We bought a house!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

So, we've been keeping a little secret for a few months now but things are starting to get official and we finally feel like we can spill the beans. We bought a house today!

Well, we sort of bought a house today. In reality, we signed a sales contract. Right now, no house exists since it's a new construction home, but in about six months if everything goes smoothly, we'll actually have a new home!

Back in November, Mike got a nice new job down in southern Maryland. And when I say southern Maryland I mean waaayyy southern Maryland. Like more-than-an-hour-commute southern Maryland. As soon as he accepted the job, we started looking for houses and trying to find a living situation that would make his commute easier since he drives more than sixty miles to work every day.

So last fall we called up our awesome realtor Joe Bird and got to work. (Side note: seriously guys, if you're looking for realtor, call Joe, he's the best, hands down!)

What we didn't realize is that inventory is really low in the market right now and the few houses that are for sale are flying off the market left and right. Often times there are three or four offers on a home just days after it hits the market. This made everything really tough for us because of the timing. Since we are trying to finish renovating our basement so that we can sell our existing home, we needed more time than normal, but if we wait until we sell our house to start looking, chances are we aren't going to have a place to live for a while. Needless to say, this put us in a tight spot.

On top of all that, the area in which we were looking for homes was much more rural and houses in our price range just didn't exist. We could either buy a trailer or a 2 million dollar estate. There was really not much in between.

So last weekend, we made the decision to start looking for new developments closer to where we live currently. While Mike's commute won't change, at least neither will the rest of our lifestyle. We will still have the same support system here with all of our family and friends close by, my commute won't get longer or more difficult like it would if we moved south, and there are tons of homes around here that fit our needs. The good news is that even with this change, Mike has little to no traffic and he has a flexible schedule that allows him to work from home frequently. We also plan to upgrade his vehicle after we buy the house so that he can be much more comfortable than he is now in his stick shift.

After weighing all the options, we started looking. And after only two days, we found our dream home in our dream community. As we talked with the builder's agent about all the options and everything just sort of fell into place, we realized it was a total no brainer!

The beauty of a new construction is that it gives us time to finish the basement and get the house on the market too! It's going to be sad leaving our little house that we've worked so hard to make a home, but we are so eager to start this new chapter in our lives. We truthfully couldn't be more excited!

Let the countdown begin!

Skaftafell National Park & Jökulsárlón

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The easternmost point on our itinerary was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the trip out there was full of adventure. I had heard that it's possible to experience all four seasons in one day in Iceland, but I never really thought it was true until we experienced it on our drive to Jökulsárlón. From a warm and sunny morning to a windy and hail-filled afternoon, we weathered it all. It seems that the further east we got, the more wintry the landscape became, but I have to say that the constant rotations of precipitation and sun made for some of the prettiest rainbows.

When we got to the lagoon, which was about two hours from Vik, it was still raining a bit and pretty crowded with a few tour buses, so we decided to take our time and grab some hot chocolate in the cafe before exploring.

Jökulsárlón is most famous for it's stunning lagoon full of icebergs which, as Mike was stoked to learn, has been featured in several Bond movies. The lake is actually the deepest on the island and sits at the foot of Iceland's highest mountain range. Extending from the peaks down into the lake is a giant glacier, thousands of years old. The icebergs are actually pieces of this glacier that have broken off and fallen into the water.

The ice in these photos may look exceptionally blue, but it's nothing compared to the real thing. In person, the color is so dramatic that the icebergs almost look fake. The whole lagoon is quite the sight to behold, with dozens of bobbing pieces of ice all sparkling and practically glowing in the water. After about half an hour of exploring on our own, we decided to do the boat tour because without it, you really can't see very much. You can walk around the shore and take photos from a distance, but the boat is really the best way to see the lagoon and the icebergs up close. Plus, you get to learn about the history and science behind icebergs, which of course was my favorite part. Well, maybe second favorite...

Just before we were about to leave, they grey clouds that had been hanging over the lake parted and through the mist, the sun emerged. We were about to get in the car when suddenly everyone around us started sprinting up the little hill to one side of the lagoon. There, on the opposite side of the lake, the most stunning rainbow I have ever seen spread wide across the sky, creating the most beautiful backdrop behind the icebergs.

Cue the goosebumps.

It took us about three seconds to realize what was happening, grab the camera, and then join in sprinting. I'll never forget standing there with Mike, giggling like an idiot from the sheer joy at seeing something so beautiful. It was one of those "pinch me" moments and I think everyone there that day felt it too.

After that, it was off to Skaftafell National Park to set up camp. Out of all the places we camped in Iceland, this was by far our favorite. First, since it was part of a large national park, it was the most modern, with nice bathrooms, shower facilities, and a shop for supplies. Second, they had a food truck. I didn't even know Iceland had food trucks, but this park did and it was the perfect post-hike meal. Third, the view. 

