Face, Gigi, and many more. I dreamed of seeing this amazing city. I went for the first time in 2006. I was a bit disappointed with Paris at that time. I can now say that my disappointment was almost completely due to lack of planning on my part. I was traveling to Paris with a classmate of mine after we finished a graduate course in Geneva, Switzerland. As students, we had a tight travel budget. I was able to get a discount on a hotel in Paris through my job at home, but that unfortunately was located on the outskirts of the city. It ended up costing a lot of money and time to travel into the city center. We also were visiting in the middle of the summer tourist season and 100 degree heat. We waited in the heat for hours to get into Notre Dame (pictured above), which was worth it, but unpleasant. My most amateur mistake was waiting until our final day in Paris to go to the Louvre, which was a Tuesday, the day that the Louvre is closed. We decided to go visit Versailles instead, which was impressive but was under renovation and none of the fountains were turned on.

Luckily, almost ten years later, I decided to give Paris another try. I had a much better experience. We stayed in the city center, smallest hotel room ever, but worth it for the location. We also went in the middle of December which in my opinion is the best time to see Paris. There are minimal tourists and beautiful Christmas markets everywhere. I believe there is also a lot to be said about experiencing the same city at different points in one’s life as well.

Things to do and see:

Champs Elysees

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The Champs Elysees is one of the most famous avenues in the world, leading to the Arc de Triomphe.

Roue de Paris

This is a large ferris wheel off of the Champs Elysees, where you can experience amazing views of Paris.

The Seine

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There are walkways along the Seine, where you can take romantic strolls with views of the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower

Of course you have to explore the Eiffel Tower. My friends and I went up to the top at sunset for the amazing views and then decided to walk down, which wasn’t as strenuous as I thought it would be. I only had a problem with my little fear of heights and the fact that you could feel the tower sway a bit.

Notre Dame Cathedral

This is the famous gothic-style cathedral in Paris. If you have an opportunity, do the gargoyle tour as well as exploring the inside of the cathedral.

Favorite Bookstore

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If you are a booklover like me, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is a must!

The Louvre

This amazing art museum did not allude me on my second visit to Paris. December is a much better time to visit this museum anyway. I was there at opening time and got to stand alone in front of the Mona Lisa for twenty minutes.

Musee d’Orsay

Musee d'Orsay Collection

This is my favorite art museum in Paris as I love all things Degas, Renoir and Monet. The above picture shows just a few of my favorites.

Christmas Markets

If you find yourself in Paris around Christmastime, you can experience a plethora of amazing Christmas markets that are set up all over the city.

Sights I Still Want to See

Two trips to Paris were not enough to see everything I wanted to. I still have not gone to Sacre Couer and the catacombs. Hence, why they are not featured here. Those will just have to wait until my next visit.

Day Excursions:

Versailles

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Less than a hour train ride from Paris is the Palace of Versailles. Not only is Versailles featured prominently in history, but it contains beautiful art and expansive gardens. Many of my husband’s pictures are featured above as he recently got to see Versailles with minimal renovations and working fountains, unlike my original visit to Versailles.

Rouen

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Less than a two-hour train ride from Paris, Rouen is an idyllic French town. We visited because of our interest in Joan of Arc, but there was so much more to this town. Definitely one of my favorite places.

Excursion I Still Want to Make

As mentioned before, I really love Monet paintings. Monet’s home and where he found some of his inspiration is located less than an hour from Paris in the town of Giverny.

If you are looking for more excursions into Normandy from Paris, see my Normandy link below.

Related Posts:

PARIS, FRANCE (December 2013)

Normandy, France – October 2014

I am sure Paris and I will meet again soon!

Happy Travels!!!

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WWW Wednesdays – August 29, 2018

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

Currently Reading

Finished Reading

Due to some extra time reading this week by participating in the Bout of Books Readathon, I was able to finish the following books and also make good progress on the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo.

So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta – This is a must read for any fans of Parks and Rec. I listened to the audiobook that was narrated by Retta herself. She had me laughing to and from work. She definitely made my commute much more tolerable. The section about Hamilton was my favorite.

