Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Home, Sweet, Home

Watching the sunrise this morning. Will take a while for the body clock to adjust. The flight home was very comfortable. We got bumped up to first class seats because they overbooked "economy comfort". We didn't get the nice silverware and champagne but we did get the cushy seats. Watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, some of which was filmed in Iceland. Had to smile when we saw the scenes of the pipe-lined road that we had just traveled.

Landed right on time, breezed through passport and customs, picked up our bags in record time only to wait for the car service. Called them up as we we exited the terminal and the guy said "You're out already!! Nobody gets out of customs that fast." Dan finally arrived about 30 minutes later and we were treated to a very comfortable ride home.

Pulled up to a hay field in the front yard. Everything is well overgrown especially the weeds! The irises bloomed while Deidre was here but there are still some around that we can enjoy. Total re-entry now. Laundry, mowing, groceries, filling hot tub, etc.

So that's it. We are back and I really can't wrap my head around all the stuff we did and saw. What a great trip. Didn't really expect too much. All the lodgings were just perfect including the barge. Except for a few bumps and bruises, we managed to stay healthy and upright (always a plus).

Thank you all for those who commented and emailed us throughout our travels. It is always so nice to hear from folks when we are far off for so long. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We're Going Home

Up bright and early so that we could have breakfast at the airport lounge. A bit drizzly but not too bad. Said our goodbyes to Halla's great little apartment which served us very well. My friend, the orange cat down the street, came by to say farewell also. 

What a pleasure having the car to go to the airport this morning. No schlepping the baggage to buses and trains. Dropped the car off in the designated lot, checked in and we are now sitting in the Icelandair Lounge. I have to say this lounge is a bit of a disappointment compared to the others on this trip. The breakfast is minimal, much to our dismay. Lots of pastry and meats. Geoff went out to buy some yogurt. Also came back with a wonderful gift for me - Blue Lagoon Body Lotion. I have had my eye on that stuff all week. He used the last of the Kronur, Euros, and maybe even threw in some British Sterling!

At least it is quiet and calm in here and they have wifi. Got some great emails this morning - little grandbaby Talia is now walking. Deidre had a nice stay at our house at the beach. The other grandkids, Mia and Evan, are enjoying their postcards from our journeys. BTW, they are the only ones we send postcards to (with one exception and you know who you are) - so don't feel left out - it just gets to be too much to do it for everyone. Figure it is a good learning tool for the kids. Also heard from our Iceland hostess, Halla. We were her first Airbnb guests - we gave her a few pointers and things to add to the apartment. But, overall, it is really a great spot and very private, and Halla and Bjorn could not have been more helpful.

So we say goodbye to Iceland. It was great. Renting the car was the best idea and you don't even have to drive in the dark. You just go until you are exhausted!! Just like Alaska. 

Almost boarding time.

Next time...Home, Sweet, Home

Monday, June 9, 2014

Relaxing at Last....Aaaahhhhhh

One thing I forgot to mention about yesterday. We finally stopped into the neighborhood church with Leif standing out front. Found out it is a Luthern church. Pretty simple inside compared to what we have recently experienced in Europe. The big running joke is that the church bells are never on time. We noticed it immediately and then we found out it's a thing. Apparently everyone knows that the church tower clock is never correct. Next to the church is a sculpture museum. The gate was open, so we took the liberty of walking through on our way home.

Moving on to today... Our sunshine has run out and it was cloudy and misty
all day with a few showers here and there. The Fontana Spa does not open until 11am so we had a pretty leisurely morning. Planning our route, we chose an off highway road that takes us up through some passages and to another geo-thermal power plant. We were driving for a while when we realized something was wrong. Just so happens we were coming up to the only coffee place on the road for miles. Stopped in to get directions. Sure enough, we missed the turn off. Fortunately, we weren't too far out of our way. The road was great and although it was cloudy, the scenery was awesome. Since we were headed to the power plant, we were following this giant pipeline all the way up. Absolutely no traffic. Saw one couple from Hawaii (who were headed to a Dartmouth reunion in NH) at one of the over looks and that was about it. Not a bus in sights.

Got to the spa at around 11:30. We had signed up for this rye bread demonstration at 2:30, They bake the bread in the earth which is cooked  by the geo-thermal hot spot underneath. It takes 24 hours to cook. Since we had plenty of time before the demo, and it wasn't raining yet, we opted to take a hike in the hills and loop around back to the spa. Checked in and headed for the locker rooms.

