Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Whew, it's Wednesday! What's for Dinner? - Quinoa Sausage and Veggie Pasta

Hi Friends - Sorry for the delay in posting something this week for Monday. I had some dear friends in town these last few days with an adorable two-year old who requested my attention. When someone that tiny and cute and heart melting wants to spend time with you, everything else gets pushed back.

This is a dinner favorite at our house and one that I consider quite the victory since it passed The Boyfriend Gluten Free Flavor Test. I'm a big fan of quinoa in general, but I particularly like this version because it's also corn free and it cooks wonderfully. Those of you who've made other gluten free pastas will know what I mean when I say that some of them come out sticky after you've boiled them. This beauty doesn't have that problem. It cooks clean, comes out smooth, and has a lightness to it that I adore. The sauce is killer good and ties the whole thing together nicely. The best part? This takes hardly any time to make. A quick, healthy dinner? Perfecto!

Quinoa Sausage and Veggie Pasta

  • 1 box Andean Dream Quinoa Pasta - Fusilli 
  • 2 yellow zucchini
  • 1 jar Cucina Antica Marinara Sauce - Garlic
  • 1/4 White onion diced
  • 1 package of Aidells Sweet Basil & Roasted Garlic sausage 

  • Seasonings for sprinkling: sea salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme
  • Olive oil for cooking veggies and sausage
Note: We tried a different sausage this time (in photo below) and found that it didn't work quite as well as the Aidells version 

1. Dice up onion, slice up zucchini, and cut up sausage while bringing a large pot of water to boil (add a little sea salt to the water).

2. While water is still preparing, put diced onions in pan with some olive oil set on medium heat to get them started.

3. Once water is boiling, add package of pasta and cook for roughly 10 mins until pasta is easy (but not too easy!) to break in half. You want a soft but still solid texture.

4. Once the pasta is in the pot, add zucchini and sausage to pan with the onions. Sprinkle on (to your liking) the seasonings: sea salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme. Start with a little of each, taste, and add more as needed for your preference.

5. Take marinara sauce and heat in a smaller pot on medium heat.

6. After 10 mins or so, take pasta pot and drain. Make sure you get all the water out. Add the pasta to a large serving bowl. Then, add in the veggies and sausage. Finally, pour the marinara sauce on top. Mix everything together and serve!

Here's a pic of the sausage I recommend using for the mix. The flavor goes perfectly with the dish.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Reflection of Shadows: Why He Loves Me, I Don't Know

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments

When I wrote this poem, I didn't know where I was going with it or what I was trying to say. The words simply poured out of me onto the paper and I was left pondering exactly what I meant. Looking at it now, I see how it clearly ties to Secret #4, to the path I'm always on, seeking, seeking, seeking... and to what I always used to think was failing, failing, failing. I see how it ties to the divine presence I believe in and how, many times, I've felt that I have let Him down in my journey here on earth trying to live this humble human life. How He's always been there to pick up my pieces and carry me on.

Why He Loves Me, I Don't Know

Why he loves me, I don’t know,
What has made his fondness grow?
Through the turmoil and the pain,
Through my darkness he remains.
How did he survive the moments,
Filled with silent, distant torments,
When my mind left spinning, turning,
Made me wanting, needing, yearning.
I’ve abandoned and denied him,
In my darkest moments tried him,
Pushed him further than his limits,
And never once has he resisted.

When my taste in love is changing,
When I question what I’m craving,
He’s the farmer planting, seeding,
Quickly growing what I’m needing.
Never yielding, always loving,
Even when I take off running,
Never leaving bread crumbs showing,
Where I’ve gone, he’s followed, knowing.
He’s my balance when I’m falling,
In my deafness he’s still calling,
When I’m breaking, crumbling, dying,
In my blindness he is guiding.
When my numbest moments hit me
In my solitude he’s with me.

