The Beauty and Grace of Icelandic Horses

Ahh yes, the Icelandic Horse. Famed for their beauty, their charm and their long-flowing majestic Fabio-esque locks. For years I’ve seen dramatic photos of Iceland’s famed horses cutting the most perfect poses. At times they’d feature wild eyes and a raw untamed beauty which seemed to practically whisper “Iceland”. Other photos feature raven colored locks blown by the wind and snow that would surely put even Jon Snow to shame. Though, one can’t muse on Jon Snow’s obsidian locks without also paying homage to the rugged feminine beauty of Ygritte, but she too faces the most flattering of challengers in the bonfire-lit-beauty of many a native Icelandic horse’s flowing ginger mane.

The only problem was…when I got to Iceland, I seemed to find their B team. Who knows, perhaps the others had all been called to the East to film the final two seasons of Game of Thrones. Or, perhaps I just caught them celebrating having survived the final battle in Season 6th. Either way…these were MY Icelandic horses. Crazy beautiful? Or just crazy. I’ll let you decide.

Icelandic Horses - Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The inbred great grandson of Mr. Ed?

Icelandic Horses - Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Someone forgot to call?

Nude Austrian Saunas For Beginners

Intro To Austrian Saunas

There are moments in every person’s life where you pause and ask yourself…how did I end up right here, in this moment, at this point in time? For me, one such moment came in the form of a sweat covered, completely naked, Austrian man’s knee resting casually against my own in a lovely dry sauna in the small ski-town of Obergurgl.

It was my first international sauna experience and my first introduction to Austrian sauna culture.  To be frank, I had no idea what I was doing, or what to expect. The result? An absolutely hilarious experience full of culture shock, epiphanies, a whole lot of naked people, and what I think is a fantastic story.

This video is the latest in an ongoing series I’ve produced where I document some of my favorite travel stories.  The goal? To share them with you in roughly five minutes in the same way I’d tell them sitting around a table while sharing drinks at a bar.

So, without further delay – enjoy!

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering: It really was an amazing experience, and I’m now completely addicted to saunas and the Austrian approach. Stay tuned for Part II when things really heat up!

Don’t forget to view previous videos on my youtube channel and to subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out on future updates!

My Fantastic Packing Mistake

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

I had a comfortable late-morning flight to Rome.  The route to Copenhagen airport is an easy one.  Hop a reliable bus for a 5 minute ride, switch to the metro for a 35 minute trip and boom. Next thing you know you’re at Copenhagen airport ready to move quickly through their efficient security lines and on to your destination of choice.  The whole process is an easy one and something that I’ve gotten the hang of.  But, what’s the old saying? Complacency is dangerous? That sounds about right.

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

Many of you probably found your way to VirtualWayfarer because of one of my packing videos or blog posts.  Both are an area I specialize in and consider myself a bit of an expert in.  So, when it came time to pack for my 5 day visit to Italy I didn’t stress out about getting things pre-packed.  Oh, sure, I  did the basics and made sure that the laundry was done. I even spent some time the night before fretting over what formal clothing to pack.  You see, I was heading to Perugia as a finalist in the Perugia International Journalism Festival’s ‘Stories on Umbria’ contest but there in lurked my pitfall.

The Colosseum - Rome - Traveling Boots

As I fretted over which suit to pack … to go formal or casual … which tie to take … and how to get it to Italy without turning it into a wrinkled mess in my backpack I neglected actually packing the essentials.  When morning came and it was time to leave I launched into a flurry of motion tossing clothing, electronics, and the usual assortment of items on the bed.  I was confident – and dare I say a bit cocky – chatting on Facebook and chuckling when friends asked if I’d packed yet.  After all, I’m an expert – I only need 30 minutes.

