Monday, March 07, 2011

No Sleep Till...

There's really something about Brooklyn. No matter how long I'm away, when I come back here, it's like I never left. It revives me. It's like the opposite of Kryptonite. It's like the Yellow Sun to Superman.

I walk around this place, no matter what neighborhood, it's all Brooklyn. The attitude. The pride. I can ask for an everything bagel with coffee (milk, one sugar - and they know what I'm talking about when I say that) and it comes out perfect. Pizza and garlic knots for lunch (carb-a-licious)? Uh, yeah!

I mean, seriously. How awesome is this?

I need to come here from time to time, just to recharge my batteries. To see my family. To see my friends. To see where I grew up (even though my house isn't there anymore). To eat the pizza of my youth. And real bagels. And have a "regular" coffee.
I love it here.

And then I'm ready to go home to my love and my puppy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 7 - Rest and Recovery... Reykjavik in the Rain

Originally we had planned to go to Þorsmork (Thor's Woodlands) on Friday, but after the 14 Hour Bus Tour, which ended after midnight, we decided that it would have been too much to do another 10 hour tour. So we decided to sleep in a bit, hit a few places in downtown Reykjavik that were closed earlier in the week, and have a nice dinner.

We lunched on hot dogs and sleazy burgers, and they were goooood. I've already waxed poetic on the awesomeness of the hot dog. We decided to go to the "sleazy" burger joint that Ari had mentioned. I'll tell you this, this place makes a great, simple burger. You will not find as rare a burger as we ate as we did at this place by the harbor. Ahhh... rare burger...

We just wandered around after lunch, visiting an artist workshop called Niu Heimar or "Nine Worlds." Turg felt an affinity to this place as he has a representation of the Niu Heimar tattooed on his shoulder. We chatted with the owner and artist in residence, Ari. He is incredibly talented, all his work beautiful and unique. First, Turg bought a necklace with representations of Odin's two ravens. Then, he mentioned that he was planning to get a tattoo at Reykjavik Ink, and that there were specific runes he wanted in this tattoo. Turg then asked Ari if he would design something for him... and he agreed. He needed some time to get inspired.

Ari and Turg

We left Ari, wandered around the city, did some gift shopping and went to dinner, because it started to pour. We went our for steak, since we were starting to get tired of lamb...

Turg at the steakhouse... see the bull in the background?

The steak was good, but not fantastic. But during dinner, Turg got an email from Ari saying that he had designs ready for him. Excitedly, we finished dinner and rushed back to the gallery. The designs did not disappoint - they were exactly what Turg was hoping for, and more. And Ari specifically said to make sure the tattoo parlor understood that these designs were for Turg only... they were not to be used for anyone else. Needless to say, Turg was quite honored.

Bindrune and Runestaves from Ari

Thanking Ari, we left for Turg's tattoo appointment at Reykjavik ink... when we arrived, well, Houston, we have a problem... and that problem was sunburn. The tattoo artist basically told him that if he got the tattoo with the sunburn, when it healed, well, it would not look very good. And he would not do a tattoo if he did not believe it would come out good. Given that Turg got this amazing, original design for his tattoo, he decided that he did not want to risk it. So... sadly, we left without the tattoo.

But the day was not lost. We got gifts, and we got an original design for Turg's next tattoo, which he will likely get in the States. Back to the hotel to rest up for our last full day in Iceland...

Next up... Whales and Puffins, part II

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 6 - 7 Interlude - Sunrise/Sunset

This photo does not really belong on Day 6 or 7, so I think it deserves it's own post... This was the sunset from our hotel room after we got back from our 14 Hour Tour. This sunset was a little after midnight... the sky didn't get dark at all. We were up for a little while after this, and we noticed that the sun began it's journey back up around 1am.

Iceland Adventures, Day 6 - 14 hours on a bus, but so worth it

After a day of rest and relaxation, it was a good opportunity to go out to the eastern part of the country via the south coast. Iceland has one main road that pretty much follows the circumference of the entire country - you can take this road pretty much anywhere, unless parts of it have been washed out by, oh, I don't know, flood or lava flow. But they rebuild sections of the road that have been wiped out very quickly, so no one is cut off for very long.

