Celebrating 100 Blog Posts!

As we reach the beginning of February the novelty of the new year starts to wear off, but here at It’s a Schmahl World, we are celebrating a blogging milestone! Today we are posting our 100th post! When we started this blog to write about our travels, we didn’t expect to be where we are today. In this post, we’ll look back at how our lives have changed from being two young professionals working full time to a Peace Corps volunteer and an engineering graduate student.

 

 

Back to where it all began, our first post It’s a Schmahl World after all… published in February of 2016. Both Kim and I were working full time saving up all our paid time off to travel. We went on trips with our family to Washington DC for the 4th of July and a quick trip to Colombia for our first time in South America! Kim was able to go to Europe with her college roommates, 5 years after graduation! Highlights of their two week trip were hiking through Plitvice Park in Croatia, visiting the baths and ruin bars in Budapest, exploring palaces and the opera house in Vienna, and wandering the narrow streets and canals of Venice.

 

 

Occasionally I was lucky enough to travel for work, one time all the way across the globe to Japan for two weeks. For my first time in Asia, I got the chance to attend a festival the small city of Utsunomiya, wander the temples of Nikko and explore parts of Tokyo for a day. I even reached waaayyyy out of my comfort zone to experience a Japanese onsen (or a naked bath house).

 

 

September of 2016 came with an exciting road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road for Nelson and I. We snorkeled between the tectonic plates, hiked on a glacier, saw some amazing waterfalls and last but not least we got engaged! While planning is still in the works over a year later, Nelson and I are finally going to tie the knot in July of 2018.

 

 

Kim was the next to have a major life change when she decided to join the American Peace Corps to teach high school math in Liberia. Before she left we went on one last family vacation to Florida. We made the most of our limited time together exploring Key West, Disney World and the Ringling Museum.

 

 

In June of 2017, Kim packed her bags and began the long journey to Liberia. After a bit of training in Washington DC, they received 3 months of training in the of Kakata, just an hour outside of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Currently she has been teaching at her site for the last 5 months and learning the ins and outs of her community. See all of her updates about living in Liberia here!

 

 

To wrap up our life changes through 100 posts we’ll look at a recent big change in my life. I left my full time job and my first order of business was to go on an amazing week long 10 year friendaversary trip to Tuscany, Italy with two friends from Girl Scouts. I traveled solo for the first time to Copenhagen, Denmark and now after my sabbatical I have started going to school full time to get my masters degree in Mechanical Engineering!

 

 

When we began this blog, we never would have guessed where we’d be now, after 100 posts… who knows where we will be after the next 100 posts, but we are excited to continue the journey!

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5 Charming Airbnbs in Iceland

For our 8 day trip around Iceland’s Ring Road we spent 5 of our nights in Airbnbs. Airbnbs were a great option for us since there weren’t a lot of hotels/guesthouses for us to choose from along our route. Sorted by city, below are the fantastic Airbnbs we stayed in!
Vik – For our first night outside of Reykjavik, we stayed in a cozy cottage just outside of Vik. The cottage had two rooms and was the perfect size for just the two of us! Our host, Kolla, was very friendly and came by in the morning to see how we were doing and if we needed any help figuring out our days activities!


Eidar – For our 4th night in Iceland we decided to stay near Egilsstadir in north eastern Iceland. Our cabin in Eidar was just 10 minutes from the town and had a nice outdoor sitting area. Our host Gudrun had Icelandic horses that grazed right outside the cabin!


Akureyri– Of all of our Airbnbs the tiny house we stayed in in Akureyri had the best views. Situated just across the water from downtown Akureyri, we had a view of the city and beautiful oceans views. The house was two floors with everything we needed.


Borgarnes – Our stay in Borgarnes was actually at a small campground. We rented a “pod” for the evening. The pod was essentially a higher quality tent. The campground had a restaurant and little kitchen area to cook your food. One unique thing about this campground is the owner wrote a children’s book about trolls and his story is told through large troll figurines throughout the property.


Laugarvatn – After our day going around the Golden Circle, we decided not to head directly back to Reykjavik but to stay the night in Laugarvatn. Margret’s guesthouse was our favorite Airbnb of the trip. The cottage was cozy and full of personal touches by Margret including fresh eggs for breakfast and adorable decorations. Our favorite part of Margret’s place was definitely the hot tub. At night we were able to go out in the freezing temperatures and try to spot the northern lights!

Our trip in Iceland was our first time using Airbnb abroad and it definitely won’t be our last! It allowed us to break up our road trip itinerary to stop where we wanted instead of having to drive further to find a hotel, and we got to stay in some charming places.

For tips to plan your own Iceland Ring Road trip, including how to find your Airbnb, check out our post here!

