Iceland: Golden Circle Part I

The Golden Circle is a short looped drive that includes many of the top tourist attractions in Iceland. It’s close to both the capital city of Reykjavik and the airport, so even those that are only in Iceland for 24 hours often do this route. You can hit all of the main sights in a matter of hours, but we decided to split our time there into two days and stayed along the route. Here’s what we did on our first day of the Golden Circle.

Fridheimar Greenhouse:

We were a bit tired on our first day, so we allowed ourselves to rest some that morning, then headed to Fridheimar Greenhouse, which is a greenhouse that grows primarily tomatoes. Several years ago, the owners decided to add a restaurant directly inside one of their greenhouses, complete with a tomato-based menu. They’re quite famous for the incredible food, and we tried both the classic tomato soup with homemade bread, the mozzarella and tomato tortilla “pizza”, and the ravioli. Everything was delicious and it was cool to eat surrounded by the tomato plants!

Geysir:

After we had filled our stomachs with fantastic food, we headed towards Geysir. As the name indicates, this is a geothermal area with several geysers. The prominent geyser, which gives this attraction its name, no longer goes off, but there is a smaller geyser (Strokkur) that goes off about every 5-10 minutes. Behind the geysers there were several lupine-covered hills. My parents, who have been to Yellowstone National Park in the US, weren’t all that impressed with Strokkur, but the area was undeniably pretty either way.

Gullfoss:

From Geysir, we headed to Gullfoss Waterfall. This waterfall is the most impressive of the waterfalls we saw in Iceland in my opinion. It is a powerful waterfall, with two separate steps over which the water flows. The photos really don’t compare to seeing it in person. It is simply stunning. We walked along both the upper and lower paths, which affords you two different views of the falls.

Efsti-Dalur:

After Gullfoss, we still had a couple of hours before we needed to be at the Secret Lagoon, so we decided to drive in the opposite direction to Efsti-dalur, a farm that also has a restaurant and homemade ice-cream! I had read that the ice-cream was fantastic there, and it didn’t disappoint! The ice-cream is made right there on the farm, and there are windows from the ice-cream parlor directly into the barn where the cows are.

Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin):

We ended our day at Secret Lagoon, a natural hot pool along the Golden Circle. We had decided to skip the Blue Lagoon, one of the top attractions in Iceland, because we dislike crowds and went here instead. My luggage hadn’t arrived with me, so I ended up having to rent a swimsuit, which is something I usually wouldn’t do, but it was fine. We really enjoyed our time here, just relaxing in the hot water. It was the perfect end to a busy (and fairly cold) day!

Notes:

Where we stayed: Duo Bungalow in Selfoss (Airbnb)

Costs: Our meals at Fridheimar were around $20 USD/person; Ice-cream at Efsti-dalur was about $8 USD for two big scoops of ice-cream; the Secret Lagoon was about $26 USD/person.

Tips:

  • We really enjoyed each of the stops on this day! Our favorites were Fridheimar, Gullfoss, and Secret Lagoon.
  • At Gullfoss, make sure you do both paths. Also wear rain gear, as there’s a fair amount of mist.
  • You should reserve a table in advance for Fridheimar, and you also need to book in advance for the Secret Lagoon.

Iceland: The Details

My family and I recently traveled in Iceland! It is traditional for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to do a COS, or Close of Service, trip after they have completed their service. For some volunteers, this might be a several months trip, for others it might be a couple of days, and of course there are volunteers who choose to go straight home or to their next location. My parents were interested in meeting me somewhere and traveling together and after debating several options, we finally settled on Iceland. My brother also joined us, and we had a great time!

We had about 6 full days in Iceland, and started our trip driving and staying along the Golden Circle. We then drove along the South Coast before heading back and spending an evening in Reykjavik. I’ll be doing more detailed posts for the locations we visited (click on each day below to see those posts), but here is our itinerary:

Day 1: Travel to Iceland, drive to Selfoss.

Day 2: Fridheimar Greenhouse, Geysir, Gullfoss, Efsti-dalur, Secret Lagoon.

Day 3: Thingvellir National Park (Oxararfoss, Logberg Law Rock, Almannagja Fault, Hakid viewpoint, Thingvellir Church).

Day 4: Reykjadalur, Seljalandsfoss, Gljufrabui, Skogafoss.

Day 5: Reynisfjara Beach, Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Fjallsarlon.

Day 6: Jokulsarlon & Diamond Beach, Vik, Dyrholaey, Westman Islands.

Day 7: Westman Islands, Reykjavik.

Day 8: Fly home. 

We stayed in Airbnbs throughout the entire trip and rented a car. The weather was around 40 to 50 degrees each day, and many days were overcast and rainy. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any particularly heavy rainstorms. We were also lucky to have nearly 2 fully sunny days. This kind of weather seems to be typical for Iceland, even in the summer, but if you dress properly it’s not that bad.

We really enjoyed our vacation!

Life Lately 7/23/18

Hanging out with my mom’s parents- they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary by dancing the night away at my cousin’s wedding on Saturday

After a bit of a blog break, I thought it was time for a Life Lately post to catch up on the past few weeks. The last two plus weeks have been a blur of being busy, and it looks like the next few weeks will be just about as busy. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Traveled to Iceland. For my COS (Close of Service) trip, I flew from Moldova to Iceland (with flight changes in Ukraine and London on the way), where I met my brother and parents. We spent a week traveling in Iceland, doing both the Golden Circle and South Coast. I’ll be posting more about that soon, but it was a nice trip in a gorgeous location! We had a lot of fun!