Our first stop was a rest stop, about an hour or so outside of Reykjavik. This was going to be a long day, so they wanted to give us as many opportunities to pee and eat as possible. Joseph and I picked up some snacks, including a very curious package of bacon flavored crackers. That's right. Crackers. That are bacon flavored. Which were next to packs of paprika flavored crackers... those crazy Europeans.

Bacon flavored crackers... from LU, the tea biscuit people. The crackers were actually pretty tasty - they just needed a piece of cheese to round them out.

Our first actual tour stop was Skogarfoss falls. These falls are about 80m tall, and are very beautiful. They don't have the power of Gullfoss, but an elegant quieter beauty.


The sun came out just long enough for a mist rainbow to appear

Our touristy photo... or proof that we we didn't just get these pictures of Wikipedia

We had a photo stop at the side of the road to look at the glacier Myrdalsjökull, which is the larger glacier directly east of Eyafjallajökull (perhaps you heard of that one). You can see the glacier creeping down from the mountains at the horizon of the photo. On the ground in front are stacks of rocks. People stack the rocks to give them luck for safe travels.

Myrdalsjökull creeping downward

Back on the bus. We took a quick lunch break at a hotel in the middle of no-where, and were back on the bus quickly for another hour to Jöjulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. In this lagoon, icebergs break off the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, and slowly travel their way down the river into the ocean. The lagoon was jammed packed with icebergs... unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate that much, so the it's a bit grey out.

Here we are!

It's the Snoopy Glacier!

While were were out in the middle of the lagoon, something happens that is not witnessed often - an iceberg flipped over. The lagoon is part sea water, since it's connected to the ocean through the river. This sometimes causes the underside of the iceberg to melt faster than the exposed side, causing a weight shift and flip. Our tour guide had never even seen this happen before. But while she was talking, all of a sudden people were pointing behind her and WHOOOOSH!!!. I wish I got it on video. It was really awesome, and the sound was immense!

The icebergs have been on their travels for hundreds of years... so this ice I'm holding is hundreds of years old... and I ate it! Don't worry, the tour guide gave us all a piece.

The view from the hilltop.

After the lagoon, we drove to the town of Vík, which is the southern-most town in Iceland. This town is very quaint, and has these beautiful black lava sand beaches right on the Atlantic. We stopped for dinner and a walk down to the beach.

The black sand beach, cliff and rock outcropping called "The Three Trolls"

Our final stop was to see Seljalandsfoss waterfall, at the foot of Eyafjallajökull, and near the Þorsmork Valley. This waterfall is beautiful, and you can walk behind it after a short climb...

Waterfall from the front...

and the back...

Back on the bus and back to Reykjavik. We had a couple more short rest stops, and some photo op stops, just to take in the beauty. On the entire ride, our guide told us all sorts of stories about Icelanders, elves, hidden people, etc. It was really cool, and some of the stories he told were really great... mostly because many Icelanders do believe in elves and hidden people and magic. This is a magical country - and everything we saw during our 14 hour tour made me believe it even more.

Next up - Rest and Regroup in Reyk

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 5 - Renewal Day at the Blue Lagoon... aka the WORST SUNBURN EVER!

After days of being pretty much everywhere, we needed a day of relaxation and pampering. Knowing this, we scheduled a visit to the Blue Lagoon for the mid-point of our trip. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa where the water has "healing properties." The silt has is silica based and is great for the skin (not so much for the hair), the algae is detoxifying, the perfectly heated water... blah blah blah... whatever, I don't care how it works so long as it's relaxing.

It's really hard to capture the beautiful opalescent color of the water.

Turg and I arrived a little after 10am, and immediately changed and went for a dip. The water is really wonderful. There is something to being in a hot spring on a 60 degree day... you go in, warm up, come out, cool down, repeat...

Ahhh... so relaxing...

For Turg too...

After our morning dip, we robed up and went to the Lava Restaurant for a buffet lunch. The buffet was traditional Icelandic cuisine - meat (lamb) soup, different fishes, whale, etc... and it was really quite good. There really is something luxurious about sitting in a fancy restaurant, in a bath robe, at the spa.