Through my self destructing phases,
When my thoughts are blurred and hazy,
When self-hate has caused me damage,
He’s the threading to my bandage.
In those hollow, silent moments,
When my heart was fearful, frozen,
When I showed my demons rising
All he saw were angels crying.
What I’m thinking, he’s erasing,
Banning my self tortured hating,
Imprinting the best and brightest,
Showering my soul with kindness.
Why he loves me, I don’t know
Till this day his love still grows.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Mantra: Secret #4

mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation".

Every Monday I will post a new thought, idea, or focus for the week. When you need a breather from life, when you need a little inspiration, or when you're about to jump over the conference table and strangle your co-worker, remember the mantra.

Monday Mantra: What you seek, you already are
Society 6
Giovanni Da Re
Secret #2 was one heck of a lesson for me. Especially given the course of my crazy life these last few months. To be completely honest, it finally sank in this last week. The world is in me - I. Create. Everything. And I'm in a very creative mood these days. One of my very favorite things in life is decorating. Taking a house and making it fresh, new, different. I'm reflecting how I feel about my life. I'm creating how I want it to look - in my house. Every room is different, every space is comfortable. Every wall color is cheerful, happy, bright. This is a place of love and light. 

Before we move on, let me explain why I've skipped over Secret #3 for now. Well, um, I didn't mean to. I had the page bookmarked, I had the bones of this post all ready for #3, and somehow after all of that I still ended up reading #4 instead. I even tried to go back to #3, but I couldn't. Everything in #4 felt applicable to me right now. It was exactly what I needed to read and I can't recommend this chapter enough. There are times when the Universe (or God or whatever you believe in) points you where you need to go, and doggone it, you better pay attention. 

This is me paying attention. 

Secret #4: What You Seek, You Already Are

Seeking is a word often applied to the spiritual path, and many people are proud to call themselves seekers. Seeking is doomed because it is a chase that takes you outside of yourself. Whether the object is God or money makes no difference. Productive seeking requires that you throw out all assumptions that there is a prize to be won. 

You are starting from yourself, and it's the self that contains the answers.

Pitfalls of the Seeker
Knowing where you're going
Struggling to get there
Using someone else's map
Working to improve yourself
Setting a timetable
Waiting for a miracle 

If you avoid these pitfalls of spiritual materialism, you will be much less tempted to chase after an impossible goal. 

...Creation is thoroughly tangled, with every possible quality given some outlet for expression. People need to accept once and for all that there is only one life and each of us is free to shape it through the choices we make. Seeking can't get anyone out of the tangle because everything is tangled up. The only thing that will ever be pure and pristine is your own awareness, once you sort it out. 

Seeking is really just a way to win yourself back. If you strip away all the distractions of life, something yet remains that is you. 

The fourth secret is about meeting your real self.

On every page I found myself nodding along, found myself admitting that I've been seeking wrong. I've had a carefully mapped self-improvement course with a specific time in mind that I wanted to be "done" working on myself.  I've allowed myself to struggle with it, to follow what others have told me instead of my own inner voice, and I've definitely had my moments of giving up and waiting for something divine to just happen already. I've been so wrong. It's exhausting, you know? Sometimes I just want to call it a day and nap myself to where I should be. Turns out, I should be doing that. Kind of.

Inside of all of us is what we shall refer to as The Witness. It's that place I've talked about before where you are separated from your own thoughts. Where you act as more of an observer. I've reached that place on and off, but I've never fully lived in it. In the moments I've most needed to be The Witness, I've run the opposite direction and acted on The Ego.

To meet your real self through Secret #4, you're shown ways to avoid the pitfalls and learn how to truly seek within. You're also asked to recall situations where you felt confused or scared and to relive them by allowing the The Witness within to observe the situation, allowing the ego to run it's emotional course as needed, and then letting go. It's designed to allow you, slowly but surely, to meet your real self.

