GUMO

For Spring Break, my friend Dileep and I decided to do a quick backpacking trip out in Guadalupe Mountains National Park! After driving out into remote West Texas, we caught sight of the mountains standing tall against the vast desert floor. We made it to the park, packed our bags, and headed out to the trails! As you can tell, we were pretty excited to get going! 

We hiked around a few mountins, climbing up and up the ridge. Thankfully, the weather was great (except for a little wind) and the trails were easy to follow, so we really enjoyed roaming around the desert. 

4.2 miles later, we made it to our campsite! At Pine Top, we set up our tent, ate some food, and relaxed, gazing upon the vast desert valley below us. It was quiet and cool up there with incredible views in every direction! 

Rinse and repeat. The next morning, we woke up with the sun, packed our stuff, and headed back down. We were lucky enough to catch the sunrise as we began hiking down. Both of us stood in awe as the orange and red light painted the landscape below us, pushing shadows back into the ground as the sun steadily crept over us. A few hours later, we were back at the bottom, tired by the hike but energized by the opportunity to spend time in the wilderness, the quiet musings of nature, and get in touch with our inner mountain man if only for a few hours! GUMO, we will be back!

Trondheim + Bodø

When René and I first thought about going to Norway, one thing sold us almost immediately: the chance to see a midnight sun over the fjords. So for the last leg of this trip, we traveled north, where Norway’s coast becomes a series of glacier carved mountains jutting out of the crystal blue sea. We had already experienced late sunsets and early sunrises, but if you go north of the Arctic Circle, the summer sun never sets.


Our first stop in Northern Norway was Trondheim. Trondheim was the original capital of Norway, and still houses the royal family and their Crown Jewels. René and I spent a couple of days there, enjoying the scenery and the history. We started off in the oldest section, where a huge medieval cathedral stands. Next to it is the Archbishop’s palace.  Both form a huge, stunning medieval complex (that has since been renovated extensively) and was probably the most incredible church we saw on this trip.


The next day, we explored the nearby recreational areas. Norwegians seem to love the outdoors, and they have huge parks and wilderness areas right next to their cities. René and I hiked up a fjord on the side of the city, for astounding views of the city and of the bay. 


Our last day, we hiked to a mountain lake outside of the city, which again, was a beautiful natural formation tucked away from the noise and bustle of a city. Then, we packed up and spent the rest of our day downtown, running around the city, enjoying the views, and even stopping at the Norwegian rock museum (see below for René starting a gramophone)!

That night, we took a 10 hour overnight train all the way to Bodø. Bodø is north of the Arctic Circle, so in June, the sun doesn’t set (the flip side is that in the winter, there is about a month without sunlight). As we went further north, the sun came out early in the morning, waking us up but revealing the incredible Norwegian coastline!

We spent one day in Bodø, running around the city and enjoying the incredible vistas. Bodø is surrounded by mountains and fjords, so anywhere in the city you can see impressive rock formations jutting out of the sea. Our host took us to an awesome viewpoint on top of a hill outside the city, where we could gaze at the awe-striking geography. That night, René and I stayed up until 1 am, watching the sun set without fully setting and rise again around midnight. Absolutely astounding. 


Now, we are on our way back home! A 17 hour train ride back will take us to Oslo, where we depart the next day back home. This has been an incredible trip. René and I can’t believe all the things we’ve done, the places we’ve seen, and the kindness of the people we’ve met. 5 countries, 7 cities, 3 boats, 3 trains, 4 planes, 8 beds, 4 currencies, and countless memories jam packed into 3 weeks. 


To end, here is some of the last food we ate, including a delicious three course meal in Trondheim and dried fish in Bodø:

Until next time Scandinavia! Farewell!

Ha det!

Farvel!

Hej då! 

Näkemiin!

Nägemist!

Helsinki + Tallinn

After two weeks in Scandinavia, René and I made it to every capital city in the region! Our cruise from Stockholm docked in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, early in the morning. We got settled in at our lodgings and then started exploring the city! 

