Viewing entries in
travel

Comment

Ghost Ranch; New Mexico at Sunset

GHOST RANCH @ GOLDEN HOUR

Every sunrise and sunset that I missed on our trip to New Mexico felt like a tragedy. As an artist, I know the value of good light. It literally hurts my soul when I travel to a beautiful land and can’t sit and watch that magical golden hour. I comically explain this concept to my husband, who as a musician understands only slightly. He’ll indulge me when I wake him up at 4 in the morning to drag him out on the road in Iceland or will put up with driving late at night to come back from a sunset scout. After dinner near Ghost Ranch, I asked if we could turn around and drive back for golden hour. I am so glad we did. I was able to grab these images with enough color detail to hand paint in the vibrancy we saw in person. So gorgeous!

newmexicosunsetroadmelissafox.jpg
FOXY0722-Edit.jpg
FOXY0728-Edit.jpg

Comment

A Comprehensive guide to planning your Iceland Trip. Travel Tips From Our Life Changing Trip

2 Comments

A Comprehensive guide to planning your Iceland Trip. Travel Tips From Our Life Changing Trip

Planning a trip to Iceland? Need some answers to burning questions? We learned a lot on our trip that would be helpful for those planning to visit this amazing country. I am an uber-nerd when it comes to planning trips. If I could figure out how to make money being a luxury tour guide ... I totally would. My husband and I seriously talked about what that would look like on this trip. He's always amazed by my itineraries and the research that I put into our travels. Not to mention, I take amazing photographs. Maybe one day I'll find some wealthy benefactors that will pay me to be their guides, but for now, you can have all my travel nerdism for free. It's a few months of planning and I was surprised how hard it was to find direct answers for things about Iceland online, so I hope this is helpful. 

Enjoy! 

Melissa

aFOXY7190-2.jpg

It's worth noting that I am an american midwestern white woman and this guide is written from that perspective. My husband and I are what we call "adventure level medium." That means we are adventurous enough to travel to far off places and try new things but not so adventurous that we would sky dive, rock climb or drive motorcycles. We will venture off the beaten path but not if it puts our lives in danger. Iceland seemed like a good place to get hurt so we were cautious.   


ICELAND IN 5-10 Days 

TOP FIVE THINGS WE WERE GLAD WE DID BEFORE WE LEFT.

  1. Get a WIFI Hotspot. We booked a WIFI hotspot that we could pick up at the airport and drop off in a mailbox at the conclusion of our trip. Iceland has amazing WIFI service all over the island and we never needed to use our cell service. It saves us a ton on roaming fees and allowed us to stream Spotify for our entire trip. This service was great. 60 bucks for the week, unlimited WIFI and could even make phone calls with it.

  2. Do the road trip. Rent the car and do the road trip. Iceland drives on the same side of the road as the US and many of the same laws apply. While the terrain and weather can change on a dime, the highways are beautifully maintained and easy to navigate. There is so much to see and it is really spread out. You'll want to drive all over and you'll want the freedom and flexibility to get around the tourist buses. Make sure you rent an automatic car if you can't drive stick. Most of Iceland's rental cars are stick. Cars are all rented from the same spot just outside the main airport. There are about 5 companies to choose from and they are all lined up in a row. A shuttle will take you over there from the airport. It's super easy.

  3. Buy the rainproof gear. We used it all the time and it also allowed us to walk in places that the crowds couldn't go. Good rain boots, waterproof pants that you can slip on over your jeans and a rain jacket were priceless for all the waterfalls and rain we encountered.

  4. Pack dried goods. Food is expensive. You'll read that in every blog. Honestly, we didn't think it was THAT expensive but we were grateful that we packed nuts, dried noodles, oatmeal and a few premade meals like you would for a hiking trip. It allowed us to be selective about how we spent our food budget. You will pay 20 bucks for a burger - but it'll be the most amazing burger you ever had because Iceland's farming standards are phenomenal. We packed all the dried goods in our boots so they didn't take up extra space in our luggage.

  5. Make a google maps list. I spent some time combing google maps and making a list of favorite places of all the things I wanted to see AND all the things I was interested in seeing. Weather can close a park or attraction at a moments notice and having those extra options already vetted made our days really easy. Here is my google list.


Flights / Seasons 

I am a big fan of Iceland Air. We flew to Paris on Iceland Air a few years ago and couldn't beat the prices. The stopover program is also wonderful. We got our roundtrip tickets in late April for 340.00 each. That's right. For less than it costs to go coast to coast in the US. They fly into most major airports so if you live near big city, chances are you can find similar deals. 

  • STOP OVER PROGRAM. If you want to work Iceland into another European vacation, you can. They allow to up to 7 days in Iceland for no additional fee. So you really have no excuse. Going to Barcelona? Add three days in Iceland on the front or back end of your trip.

  • SUMMER IS MOST EXPENSIVE. Most people try and go in the summer. High season allows you to explore the highlands when the roads are safe for travel. If that is important to you, you will pay more for your flights. I recommend booking all your lodging and car rentals far in advance for summer. It is a small island and things can book really fast.

  • TRAVEL IN THE OFF SEASON. I always like to travel to places in the off seasons and I never mind the colder weather. So we chose April. I was so glad we did. It was a nice, mild 60 degrees the whole time with a little spotty rain. That said, I think we will go back when the highland roads are open. The remote places looked really beautiful and things weren't quite green yet.

  • BOOK LUGGAE FEES UPFRONT. Sometimes the deal flights don't include luggage. The overhead bins will not fit large luggage. There was a story about a guy who tried to wear all his clothes on the plane to avoid fees and they didn't let him fly. You save money by booking your bags before you go to the airport.

  • IN FLIGHT SNACKS ARE YUMMY. The food is really good. Rare for an airline.

  • EXIT ROW. The exit row on these planes don't offer much wiggle room for your hips. While you do get extra leg room, the seat widths are smaller. I have big hips so it wasn't a good option for me. Keep that in might when picking your seats.


The Weather / Car Rental Tips 

  • GET THE RIGHT RENTAL. If you plan on driving in the highlands, you need an off-road vehicle that is high off the ground and four-wheel drive. The car rentals are all low to the ground and they will charge you for any damage to the chassis as well as any sand damage to the paint.

  • SAND DAMMAGE. What is the sand damage you ask? Especially on the southern roads wind will pick up the sand at high speeds and literally sand the paint off your car. The weather is wild. So pay attention to the conditions.

  • HIGHLAND ROADS. The highland roads are all gravel. So if you want to drive them, you need a vehicle that won't kick up the gravel and damage the under part of the car. We didn't plan on doing any off-roading and we didn't miss it. The main roads got us to see everything we wanted to see.

  • WEATHER. The weather, however, is a thing. The island has really unpredictable weather. In April the storms seemed to have a mind of their own. Between the high plains, the mountains, volcano and coastal climates the weather changed every few miles. You could be snowed into a town for an afternoon. The locals are used to this so they can help you figure out accommodations if it happens to you. If you go during months when it snows, be aware of the weather and be ready to have to stop.

  • DAYLIGHT. In April we had almost 10 hours of daylight to use to explore. That really extended the ammount of things we could see. This site has lots of useful information about the conditions in Iceland that were helpful. In summer, the sun never sets, so you really get a lot of time to explore sites. In the winter you only get a few hours of daylight. This was another reason why April seemed like a good idea.

  • ROAD CONDITIONS. They have great systems to update you on road conditions, use them, download the apps.


SAFETY 

  • DON'T BE STUPID. Icelanders will delight in telling you how stupid tourists are. They don't want you to get hurt but they don't understand why you won't listen to their wisdom. We learned all kinds of new dangers to worry about. Sneaker waves, Lava sink holes, boiling rivers, sulfur clouds, avalanches, ice currents, falling rock and inclement weather. That isn't to scare you. It's as safe as you are, so don't be stupid. They have a joke about how many sheep died "discovering," new lava caves by falling through a sink hole and being the first to find a new cave. The volcanic earth can be dangerous and they have clearly marked things that are safe and unsafe. Listen to the warnings.

  • KNOW THE CONDITIONS. This site provides a lot of wonderful information.

