Tag Archives: hiking

Snapshots of Iceland

On Snæfellsnes peninsula, at the Rauðfeldsgjá gorge, we passed a man carrying a gull to his chest, its wing splayed under his arm. The man was speaking to his friend, the gull was nibbling at his zipper. In the gorge itself, a narrow crack in the mountains with a stream tumbling through it, the corpses of gulls hidden behind boulders we had to scramble over. At the back of the gorge, a rope leading up but we didn’t trust the rain and our wet feet.

By Öndverdarnes, auks and black-backed gulls, kittiwakes and their tiny chicks nestled into the nooks of the cliffs. It’s a long winding gravel path there, through the mossy lava fields. The moss is incredible, so plush and thick that you can sink half a foot in without knowing what’s underneath. Let the other cars pass when you can; there’s an orange lighthouse in the distance and a sign to help you identify the birds you’ve been seeing. Arctic terns with their black heads and wings like a plane, fulmar with that amazing glide, barely flapping their wings as they circle around Hreggnasi (what a view, to see the way the lava flowed from the volcanoes, the craters around, the glacier, shy and hidden by clouds).
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Can I tell you about the volcanoes we drove up? The empty dirt road, the warning sign (this volcano is active, it erupted in 2000, please run if we text you), the soft lava dirt that threatened to sink our car. The snow on the side of Hekla we slid down so that our bodies ached with cold. Almost sunset at 11pm and how the clouds descended suddenly so that our path down was shrouded, the car tires rumbling over rocks we couldn’t see. On the way back, sheep being carried by truck toward the volcano (they are everywhere, these sheep, so it’s funny to think that some are carried to remote places to sit in the grass and eat). Then there was Snæfellsjökull. Our second try, finally a sunny day, we hiked through the snow to reach a lesser peak. Crevices in the ice deep enough to grab a leg if you weren’t careful. Before we reached the peak though, clouds had formed a ring around us as though trying to trap us.
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One night a calico farm cat joined us in our room. We’d opened the door to our room that led outside and the cat, seeing us, scampered over and spent a while purring happily in bed as we petted her. It was midnight and still light outside.

The colors of the sulfurous mud pots in Námaskarð. And the stink of it! So much more overwhelming than I thought it’d be but beautiful in the steam rising from the land, the bubbling heat, the streaks of yellow and green.
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Two pools, one in Hofsós, the other in Lýsuhóll. The first set on the edge of a hill, with a view out to sea. The second nicknamed the green lagoon and under the shadow of a mountain, with algae along the walls and floor of the pool so that you slipped easily and without any chemicals; I was told the algae was good for the skin. Both geothermally heated so that even with the rain, it was more comfortable than most pools here in the U.S. There were hot tubs, too, that were much more crowded than the pool—some of the locals, I think, didn’t even bother using the swimming pool at all.

IMG_20170718_122623IMG_20170718_114249IMG_20170713_224614The burgers and hot dogs were nothing to write home about but the best fish and chips are always from tiny little trucks in little towns without much else. Arnarstapi had the best and cheapest one and what is this potato seasoning that tastes a bit like cajun without the spice?

The most incredible hike in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. A narrow dirt path through flower-covered terrain, a view of forbidding mist-shrouded mountains in the distance like a fairy tale. There were birds that flew overhead, their wings thrumming like machinery as they swooshed past. Tiny field mice that sniff and put their paws on your sneakers. The glacier in the distance and then suddenly, it all opens up, the glacier right below with its striations and sharp edges, that intense blue that empties out into a glacial lake that feeds the rivers and streams running through and out and away.
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summer/fall

Just a quick post to say: Hello! I’m still alive! But I’m working on a new website which is one reason why I haven’t really been posting here.

Anyway, now it’s fall, and I haven’t even updated since summer! Summer was lovely but went by way too fast. There were trips to Long Island and one long trip to Costa Rica (again!) complete with car misadventures, iguana sightings, and many many beaches on the Pacific coast.img_20160719_135403 img_20160722_154307 img_20160722_075156 img_20160724_080730

There were bicycle rides to the beach and museum outings and readings. And at the beginning of September, a trip to the midwest for family, friends, the Minnesota State Fair, then the most wonderful one week residency a girl could ask for at Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp. Loons and bald eagles and the Milky Way and s’mores with new friends and kayaking on a crystal clear lake. It was truly magical. p1140985 p1160040

This autumn is turning out to be pretty packed, too, with a new job and several new pieces coming out in some literary journals I really admire. Also, hey, I’m an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program! With my own studio and everything! So I think my work goals of finishing this collection early next year is definitely doable. I’m even already thinking about my next big project…

Those lakes, those mountains

Two years later, I’m back in China and although based in Shanghai this time, I went on a quick trip to Hangzhou, like I’d promised I would.P1130446

The mountains are as beautiful as ever as is West Lake, despite the rather terrible air pollution these last few days. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed nature after being in Shanghai for 3 weeks. I’d forgotten how much I loved the juxtaposition of city/tea fields/small villages/mountains/lake so close together, the changes so rapid. On my second day, M and I walked up behind the tea museum into the tea fields and up some steps and suddenly we were on Jilong Mountain and from there, to Tian Ma Mountain then down a dirt path to a quiet temple. P1130501 P1130509 P1130515

The first day was for West Lake, up the western edge, with brides in red posing on walkways floating over the water. Then south and east for dinner at Wai Po Jia because the western side has mostly mountains and temples. P1130453 P1130448

In the morning, a walk from my hostel in Siyanjing (Four eyed well) through Manjuelong and up past caves, one dark and filled with the music of water, another lined with carved statues appearing from the stone. To Nan gao feng where I helped an old man take photos. Mosquitos ate me alive and I have been itching since.

