Pauline Flew Away Again

A year ago today I was about to begin the biggest adventure of my life- the Camino de Santiago, which, over the course of three weeks, showed me what I’m made of, gifted me some of my dearest friends, and paved the way for an incredible year.

So it’s only fitting that on this Camino day eve, I’m about to embark on another journey of a lifetime.

Tomorrow I leave for a two month long trip to Southeast Asia and Australia. I’m starting in San Francisco and then heading to Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Laos, Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam and Thailand with three friends. Afterwards, I’m making my way solo to Australia to check out Melbourne, Cairns, and Sydney- swinging by Auckland on my way back to San Francisco. Finally, I’ll head directly to Ann Arbor to begin adulting.

Phew, that was a mouthful.

I honestly don’t know how I didn’t have an aneurysm planning this trip or packing for it (I credit my youth).

Like, have you seen their outlets?

Nightmare.

And what does one wear when it’s humid and about 100 degrees, and you also sweat like a swamp monster, but you want to look cute for the gram.

No clue.

See, Europe is easy – I can pack that suitcase morning of the flight (really bad habit, don’t recommend). But aside from Japan, I’ve never ventured to this part of the globe.

Asia and Australia are the great unknown- which is precisely why I’m going. So, dear readers, I invite you to follow along over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, wish me luck while I sit on top of my suitcase trying to zip it.

Celebrated my last day in the States today instead of packing

Celebrated my last day in the States today instead of packing

Of Vikings and Trolls 

Iceland has been conquered and it’s time to go home to rest and reset before the next big adventure.

In these past ten days my father, brother and I made a full circle around the entire country (which sounds a little less impressive when you realize that Iceland is the size of the state of Illinois) and I can say that I have fully experienced the land of Vikings. I’ve been splashed by the waterfalls at Kirkjufellfoss, I warmed up in the geothermal baths in Myvatn, I tasted Hakarl (fermented shark) in Stykishholmur, and I wandered the streets of Reykjavik snacking on Skyr (Icelandic yogurt). And that was just the last three days of my trip.

All of this was possible because Iceland is a land of convenience. One main road, appropriately called Ring Road, circles the entire country allowing you to explore the highlights of each region without straying off the path. Hypothetically, you don’t have to even leave your car. It’s like being on an African safari. But it’s cold. And there’s are no wild animals. And you should probably leave your car.

And why wouldn’t you? There’s waterfalls with Viking curses on them, craters that have inspired classic novels, volcanoes that have paralyzed all of Europe, and moss covered lava so soft that you’d want to sleep on it. There are tons of other surprises and quirks, too. In fact, you can even visit the goat that was chased by Khaleesi’s dragon if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. 

Something I failed to mention while I was whining about how pricey the food is, is that it’s also very good. This is seafood heaven (or should I say, Valhalla?) and I had fresh caught salmon so good that I had tears in my eyes. 

Realistically, I know that not everyone can take ten days off, fly across the Atlantic, rent a car and speed off into the Icelandic sunset (just kidding, the sun doesn’t really set in the summer)- but, my dear friends, I urge you to consider a stopover in Iceland on your next flight to Europe.

I’m done ranting and raving, but please drop me a line if you’re adding it to your bucket list and want to know more- I’d be happy to chat. 

Living off the [Ice]Land

The biggest, and arguably only, setback here in Iceland is the cost of food.

The other night I had a simple chicken breast for dinner at a no-frills restaurant in a small town. It was almost $40. Truth is, if I were here on my own, I would probably have sleep for dinner. Even pizza, the cheapest thing on the menu, is pricey enough to make you want to eat the crust- and the box it came in, too.

Speaking of eating, I went on a hike today and decided to channel my inner Viking and “live off the land.”

I filled my water bottle with the infamous Icelandic glacial water that spewed down from the waterfall at the end of the hiking trail. Then, I wandered into a clearing and found small ripe berries peaking out amongst the moss. I picked a few, popped one in my mouth and sauntered over to my brother to offer him one.  

“Why would you eat unidentified berries,” he asked immediately. 

He stared at me as if I couldn’t seriously have eaten that berry. 

“Spit it out.”

It was too late for that, and all of a sudden my mouth went numb and my jaw felt like it was locking up. 