Finland is different from the other Scandinavian countries – in fact, when talking to some locals, they didn’t think that Finland should really be called Scandinavian at all. This is due, in part, to ancient Finnish heritage and a huge influence from Finland’s neighbor, Russia, who at one point controlled Finland. What we see today is a very different city from the other capitals we visited, with old Russian Orthodox churches and pastel colors on the shoreline paired with modern Scandinavian architecture and a unique Finnish twist.
Our first stops were the churches in the area. Two dominate the skyline: the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Tuomiokirkko, a huge white Lutheran cathedral. Both stand high above the city, dominating the skyline from a distance.

Then, we stopped by the modern architecture section. A large arts district houses a modern art museum, an incredible concert hall, and some other modern buildings. We enjoyed the art and architecture of this section, something that we don’t see very often back home.

The next day, we hopped on a ferry (you can tell, these countries love their boats and little coastal islands!) to an old, 18th century island fortress. René and I explored around this sea citadel, whose huge rock walls have stood for centuries and through various wars, including WWII. 

That afternoon, we did one of the coolest and most cultural things we have done: the Finnish sauna. Saunas were invented in Finland, and the Finnish people love to relax for hours here. It is even said that more business is conducted in saunas than in meeting rooms in Finland! How does it work? You shower, then sit in hot steamy rooms for 10-15 minutes, and then leave, jumping in a cold shower (or traditionally into a freezing river or lake) to cool off. After resting for some time, drinking, and eating, you go back in and repeat as many times as you’d like. The sauna we went to was full of Finns and Russians, who were kind, funny, and apt to share their stories with us. René and I had a blast, relaxing and soaking in the Finnish culture! And, to end the day, an outdoor jazz concert under the white night sky!

As crazy as it sounds, the next day, René and I went to Estonia. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is about 70 km away by boat from Helsinki, so it makes for a good day trip. We were very excited to go to an old Soviet nation, and we were taken aback by the magic of Tallinn! The city center still retains its medieval style, full of narrow cobblestone streets, big fortress walls, a myriad of towers and church spires dotting the sky, and red roofs against the blue sea. René and I got there and walked around, exploring old churches and neighborhoods, climbing up towers, and enjoying real Estonian cuisine! In fact, we climbed up the tower of St. Olaf’s Church, whose spire, when finished in 1549, was most likely the tallest structure in the world! It turned out to be an incredible day trip, a step back in time, and a glimpse into the amazing revitalized Estonian life.



So… What was on the menu this time? I had reindeer (absolutely delicious!) and salmon soup with rye bread, which are both traditional Finnish cuisine. In Estonia, I had bear, elk, and boar sausage with a spiced black ale for lunch, and Estonian quail with a dessert of yogurt and cherry sorbet topped with dried egg yolk. And, not to forget, an amazing dark bread called leib, which is traditional to Estonia!

All I can say, after two weeks here, is that René and I have been stunned by the incredible culture in this part of the world. Each country is unique, yet they all share this geographical region and historical connections with each other. The cities have been stunning, the food delicious, the people friendly and happy, and the experiences unforgettable. Back to Norway for the last leg of the trip! Until next time Helsinki!

Stockholm

After bumming around Scandinavia for a week, René and I made it to Stockholm, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Scandinavia.” The biggest of the cities we will visit on this trip, Stockholm is full of foreigners, both tourists and immigrants. What comes about is a city that is Scandinavian, European, and global.


Stockholm is situated on an archipelago with hundreds, if not thousands of islands in its bay. René and I started our visit by walking from the island we were staying on to Gamla Stan, the tiny, central island home to the oldest part of Stockholm. The winding and narrow cobblestone streets brought us back in time, as we stopped by the original Royal Palace of Sweden and the Nobel Prize Museum (side note: yes, this is the second Nobel museum we visited. Due to the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, and the other five prizes are awarded in Stockholm, there are two museums, one in each city). To finish off our first day, we went to the Friends Arena (next to the Mall of Scandinavia) to watch Sweden play Italy in the EuroCup. Sadly, Sweden lost, but René and I were happy to don knock off Sweden gear and cheer them on at home.