  • REGISTER WITH THE HIKING OFFICE. You can also register with the Icelandic tour department if you plan to hike some of the more remote areas. So if you don't show up and check back in by a certain date. They know where to look for you. Leave your travel plan here. Especially if you are camping.

  • RENT A PLB. If you are a high level adventurer, and plan to adventure in remote areas. Rent a PLB. It will send your coordinates with a distress beacon to emergency management.


COSTS / BUDGET

Flights: 340 RT per person
Air BNB for one week: 800.00
Car Rental for one week: 300.00
Groceries: 80.00
Blue Lagoon: 300.00 for two with lunch
Gas: 40 - 50 per day for a tank, 250.00
Eating out: 150.00
Parking: 20.0
Black Sand Beach Suite: 150.00

Total: 2,910 or 1,455 per person.  

If you do the WIFI hot spot add 60.00 to the above. 

We splurged on a nice suite to stay in on the south coast and a day at the blue lagoon. I bet you could get this down to 1K per person. If you like camping, you could probably go even lower and do it for 800 per person. 

TIP: We got a credit card that had no international fees and 0% APR for a year and put all our expenses on it. Then set a goal of paying off the bulk of it before our trip. We booked most of it 6 months out and by the time the trip came, it was paid off.  Then any of expenses while we took the trip we still had 6 months to pay that off.  Iceland is a credit card country so you won't need cash. We had the whole trip paid off 2 months after we went. Doing it this way motivated us to work hard and play hard. We try and keep all our big trips to 3K or under.

Monthly: We put away 130.00 per person each month in a savings account and within a year you'll have enough to go to Iceland! 

GO IN GROUPS: We agreed that the next time we go, we wanted to find a few more people to join us. Splitting the air BNB and Car expenses 4 ways would make this trip even more affordable not to mention fun. 

Rent a camper: Save money on hotels and rent a sleeper van. We saw these on the road and thought they looked fun. Happy Camper. 


THINGS WE DIDN'T DO

We looked at a lot of tours. In the end we decided that we didn't want to spend the money. Each tour seemed to take up a lot of time. The only one we wished we had booked would be a guided glacier hike. The glacier looked so cool and we wish we had someone to teach us how to use crampons and walk around on the ice. 


BOOKS AND PODCASTS 

If you are like me, you'll want to dive into the culture and history before you go. Whenever we book a trip somewhere, I dive into the history of a region full speed ahead. Iceland has some wonderful rich Viking histories and myths that are worth reading before you go. Here are a few of my favorites. 

 
 
 
Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 5.32.35 PM.png
 
Screen Shot 2018-08-23 at 3.00.39 PM.png
 

Raise your hand if you love Rick Steves.  This book just came out this year and it was incredibly helpful.  He's funny and includes a lot of history for us nerds. We took this book with us and read some of the passages while we were standing in some of the places. It made the trip really fun. 

We don't recommend skipping the Northern Peninsula like Steve did. In fact, we think you should make it a priority. BUT he does offer a lot of itinerary information, tips and history that made planning easier for us. 

Also had lots of maps which were helpful when we weren't using our google maps. 

 

 

If you like reading about the ancient history, The Sagas of Icelanders was a great read leading up to our trip. 

This book was well researched and gave lots of context for the stories in our modern world. As we drove through the landscape on our trip, my mind came alive with some of these stories. 

Best thing about this was you could read one story at a time. So I read a few every few weeks leading up to our trip. 

 

My father in law gave me this audio book before we went. I was so grateful for it. It made driving through the landscapes magical. Download this audio book for the road. You'll be driving through the lands of Thor and Loki. It also is easy to do one story at a time. So you can digest it slowly. You'll be driving a lot and sometimes music got old. Having this to switch to was amazing. 

 

I adored Jules Verne when I was a kid. This was my favorite of his books. He got the inspiration to write this book after visiting Iceland. 

You can tour the very cave that he visited and see the volcano for yourself. 

So I added that to this list. It is a fun refresher and I really enjoyed seeing these places first hand. I can see how the geology here would inspire you to write such an iconic story. 

Download for free here. 


 

Add One Minute Icelandic podcast to your Spotify list. I even went as far as working them into our music playlists. Icelanders speak English fluently but if you can learn a few greetings and phrases, you'll make instant friends. It's a complicated language but don't be afraid to try. Icelanders have an incredible sense of humor and they enjoy hearing you make an effort. 

At the very least, learn Hello and Goodbye it will only take a minute. 


MOVIES TO WATCH 

A lot of movies and TV is shot in Iceland. There were many times where I was standing somewhere and I yelled out OMG this is the location for that movie. Obviously, I am a film geek, so I think that is cool. Iceland feels unreal, so it makes sense that science fiction and fantasy films are shot here.  I also enjoyed the many travel vlogs posted below. 

Iceland is by far one of the most unique places we've ever visited. It honestly felt like we were on a different planet! It was like a photographers dreamland, because the sunset lasted for 3 hours (hello golden hour!), and the sun never fully went down.
follow the journey on INSTAGRAM: @jamesnicholas55 // Shot on a Canon 1dx mark II, Mavic pro, Gopro hero 4 Black, and Canon 80 D over a one week span in the south west coast of Iceland. Song: Starlight by Jai wolf (4AM remix)

HOW TO CHOOSE WHAT TO DO

We didn't have the time off work to be able to do the entire ring road. We wish we did. So if you can spare the time,  do the full island road trip. Yes, it's a lot of driving but it's driving in some of the most surreal landscapes we have ever seen and the view changes every five minutes.

  • I actually preferred the northwestern coast to the south coast. I liked the fjords and mountains more than I liked the coastal regions in the south. That said, I'd like to go back and explore Þórsmörk. I'd actually set aside a few days to hike these trails. This area was really interesting and the volcano was beautiful.

  • Using google maps and Instagram, I studied people's pictures to see where I wanted to go. As a photographer, I gravitate towards the most visually appealing spots. Over a few weeks it became clear to me what regions I kept saving and I used that to plot our course. I included a few of my favorite people below.

  • Ultimatley you will pick a direction to drive in each day, a park to hike in or a landmark to see.

  • Reykiavik is fun, plan at least a day there and go out at night. The locals really enjoy being out in the evenings and you are likley to have lots of fun.


Link to my google map and saved locations.

Link to my google map and saved locations.


Iceland is changing rapidly. I think in ten years, the things we experienced may not even exist in the way we experienced them. Tourism has changed a lot of the local landmarks. Icelanders are very proud of their island but they don't want it destroyed. I quite agree. The island is magical and should be protected and respected. So when asking a local for the location of the amazing photograph you saw on Insta be respectful. They aren't going to give that away. In fact, I won't be giving away a few things were lead to by locals. It's better off you discover them on your own and keep them a secret. 

If you want interaction with the locals, you won't find it out on the road. In fact, you will meet more tourists from around the world than you will locals. So if you want to soak up the culture, plan to stay a little bit in Reykjavik. 

We made Reykjavik our basecamp and decided to drive out and back from there. This allowed us to spread out the things we wanted to see and beat the tour buses. We planned different things to do on the drive out and on the drive back. This gave us the luxury of being able to cover a few regions more deeply and the luxury of changing things up if the weather was looking better for one activity in the morning versus the evening. But it meant that we weren't going to see the entire ring road. You would need months to see everything the island has to offer so pick a few key things and start there. 


5 TIPS FOR PLANNING YOUR TRIP 

  1. Decide on a few things that are important for you to see each day. My husband and I had a list of things to do each day. We had our favorites and our back up plans. We didn't always get to see a favorite because of the weather but we were never disappointed because we always had a backup plan.

  2. Google "Iceland Tours," and find the itineraries for tours for the places you want to go. Especially the Golden Circle Tours. Then plan to leave two hours before them. This may mean you are on the road at 4am but you will have sites all to yourself and you will thank me when 6 tour buses of 50 people each are pulling into a landmark while you are pulling out. We LOVED beating the tourists. It felt like winning.

  3. Soak in the local pools in Reykjavik at every chance. Geothermal water is freaking amazing. All the hot water in Iceland comes from the volcanos. It is mineral rich and abundant. We felt amazing after every soak. I wish we could get that in the midwest. The local pools were the best places to meet locals and the cheapest soaks. We really liked Vesturbæjarlaug.