Rome - Traveling Boots

Sidetracked repeatedly by conversations and general distractions I eventually realized that I was running a bit behind.  I made the last minute decision to wear a sports jacket, dress shirt, jeans and a pair of leather dress oxfords for the flight. I’d only have about 30 minutes between when I was scheduled to arrive in Perugia and the welcome reception/dinner so I ruled out changing upon arrival.  I also packed a full suit and dress shirt which I took in a hanging bag as a carry on for the following day’s official ceremony.  This meant I needed to pack my normal walking shoes in my backpack.  Which I did. Quickly.  Grabbing a pair of my signature Keen Targhee IIs, tossing them in an old supermarket bag, and burying it deep inside my bag all took about 45 seconds. Then in went the rest of my clothing, camera chargers, spare batteries, dopp kit and the like. I paused, and with a flourish tossed the bag over my shoulder, snagged my camera bag, my suit and was out the door.

The Vatican - Traveling Boots - Rome

I made my flight to Italy with oodles of time.  The trip from Rome to Perugia was uneventful. I applauded myself for my efficiency.  The dinner was delicious and provided an incredible opportunity to socialize with veteran journalists from the likes of the AP, New York Times, and Telegraph.  The following day’s award ceremony was equally enjoyable. Though I didn’t win the prize, being in the final three was an incredible honor.  Particularly because I was the only blogger in attendance.   I spent the remainder of the day walking around Perugia in my black dress oxfords.  It was only the following morning as I transformed from semi-formal journalist to relaxed travel blogger that I realized I’d made the worst packing mistake in my personal history.

Last Minute Packing

As I sat in my dimly lit hotel room, still a bit groggy from the night before, I pulled on my jeans, tossed a black v-neck t-shirt over my head and then dug around in my bag for my walking shoes.  Unceremoniously I yanked them out and dumped the yellow Netto bag out onto the floor.  With one hand pulling my t-shirt down over the rest of my body I slipped my left foot into my shoe and then kicked the right shoe into position.  Then, as I went to slide my foot into the right shoe I realized it felt odd.  I re-positioned, still not focusing on it, and tried again.  That’s when I looked down and paid closer attention.  That’s also when I realized that in my haste I had made an impressive error.  I had packed two Keen Targhee IIs, true.  Unfortunately the two were also two left shoes in similar, but slightly different colors.

Rome - Traveling Boots

That’s right.  I packed two left shoes. Two left shoes that were also different colors.  Sure, it would have been bad if I ended up with one left shoe and one right shoe from different pairs – that I could have passed off as being creative, or gritty, or…hell, I don’t know.  Instead I was left with one simple conclusion.  I was an idiot. Not only was I an idiot sitting in a dark hotel room, 2 days into his trip laughing at himself, I was an idiot that had three days of hardcore walking around Rome scheduled.  Not something you typically want to do in a pair of black dress oxfords with minimal support, smooth souls, and stiff leather. As far as just wearing the two left shoes?  Fat chance.

The Pantheon - Rome - Traveling Boots

Too stubborn (and perhaps cheap) to buy a replacement pair of shoes for a mere 3 days I pressed on and wandered Rome alternating between my shower flip flops and my Oxfords.  To make matters worse the Oxfords were relatively new, which meant that the leather was still quite hard and hadn’t formed to my feet. So, my penance for rushing out the door and not packing properly?  Blisters, sore feet, and a bit of blood.

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II - Traveling Boots

Oh, and for those of you that might wonder why I have two pairs of near-identical Keens – it’s because I picked up a replacement pair right before my 50 day Africa/Europe trip this past summer.  The old pair were still good, but not quite good enough to risk the trip.  The end result: two near-identical pairs of keens which sit like old dogs at the foot of my bed. The latest in a long line of shoes which have been featured repeatedly in the 320+ photos that comprise my traveling boots album. So, if you noticed that the shoes in my recent Italy Boot Shots were a bit out of place…now you know why.

Moral of the story?  Even if you think you’re an expert, it’s still a good idea to pay attention.  After all, no one is perfect.