Returned home to the U.S.A. After the trip to Iceland, I flew home with my family. Although I was sad to leave behind my life in Moldova, I was also ready to come home. So far, I’m enjoying being back home in upstate New York.

Went blueberry picking. The very first thing I did after coming home (besides sleep) was to pick blueberries the following morning with my mom. I love blueberries, but they are hard or almost impossible to find in Moldova, and picking blueberries several times each summer is a family tradition I love. We often pick at least 30 quarts to freeze each year.

Visited with both sets of grandparents. I’ve missed my grandparents a lot over the past two years, and I’m happy to be home and able to spend time with them. On my first day home I visited both sets of grandparents and began to catch up.

Helped get things ready for some summer guests. My parents own an old farmhouse, which is where my grandpa grew up and my great-grandma lived until her 90s. As with many old farmhouses, it needs a fair amount of work. Some family members are going to stay there for a visit in a week or so, so we spent some time up there one afternoon deep-cleaning and clearing stuff out.

Went to my cousin’s wedding. This past weekend was my cousin’s wedding. The ENTIRE family came, and both the wedding and the bride were gorgeous! We had such a great time and it was so nice to see my entire extended family on my mom’s side.

Started to get my room back in order. I left for the Peace Corps pretty soon after I finished college, so I never really unpacked for college. After two years, I really needed to go through things and get things organized and cleaned. I also decided to change up one wall of my room, which is still a work in progress.

I think that’s it for now! Of course, I’ve also been eating lots of my favorite foods and I briefly hung out with a close friend the other day. I was worried about the process of getting back into the swing of things here, but we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to get stressed or miss Moldova too much. I’m looking forward to seeing some more family, (including cousins I haven’t seen in years), meeting up with friends, swimming, kayaking, and just enjoying this summer to the fullest in the coming weeks!

Goodbyes and New Beginnings

Ringing the COS bell
Many of the English Educators group ringing the bell to end their service.

This is my last post as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in Moldova. As you read this, I’ll already be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, otherwise referred to as an RPCV, and be on a plane headed west. It’s so strange to think that I have spent the past 25 months here in Moldova and that my time here has come to an end. It has been a wonderful journey that I am so thankful to have had.

A last picture with my host mom and host nieces.

The last week has been full of bittersweet goodbyes. I will dearly miss my host family, who has supported and loved me as a daughter. I will miss my host nieces a lot as well- they’ve given me plenty of laughs and cuddles (and a handful of headaches). I will miss my colleagues at school, who helped me navigate a new environment and supported my projects and ideas. I’ll especially miss the two teachers that I taught beside for two school years, Ina and Liuba. They helped translate when I didn’t understand me, and I’m really proud of the work we did together and the friendships we developed. I’ll miss my students, who have been at the center of my work here. They are the ones who often made a bad day better and who made me smile and laugh when things were hard or I was missing home. I’ll miss this village and community, who opened me with open arms. I couldn’t have been placed in a better place, and I loved living in this small, quiet community. And I’ll miss Moldova, with its sunflower fields, bright sunsets, hot bus rides, and beautiful churches.

A surprise farewell party at the school.

The goodbyes have been hard, but I’m also ready for the next stage in my life. I’m so glad I spent the past 2 years here. Now it’s on to new things and new adventures (though to be honest I’m still figuring that part out). For now, I’m returning to my hometown and I’m looking forward to  spending time with my family, picking and eating quart upon quart of blueberries, going hiking in the woods, and kayaking down the river. I’m anticipating that the adjustment back to life in the USA might be a bit difficult and might take some time. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey for the past 25 months! I’ll still be posting here (first up: my COS- or Close of Service- trip to Iceland with my family), so I hope you’ll keep reading!

Last 100 Days, Days 5-1

As I’ve mentioned, I’m sharing a photo and a look back on my favorite memories in moments in Moldova for each of my last 100 days here.  I’m counting down, so here are days 5-1.  Tomorrow I will be leaving Moldova so this is the final post for the Last 100 Days.  See all of my “Last 100 Days” posts here.

Day 5: I was once again invited to accompany my village’s dance ensemble, this time to an international festival. Knowing it was likely my last chance to see my students dance, I immediately agreed to go. The festival was held outside under the shade of big trees, and the kids and teenagers from my village did a great job! After they finished, we had a bit of time to walk around and eat some food, and then we headed back to the village. I have loved getting to attend these performances over the past two years, and it is something I will dearly miss. (June 2018)
Day 4: I finished out my service with two summer day camps in my village. The first one, with students in grades 6 through 8, was a leadership camp. The second was an English Camp with the theme of “Around the World” for students in grades 3 through 5, where we imagined we were traveling to a different country each day. Both camps were a lot of fun, and it was great to see our students be active and motivated! (June 2018)
Day 3: My school community had a surprise farewell party for me my last week in site. Several teachers and students gathered at the school, and surprised me with a beautiful Moldovan flag cake, champagne, a beautiful gift, my favorite Moldovan food (pelemeni), and kind words. I was so lucky to work at this school with these people, and a fair number of tears were shed as I said goodbye for the last time to my school director, partner teachers, colleagues, students, and school staff. (June 2018)
Day 2: I was so fortunate to live with a wonderful host family for two years in my village. I will miss my host mom and host nieces so, so much! My last two days in the village were spent with them, as well as with my extended host family, who all came to celebrate a delicious meal together one last time. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to call my own in Moldova. (July 2018)
Day 1: Before we leave the country and become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), we get to ring the COS (Close of Service) bell at Peace Corps headquarters in the capital. The ringing of the bell signifies the end of our service here in Moldova and the beginning of our next adventures. (July 2018)