Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blue Lagoon Television Debut


Our final day in Iceland was a trip to the Blue Lagoon. What is the Blue Lagoon you ask? It is a geothermal spa rich in minerals in a lava formed pool that has natural revitalizing qualities. Basically its an excuse to kick back, relax and enjoy a hot bath Iceland style.

Being a spa, we decide to go all out and each have a massage. You should know this wasn't any ordinary massage. We laid on a floating mat in the lagoon then were covered by a hot blanket soaked in the hot water for the massage. You'd think it would be freezing but it was nice and toasty. We'd recommend it to future travelers as a great end of a trip! And to make it even easier its on the way to the airport...

On arrival we could see the Today Show setting up for another live broadcast except this time the broadcast was in an hour or so. After making a few calls home to tell people to tune in we covered our faces in the blue lagoon mud and were right behind Al Roker during the broadcast. Unfortunately we weren't interviewed but we did make it on TV. I've been searching for a video online but I can't find one.

Now back to the lagoon. There are certain parts of the water that are almost scolding hot. Basically the water is pumped in from the nearby geothermal power plant straight from the Earth's core after its cooled down a bit. This makes for just the right temperature to soak in. The water is about 100F and the air temperature is about 32F. Needless to say there is a huge shock when you get out of the pool and run to your robe. Its so cold it actually stings and SHOCK might be a better description. At first you don't think much about it then your body wakes up and realizes...

Its actually quite amusing soaking in the pool watching others run around in shock as they get in and out of the pool trying to find their robes. I'm sure we gave the same enjoyment to others because its cold!

We couldn't have asked for a better way to end the trip in Iceland.

Blue Lagoon Photos

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Glacier Journey to the Top of the World

Oddly enough our hotel rented cars and with a open day and spur of the moment decision we took them up on the offer. After only 5 minutes, one small form to fill out we were driving out of the city to try and get a closer look at one of Iceland's glaciers. Renting a car doesn't get much easier than that.

We set our sites on the south coast and headed down the ring road, route 1. One good thing about Iceland is that almost everything of interest is off route 1 so its not hard to find what you are looking for, that is once you go in the right direction out of Reykjavik...

With so little day light this time of the year we were going to be cutting it close to make it to the Myrdalsjokull Glacier before dusk. It was a few hundred kilometers and there were other sites to see along the way.

Once you get outside of Reykjavik, the country side of Iceland really opens up. It is very easy to see how vast and sparsely populated it is. Miles would disappear with out seeing much of anything but natural country side. For lunch we didn't have much time to waste nor had any clue if we would find a better option so we stopped at one of the only easy places to grab some food, I bet you can guess - yep, KFC. For all of our traveling we just can't get away from good ol' Kentucky.

After a few small rustic villages we came across a waterfall. Not on the scale of Gullfoss but much more traditional waterfall. A big noisy falls set in a little cove shielded by its misty spray turning into a quiet peaceful stream just right for a fresh drink of crisp cold water.

For a while it was just Steph and I at the falls and it seemed like there was nobody else around for miles. We took some fun photos and walked up through the mist to get close to the falls. As we were leaving another car pulled up. They too were heading to the Glacier so we decide to caravan with them since they had a 4x4 and we weren't sure what the road to the Glacier would be like.

The road up the mountain seemed to wind forever, gradually getting more and more difficult for our small little car. I was a bit nervous but we were following our new friends so we pressed on. Finally we reached the top and it couldn't have come too soon as it quickly turned very icy. The glacier was still some ways off but there was a lodge type building that appeared to be a base camp for the snowmobile and off road jeep tours of the glacier. But there it was, glowing white from the reflected sunlight. Neato.

When we got out of the car we were hit by the huge gusts of COLD wind. It was a brisk reminder of exactly where we were but hey what can you expect being on top of the world!

A couple of side notes to pass along. The fresh air was such a treat. I'm not sure it gets much more natural than that anywhere. Also we accidentally lost our camera lens cloth getting out of the car. Thanks to a big gust of windy our little blue lens cloth is blowing around somewhere on top of the mountain...