Iceland Outside the Guidebooks

On our journey around Iceland’s Ring Road we had many destinations we wanted to stop at along our route. What we didn’t realize was that there would be so many more beautiful sites along our journey around Ring Road. Below are just a few of the hundreds of beautiful photos we have from Iceland that were not on our planned itinerary!

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Lava Fields near Reykjavik
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Between Reykjavik and Vik
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Between Reykjavik and Vik

 

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Seen driving from Vik to Hofn
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View of Vatnajokull
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Between Vik and Hofn
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Between Hofn and Egilsstadir
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Fossardulur: Between Hofn and Egilsstadir
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Between Egilsstadir and Dettifoss waterfall
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Between Egilsstadir and Dettifoss
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Near Akureyri

Iceland is a beautiful country with so much to see! The guidebooks are full of incredible places to visit, but don’t miss out on the sights between the destinations!

11 Tips for Driving Iceland’s Ring Road

Traveling around Iceland is easy by car due to Route 1, otherwise known as the Ring Road. Route 1 circles the entire country (minus the Snaefellsnes Pennisula) and allows visitors to easily see many of the different landscapes and tourist attractions Iceland has to offer. Check out our Top 10 Things to See & Do Around Iceland’s Ring Road for just a glimpse of what this road trip has to offer. To make your road trip a little easier, here are some tips we learned from our trip:

#1 Stop at all the Scenic Viewpoint signs along the Ring Road – Some of the stops were
weren’t super exciting but others had hidden waterfalls, glacier views, craters to climb or beautiful lava fields

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One of the many surprising “scenic viewpoints” along Route 1

#2 NOT ALL OF IT IS PAVED! – This was the most surprising things for us. There is not much warning before the road changes from paved to gravel so keep an eye out especially if you have a 2 wheel drive carimg_7926

#3 Be careful of one lane bridges – Most of the bridges along the Ring Road are only wide enough for one car to cross at a time. Slow down and check the other side before crossing.

#4 Watch out for sheep on the road – Sheep in Iceland are free to roam the mountain sides to graze. There’s fencing set up to try to keep them off the roads but fairly often (mainly on the northern side of the country) the sheep were walking and crossing the roads as we were driving by.dsc_0437

#5 To get gas you need a credit/debit card with a pin – In order to pay at the pump along the Ring Road be sure to bring a credit or debit card with a 4 digit pin number to go with it! There aren’t a lot of gas stations along the route, especially in the north, so fill up whenever you have the chance.

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#6 Know the tourist attraction symbol – When you see a road sign with this squiggly symbol that means that it is directing you to a tourist attraction. Even if you don’t recognize the name, if the symbol leads you nearby it is probably worth the detour!

#7 Stock up on snacks and drinks when you are in a larger city, there aren’t many places to stop – We stopped at the grocery store and got sandwich supplies to eat for lunches along the road and it was a good thing we did. It allowed us to eat on the go wherever we wanted but there was never many other options along the road

#8 Use the bathroom every chance you get – similar to the limited food options along the road there aren’t very many places to take bathroom breaks. Thankfully many of the tourist attractions have some form of bathroom

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#9 Addresses for destinations are usually just town names – We had a bit of a scare at the beginning of our trip when we realized we were given what seemed to be town names for our Airbnbs. Turns out we had nothing to worry about since the “towns” were basically just house names

#10 If you aren’t driving in winter you can get by with a 2 wheel drive (2WD) car – we rented our 2WD car in mid-Sept and didn’t have any major problems along the way. Note, as said before, some of the roads are not paved so a 2WD car will slow you down a bit for some stretches

#11 Download a music playlist or audiobook for the drives as there will be long periods of time spent between destinations. While Iceland’s landscape is beautiful to watch along the way, a little extra entertainment can’t hurt.dsc_0716

Now that you’ve read your tips, you’re ready to get started planning your own road trip around Ring Road! Check out our top things to see on the Ring Road to help plan your itinerary!

Whale Watching in Northern Iceland

During our 8 day trip in Iceland, we knew one thing we had to do was go whale watching! While there are multiple areas in Iceland to take off on a whale watching tour, we chose to embark from Akureyri, the “Capital of North Iceland”, with the company Ambassador.

From Akureyri, we boarded a boat and headed out to sea. After about an hour ride we slowed and scanned the top of water until we had our first whale sighting. After just a few minutes we were able to see the fins of a humpback whale! The boat sped over to its location just in time for it to take a deep dive flapping his tail to push him deep in the water. We were able to see 3 whales total, one alone and one pair. The whales stayed near the top of the water swimming around for a few minutes before taking deep dives further down into the ocean that usually lasted around 5-6 minutes.

