Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ásbyrgi, Iceland

We departed Husavik, heading north around the cape, planning on approaching Jökulsárgljúfur National Park from the north side. The north side is where the visitors' center is located and, also located nearby, is the entrance to the Ásbyrgi canyon.

The Ásbyrgi canyon is a horseshoe-shaped depression and is, officially, part of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. There is one road in (south) that takes you between incredible basalt formations. At the end of the road is a parking lot, with signs pointing to several hiking trails. We picked the one heading to 'the pond'.

The trail was not very long and was a very easy walk. Finally, it lead down to the pond. And what a treat. This pond was absolutely beautiful, backed by a tall basalt foundation, surrounded by lush greenery, with clear water and ducks and ducklings. There were benches along the edge and we sat and enjoyed the view and the quiet.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Protocol Rules For Public Pools In Iceland

There is a very specific protocol to follow if one will be using any of the town pools in Iceland. I was very happy that I had come across a list of 'rules'. Otherwise I would have made some very significant faux pas.

Two things are very important. Outside shoes are never worn in the locker room. And one never enters the locker room wet.

So, with your bathing suit and towel in hand, check out this the instructions for pool etiquette from Frommer's.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Husavik, Iceland

Husavik is billed as THE place, in Iceland, for whale watching. We had prebooked reservations, with North Sailing, for their 10 AM departure. We would be leaving the Lake Myvatn area that morning, and we were told to allow 1 1/2 hours for the drive.

This really puzzled us as the road sign said the distance to Husavik was 50 km. Why did we need 1 1/2 hours? This advice had been given to use by Iceland Saga Travel and since, so far, they were dead on with everything, we decided to follow their advice and, actually, gave ourselves 2 hours.

So leaving our hotel in Reykjalio, we departed at 8 AM. We zipped along on the road at about 90 kmh, for about 10 km. And THEN, the road turned into THIS...

No wonder we were told to allow 1 1/2 hours.

We did arrive in Husavik in plenty of time. We drove around the very empty streets for a while, found our hotel (a Fosshotel, where we couldn't check in until 4 PM), and then checked in for our whale watching trip.

The boat we were on was, by far, the smallest we've ever been on for whale watching. It certainly got us close to the water. We saw quite a few humpback whales and a minke whale. Didn't see any of the great fluke displays like we saw in Antarctica but we did see some good activity.

Having an afternoon to fill, we drove south, out of Husavik, towards the direction of Akureyri. The road we were on went over a wide, shallow river and turned left to join up with the Ring Road. Instead we turned right and drove north, along the river. We had beautiful weather and saw a lot of new (for us) birds. It was a great relaxing afternoon.

For dinner we decided to head back to the pier and one of the restaurants we had spotted. During the day it had been mobbed but it was quieter in the evening. The name of the restaurant is Gamil Baukur and we highly recommend it. I ordered the lamb and got three huge pieces of tenderloin with a load of sides. It was the best lamb, at the best price, that I had all trip.

Evening, still looking like daylight, found us strolling around the harbor and up some residential streets that overlooked the town. These pictures, of the boats

and the town, were taken around 9:30 PM.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Akureyri, Iceland

I was reviewing my blog and realized I had totally missed writing about our short stay in Akureyri.

My plan for the afternoon was to visit the botanical garden. Although uphill, it still was in walking distance of our hotel. So off we headed.

It is not a very large garden but, considering the climate and short growing season, both my husband and I were very impressed with the variety of plants and beautiful blossoms.

It really was a photographer's dream. While there were many plants that I was familiar with from home, some were very new to me like this Himilayan Blue Poppy.

As we headed back to the hotel, I spotted what looked like a shortcut down the hill behind our hotel. We started down a very well worn dirt path. My husband was concerned it was a path that would take us nowhere until I pointed out the streetlights all along the way.....I have to admit I've never before seen streetlamps along a dirt path.