Enjoying my whale sashimi... that's right, I said whale SASHIMI

After lunch, it was back in the lagoon. I partook of the silt to become a "mud person," refreshingly exfoliating my face -

Aren't I attractive?

Turg very much enjoyed the waterfall, which is used to massage your neck and back-

Looks relaxed already, doesn't he?

We also got ourselves some massages in the lagoon (pampering at it's best), where we floated on these mats on the water while beautifully tanned men and women massaged us into relaxation... A massage that I can say was very unique and absolutely enjoyable.

There was one unfortunate part of the day. See, the weather was quite perfect out - clear skies and sun, and about 60 degrees. Why is this unfortunate? Not because it ruined the day at all... quite the contrary. We stayed outside nearly the entire time. The problem was, since the air temperature was quite cool, we were both getting really sunburnt and didn't realize it until it was FAR too late. And I mean SUNBURNT. Probably some of the worst sunburn that either of us has experienced, perhaps ever... Go figger, we come to Iceland and get sunburned.

After we returned to Reykjavik, we went out for a nice relaxing dinner at Icelandic Fish and Chips, followed by a walk back to the hotel. The sun was still out and strong, so the walk was really lovely. We stopped to take a photo of the viking ship on the coast...

Just to give you an idea of how much light there is, it's about 10pm in this photo.

Dispite the sunburn, it was a wonderful day. Next up on our adventure - the 14 hour bus tour

CawfeeGuy - This post is for you

Dear CawfeeGuy,

We were wandering the streets of Reykjavik when we passed this T-shirt in a shop window. We immediately thought of you... I hope you enjoy.

Why, right here of course!!

N'il and Turg

Iceland, Day 4 - The Golden Circle... Indescribable Beauty

We spent day 4 (Tuesday) of our Iceland Honeymoon doing "the most popular tour in Iceland," The Golden Circle Tour. This tour hits all of the hotspots around the Reykjavik area, and gives just a small taste of the wonders that are Iceland.

The tour started with a trip to the (currently) largest geothermal power plant on Iceland - Hellisheidi. This plant provides the power and hot water for much of eastern Iceland, particularly Reykjavik. Iceland is powered solely by geothermal or hydroelectric power, which is amazing. There are no other types of power generation for the island. So the carbon footprint of Iceland is nearly zero (with the exception of gasoline powered cars and boats).

Turg and I at the Hellsheidi (the plumes of steam behind us are from the plant)

Our next stop was Þingvellir, which was the location of the Alþing, establishing the first Icelandic parlament (and perhaps the first parlament anywhere) in 930 AD. The valley is of significance because it is literally the place where two worlds collide - the North American and Eurasian plates collide right here. It makes the landscape both beautiful and extreme. The temperature in the valley was quite warm, the cliff faces sheer, and the water cold and crystal clear. It was positively breathtaking.

The ridge on the left is the North American plate and the ridge on the right is the Eurasian plate.

One of the gorges in the valley. Note the person in the left bottom of the picture for size reference.

A stream cutting through a different gorge.

The next stop was to Gullfoss, or the Golden Waterfall, where we had lunch and some time to explore the falls. The water that feeds into the falls is from Langsjökull glacier. The falls are enormous, and more powerful than Niagra. Several decades ago, the Icelandic government proposed building a hydroelectric power plant at these falls. However, a local young woman protested this, and threatened to throw herself into the falls if they went through with the plans. Even though the bill was passed to build the powerplant, it was never put into place because of the conviction of this young woman. The woman´s decendants now run the cafe at the falls where we had lunch... talk about taking up a business opportunity.

(I have to mention one thing about lunch - lunch was a traditional Icelandic meat (read: lamb) soup. We really didn't expect that much since it was, you know, a touristy cafe. But the bus driver really recommended it. I'm so glad we got it - it was positively delicious. American roadside-tourist stands selling food could learn from these people... okay, back to the tour.)