The reason Iceland is a great place to whale watch is that humpback whales travel north to feed. These whales eat in Northern Iceland, building up enough fat to stay warm in cold waters before returning south to breed. Each whale has a unique design on their flute (aka the back of their tails) making them fairly easy to track. The same whales found in Iceland have also been spotted in the Caribbean and even the Horn of Africa!

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Overall the tour took about 3 hours, 1 hour at the whale watching sight and 2 in transit. The guides were very well informed, full of fun facts about the whales. Having spotted 3 whales, multiple times, I’d say overall the trip was a success!

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Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure in Iceland

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Snorkling at the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park was one of the highlights of our trip around Iceland’s Golden Circle (more about the Golden Circle here!). Fissures are long narrow cracks in stone that are the results of an earthquake and the Silfra Fissure is the only place on Earth where you can dive/snorkel between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates! Though there are multiple fissures in Iceland, another unique thing about Silfra is that it is filled with crystal clear water from an underwater spring.

We booked our snorkeling tour through Dive.is and were not disappointed! There is an option to get a ride to and from Reykjavik but as we were finishing our Ring Road trip we opted to meet the group at Thingvellir National Park. We met our snorkel guide, Eric, and he helped us learn about all the gear that Dive.is provided. The water in the Silfra Fissure varies between 2-4 degrees Celsius (33-39 degrees Fahrenheit) year-round so we definitely needed dry suits to stay warm! The point of the suits is to not let water inside so they can be fairly tight around the neck and wrists, it was a little hard to breathe in them before we got in the water. After suiting up, we grabbed fins and snorkel masks and headed over to the loading platform.

Before we got in the water we had to spit in our snorkel masks to keep them from fogging up. Saliva does the job and they don’t want to add any non-natural chemicals into the fissure. Getting in the water was a cold process. While your body is still warm (hopefully you don’t have leaks!), your face and hands can feel the chilling water. The gloves you wear allow water in, but are insulated so as long as you don’t move your hands through the water much they’ll stay fairly warm.

As we snorkeled through the water we were able to see the incredible underwater landscape of lava rock, sand and algae. While you won’t find any animals in the water, the visibility exceeds 100m making it some of the clearest water in the world! Luckily we brought our waterproof camera to capture some of the awesome views (note if you don’t have a wrist strap you cannot take your camera). But if you don’t have one your guide takes photos along the way that you can purchase afterwards.

After we got out of the water we got a couple of much needed cups of hot chocolate and cookies to warm up!

Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure was awesome and it is a year round activity! According to our guide, there are a couple of  differences between the seasons: In the winter, the visibility gets better whereas during the summer you can see rainbows in the water. We snorkeled in mid September and loved the high visibility!

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Around Iceland’s Golden Circle – A Day Trip from Reykjavik

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If you don’t have much time in Iceland but still want to see some sights outside of the capital, Iceland’s Golden Circle is the perfect day trip from Reykjavik! The Golden Circle can be visited either by renting a car or going on a tour bus with one of the many companies leaving from Reykjavik. We did the route by rental car as the end of our trip around the Ring Road. Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park. The park itself is beautiful with plenty of paths to explore and even Oxararfoss waterfall.

Thingvellir National Park is also home to the Silfra Fissure. Silfra is a freshwater fissure between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The water is some of the clearest in the world with visibility exceeding 100 meters! We opted to go on a snorkeling group with Dive.is to experience the 2-4 degrees’ Celsius temperatures for ourselves!

Our next stop on the Golden Circle route was at Geysir, the inspiration for the English word geyser. A geyser is an underground hot spring that intermittently builds up enough pressure from the heat to release a burst of steam into the air. In Geysir there are actually three different geysers: Geysir, Liti Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir can erupt to a height of 70-80 meters but typically only erupts after earthquake activity so it’s not very likely you’ll see Geysir or Liti Geysir go off on your visit. The main attraction is actually Strokkur.  Strokkur erupts regularly every 8-10 minutes and shoots between 25 and 35 meters into the air! The water in this geothermal area can get up to 100 degrees Celsius so be sure to stay on the designated paths!

 

The last major stop around our Golden Circle route was Gullfoss. With its proximity to Reykjavik, Gullfoss is possibly the most famous of Iceland’s many waterfalls (check out other awesome waterfalls here!). The total falls are 32 meters (105 ft) tall but it is split into 2 waterfalls. A combination of regular rains and glacier runoff makes Gullfoss the largest waterfalls in Europe by volume.

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To finish up our Golden Circle tour we made a quick stop at the small not very well known Faxifoss waterfall. Located just off of road 35, Faxifoss doesn’t even have a sign leading to it! Look for the sign “Faxi” and turn there for a pretty waterfall view all to yourself.

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The Golden Circle is a great way to see the beauties of Iceland on a tight time frame. If you have more time to travel, check out our favorite things along the Ring Road which wraps around the entire island!