“Are you insane?”

That was how my friend Åse (pronounced “oh-seh”) reacted when we divulged our Norwegian road trip itinerary to her. We were just over halfway through our trip when we met her for what’s arguably the best restaurant in Bergen – Åse’s kitchen table, in her waterfront apartment.

With a handsome man at her side and a very cute, very serious baby on her hip, she was just as enchanting as the last time I saw her, three years prior. She is an incredible cook, and highly skilled at pushing food on her guests, no matter how many servings they’ve already consumed. And when dinner’s over, there is dessert. And leftovers. And extra snacks for your hike the next day.

We gladly accepted.

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Åse adores Bergen through and through, similarly to the way a born-and-raised New Yorker adores New York City: simply and utterly perplexed by anyone who would choose to live elsewhere. She even has me sold on the city – and I’m not exactly the biggest fan of rainy weather.

I agreed to move there if she found me a husband. To that, she responded: “Challenge accepted.”

I’ll be waiting for the notice when she’s found him.

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The two weeks I spent road tripping through Norway were easily two of the best weeks of my life. From Oslo, we drove north and west: with our first major stops in Geiranger and the Atlantic Road. From there, we hit Trondheim, and then powered through Trondelag and Nordland to Bodø, where we collected Silje – the woman who sparked my Scandinavian obsesseion. And thus began a ladies’ weekend in Lofoten (pronounced loo-foo-ten).

Lofoten is easily the most beautiful place in the world, in my eyes. Sharp, spikey mountains rise up from cerulean blue waters, and each horizon is dotted with little red fisherman’s cottages – rorbuer, in Norwegian.

Three tough hikes, four breathalyzer tests, and one mountaintop concert later, we all found ourselves aching to stay. At a bar, we were scolded for only giving ourselves three days in Lofoten. And I was finally in a part of the world where telling someone our nationality left both Norwegians and other travelers puzzled – what the hell were two American girls doing here? Nevertheless, we stayed out drinking with a German, a Swiss, and a Scot until two in the morning, only to realize that we’d have to hit the road at 4:30. Luckily, I sobered up in time to drive.

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The second half of our trip flew by in what felt like a matter of minutes — except the hike to Trolltunga… that happened very, very slowly. But a night in Stavanger and one last night in Oslo let us appreciate Norwegian cities in all their glory: walkable streets, stylish inhabitants, and architectural blend of traditional and modern design. On our last night, Silje and Greger brought us to Pjoltergeist, a spin-off by a Michelin-star chef, boasting a creative Icelandic-Japanese fusion menu. A handsome Norwegian man cracked jokes at our table in English, and yet again, I fell a little bit more in love with Norway. I’m not quite done with that country, and I’m not quite sure I’ll ever be.

Itinerary details below.

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Itinerary:

Day 1: Fly into Oslo. Drive to our 200-year old cabin in Fossberg.

Day 2: Drive Gamle Strynfjellsvegan, a beautiful tourist route along glacial valleys. Continue to Geirangerfjord, where we lucked out with incredible weather, and kayaked to the Seven Sisters waterfall. Drive further to our waterfront airbnb in Stordal, and eat burgers at a fast food joint on a fjord.

Day 3: Detour to the Atlantic Road (worth it, if the weather is good). Continue on to Trondheim. Commence Emily-Sarah Trondheim bar crawl.

Day 4: Long, very scenic drive to Brønnøysund, where the waters are an incredible turquoise blue. Hike Torghatten, a famous rock formation with a cave that opens up to a view of the islands and the Norwegian Sea.

Day 5: Long drive to Mo I Rana, where we stayed in a haunted hotel.

Day 6: Hike to Svartisen, a rapidly melting glacier. Drive to Bodø, pick up Silje, make her teach us how to count to twenty in Norwegian over pizza and beer.

Day 7: Ferry from Bodø to Moskenes, in the Lofoten Islands. Hike Kvalvika Beach, and drive to Henningsvær, our home for the weekend.