Now, I’ve made my fair share of questionable decisions while traveling, like the time I got into a strangers car in Istanbul (Turkish Hospitality) or the time I took the train alone way too late in Portofino and had to be rescued by a homeless man (When It’s Not All Fine and Dandy). I was not about to add “accidentally ingested poisonous berries” to the list. 

Luckily, Iceland is too pleasant to have anything lethal growing freely. I realized that my jaw was just cold since I had forgotten to wear a scarf, and I was definitely not experiencing any symptoms of imminent death. 

I apologize for the very anticlimactic ending. I later identified the berries as crowberries- totally harmless and pretty tasty. 

Iceland

I’m in Iceland celebrating my graduation with my father and brother. We’ve rented a car and will be driving around the entire country for another week, and so far this land of ice (sorry, I had to) has made quite the impression on me.

I’ve been to thirty something countries. Some have stunned me with their architecture and delicious food, others have left me in awe with their friendly locals and rich history. 

But in terms of raw, true beauty- I have never seen anything quite like Iceland. 

Iceland is fascinating to me because you could hypothetically evict the people, demolish the buildings, know nothing of its Viking history (which is riveting by the way), eliminate the wildlife, and not eat anything remotely good- and it would STILL be worth visiting. 

Of course, I’m not suggesting any of those things- that would be cruel and unnecessary- but the point is that the land, the actual physical geography of the country is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. 

We’ve been driving for two days now, and haven’t gone more than two hours without stopping to see a waterfall or glacier, a crater or volcano. 

This evening we drove up a hill and I stood at the top with my camera. To the south I had the ocean crashing into a black sand beach, to the north I had bright hills with glaciers and volcanoes beyond them. The sun was still high in the west and the moon was equally out to the east, allowing you to capture either one. 

Do you see my predicament? 

Where do you point your lense when, at every turn, the scenery just gets more and more beautiful? 

Thankfully, between the battery life on my phone, DSLR and GoPro, that’s a purely rhetorical question. I need to go charge all the aforementioned devices, but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to what the rest of this majestic country has to offer. 

So College

I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois this weekend. 

This was my first semester back at college, and appropriately, my last. I left campus after the fall 2014 semester, studied abroad in Barcelona last spring, traveled through the summer, then took the fall off from school again for an internship.

Going back to college after being away for so long was a strange thing. I felt that I no longer belonged, that somehow along the way I had outgrown it. It was kind of like trying on a pair of jeans from high school- they’re cute but it’s just not happening. 

I did the college thing for two and a half years and loved it- I had my fill of frat parties, dollar drinks, all nighters during finals, sorority chants, and nursing hangovers. This time around, I couldn’t find the appeal in bars that smell like vomit and sleeping until noon.

I made the most of it though. I took ice skating, flower arrangement, and art. I got to spend time with old friends, and new. So don’t get me wrong- I had a great time in college, but I’m ready to move on. 

Besides, I have a flight to catch.

 

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Volver.

I haven’t written in a while.

I stopped because I didn’t think I’d have anything to write about once I came back from Europe- but then I went to Canada, Mexico twice, Nicaragua and Jamaica all since my last post so I suppose I was mistaken.

I brought my blog back because I have a new adventure to chronicle this summer- four continents, eleven countries, ten weeks on the road.

But before we get to that, a quick recap of my recent travels is in order.

Last November, I was living in Michigan and Canada was a short drive away so I spent a weekend exploring Toronto with some friends, or in other words running through the six with my woes. I learned that I don’t like poutine and don’t see why any sober person would either, and that Toronto is basically a Canadian Chicago.

I could probably write pages about Mexico, having gone for ten days in both December and March to spend time with my friend Peter, who I met on the Camino a year ago, his wife and their neighbor. They always welcome me with open arms and I spend my days there enjoying the beach, watching kite surfers and eating really damn good Mexican food.

Nicaragua was a ten day family trip- part of the annual Kulka winter migration to Central America. It was incredible to see such a beautiful country  filled with beaches, rainforests, and volcanoes- all untouched by tourists.

Jamaica would be on the opposite of that spectrum, with resort next to resort and droves of tipsy tourists singing along to Bob Marley. I went there on a weekend birthday getaway with my Mama, and in the spirit of tradition, I did my fair share of singing “One Love”.

Phew. We’re caught up. Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to start writing again, stay tuned.

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