our iceland stopover // the golden circle

The second day of our Iceland stopover was reserved for our self-guided tour of the so-called “Golden Circle” route. Traditionally, this route is a one day trip, ca. 3-4 hours of driving, and covers at least three top stops: Þingvellir National Park (anglicized as Thingvellir), the geothermal fields and the Strokkur geyser in the Haukadalur region, and Gulfoss waterfall. After some online research and Martin’s skilled navigation, we organized our own route including a few more destinations. We planned for an early start to minimize tourist bus encounters along the way, but ended up sleeping in a bit and only left mid-morning. You’ll find our route and destinations in the Google map below. Unfortunately I don’t remember now all the driving times between the stops, but in the end, even though we left later, we still had enough time at each destination without feeling too rushed, and we made back to Reykjavik just as the sun was setting so the day wasn’t too long.

Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was, of course, for a cinnamon bun and coffee in Reykjavik (more on that in another post), before beginning the drive out to Þingvellir National Park (see also wikipedia for a cool aerial photo of the fault) along Þingvallavatn lake. The road and accompanying landscape was easy to drive and wide open. We arrived to the visitor’s center around 10.15am and, after taking a quick look around, we decided it was worth it to pay for parking and walk around a bit to see the visitor center, viewpoint over the lake at Hakið, and around the paths into the Almannagjá fault. Along the way, we also saw a cool waterfall (also featured on Game of Thrones).

Haukadalur geothermal geysers
Following our walk through the park, we hopped back into the car to drive on to the Geysir geothermal area, arriving around 12.45pm. And, our happy backseat traveler took a nap and was ready for another ride in the Ergo as we walked through the hot pots and geysers. We all especially enjoyed standing around and waiting for the giant Strokkur geyser to blow every few minutes.

Note: There is a very nice visitor center and shop near the geysers with some good lunch options. As we were heading for a late lunch at another stop, we didn’t try it out, but it is good to know.

And, it was so cool to drive through the open landscape and see giant ice caps on the horizon. I’m so used to glaciers and mountain peaks that the ice caps looked so alien to me.

Gulfoss Waterfall
Our next stop around 2.oopm was at the powerful and majestic Gulfoss Waterfall. We laughed our way through the cool mist and starred in awe at the falls.

Friðheimar Farm
Following the Gulfoss Waterfall, we drove on for a late lunch at Friðheimar Farm. We were very lucky as we hadn’t booked in advance, but were able to squeeze in for lunch around 3.15pm. Reese enjoyed walking the massive tomato greenhouse while we waited for a table. Once seated, we enjoyed amazingly delicious tomato tasting menu of soup and bread, tortilla pizza, and homemade ravioli. Oddly, Reese was particularly into eating fresh basil off the plant at our table. It was the perfect late afternoon stop. If you go, definitely consider making reservations in advance.

Skálholt Cathedral & Kerið Crater
After lunch we drove on through the wide open countryside passing happy Icelandic horses, sheep, and beautiful buildings and Skálholt Cathedral on the way to Kerið Crater. I think Reese was sleeping at this point so we decided not to get out and look inside the church, but even the architecture was cool from the outside.

Once you get to the Crater you have to pay a small fee to walk around or down in. It is worth it. I loved the red of the lava rock, especially compared to the rest of the landscape on a clear day.

For the final leg of our journey, we were inspired to go off the beaten path by I Heart Reykjavik’s Golden Circle guide and took the Nesjavalllaleið back to Reykjavik. Along this route you drive by on the opposite side of the Þingvallavatn lake near the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station, which you can visit if you have time. This road is dirt and a bit rough at times, as well as steep, but the views are otherworldly, especially along the huge hot water pipelines headed back towards Reykjavik. It was perfectly passable in late summer, but likely not in winter. We also passed by the Ion Adventure Hotel, and I would love to come back here and stay sometime.

All in all, it was a day to remember. So many unique and beautiful spots along the route to spend more time exploring in the future. Take an Iceland stopover; you can see so much in just a few days.

our iceland stopover // the blue lagoon

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a few months since our short Iceland stopover on the way home from Oregon in mid-September as those fun-filled few days are still fresh in my memory.

Since it was one of the better itineraries to Portland, we took advantage of the Iceland Air flight to stop for 3 days in Reykjavik on our way back home. I also thought it would be a good way of easing R’s jet lag while still allowing us to see a few new sights, and it turned out to be the perfect way to ease back home from time with family in the States.

We arrived in Reykjavik early on a Thursday morning, around 6.30 am and headed straight for our rental car. It was a chilly morning but the sky was clear and the sunrise colorful. After picking up our car, and identifying and installing the least gross of the available car seats, we headed straight for the infamous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a short drive away, as we had already reserved one of the first swimming slots at 8.00 am. At the time, I figured little else would be open that early that would keep us awake and floating in a geothermal pool would probably feel great after a long flight. And, as it turns out, it was one the best decision of the stopover and I would highly recommend the same schedule for anyone arriving at the airport early in the morning. Read more

charming chamonix & l’aiguille du midi


A few weeks ago, when the fall colors really started turning and I was finally starting to recover from being sick, we spent the weekend in Chamonix, France. Martin and Reese picked me up from work and after a quick dinner stop we headed south. One of Martin’s acquaintances from the world of rugby was staying in Chamonix for a few more days at a place owned by his sister’s family and we were invited to join. I was a little on the fence about the whole weekend as I still wasn’t feeling amazing and didn’t really know what to expect, but Martin drove and we visited and listened to podcasts and the 3.5 hours went by quite quickly.