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But there’s something about climbing the mountains in Hangzhou that is just so satisfying. You can keep on going until you want to stop—there is no set entrance or exit and I like to imagine taking a days-long hike over the mountains, one after another after another; I don’t want it to end. The mountainside is lush and there’s a tranquillity to it—in a touristy city, it feels like a respite. P1130470

Europe Part III: Lyon & Barcelona

Lyon
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Traboules, I was told, were what we should look at. So, we’d see a sign, an open door or a lion’s head, and we’d walk through, peer at the courtyard around us. We’d cross the bridge over to Presqu’île for dinner, with its narrow alleys and stair-ed walkways bringing you higher and higher above the rest of the city. We bicycled around the city and one evening, went to the best restaurant called Le Comptoir du Vin where we feasted on a salad that was not called a salad but came with beautifully crisp roasted potatoes, blue cheese, and prosciutto draped on top as well as pork in a crème sauce. We wandered through Parc Tete D’Or by foot and by bicycle—their zoo was delightful, with a leopard crashing about in the undergrowth of his lair and deer that wanted to befriend us. At the Velodrome, there was a race happening and we also ran into an outdoor concert of xylophones (or were they glockenspiels?) and stayed for their last song.

P1130276There were Roman ruins galore and free admission for some reason at the museum by the ruins in Fourvière. The basilica there was beautiful, full of shining colored mosaics on the walls.We rode to the Confluence, where the Rhône and the Saône meet, past buildings that looked as though they belonged to the future, past a tributary of the river on which some contestants seemed to be battling it out with inflatable rafts and obstacles, to the little spit of land that led straight into the water. Then we slid down this structure by the museum there that all the kids were sliding down, including young mothers with small babies. It left your pants and hands white. There were croissants every day and in the end, we were sad to leave. P1130279 P1130286

Barcelona
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Gaudi and even more Gaudi.
Sagrada Familia, of course, with a trip up the tower to see the Glory facade but there wasn’t much of a view from the top. A shame that there was graffiti inside the narrow circular stairwell, so that certain windowed areas had to be encased in glass. There was Park Güell and Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. For the last few, we rode bicycles through the neighborhoods around the houses, down one-way alleys that opened up to little hidden squares where the community gathered with kids playing and the occasional market.
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The first few days, we were unimpressed by Barcelona’s architecture—we’d stayed in El Pablenou, very near Parc de la Ciutadella, which was dominated by rather dreary high-rises although Born and El Raval had more interesting buildings. The restaurants around the area reminded me of Mexico and Costa Rica, dingy little storefronts with a host of tables outside on the sidewalk. A menu mostly of sandwiches and platters with eggs or french fries. We went to the beach our first day—the water was cool but we got acclimated to it enough to swim for a bit before we walked down the boardwalk and watched a bunch of shiny tanned men working out on the public pull-up bars. Fascinating to see a whole routine being done on the beach. A vegetable paella for dinner with a surprisingly delicious pasta bolognese as a starter (yes, a rather weird combination but it was all tasty!) Another day, we went to Mercado de La Boqueria with its huge assortment of vendors—fresh juices (although a bit watered down, I thought!) and fruits, cones of  jamon Iberico, tons of seafood, spices…I realized after the fact that I didn’t take a single photo of the market but it’s a crowded one. At least I have one photo of my jamon!P1130297P1130321IMG_20150926_112702

The Mercé Festival was also happening during the time we were in Barcelona. We tried to see the human pyramid event but the alleyways all around the square were mostly all blocked and the crowds just kept carrying us away from the square—we weren’t the only ones who A) were very confused about the correct direction and B) just didn’t make it. What was a bit frustrating though were the amount of strollers. When going down a narrow, crowded alley, it’s hard not to get a bit annoyed with those tourists who had brought strollers to try to see the event. We did get to see the closing fireworks show at Plaça d’Espanya which was quite fun with the magic fountain, the music, and the fireworks. We’d actually gone to Montjuïc during the day, up to the castle and found ourselves watching the Catalan Folk Festival featuring performers from Estonia, Romania, Colombia, and elsewhere while eating freshly fried churros. The castle was more of a fort but did have a lovely view over the shipping container yards and the ocean and a soundtrack of some very chatty seagulls. We decided to walk down rather than take the funicular and found ourselves in the gardens, meandering down little paths that showed us musical steps and fountains. IMG_20150923_181436 IMG_20150923_173937