My way to relax that afternoon was to head over to the public swimming pool. I had been reading about how every town has their own pool, all geothermally heated. I was determined to try at least one. There is a very specific protocol for bathing in these pools and I'm going to do a separate post about it. I'm just glad I had read 'the rules' before I headed into the locker room.

The pool area at Akureyri is huge. Besides a pool for lap swimming, there are several hot pools of varying temperatures, a kiddy pool, slides, a steam room and a sauna. I spend about 2 hours there and wished I could have stayed longer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Frommer's Iceland

I purchased Frommer's Iceland in preparation for our trip. I reviewed several Iceland tour books and settled on Frommer's for several reasons.

Frommer's does a great job with things like hotel reviews. But I wanted more. Since we were using Iceland Saga Travel for our accommodations, that wasn't my main focus.

In my opinion, Frommer's Iceland excels in several ways. The city/town maps are excellent. It lists a wide range of eating options. I love the tidbits of information given in inserts. And the lists of things to-do work perfectly for this early-60's couple.

In general, when I decide to buy a guide book, it's usually a Frommer's guide that I end up buying. And this Frommer's Iceland guide met all my expectations.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Canandaigua Lady

So, trying to figure out what 'something special' we can do for our 40th anniversary. Not an easy thing to do...and then it hit me...

We had just been to Canandaigua Lake the previous Saturday for the Finger Lakes Riesling Festival. And I had spotted information on the Canandaigua Lady. So we called and made reservations for their Sunset Dinner Cruise.

This is a paddle wheel boat that, literally, used the paddle wheel for propulsion. As such, the ride is very quiet. We had an excellent meal, a beautiful evening, saw a lovely sunset, and, in general, spent our 40th anniversary doing something very special.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Iceland: Krafla Thermal Area

The Krafla thermal area is just east of Lake Myvatn, right off the Ring Road.

Our route the next day was taking us northwest to Husavik. I saw information, on a map, about a thermal pool towards the east and insisted we head out, after dinner, to check it out. And am I glad that we did. I can't believe we almost missed this!

(Be sure to click on the panorama shot, below, for a sharp image.)

In the opinion of both myself and my husband, this was the best (most interesting) thermal area that we saw in Iceland. Yes, the Geysir area has Strokkur and there are no geysirs at Krafla. But in terms of formations, fumeroles, mud pots, etc., Krafla was WAY more fascinating.

Monday, August 17, 2009

40th Wedding Anniversary

Yes, this is totally off topic of course.

But today is our 40th wedding anniversary. And I want to shout it to the world!

40 years with the same guy...through thick and thin, ups and downs, and ....

still very much in love with each other.

And, yes, he still sends me flowers =sigh=

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Iceland Images - Akureyri to Lake Myvatn

Our first morning with the car, we left Akureyri with fog hanging down over the fjord. Crossing the causeway, we had the fjord (and the town of Akureyri) on our left.

As we make our way along the fjord, we can see the road rising along the mountainside ... with the fog waiting for us.

We finally reach the fog.

Over the mountaintop in complete fog. Where is the road??? And then..........

We started down, finally out of the fog, and this beautiful valley was before us.

Godafoss. One of many beautiful waterfalls in Iceland and our first planned stop after Akureyri.

Our next stop was Lake Myvatn with plans to drive around it. It is advertised as THE waterfowl watching place, with loads of ducks and other fresh water birds. See any? Neither did we. :(

Dimmuborgir, located on the east side of Lake Myvtn, are peculiar lava formations created when a pool of moltan lava was formed. When the lava exited the pool towards Lake Myvatn, these weird formations were left behind. There are well marked paths through the area, clearly marked as to length and difficulty.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Broadway Joe's Bar & Grill, Buffalo, NY

Going to be in Buffalo, New York the last weekend of the month?

Then head over to Broadway Joe's Bar & Grill at 3051 Main Street.

The weekend of August 28, 2009 is Grand Opening Weekend, with loads of bands and booze AND a pig roast.