Ordeal By Innocence by Agatha Christie – I was bless to receive a copy of this novel from a Goodreads giveaway. Glad to receive a copy of an Agatha Christie I hadn’t yet read, as her stories never disappoint. She immediate set up a story of intrigued followed by a murder in a house full of potential suspects. Mrs. Argyle, a wife and mother, was brutally murdered and one of her sons went to prison for the crime, where he proclaimed his innocence and eventually died from illness. Years later, a mysterious man comes to town claiming that he just read about the murder and can give the convicted son an alibi. Little time is spent celebrating the unfortunate and now dead son’s innocence, as they all realize that there is still a killer among them. It is slowly revealed too that Mrs. Argyle was not as beloved by her family as it might have seemed. As the story progresses, many characters seem to have some motivation for killing her. It kept me questioning everyone until the very end. This is why Christie is the Queen of Mystery.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – I started this book a while ago and made it about halfway before I had to put it down. I decided this past week to actually finish it. I may be in the minority on this, but I was really disappointed in this book. This book has been praised by former-President Obama and Oprah, but I just don’t feel like it holds up to all the hype. The topic was an important one, but I feel like that was lost in horrible characters that I disliked from almost page one. Has anyone read anything else by Tayari Jones?

Reading Next

I just got some library holds last night!!!

What are y’all reading this week? Any recommendations?

Happy Reading!!!

20 Years of Travel #17: The Balkans

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with my undergraduate study abroad program to the Balkans in 2002. I am sure that everyone experiences moments that change their lives. The Peace and Conflict Resolution program I took through American University that took me to the Balkans literally changed my life.

As silly as this seems to talk about, years later, I went through a rough patch in 2002, as I got my heart completely shattered when a boyfriend and I broke up. The 2-year relationship ended almost as poorly as it could. I was struggling so much and didn’t even know if I wanted to continue with school, when I was accepted into this program at American University. I now had this intensive educational program to focus on, which left me little time to think about my broken relationship. As part of this research program, we were heading to the Balkans, which was still recovering from the Balkan War of the 1990s.

*Side note – all pictures featured in this post have been scanned from physical photos taken with an old film camera that I was using in 2002.*

HUNGARY

Our tour of the Balkans included a very intense travel schedule, so our professor arranged to begin the trip with a weekend in Budapest (to overcome jetlag) and end the trip with a weekend in Vienna (before heading back to the States). This is now a trick I try to incorporate in as many travel experiences as I can – making sure you allow some free time at the beginning and at the end, especially when you are taking adventure trips and tours. While we were suffering from jetlag, we did get to experience some fun things in Budapest, like the market, the parliament building, a Hungarian opera, amazing food and a beautiful, early-morning walk to and from attending a church service at Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom).

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SERBIA

Our home base for much of our time in the Balkans was in Belgrade, Serbia. Belgrade was bombed by NATO in 1999. Three years later it was still recovering and rebuilding. It was my first experience actually seeing the structural effects of war, so of course I wanted to document that with my camera, which I found out quickly was illegal. In Belgrade, we would learn about the steps the former-Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro – at that time) was taking to change their system of government from a socialist one to a democracy. This transition would take years. Occasionally, we would take trips outside of the city to meet with human rights groups and religious leaders to discuss the effects the war had on society and religion in Serbia.

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MONTENEGRO

Aat this time, Montenegro would still be part of the former-Yugoslavia with Serbia. They would not gain their independence until 2006. While traveling through Montenegro, I remember thinking that it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was hard to imagine that horrible things were taking place there just a few years before. While in Montenegro, we stayed at a large orphanage that housed many kids who had lost their families in the war. It was heartbreaking, but through these kids, you could also see hope and a promise of a better future.

CROATIA

We traveled to Croatia a few times. We took one such day trip to Zagreb and Vukovar from Belgrade. This was one of the most intense travel days I had ever experienced. On the way into Croatia, the bus driver was trying to accommodate our need to use bathroom facilities by just pulling over on the side of the road. Normally, if I had to go bad enough, that might be sufficient for me. However, the location did not seem like aserbia great idea, as I came face to face with my first mine field (see picture on the right). Demining operations are still ongoing in parts of the Balkans. We spoke to some officials in Zagreb about Croatia gaining its independence from Yugoslavia and what their goals as an independent nation were. Then headed to see Vukovar, which was completely destroyed during the war. The city was under siege for almost three months straight. Its residents had to flee and thousands died. All the structures were just covered in bullet holes. We headed back to Belgrade after this but were stopped at the Serbian border. Border crossings were still pretty strict at this time, and they frowned upon multiple crossings in one day, which we were doing. After keeping us there for hours, holding on to our passports the whole time, we were able to monetarily bribe our way back into Serbia. That would be our only time doing multiple border crossings in the same day. Our next trip to Croatia would take us to the coastal town of Dubrovnik, long before it was made famous by Game of Thrones. Here we met with a women’s group who would make by hand items like purses, scarves and sweaters to be sold. These items would go directly to support women and their families who have lost husbands and fathers in the war. Meeting these women who had lost so much, trying to do whatever they could to support their families, impacted me so much. Later that day, one of our guides, from Bosnia, who had been with us the whole time, told us his story of living through the siege of Sarajevo. That story will stick with me for the rest of my life. That evening, a group of us sat watching the sunset over the Adriatic talking of different psychological topics, when we started talking about relating to people by reading people. I didn’t quite buy into the concept of reading people, because I did not believe that people could be that readable. I asked someone to read me. That same guide from Sarajevo decided to take on that task and told me that I had fallen in love with the wrong person but would get over it. I had not told anyone anything about my life or relationships, so this completely threw me. This was the moment my life changed. I realized that my broken heart was so insignificant compared to what so many people in the Balkans were going through. For the first time, I started to think about my future goals and what I could do to help others. It was not just that he had seen my hurt and pain, but that he had seen a strength I possessed that I did not know I had.

