Sunday, February 5th - 11:38am MST
I didn't realize that it had been since September when I updated!
Things have been going well here in Oxford, and the weather has been remarkably good considering what it could have been. I really enjoyed my time during Michaelmas Term (the fall term) and got to do a lot of great and new things.
For example, I joined the rowing team at my college and got to participate in a race, which is definitely something I've never had an opportunity to before (and probably won't again).
My marks were quite good during the first term, too, which is good since I was quite busy and took a heavy load of courses. This term so far is much quieter than last, which is nice. And soon I'll be picking a project and beginning the work that will become my dissertation.
Over Christmas Jamie and I took a great trip down to Telluride to stay in a backcountry ski hut with amazing views of Wilson Peak and the San Juans, and I saw an amazing sunset, perhaps the most amazing I've ever seen. And living in Colorado I've seen a lot of amazing sunsets. Less so here in Oxford, where the grey clouds tend to make the light just fade away.
I also, recently, was elected (unopposed) as Environmental Officer of my college. I assure you that the responsibilities are great and that I take my duty seriously.
And the most recent interesting thing that happened is that it snowed here! It doesn't snow here very often, and this is likely the only snow I'll see all winter, but it is still exciting. Plus the old buildings look very pretty with snow around them. It didn't snow much and it turned to rain right before the end of the storm, but some managed to stick around. I've posted some pictures here.
If you're reading this you most likely know all this, of course, which is a consequence of not updating more frequently. The things that I end up posting about are the bigger things, which the people reading this blog almost certainly know already. I set the original version of this up in September of 2002, so it's been nearly 10 years, though the last year or so has been quite slow. I also haven't changed much about how the picture posting works in at least 6 years, so it doesn't work as well as I might like it to. So I think that when I do post pictures from now on it will be on other sites, though I'll try my best to link to it from here.
Friday, September 16th - 3:35pm MDT
Well, we've made it safely and successfully to the UK after a delightful flight on Lufthansa. Lugging 100 lbs of luggage on trains and tubes through London was a trial and perhaps a mistake, but here we are.
I don't have much to do for a couple of weeks while I wait for classes to start, so after doing errands for a couple of days I took the opportunity of today to post some pictures from various things that I've done this summer, and I've posted those over on mountains page.
I intend to keep things more up to date here now that I've got more unusual things to report, though my posts may be shorter than they used to be. I also intend to turn my Today In Denver blog into a Today In Oxford blog (though with the same address) to show some of the sites and the weather.
Friday, August 26th - 2:26pm MDT
Well, we're winding down to the final weeks here. I just (minutes ago!) sent in my official resignation, effective on September 12th, 2011, though most people have known for months that I'm leaving. And the plane tickets are booked as well; we're flying direct from Denver to Frankfurt Germany at 6pm on September 12th and then taking the quick flight from Frankfurt to London. And we get to fly on a 747!
It's been difficult getting motivated at work lately, which is probably expected. I've never actually quit a job like this, but I assume that it's pretty normal. Especially since I've known for so long that I'll be leaving. Still, I've been working hard at tying up loose ends and making things easier for the people who take over my work. But at the same time, I haven't had a tremendous amount to do because I haven't taken on new projects due to the difficulties of finishing them before I leave.
Other than that I've been mostly working on a personal programming project outside of work, so I haven't really had time to go through the pictures that I've taken on various journeys or to post anything. But I'm going to need to start working on packing and on moving some of my stuff out of ye olde homestead. And I would still like to get those pictures posted soon, but it may have to wait for the couple of weeks where I'm in Oxford but before the course starts.
Wednesday, August 3rd - 3:57pm MDT
My most recent bits of interesting news:
I climbed Mount Rainier successfully last week. Physically it was incredibly difficult, with a lot of physical effort required. Technically it wasn't especially difficult because of the conditions that the mountain gave us. Incredibly nice weather and a well-marked trail without too much crevasse danger were both critical in our success.
I also had a nice road trip in either direction with Jamie, though I wouldn't recommend driving from Denver to Seattle in one day. It's a pretty drive, largely, it just happens to be a very long one. Seattle was a neat city to drive into late that evening though; the city itself is quite cool and the giant trees, drizzle, and overcast weather made it quite atmospheric.
I expect to eventually post a trip report and pictures on the trip. Due to the expected difficulty of the route I opted not to carry my SLR on the outside of my pack, so most of my pictures were from a smaller camera that isn't quite as good. Even the ones that I took with my nice SLR didn't stand out to me when I looked through them, but maybe a second look and/or some photoshop will improve my opinion of them.
The other big news is that I got my student visa back yesterday, which is the last big hurdle before I can start at Oxford. Everything else is relatively minor and none of it would actually prevent me from starting, it's more just tying up loose ends financially here. I also have some sartorial things to take care of, but I'm not too worried about that.
Thursday, July 21st - 4:24pm MDT
Well I haven't been as good about keeping things updated here as I hoped, but I am still hoping to change that.
I've only got about two more months until I head to England and I'm getting pretty excited about that. I applied for my visa earlier this week and am almost done with everything that I need to get done before I leave. Given how hot it's been lately it's hard to imagine that when I get there the high temperatures are only going to be in the 50s and 60s. And sadly I think that I'm going to miss the changing of the aspen leaves here by about a week or two.
In other news, I'm climbing Mount Rainier next week. Jamie and I are driving up to Seattle in one LONG day (about 20-21 hours) on Tuesday and then I'll head up to the high camp on Wednesday and climb on Thursday (or Friday if the weather is bad). I've been looking anxiously at the long range forecast, but so far it's too far out to say anything definitive.