  4. Be realistic about what you can do in a day. If you don't leave time for exploration, this is likely to happen: You'll pull into a site, park and go see an amazing waterfall. You'll look at your clock and realize you have to get on the road if you want to see the next thing because it's an hour away and get mad. We saw so many people run out to something, take a picture and run back to the car. Such a shame. You'll want to have time to sit and stare. Marveling at the wonder of the majestic landscape is why you came. Don't overdo it.

  5. Look at other bloggers. I found our favorite natural hot spring on a blog. We would never have known it existed. In fact, it looks like it was recently removed from google maps. All I can offer you is a coordinate: 64.832217,-22.318500. This spring was all over travel blogger feeds, so it's not a major secret. But you would have missed it in the guide books or driving on the road if you didnt know about it.

    1. Hot Spring tip: If you go to the coordinates above, you are likely to encounter other travelers like yourself looking for a secret dip. Be respectful. I recommend approaching the person soaking and negotiating a time when you can switch. Then start your timer and leave them be. It was really awkward when people stood around and watched our soak. These sites are not managed, so you'll need to take the initiative to be diplomatic. We organically started a line and made some new friends. Also, clean up after yourself.

30712794_10155711739738440_2614740621964869632_n.jpg
30704838_10155711740858440_1131840104311029760_n.jpg

FOOD PRICES 

Everyone online seemed to freak out over the food prices but no one seemed to know the average price of anything. Honestly, I thought it was going to be much worse then it was. The thing is, farming standards in Iceland are high. The mineral rich earth and climate make growing food here a challenge but they know how to tackle it. Everything is organic here. If you stick to the local fare, you won't be sorry. Fish, Lamb, Beef were staples and the most reasonable prices. Yogurt and bread and butter were some of the best things we ate. If you ask us our favorite Icelandic food, we will tell you the yogurt. Buy a great big tub of it and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

We shopped at the local Aldi like chain called Bogus. We stayed away from processed foods and bought meat, dairy, produce, eggs and bread. We spent about 80 bucks on groceries for the week. We brought in granola, noodles and trail mix from the US in our luggage. I had one deyhdrated hiking meal that we used stratigically. Outside of that, we ate fish and chips, burgers and lamb stew at various resturants for about 20.00 USD per person. The food was so amazing, we didn't care about the price. You'll never have anything like it. No, we didn't try the hot dog we were too full when we saw a vendor. 

I would budget 30 USD per person, per meal for things like the above. I would budget 50-60 USD per person per meal for a nice resturant. We don't drink so we didn't buy alcohol. That also helped. For groceries for two people, 100 bucks if you didn't bring in anything. 200 bucks for a week for a family. You'll likley have left over budget in the above equations for things like a snack, coffee and pastries. I approached our DIY meals like college. We needed lots of carbs for all the hiking we were doing so ramen and Rúgbrauð off set a few of our meals and snacks.  

TIP: We packed dried goods in our luggage. I filled our boots with granola, oatmeal, noodles, trail mix and a few dehyradted hiking meals. It saved us quite a bit of cash. 


THE BLUE LAGOON 

There is much debate about this lagoon. Yes, you can soak for less in other places in Iceland. But if you like luxury spas, this one is as unique as it gets. In that regard, the price is reasonable. Locals scoff at the price as they used to soak here for free, before it was a spa. So there is a hipster like mentality to damning the corporate man here. Mention it to a local and you are likley to get an eye roll. I say, don't skip it. This place was very romantic and we loved our experience. There is enough space to spread out when it gets crowded and you can't beat the blue waters. All in all, we spent about 300.00 USD on the day and that included an amazing lunch, the upgrade for robes and slippers and extra masks. We've spent more on luxury spa days in the states that were not magical at all. So when you look at it like that, it justifies the cost. Where else can you soak in mineral water of a Viking volcano? See how much fun we had? 

sign-swimming-shower-main3_1200x1200.jpg
 

We saved money on our flights by getting into Iceland at 7 am. We needed something to do while waiting for our hotel to open so we went here first. We were glad we did this first and not last on our trip. I think it was a great way to start and get over our jet lag. 

  • DO. Reserve your ticket well in advance and plan to either come when they first open or a few hours before close. As it got closer to lunch time it got crowded.

  • DON'T. Wear a suit you care about. The minerals in the water will starch it. My fabric is still messed up. This was the only place that did that to me. The silica is rough on your hair too so make sure to use the conditioner.

  • YES. It smells like egg farts at first. You'll get used to it. In fact, all the water in Iceland smells like egg farts at first. It goes away fast.

  • EAT. The prefix menu in the restaurant LAVA was amazing and reasonable for a five-star meal at a luxury spa. We were expecting to be underwhelmed by the reviews but as foodies, we can confidently tell you that we were wowed by the meal. Reserve for the first time slot they have for lunch and you'll get the best seat.

  • YOU HAVE TO SHOWER. The biggest cultural faux pas you can make in Iceland is not showering naked BEFORE getting into a hot spring pool. This is to preserve the waters and ensure the springs are clean for everyone. Water is a valuable resource that they treat with respect. So don't be upset if you get schooled by a local, they care about their hot springs. Don't be shy. No one cares. Strip down and scrub scrub.


THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

At 4am we packed the car and headed out for our first morning in Iceland. There was no one on the road. As the sun came up we had arrived in Þingvellir (Thingvellir). This drive was made more breathtaking by the dawn. It felt like we had all of Iceland to ourselves. My husband is a musician, so we like making road trip mixes. We started by listening to this one.  It was the perfect soundtrack for our first drive. 

Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

We were the first car to arrive at Thingvellier that morning. That meant we had the whole place to ourselves. We marveled at the continental divide. Laughed about the meaning of the "all thing," and had our breakfast in front of the waterfall above. By this time we had already shed a few tears at how beautiful this place was. When we finished our hike a few people started to trickle in. By this time we were already packed up and moving on to the next stop. 

If you Game of Thrones, a few iconic scencs were shot here.  

fan-girl-quest-movies-01.jpg
IMG_2231.JPG
Arya, The Hound and Brienne all collide at Thingvillier.

Arya, The Hound and Brienne all collide at Thingvillier.

You can scuba dive the continental divide here. We aren't much for diving but that was the other option for things to do in this location. We did stop at the Geysir. It's fun for a minute but we noticed the tour buses were catching up, so we moved on to Gullfoss. 

FOXY6929.jpg

The drive between Thingvellir and Gullfoss was beautiful. Take your time. We parked on the lower level away from the visitor center at Gullfoss. The tour buses all park up top first, so you can beat them if you park lower. No picture will do this place justice. You have to feel it.  

FOXY6964-2.jpg

We had lunch at the visitor center before moving on to the next thing. At this point, we had a decision to make. We knew we wanted to end our day at The Secret Lagoon. Most people go from here to the krater or the hot springs river. The river was closed while we were there so we opted to drive out to a waterfall that was supposed to be for our South Coast day instead. This ended up working out great. We again beat the tourist buses as we left Selandjafoss. 

IMG_2416.JPG
IMG_2392 2.JPG

Selandjafoss ended up being our favorite waterfall of the day. We hit it just as the afternoon sun created rainbows from the spray. If we had seen it at any other time, that would not have happened. It was about 3pm when we saw this. The sun rises behind Selandjafoss, so if you want the best light, see it in the afternoon. A tip: my Iphone 7 plus is waterproof. I took these photos with it. You'll want that rain gear we talked about here. You'll be able to march right up to the falls and enjoy without getting soaked for the ride back. We skipped the second waterfall in this area and saved it for our South Coast drive back. That gave us more time to sit under this one. We cried again here. Nature was starting to take over our souls in ways we were not ready for. The energy of this waterfall was unlike anything I'd felt before. Sitting right up underneath it for a while felt like taking a trip to another planet. 