I'm going to stop seeking the way I have been. This is going to take some time and patience, but everything I need to do instead is laid out nice and neat for me to follow. As hard as it is for me to not work on a time driven goal, I now better understand why I shouldn't. At least, not for this.

How have you been seeking and what will you do differently to meet your genuine self?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Reflection of Shadows: Despite the Walls You've Built

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments

There's a certain wisdom that comes from living day after day, year after year, experience after experience. You cannot skip ahead to this place of knowing. The only path to it is a slow one, filled with the stepping stones of this thing called Your Life. The path moves forward as your knowledge continues to expand. As soon as you learn one lesson, it'll be time for you to learn another...and another...and another. 

From the time I was a teenager all the way up through my young adult years, I had to learn the art of Letting People In. If someone hurt me or if something went wrong, I knew all too well how to build a wall to keep them at just the right distance. This, I found, worked as much against me as for me. Over the years I can see the change in myself. The fortress collapsing, the walls coming down, the hope that others will bring down their walls too.

The Fortress
I live in a fortress, strong and powerful. Nothing and no one can get through its walls.
I have been here a long time.
I sit high up in a room with one window.
From here I can see for miles.
Below my window is a moat filled with venomous water snakes that circle the waters, day in and day out.
Surrounding the moat is a wall, thicker and taller than any wall created. A wall not meant to be overcome.
Beyond the wall is a field, long and wide, filled with invisible yet deadly mines.
Past the field is a fence, electrifying for those who dare touch it.
Outside of my fence is the world.
I see blurred images of people, love, hopes and dreams, fear and failure, waiting for me to let them in.
From my window I can see all of this, yet I do not want to leave or to allow them entry.
From my window I am safe from everyone and everything.
No one can reach me.

I live in a fortress, dark and cold. Nothing and no one can get in.
I have been here a long time.
I sit up high in a room with a window that has a view.
From my window I can see for miles.
I see a moat, murky and black. The snakes have drowned in its pity.
I see a wall, old and crumbling. The green of the vines breaching its cracks stands out against its dark palette.
I see a field overgrown with daisies.  The mines are old and rusted, weary from waiting to be set off.
I see a fence bending over, tired of being on guard. Empty of energy for shocking all who were brave enough to touch it.
Beyond my barriers I see the sun rise and fall.  I see colors. I see life.
I see chance, opportunity, dreams.
I see people.
They are waiting for me.
Even after the shock, the pain, and my determination to keep them out, they wait still.
From my window I see all of this and my heart aches.
No one can reach me.

I lived in a fortress where I grew lonely and bored.
Nothing and no one could ever get in.
So I had to walk out.
I lowered my drawbridge to cross over my now empty moat.
I climbed over the broken stones of my wall that had crumbled.
I walked through my field picking daisies, burying mines, covering
them with mounds and mounds of flowers.
I walked to my fence that was no longer whole, no longer intact.
I saw the people outside waiting for me.
I felt the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair.
I took a breath and I climbed over, walking to them and to everything I had kept out.

I once lived in a fortress, big and tall.
I sat in a room with a window where I looked out at the beauty of the world, the adventures of life.
I had walls to protect me from this beautiful world because I was afraid.
I let my passion be overcome by fear and I let fear take me.
I longed for the golden rays of sunshine on my skin, the essence of flowers in the air, the feeling of being alive.
I began to fade away for the lack of living and I became a shadow in my fortress until one day, one day, when I finally realized…
I had built myself a prison.

I'm Here

Despite the walls you've built, I'm here.

You don't have to disappear.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Reflection of Shadows: Things That Cannot Be Replaced

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments
Melia Metikos

When I was in high school I was quiet, reserved, shy and awkward. I had a great and very loving circle of friends, but I lived in my mind a lot. At times, I felt very alone with who I thought I was and who the rest of the world wanted me to be. I felt out of place. I was most comfortable in my own thoughts and with the quiet peacefulness of books. Poetry was my choice of poison. I loved everything about it, every thought and word and puzzle that came with what the poet was trying to say.

