out and about in norway

On Thursday, we went on a Semester at Sea trip to see the “Fairytale Home of Ole Bull”, as was described to us when we registered for it. Unfortunately, I don’t know really know where the whole fairytale label came from… but the house was still interesting and beautiful to see. Ole Bull was a famous violinist also known for being quite the ladies’ man and over time became wealthy enough to buy Lysoen island and build a house on it. Perhaps better than the house was the tourguide that we had for the day. She spoke in a very proper-sounding muddled stream of consciousness and inserted really funny comments between thoughts. On the way to Lysoen island, we also got to stop and check out the ruins of a monastery located in what is known as “The Valley of Light” – interesting because “Lysoen” means “Island of Light”. Returning from Lysoen island, our loony tourguide also had us stop at a little Norwegian farm (for a total of seven minutes) on the premise that we could “pick a flower as a souvenir, though it wouldn’t last too long.. hm. hm.” We mostly just peeked around at all of the animals and got to see some cute kids riding Viking horses like the ones we rode in Iceland. After we returned, we went into town to hang out at the fish market, where people sell fish (obviously), fruit, knitted goods, and various crafts. I wish I liked seafood and fish! Nonetheless, it was fun poking through the stalls and picking up postcards and the like. While we were at the fish market, I got to call home to my parents and also check my voicemail (that’s setup through my phone card). Checking my voicemail totally made my day, as Andie had called and left the coolest message ever that was her rapping about me getting better and traveling over summer! I’m sure I looked like a fool laughing so hard on a payphone in the fish market square, but it was definitely worth it. Thanks Andreat0r!! At some point in the day we also went to Xhibition, which is where our tourguide said young people go to shop. We had seen it before and assumed it to be a large department store, but it was actually an entire mall with a target audience of young adults. Quite a sight to see! We were mostly excited because it had an H&M in it, which we thought we wouldn’t get to explore until England. I think I held off on buying anything since it’s all so expensive here, but hopefully our money will be worth more in Russia…

the lush ruins of the monastary

the home of ole bull

around lysoen island

farm... norwegian style!


god morgen bergen!

Wednesday morning I woke up and looked out of our porthole to see beauteous Norway! Houses built all up and down lush green mountains surrounding our harbor… “pretty much amazing”, as Rachelle would say. Amy had woken up at 5am to watch for a few minutes as we pulled into port, which was also rumored to be exceptionally beautiful… but I definitely slept like a rock through that one. Unfortunately, even earlier than that, we all awoke to an announcement that internet and phone services wouldn’t be available at all in Norway, which is mostly a bummer because we had planned on using free internet while we still could (they start charging upon departure from Norway) to make reservations for train travel and hostels in Spain, Holland, and Poland. We did find an internet café in town that we stepped into briefly to check e-mail, but prices were a bit steep (about $4/half-hour with student discount). Through Semester at Sea, we went on a short city tour/orientation of Bergen, which was definitely helpful to get our bearings before running amuck on our own. Thankfully we are much closer to the city here than in Iceland and it’s only a few minutes walk to one of the main squares. Perhaps the feature of the tour was riding the funicular (“incline” as we say in Pittsburgh) up to the top of Mount Floen. At the top, there were hiking trails everywhere (wish we’d had time to explore) and of course an excellent view of Bergen, which is surrounded by seven fjords and seven mountains! Riding the funicular was fun even to us (having ridden inclines before) because their entire system is incredibly modern with reusable tickets that function in a similar way to BART cards (in the California bay area). We went exploring around the city a bit after that, but everyone closes earlier in Europe (to allow people more leisure time), so we still came back to the ship relatively early and called it a day.

amy and i, atop mt. floen

view of bergen from the mountain

view of the hanseatic wharf from across the way


sailing away (like vikings!)

I’ve been meaning to (and wanting to) post since I got here, but I’ve been out and about doing so much exploring… and when I get home at the end of the day, I pretty much just crash in bed. I wish I would have been posting all along as things were happening, but I’ll try to remember as much as I can at this point! I backdated entries about the past few days, even though I just wrote them... because I'm trying to keep straight in my head what I did which day (which is difficult already and that was only our first port!) Also, I have taken loads of really awesome pictures, which I will try to get up soon. Our wireless internet on the ship has been iffy recently, so I wanted to at least get these words up while I could and pictures will follow when I have more time and the network is up!