At this point the sun was fading fast and not wanting to risk getting stuck on top of the mountain we headed back down. We drove a little ways where the snow started to clear and stopped for more pictures. This is where we had the best views of the trip. We could see for miles. The glacier in the background looking down to the coast. We set up the tripod, secured it a bit better this time to avoid the camera blowing off the mountain. Here's a good shot of us.

Back at sea level we pressed on further around the ring road which turned out to be a good decision because we found ourselves in this small village on the coast called, Vik at dusk. For some reason I had an urge to get down to the water front so we took a small little gravel road leading down to the water where we found a black sand beach. This was totally unexpected. However it was a little different than the last black sand beach in Hawaii. For starters we had the entire beach to ourselves. However this wasn't a place to layout and catch some sun but it was a great few minutes enjoying sights and sounds of the birds nesting on the steep cliffs behind us and the waves crashing down. Off in the distance were some incredible sea stacks Steph nicknamed the trolls.

I won't go into to much detail here but the Icelandic people have superstition about trolls. For instance when they build a new road they have a committee that has to explore the proposed route to make sure they will not be destroying any troll's homes. If they disturb the trolls bad things will happen.

By this time the sun had set and it was time to head back to Reykjavik. It was only 5 o'clock but what adventurous a day!

Here is a good map of Iceland that shows our route, from 1 to 8 on the map.

Glacier Journey Photos

Tomorrow is our TV debut, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Abroad Part Deux

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Our second Thanksgiving away from home makes us more thankful than ever. Family and Friends, our opportunity to be here, our health, our readers, our cats, and that the election is over...among other things...

So, what are you thankful for? Drop us a comment no matter how big or small...let us all know what you are thankful for on this good Thanksgiving day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Golden Circle

Geysers, hot springs, mountains, lava fields, glaciers, water falls, a continental rift valley, the first parliament and a hearty Icelandic lamb and vegetable soup. What more can one ask for in a days work..err travel?

This is the Golden Circle. A natural, fresh and rugged part of Iceland not far from Reykjavik that makes for a great day trip.

Up early, as became the trend in Iceland, we headed off in the snow towards the ├×ingvellir National Park (pronounced Thing-vel-ear) where the first Parliament was founded back in the 900s. It is also the home to the Mid Atlantic Ridge or what tectonically speaking separates North America and Europe. Iceland is the only place where you can see this on land and where you can actually walk through the rift. In most of our daily lives we have no clue that tectonic plates are real and continually moving but in Iceland, a world far from normal, it's normal. Walking through the rift was hard to comprehend but I have one question. If the rift is where the plates have separated, what am I walking on IN the rift?

Next we moved on to Gullfoss. What a name. It sounds so dangerous. Gullfoss is an impressive waterfall generated by the massive amounts of run off water from the nearby glacier that stair steps down into a massive valley then makes a huge left turn. We hiked up to the falls to get a better view point where you could really see how rugged and mean waterfall is, just like the name implies.

We can thank a young woman for Gullfoss being what it is today. The story goes that back when Iceland was making huge investments into hydro power the government had ear marked the valley that contained the falls for a dam and power plant. The young woman threatened to throw herself off the falls if it was not spared. Luckily it was spared and turned into a national park. On a side note, the wikipedia article disagrees with this story but we heard it from multiple Icelandic guides. Who knows...

A short hike from the falls was our scheduled lunch stop and on our way we had our first encounter on this trip with the Today show. They were setting up for a live broadcast from Gullfoss. We will see them again in a few days at the Blue Lagoon.

For lunch we helped ourselves to a hearty Icelandic lamb and vegetable soup. Cambell's Chunky soup can't compete. What a treat on a chilly snowy day. Homemade, hearty and GOOOOD!

The final notable stop was to visit the grandfather of all geysers, Geysir. The English word geyser is derived from Geysir in Iceland. Today Geysir is only rarely active after things such as earth quakes but his cousin Strokkur only a few feet away erupts every few minutes.