0C17EA17-A257-4AAF-802D-A573B118C55A.JPG

We circled back to The Secret Lagoon to have dinner before a soak. The lagoon is a good ways away from Reykjavik and the tour buses seemed to pull in here at around 3 pm. So I reserved a ticket for us at 6 pm. We had dinner at the fish and chips outside the lagoon entrance for 20 USD per person. OMG the best fish and chips we've ever had. No joke, the fish here is really good and a great price. As we finished dinner, the last tour bus packed up and left. We yet again, had the place to ourselves. #winning 

We stayed till closing at about 8 pm and head back to Reykjavik. We made it back around 930pm and went straight to bed. This was a magical start to the trip and we were pinching ourselves at how lucky we were. If you only doing one day in Iceland, The Golden Circle is likely all you'll have time for. If you are doing a stopover - give yourself two days so you can really enjoy this area without having to rush back to a flight.  


Screen Shot 2018-08-23 at 8.55.05 PM.png
 

Bonus hot spring here. Hrunalaug (Hruni hot springs). It's a little hut and a hole in the ground. Again, be respectful of others and clean up after yoruself. This is technically private property that you are allowed to use. If you are using the secret lagoon, try this spot first and see if it's empty. They are literally around the corner from one another. 

Use the google maps to find it. Parking is on the road and you walk in. 


Snaefellsnes Peninsula

FOXY7048-2.jpg

All the guide books said to skip this if you aren't driving the whole road. But I couldn't miss seeing this part of the island. Two of my favorite authors were inspired to write stories here. Including the first novel I ever read, The Hobbit. New Zealand may be where they filmed the movies BUT Iceland is where Tolkien got inspired to write the books. In fact, Mordor's design is based off this landscape. Jules Verne also wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth after visiting this area. The volcano they enter the earth in, is the volcano in this area. Not enough to peak your interest yet? Do you know a little show called Game of Thrones? Almost all the scenes with John Snow, north of the wall are shot here. So yeah, it's a nerd mecca.  

I used this site to pick a few spots to start. There is so much to see and do in this area. I wish we had planned to spend an overnight up here.
Next time, we are going to start in this area and go further along the northern coast. 

FOXY7014-2.jpg
1B1B54D6-3CDF-4EE8-AF03-4A95417495A6.JPG

This was by far the most beautiful drive we did yet. The winding roads and cliffs are unlike anything I have ever seen. I could see why Tolkien would draw Mordor here. The backs of the mountains look like dragons. Local legends are all of the trolls. Lava rock has this amazing ability to play tricks on your eyes. We started to see trolls, dragons and mythical creatures in the landscape. 

Entrance to cave.

Entrance to cave.

IMG_2466.JPG

We started our day at Vatnshellir Cave, rumored to be the cave that Jules Verne used for his characters to enter the center of the earth. It was formed over 8,000 years ago and was formed all in one day. I geeked out hardcore here. Verne and Tolkien. My childhood literary idols. Here I was in the spot of inspiration. 

Lidenbrock translates the note, which is revealed to be a medieval note written by the (fictional) Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm, who claims to have discovered a passage to the centre of the Earth via Snæfell in Iceland.
— - Jules Verne
IMG_2561.JPG

This beach was the most magical mythical place we saw. Our guide said he used to play there as a kid and told us it was his favorite walk. So, I can't tell you where this is. It's a secret. 

Just kidding. There is a marked turnoff for a place called, Djúpalónssandur beach. It's marked on my google map I shared earlier. Here the lava meets the ocean and does amazing wonderous things. The formations are wild. I can see why this place is the inspiration for Mordor. We kept waiting for the rocks to come alive and start talking. They all looked like creatures. If you have kids, this place is sure to stir the imagination. We spent a lot of time here. Just be mindful of the tide. It is a coastal beach and those waves are quite powerful.

Our guide told us that it was the beach they used for the Hard Home Episode of Game of Thrones. You know the one with the big white walker battle? We laughed, there is no running from zombies on this beach. The rock is an inch thick and you sink really fast. The shot they reference is the last one where John snow is in the boat and looking back at the beach full of white walkers. I think they used the landscape in some of the compositing. There would be no way to film a zombie battle that big here. It's too risky. But it was freaking gorgeous. 

 
 

Hard Home Scene for those who don't thrones. 


If you are staying overnight up here, you'll have more time to explore. I marked a bunch on my map for you to look at. 

We drove from here to the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland. Kirkjafell. Tolkien borrowed a lot of his inspiration for The Hobbit from Icelandic folklore. If you read the Sagas I mentioned above, you can see the connections. Norse mythology is all over the stories. Elvish and Icelandic even sound similar. This mountain, Kirkjafel, is rumored to be the inspiration for the drawing on the map of the lonely mountain.

IMG_2576.JPG
f27c_thorins_map_from_the_hobbit.jpg

Driving through this area there are lots of folklore about trolls and hidden people. Even the traditional Viking houses look like Hobbiton, the Icelandic horse looked like hobbit sized horses. I could see all of middle earth represented on this day. Mordor, Hobbiton, Mirkwood, The Lonely Mountain,  and the ruins where our necromancer becomes Sauron. This place was unreal. So it was of no surprise to me that someone worked them into myth. I couldn't help but think about how this trip was forming a myth inside me, one that was bursting to come out on the page. 

IMG_2565 2.jpg

We made our way to the hot springs I gave you the coordinates to earlier and had the most amazing soak before heading back to Reykjavik. The soak was for lack of a better word, magical. Good luck finding the turn-off. It took us a few tries. 


THE SOUTH COAST 

There is a lot to see along the south coast. Making the decision on where to plot our days was hard. We wanted to drive all the way out to Skaftafel and I knew that meant an overnight. So we split this drive into two days. This gave us a chance to see something on this road twice. The drive wasn't nearly as magical as the Western Fjords until we made it to Vik. We set out before dawn again and decided to drive the full length and work our way back to Vik where I booked a hotel for the night. 

The coast was a different kind of breathtaking. A waterfall on every cliff. Cute little farms tucked into the nooks of glacier mountains. We stopped at the touristy spot, Skogafoss on the way out. We ran into a lot of people but thanks to our trusty rainboots we avoided them and walked right up to the waterfall in the river. In a full rain suit, we played like kids in the icy water. Away from the tourists who didn't want to get wet. #winning.   

222E8C35-44AB-4A0D-ADA7-57F7C5AD10F9.JPG

We set out to drive to Skaftafel from here. The canyon no one can pronounce was closed, Fjaðrárgljúfur. I was really disappointed. Fjaðrárgljúfur was the first place I wanted to see in all of Iceland but the rains had left the paths dangerous to walk and I didn't want to risk my death for a photo. So we skipped it, I'll see it next time. We at lunch at  Systrakaffi.  Everything in town was closed but this and the gas station. This was the last town for a while so we knew we needed to eat. Remember that life-changing burger I mentioned. We had it here. 

IMG_2668.JPG
IMG_2665.JPG

Before you head out to drive from here to Skaftafel, do yourself a favor. Cue up two songs on your Spotify. Paint it Black and Dark Side of the Moon. About 15 minutes west of Vik, you'll know why. Hit play when it happens. You'll come across another planet entirely, Laufskálavarða. Imagine the lava flowing from the volcano. That was 8,000 years ago. Look around. This is baby earth. Mineral-rich beginnings of our soil. Really puts time into perspective. We couldn't get enough of this place. Laufskálavarða is truly striking.     

Laufskálavarða Lava Fields

Laufskálavarða Lava Fields

Be sure to stay on the worn paths and don't off road. We saw lots of tourists stuck on the side of the road here. Idiots who thought they could drive a rental over a lava field without consequences. There are plenty of places to stop that are safe. The lava field is soft and climbing them is risky but we found worn paths and used those to go for a walk. If you want to join the long list of sheep that discovered sinkholes by climbing the formations, be our guest. 

 About an hour after the lava fields we made it to our destination. Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park. 

Svínafellsjökull Glacier

Svínafellsjökull Glacier

Here we got to see the glacier up close and do some real hiking. The paths here are well marked and easy to navigate. There is a hiking level for everyone. It was easy to see which ones we could accomplish and which ones we couldn't. 

FOXY7216.jpg

If you are playing Icelandic waterfall Bingo, Svartifoss is a coveted box. Up until this waterfall, all the others we had seen were easy to get to. This one requires an elevation hike. The path is well maintained, but I found myself needing to stop a few times on the way up and I was sweating by the time we got there. But it's worth the hike. 