In the back of my AP English class was an Edgar Allen Poe poster with his poem, "Alone." I read that poster every day, over and over, until I had it memorized. At that particular time in my life, I felt like Poe was the only person I could relate to.

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were - I have not seen
As others saw - I could not bring
My passions from a common spring -

Ever since I discovered poetry, it's all I've wanted to be - a poet. Of any dream I've ever had (and as you know, I've had a lot), this has been the greatest. This is the one that never dies. I originally started this blog to do just that- write my poetry, be a poet. But it turned into something else for me, something that I've really enjoyed in a different way. But now I want to bring it back home. I want to add back in the thing I love the most. I want to work on my dream.

Once a week I'll post a poem - new or old - and work on my dream.

Whatever your dream is, I hope you keep working toward it. Even if you have reached it, keep at it. Keep your dream alive.

Pastel Sunsets
Melia Metikos

Things That Cannot be Replaced

Things that cannot be replaced, 
Moments lost through time and age, 
Taken quickly, taken slow,
Regardless if you let them go.
Shades of memories haunt their place, 
Flashes of your loved one's face, 
Laughter ringing in your ears
Reducing you to stifled tears.
All things change, all things end
Some things just can't start again,
Some things have a final stage-
Things that cannot be replaced.

P. S. I started a Tumblr page a while ago for my poetry and other random thoughts. Here it is if you want to browse through it before I shut it down and move it all over here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

All Around the World: Royal Caribbean vs. Holland America (and which one does gluten free better)

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.

I've been on a few different cruise lines and the two that stand out for me in service and food are Royal Caribbean and Holland America. Having a gluten allergy, the food piece is extra important. Keep in mind that cruising is just one way to see the world and I recommend seeing it in every way possible and in whatever way works for you. However, since cruising is an expensive way, the service, food, and accommodations should all be well worth your money. For those of you looking to book a trip with a cruise line and who may be considering either of these, I hope you find the below information helpful in making your choice.

Royal Caribbean
Boat Accommodations
Adventure of the Seas
My most recent trip to Iceland and Norway was with Royal Caribbean on the Adventure of the Seas. Having taken a cruise from them before that stood out in my mind as fantastic, I had those same expectations. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. The boat is older, however, it was supposed to have been remodeled and updated not that long ago. I honestly have no idea what updating they did because the whole floor we were on, six, smelled like a weird combination of hospital and rotting fish. Our room smelled the same. The bed in our room was as hard as a rock and the toilet broke several times over the course of the trip. We weren't the only ones with these problems, however, we were the only ones that seemed to have gotten the haunted house room. For the first few days/nights the room made awful squeaks and squawks and ka-thuds so loud that no sleep was possible. Eventually, they discovered that the window in our room overlooking the promenade was loose. To me, that sounded very dangerous for all the people walking below. That fixed most of the noise, except for the ka-thudding. They had to check the areas all around and above us for any loose equipment/storage items. I'm not sure what they found, but one day the noise was gone. I will say our room attendant, Bobby, did the very best job he could of making things comfortable, but this experience is not up to par with how Royal Caribbean should and used to present themselves.

Entertainment and People
When it comes to boat entertainment, I expected more than I got. While there were plenty of things to do outside (rock wall, golf, basketball court, pools) none of those things could be used in the weather that accompanied Norway and Iceland. That was fine and understandable, however, it's what we could've done on the inside that I'm referencing. They had a movie theater, but the chairs were uncomfortable, there was no popcorn, and they played the same doggone movies over and over and over. They had games you could play, but only in special conference rooms  - no checking out and taking them back to your room. They had TV, but hardly. Outside of the spa and gym, which were both very nice, there wasn't a whole lot you could do inside the boat aside from drinking at the variety of bars and pubs or gambling at the casino, which are cruise ships staples. Even the shopping promenade, while very cute and fun to walk through, was boring after a day.