This spa is very low key. There are about 4 different pools with different temperatures and one naturally heated and no chemicals. There are several steam rooms that sit on top of the bubbling cauldron producing the steam. There is also a dry sauna. The facility sits on a huge lake with access for swimming if you dare. Not many people here at all. A few  locals and one other group of tourists.. We were trying out the various pools and rooms when Geoff heard something about the L Street Brownies. This is a group
in Boston that go swimming in Boston Harbor on New Years Day. So here we are in Iceland and run into 2 couples from Massachusetts. One couple has retired to Martha's Vineyard and the other one now lives in London. Lots to talk about. The man who now lives in  London actually did legal work in the original dispute for the Channel 5 license from WHDH. What are the odds?? Plus the Martha's Vineyard folks know the great woman who owns the Duck Inn that took us in all those years ago when we needed a dry place to sleep. Next time we are on the Vineyard we are definitely going to look them up. 

Our new friends came back from dipping their toes in the lake so we had to have a go at it as well. Really no colder than back home. The temperature is layered. It is very warm at the top and extremely cold on the bottom. Speaking of the bottom, it is covered with lava stones, so walking in was a challenge. Got about knee deep and walked out. Got a bit too close to the bubbly part and it was extremely shallow. I felt my ankles stinging from the heat. Quick rinse to wash of the black sand and it was back in the pools. The rain finally came and it was wonderful sitting in the hot baths in the cool rain. Did all the soaking and steaming we could - showered up and went to the cafe for lunch.

After lunch we all gathered for our rye bread experience. Trotted down to the edge of the lake following the gal with the shovel. A couple of shovel fulls and she dug up a round bucket. Replaced it with another bucket for tomorrow's bread. Back in the cafe we all sat around eating the bread which happened to be very tasty. There
was a lot of talk about what holiday today was for Iceland.  Our bread lady said it was the Pentecost. This made Scott go deep into his iPhone to figure out just what that meant. After a huge discussion on the subject, we all agreed we really didn't care that much. Said warm good-byes and parted ways.

Took yet anther route home which merged into the road we used this morning. The skies were clearer and we found an observation deck overlooking the power plant. More photos. We are now driving back to Reykjavik in the rain. Sure hope it stops before dinner. Think we are going to try the soup place that is not too far from us and not in the throes of the shopping mecca.

We had a great last day off the beaten track. So glad we took the road less traveled option. Don't think we would have had a private steam and sauna at the Blue Lagoon. Nor would we have met such a nice group of very interesting people who also appreciate the road less traveled. The absolute best thing to do on a rainy last day in Iceland.

Home now and the 6:00 church bells are ringing. Of course, it is 6:10 but who cares! Bags are all packed for the long trek home.

Had a last trip meal of cauliflower soup in a bread bowl and some pretty powerful Icelandic Lava Beer, which was practically a meal in itself. Sat for a while and watched the tourists and the rain come down. On the walk home took just a few more parting shots of a very cool little town.

Turning down for the night. Early start to another long day ahead.

Next time... We're Going Home

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nature's Power

Received an inquiry "what is a cairn". Definition is: a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline. We have done this in several places, most notably New Zealand.

Did not get the early start I had intended. Things were moving pretty slow this morning.. Woke up pretty stiff. I thought that by getting a car we wouldn't be walking as much. Not so. Yesterday we hiked at every stop.

A hot shower helped the old bones. All the hot water here is heated geo-thermally. So there is a bit of a scent - not too bad. Packed up the car and we were on our way to the geo-thermal power plant. This is the biggest in the country and about 1/2 hour from Reykjavik. Signed up for the tour and learned all about geo-thermal power and the creation of Iceland. The technology is amazing. After the tour of the plant, we drove up the volcano to take in the views of this structure.

Heading southeast on Rt. 1 to Seljalandsfoss. The highest waterfall in Iceland at 200ft high. It sits practically right on the road. Pulled into the parking lot - no buses - always a good sign. Not too many people milling about. Somehow we managed to get there in between the tour buses.After lunch, it wsa time to take a stab at walking up and behind the falls. Sat and fixed up our lunch and watched the falls. I was not terribly impressed at first, having seen several waterfalls. However, the closer I got, the more impressed I became. It was huge. There was a stairway going up at both ends that take you to the back side of the waterfall. Here we were walking through the mist again. This time I donned a rain jacket. A really incredible experience. Loved it and well worth the drive out. We came out of the falls into the sunshine. When you get to the other side, there is a path that leads to a few more falls but not much compares to this baby. The glacial water coming down was crystal clear.

What next? Thought we would go rogue and get off the tour bus grid for a while. They were pulling into the parking lot as we were leaving. Took a road that led down to the coast. Parked at the ferry lot. Took one look at the ocean and our jaws dropped. Nothing but beautiful fine black sand, followed higher up by lava rocks and boulders. Walked on the beach for a bit and then it was back on the road.