You really don't want to miss this!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Hotel Akureyri, Iceland

We had a one night stay at Hotel Akureyri in Akureyri, Iceland. Our accommodations were on the 2nd floor which means 2 floors up (ground, 1st, 2nd). As is typical of Icelandic hotels, there was no elevator and the room was small.

Still, our room faced the fjord for a great view. The beds were comfortable and the room was quiet. There was a very nice buffet breakfast that included our first taste, in Iceland, of smoked salmon and herring. And there was a waffle maker!

It more than adequately served our purpose for a comfortable overnight stay in Akureyri before we began our drive on the Ring Road.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Photos of Iceland From the Air on the Way to Akureyri

We flew from Reykjavik to Akureyri. Akureyri is the second largest city (in terms of population) in Iceland and we decided to start our, clockwise, Ring Road trip from there.

Heading northeast on a two engine prop, my husband was able to get some great shots of the landscape below us.

After arriving in Akureyri, we picked up our rental car, headed to our hotel, Hotel Akureyri.. It was conveniently located, within an easy walk of the city center.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Whale Watching and Horseback Riding Out of Reykjavik

As mentioned previously, we had an extra unscheduled day in Reykjavik. Figuring that two full days in the city would be enough for us (and they were), I had pre-reserved, from home, an excursion with Ishestar for their Horses and Whales itinerary.

Our current itinerary had whale watching also schedule out of Husavik. And we also had planned to go horseback riding towards the end of our trip, when in southwest Iceland. So, all going according to plan, this could duplicate things for us.

In retrospect, this turned out to be the right thing to do. While the horseback riding experience, on the unique Icelandic horse, could have been better, we were so busy during the rest of the trip that we had no time to do it elsewhere. And we lucked out on the whale watching with an absolutely beautiful day on the water where we had our first look at puffins and minke whales.

The big problems with the horseback riding were a late pickup and a HUGE group. By the time everyone paid or showed their voucher, was up on a horse and settled in, we were tight on the clock. Plus, we were only about 20 minutes out of Reykjavik, so we really didn't 'get out into the countryside' as much as we would have liked.

That said, one very nice thing that was done by the guides was that they broke the group up into those that wanted to go slow and those that wanted to go fast. So we did have a chance for a good ride.

After the ride, our tour van RACED to the harbor for our whale watching part of the trip. We got onto the 1 PM departure at about 1:01 but they knew we were coming. Fortunately it was possible to buy a sandwich on board as we had not had time to eat.

We first went to an island where puffins congregated and it was neat getting to see them for the first time. Then out to where the captain could see flocks of seabirds congregating over the water. He knew that was where the fish were and that is where the whales would be.

We did get to see several minke whales. With beautiful sunshine, and a relatively calm sea, it was a great day.

For someone spending time only in Reykjavik, and wanting to have both experiences, I would recommend this tour. It gave a great taste of both. The horses were wonderful. The guides were helpful. And we did see whales.

However, if someone wanted to only experience the horses, I would suggest looking into a full day (or overnight) tour that took place an hour or so from Reykjavik. The southwest part of Iceland is loaded with horses and riding opportunities and there are some that offer day trips from the city.

Note: If going whale watching, take WARM clothes. It is windy and cold on the water. We even used our gloves and hats.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Public Restrooms in Iceland

I know a lot of people don't care about this but it's an important subject for me. So I'm writing about it.

In general, every gas station in the country has a public restroom AND they are CLEAN!!!

In Reykjavik, the City Hall has public restrooms. Amazingly enough, the tourist information center doesn't. But when I inquired, I was directed to 'the green building' across the square. So out we go looking for the 'green building'. Both my husband and I are stymied. We can't find it. So taking a break and sitting down to rest for a moment, I look up and there, right in front of me, is a green, circular stand-alone 'WC' (water closet). After knowing what to look for, we discovered several around the city.

Every restaurant has restrooms but you must be a patron.