This will be my first experience on a real glacier, which should be exciting. We're taking one of the standard routes though, so there will be plenty of people and guides about, and the guiding services will even have placed fixed ropes and marked the way around creavasses, though we'll still be prepared to self-rescue, of course.
Tuesday, May 3rd - 7:31am MDT
Well it's been quite a while since I posted anything here. In fact, it's been by far longer that I've gone writing something on here than it's been any time since I started in fall of 2002. So, what's new?
There was a brief point where the site was inaccessible because my host didn't renew my DNS automatically, just my hosting contract. Which I didn't realize, obviously.
I got into Oxford for a 1-year master's program starting in October. So that's fun.
I released an Android app, the official Android app for 14ers.com. You can use the web interface of the market to find it here, or you can search for "14ers" on the market--my app is the one written by WyeKnot Software.
I took a trip to Oxford to visit Jamie and to see the school shortly after I got in. Here's a tip: always fly on non-US carriers when you fly internationally. Speaking of which, I might get to go to China for work in mid-June.
I went skiing a fair amount, though probably less than I would have liked. And in general, the weather this spring has been cooler and windier and cloudier than a normal spring.
Wednesday, January 5th - 9:32pm MST
I've finally gotten around to posting pictures from the trip that Jamie and I took to Southeast Utah back in late October. Due to the weather it ended up being a different trip from what I planned and expected, but it ended up being a great trip for precisely that reason.
We set out on the 22nd and headed for Green River, near to Goblin Valley State Park. It was snowing quite heavily as we headed past Copper Mountain and over Vail Pass and it rained terribly in the desert on our way between the Colorado border and the town of Green River. But when we got to the mouth of Wild Horse Canyon (not to be confused with Little Wild Horse Canyon a few miles up the road) it had stopped. So we hiked up (bypassing some narrows that were quite full of water) and saw the rock art that I saw last year, a picture of which now hangs on my bedroom wall.
Dark was falling by this time so we headed back to Green River for some dinner and listened to a bit of the world series on a faint station from the north that would get staticy everytime a lightning bolt struck, which meant that it was staticy quite a bit because the rain was pouring and the lightning was flashing. After dinner we started towards where I had camped last year near Moonshine Wash, but only a few miles in the rain was showing no signs of letting up and the dirt road was so muddy as to be treacherous so we turned around and headed back to where we had hiked earlier, which was drier.
The next morning we took a brief foray into Little Wild Horse canyon but we were turned back by standing water and serious concern about flash floods given the clouds in the sky. Flash floods are the leading cause of death in these canyons and they can be fierce. So we decided instead to head for Horseshoe Canyon a remote and detached unit of Canyonlands National Park that can be reached only by long journeys on dirt roads through the desert. As we drove these roads which were still a bit muddy despite a dry morning it started to clear up a bit.
Horseshoe Canyon is noted for its rock art, and in fact the rock art that we saw in Little Wild Horse is of the Barrier Canyon style -- Horseshoe Canyon was previously known as Barrier Canyon. It is about a 6 mile round trip hike to see the Great Gallery, and I highly recommend it. We had perfect weather because it didn't rain but it also wasn't too hot. The rock art was fantastic and we made it back to the car just in time to avoid the storms of the day. But again we hit very muddy roads on the way out. South of the small town of Hanksville we pulled off the highway and onto a dirt road that we spent the night on.
The next morning afforded us a great view of the sunrise on the Henry Mountains, and shortly thereafter we found ourselves driving on a scenic route up into the upper reaches of these mountains, only a few hundred feet below the snowline. The road itself made me quite nervous because it was narrow and the vegetation reminded me a bit too much of the Lake Como Road, where I had a bad experience back in 2007.
But all was well and we drove down to see Lake Powell and eventually make our way back into Colorado and along several roads that I'd never been on. We both wanted to head south to see the San Juans in winter but decided to take this very good opportunity to see the Paradox Valley and the amazing red rocks of the Dolores River Canyon south of the town of Gateway.
It was dark and rainy through Glenwood Canyon and snowy on Vail Pass as we made our way east along I-70. The weather definitely added to this trip by forcing us to see new and different things and making for interesting pictures. And desert rain is always a sight to behold.
Monday, December 6th - 9:25pm MST
I had a terrifying experience last week when I checked my mail. Normally I don't get much of anything, but this time there was a letter from the IRS. I didn't think I'd done anything wrong, and opening the letter revealed a friendly reminder from them about a tax credit I received, but I think I would have preferred to not receive the reminder...
Wednesday, December 1st - 7:29pm MST
It's been a while. I've done a few things in the interim, though no more climbing. I might even post some pictures of the trip that Jamie and I took to Utah.
But I want to focus on my toenails first.
As you might recall, after the climbing expedition in the Weminuche my toes were in an awful state with terrible blisters and bloodied toenails. But despite that, it seemed like everything was going to be okay. In fact, it had been nearly three months when, on Saturday the 27th, my left big toenail started coming off.
I really thought that I was going to avoid losing any toenails considering how long it had been, but... here we are. And now that I can recognize the signs of a toenail that is going to be coming off I can tell that the right big toenail is not long for this world either. But I think it's pretty impressive that it's going to make it past the three month mark of when the damage was done.
Monday, September 27th - 9:02pm MDT
Aha, I told you I'd do it! The pictures are here and the trip report is here, also available from the usual spots on the mountains page. It's a bit of a long read, but then again it was a bit of a long trip.
In other news, it seems that I'm not taking a fall foliage photo trip for the first time since I moved back to Colorado. It's partially related, I'm sure, to the fact that it just doesn't feel like fall around here, as regular readers of my Today in Denver blog are already aware. The other part of the reason is that I don't feel strongly about going alone to visit anyplace -- I've seen most of the places that I'm really excited about.