Day 8: Attempted to hike Svolværgeita – actually hiked to Djevelporten, which translates to “The Devil’s Gate.” Immediately throw out running shoes. Go as a group to a sporting good store and purchase legit (matching) hiking boots.

Day 9: Hike Festvågtinden for a Sondre Justad concert. Lots and lots of climbing.

Day 10: Drive back to Moskenes to catch the ferry to Bodø. Fly from Bodø to Bergen. Dinner in Bergen, and drive 3 hours to Odda.

Day 11: Hike Trolltunga. PTFO.

Day 12: Drive to Stavanger. All of the exploring. All of the coffee. All of the cake.

Day 13: Drive to Kvinesdal, sleep on a farm.

Day 14: Drive to Oslo. Exploring and dinner with Silje and Greger.

Day 15: Fly out of Oslo. Commence clinical depression as we return to the US during election season.

I never quite fell in love with printed pieces until my first shipments from Artifact Uprising came in. It was a couple of years ago at this point — I put together a family photo calendar for my stepmom as a Christmas gift, thinking it’d be cute. And after distributing gifts, other family members were so enamored with the calendar that I got back onto the site and ordered another set before Christmas brunch was even over.

Artifact Uprising, Sarah Gerrity

So, needless to say, I’ve been pretty obsessed ever since. And now that I’m spending most of my days as a professional photographer, I honestly can’t justify printing my photos through any other service. I’m a stickler for going with the most affordable service, and while these prints aren’t the cheapest out there, the quality is by far the best I’ve ever worked with.

Also note that this post is so incredibly overdue — back in July, I traveled to Kauai for a week and got in touch with the team at Artifact Uprising to have some prints made, and life got away from me. But the prints are still there and just as vivid as they day they arrived!

After my recent trip to Iceland… where by day 2, we were four girls in a constant state of the giggles, I knew I wanted to have photo books printed for us.

I’m also pretty smitten with the fabric hardcover photobooks they have out there, and after the past year of travel, I’ve decided to treat myself to creating a year in photos for myself every year — just my top 50 to 100 photos from work, home, and abroad to remind me how incredible this world is.

Artifact Uprising, Sarah Gerrity

Artifact Uprising, Sarah Gerrity

Artifact Uprising, Sarah Gerrity

Artifact Uprising, Sarah Gerrity

Artifact Uprising, Sarah Gerrity

When we got off of the plane in Reykjavik, I had no idea we’d be spending so much time in Iceland’s hot springs. Before my first trip, friends and acquaintances had mentioned hitting up every swimming hole possible, but we just didn’t have the time in November — five hours of daylight isn’t a lot! So in March, after spending one morning at the Blue Lagoon, and another evening at Fludir, we decided we’d be in hot springs every damn day. And for the next day, I had my heart set on Seljavallalaug.

Note: yes, I can pronounce that word. It took lots of practice, but I’m now confident that I’ll make a great Scandinavian some day.

Anyhow, Seljavallalaug is one of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools — built in 1923 to teach locals how to swim — and it’s kept up entirely by local volunteers. So if and when you visit, I cannot emphasize your duty to leave no trace. Places like these will only last as long as we can take care of them.5 I can say with confidence that the time we had at Seljavallalaug was by far my favorite part of our trip.

Seljavallalaug, Iceland // Photo by Sarah Gerrity

We had spent most of they day at site after site — starting with Seljalandsfoss and Gjulfrafoss, where everyone was struck by their first moments of “ho-ly shit, what planet am I on” awe. The landscape transformed with almost every curve of the road, and we met other travelers, ranging from the very handsome, Czech law student who helped us not get lost on the road to the plane wreckage, to the recent Santa Barbara grad, on his fifth day of a year-long solo travel adventure. Seljavallalaug felt like the right way to end an incredible day.