Meandered through fields of wild flowers and  farm land - lots and lots of Iceland ponies - and eventually got back on the highway headed towards Rekjavik.  Made a quick pass through a park just outside the city. It wasn't much but had some nice lava formations. We got into the city and drove down to the harbor to walk around before going back to the apartment.

Back at the shack and we decided to eat the herring (which we never did
have for breakfast) for appetizers. Ate too much so we skipped dinner tonight. We just walked around town. Took some parting shots of Reykjavik. Checked out places for dinner for our last meal tomorrow night in Iceland. Nothing fancy that's for sure.

The plan has changed for tomorrow. Originally it was all about going to the Blue Lagoon - which absolutely every tourist goes to - they take them directly from the airport - wash them clean of all their money and then send them back again. As with everything, there is a mixed bag of reviews for this venue. However, we are never really up for the big tourist traps and the few times we did bite, we were sorely disappointed. As you can image, a day at this spa does not come cheap. I did some research on another big geo-thermal spa that we passed yesterday, Quite honestly it got great reviews at half the cost and far less tourists. I am really looking forward to a spa day. For now it's lights out or at least shades down.

Next time.... Relaxing at last

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Exploring Iceland

Woke up to another beautiful sunshiny day. Of course, the sky was pretty much bright all night. Headed out to pick up the car. The streets were very quiet at 8:30. We quessed everyone goes to bed pretty late - no sense getting up early when you have sunshine all day long. Turns out the car rental was in a hotel. Of course nothing is ever easy. To make a long story short, we are now riding in a very lovely small car equipped with a free GPS and free airport drop-off. All this because the guy was late and they didn't have the car we reserved. Wanted a diesel and wound up with gas. But we are enjoying the GPS and got a refund on our return bus ticket back to the airport on Tuesday. All is good,

Finally, got the car and dropped by the apt to pack up for our day trip. GPS got us out of town and we were headed for the famous Golden Circle. On the way we stopped to build our cairn at a very popular site - not sure of the name. Moving on, the first stop of the circle is Þingvallavatn National Park.
Þingvallavatn is a rift valley lake in southwestern Iceland. With a surface of 84 km it is the largest natural lake in Iceland. Its greatest depth is at 114 m. At the northern shore of the lake, at Þingvellir (after which the lake is named), the Alþingi, the national parliament, was founded in the year 930. 
The lake lies partially within Þingvellir National Park. The volcanic origin of the islands in the lake is clearly visible. The cracks and faults around it, of which the famous Almannagjá canyon is the largest, is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. 
They also have the most scenic bathroom I have ever been in. The views were absolutely breathtaking. In fact we haven't stopped  oohing and aahing since we drove out of the city.

Our next stop was Geysir.  It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The English word geyser derives from Geysir.  Stopped to see the floor show and take lots of pix.

Gullfloss is the last of the major attractions of the circle and by far the best. Being fortunate enough to view the falls on a sunny day, we were treated to some fabulous rainbows. What a terrific feeling walking through the huge mist.We are now on the lower road home completing the circle back to Reykjavik. 

Arrived back at around 7:30. Parked the car and walked up the street to Cafe Loki. We had seen this little place on a video we had gotten about Iceland before we left. It is small and features Icelandic foods. We didn't do anything too daring - just a herring sampler and a veggie platter. The couple next to us tried the shark's head. Didn't go over too well. Icelanders also eat Minke Whale and Puffin. Not even going there. We had hoped to stop in the big church across the street after dinner, but they just closed the doors as soon as we left the restaurant. Oh well, maybe tomorrow. 

We liked the herring so much, we went down to the market and picked some up for breakfast. We are planning on taking the southern route tomorrow and stopping by a geothermal power plant along the way. Weather is still promising to be good.

Cannot express enough how amazing this country is - we were totally not prepared for the beauty that we saw today. Drawing the shades -- sweet dreams.

Next time...Nature's power

Friday, June 6, 2014

Going to Iceland

Appears that we are leaving London just in time. Tomorrow they are expecting a rain storm with heavy thunder and lightning all day. This morning, however, could not have been nicer - warm and sunny. Packed our bags and put the apartment back the way we found it. Walked to the train station and we were on the way to Heathrow. Two trains and the ride took approx. one hour. Not crowded.

Checked into Icelandair and we are now resting comfortably in the lounge. Just finished breakfast and they are gearing up for lunch. Our flight doesn't leave for a couple of more hours, so we probably will squeeze in another snack before boarding. Really like the lounge thing.