But I feel a bit guilty about not wanting to go, because it's not like I've been doing amazing things while staying at home. When I think back to how much college Nathan would have wanted to do this I feel like I'm wasting a perfectly good opportunity. I could still go this weekend and if I went south it would be very nice, but I'm just not sure I'm feeling like it.
Sunday, September 26th - 10:54pm MDT
It's been a while, mostly because I wanted to have my trip report and pictures ready to post before I posted again. Referring to my backpacking trip to the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juans over Labor Day.
And I have the trip report written and the pictures picked out and edited, but I just don't have everything set up and posted. My plan had been to do that this weekend, but I pretty much just remembered and I'm about to go to bed. So, the best I can say is... probably tomorrow?
Wednesday, September 1st - 9:20pm MDT
We had to circle over Long Island for a while before finally being permitted to land and make our way through security. I found it funny that the country that seemed the most suspicious of me and asked me the most questions and had the most immigration steps was my own. But I made it out to the subway and eventually, after a long ride, made it to the Upper West Side and the apartment of some friends that I hadn't seen in two years.
The next day was my day in New York, and we made quite a day of it, although the temperature was blazing. Or rather, it wasn't especially warm by the standards of Denver, but with the humidity it sure felt like it was. We went to the High Line Park, which had opened since I had been there last. Basically they took a long-abandonded elevated railway and created walkways and planted trees and plants to make a lovely park. And from there we made our way over to the NYU campus for some food and then down to SoHo where my friends needed to do a bit of shopping. This doesn't sound so bad, but it was a lot of walking and it was really hot and humid that day.
Fortunately things cooled down in the evening when we made our way up to the Columbia campus to have some food at a favorite restaurant and talk about how appalled we were by the great changes that had happened since we left. There's been lots of new construction on campus so it was good to see the things that were happening in that regard. Sadly we were too late for me to stop by the bookstore to pick up some new schwag.
Monday morning I left New York and headed home. Only two comments on that: first, cab fares have apparently gone up quite a bit, and second, I think it's absurd that they made me throw away the bottle of Brennivķn that I had bought at duty free back in Iceland and forgotten to pack in my checked luggage before going through security. It was a sealed bottle in a sealed container! Fortunately I got to keep the drink cozy that it came with.
It was rough going back to work, but a lovely trip and my first proper traveling vacation in a very long time. It got me excited to start traveling again and I hope to do that starting next year. I'd love to go back to Iceland and I really think that everyone should before their economy recovers and it goes back to being the most expensive country in Europe. Actually, one could argue that it's the most expensive country in both Europe and North America since it straddles those tectonic plates.
Tuesday, August 31st - 9:11pm MDT
Friday was another trip with just Jamie and myself, and this time we rented a car to head towards the Snęfellsnes peninsula which is to the north of Reykjavik. This was another overcast day to start out with, though for some reason I held out hope that perhaps it would clear up a bit.
We first drove up to two waterfalls which were right next to each other. They were different from the falls we'd seen along our southern journey in that they didn't fall spectacular distances, but instead were situated impressively. Barnafoss is a place where a rather large glacial river is channeled into a narrow canyon and the water absolutely rages, to the point that arches have been carved out and the water flows under them. The other fall was Hraunfoss, which is a waterfall that appears to come from nowhere as the water just appears out of the cliffs, with no river above. Instead, the water flows through the porous lava for many miles before finally exiting above the river here. The previous day's experience with hot springs didn't transfer here: the water was frigid, and in fact in the distance we could see glacial tongues jutting down from the clouds on the high mountains that were the source of the river.
From the falls we headed back to the main ring road to continue our journey to Snęfellsnes. Jamie was perhaps a bit disappointed to get back to the ring road because it meant that she could no longer speed; Icelandic police are strict in enforcing the speed limit and even carry a credit-card reader in their cars so that they can fine you immediately. We again left the ring road and drove over a beautiful mountain pass before we headed down onto the peninsula itself. At this point the highway turned to a dirt road and it started to rain off and on. We drove along the northern side of the peninsula first, meandering in and out of the coast as dictated by the fjords. Waterfalls were everywhere on the hillsides, of course, this being Iceland.
We drove through a number of small and beautiful fishing villages situated on fjords before finally reaching Snęfellsnes National Park, home of Snęfellsjökull, the mountain for which Colorado's Mount Sneffels was named. It also happens to be where they entered the earth in Jules Verne's "Voyage to the Center of the Earth." As we entered the national park we got a brief glimpse of part of the glacier snaking its way down the mountain, though the summit was always shrouded in clouds. We stopped at a sandy beach and an old fishing settlement before heading for a rocky beach that we'd seen in the guide book. On our way to that latter beach the heavens opened up, and in fact it didn't stop raining the rest of the day. We were troopers and walked for quite a ways along the beach in the pouring rain, which was more like sleet at points. The North Atlantic was an angry sea that day, though as far north as we were that wasn't surprising.
On the way back we drove along the southern side of the peninsula. We lamented that we didn't have a 4x4 that would allow us to take the rough road that goes almost to the foot of the glacier and instead took another paved mountain pass for a short distance to see what views it might afford. The road snaked past waterfalls and climbed steeply before depositing us into a thick cloudbank with low visibility. There was no turn around spot so I was somewhat nervous as we did a multi-point turn in the middle of the highway where oncoming traffic wouldn't have much time to see us. The rest of the drive home alternated between raining and raining really hard.