There were a few minutes that we had to ourselves in the pool, right before the latter traveler from Santa Barbara stumbled upon us. We mostly savored every one of those moments, because there is nothing more beautiful than being in a warm pool, surrounded by mountains, enveloped by clouds and lightly falling snow — with the only soundtrack being falling snow and the slight trickle of water from the hot spring to the pool.

Seljavallalaug, Iceland // Photo by Sarah Gerrity

Several times throughout that trip, we all talked about the importance of soaking up every single moment — and as often as we could remember to, we put our phones away and I kept my camera at my side, and we would soak up every sound, every breeze, and every scent. With every blink, every breath, I knew it would be more and more painful to leave.

Seljavallalaug, Iceland // Photo by Sarah Gerrity

We hung around the pool waiting for an older couple to leave, and when we finally had the pool to ourselves, we stripped down and got in, because yolo (or, “yoiio,” which we coined for “you’re only in Iceland once,” which obviously did not apply to me). And shortly after, the Santa Barbara grad I mentioned before showed up, and timidly joined us. He was so nervous to have stumbled upon four skinny dippin’ ladies that his hand trembled when we passed him our flask of bourbon. And every time we forced him to be our photographer. But by the time we were ready to walk back to the car, he tagged along for the walk, and we wished him on his merry way.

Yoiio.

Finding Seljavallalaug

From the Ring Road, turn inland on Raufarfellsvegur road. After about 10 minutes, it’ll get pretty rough, but drive until you can drive no further, and park your car at the end of the road. There’s a little ridge on the left side of the valley that you can walk along. Our directions were “walk towards the valley for about 15 minutes,” which sounded crazy, but turned out to be 100 percent accurate. Once you cross a little stream, and turn around a bend, you’ll see the pool.

There are changing rooms and hooks where you can hang your clothes up to stay dry, and the pool is lukewarm, except for one corner, where the hot water trickles in. Try to avoid the hot spot, because if you’re there for too long, it’ll make the rest of the pool too cold to swim in!

Also, fun fact: the local volunteers do drain the pool out for cleaning once a year or so. When I visited in November, one of my hosts told me that they had drained it in September or October, and it took a month to refill and warm up again. So ask around when you’re visiting!

If you have a free afternoon in Iceland and are in the mood for a workout, Hveragerði is a great option for your day. From Reykjavik, it’s about a 40-minute drive – and you’ll be hiking for 60 to 90 minutes. I went in March, when the mountains were white as they could be, and it took us a solid 90 minutes. Beware, people who hate hiking. But I promise, the hot river is worth it.

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Finding Reykjadalur

To get there, take Highway 1 towards Vik for about 40 minutes – when you descend the huge pass, you’ll see steam coming out of the ground, surrounding a small town at the foot of the mountains. That’s Hveragerði. Then, you basically take the main road in town to the very end – and the trailhead will be there.

You’ll likely see hikers high above the trailhead – that will be you soon! Just follow the trail and the red trail markers for 3 km, until you pass through an area where there are a few bubbling geysers and a ton of steam rising from the ground. When you’ve arrived, you’ll find some boardwalks and probably a handful of other tourists and locals enjoying a dip in the pools.

Start at the lowest pool, as they get hotter the farther upstream you go!

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Sorry not sorry for the booty shot!

Sorry not sorry for the booty shot!

In November, I aggressively road tripped across the south of Iceland over five short days. And while it was one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever taken, it was incredibly difficult to see everything we wanted to see when we were constantly chasing daylight and spending 75% of our time driving. So when I returned a few weeks ago in March, I had planned our itinerary a little differently for our quick little journey.

The main difference was that in November, I hopped from Airbnb to Airbnb – but in March, we stayed in one apartment in Reykjavik the entire time. I highly recommend staying in a different city each day for a longer trip, especially if you are traversing the whole Ring Road. But if you’re limited to a few days, I’d say staying in Reykjavik is the way to go.