Interesting factoid, every week something like 7 tourists get burned by reaching out and trying to touch the water erupting from the geyser. It sounds stupid but its hard to resist even after knowing better. You just have a natural instinct to get as close as you can then touch the water. Even expecting the eruptions to happen every few minutes they are always so unexpected bringing a happy grin to your face. I was able to get a few good action shots of the exploding out of the ground. Such raw energy, I like it!

Golden Circle Photos

Tomorrow we go on a glacier hunt...

Hunt for the Northern Lights

Winter (roughly October through February) is supposed to be the best time to find the Northern Lights. I can't tell you easily what exactly they are (see Auroa in wikipedia) but I can say I was a skeptic. All those fascinating pictures of green cloud-looking streaks filling the sky...I was sure someone had worked their magic in photoshop. So I was anxious to be proven wrong.

We set out from Reykjavik on a large bus, filled to the brim with people. Apparently, the tour had been canceled for the past 5 nights. As our guide from Cape Cod, of all places, will tell you, the conditions have to be right to find them and there are no guarantees in the Northern lights business. First, it has to be a clear night, no clouds and preferably not a full moon. Then the atmospheric ring of particles need to be circulating in the area. To find this out you need to check your local northern light forecast much like a weather forecast. And finally you need to be away from light pollution, which in Iceland isn't a problem due to all the vast wilderness. So, we set out on a near cloudless sky, a full moon and a low forecast given for the lights.

On the way we were able to see Yoko Ono's Peace Tower dedication to John Lennon. Here's our photo.

We went to a large national park where it was truly pitch black except for the glowing moonlight reflecting off the snow. We stood there for ages all staring in to the sky waiting for something to appear. It was B-I-T-T-E-R-L-Y cold. Josh and I had to take turns going back on the bus to warm up. While we were waiting we did see a meteor fall - it was like a white firework falling from the sky - quite cool! I saw a second one while I was talking to Josh...it happened behind him.

Then in the distance, low on the horizon, we started to see a faint green glow...and then the glow got a little more vibrant. It was the Northern Lights! We did manage a couple pictures but they aren't very good. The glow only stayed around for a few minutes and we were doing 30 second exposures, hence very few pictures. But, we did see them - I was proven wrong - there is truly something that goes across the sky like green clouds that look like they are straight from a modern sci-fi movie.

Now a bit more on the lights. Apparently, you can only really see them from around 9pm to about midnight. At this point we had waited and waited and it was after midnight. The clouds moved in and we started to head back to town.

However on the ride back the tour guide pulled the bus over on the side of a rural highway saying he saw them. Sure enough, way above us, straight up in the sky we saw vast light green haze. They were quite faint but you could see the extent of them streaking across the whole sky. They were there-and-gone quickly again, but we could get an idea how neat they could be.

All in all, it was a slightly disappointing evening. The tour guide called the night a 1.5 out of 10 as far as viewings go. Not good at all, but hey, we were lucky enough to see them. The northern light tours were canceled for the following two nights during our stay so I feel rather fortunate that at the tour even operated that one evening while we were there and that we did get a glimpse of the mysterious northern lights!

On a side note, the next morning my cheeks had a slight purple hue and were radiating heat - I had wind burn! Yikes. But I DID see the Northern Lights!

Welcome to Iceland!



And what a welcome it was! We jumped off the plane and followed the masses in to the duty free store. Things are so expensive (yes, still, even after their currency has taken a dive) that everyone fills their bags with food, drinks and other goodies from the duty free in the airport to avoid the almost 23% tax rate. Loaded down with luggage and duty free, we caught the 45 minute bus to Reykjavik. We arrived at our hotel around 2:00am and promptly went to bed so we could catch some z's before our 8:30am tour began.