That night was our last in Iceland, and so we opted to enjoy a traditional Icelandic delicacy: Hįkarl and Brennivķn. Hįkarl, in case you didn't read the link, is a shark meat that is cured and fermented for several months and then served. The shark meat before this curing process is poisonous, and the cured version isn't much better. And it's traditionally followed up with a shot of Brennivķn, also known as "The Black Death" just to give you an idea of its quality. So all of us in the flat took turns trying the shark and taking the shot, with varying degrees of disgust. For my part, I thought the shark was merely awful while the Brennivķn was truly revolting and gave me a disgusting aftertaste for quite a while. Not that the shark had a good aftertaste, I just was able to get rid of it by taking the awful shot.
The next day we left early in the morning for the airport. We had arranged things so that we would stop at The Blue Lagoon, the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland, on the way to the airport since they're very close to each other. While I probably wouldn't go there again, it's a place that you really ought to go once--a large hot springs pool with a beautiful pale blue color. Jamie and I were almost late for the bus because the car rental company was closed on Saturdays even though they had indicated the previous morning that they could give us a ride. Still, we took a taxi and made it to the bus station with a bit of time to spare.
Here Jamie and I parted company as she flew back to the UK and I took the 5 hour flight back to JFK. The highlight of the flight was the view that I got as we flew over the north Atlantic. On takeoff I finally got to see Snęfellsjökull mostly unimpeded by clouds since it was a clear day. And then came the absolute highlight of my flight, a flyover of Greenland. The Greenlandic coastline is truly amazing. You see in the background the seemingly unending Greenland ice-sheet, sometimes two miles thick (and in terms of climate, it's worth pointing out that this is quite a distance south of Reykjavik -- what a distance ocean currents can make!). And then in the foreground you see the glaciers carving out fjords and oozing into a brilliant glacially blue ocean filled with icebergs. And on the margins of the ice sheet you can see mountains known as nunatuks just barely able to peek through the ice sheet. It was an awe-inspiring sight and it definitely moved Greenland farther up my travel list.
Monday, August 30th - 7:43pm MDT
Before I talk about our trip to Hveragerši, I'd like to say a few words on the climate of Iceland. The summer high temperatures generally hover between 10 and 15 degrees celsius, which is roughly 50-60 degrees and quite reasonable considering how close it is to the Arctic Circle. It doesn't often pour rain, but you'll often get a bit of moisture. And of course, in the summer it's light for 18-20 hours per day.
So the day we went to Hveragerši was a pretty typical Icelandic day, with overcast skies and a temperature of about 12C. Jamie and I set off alone to the Mjódd bus station, where we caught a city bus that would take us on the 45 minute journey out of Reykjavik, through the countryside, and down to Hveragerši. The price for the bus to town is quite reasonable, especially in comparison with the excursions that you can pay to take you to the same place.
It was raining a bit as we crossed the high plain between Reykjavik and Hveragerši, but by the time the bus dropped us off at the Shell station in the middle of town, it was dry. Our goal was a hot springs area in a valley among the hills to the north of town. Our guidebook indicated that the trailhead for our hiking trail was going to be about 2-3km out of town, and that proved fairly accurate. We walked for a while on this dirt road hoping to find a car to hitch a ride with, but we had no luck. Before long, the T.I./Justin Timberlake song "Dead and Gone" became our theme, with its loud chorus of "Oh! I've been traveling on this road too long (too long)..."
But it really wasn't that bad. From there we crossed the river (which was warm) and headed up the valley which was littered with steam vents. I became somewhat concerned when I didn't see any water for a while as we climbed steeply up the mountainside, although it was obviously a well trodden path. We considered heading out off the path to search for something, but luckily we decided to continue up around a bend where we had an overlook onto a beautiful waterfall which we both agreed would be a great place to visit later in the day. And from there we continued only a short distance more to where we crossed a creek that was easily 90 degrees.
As we carried on along the trail we encountered lots of fumaroles and some violently bubbling thermal springs. At times the fumes and steam would waft across the trail, leaving us in a fog as we walked. One thing that I definitely like about Iceland is that they let you rely on yourself. There are some warning signs near the trailhead to indicate that this is a thermal area, but beyond that they leave things to your own common sense. In the US, this same area would be roped off and only visible from afar. Here you could go as close as you wanted to anything.
Well we came out of the mist and descended a short ways towards the river where we saw a few people relaxing in pools further upstream. This looked like just what we'd been searching for, so we headed down to the river and got on in. It was perhaps 100 degrees F, which was a perfect temperature for relaxing as long as we wanted. We were in a pool that was the perfect depth for sitting that someone had created by damming the creek a bit. It started drizzling a bit while we bathed, but it was so delightful in the creek that we could have stayed forever. As it was we only stayed about an hour before we got out to explore the waterfall we'd seen earlier.
This involved some off-trail hiking which proved to be mildly difficult because of some marshy areas that were around. But we did make it to the waterfall--and to some more impressive steam vents and bubbling water pots above the waterfall--eventually. We admired it from beside it for a while and did a bit of poking around before we regained the elevation we'd lost in order to get there and headed back to the trail and down to the road. We sang again, and still no one stopped to pick us up. We arrived back in Hveragerši at exactly the right time, though we had to jog a bit in order to catch the bus. But it left as soon as we got on, so we timed it pretty well I'd say.
Thursday, August 26th - 9:07pm MDT
Upon arriving at Heathrow we made our way to the checkin for Icelandair and then onto the horrible security, which Jamie, a veteran of Heathrow, described as the worst security line she'd ever seen there. And on the way to the line I had an automatic weapon pointed at my head by an officer of the law as he wheeled around while walking back and forth. Joy!