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on the trail // brienzer rothorn

Our last hike of the summer season was a trip up the Brienzer Rothorn, the highest peak in the Emmental Alps, and with panoramic views in all directions.

The trip up the mountain was via a red panoramic steam train which has been operating since 1892 from the shores of Lake Brienz to the summit at 2350 m (ca. 7700 feet). We enjoyed the mostly easy path, catching up with our friend Andrea, and the views both into the valley and over the beautiful blue glacial waters of Lake Brienz and over green slopes towards the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. There was also a steep but fun descent down a concrete stairway making up part of the trail. For Reese, the most fun parts of the day were definitely the train ride itself and seeing some happy sheep along the path. Read more

on the trail // hoher kasten geology trail

In late August we took our longest hike of the year in Appenzell from Hoher Kasten to Brülisau on the geological panoramic Alpstein trail. Approximately 11 miles long, the hike begins with a cable car ride and panoramic views over the Rhine Valley and Appenzellerland, including views into Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Along the way, 20 signs mark various geological phenomena, layers and fault line.  Read more

on the trail // oeschinensee panorama trail

Last weekend we checked off the first of my summer hiking goals by hiking high above the Oeschinensee near Kandersteg. Apparently it is also one of the top 15 most beautiful hikes in Switzerland (which means I have a few more hikes to add to my list for this year and next.) It is also a Unesco World Heritage site thanks to the gorgeous glacial turquoise waters, alpine meadows, waterfalls, and high peak views.

It was a gorgeous, warm day and the two hour drive from home to base of the gondola was a good opportunity to catch up on podcasts and let Reese nap before hitting the trail. After riding the gondola up in late morning, we set off down the wide path meandering down to the lake past the summer toboggan run along with a number of other hikers and summer lake visitors. A few small hotels and restaurants sit around the lake and quite a few cows were happily munching in the meadows and lakeside (including just at water’s edge). We decided on the panoramic hike and took a few minutes for a quick snack and drink for heading up the trail.

The trail had some steep and rocky points, but otherwise we were too enthralled with the views to complain. After winding our way along the lake and up some steeper switchbacks (as you’ll see in the pictures), we paused for lunch at Oberbärgli, drink, and a mountain cheese plate. Reese especially loved stacking some rocks and splashing in the creek. Then we headed back through the higher meadows and when we joined up with the main path, we turned back down to the water for a very refreshing (though not freezing) swim. The weather was so cool and clear and it was nice to just float while Reese played with sticks and splashed on the edge. Then we slowly made our way back to the gondola.

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on the trail // hiking hoch-ybrig

A few weeks ago, one of my sister’s best friend’s sister, Hannah, visited for the weekend during a summer trip to Europe. She took the opportunity for a little detour from a stay in Berlin and we made sure she had an adventure to remember in Switzerland. However, after the hike we took, I’m not sure when she’ll be back.

It was our first trip up to Hoch-Ybrig, a location mostly selected because it was new to us, not too far from Zurich, and with good views but also just light hiking (especially as Hannah was hiking in Converse). Hoch-Ybrig is just a beautiful 45 minute drive from our place through the country and along the gorgeous Sihlsee. We chose to ride the chair-lift up and then walked along the ridge to Sternen.

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on the trail // rigi panorama trail

In early June we had another opportunity to share one of our favorite nearby mountains (and views) with friends visiting from Alaska. It was a beautiful early summer Saturday and we decided on the easy and scenic Rigi panorama trail followed by lunch and a stop at the Mineralbad. It was the perfect opportunity for them to see a bit more of Switzerland, enjoy lake and mountain views, and enjoy the day outside.

In our case, following a rejuvenating swim through the mineral pools, we rode the cogwheel train up to the summit at Rigi Kulm before taking the main train back down to Arth-Goldau and back to Zurich.

hiking details
The hike is an easy, mostly flat 7.1km and takes about 2 hours following the former Rigi-Scheidegg railway line ((1874 – 1931) to Unterstetten. We took a slight detour off the main path, which is stroller-friendly, onto a side trail that descended a bit down the mountainside before climbing back up and rejoining the main trail which we followed to Rigi Kaltbad-First. The panoramic path is excellent for leisurely family-friendly walks, but side trails can also be taken for a slightly more challenging hike.  Read more

on the trail // walensee waterfall walk

I’m happy to say that we’ve gotten an earlier start on our hiking season this year vs. last (though we’ve been stalled a bit in the last few weeks). Our first real hike this year was a beautiful, if a little steep, way to start the summer hiking season. It was the last few days of a visit from Martin’s sister and brother-in-law in late May, the weather was glorious, and we were feeling the pull of being on the water but also wanting to hike in the mountains. So, after a little thought, we headed out to the Walensee where we could combine a couple short small ferry jaunts around the lake with a hike along the shore and panoramic water and mountain views. Read more

swiss summer hiking goals

I’ve mentioned in my last few posts that I’m really excited about this summer’s hiking season. I would love to be hiking every weekend, and though this hasn’t been the case so far as Martin has been gone the last few weekends on sporting-related trips, I’m ready to get going. So, let’s start by setting out some of the places I really want to go this season. First, there are a few destinations from last year’s UBS summer mountain getaway partnership with Swiss Tourism. Second, I really want to explore a bit more around Ticino and in Graubünden, perhaps even around a long weekend. So, here’s my starting list of mostly mountain-top locations for summer hiking exploration. Read more