738C329C-8FF9-4D6C-8B0F-D07D734353B2.JPG
IMG_2774.JPG
FOXY7197.jpg

Each hike took a while, so plan accordingly. They mark the average amount of time it takes to do the trails in the visitor center. We averaged 2 hours for the glacier trail and 3 hours for the waterfall. The view from the top is not to be missed. 

43D7FD57-3A2C-4984-A84C-128F995517EB.JPG

We finished our hikes and headed back to Vik, where we booked an amazing little hotel for the night, Black Beach Suites. Our suite overlooked a horse farm and the coast. It also put us in the best spot to see the black sand beaches at dawn... before the tourists. #winning. 

IMG_2850.JPG

Skip the plane wreckage. It's long hike for a photo everyone has. When we passed the parking area at about 9am it was already full. We decided to hike the cliffs instead. I really loved the big sounds of this area. Ocean force meeting rock. We picked up a picnic lunch in Vik before heading to our next destination. Driving back the weather was different then the day we set out, so this felt like a totally different drive. We headed back to Skogafoss to see the open air museum. If we had more time, I would have liked to hike Þórsmörk. I feel like we missed out on this area due to bad weather. It was too foggy to see anything and there wasn't enough time. We would need another overnight in this spot to do so.  So I'll save that for next time. We stopped at the open air musuem to the right of Skogafoss and enjoyed it. The early settlers must have been really short or didn't see the value of building big buildings. We felt super tall.  

IMG_2861.JPG
IMG_2882.JPG
IMG_2892.JPG

Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool was the next stop for us. The road to the parking area is bumpy, we had to go slow in our little car. We ended up parking out on the road and walking in to avoid any dammage to the car. From here you find the river and walk up stream. A path will reveal itself to you but if you get lost, use the google map location I linked to above. That awesome wifi hotspot comes in handy in places like this. There is a waterfall in every corner of this spot. The pool is not a hot spring. It is a warm pool. So if you were hoping for a hot soak, you won't get it here. We let our bodies adjust and did not regret taking a dip. I think in the winter this might have felt really warm but the water was as warm as the air when we were there. 

Tip: We did see quite a few people hiking past the pool. When we peeked around the cliff corner we noticed a few people sitting in what looked like a little hot tub on the river bank. Further investigation reveals that there are tubes where hot water comes out scattered along this path. If you make yourself a little dam in the river, you'll have hot soak if you are patient. There seemed to be hot water running down the sides of these cliffs in any direction. We were not brave enough to touch anything that was steaming. This volcano erupted recently. We had been warned to not touch unmarked hot water and I like my fingers so we didn't try it. Those soaking off of a tube looked happy, so perhaps you could just wait till you see someone who isn't boiling or bring a thermometer?  

That path past the pool looked really cool to hike. If we didn't have the long drive back to our basecamp that afternoon, I think we would have explored the areas below Eyjafjallajökull. The energy here is wild. The volcano certainly makes things buzz. This stop will take you at least 2 hours. To hike in, change, swim and hike back out.  

IMG_2890.jpg
IMG_2945.jpg

We got back on the road and pulled into our final stop for the day. We took one last look at our favorite waterfall Seljalandsfoss and parked at the second waterfall in this spot, Gljúfrabúi. Suit up in your full rain gear and boots here. You'll love being able to walk right into the canyon and up to the waterfall. This will let you skip the long line of tourists trying to stay dry by hopping the rocks to the right. That water is literally ice cold but with your gear you'll stay dry. So I dove right in and got right up against the falls. The waterfalls really moved us, we didn't expect to have such spiritual expereinces everywhere we went. We felt like the earth was resetting our moleculur structure. Between the mineral hot soaks, the fresh air, the new earth and the clean pure water we were often moved to tears. So we cried yet again, the kind of happy tears only travel can bring and said goodnight to our last stop of the day. 

IMG_2978.JPG
IMG_3012.JPG
IMG_3027.JPG

Reykjavík

This town is a lot of fun. There are so many yummy things to discover and little hangouts that I think it is best that you explore them on your own. The guidebooks got this one covered, so pull up your Rick Steves and see what he has to say. We shopped in the thrift stores to find more affordable wool and I found some vintage fur hats. We ate cinnamon rolls, we did the big church and cried at the architecture. Someone who loves Iceland built that church and now that we had seen the landscape, the inside reduced me to tears. It was the perfect end to our trip. The spirituality of the natural elements was all beautifully incorporated down to the last detail of an ice water crystal baptismal. The basalt cliffs, waterfalls, rock colors and natural light all echo the island. I didn't expect to be so moved but again, this trip turned out to be more spiritual then I expected.   

A day was sufficient to feel like we had soaked up the culture but we really enjoyed coming back to our air bnb and heading off to a geothermal pool for a soak every night. We met locals at the pools and felt more like we were learning about the culture in a way that was respectful and fun. I couldn't find any programs where you could eat with a local or sit with a family that wasn't associated with a tour so this was the best chance. We also went to the flea markets, which I only recommend if you like digging in thrift stores.

It was at this market that we had the opportunity to try Hákarl without having to buy it. Hákarl is fermented shark. It's a cultural staple. There is a place to sample goods in the back of the market. I tried it, my husband did not. I can tell you it is unlike anything I have ever tasted and never wish to taste again. It's like spicy fermented  malort that has the texture of tree bark and punches you in the face with that flavor a few times before leaving to burn your insides. That really doesn't sell it but I think gives you a good picture of what it was like. 

FEELINGS / Thoughts

This trip was more than I was ready for in all the best ways. I purposely left out a few destinations and a few things we discovered that shall remain secret. That is the beauty of Iceland. Go forth and find your own secret spot. I think no matter what you choose to do, you will find something that moves you.

Personally I never felt as connected to the earth as I did in Iceland. I was awestruck and breathless when seeing the sites. The landscape moves and ages in colors. Each ring, each color telling the tale of time. Like rings on a tree. The beginnings of life on this planet. The earth is an ancient thing, of which we are only a spec. I really felt that in my soul on this trip. I was so grateful for the chance to feel tiny and yet so connected to our little home in the cosmos. Everything here seemed to be in transition from an ancient time to the modern time. Earth, air, fire and water dance here in ways I had never seen.   

I was touched by the grittiness of the culture. The people here fight hard to protect what they have on this island and they seem to move in harmony with the unpredictable nature that surrounds them. Beauty among the chaos. Living in the midwest, I don't get that much. I don't get the chance to waltz up to a volcano and put my hands on the earth and feel it vibrate and hot. I don't get to drink the mineral water that comes from our planet in it's purest form and I don't get to see a breathtaking waterfall at every turn. I don't get to soak or take my shower in geothermal water. 

It really made me question why I still live in the land of corn. I know it's easy to rommantisize living anywhere. Iceland called to me the first time I saw a photo of the waterfalls and I am sure I will answer that call a few times over in my life.

I also found out that I am part Icelandic while I was standing on the shores where many vikings had migrated to the island. I kept telling my husband that I had the strangest feeling that this place was familiar to me. In an ancient sense. Like my soul knew these lands and the island was welcoming my body home. When I saw the results from my DNA test and a percentage popped up as Icelandic, I knew why. My dna did know these lands. So cool. 


So that's it ya'll. I hope you discover your own version of this and please post any findings or new tips here. Would love to collect them for my next trip! 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

In the works ...

Comment

In the works ...

My calendar is a beautiful color coded hot mess of appointments, meetings, deadlines, and productions. I repeat to myself that I am fueled and nourished by my clients, subjects, and films that I get to create. This helps me push through the next round of work. 

I keep going back to a visualization I had while having my aura read about ten years ago. I was told that my energy was grounded and I am delightfully and magically making the world move about me as I move through it. As a director, I loved that image. Right now, I am in it. The world is swirling around me and I am slowly stepping through it. 

From the inside, it is a thrilling and scary place to be. I am questioning my work, what I have to say and what I have created thus far. I am feeling pulled toward my new age. I feel a new transformation bubbling underneath all this activity and I am not sure where it is leading me quite yet. 

I've come here to update. But really, I think I just needed a minute to put some thoughts on paper. I am feeling ready for my next artistic iteration, my reinvention or emergence. I know it is happening underneath the surface, but I have yet to give this new found "thing" a voice.