The flight took off just as the sun was setting over London, so as we took off we saw the vast sea of lights that is greater London. But a funny thing happened on our way to Reykjavik, which is that it actually got lighter the closer we got and the later it got. We watched part of an awful movie called "The Fountain," which we couldn't make it through, and once we turned it off we were pretty close to Iceland. The sun was a brilliant red, low on the horizon, but still shining above the clouds. We passed over some of the southern coast and eventually landed at the airport in Keflavik.
By the time we got to the bus that would take us into the city it was about 11:30pm and it was still somewhat light out. The bus ride into Reykjavik seemed quite short because we slept the entire way, but in actuality it's about a 40 minute trip. The plan had been to walk from there to the apartment we would be staying at, but given the heft of my luggage and how tired we were, we opted to take a cab instead. The cab ride was short and it didn't take long before we arrived at our apartment and met up with Jamie's friends who we were staying with.
The next day was dedicated to exploring Reykjavik, which is a beautiful city. It was still a holiday and people get up later there anyway, so at the relatively early hour that we ventured out many things were closed. Still, we walked up the main shopping street and saw a few of the sites. The afternoon was dedicated to the Nauthólsvķk beach in Reykjavik. This is a geothermal beach where a small area separated by rocks is filled with geothermal water to make a reasonably warm area to swim; the water was probably 80 degrees or so on average, though there were layers of temperatures and the depths were much colder.
There was also a nice geothermal pool to just relax in, this one without layers. And that one proved crucial since a group of us (including me) opted to go swim in the non-geothermal part of the north Atlantic. It was terrifically cold at first, and I could only wade in very slowly lest I die of shock. But the deeper I got it actually got a bit easier because my lower regions went numb eventually I made my way out to a buoy where Jamie had been for a while, and we both put our heads under to prove ourselves and then headed back to the warmth. It's not the coldest water I've ever been in, but it's close enough.
The next day was another day around Reykjavik. We started the morning looking at outdoor gear at the very Icelandic (and generally quite expensive) 66 North outlet. After we all agonized over our purchases we headed back to the city center where Jamie and I took the opportunity to head into the unique Cathedral in Reykjavik. We paid the small fee to take the elevator to the top of the tower and we got the most commanding view in the entire city. It was overcast (of course) so we couldn't see the summits of the surrounding mountains, but we were able to see the brightly-colored houses all around--a nice contrast to the uniformly drab buildings of the UK.
After the cathedral we met up with the rest of the group to take an afternoon trip to the island of Višey in the center of the harbor. Sadly we weren't able to ride "Octopus," the extreme luxury yacht that was docked in the harbor for the duration of our trip. We found out that it was owned by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, was the 9th largest personal yacht in the world, and has two helicopters and two submarines. No, that was a bit fancy for us. Instead, we took a small boat which probably wouldn't hold more than about 25 people, and even that it wouldn't fit comfortably.
We had plans to ride bikes around the island, but the bicycle selection was poor, to say the least, and we couldn't find enough bikes in good enough shape for seven of us to ride. So instead we walked around the island, which is nice and uninhabited, filled with green fields and nice rocky beaches looking out onto the city. As with most of our days it threatened rain most of the day but never quite followed through. After our return from Višey we visited another public pool--there are tons of them in Iceland and all are heated geothermally.
Wednesday brought the day of our great roadtrip. The seven of us set out on the open road in a car that really only fits 5 comfortably with two people cramming into the trunk. We made the best of it though and set off for the south, with our goal being Vik, the southernmost town in Iceland and home of a black sand beach. This was one of my favorite days in Iceland as we drove through the otherworldly landscape of Iceland. We saw glaciers jutting down from the summits of peaks and we saw beautiful waterfalls such as Seljalandsfoss and numerous others dotting the mountains around us. Seljalandsfoss was particularly cool because you could walk behind the waterfall and see it frome very angle.
In Vik we had a delightful lunch at someone's home--a friend from the Internet of one of the members of our party. And we spent some time at the nearby black sand beach, admiring the arches and sea stacks along the coastline and watching as the glacier Mżrdalsjökull came out of the clouds. On the way back up the coastline we stopped at Sólheimajökull, an outlet glacier to Mżrdalsjökull. The road was rough (at least for a car) and I'm not convinced we were allowed to drive our rental car up there, but had no troubles and got to see the glacier. It was quite dirty from ashfall due to the volcano eruption back in in April and May. We did see some tiny slivers of blue glacial ice where the glacier had cracked, but it was largely dirty.
Continuing up the coast we saw Skógafoss, a mighty waterfall that is 85 feet wide and over 200 feet tall. We walked as close as we dared and then took the stairs to climb to the top and look down on it. There is a nice trekking trail that follows the river up to its source and beyond, passing between Mżrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, though I don't know what has happened to the trail since the eruption. Along the way back to Reykjavik from Skógafoss we got a fantastic view of the famous volcano Eyjafjallajökull (which I can now pronounce with ease). The glacier on its summit is completely covered in ash, and unless someone told you it was a glacier you probably wouldn't even notice because it's the same color as the rest of the mountain. Despite that ash covering, much of the rest of the landscape had recovered to an amazing degree; the hillsides were verdant and green and covered in beautiful waterfalls thundering down from the glaciers above.
The trip back to Reykjavik from there was mostly uneventful, though I did take my turn cramming into the trunk, where I made a discovery that Jamie and her friend who had been sitting in the back had been using the seats improperly. I was able to improve our comfort a bit, but there wasn't really anywhere to go but up.