Today we decided to go back into the city to see some things we hadn’t caught the first time around. We started off at the Hallgrimskirkja Church, which is a really tall and architecturally interesting building. We paid a few dollars to take the elevator to the top (they call it an “ascent to heaven”) where you have an amazing view of Reykjavik from the bell tower… definitely worth it. After that, we went to this little contemporary museum called Asi, where they had an installation called “El Ruido del Dinero (The Sound of Money)”. It consisted entirely of mostly-empty rooms with speakers playing various sounds of industry and such, and was meant to portray the changes that the fishing industry has brought to Iceland, many times from the perspective of Spanish-speaking immigrants. We then headed into the center of town, where we stepped into a flea market which was really cool to see (because it wasn't so touristy). It was like most flea markets... a glorified yard sale, but for us it was a way to buy some souveniers for a lot less than in the quaint (but pricey) shops on the street.

While walking through one of the main squares in town, we saw a small group of people from Amnesty International doing some sort of demonstration. We walked over to investigate and it turns out they were inviting people to voluntarily sit with their ears, eyes, and mouth covered to experience what the prisioners of Guantanamo Bay go through every day in isolation. It was particularly interesting because the whole demonstration was about how the United States is holding these people under torturous conditions and something needs to be done about it... so I thought that if they knew we were American, they'd be put off by that. But instead, they were really informative and understanding that half our country did not vote for Bush! They were supportive, optimistic, and encouraged us to write directly to our representatives rather than signing their petition (more for Icelandic citizens). I guess the neatest thing to me was to see that they were working on issues so far from them, and won support through discussion and conversation (even with Americans).

Awhile after that we strolled through the Reykjavik art museum to see the three-dimensional map of Iceland, and then onward to the Museum of Photography which had a beautiful exhibit documenting a lot of the conflict in various parts of Africa (like South Africa, Mozambique, and Ethiopia). We ended our day in town with an Icelandic hot dog… hot dogs (often made of lamb) are very popular here, especially late at night when the bars let out.

So now we’re back on the ship, which has just pushed off from Iceland, heading toward Norway where we will arrive in a few days. I’m just now getting to see what the ship is like when everyone is living on it and when all of it’s snack bars, services, and bookstore are open… and tomorrow I’ll have my first day of classes. I’ve got quite a bit of work to do for my classes, so I best tend to that. The captain also notified us that we’re going to be crossing soon through an area currently occupied by a pod of whales, so I’m hoping that we’ll get a glimpse of them!

Goodbye Iceland… I hope I don’t get seasick.

view of reykjavik from the top of hallgrimskirkja church

leifur erikson, looking rather heroic (he settled iceland)

view of the church from down the way

icelandic hotdogs - yum!


an adventurous expedition

Saturday we had another trip that we were doing through Semester at Sea, this one was to see some of the sights along the coast and inland- more of a nature expedition. It was a much smaller group of people on the trip, and also seemed to be made up of more personable (and less-cliquey) students. After stopping for lunch and “provisions” (as indicated in the description… which for us meant purchasing shampoo) in a town on the way, we went to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which was mostly just rainy and windy. Not even our “emergency ponchos” (that we had just purchased) could afford us any protection from the elements. The waterfall was beautiful, but we ran back to the bus pretty quickly considering we were already on our way to being sopping wet.

After that, we drove through a lot of rocky rivers (a bumpy and entertaining ride that I somehow slept through) to get to a glacier. It was interesting to see how the ice was flowing down the mountain like a river in slow motion, leaving sandy dunes where ice-topped mountains used to be. After some more river crossings, we made our next stop at an area known as Thor’s woods. It’s a popular place for camping and backpacking, but is unreachable for much of the year, when excessive rainfall makes the rivers impassable. A lot of the people in our group went hiking all the way to the top of one of the mountains with our guide, but given how cold and wet we already were, we opted for the shorter path at the base of the mountain. Our guide gave us vague directions to this path, causing us to get lost and somehow end up on what must have been the wrong path- which we figured out after climbing partway up another mountain on rickety stairs in the ground.

Finally, our last stop was at Stakkholtsgja Canyon, which our guide described as their “grand canyon”. We hiked into the center of the canyon and it was fun to feel so miniscule standing there between enormous moss-covered walls of rock that had been forged over such extended periods of time. We reached a point where to go further, everyone would have to cross a big stream of extremely cold water (glacial runoff!) People started taking their shoes off and crossing the knee-deep water… Amy started to go across and I followed her but had to bail and run back partway because I definitely couldn’t feel my feet! I wish I could have seen the other side- I guess there was a cave and an enclosed area in the canyon with little waterfalls of the glacial runoff, along with a place where the water from the glacier was pure enough to drink! Altogether we saw a lot in that day, though ultimately it would have been a lot more enjoyable if it hadn’t been so rainy (and cold).