Fact is, in our two week trip throughout the country, we never had to look far for a bathroom.

And the majority of parking areas in the national parks also had bathrooms, some only one in an upside down 'V' shaped hut.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Where to eat in Reykjavik

We've got two recommendations. Both inexpensive and extremely casual. And classics based upon all we have read.

Saegreifinn (Sea Baron) - This restaurant is located on the waterfront, a few blocks from the tourist information office. Walk over to the street running along the waterfront, turn left and look for the bright blue building on the water side of the street.

This restaurant is very laid back. You go up to the counter to place your order and EVERYONE comes for the lobster soup. With a basket of bread, this makes for a very nice lunch. Hungrier? In the refrigerated case to your left are skewers of seafood one can order. Thirsty? Grab a bottle of beer from the cooler to add to your order. Or, for free, help yourself to a plastic cup and one of the pitchers of water at the bottom of the same case. Good? We went twice for the soup.

Saegreifinn, Geirsgata 8; 101 Reykjavik; 354-553-1500

Baejarins Bestu - The pylsur (hot dog) seems to be the national food of Iceland. It can be found just about everywhere. From what we understand, the pylsur is made with some lamb but I was never able to confirm that. So, while in Iceland, do what the Icelanders pylsur.

THE place for a pylsur in Reykjavik is Baejaris Bestu. When looking for it we had been told to 'just look for the line'. On a corner one block from the waterfront, opposite a nondescript parking lot, next to another nondescript parking lot, is where you'll find this hot dog stand. (Actually, it is also right across the street from the Radisson SAS hotel.) And, yes, there was a line.

Baejarins Bestu, 101 Tryggvagata

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review: National Museum of Iceland

Even though we are not generally museum goers, since there are so many to offer in Reykjavik, we decided to pick one to go to.

We decided on the National Museum of Iceland for several reasons. One is that we wanted something more general than the other more specific topics museums. And also because it is free on Wednesday.

We arrived at around 10:30 AM and learned that, during the summer, there is a free tour, given in English, at 11:00 AM. We decided to wait. In the meantime I visited the gift shop and then followed the sign to 'lockers', on a lower level. I discovered that the lockers are free and they made a good place to dump our jackets and my purchases while we toured.

The museum was completely redone in 2004 and is quite interesting. The displays are broken down into 200 year segments. All of the displays are in Icelandic and English and, with the renovation, there are now a lot of multimedia displays. It was easy to spend a few hours here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. More than 50% of the population of Iceland lives there. Considering that the total population of Iceland is just over 300,000, the number living in Reykjavik is not large and it is a small city.

We had scheduled 3 full days in Reykjavik with the intention of taking a tour on our third day. Because of adjustments we had to make to our late-booked itinerary, we opted out of the tour. Now we had 3 full days to spend in the capital. For us, too much.

Our plan for the first day was to hook up with a free city tour given every day at 1:00 PM. So we wandered on our own for the morning, spending some time looking over brochures at the tourist information office from where the tour left.

Our tour lasted a bit over 2 hours and is done for tips. It is well worth the time and we learned a lot of interesting things about Iceland and Icelanders. It was an excellent introduction for our first day.

Reykjavik has, in my opinion, a lot of museums for its size. Not generally museum goers, we did visit the National Museum of Iceland. But after wandering neighborhoods for 2 days, popping into and out of shops, and, in general, adjusting to the time change, after two days we felt we had seen all we wanted to see.

And even if one is an avid museum goer, in my opinion, 3 full days in Reykjavik is all that is needed to thoroughly visit what the city has to offer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review: Guesthouse Sunna, Reykjavik, Iceland

As mentioned in my earlier post, we arrived at our destination, Guesthouse Sunna, on Tuesday, at 8 AM Iceland time (4 AM our body time). Our room was not ready (as we had anticipated) but the very nice young man at the desk said that the room had already been vacated and he would ask housekeeping to make it up right away.