The Reykjavik city tour was nice, nothing terribly exciting, but out tour guide's commentary was worth it. He pointed out all the huge new apartment buildings being built and noted he had no idea when they would now be finished given their economic woes. We drove through the financial district seeing all the banks that have been making the headlines. You can tell the Icelandic people are hard-working and live a high standard of living, but their commentary on the current times is rather pessimistic and uncertain. Josh and I decided that if they can't recover their financial services status, at least they have a goldmine in tourism - Iceland is a stunning, rugged and fresh country, well worth a visit.

Tourism also brought about a disagreement between Josh and myself. I was loving the icy harsh conditions and Josh was saying he would prefer to be there in the summer. I do agree summer would be fantastic and would allow for some superb camping opportunities and the midnight sun, but winter gives you the rare chance to catch the Northern Lights which I think is the ultimate winning factor for me. Josh kept arguing that you could see Northern Lights in several places in the world and it wasn't worth the trade off for the short winter days, it was barely 6 hours in November, Hmm. We never settled this disagreement, so we will let you all decide. (You might want to read ALL the Iceland posts before you decide).

Additionally on tourism and their economy - there is no tipping. Strange but true - and probably the first place we have ever been where the waiters have no expectation of tips. Admittedly, we did leave a couple tips here and there as it felt strange to just walk away. We heard the service is included in prices...but still...

After our city tour, we toured the rest of Reykjavik on foot - its a small town so this should have been easily accomplished although the freezing, windy weather made it a bit challenging. The picture you see above took considerable effort in trying to set up the tripod with near-numb fingers and it almost cost us our camera. While we were smiling for one of the pictures a gust of wind grabbed the camera and tripod and it fell straight over to the ground. Our faces must of been of pure horror as it happened (no, the camera didn't capture those looks, it should be smarter than that) but fortunately, no harm was done - just a couple small scratches on the corner of the camera body. After that, we headed back to the hotel. The cold wind was so strong that it was going right through our wool coats. We decided we'd seen enough and gotten numb enough so we'd just wait out the rest of the day in the hotel until our Northern Lights tour that evening.

Reykjavik Photos

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Today Show

Just a quick up date from Iceland. We did see the northern lights but the clouds ruined the evening.

Everybody keep an eye on the NBC Today show, possibly tomorrow (Monday morning). We have a feeling there is going to be a live broadcast from the Gulfoss falls in Iceland... Which is where we were today and was FANTASTIC! Yet again the today show is following in our footsteps, remember our zorbing adventure...

More to come...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Brrr...Iceland

It. Is. Cold.

The wind is blowing and it is chill-lee. We were just down by the harbor trying to take pictures but gave up after our camera was blown over on the tripod and our fingers and faces were going numb. Gees!

Its November in Iceland and the days are short. Sunrise around 10am and sun set before 5pm.

Tonight we are off to try and catch the Northern lights. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fireworks and a new President

So the fire works aren't for the new president but instead part of a celebration around a failed attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605 known as Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire night. To make a long story short Guy Fawkes was caught guarding quite a few barrels of gun powder in the tunnels under Parliament in a failed attempt to overthrow the king. As the saying goes, "Remember Remember the 5th of November".

Basically everyone around the UK celebrates by shooting off fireworks and outside the city lights, they celebrate with big bonfires. Why the celebration? Here is a quick read why but its not as you'd think from the setup. They didn't burn Guy Fawkes as you might of suspected although he was hanged, drawn and quartered which might, in fact, be worse. In any event it makes for a good excuse to light some fireworks and get outside on a chilly November evening. The photo was taken at Clapham Common and I uploaded a few more here.

Now a few things before I go.

All of our recent visitors are back state side but we are back at it next weekend. This time in rugged Iceland. Keep your fingers crossed we can catch the northern lights.

Last but not least. Here's to all who voted. Whether you are an Obama fan or not, I can tell you that there is a lot of enthusiasm from here and other countries around the world for the future of the US. Hopefully this can help us turn the corner and get a handle on the current issues we are facing. As one paper put it, "the America we love is back". So as of Tuesday its a bit easier to be an American abroad than it was on Monday.