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SLOVENIA

We would take a cruise along the stunning Croatian coast and head to Slovenia. Slovenia was the first country to declare its independence from Yugoslavia. It had also managed to, for the most part, stay out of the war. We took a short trip here exploring caves, Lake Bled and spending a night in Ljubljana before heading to Vienna for our last few days in Europe.

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AUSTRIA

By the time we made it to Vienna, Austria, I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. This had been one of the most intense and moving experiences of my life. While in Vienna, my mind was on everything we had just learned, seen and experienced, and where I would go from there. I barely remember going to St. Stephen’s Cathedral or the Secession Building that housed contemporary art. Luckily, I got to revisit Vienna a few years later.

Vienna

This tour through the Balkans was one of the best travel experiences of my life. I believe that every trip should be an educational one, whether you are learning about the culture of the location or even just learning how to travel. This was more than an educational experience, it was literally life-changing, and that is why it made my list of 20 favorite travel experiences.

Location-related posts:

BUDAPEST AT NIGHT (November 2015); The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Christmas – Budapest, Hungary (November 2015)20 Years of Travel #13: Mediterranean Cruise

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!!

20 Years of Travel #16: Iceland

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The  series continues by featuring Iceland. In 2011, we took a family vacation to Iceland. Since then, Iceland has become a favorite and popular travel destination as it should be. Here are my favorite highlights from our trip all around the island.

Reykjavík

Start and/or end your time in Iceland exploring its capital city.

——Music Scene——

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When you think about Iceland, do you think about music? If you don’t, you should. It is not just the home of Björk. Check out 12 Tónar, which is not just a music shop but also a recording studio.

——Puffins——

257484_10150214019212986_68884_oWho doesn’t want to see these adorable animals?! You can take the Puffin Express to get a good view of these interesting looking creatures!

Blue Lagoon

For a little relaxation, soaking in these hot springs is well worth the money in my opinion.

Thingvellir National Park

Here you will not be standing on a tectonic plate but will be walking on the Almannagjá fault line between the North American and Eurasian Plate.

Waterfalls

There is no shortage of amazing waterfalls in Iceland. Here are just some that we got to see.

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Viking Houses

In the rural areas, you can see remnants of a strong Viking past.

Horseback Riding

You will definitely want to ride the unique Icelandic horses. Not only are they beautiful creatures, but they have an interesting quick-step trot.

Geysirs & Hot Springs

You will find these in Thingvellir National Park, Blue Lagoon, and other places.

Glaciers, Volcanoes & Icebergs

In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted causing many problems not just in Iceland but around Europe. Due to a large ash cloud, air travel was restricted on the European continent and around 100,000 flights were canceled. Bárðarbunga erupted in 2014. We heard a bit about Hekla, while we were in Iceland as some natives believe that we should expect a potentially bad eruption from Hekla soon. From research I have done, Hekla usually has a large eruption in the 40s both in the 1840s and 1940s. We shall see if that trend continues. Meanwhile, that particular volcano once spread lava over a vast part of Iceland, which has now turned into fields of moss (pictured below). These volcanoes are covered with massive glaciers. The melting of these glaciers have created lakes with chunks of ice (like icebergs) in them.

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ATV Tour

At the last minute, we got to do a ATV tour in through the mossy lava fields.

Coastal geology

You can tell by looking at the cliffs on the coasts of Iceland that Iceland used to be part of the mainland not an island. Part of the coast even looks like the Giants Causeway in Ireland (see picture below).

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Our trip to Iceland was amazing. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place. There is a reason it has become a hot travel destination in the last few years.

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!!