In the meantime, breakfast was being served. We were very tired and didn't want to go in search of a restaurant so we paid for breakfast at the guesthouse and ate there. (Price was 1200 ISK per person...just short of $10.) By the time we were done eating, our room was ready.

We had a studio. As requested, it was on the ground floor (although in another building). The room was huge with queen bed (with two thick comforters in duvet covers and thin pillows....which we learned is typical all over Iceland), galley kitchen area, sofa, table with chairs. The room was quite comfortable except for one thing.

It faced the street and it was noisy. Very often people and car traffic didn't quiet down until around midnight. We were exhausted at the end of each day so it pretty much didn't bother us. But we would strongly suggest anyone staying at Guesthouse Sunna (assuming they can handle the stairs) to specifically request a quiet room back off the streets.

Another thing we also learned (which does not reflect negatively on our accommodations) is that the city center for Reykjavik is by the harbor, as one would expect. However, what was unexpected to us is that the rest of Reykjavik is UP. This definitely precluded our popping back to the hotel for anything and made us plan our days carefully.

With no restaurants near our guesthouse (or any of the other guesthouses/hotels in the area), we either timed our days so we had dinner near city center or, on the way back at the end of the day, we stopped at the very convenient grocery near the guesthouse to buy food to eat in our room.

In general, our stay at Guesthouse Sunna was fine. The room was clean and comfortable. The front desk staff was extremely helpful. The buffet breakfast served each morning (included in our night's rate) was more than sufficient. In a quieter room, we would have no hesitation staying there again.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Arriving in Iceland

All international flights land at Keflavik International Airport. As this blog shows, my husband and I have traveled quite a bit. This was the first country we've visited where we had to go through security to get INTO the country. Yes, of course, we had to go through passport control and customs. That is typical. But security?

Our carry on luggage was scanned. We had to walk through a metal detector. No liquids are allowed other than the 100 ml/3 oz size, packed in the standard one-quart sized Ziploc bag.

For money exchange there is a bank branch right outside Arrivals. And right next to the bank are ATM machines. We had the option of getting instructions in English and all worked perfectly.

Also outside of Arrivals was the desk for FlyBus. This is the easiest and cheapest way to get into the capital, Reykjavik. We boarded a standard sized bus and were taken to the main bus terminal where everyone got off the bus. We were a bit puzzled but then realized we needed to board one of the smaller mini vans for the final leg of our transfer to our hotel.

Finally, after departing our home airport at 11:00 AM Monday, we arrived at our destination, on Tuesday, at 8 AM Iceland time (4 AM our body time). As expected, our room was not ready. But the young man at the desk told us that the previous occupants had already checked out and he would ask housekeeping to make up the room right away.

In the meantime, breakfast was being served. We inquired about paying for breakfast that morning (all breakfasts AFTER a night's stay were included) and by the time we were done eating, our room was ready.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review: Icelandair

We flew Icelandair out of JFK. Truthfully, not like we had any other choice of airlines. Anyway, if you don't expect anything, you won't be disappointed. The plane was much smaller than we expected (3 x 3 with about 35 rows).

The seats are narrow and not terribly comfortable. Soda and water is available for free. Food and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase. I knew all this before the flight. Still, it would have been nice to have some food served on the (almost) 6 hour flight.

All that said, we arrived safe, sound and early.

Tour the USS New York Nov 1 - Nov 7

The USS New York will be arriving in NY harbor on Nov 1, 2009 and commissioned in the US Navy Nov. 7.

During that week, if you are in New York City, you will be able to tour the ship. The most significant thing about the ship is that the bow is made with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center.

With a motto of "Never Forget", I'm sure it would be a very exciting opportunity to see this new ship. If you'd like more information, you can check out the official website.

LaGuardia Terminal Evacuated

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at LaGuardia airport when police closed the main terminal at around 5:30 AM, today, Saturday. Apparently a man approached security with a bag containing batteries and wires. The terminal was finally reopened shortly before 9:00 AM.

For more on the story