Sleeping at the Hospital and My Intro to Stavanger

 

Trip to Stavanger

I’ve known for quite some time now that I can’t sleep sitting up. Give me a flat surface or a semblance of one and I’m out in minutes even if its alongside a busy street. A reclining chair though?  Heaven help me. It’s a hopeless battle. So, no doubt you can imagine what – or should I say how – I spent most of my 8 hour overnight train ride from Oslo to Stavanger. I suppose given my propensity for the odd but no less boisterous snore it was ultimately in the best interests of everyone else in the train car…still…I’m just selfish enough, that I’d have gladly said to hell with them and dozed contentedly even if it might have sounded as though we had a freight train in tow.

The one upside to, well…being up was that by 3 or 4AM when the sun began to rise, I was awake and able to see the sheer beauty of the Norwegian countryside as dawn stirred it from a fitful evening’s rest. It was beautiful.  With gorgeous fjords, wild shorelines, small rivers, and beautiful forests it was my first true taste of the untamed Norwegian countryside.

Tall Ship - Stavanger, Norway

Eventually, the wild countryside gave way to a more domesticated landscape.  One with cottages, small towns, sleepy villages, and then eventually a bustling city. I’d arrived in the city of Stavanger.  At just over 120,000 citizens in the city proper and 300,000 or so in the Stavanger Metro Area it ranks as Norway’s third largest city, though if you’re like the average tourist, you may not necessarily have heard of it.   Located at the end of a rail line which branches out from Stavanger and forks down through Kristiansand before winding back up and around the deep fjords to Stavanger the city is geographically fairly close to the popular tourist and cruise destination of Bergen but only accessible from Bergen by ferry, bus or car as rail traffic to the city requires a return trip back to Oslo and then back out towards Bergen.

Upon my arrival I spent a considerable amount of time in the cool morning air dodging the occasional raindrop as I tried to make heads or tails of what seemed to be profoundly vague hostel directions.  After asking several bus drivers and getting a variety of different looks and answers I eventually tracked down the pick up spot for Bus 11. Though it sounds like a simple enough task, it was about a block away from the station and halfway around the small lake which sits in front of the train station.  Made that much more challenging to identify, as the spot was marked by a small placard on a lamp post instead of the glass booths which marked the other 20 something bus stops.

Sleepy Duck - Stavanger, Norway

The ride itself was rather painless.  My goal was to find the Student Hospital which my notes from the Hosteling International website identified as the closest nearby landmark.  As it turned out, the bus driver though being friendly, really didn’t speak much English and apparently either misunderstood my question, or forgot about it. As I watched what looked like it might be a hospital drift past, a friendly local who had over heard my conversation with the driver, suggested that I get off at the next stop for the hospital.  Grateful, I hit the button just in time and sighed in relief as we pulled over and paused at the 2nd (and last) stop near the hospital.

The bus pulled away, and I found myself standing somewhat baffled. The directions said it was located near the hospital and was at times used as overflow accommodation for the hospital.  Weird, but no big deal…right?  The catch was, the only thing I could see besides the hospital was a sea of houses. With a harrumph, I spotted the  Hospital Hotel – a hotel which was physically attached to the hospital itself and shared a common lobby, but which was designed to service hospitalized patients family members as well as those no longer i need of an actual hospital bed, but not yet ready to leave the immediate vicinity of the hospital itself.  I figured that of all the locals, the front desk staff at the hospital was my best bet for locating the hostel.

Cathedral - Stavanger, Norway

A few minutes later found me in the hospital lobby at the hotel desk.  As I walked up and smiled, I looked more than a little out of place, surrounded as I was by new and expectant mothers, bandaged elderly, and the occasional wheelchair bound patient out for a stroll.

“Excuse me? Can I ask you a quick question?” I asked somewhat meekly.

I followed up the woman’s nod and courteous smile, “Can you perchance tell me where to find the Hostel near here?”.