Don't we look oh, so touristy

And here's a short video showing the power of the falls:

Back on the bus, and off to the Geyser geothermal area. Now, this is not just a valley of geysers. This is the home of THE Geyser, the one by which all other spouting geothermal fountains are named. Unfortunately, the thermal spring that is Geyser no longer spouts regularly - it only goes off when there's some sort of seismic activity in the area. Fortunately, there is a spouting spring called Strokkur.

Strojkkur finishing a spray

Of course, in my brilliance, it didn't occur to me that, although I could watch this video vertically in the camera, there is no way (that I've figured out yet) to rotate it online... so enjoy watching the geyser Strokkur going off sideways...

There was also this very unique dual spring, which is connected together. But one half has clear hot water while the other has an opalescent blue water, similar to what´s at the Blue Lagoon. It's stunning to behold, particularly since these two springs are connected, yet the waters appear to remain separate.

Clear waters to the top and opalescent blue on the bottom.

The final stop of the day was Ska´holt church, which was the ancient seat of the Icelandic bishops. The church was quite charming, and there was a cellist there playing music when we arrived, making the experience quite haunting.

Ska´holt Church

The image of Jesus on the wall is created from a mosaic of tiles. The effect is meant to give the onlooker the impression that Jesus is coming through the wall... note the cellist in the right bottom - the sound of his cello added a haunting tone in the church

Next up - Ahhh... the Blue Lagoon

Day 3, Part 2 - Solstice Day in the City... Endless Light

We spent the rest of Solstice Day just tooling around the city, taking photos and exploring. Reykjavik is such a colorful city with such warm people.

The view from just down the street of our hotel. Covered by the clouds is Mt. Ejsa, which is the mountain that guards the city.

A quirky street to the sea

Hallgrimskirkja church - the tallest structure in Reykjavik. Awe inspiring to behold. The stature on the right corner is Lief Eriksson, discoverer of North America

Below are various views of the city from the top of the church bell tower:

One thing I go have to mention about being up in the bell tower... As with nearly all church bell towers, this one tolled the time every quarter hour. We reached the bell tower not long after the last one, and quickly forgot that in 15 minutes, it would go off again. So, we're standing up there, innocently taking pictures, when all of a sudden... *GONG!!!! GONG!!!!* HOLY SHIT! Scared the bejezzus out of both of us. The bell was separated from us by only a few inches of wood plank. And even though we KNEW that in 15 minutes it would go off again, nothing could prepare us from being startled our of our skins. It was hysterical... every time.

And now a Solstice Day message from Turg...

Next on our travel adventures... The Golden Circle

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 3, Part 1- Solstice Day in the City, The Rotted Shark Experience

June 21. Solstice Day. The longest day of the year. And the day where the sun pretty much does not set around these parts (technically, it does set, but th sky doesn't get dark). We spent the day tooling about the city, taking the time to enjoy the sites we didn't get to enjoy during our previous day's "Not So Much" City Tour.

We walked down the Reyk coastline from our hotel to the downtown area, where we stopped for lunch at Cafe Loki, which serves traditional Icelandic fare, including the famous "Rotted Shark."

The Menu - note how Rotted Shark is nicely called "strong tasted shark"

My Dish

The "Rotted Shark"

As requested by Phineas and Adrian... video of The Rotted Shark Experience:

I'll just let you all chew on that one for a while...

Next, Day 3, Part 2 - The Beauty of Reykjavik and Unending Light.

Day 2 - Searching for dinner (aka, Whale Watching)

I jest... Day 2 in Iceland was all about a city tour and Whale Watching (with a short detour to Puffin Island).

The city tour was really not all that. It was more like a city and outskirts tour, and at such a frenetic pace, we really didn't get to enjoy anything in particular... that and the fact that our tour guide was the polar opposite of Husky (i.e., so unengaging that we were falling asleep). So I won't get into this tour at all... we did a better exploration of the city ourselves - more on that for Day 3.

The highlight of Day 2 was our evening Whale Watch, with a short detour to see the puffins on Puffin Island. There are many types of whales that inhabit the Icelandic waters at this time of year, but the most common is the Minke Whale (aka, Day 1's lunch). On our way out we stopped to look at the puffins.