Wednesday, August 25th - 9:13pm MDT
Thursday morning was the day of our biggest and farthest excursion, a trip to Florence. Five of us left quite early in hopes of maximizing our time in the city, planning to make it to Chiusi, the nearest town on that Florence railroad line, in time for a 10:15am train. Though a bit cloudier than other mornings the day was still mostly clear and pleasant as we drove down the road to the train station, but as we got there just before 10am and looked for a (free) place to park we realized that the train was actually at 10, so we missed it and would have to wait 45 minutes for the next one.
This turned out to be a good thing because it allowed us to find a gas station and to find a good place to park without being towed or paying any money. We got on the train and had a nice relaxing ride to Florence, but the clouds kept building the entire way. By the time we were almost to Florence the skies were dark and it was threatening heavy rain. The rain started almost immediately before we got off the train. After going back and forth about whether to buy an umbrella from a street vendor I opted not to as we headed into the city trying to avoid getting too terribly wet. After an aborted attempt at seeing on of the many churches in town (Santa Maria Novella) we decided that it was lunch time and ducked into the first restaurant we found.
The restaurant ended up being cheap, delicious, and lovely. And even though we sat in the back room we could hear the incredible claps of thunder as the storm passed directly overhead. After a typical drawn out Italian meal we headed back out to the streets where the rain had stopped! Our first stop was at the Accademia, home of Michelangelo's David, which some of our party were deadset on seeing. Despite the stern warnings from everyone we spoke with and the guidebooks, we had no problems securing those people an appointment to enter the museum. We had so little trouble that they were able to go in 45 minutes after we headed for the museum, in fact.
Meanwhile Jamie and I (along with the other member of our party) opted to see some of the other sites on this now beautiful day. The sun was out and the sky was clear! We started to wait in line to climb to the top of the Duomo, the most commanding view in all of Florence, but quickly grew frustrated at the slow pace of the line. We tried to make a subtle exit from the line by each leaving separately and non-chalantly, but I don't think it worked at all. In fact, it backfired, because it just made everyone look at us more.
So rather than wait in that line we headed out towards Ponte Vecchio to see some of the sites on that side of the town. We passed the covered market and headed towards the large plaza in front of Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi, where the replica of the David stands (and where the real David once stood). After a brief trip into the lobby of the Palazzo to see what it looked like we stepped outside just in time for it to start raining again. Fortunately it wasn't raining hard yet so we had time to retreat to a nearby awning to wait out the storm.
The waiting took longer than expected, long enough to shop for and reject a number of sunglasses (the shopkeeper informed us that this was the first rainy day all month) and to find a free wifi hotspot to access the internet for the first time in a number of days. But before long we grew tired of waiting and decided to head back towards the Duomo. While waiting in line earlier we had decided that while it was raining would be a perfect time to wait in that line because it was outside and everyone would get out of line to escape the rain. So we took advantage of a brief light period in the rain to make our way back towards the Duomo. The rain picked up on our way, but we were making our way between buildings and generally staying underneath awnings so that we would only get wet while crossing streets.
We found ourselves back at the Piazza del Duomo, but it was really raining at this point and there were no more awnings between us and the line for the Duomo. So instead we ran through the absolute buckets of rain, around the Baptistery and to the door of the Duomo climb, where we found no line, as predicted. So we climbed up the 493 stairs, occasionally passing tired Americans who were trying to guess how much farther it was. We were counting the stairs as we climbed, so we had the unfortunate duty of informing them that they were exhausted after only going up a quarter of the way. After about halfway you come out of the narrow corridor and onto a balcony just beneath the dome where you can look up at a magnificent fresco before climbing the rest of the way up. That last portion of the climb was terribly cramped and humid, but the view from the top was worth it.
We timed the climb perfectly so that it had stopped raining by the time we reached the top, allowing us to take in the fantastic views of this classic Italian city for as long as we wished. In the distance the mist clung to the Tuscan hills and in the foreground we could see red-roofed houses in all directions. The views were amazing and I took a ton of pictures from up there. We were trying to meet the two who had gone to see the David, and were surprised to see them climbing up as we were on our way down. We met them at the Baptistery in front of the Gates of Paradise and began our trek to the gnocchi place that had been recommended to us. This required us to cross Ponte Vecchio but was quite easy to find. This was the best meal I had in all of Italy--simply amazing. Two of our party ordered a 1kg Steak Florentine which I got to sample in the form of the scraps that they were too full to finish, and it was divine.
I had really hoped to get to Michaelangelo park for the nice overlook onto the city, but we didn't have time, sadly, because it was dark by this point and we had to catch our return train. We bought two bottles of wine at the station and enjoyed them and some card games all the way back to Chiusi. It started pouring again about halfway through the train ride, and it was really dumping as we ran from the train station to where we had parked the car. The drive back was somewhat surreal since we couldn't see anything except a ton of rain, but every 20 seconds or so a bolt of lightning would shoot across the sky and illuminate the whole countryside.
It stopped again as we got back to the villa which made the drives on those dirt roads more manageable. We had to say goodbye to most people at this point because Jamie and I left the next morning. It had been a fabulous time in Umbria, that's for sure. The storm had caused some power issues at our villa, and when we walked inside the power was out and it was impossible to see. Once someone turned it back on I noticed that I had walked inches away from a scorpion that was hiding from the rain on the floor of our kitchen.
The next morning we said the remainder of our goodbyes and got a ride to the train station in Chiusi, which was much drier this time. The night before the corridor to access the tracks had been partially flooded, but this day was dried out. The train ride back to Rome was generally relaxing and quick, though I never did get used to the sudden way that the pressure changes when you enter a tunnel. We made it to Rome with about 90 minutes before our bus left for the airport, so we opted to walk to the Colosseum, which really isn't far from Roma Termini train station.