The nightly entertainers were good in the sense that they were geared more toward the UK clientele and so much of what they joked about or discussed were things Americans were unfamiliar with. This too is understandable, as the cruise departs from England and the majority of the folks on the boat were English. We often talked about this with our dinner friends who were from England and Scotland and who, for the record, were some of the coolest people I've ever met. One gentleman we met was so much fun to talk to that we skipped a show just to chat with him. He's from Whales and loves America, The Beach Boys, and is dying to go on a Route 66 vacation one day. I told him I'd swap lives for a bit and we could each pretend to be from the country we loved so much. All in all, the boat crowd was amazing. We are, generally, some of the youngest people on the cruises we pick (we have old souls, what can I say?) but we always end up in the company of great people. Don't let the potential age gap stop you from picking a particular line or trip.

Gluten Free Food and Service
The service overall on the ship was good, but in the dining room it was incomparably awesome. For most of the trip we had the same two servers - Wilfredo and Olexandra - who are hands down the best, most kindest people I've met in the cruising world. Olex's grandmother baked the gluten free bread and she was always finding me and bringing me my special slices. Wilfredo made you feel like you'd been friends for years. The two were an amazing combination! Outside of them, the overall ship service was good.

As for the food, it was equal parts disappointing and great. We were on the boat for two weeks and the first week it seemed like the food was being recycled day after day. I say this because one thing that you can rely on when cruising is good food, lots of it, and new options every day. The main dining room that first week was just plain, well, plain. The second week - amazing. It was like day and night. This, too, applies to the gluten free options.

Each night at dinner they would bring be a menu for the upcoming evening so I could pick my gluten free dinner. This was nice, but it also felt a little rushed and interrupted my dining experience a bit. On the menu it already listed which dishes were gluten free, however, they said they could make anything I wanted gluten free. This turned out not to be the case, not really. Instead of actually making a plate gluten free, they would leave off the gluten item and my dish would end up boring or empty-ish. They didn't actually substitute ingredients or alter it. That was hugely disappointing, especially since week 1 was so bad in general. Week 2 made up for a lot of that, as the gluten free options seemed to double. There was a cafe in the promenade that was open 24 hrs a day that handed out Udi's gluten free cookies like they were going out of style. That was pretty awesome.

Holland America

See that big boat on the right? That's us.
First and foremost, I have to admit that Holland America has ruined me in the sense that I compare absolutely everything they have to every other boat/line out there. Because yes, they are just that good. In almost every way possible.

Boat Accommodations
I've been on the Oosterdam and the Amsterdam boats and both completely blew my mind. The boats are well maintained and that's easy to see at first glance. The staterooms are spacious, elegant, and modern. The beds are super comfy, there is tons of closet space, and both boats are about equal in age to the Adventure of the Seas (which is why I was so surprised by the differences of how well each were maintained/updated). Best of all? No haunted house noises so you can sleep peacefully through the night! 

Entertainment and People
The two boats I've been on didn't have anything in the way of rock climbing walls or zip lines, but they had plenty to do overall. The movie theater had big, cushy seats with popcorn available, which led to the feel of a real theater. If you didn't like what they had playing, no problem. The boat had an extensive line of DVD's you could check out and watch back in your room. This, hands down, was one of our most favorite things ever. They also let you check out the games, so we'd get our favorite, Rummikub, and take it wherever we wanted to play - back to the stateroom, outside, anywhere. I didn't know how much I appreciated that until it wasn't an option. The library was spacious and they has this amazing lookout point with giant leather chairs where you could sip some tea, watch the view, or take a nap. They offered afternoon tea time that I simply adored and which, oddly, was not offered on the Adventure of the Seas with it's very English occupants. The nighttime entertainment was great, but it was more geared toward an American crowd so much of what the entertainers joked about or did was familiar. Holland America is one line in particular that tends to draw an older crowd, but again, don't let that stop you. It's a helluva line to cruise with.