Waking up with a view of the Vatnajökull glacier was pretty unreal. Although, watching the sunset over top of it from the summit of the Skaftafellsheiði hiking loop was the real showstopper. I can definitely recommend doing the hike clockwise since the views just get better as you go and you get a chance to see a few waterfalls including Svartifoss along the way. I still smile every time I watch this little video I made the night we hiked the loop. Iceland is pretty rad, ya'll. You've gotta get there to see it for yourself. 

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Vik, Iceland

Monday, May 22, 2017

We woke up with the sun on our second day in Iceland and got rolling on our road trip along the south coast. Our plan was to head out to Vik and camp there for the night, soaking up as much scenery as we could and chasing a few waterfalls along the way. We left plenty of time for hiking, lunch, and photo-ops, so overall the trip to Vik took about six hours.

The mountains were absolutely breathtaking, with flocks of birds swooping up and down along the surface in the mist of the morning. During the drive, we kept spotting from a distance what looked like giant white cotton balls stuck way up on the sides of the cliffs. It took about ten cotton balls for us to finally figure out that these were not in fact mutant plants but sheep that loved heights!

Our first stop along the way was Seljalandsfoss, one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland where you can actually climb up behind the falls. We made a point to get there early before any tours swooped in and it was nice being able to really take our time exploring without a lot of people around. Listening to the powerful sound of the water from underneath the falls was an experience I’ll never forget.

Next we headed to Skogafoss, a much larger waterfall about half an hour down Route 1 from Seljalandsfoss. While you can’t walk behind this guy, there are lots of areas to hike to get good views of the falls (and the river that supplies it) from above. There’s even a set of stairs you can climb on the right side that leads to a platform up top if you’re not up for hiking the actual mountain. Mike took his GoPro as close as he could to the falls in order to get a shot from underneath but the sheer force of the water blowing everywhere kept him from getting too close. I have a video somewhere of him all suited up in his raincoat and hood looking like Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel trying to get a good angle while I'm dying of laughter in the background. He's too cute. 

Our last stop before Vik took up the biggest portion of our road trip (even more than the driving!) and we greatly underestimated how long we would spend here. From Skogafoss, we made a detour to see the abandoned US Navy airplane that crashed onto the beach back in 1973. The sad part is that most of our time here was spent walking to get to the plane and not actually checking out the plane itself. We found detailed directions to the site on Expert Vagabond and followed them exactly. The good news is that they were incredibly accurate at helping us locate the unmarked spot. The bad news is that you can no longer drive out to the beach, even with a 4x4 vehicle, and must instead walk the 4 km out to the plane which took us nearly an hour one way. It’s one long straight gravel road which is easy to trek but incredibly boring. So if you’re planning to visit, be prepared to spend around two hours just walking to the plane and back. That being said, PUT THIS ON YOUR LIST. The wreckage is eerie and beautiful and unlike anything you’ve seen before. The contrast between the weathered metal and the black sand is strangely stunning and total photographer’s dream. I’ve seen so many shoots done here (check out Caitlin Joyce’s page) and there were even models there when we visited.

At this point we were wiped and ready to set up camp. Fortunately, Vik is only 20 minutes from the crash site so once we got there we stopped into Strondin for a hot meal. We sat along the wall of windows with a beautiful view of the sunset over the sea and ordered the lamb and atlantic char, both of which were fantastic.

We parked at a camp site at the base of the mountains and settled in for the night. The next morning, we were up early again, but this time to watch the sunrise along the beach. We spent nearly two hours walking the black sand coastline, taking photos, and enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves. This was yet another moment that I wished I could bottle up and carry home. After exploring by the sea, we climbed to the top of the hill and found the most picturesque little church overlooking the beach. The photos here really do not do this little town justice, but the colors and the light and the views were like something from a dream.

After exploring the town for the morning, we grabbed some gas and coffee, and snacking on apples and granola, headed off for the second leg of our South Iceland road trip. I'll be back soon to share the details about our adventures at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon!

The Golden Circle, Iceland

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ever wondered what it’s like to drive around Iceland in a 4WD vehicle and sleep in a tent on top of your car? Well today, I’m sharing all the deets about our camping adventure and our first day exploring The Golden Circle!

When we were planning our trip to Iceland, Mike and I absolutely 100% knew we wanted to spend at least half of it camping. We had seen a ton of videos on YouTube and heard stories from people who had done it and everyone said it was the best way to see the country. When camping in Iceland, you have quite a few options since it’s a pretty popular way to explore. There are full out RV rentals, there are Land Rovers with beds in the back, there are camper vans with mini kitchens, and then there’s our personal favorite, the camping car, which is basically a normal 4WD vehicle with a collapsable tent built onto the roof. 

Since we were planning to visit Iceland in September, we knew this would be a good option. The weather in Iceland in September is very much like the mid-atlantic's late-fall and we knew these would be the perfect tent-sleeping conditions. 