When we got back, again it seemed like everyone on the ship was going out on the town for the night. We had actually originally planned to go out for a bit to see what the nightlife was like in Iceland, but it was so cold and wet that we just couldn’t be bothered to venture outside again. From the sounds of it, I think we would have run into a crowd of Semester at Sea students embarrassing Americans anywhere we went, so I’m not sure that we missed out on too much.

seljalandsfoss waterfall

so much for the emergency poncho...

melting glacier, whoa!
self-portrait, the usual

pretty woodsy stairs

realized we took the wrong path...

more of US!

in the stakkholtsgja canyon... i'm so mini


icelandic horses and lagoons

On Friday, we went on a trip through Semester at Sea that was so much fun. First we drove (by motorcoach) to a small farm outside of the city where we were going to go horseback riding. Upon arriving, they told us we were in for a surprise and escorted us into the barn where an Icelandic woman taught us line dancing! It was absolutely hilarious. We were all tripping over our feet to the sound of techno-electronic-western music.

After over an hour of that, we went riding on Icelandic Viking horses through the countryside. The horses were so incredibly cute- short like ponies (though you get scolded for calling them that), but stocky and loaded with personality. My horse, for example, decided to breakaway and go galloping off at random times to the next cluster of horses… which made conversing with the person on the horse next to you quite difficult, as the conversation could end suddenly at any moment. The only downside of horseback riding was that all of the clothes we were wearing (which was a lot because it was cold) smelled awful afterward… and while we tried to handwash them, most of them are going to have to wait for our next laundry day.

We next drove another hour or so to Blue Lagoon, which is a geothermal spa. In Iceland, there is a huge supply of naturally heated water that is used in public swimming pools, geothermal spas like Blue Lagoon, and also as a general heat source. Blue Lagoon was so nice, especially after riding a horse all afternoon. It’s this big naturally heated lagoon, which is indeed blue in color due to the minerals in the water. They also have pots of a silica compound that everyone puts on their faces because it is a natural exfoliant- so the lagoon is full of white-faced funny looking people! When we got back that night, we stayed in to get rest before our next daytrip, and it felt like we were the only students on the ship who weren't out getting trashed… kind of sad. I also got a note from the registrar, who personally stopped by my cabin to give me information on the makeup work I need to complete for me classes- like I said, the faculty and staff really do go above and beyond for us!

who knew that linedancing was so popular in iceland...

me and my emme-sized horse

hungry horse!

countryside view while riding

entering the blue lagoon - that's lava on our sides!

they're not kidding, it really is blue


hallo reykjavik!

My flight over was absolutely awesome. Well, not the USAir one, but the IcelandAir one. Before my flight, I got to relax in the Chesapeake Lounge at the airport in Baltimore (much quieter than the terminal… and with food!) On the flight, they pampered me with a nice wool blanket, personal DVD player, and a three-course meal (including an appetizer of err… reindeer loins, not so tasty.) Because they did so much for us, I wasn’t able to fall asleep until quite late and only got a mere two hours of shuteye before arriving in Iceland.

When I got here on Thursday, a really friendly guy from the Semester at Sea affiliated travel/tourism agency came to pick me up. We drove for about forty five minutes toward the city through really beautiful fields of Alaskan lupine that has grown over aged lava and volcanic ash, it wasn’t nearly as barren as I had imagined Iceland to be (although most of the inland area is uninhabitable). When I got to the harbor, around 8:00, I was told I’d have to wait just a few minutes until customs cleared the ship and the gangway was setup. Unfortunately, that few minutes turned into about an hour and a half! For that whole period of waiting, I sat in a really cold little hut in the harbor with these two guys (who worked there) who I was certain couldn’t speak English. About five minutes before I got on the boat, they started chatting to me in ENGLISH. Ahh, how frustrating- we could have been talking or something for all that time instead of struggling to stay awake! Little did I know at the time that pretty much everyone here (in Reykjavik at least) speaks really good English.