Gluten Free Food and Service
When you book a cruise with Holland America they send you a gluten free meal planning sheet to complete prior to your cruise. This lets you tell them if you might want bread, pasta, brownies, waffles, etc., so they can plan ahead and get those items/ingredients for you. Once on the boat the crew seemed a little confused about where I should eat due to my gluten allergies, but eventually we all got straightened out. For this, I have to give Royal Caribbean credit for having a better educated staff overall. However, Holland America makes up for that in their flexibility. The nightly dinner menu's do not list which dishes are gluten free but that's because it doesn't matter. They will make anything gluten free! 

Every day a menu was delivered to my state room, which was perfect because I had the whole day to ponder what I might want and I wasn't bothered in the middle of my meal. I would circle my options on the menu, bring it back to them, and I'd get exactly what I wanted, but made gluten free. Only one time did I run into an issue where I couldn't get something because it was mass produced. Otherwise, the world was my own personal gluten free oyster. That never happens in "real life." Any of you suffering from gluten allergies or Celiac disease know this. You have limits, they tell you they can only do so much, so on and so forth. So to be able to select anything and get the same version, just gluten free, was truly expectational on their part and made my vacation that much more special. You do have to eat in the dining rooms for your meals (you can't go to the buffets offered at breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and this applies to both cruise lines, but hey, it's all included in your price anyway, so why not make the most of it?

The food, in general, was amazing. Each menu was a new creation, each meal was better than the last, and you were actually provided a four course meal instead of the three course that Royal Caribbean had. As for the service, Holland America knocks it out of the park every time. The wait staff, the room attendants (you get two of them), the front desk - you can't ask for better service. This is what Holland America is about: Offering the best service they possibly can to their guests. 

All in all, Holland America is my pick for the best cruise line and it has been for years now. I've yet to encounter a similarly priced line that offers the equivalent amenities and services that can compete to the bar that Holland America has set. Especially when it comes to gluten free accommodations. 

Per my great friend, Brian, who made the great point that I should share some personal pictures with everyone, here you go!

At Thingvellir in Iceland.

Being attacked by an obviously dangerous wooden crocodile. 

At my favorite place from the trip, Lake Loen.

My boyfriend, who is the second biggest ASU fan next to his best friend.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

All Around the World: Iceland and Norway (and a little bit of London)

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.
Remember how I said while I was on vacation my roof leaked and blah, blah, blah? I want to focus on that vacation, my friends, a vacation in Iceland and Norway AKA "The Most Ooo-ey and Aah-ey Trip Ever."

We decided to take a cruise so we could hit up all of the spots we wanted to see in an easy way. We'd heard the two countries were vast and could require a lot of driving, so we found a 12 day Royal Caribbean cruise leaving out of Southampton, England. This was perfect because it gave us some time to spend in one of my favorite cities- London. One thing I always recommend is to fly in an extra day early before your cruise ship is supposed to leave in the event that you run into an airline/airplane issue. You don't want to get left behind in the airport terminal on the day your cruise is leaving due to a broken plane.

London. There is nothing I don't like about London. I won't go into too much about things to do/see in London, but I will say that because we didn't have a lot of time there, we took advantage of the original Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, which was well worth our time. Loved every minute and I would do it again in a heartbeat. That evening, we dined at a gluten free Italian restaurant, Cotto, that offered entirely gluten free options to everything on their menu. The owner came and sat with us for a while and we had a lovely talk with him about his life and how he came to make gluten free food (he suffers from Celiac). We shared a pasta with sausage and an incredible seafood risotto, which I highly recommend.

It's pretty easy to get to Southampton from London. All you need to do is hop a train for about 90 minutes (from the Waterloo station), and you're there. The cruise port is very close to the train station, however, I recommend taking a cab instead of walking only because the roads are uneven and it's not the easiest walking conditions with suitcases. The cab ride is worth the five pounds, trust me. My suitcase recommends this as well.