That's all I have for the moment. I have lots of cool new work to share. Which is the source of all this activity. I've been keeping my instagram updated, come join me there: @melissafoxmedia

 

 

  

Comment

On Location: Hannibal MO

Comment

On Location: Hannibal MO

I have always said that I am a unique blend of city and country. I grew up as an inner city kid but I spent most of my summers on farms in Missouri. Every summer I would pack my bags and head to Missouri to visit with family. I have driven through Hannibal so many times, I have lost count. Getting to Hannibal was a landmark of sorts. It meant that I was one hour from seeing my grandma, Mamo, whom I love dearly. We usually didn't stop. On the five hour drive from Chicago, my dad would get restless and wanted to push forward. We would cross the bridge over the Mississippi and cheer at the state line. Getting to Missouri meant we were all on vacation. I would stare out the window at the almost movie like set that is Hannibal and wonder what it would be like to visit it. We would visit on occasion, making the one hour trip back from Grandma's house to see the Mark Twain Caves or visit the old cemetery on the hill but I never got a chance to explore the town on my own terms until recently. 

Hannibal is the kind of mom and pop midwestern town that would be easily dismissed if it weren't for it's history. You know it's name because it is the birthplace of Mark Twain. This is where Mark Twain grew up, played on the river, got ideas for his stories in the caves and infused his life into his writing. The people who live here have taken pride in both preserving that memory and making it into spectacle. It seems like playing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are rights of passage for young kids. During peak season, you will see them walking about town. The businesses are all run by locals, who like the speed of the river, seem to march slower in time than life in the city. The oddities and curiosities of the historic parts of town are charming and cartoonish. Perfect for those with imagination, a playful spirit and a love of Mark Twain. 

 
Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.39.54 PM.png

Below you will find a collection of my favorite things to see and do in Hannibal. 

MARK TWAIN RIVERBOAT

marktwainsteamboat

Start with a one hour riverboat tour on the Mississippi. The trip starts with a tune played on the large organ that can be heard about town. This signals a mini parade of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn characters that make their way down to the river and greet you as you enter. The views from the boat will give you a great view of Hannibal, a quick history and a few locations from Huckleberry Finn. Sit on the deck and imagine being Samuel Clement, who was a steamboat pilot on the river. 

Next, head into town and stroll the main strip. Get lost in Lydia's Cabinet of Curiosities. Make sure you take a look at the Dinosaur Fossils, ask the host about them. Missouri sits on a rich bed of limestone. The cave systems here are abundant. That also means that excavating fossils is a local hobby. Ask about them, they have quite the story to tell you. 

Next wander into Mrs. Clemens Antique Mall and oogle at all the deliciously creepy treasures. Those who are easily creeped out by dolls, need not apply.  

EAT 

If you are from a rural area, take this next recommendation with a grain of salt. While Hannibal certainly has restaurants that are themed to suit the history of the place, a good cup of coffee and a healthy lunch isn't on the menu for most of them. You'll find a smattering of calories and grease at the diners, pizza places and ice cream parlors. By all means, if that is your thing dive in and enjoy! I do however highly recommend a cafe not far from all the curiosity shops, Java Jive. 

17917450_10155219815998841_3363360665678598586_o.jpg

If you are looking for that garden to table salad for lunch, this is the place. Not only are the people who run this place wonderful to chat with but they know their coffee and fresh food. All items are locally sourced from farmers. This place is a breath of fresh air on the strip. Bring your copy of your favorite Mark Twain book and cozy up on the couch with a cup for a few hours. The pastries and salads were amazing. Certainly a departure among the greasy midwestern comfort food.  

Before you leave Java Jive, stop at the front and take a moment to see all the brochures for things to do in town. There is much to see and you'll need to make some decisions about what your priorities are. From here, I am taking you to the caves. But that means you would skip the museums, boyhood home, trolley tours and hilariously bad, kind of need to see, haunted house and wax museum. If you are doing a day two, by all means check those out. They are fun for people who want to know more about the places and people that influenced Mark Twains writing. I however have a love of the underground and found the caves be more interesting. 

If you love camping like me, you'll want to camp here for your stay to get the full experience. These are the caves and the grounds that inspired Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. You'll want to explore, set up a big fire and enjoy the landscape. I have a hotel recommendation further down for those that want a bed. 

Explore Cameron Cave during the day and book a lantern and flashlight tour of the Mark Twain caves at night. You'll see hiding places of Jesse James, spots that historians claim are directly related to Huck Finn and learn about the Missouri Cave systems. These tours are easily walkable. Bring a light jacket, the caves are always between 55-60 degrees. Which on a hot summer day is the perfect way to cool off. 

STAY

If camping isn't your thing, I highly recommend a stay at Rockcliffe Mansion. The mansion was recently restored and opened to the public as a bed and breakfast. It is a rare opportunity to sleep in a restored house from the 1800's. The views of the river are worth the trip up the hill. If staying overnight isn't on the menu come take a tour during the day. I will be booking a night for myself next time I come through. I was so excited to learn you should sleep in these rooms and have a mansion to roam around in at night. Mark Twain gave many speeches and lectures from the stairs in the main parlor. They can be all yours for a night. 

ST

Take in the views from the porch before you leave, from here you can look down over the whole town. As a kid, I always longed for travel. My family was bound to the midwest growing up. I used to roll my eyes at places like this, thinking how silly they were when I longed for travel to exotic and more far away places. As I've grown I have come to understand the nostalgic charm of climbing back in time, however cheesy it seems, and enjoying a different perspective. I don't think you'll need more than two days here but it would make a great stop on your road trip onward south to the beautiful state parks in southern illinois or missouri. 

TIPS AND FUN FACTS

By Photographer: A.F. Bradley in his studio. - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a08820.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3488440

Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it" as well; he died the day after the comet returned. He was lauded as the "greatest American humorist of his age",[5] and William Faulkner called him "the father of American literature".[6]

Each time of year offers a different beauty to this town. The height of the seasons are Memorial Day - Labor Day. There is a festival in the fall and around Christmas time. After that, most of the museums are closed. Be sure to check the websites to see what time of year is best for what you want to see. 

Hannibal is also home to the Unsinkable Molly Brown. One of the more famous survivors of the Titanic. There is a muesum dedicated to her story. 

Comment

On Location: New Mexico Landscapes

Comment

On Location: New Mexico Landscapes

 

Bandelier National Monument is a 33,677-acre (13,629 ha) United States National Monument in New Mexicopreserving the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans of a later era in the Southwest. Most of the pueblo structures date to two eras, in total from 1150 to 1600 AD.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, locally known as the "Gorge Bridge" and the "High Bridge",[2] is a steel deck arch bridgeacross the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Taos, New MexicoUnited States. At 565 feet (172 m) above the Rio Grande,[3] it is the seventh highest bridge in the United States and 82nd highest bridge in the world.[4]

10906197176_dd6ae8758c_k.jpg

I didn't expect New Mexico to seep into my soul the way it did. One of my favorite things about travel is seeing what the color looks like in different landscapes. New Mexico is strikingly colorful. I felt like I had never seen the color orange until I saw a sunset here. I now understood why artists were drawn to this landscape. With exception to the black and white image, none of these have been color treated. It's like New Mexico has a beautiful color filter all it's own. 

Comment

Gotham Greens Pullman Chicago

Comment

Gotham Greens Pullman Chicago

I was recently granted access to tour the roof top farm in Pullman Chicago for Gotham Greens, the largest hydroponic rooftop farm built to date. I was already a big fan of their greens. They create the freshest and most full flavored salads. The roof top farm is closed to the public, so this was a rare treat to see the farm in action and taste the goods.

Their vision to turn unused spaces into urban farms is pretty inspiring. Oh and their greens are pesticide free! The company started in Brooklyn and has been expanding to cities. Here is Chicago, access to freshly grown greens in the winter is sparse. Most of our greens are shipped in and are already two weeks old by the time we buy them. Gotham Greens are pulled, packed and delivered daily. I can attest to their freshness lasting weeks longer than other produce I buy. The arugula is amazing. It's spicy, full flavored and has that perfect fresh crunch every time. In addition to creating local jobs, using sustainable energy to run the farm and hiring from Pullman, they donate produce to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and to Chicago Public Schools. 