So finally I got on the boat (after the U.S. Embassy people got on, and after a whole trip of students got off). I met up with Amy and my RD (like an RA) right away who got me setup with my ID card and such. I unpacked in my cabin, which is really nice and cozy and has plenty more space than we had expected. The whole ship is really really nice- kind of too nice; definitely nicer than I thought, and uncomfortably nice for a floating campus. The dining halls feel more like restaurants. Things are served buffet style, but then the staff will take your tray or plate and personally seat you at a table and pour your drink(s) for you. Everyday we also have a steward come into our cabin (Dolphi - though I am probably misspelling his name) who makes our beds, gives us any needed clean towels, and makes sure things are in order. He’s extremely nice, and it’s so cute how he makes my bed with my blanket and my little stuffed monkey on top of it! But altogether, it’s just weird. I guess most people would love being catered to this much, but it’s just so foreign to me. I’m used to cooking for myself, cleaning on my own, and doing my own laundry- and I think I prefer it that way. Generally speaking, things are pristine, and although the cruise ship has been converted into a university, it still feels very much like a cruise ship. For example, our library is in what was formerly a casino (signs still indicate so), and classrooms have been made out of such places as a smoking room and a card room. I’ll try to put some pictures up of the ship soon, though I haven’t gotten around to taking any yet!

The student body is quite a disappointment. I knew that there would be a lot of people who were here for the wrong reasons, at the expense of their mommy and daddy… but I didn’t think it would be this many. At meals in the dining halls, everyone is constantly telling stories at full volume about their drunken adventures from the previous night, or how they hate Icelandic people because they are so mean (for asking the American students to behave more appropriately in bars!) All of the girls seem to be mistaking the trip for a fashion show, as Amy put it. They’ve all brought an arsenal of makeup, miniskirts, and stilettos to romp around in which is particularly absurd considering how cold it is here (and will be for a few ports). It seems like all anyone wants to do is go out at night and get drunk- which is a feat considering that in Iceland a beer will cost you about $9! Everyone is calling home to warn their daddies that the credit card bill will be a bit higher than expected… I can’t even believe that these students’ parents are footing their bar bills. There was even one girl who left her group of Semester at Sea friends the other night at a bar to go out with a group of Icelandic boys. When she never came home, of course people started to worry… her roommate was in a panic and word spread to keep an eye out for her. Today I was at a bus stop and we ran into her- she was incredibly nonchalant about the whole thing; she seemed to think it should be no big deal that she was out until 9am partying and hadn’t been in contact with anyone! We don’t have a curfew, but security is pretty strict- we have to swipe our ID cards and have our bags searched every time we get off or on the ship… so when someone has been missing for 12+ hours, it is a big deal.

Luckily, there are a few cool students we’ve met to hang out with on the ship and in port. There are also a number of older adults doing the seniors/continuing education program and they are all tremendously sweet (and tolerant of being around airhead young adults!) They come and eat with us at meals or have us run errands for them in downtown Reykjavik… it’s nice to have them aboard with their desire to learn, valuable wisdom, and wonderful company. There are also lots of children (including one girl who lives in a Snow White costume) who are here because their mum or dad is on staff/faculty. Having families here also makes the ship feel a bit more diverse, though I am also impressed (and surprised) with how casually the children all explore the ship- mostly because I doubt that most of the university students conduct themselves appropriately in their presence.

Phew. So onto what we’ve actually been doing…

After I unpacked and so on, Amy and I ventured downtown. We somehow had the wrong idea and thought we were in the main harbor, which is only a few blocks from downtown. After walking for what seemed like ages, we finally realized where we were- we had just appeared on the far side of the Reykjavik city map and that means we must be docked in the second harbor on the complete other side of the city! At this point, we didn’t really have any choice but to keep walking, so we walked all the way into town which must have taken awhile because it is at least a couple of miles. Exhausted, we finally arrived in the city center, which was very cute and quaint. We eventually found this little sandwich place to eat called Nonnabutti, which our Europe guidebooks had recommended as the cheapest place to get a decent bite to eat. We spent $8 each for a simple grilled sandwich (things are pricey here in general), but it was fun to see a little local hole-in-the-wall. All of the sandwiches here seem to be really big on pepperoni and ham. They also must fancy paprika quite a bit, because our french fries were seasoned with it and they also sell paprika flavored Pringles in the grocery stores.

After that we had a short stroll around town and bought a few things, including Icelandic wool yarn and knitting needles to make ourselves scarves. We trekked back to the harbor, on foot, which definitely seemed longer on the way back! The surreal bit is that by the time we got home, it was 22:00 (10:00pm), but still entirely lightly outside because it’s the time of year where Iceland has sun nearly around-the-clock to make up for the period of continual darkness experienced in the middle of winter. The sun sets very late (maybe midnight or 1:00?) and rises again only a few hours later. It’s been too cloudy to full enjoy the beautiful midnight sunsets, but it’s still been an experience regardless.

they eat a lot of ice cream in iceland (with my name in it!)

viking troll!


my head has gone from green to red!