This was the hottest day we'd yet had in Italy, and we would later find out that it was one of the coolest days in quite some time in Rome. We didn't have much time to poke around at the Colosseum, just enough to see it and confirm that it is, in fact, colossal. We opted to take the metro back rather than walk because we took longer than expected, and we were pleased to find that the Rome metro is efficient and cheap: only 1 euro per person! So we made our bus and bade farewell to Italy as our plane took off for London.
The train on the way back was uneventful and we ended up sleeping for a good portion of the ride. Fortunately Oxford was the last stop or else we could have slept straight through! Fortunately we woke up just before the stop though, leaving us with only the 15 minute walk back before we could go to bed.
The next day I packed my suitcase and then we met one of Jamie's friends to wander around Oxford a bit with. We had a bit of lunch, impressed tourists by entering Jamie's college and looking down on them from the windows, and we went to the History Of Science Museum, where I saw more astrolabes than I've ever seen in my life. We stopped back by Jamie's apartment for a bit before heading over to see another museum. I had been excited to see the Pitt Rivers museum, so I planned to go there while Jamie ducked into her lab nearby in order to print her boarding pass. I got confused and distracted by the delightful Natural History Museum and never saw the Pitt Rivers, but that was an incredible museum as well.
By now it was getting quite late and we had to scramble to finish packing. Jamie kept insisting that we had plenty of time to make the bus, and that even if we didn't we would make the next bus and still have enough time. She was wrong on both counts, but she walked ahead of me since she had less stuff and I had a 50 pound suitcase. Walking ahead allowed her to stop the bus, which we made with about 20 seconds to spare. And later we would encounter a huge security line at Heathrow which meant that we most likely would have missed our flight had we missed that bus. But that didn't matter now because we were on the bus and on our way to Iceland!
Tuesday, August 24th - 8:42pm MDT
The villa was located in the Umbrian countryside, south of Lago di Trasimeno. We woke up that first morning to a beautiful, cool, clear morning where we could sit out on the patio to eat breakfast and look out over the hilly countryside with scattered with olive groves and vineyards. Most mornings were like this, cool and clear and relaxed as we ate breakfast on the patio.
That Monday was the day before the wedding, so we didn't want to venture too far afield. At first a number of us stopped at a market in the closest town, where I bought a snazzy hat. Due to my rapidly worsening hair-loss situation I was concerned about covering my head but not wanting to look too American, so this hat was a welcome addition. I wore it everywhere for the duration of my time in Italy.
After the market we took a trip to a nearby town called Castiglione del Lago (which Wikipedia has just informed me was originally on an island). This was a neat little Italian town and a great place to have some lunch. It's a city on a hill that has some sizeable walls to protect it and a classic Italian old quarter with 3-4 story brick buildings with shops and restaurants on the first level and apartments on the upper levels. After lunch we went to see the castle that gives the town its name before heading back to the villa for the rehearsal dinner which was delicious, like every other meal I ate there. I should mention that we were somewhat lucky because it had been hot before we got there but while we were there the temperatures were quite mild. I mention this because on the night of the rehearsal dinner things were actually very chilly.
The next day was the wedding, in the evening, and we hung around the villa all day. One nice thing about the small nature of the wedding and the fact that everyone was staying in the same place was that during the rehearsal we determined that the light would be better for photography if we moved the wedding up a bit, so we decided to do it on the spot. This was mostly my doing, since I was the official photographer.
I should note the layout of the villa here, I suppose. The villa was composed of three large houses, separated by about half a mile each, and each was divided into a number of apartments. Jamie and I were staying at the middle of the two houses, which was the only house that belonged completely to our group and was also where the wedding was held. To get between the houses it was possible to walk but easier to drive, though the roads were dirt and quite steep. On Tuesday we spent the day at the upper house lounging by the pool and being too loud (okay, this was just me) for the sensibilities of the germans who were staying there as well. We were sitting by the infinity pool, but it was a bit too chilly to do much swimming.
It rained pretty hard for around a half hour while we got ready for the wedding, but that's apparently fairly common for the area at that time of year. The wedding itself was dry and beautiful with nice light breaking through the clouds during the ceremony. And afterwards as we took the standard wedding photos there was mist developing on the nearby hillsides to make for some wonderful pictures. We had a lovely dinner and ended up dancing and carousing until about 3am. Again it was cold, but the dancing helped to alleviate that a bit.
The next day was a late morning, but we eventually managed to corral a rather sizeable group of people who were interested in visiting Assisi to see a special art exhibition at the basilica. Some of the frescoes were being restored and had scaffolding up so that you could get very close to the art. So we drove to Assisi in several groups, with our group consisting of five of us crammed into a tiny Fiat. The town of Assisi looks a bit like Minas Tirith as it's situated on the hill with a large stone structure jutting from the hillside. The town itself is beautiful, with winding narrow streets and stairways that disappear steeply up narrow corridors. It's also filled with churches and lots of tourist shops selling nearly identical crap.
The Basilica was quite pretty and covered in the sorts of art that you'd expect, including one particularly interesting fresco filled with images of demons slowly rising to the heavens which were populated by angels. After our group (of 19!) saw the fresco and the basilica we tried to get everyone together for a meal, but it just wasn't happening. For one thing it was difficult moving people around town and for another it was tough to find a place that was open given that it was late afternoon and the siesta (Italian style) was in full force. So our group of five opted to leave and alleviate our frustration. This also had the advantage of allowing us to rescue the bride and groom who had been left behind with no way to leave the villa.