In Chicago you can find Gotham Greens at Whole Foods, Target, Treasure Island, Jewel, Sunset Foods, Sugar Beet Co-Op and Amazon Fresh. 

Comment

Currently Watching: Ellis

Comment

Currently Watching: Ellis


This is the trailer for ELLIS, a short film starring Robert De Niro, written by Eric Roth, directed by JR. The short narrative film, ELLIS, awakens our collective memory. Leaving their past behind them, immigrants fleeing poverty, discrimination, dictatorship arrived there. Ellis Island was the gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants. Upon arrival, they were processed, approved or denied access. Due to sickness or simply tiredness, many were placed in the hospital. A purgatory of sorts, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, where thousands of men, women and children awaited their fate. ELLIS tells the forgotten story of these immigrants who built America while questioning about those who currently seek the same opportunities and safety in this country and other parts of the world. The short film stars Academy Award Winner Robert De Niro, was written by Academy Award winner Eric Roth and directed by the artist JR whose Unframed art installations in the abandoned Hospital complex serve as the set for this powerful and timely film.

The past few years I have discovered a deep desire to learn more about my own genealogy and cultural identity. Up until recently, when asked, I told people I was a blend of many European cultures. So blended, in fact, that I don't have any cultures I identify with. Being an artist this was a topic I often explored. Feeling invisible among my diverse peers. It has taken me years to be able to articulate the feeling of being removed from ancestral traditions. I know this plays into my desire to work with and capture stories of all peoples. 

It is not that I don't have a form of cultural identity but for whatever reason, it wasn't a currency in my family system. It has been lost. I have no religion that I feel deeply connected to, I study all of them. I have no traditions that stem from generations. I have a few stories of farming and growing up in the depression but beyond that, there is a void. 

Since as long as I can remember, I longed to see the world and learn about different cultures. I purposely seek out worldly people to fill my life with. I reasoned that if I didn't have a specific culture I identified with, that I would become a student of all of them.

Art allowed me to do that. 

I had been casually looking up french street art, you know, as one does, when I came across JR's work. His talk, "How art can change the world," won the TED prize in 2011. JR is a French street artist who had some beautiful ideas about how art could shape a community. After being in Paris and getting to see their street art first hand, I can tell you, they do it better than anything I have seen in the states. It's sassy and on point in a way Banksy could never touch. If you haven't seen the talk yet, please watch it below. It is amazing. I would LOVE to see something like this in Chicago. 

Ellis is not a new piece of work. It features JR's installation, Unframed. The installation was created in 2014, the short film came out the following year. It feels more relevant to me now given our current events. I remember reading Anne Frank in school and having my eyes opened to the horrors of oppression and immigration. I hope to never know such peril in my life. Truth is America was founded by immigrants who fought their way across the land and conquered it. Unless you are Native American, you are the product of immigration. In Ellis, JR attempts to bring you face to face with these ghosts. These stories of immigration. The people who fled discrimination, war and poverty to seek a better life. A staggering number of people living in the United States can trace their roots back here. Millions came through the island on their way to a better life.

It is estimated that 40% of people alive today can trace their roots back to a family member coming through Ellis Island. 

The film is beautifully written. I love me some De Niro, and think he gives the material justice. Personally, I would have loved to hear it in different languages. The photography of Unframed is haunting. It sits among the dilapidated buildings giving story to it's walls. Simply breathtaking.

When immigration became a political hot topic this year, my brain became interested in this project again. Our modern day immigrants don't look like this. They are no longer the European ancestors we see in our history books, they come from all over the world. When I began traveling I was embarrassed that I didn't speak another language. Everywhere I went, people were bilingual. They never made me feel bad for not knowing the native tongue but I had this deep desire to join them. Travel breaks down walls. The biggest wall it breaks down is fear. Fear of others, fear of other cultures, fear of those who are different than "us." 

I think it is more important now than ever that we see the faces of everyday people from all walks of life doing every day things. 

It is important to know our history. I think of our modern day Ellis Islands. The ones that sit on our borders and detain people. They have the same desire as those who came before. They are looking for a better life. They don't want anything they haven't earned. They just want a shot at creating something better for themselves. I can't imagine having to leave it all behind and start over in another country. One that is hostile towards me. What bravery and courage that takes. 

I am headed to New York for the first time this spring. Ellis Island was the first place on my list to visit. I want to stand there. On the steps of what was hope for so many and gaze at lady liberty. Some never made it beyond the hospital. Others were detained for years, living in limbo. Before the island was opened to the public, it was used for deportations. A crazy full circle. 

You can watch Ellis on Netflix or Amazon Prime. 

Sources

Comment

On Location: Women's March Chicago

2 Comments

On Location: Women's March Chicago

#whyimarch

IMG_3003.JPG

Political feelings aside, this march has been a long time coming. The election was a tipping point but not the reason people took to the streets. In the planning stages, this movement had a tone that other protest movements did not. Women's rights are humans rights. Equality for all. This movement has a clear agenda, organization and support from the world. Today was bigger than me, my husband or my city.  The images from around the world echo a message that EVERYONE is feeling. The future is female and feminine values are needed to restore balance in our world. I want future generations to experience a better world than the one I leave behind.  

I had a plan to take portraits of protestors. But upon arrival it became very clear that not only would I not be able to find the people I selected but that today was about to be historic. I have marched for quite a few things in Chicago, but this felt different. THIS was the kind of march I read about in history books. The good will of the crowds reminded me of what it felt like to stand in grant park and listen to the first African American president speak on the night of his election. I decided to abandon all plans and go with the flow. There was no cell service and all signs were telling me to be present and soak the experience in. The photograph below beautifully illustrates the feeling: Soaking in the sunshine after a month of darkness while surrounded by like-minded men and women. It was a breath of fresh air. It made everyone beautiful. 

IMG_3018.JPG
IMG_3024.JPG
IMG_3005.JPG
IMG_3006.JPG
IMG_3015.JPG
IMG_3021.JPG

I march for equality. I march for women.
I march for families and children of all races and religions.
I march for better representation in our government. I don't ever want to see a white washed inauguration again. My world is colorful. I want my art, my work, my media and my government to reflect the tapestry of culture that I experience every day.
I march because I am aware of the privilege my skin color affords me. I am aware that I am joining a long line of dissent from my friends of color.  I am honored to give you my space and my voice. I will hand you the microphone if it is handed to me.
I march because as a woman I have experienced sexism and misogyny first hand.
I march because no little girl should grow up thinking that her body is her only value. Because no man has the right to make decisions about her body for her. I march against discrimination.
I march for healthcare, because no one should go bankrupt because they are sick.
I march for education. As a public school kid I know the value of access to quality opportunities.
I march because the student loan debt is OUT OF CONTROL. Access to education should not put one in debt for a lifetime.
I march for access to the arts, for without it I would not have found my voice or my livelihood.
I march for the climate, because science is real. 
I march for the men in my life who stand with me to fight this fight, because women's rights are human rights.
I march for my gay, lesbian and trans friends because love is love is love is love is love is love is love. No matter what you identify with or where you come from. I march for affordable housing, because the American dream of owning a home is dead.
I march for immigration rights, because my family would not have survived WWi without it.
I march for the fight against income inequality, because I am the first generation to make less money than my parents and it is NOT because I am lazy.
I march for those, who for whatever reason, could not march today but wanted to, because I respect the hard working families that couldn't' afford to take a day off for activism. 

Today was just one day, but it was enough to give me the strength I will need for the days ahead.

Who runs the world?
Girls. Better get used to it. 2020 is female. 

POST SCRIPT JANUARY 23, 2017

It wasn't even 24 hours after the march that I started to experience backlash for marching. In fact, it was five minutes after posting this that I started to see women talking about how they "didn't need this march," or how we "special snowflakes," need to STFU and "get over it." I am currently in many arguments about the " Trump did more for fat women by getting them out to march than Michele did in 8 years," meme. That I even have to explain why that isn't funny is a problem.  

I did not march because "my party didn't win the election," I marched because I see progress on issues I care about slipping away. The election taught me that I need to be louder. I need to work harder.  Again, Trump wasn't the reason I marched but he was the spark that woke me up. He gave me a nice dose of reality. Helped me see that we weren't making the progress I thought we were. He popped my white privilege cherry wide open with his rhetoric. These things have been stirring in my soul for a long time. He was the push for me to speak up. 