Very comfortable flight to Iceland. Watched Frozen on our computer to help get us in the mood for cold. Landed in Reykajvik and it was warm, bright and sunny. Total surprise! Boarded the Flybus to the bus terminal in the city and then walked maybe a 1/2 mile to the apartment, which is wonderful! Another surprise. It is clean and bright and spacious.  We are the very first guests so Hilla went on a shopping spree and came back with soap, shampoo, and maps - most important.

After we got settled, it was time to venture out. Everything is down the hill.
Yes we are at the top of a giant hill with the Church and this tribute to Leif Erickson, which was donated by the US. Walked into town to go to the tourist center. Looking at restaurant menus as we went. It is extremely expensive here. I mean very expensive. Found tourist information and the girl behind the counter was pretty much useless. However, we did meet a very nice young man from Seattle who had lots of information. After hanging out with him for a while, we decided we are better off renting a car and taking things into our own hands than going the guided bus route. 

We split up from Aaron, although we might see him on the road. He was going to hitchhike. We were in search of a place for dinner, when we came across a car rental sign. Popped in and rented a car for three days which was way cheaper than bus tours. Back on the streets looking for cheap eats. Finally wound up at a real local pub - cheapest meal we could find. A couple of veggie burgers and some fries - still close around $30.  Next stop was the grocery to stock up for mornings and lunch. Muesli for morning and since we'll have the car, we can make some pbj's and fruit for lunches and throw in some cookies and we are all set. 

Not posting pictures tonight. Didn't take too many. Look who Geoff met at the pub.

By the way, we did find a Lincoln in London but it wasn't dear ol' Abe. It is close to 10 and it is still very light outside. Hope the curtains work well. Can't wait pick up the car tomorrow morning and set out. This town is filled to the brim with tourists and locals. This is the first day of sun they have seen in a long time. It is supposed to be good through the weekend. Let's hope.

Next time... Exploring Iceland

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Last Tango in London

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, found my way downstairs and had a cup...... Yup, you guessed it. Bright sunshine this morning. We were up and out early and at the famous "Zebra Crossing" acting like ridiculous tourists. Got to sneak into the parking lot of Abbey Road Studios with a tour group. Signed the wall. However, we both agreed that they probably paint it over every so often. All the dates we saw were from 2014.

From Abbey Road we jumped on the tube and exited at Baker St. Walked down to 221b and entered the home of Sherlock Holmes. Yet another hokey tourist thing. But lots of fun, cheap, and we beat the crowds. 

After a short tour of the house, we headed down Baker St. to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Grabbed a Barclay bike at a cycle station and pedaled around the park for a while. Stopped off at the Diana Memorial Fountain. Docked the bikes and we were back on foot. Walked a bit through Kensington and wound up in from of the Albert Memorial which is outrageous. It sits directly across from Albert Hall, another site to behold.

Taking Exhibition St., we ended up on museum row. First the Science Museum - quick walk through and we were on to the Natural History Museum. Nice exhibit on the earth. Across the street we investigated Victory and Albert Museum - collections of statues, fashion, jewelry and of course, furniture. In and out and it was time for lunch.

Popped into a pub for our last serving of fish and chips and a pint for me. Back on the street, we made our way to Brompton St. This strip is quite the shopping mecca. Found ourselves in front of Harrods and did walk through. Saw nothing but handbags and makeup.

This street runs parallel to Hyde Park, so we decided to get back into the park where it was safer than walking with all these tourists and traffic. We were hoping to pick up some bikes, but they were all gone. Walked through the rose gardens and came out at Hyde Corner to the Wellington Arch. The time was getting late and we still have one more venue to cover. Back in the tube back to Tower Hill.

Back at Tower Hill we walked down to the bridge for the Tower Hill Bridge Exhibition. Got to use our 2 four 1 with our travelcard. Watched the bridge going up right before we entered the exhibit. This is a self guided tour with some videos along the way. You go up to the walkways for some great views and history. Walking both sides you learn about the bridge and other bridges around the world. And then, I am not sure why, but there is a 60's exhibit. What is up with these 60's exhibits??? All my life I have tried to forget Twiggy existed and here she is again and again! Anyway, after you
go up, you go down to the engine room. This is also quite remarkable to see. We were let out from the engine room on Shad Thames St. We had not been this way before, so we took a short stroll down this historic street before we called it a day.

A short walk back and we rested for a bit. Showered up and headed out to dinner. Had a lovely meal sitting by the Thames and the Tower Bridge. Talked about taking another walk but we decided we had had enough for one day. 

It just so happens that the 70th anniversary of D-Day is tomorrow and this town has prepared a whole weekend of activities. It is definitely time to say good-bye. We have had a great time in London. Enjoyed our apartment immensely, saw friends, made good use of our Travelcard, and even got to the London theater. Now looking forward to Iceland. One more country to go! 

Next time...Going to Iceland