You have to be at sea for two days to get to Iceland, which meant plenty of boat time. Since that's a topic really all of it's own, and since the differences between two particular lines and how they do gluten free dining is different, that will be part two of this next week. For now, let's focus on the awesomeness that is known as Iceland.

Our first stop for the first two days was Reykjavik (pronounced ray-kuh-vick). On the first day we went to the world famous Blue Lagoon. After all of the stresses of moving, a dip in the hot blue waters was exactly what we needed. The rain broke long enough for us to enjoy the beauty, warmth, and magic that is the Blue Lagoon. The water is truly beautiful and it is worth your while to visit. It's quite a distance away, so you would either need to rent a car or book a local tour to get you there.

We had several hours to kill and I had a personal mission of finding a church I had dreamed of seeing in person, Hallgrimskirkja (pronounced - your guess is as good as mine. I never could get it right). We bought tickets for an elevator ride to the top which provided us with amazing city views from all directions. We attempted to stop for dinner, but ran out of time to actually stay and eat. While I don't normally recommend gluten free places without having dined there, I must say just based on the smells, amazing service, and cool atmosphere of the place, KOL Kitchen and Bar is a place to try. Many of their items are gluten free.

The next day we went on an eco tour, Ring of Fire, that circled around Hengill, an active volcano. We saw a geothermal plant powered by the volcano that produces energy and hot water for something like 90% of people there, a town called Hveragerdi and it's bubbling hot springs (where they bake their cakes, muffins, and bread right from the steam vents), and Thingveller, a UNESCO neovolcanic rift zone where you literally cross over from one continent to another.
A view from Thingvellir

While I very much enjoyed seeing the mighty power of Iceland on this tour, I must admit that it would have been better to rent a car and go out and about on a drive on my own. I say this because there were many places I would have liked to stop at along the way or stop at longer (like Thingvellar - that deserves a nice, long visit). Keep that in mind if you're there. The roads are well paved, small, and easy to navigate, so renting a car is perfect. One adorable thing I learned was about the animals of the land. Lambs and ewe's travel in packs of 3, usually with one ewe watching over the two lambs. Everywhere we went, three little sheep. Another interesting fact…they have earthquakes every single day in Iceland. And a lot of them! I believe they said it's normal to experience 30 a day. They must be small, because I don't recall feeling one, but nonetheless, wow!

The next day was spent in Akureyri (pronounced just like it looks, ack-you're-eh-ree), probably my favorite stop of all. We went on a tour called Jewels of the North and yes, these beautiful things we saw were true treasures. We looked at pseudo-craters at Skutustadir, the geothermal field at Dimmuborgir, the Godafoss "Waterfall of the Gods," Lake Myvatn, and some very smelly (albeit beautiful) sulphur pots. If there's anything I wish I had done differently, it would have been renting a car this day and driving this on my own. I could have stopped a million times at every beautiful thing we passed. The hotel/restaurant with views over Lake Myvatn made me the most delicious gluten free cheese sandwich I've ever had, and I don't even like cheese. But really, they were so accommodating and the bread was amazing. The great thing about the cruise port here is that the town is right by. There were some very cute little stores to shop at with some very large fake trolls, as this part of the world is full of legends of trolls, giants, and mystical magic.

After Iceland we were headed to the picture postcard perfectness of Norway- turquoise waters, green mountains, complete and utter breathtaking beauty. Our first stop was in Trondheim. We didn't have nearly enough time in Trondheim and because of that, plus just how beautiful Norway is, we'll be going back to Norway for a full blown Everything Norway trip one day. Norway reminds me of Switzerland in the sense that everything is so ridiculously beautiful it's hard to believe you haven't just stepped into a painting. Norway is gorgeous!