I wish Trump well. He was elected and I respect our democratic system. I hope he proves me wrong.
Until then, I march. I write, I create, I scream, I cry, I work, I have uncomfortable conversations.
I am working toward creating a world that benefits all - not just the few. I am skeptical that he will help me accomplish that goal.

But here is the BEAUTIFUL THING: You have the wheel now dear conservatives. Prove me wrong.
Make it great for ALL AMERICANS and make me eat my words!!

Go ahead. I dare you. 

In the past few months I have spent time listening to views that oppose mine, as I have spent most my life among a conservative republican white family. I often felt alone in my views and choose not to engage with the racist, out of touch, conspiracy theories I heard spew from the mouths of those around me. I used to see my silence as respect for that person's views. I now see that as a passive participant, I am responsible for our current events. This work IS upsetting. It WILL challenge me but I am ready to engage more deeply. 

I grew up with one foot in the middle class white world and the other in the diverse poor side of my city. A unique experience I wish more people had. I have seen first hand what discrimination looks like. I have watched my talented friends of color struggle, while I succeeded. Just because YOU don't feel you need to march, doesn't discredit 2.5 million others who feel like they do. 

I am disappointed in you if you choose to alienate me when you keep calling for unity. Lead by example. Be curious and listen. 2.5 million people took to the streets. It will be in our history books. 

If you are a woman you owe your right to vote to the women in history who marched. Period. 

Images (c) melissa fox media LLC 2017 - may not be used or duplicated without my written permission. Inquire for media rates. Will donate for any women's movement, please write me for permission. 

2 Comments

On Location | Thailand

Comment

On Location | Thailand

STAY @ INN A DAY SUITE 4 O'CLOCK

This boutique hotel is family owned and operated. Nestled on the banks of the river in old Bangkok, far from the tourist crowd, this place is a hidden gem. An old warehouse converted into a hotel, this place is an instagram dream. Suite 4 O'Clock has a giant wooden tub that overlooks Wat Arun, perfect for soaking away the day. Design is fabulous, service is wonderful, Thai Iced Tea amazing. Don't skip lunch. The place is small but it is like having your favorite Thai Chef cook you a private dinner. Walking distance to Wat Pho and The Royal Palace. Easy Access to river cruises. 

@INNADAY

 

OVERNIGHT SPECIAL EXPRESS TO CHIANG MAI

Save some money on accommodations by taking an overnight train to Chiang Mai.  We booked our sleeper cabin via ticket service a month before our arrival. The train was so comfortable and cozy. We had no trouble sleeping. When we woke, we were arriving in the mountains at sunrise! Dinner is surprisingly yummy and affordable. For breakfast, stick to the rice soup. The other options were strange. Meals are not included. If you order, they will collect cash just before arrival. For those adventurous souls, the bathrooms have a shower on board. It's a balancing act, but it gets the job done. I just washed my hair to freshen up. 

PATERA ELEPHANT FARM 

An avid traveler and co-worker friend of mine, Megan Taylor, recommended this place. I saw the video of her experience and knew it was something I had to do. My husband and I credit this place as being literally one of the "best days," of our lives. A spiritual experience that is not to be missed. Thailand is plagued by terrible "animal tourism." From the Tiger petting zoo's to the Elephant camps. These animals are often mistreated for the sake of turning a profit. Patera Elephant Farm seeks to rescue and rehabilitate elephants. What you pay for is helping them care for the animals. You will be put to work, feeding, cleaning and walking them. Groups are small and each human get's one elephant and a care-taker for the day. They space out the experience so the elephants are not overwhelmed and each animal is paired with a human that fits it's personality.  You ride bare-back. No saddles or whips are allowed. When an elephant first comes in, it is assigned a mahoout. This person dedicates their life to caring for this animal 24/7. This is the relationship you experience. This place takes no donations. They want you to help them care for these majestic creatures. It is difficult to articulate the magic that happens when you look an elephant in the eye. It's like seeing eons of wisdom and kindness in one moment. I cried when I hugged my elephant goodbye. We had two women in our group who were back for the third time. I now understand why. If you go to Thailand, do this! 

CHIANG MAI 

Stay near the Old City if you want to visit more Wat's and eat street food. We found a delightful Air BNB just outside the old city. Ratchiangsaen Flora House, Ribbin, was a wonderful host. We were never far from a Tuk-Tuk to anywhere in the city and walking distance from an outdoor market that was open all night. Eat the street food, it will blow your mind. BBQ on a stick, soups, seafood, smoothies and ROTI. Meals are just a few Bhat each. Go to the Night Bazaar and see a Thai Boxing fight. Anthony Boirdain says, "Find the Cowboy Hat Lady at the gate and eat her food." Her stand is called, "Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak." We agree. Don't miss it. 

travel like the monks

Hike the ancient path to Doi Suthep and stop at the best kept secret spot on the mountain:  Wat Pha Lat. When we dreamed of Thailand, this was the place we saw in our dreams. A jungle temple at the top of a waterfall. We packed a lunch and ate it with locals on the rocks with a pack of temple stray dogs. The hike starts just behind the Zoo and winds up the mountain. You follow ties on trees left by the monks.  It is magical. We snagged a Red Truck from Wat Pha Lat to the more famous Wat at Doi Suthep. The best part, no one here had "selfie sticks," and the place was quiet. I was the most connected to my meditation at this temple. "No Ego," etched into a step next to the waterfall. It is the perfect place to recharge outside the city. We got our hiking tips and instructions from Globo Treks. It was easy to follow their directions. 

Hello jungle temple of my dreams. #thailand #passionpassport #lifeisbeautiful #travelgram #livinwithfox

A photo posted by Melissa Fox (@melissafoxmedia) on

 

TIPS FOR THAILAND 

Bring long skirts or pants to wear into temples. Some places, like the Royal Palace, require a collar on your shirt. I kept one in my bag and wore long skirts for most of our trip and I was never denied entry into a temple. 

When inside a temple, women are not allowed to touch a monk. If you wish to get a blessing, you must place your donation or item in front of the monk and he will pick it up. 

Schedule a "Monk Chat" in Chiang Mai. 

The friendlier the stranger, the more suspect they are. Thai people are quiet and private. Those that were super friendly were trying to scam us. We were told many times that something was closed when it wasn't. If a Tuk-Tuk driver needs to "make a stop," on the way to your destination they will stop at a shop and ask you to go in while they run an errand. They get a commission from the shop owner if you buy something.  We had it happen once. You'll learn fast. 

Most signs are in English. Use Google Translator App if you are confused.  

Price is negotiable on souvenirs. Don't be afraid to haggle for items or Tuk-Tuk rides. 

The whole city will shut down for the King. If it happens, just go with it. There is literally nothing you can do. 

Get a massage. Every Damn Day. Seriously. 

 

 

Comment

On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

Comment

On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

It was a crazy 24 hours, action packed with little sleep, lots of pressure to do a good job and some laughs. I donated my time with my team at fig media for a secret project with The Sergeant Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. My first time in California, love that it was for work on a production that I care deeply about. Grateful for good eats, fun clients and cool projects! 
More details to come in 2017. 
IMG_0255.JPG

EATS

Seafood and Bites @ Santa Monica Yacht Club.
ORDER:  Gin + juice cocktail with the Octopus Skewers and Blackened Catfish. 

Salad and Rose @ Tavern
ORDER: A Glass of RoseThai steak salad, papaya, cashews, bok choy & lemongrass
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Academy Award Director + Marcia Gay Harden

11_04_30_02_07_tavern-crop-u429.jpg
IMG_0389.JPG
IMG_0297.JPG
IMG_0528.JPG

TEAMMATES

@james_gustin  #lookingveryLA (Executive Director) 

@james_gustin #lookingveryLA (Executive Director) 

@melissafoxmedia  #soakinguprays (Cinematographer) 

@melissafoxmedia #soakinguprays (Cinematographer) 

@firstlady.a  #toesinthepacific (VP of Communications) 

@firstlady.a #toesinthepacific (VP of Communications) 

IMG_0529.JPG
IMG_0257.JPG

Comment