Another thing you should keep in mind with this itinerary is that I was fairly confident that my travel buddies would be up and at ‘em every morning, and easy to mobilize out the door. And if your friends like to sleep in and take their time, go to Iceland when there’s a little more daylight to spare 🙂

Here’s how I planned out our March adventure, and we generally lingered in our apartment until 11 am or so – plenty of balance between rest and adventure.

Day 1: Arrive, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2015

If you’re flying Wow Airlines from Baltimore, you’re probably going to be landing in Reykjavik just after 5 am. Not gonna lie – it’s a rough start to a trip. But if you pack some Zzquil and stock up on coffee when you land, you’ll breeze through. Take your time in the Keflavik airport (Joe and the Juice has great music, comfy seating, and handsome baristas that will gladly supply you with multiple lattes and ginger juice shots).

Grab your rental car around 6:30 or 7 am, and head over to Midlina, nearby the Blue Lagoon. It’s literally a bridge between the European and North American tectonic plates, so you can pull together a great Snapchat story of you running between the continents.

By the time you’re relaxed and all pruney from the Blue Lagoon, you’ll have a 40 minute drive back to Reykjavik, where you’ll want to eat and nap. If you wake up and it’s a clear night, check the aurora forecasts and take advantage of your jet lag by hunting for the northern lights.

Pro tip: book your Blue Lagoon tickets in advance, because they do sell out, especially on the weekends.

Day 2: Golden Circle Tour

Secret Lagoon at Fludir, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

Not gonna lie – I felt pretty meh about the Golden Circle. The views were cool, but having driven across the southern coast before, the attractions on the Golden Circle weren’t super exciting. THAT BEING SAID – we ended our tour at a little hot spring in Fluðir called the Secret Lagoon. It’s eerily quiet considering it’s an organized, pay-to-enter structure, but it made the Blue Lagoon feel like Disneyland on a crazy day. I would do the Golden Circle tour again just to spend a couple more hours in Fluðir.

Day 3: South of Iceland to Vik

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity, 2016

This will be one of the most amazing drives of your life. I promise.

One of the highlights of taking three girls who had never been to Iceland before was watching their reactions to seeing the southern coast en route to Vik – because every time the road turns, the landscape completely transforms from snowy wasteland to endless fields of furry ponies to majestic cliffs and waterfalls to jagged mountains that soar in the distance.

Reynisfjara, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity, 2016

Things you should absolutely stop for on the road to Vik (this order worked out really well for us) – I’ll write up more details about these spots in a later post.

  • Icelandic horses
  • Seljalandsfoss + Gjulfrafoss + Skogafoss
  • Basalt columns from Reynisfjara beach
  • View of Vik and its cliffs from the town church
  • DC-3 plane wreck, which is now said to be closed off because travelers were tearing up the “road” (we never really found a road – markers were knocked over and we basically just tried to drive in tracks)
  • Seljavallalaug – a warm swimming pool built into a cliff

Day 4: Hike to the Hot River at Hveragerdi

Hveragerdi, Iceland, Sarah Gerrity 2016

On our last full day, we had trouble deciding what to do. But after some research and being mostly fed up with spending hours in a car, I remembered seeing photos of a hot river that was only about a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik. The hike was described as a rigorous 45 to 60 minutes, but honestly, we’re all pretty damn fit and it took us 90 minutes – perhaps you should add time for climbing through mountains covered in snow.

You’re pretty much ascending the entire way, but once you’re there, it’s quite the sight to be seen – a hot spring river with a wooden boardwalk and small pools built from stones. Make sure you pack sandwiches, bourbon, and water. The hike in is no joke, but at least you get to soak in the incredible views in a hot river. There’s nothing like it. Read more about the hike at Hveragerdi here.

Day 5: Coffee in Reykjavik, Depart

Again, if you’re flying Wow Air to Baltimore, they have limited flights, so you’ll likely be leaving in the afternoon. Pack your bags, explore the design shops and cafes in downtown Reykjavik, and cry as you head to the airport. I’m pretty sure you’ll spend that 40 minute drive thinking about when you can plan your next trip back.

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