What a looong day. I've been getting all of my final stuff together which basically involved lots of details and bits of paper I'd rather not deal with, but must.

I finally got my phonecard all setup for when I'm abroad... and people can leave me voicemail (for free!) SO if you feel so compelled to give me a ring and leave me a funny message (though I'm not sure I'd be able to return the call, depending), dial 1.888.579.0208, press 2, enter my account number (7211218988139), and press # to leave a voicemail!

Or if you're feeling even more ambitious, you can send me mail in port at the addresses here. (No worries, I don't expect to be flooded with mail- I know it's a pain to mail a letter so far in advance as well as overseas!)

In the midst of all of these preparations, I had a bit of a mishap today with some henna. I put it in my hair like I have in the past, since it is so nutrient-rich (and my hair is dead after antibiotics/anesthesia/etc.) Apparantly, that was a big mistake as it turned my hair a dark sickly green because of the state it was in! So my only option at that point was to attack it with red to neutralize it (and in turn also make my hair reasonably red). I suppose it's a change of pace...


alas, i am not yet seaworthy

The M.V. Explorer may have been declared seaworthy (despite the recent controversy with University of Pittsburgh), but it seems I've got another week to reach that point. I was slated to have my stint removed Tuesday, but when my doctor (whom I hadn't met yet) caught wind that I was in the emergency room last weekend with more fluid in my abdomen, she opted to reschedule me for Wednesday... for more surgery. Bad news because I am sick of anesthesia, monster antibiotics, oversized hospital gowns, IVs, and so on, but good news because she wanted to get to the bottom of things once and for all. Despite my nerves, the procedure went exceedingly well - being treated at a specialty women's hospital was such a treat after everything I went through out in California! Unfortunately, when she removed my stint, it was evident that I needed even more healing time... so I have another stint for eight more weeks (oy!) Luckily, she is letting me distract myself for these next two months by joining the Semester @ Sea crowd in Iceland after I rest at home for a week. I was really hoping to have my stint removed for good and make the departure with everyone else, but given the circumstances, things could definitely be much worse!

I'm a little nervous because I'll be joining everyone after orientation and classes starting - and also, I can't say a single word in Icelandic (one language I haven't explored yet), but I'm going to be sooo glad to see Amy! Everything is a little bit up in the air about our field studies, independent travel plans, and how I am going to make up the missed coursework, but the Semester @ Sea folks have been amazingly helpful and accommodating so I am sure it will all work out. I was heartbroken to find out that I was going to be stranded on soil for an extra week, but I'm trying to make the best of it. I'm getting to spend more time with my parents and Sam (both the boy and the dog), I'll make it to Three Rivers Arts Festival, Dad is treating Mum and I to a day at the spa (to recuperate after five weeks of my kidneys declaring mutiny on our lives), and of course my body really needed the rest so I've been catching up on moviewatching.

I only have three whole days until I depart for the other side of the world- I should feel prepared with all this extra time, and yet I feel even more disastrous (in regard to packing) than I did when I thought I was departing on time. Guess that means I should get some sleep, góða nótt!


an ending, a beginning

After intense deliberation I finally decided to throw my summer blog up here (it was stressful evaluating how to go about this, especially when it comes to sharing photos!) Regardless, hopefully this will be a way for me to journal my way through summer adventures and share photos with family and friends as well. Read it never or always, it matters not to me!

So much has been going on, I haven't had a chance to catch my breath! Leaving Santa Cruz was surreal, since I have been sick for the past three weeks. It was a bummer not to wrap up the year with everyone else, but at this point I am glad to be home safely. Staying in Santa Cruz was like being caught in the twilight zone... my kidney stones, then surgery, then infection, then more surgery (requiring mum to fly out twice at this point), having my wallet stolen in the hospital, finding out my travel agency messed up my flights to Nova Scotia this week... oy! I feel like I barely made it out of my flat (thanks to mum and g-fresh for the help) and hardly got to squeeze in any goodbyes. So I tell myself this is just a vacation, a measly three months and then we'll all be back in Santa Cruz like before- so I shouldn't fuss over leaving.

I miss the palm trees, the ocean, the redwoods, and a few close friends... but it feels so good to be home. I've even been greeted by thunderstorms, which is so nice- I miss those when I am on the west coast. It's great to see my parents and my dog and really just to be back on the east coast in general. But no time to think about that. I leave for sea in just about five days and I have so much to do to prepare!