Puffins are also known as the "Clown Bird" because of their cute/funny looks and the awkwardness of their persona. Let me explain. See, puffins are pretty darned good flyers, once they get IN the air, that is. The problem is the take-off... especially the water take-off. They are NOT good at lifting themselves out of the water. There's a lot of paddling going on with their feet underwater and a whole lot of frantic flapping with their wings. In person, it is really, really HILARIOUS.

Look at the concentration on this little guy's face... it's as if he's saying, "FLAP! FLAP! FLAP!!!!" (photo courtesy of Turg)

Turg got some great shots of the puffins and other birds with his snazzy new telephoto lens... check out the Flickr page for all his shots.

The whale watching portion of the ride was really quite exciting. Whale breaches on the water surface are only somewhat predictable. So, there's lots of staring at the water, looking for a characteristic swirl and just plain guessing. A typical breach sounds kind of like this: "Okay... there are the swirls... it should be com... THERE THERE THERE!!! 1 o'clock! COMING UP AT 1 o'clock!!" It was like that for an hour - extremely exhilarating. Our guide, Ragnar (seriously, these names kill me), was really cool and fun.

This is really as much of the whale as Turg could get a shot of by the time he had his camera aimed at the right spot.

The boat captain, and Ragnar and me doing our best "Blue Steel"

We loved the whale watching so much, we're probably going to do it again. And hopefully we'll spot more whales.

After the whale watch we stopped and got some lobster soup (again) to warm ourselves up, followed by a quick bite at a Tapas place (Tapas with an Icelandic twist), where we has some escargot, lobster and *ahem* smoked puffin...

I know, we're terrible people. But everything is sooooo tasty.

Next up... Solstice Day in the City.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 1, Part 2 - Mmmmm.... Beeeer

So, what would a trip to Iceland be without a little drinking? Iceland is world renowned for their drinking culture. What do you do when the daylight doesn't end? You drink, of course. And those endless winter nights? How do they get through those?? More drinking! So, we decided that the first tour of our first day in Iceland should be to educate ourselves about, you know, beer.

The tour itself was at one of the larger (and oldest) breweries in Iceland. You gotta love a tour that begins with your tour guide welcoming you with, "How about a beer before we begin??" Well, twist my arm.


Our guide, Husky (don't know if that's how you actually spell it, but he did say, "like the dog"), was fun and entertaining, taking us on a historical journey of Icelandic drinking culture... which is both long and storied, and quite odd actually. Like the US, Iceland went through a prohibition period in the 1920's. Unlike the US, when the ban was lifted, Iceland did NOT lift the ban on beer. Wine, sure. Hard liquor? Absolutely. Beer? No way. Beer was not legal for import, sale or purchase in Iceland until 1989. Seriously. '89. They could make and "export" (read: sell it to the foreign air base and embassies) beer, however.

The beer that was "exported"

What did Icelanders do to get alcoholic beer? They produced non-alcoholic beer and added spirits to it! Yeah... this did not taste very good.

The green can is the non-alcoholic beer... mixed with spirits? Well, not so tasty.

We took a short tour of the brewery, where we all donned some lovely hairnets...

Don't we look attractive?

Husky in a hairnet

And ended the tour with a shot of the traditional Icelandic Schnapps, Brennivin aka "The Black Death." Traditionally, this shot is drunk out of a horn. Not the tastiest shot in the world... hints of caraway or cumin. Certainly not like the schnapps that I'm used to, but it wasn't bad.


Finally, we ended with something sweet and non-alcoholic. Apparently, Icelanders mixed a malt drink with an orange soda, and it's drunk on holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.). I'm not a soda drinker, but I have to say, the combo was quite yummy.

Surprisingly yummy combination.

That was the end of the wonderful history of Iceland alcohol consumption. Is there any practical application for this knowledge? Not really. But, hey, it's alcohol, so who really cares.

We ended Day 1 with a really wonderful meal at Vox Restaurant in the Hotel Nordica. Local ingredients, a little molecular gastronomy (strawberry snow, anyone?), and an overall really delicious meal. I probably would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if I wasn't falling asleep (seriously, between the jetlag and the endless light, my body is confused - it's getting better though).

The next chapter in our Iceland adventures... City Tour and Whale Watching.