Her nose crinkled slightly as her lips pouted to one side in an obvious expression of thought before she responded, “A Hostel?  I’m not familiar with one, but let me ask my boss”.

She turned and beckoned to a second woman in the office behind her. I groaned silently in gentle frustration.

She passed my question on, and then took a step to the side as the manager joined me at the counter. “Oh!” She exclaimed “That’s us! We actually just began renting out hostel rooms, though none of the supplies have arrived yet”. I stood temporarily left mute, then recovered quickly as she continued, “Since we don’t have the bunks yet, we’ll give you a private room at the price you booked at (some 295 NOK or about $45 USD).  I checked in trying to not chuckle and began to ponder the oddity of it all.

It’s important to note that while by general European and international standards $45/night for a hostel bed is ridiculous (and by far $10 more than any other hostel I stayed in), it was fairly reasonable for Stavanger which is only serviced by 2 hostels.  The other of which is a a classic Hi Hostel which charged 250 NOK for a dorm room, and an additional fee for wifi and sheets which I figured would have come to ~295 NOK if not more. Which, despite the profoundly bizarre nature of the accommodation, made what I’ve begun calling the Hospithostal a fairly decent deal.

The good news was I ended up with my own room, with a great/clean bathroom, Television with Cable, a 4th story view out over the fjord and free Wifi with a strong signal.  The bad news was, I was effectively in a hotel attached to a hospital and seemed to be one of, if not the only backpacker in the place. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled by my prospects for wild and crazy adventures with fellow hostellers. I really can’t imagine the Hospithostel has any clue what they’re signing up for – I can imagine a lot of odd and off beat locations poorly prepared for the onslaught of a group of drunk and rowdy traveling Aussies and Americans, but a hospital is one place that just begs trouble. Especially given drunken hosteller’s propensity for playing with things and ending up in places they really aught not be in. Luckily for my criminal record (or lack there of) my stay in Stavanger ended up being a quiet one. No co-conspirators, no wandering through the hospital, and no memorable antics.  Which, given the beating my body ended up taking during the Preikestolen hike, was probably a good thing.

…and what the hell – how many hostels have YOU stayed in where you had to pass on the first elevator that showed up because a mother was pushing her newborn baby in a crib on wheels around the hospital for a post-delivery recovery walk.

I settled in, did laundry, and then curled up for a nap.  It was only 10AM after all, and I needed to recharge before heading into town and beginning my explorations.

The Phoenix Zoo Trip Number Two!

This past weekend I felt the urge to once again make the trek across the valley to the Phoenix Public Zoo. Though mainly there to see how well I would be able to blend in with the wild life I decided to take along a camera or two for kicks. It was a beautiful fall day and just cool enough that many of the animals were out and about for a leisurely stroll.

While some of you may not particularly care for the Phoenix Zoo and prefer its larger cousins to the east and west I’ve always found it to be rather enjoyable. There’s something about animals at play that brings mirth to the soul while relaxing the mind and body.

Beyond that, I’ve always found that animals give some rather spectacular advice.  Like the photo above for example.  A wonderful illustration that two heads and corresponding ideas can blend near seamlessly if only you take the right approach and spend a bit of time together.

Or, as this Giraffe was so kind as to illustrate, perspective really can change everything.  I know for my part, I’ve had days where this shot pretty much summed everything up.  It’s a bit like a Giraffe’s version of the whole Ostrich with its head in the sand thing.

One should also remember that Quacks…

Really do come in all different shapes and sizes.

As a final note, I suppose I should also point out, that with stalwart resolve and enough gall you can climb to any height.  Just remember, that there is almost always another branch above or beside you.  The trick is being willing to jump for it.

I suppose at this point that that’s enough monkeying around.  So, without further adieu I invite you to view the rest of the 100+ photos from my latest Zoo trip and higher resolution versions of the shots included in this post over in my photo gallery starting on page 4 of the Zoo Album: View them.