The drive back was our second time getting lost in Perugia as we nearly had to stop to buy a map and/or ask for directions in broken Italian. We had gotten excellent directions to get to Assisi, but they weren't readily reversible and we hadn't paid much attention on our way there. By pure dumb luck we ended up on the proper road and drove back to the villa. From there we went to a delightful restaurant in yet another ancient walled city near the villa, Panicale. The food was delightful and the restaurant was friendly and gave me the opportunity to get out an Italian phrase I'd been working on for a while: tap water.
We got back late-ish after a tiring day and got ready for the next day, our trip to Florence...
Monday, August 23rd - 9:41pm MDT
So my vacation was lovely, and very eventful, overall. I want to describe it for you, but I don't want to mush it all into a giant and unwieldy entry. So instead I'm going to split it up as I get it written. I haven't figured out exactly how I'll split it, but for tonight I'm quite sleepy so I won't describe too much.
I left Denver on the morning of July 23rd, with an awful lot of traveling ahead of me. In order to book my itinerary I had to book each leg separately, and so to protect against missed connections I built in some particularly long layovers. So my first flight took me to Minneapolis for an hour or so and then onto JFK where I had a 7 hour layover. I had thought about maybe meeting someone in the city or perhaps even going to the beach, but no one was available and I couldn't check in my luggage right away so I had to keep my suitcase with me for about half the layover. So instead I embarked on a tour of all of the terminals at JFK, which are connected by a free train.
Many of the international terminals had been redone and were quite nice, and I took advantage of this in order to have some food since the area outside of the gates at my terminal (terminal 2) didn't have any restaurants. The time passed relatively quickly and I finally got on board my Icelandair flight to Reykjavik. I stupidly wore short sleeves on an airplane bound for Iceland, so I was chilly for much of the 5 hour flight, even with a blanket. One positive: I had booked myself in an emergency exit row. One negative: the seats in the exit row don't recline, which meant I didn't get much sleep before the plane landed at 6am Reykjavik time.
They make you re-enter security in Reykjavik to continue on to Europe, so I had to re-enter with a 1 liter bottle of water that I had filled in New York but never had any of. They noticed it in my bag so I had to chug a liter of water then and there. The security guy was impressed, I assure you. Next time I have a layover in Reykjavik in the morning I'll be sure to bring a sweater because I was quite cold the whole time. And the views out of the window got me excited to return to explore Iceland a week later. Fortunately the layover wasn't long and I slept quite well on the flight to London. One issue with that flight was that as we were about 30-40 feet above the ground on our landing the pilot pulled up sharply and hit the gas because apparently there was another plane crossing the runway as we attempted to land just to add a bit of excitement. But that meant I got two passes over London on a relatively clear day which allowed me to see all of the major sights.
From there it was a trip on the Oxford Bus where I was picked up by Jamie and taken back to the small but cozy place that she shares. I knew that even though I was exhausted I had to stay up in order to prevent jet lag. So we went punting, a classic summertime Oxford activity for a couple of hours. For me, this consisted of lying in a boat on a river and being called un-gentlemanly while Jamie pushed us along with a pole. And then we went to a BBQ/garden party being held by some of her friends. I like to think I was sociable and gregarious with the group of people that I was just meeting despite my extreme tiredness. Still, we left a bit early and I got a lot of sleep before we got up around 8am to catch the train to Stansted Airport.
For those that don't know, Stansted is in the middle of nowhere, and is a real pain to get to from Oxford. It's technically a London Airport, but it's closer to Cambridge and in the midst of a bunch of fields. Which is why we left at about 8:30 for a 1pm flight. But we eventually made it, and despite some concerns about the draconian carryon rules for Ryanair, the budget Irish airline we flew to Rome, we made it onto the flight. I caught some more sleep there and woke up over the Italian and Swiss alps which still had lots of snowcover in places. We saw some neat lakes from the air (including, as it would turn out, the one we were staying just south of) and I was also able to spot the Colloseum and St. Peter's as we approached the airport.
At the airport we had our first experiences with the fact that we didn't speak Italian but it didn't matter much because everyone speaks passable English these days. So we boarded a bus for the train station and then made our way to the train that would take us to Perugia. Shortly after getting on an older Italian woman started speaking to me in Italian and suggesting that I put my backpack up above because I'd be more comfortable. At least I assume that's what she said because she apparently spoke no English. She went on trying to be friendly for a while after I moved my bag, but I just smiled and nodded because I had no idea what she was saying.
The train put us into Perugia at about 10pm, at which point our ride to the villa had gotten lost on their way due to the confusing nature of Italian driving and Perugia in particular. After some phone calls and some waiting we were finally picked up and made our way to the gorgeous villa in the Umbrian countryside where we would spend the next 5 days. At the time it was quite dark so we didn't know it was gorgeous, but we found that out the next morning. At this point though it was quite late and I had basically been traveling for 3 days straight, so I was quite ready to get to sleep.
Sunday, August 22nd - 9:04pm MDT
In other news my swamp cooler broke today and I had to climb on the roof to fix it. This also gave me an opportunity to clean up the beer cans that had been rolling around up there and causing some irritation while sleeping.
Thursday, August 19th - 8:37pm MDT
Well I've been back for a week and a half now, but I still haven't gotten around to writing about what I did while I was away. That's coming soon (probably) but in the meantime here are my pictures and trip report from my climb of Mount Oklahoma last weekend.
This weekend I'll be climbing an unnamed low 13er near the Eisenhower Tunnel that is popularly known as The Citadel. It's got an interesting summit block and should be fun. I'm going with some people from work on what has become an annual late summer climbing trip.
Funny, I was about to write about how lovely the weather has been since I've been back--or maybe it just seems lovely compared to what I had while I was abroad. But it just did the classic television storm thing: a roll of thunder and then it suddenly starts raining.