The next day was rainy, so we decided to take it easy in the morning (we also walked over 10 miles the day before). After some much needed rest, we visited Stockholm City Hall, where allow Stockholms political affairs are conducted. It is also where the Nobel banquet is held, among other huge banquets (fun fact: the 200 waiters serve over 1000 guests at the Nobel banquet in 8, yes 8, minutes). The beautiful building was a pinnacle of Swedish architecture, and we were happy to see it!

Then, we went on a cruise. It was much cheaper to cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki, so we did. We got to pass by many of islands in the archipelago, which were just beautiful to navigate through. 

And, as always, the food. I love Swedish meatballs, so I got them a lot. We also got some fried herring from the shore, and some tasty fish on board our cruise:

And… In case you were wondering, there are Swedish Fish in Sweden (disclaimer: I know nothing about the history or origins of Swedish Fish, but was somewhat excited to find them in a shop in Sweden).

København

After a few days in Oslo, René and I packed our bags and headed to Copenhagen, or as the Danish spell it, København. But, before we left, I did get a chance to meet a cousin! He is a professor at a university in Norway and we hung out with his 8 month old son before I packed up my backpack and little guitar to head to Denmark!

We get settled in, watched some EuroCup 2016 games, and then hit København in the morning. We started off visiting the Little Mermaid, a famous statue sitting off the shore in the bay. René and I then walked around the city, passing through huge gardens and parks, through old, tiny cobblestone streets, and through small picturesque canals. We stopped at the Danish National Museum of Art, enjoying both classical and contemporary works in the center of a beautiful city.

Our second day, we took it a little easier, sticking to a small section of downtown. We explored Thorvaldsens Museum, which was focused on a Danish sculptor’s incredible Greco-Roman inspired marble works. We sat by a canal for a bit, people watching, bike watching, and boat watching. And we briefly explored Christiania, a sort of ‘free city’ in the center of Copenhagen.

And… We ate. Some great food! Mainly a Danish dish called smørrebrød, which is a kind of open faced sandwich on rye bread. We got it with beef and salmon, herring and pork. We also got some good burgers and good beer at some local places (apparently Scandinavians love burgers, hot dogs, and pizza – and oddly, 7-11?). Delicious food: René and I were thoroughly impressed.

Tomorrow, we are off to Stockholm. But the magic of København has astounded us, for it is a city of history and culture, of Europe and Scandinavia, of high class and simple people, and of kind, warm, happy folks. As always, it is a little sad to leave a new city, but alas, Sweden awaits us!

Oslo

Three days ago, my friend René and I arrived in Oslo, Norway. We planned a trip to Scandinavia last minute and after buying plane tickets, booking rooms, and managing our vacation time, René and I found ourselves in this cool region of Northern Europe.


We soon got settled and bought these Oslo Passes which got us unlimited transportation in the city and admission to a bunch of museums and attractions. We had an awesome time exploring the city! Oslo is compact, very walkable, and the weather was great, so we got to go all over exploring the history and culture of Norway. On the first day, we explored the modern opera house, saw Edvard Munch’s famous Scream, went to a contemporary art museum (see below for René reflecting at an interesting modern painting), and stopped by the Nobel Peace Prize museum to see an exhibit on Carl von Ossietzky (a political writer who argued against the Nazi regime in the 1930s).  


On our second day, we started off at a huge medieval castle that was the original palace in Oslo. After exploring the old estate, we took a ferry to see two more museums about Norwegian sailors. Apparently, the Norwegians have been amazing sailors, both past and present. We stopped first at the Viking Ship Museum, which had a few of the Vikings’ most well preserved ships on display. The huge ships filled the rooms and were breathtaking! Then, we saw Kon-Tiki, a boat from a 1950s expedition to sail from Peru to the Polynesian islands. Led by a crazy Norwegian academic, they actually spent over 100 days on this thing (see below).