If you’re thinking about camping, I suggest you do your research when timing your trip. Once you get into October, the weather in Iceland changes dramatically as this is generally considered the start of winter. This isn’t to say that we didn’t see hail and temps below 40F in September, because we did, but once October hits, you should definitely be prepared for snow. Based on stories we’ve heard and our own experience, I highly recommend renting a covered van if you plan to camp anytime from October through April. The locals told us that spring and fall don’t exist for more than the five minutes between summer and winter, and they weren’t kidding. September and May tend to be the “shoulder seasons” as they transition between cold and warm weather, while summer typically last from June through August - which is also when all the tourists fly in. Since our anniversary falls in September and we had also heard September is the best non-winter month to see the northern lights, we knew it was fate. 

When it came to selecting a camping car company, we ended up going with … wait for it …  a company called Camping Cars. Despite the simple name, I cannot say enough great things about them (and no, they did not sponsor this post). Aside from the experience itself, the staff is probably the number one reason we rave about them. Throughout our entire experience with Camping Cars, they were extremely helpful and friendly. They were super responsive throughout the booking process, sent us resources and tips months before we got there, and even picked us up from the airport and dropped us back off again when we were switching rentals, for free! When we got to their office, they showed us how to operate everything, gave us all kinds of maps, gear and advice, set us up with wifi in the car (which is available in all their vehicles) and then quickly upgraded us on the road a few days later when we requested a larger package. They helped point out the best grocery stores to stock up on food (look for the Bonus stores with a big pink pig logo!), explained the super complicated gas station system (I’ll explain in a later post), and answered all the questions we had. They checked in throughout our trip via email to make sure everything was okay and genuinely cared about our experience of Iceland. The cars themselves aren’t the newest or most luxurious, but they’re reliable and sturdy, and when you’re riding on some of the rough gravel roads, that’s exactly what you want. 

Aside from the car itself, our favorite part of camping was setting up in a different spot every night and waking up with some of the most incredible views around us. Ahhh, the freedom! The good news is that in Iceland, you can pretty much camp anywhere. We tried to stick to camping pull-offs or established campgrounds though, since there were hot showers and bathrooms available, which we did not regret. After we had explored a bit of Reykjavik on our first day there, we made our way around what’s known as The Golden Circle before finding our first spot to set up camp. The Golden Circle includes three main stops with a couple of extras that you can explore at your leisure. The sites all form sort of a big circle to the east and north of Reykjavik and you can easily see everything in an afternoon. I think total, it took us about four hours. 

Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park, just east of Reykjavik. Pingvellir is unique for many reasons, with lots of interesting history, but one of the coolest features is the landscape. The park itself sits in a rift valley between two tectonic plates. We followed the main path and we could clearly see the continental drift as we walked between the the North American and Eurasian plates. There are faults and fissures all over the area, but the biggest crack separating the two continents is called Almannagjá. Pingvellir a beautiful place to explore and we learned quite a bit about Iceland's geology when we visited. 

Our next stop was Geysir. Frankly, this was probably my least favorite stop on the circle. Geysir is Iceland's largest geyser, blasting 250 degree water up to 70 feet in the air. It was cool to check it off the list and to learn about geysers and geothermal energy, but really, you're just standing around a big watery hole in the ground with a bunch of tourists waiting for it to explode. Don't get me wrong, this can be really cool if you're interested in geysers, but our visit didn't last more than 30 minutes.

Here I am standing awkwardly, out of focus, waiting for the thing to explode behind me. 

Gullfoss was our third stop and the photos here do not do it justice. This place was absolutely incredible. There are two areas to park - one overlooking the falls and one right up close. We actually visited Gullfoss twice since it was a bit drizzly the first time and we'd heard it was most magical in the sun. We waited for the weather to clear up and headed back, and boy am I glad we did. The secret to the sun? Rainbows. They were everywhere we turned, shining in the mist. It was the first moment in Iceland (of many) where I stood frozen in awe of the beauty and power of nature.

Our last stop for the day was Kerid, a volcanic crater near the southernmost part of the circle. The volcano is no longer active since it emptied its magma reserve long ago, and now inside sits a beautiful turquoise lake. We spent quite a bit of time here since you can walk around the top and then down inside the crater. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful by the water, so we hung out for a while just absorbing the day. 

That evening, we found a spot to camp between Gullfoss and Kerid that had just closed for the season, but was open for people to stay for free if they wanted. Since there was no manager staying at the site, there was an honor system for the showers, so we left a couple bucks as a donation. We ended up passing out around 6:30PM and didn't wake up until about 7:00 the next morning. It had been a very long day of traveling and site seeing, so we needed the rest for our trek along the south of Iceland that we'd begin in the morning. I'll be back next week to cover this leg of our trip!