Trondheim reminded me of Venice, with this one giant canal and all the colorful buildings lining it. We did a quick Trondheim Sightseeing tour and visited the very beautiful Nidaros Cathedral before walking back to the ship. If you go straight past the church you can find a very popular bridge that leads you to a walking path through the city. It was gorgeous and it had a gluten free cafe, Annas Kafe, along the way with gluten free options of everything and amazing customer service.
The bridge to the walking path.

After our too short day in Trondheim, we went to Alesund (pronounced Ole-eh-son) and had a walking tour through town before venturing out on our own. Little towns that are close to the cruise ports allow you to do whatever you want and those are my personal favorite. There's nothing quite like having your own unplanned adventure.

One thing we ended up doing was getting on a Hop-On Hop-Off city tour to take us specifically to Mount Aksla for views of the city. Normally, you can walk a 400+ step path up to the mountain, but it was closed down for construction. The bus tour was great and had I known about it, I probably would have opted to do that instead of the walking tour. That being said, our tour guide was fantastic and oh-so kind. Not to mention, she showed us things we wouldn't have found on our own and took us right past a store with my new all time favorite thing ever, Christmas Gnomes. This was me all day, but with, well, gnomes.

"Ohhh, it's a gnome! A gnome, a gnome! Give me the gnome, give me the gnome, givemethegnome!"

Seriously, I have a slight-verging-on-very-serious addiction to what is actually referred to as Christmas Santa's or Tomten's. But for real, you guys, look how cute they are! I mean it, look! They're so stinking adorable! My heart is so happy right now.

So, uh, anyway…back to, uh, Norway, and stuff…
After Alesund we were headed to Olden, my all time favorite day of the trip. Olden is this tiny town in-between big, beautiful, glorious fjords. There were a lot of wonderful touring options that day but I must say I think ours was the best. Not only did we get to cruise on lake Loen, but once we got to Kjenndalen we got to eat waffles (they made me fresh gluten free waffles with the traditional strawberry jelly and sour cream, which is so good I am drooling right this second) and got see the very blue and very famous Briksdalen Glacier. I loved this day.

I would do this day over one hundred times. It was a rainy, cloudy, coldish day, but it was so beautiful I didn't feel it. Lake Loen has the most blue, calm, serene water I've ever seen. The mist and the mountains just make it that much more jaw dropping. The little waffle house in the middle of nowhere, gah! Too cute. And even though we saw the glacier from a distance, it's beauty did not escape me. Nor did all the stories of trolls and giants, as I walked the little path through the mountains to the glacier. I could feel the history, the legends, alive and well in those mountains.

Our last stop was in Stavanger (pronounced stah-vaughn-yah) where we had ample time to take a famous Lysefjord boat ride, walk the pebbled Old Town path, and explore the lively city. The boat trip was very nice, but I have to admit, Olden kind of ruined it for me. While the Lysefjord was quite impressive and beautiful, Olden was far more so. That being said, we did see goats, seals sun bathing, and drank water right from a waterfall, so that was quite fun.

Goats on the mountain

The Pulpit Rock
Seals sun bathing

The Old Town (only a few steps from the cruise port) was lovely, as was the little cafe situated within it's walking paths that had homemade raspberry ice cream that was so good I would punch someone for it right now. We did some good touristy shopping (I got more gnomes), but we were really surprised by how American the stores in the city were. We had all of them back home so it wasn't all that exciting. However, we walked to the edge of the boardwalk, took a right, and found an incredibly colorful, hippie like section of town that was awesome.

This was a trip that did not disappoint. If you ever have the chance to go to these two amazing places, go. Keep in mind the different seasons and the different things you get with them. For example, I would love to go back to Iceland in winter so I can go on a reindeer sled ride and experience the all encompassing white beauty of winter. Regardless of when you go, just go. The people are great, the food is good, the nature and history and beauty of the land is breathtaking.

Part Two coming next week: A cruise line comparison with gluten free food reviews.

You can find all of these pictures and more on my Society6 page!