On our third day, we slept in after watching some of the EuroCup games the night before. Then, we went to Frogner Park, a huge public green space near downtown that is home to the Vigeland Installation. In the 1920s and 30s, Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland created over 200 sculptures in bronze and marble that now stand all around the park. Not only are the sculptures everywhere, but they are famous because they are all nude humans, which is a little bizzare but made for a really neat park to explore! Then, we went way outside the city to see the Holmenkollbakken, the giant Norwegian ski jump made for the Winter Olympics. It was huge and we got some amazing views of the city!

Of course, this blog post wouldn’t be mine if I didn’t talk about food. René and I have enjoyed some delicious fish and shrimp, which are Norwegian staples. Nice lunches and dinners outside (the sun doesn’t set until about 11:30, and rises at 2:30 am!) with a beer or glass of wine and some interesting conversations with a good friend have made this trip one of my favorites!

Backpacking the Grand Canyon

When I told people that I was hiking the Grand Canyon, I got the same response from everyone who had been before: It’s big. Really big. Really, really big. If you have already been before, you have an idea about the size of the Grand Canyon; and if you haven’t, at least you know that pictures probably don’t do it justice because it is so big. And if you have hiked it, even a small part, you have a better idea of how massive the canyon is.

Well, after backpacking for four days in the Grand Canyon, I think I can say that it is huge, enormous, gigantic, and bigger than most people can even fathom.  It is also amazing, a beautiful geological structure filled with life that has adapted to the harsh terrain and dry desert climate.
On day 1, we met our guide from Just Roughin’ It (an amazing company for this stuff, highly recommend) and packed our big backpacks with tents, sleeping bags, snacks, clothes, and water, in all totaling about 35-40 pounds. We then started down Hermit Trail, an unmaintained path that was named after a hermit who used to use it. It was rough and tough, very rocky and very steep. We had to traverse rock slides and cliff faces, walk down switchbacks and boulders, and avoid cactuses and unstable rocks. It was hard but loads of fun, and the views got better and better. 8 miles later, sore and exhausted, we made it to our camp at Hermit Creek.

On day 2, we woke up with the sun at about 5 am, ate breakfast, took down our tents, and headed out. We hiked up onto the Tonto trail for about 6 miles, passing over a plateau region in the inner canyon. The vast spaces revealed breathtaking vistas and the enormous size of the canyon. We passed by Monument, a big hoodoo standing below a canyon drainage point before scrambling down to Granite Rapids, our campsite on the Colorado River. We made it! After two days and 14 miles, we got to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and we couldn’t see the top from the bottom. We relaxed at this sandy campsite, watching rafters pass over the whitewater rapids and playing cards while the sunset.

Day 3: the Inferno. Another early start before we hiked 9 miles over more canyon plateau. Still on the Tonto, we passed through a section with almost no shade deep in the canyon. It was hot, but we had enough water and snacks to keep us going. And again, the views were spectacular. By this time, we only saw two or three people with us on the trails. These sections are both remote and solitary, away from the people and beholden by few human eyes. Seven hours later, we got to Horn Creek, a dry campsite we had to bring water too. Here I reveled about how far I’ve come, how close the end is, and how amazing the trip had been.

And then came day 4, our last day up the infamous Bright Angel Trail. This trail was easy compared to what we had been on, since it was wide and well maintained. But, it was uphill, with big steps and lots of switchbacks. It was also very crowded, full of experienced hikers and many more casual tourists trying to get closer to the Grand Canyon. 6.5 miles of uphill requires stamina and endurance, and after about 5 hours, we took our last step out of this amazing canyon!

I did it. I can say that I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon! This was an incredible trip that pushed me physically and mentally but was incredibly rewarding! I am sore, but it is hard not to think about all the incredible things I saw and did for four days in the Grand Canyon. I took a lot of pictures so here are a few more, and for now, I’ll rest and recover from this knee knocking trek!