Another day, we took the train out to Montserrat and then the cable car up for about 20 euros combined. These are very different mountains from Chamonix, bulbous and finger shaped, but seemed quite great for the climbers we saw everywhere since the rock was so rough and had so many nooks and crannies. We took the long route starting from the monastery to Sant Miquel to Sant Joan then eventually to Sant Jeroni. Most of the trek was very pleasant and fairly easy with large, well-marked paths and then steps up the exposed mountainside to Sant Jeroni although the path back from Sant Jeroni back to Montserrat was mostly steep and narrow stairs (which is probably why the map indicated that it was one way! But there were a few people coming the wrong way up, maybe because they didn’t want to trek all the way to Sant Joan first.) IMG_20150925_131850 IMG_20150925_132421

Europe Part II: Geneva & Saint Genis-Pouilly

Geneva & Saint Genis-Pouilly

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Pizza with a drink on the waterfront in Geneva costs 20 swiss francs so instead, we go for hot chocolate and people-watch on the square. The water fountains are actual fountains—lions gushing water from their mouths or faucets so that you have to bend your head down to drink. All over are signs for watches and cars. Later, A tells us that employees at the UN and the other major organizations in Geneva can receive a 40% discount on BMWs. The tram takes us all the way out to the French border where we find that the reception desk at CERN is closed. Thankfully, the gas station attendant across the street takes pity on us and lets us use the phone.

A & S live in an identity-confused little town with both quaint old French houses in white and brown and big apartment blocks like The Boat. In the dark, we walk down a backyard trail that leads to the town and milk the tin cow, a machine that sells milk and bottles for the milk 24 hours a day. A says it is the only thing open 24 hours. We pass the pommist’s window. He only sells pommes, so both regular pommes (apples) and pomme de terre (potatos.) Unfortunately, we never get a chance to meet him. Saint Genis-Pouilly is a 3 boulangerie town which is quite good since they take turns with their days off. On our last hike in the area, ijl and I had walked to Thoiry, a purported 1 boulangerie town and of course, it was closed. But a friendly lady had directed us to the tea room by the train station that also sold pastries & sandwiches. So what made it not a boulangerie? Perhaps the seating area. Most boulangeries we’d seen in France were all to-go establishments (or takeaway as it’s called in Britain.)

The next morning, we took the Y bus all the way to the airport but didn’t realize that the bus only collected its fare in coins. Luckily, the bus driver told us not to worry about it. From the airport, we booked our easyjet bus ride to Chamonix and half an hour later, we were two of three passengers on the bus. The day had started out rainy but by the time we reached Chamonix, only a light drizzle was left. The mountains rose up all around us, on one side, snow-capped Mont Blanc but the cable car up on that side was closed due to weather. Instead, we took the cable car up to Planpraz and hiked the TMB trail from there, always with a view of Mont Blanc although its tip was covered with clouds.   P1130162  P1130179 P1130184

The trail changed as we walked it, from Planpraz and spiraling around eventually to Brevent, from scrub and grass to pure rock. A marmot peeked out from the rocks around Brevent. Crows soared overhead. Tiny flowers dotted the trail. There was a deep blue lake whose surface sunlight glimmered off of. And then the descent down from rock to meadow to forest, a curving trail filled with rocks. In the forest, an abundance of different varieties of mushrooms, the first we saw a huge red toadstool that looked as though it belonged in a fairy tale. We ran down the narrow trail, slipping and sliding on the rocks, the ground giving way beneath our feet and arrived back in town by 6. Our bus back was late to arrive but we were the only passengers.
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The day after dawned rainy but A took ijl and I to Annecy for its lake and cute medieval town center complete with canals and castle. We had Breton crepes by the canal served in a very swiss restaurant and watched the swans swimming. By the time we’d wandered around the entire historical area, the clouds drifted away, except for one that hung out in the middle of the mountains that were suddenly unveiled.

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Then a quick tour of CERN and into Geneva for a dinner of thai food, sitting by the lighthouse at the edge of a dock on Lake Geneva, haunted by the soft quacking of the ducks.

To the Jura the next morning with our early hike to Thoiry. The path was steeply uphill although we were led astray by a fake path that cut past beehives and into meadows were cows had left their mark. We had originally planned to get up to Le Reculet, the 2nd highest peak in the Jura but realized we’d misjudged timing and effort when we reached Le Tiocan and started up a path that was all rock and incredibly steep. Not the most pleasant climb so we cut our losses and headed into Geneva to catch our train to Lyon.

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Hey guys! I’m actually in Shanghai right now after getting in late last night. It’s the October national holiday here so everything’s pretty 热闹 (exciting and lively!) with tons of people crowding the Bund and Chinese flags everywhere—in hair, in the sky, in windows. Early this morning, I saw a bunch of photographers following an old man with a giant Chinese flag kite and wondered if he was famous but nah, I think it’s just because he has a flag kite. I do love the kite-flying here though. P1130332