Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for September, 2018

Greenland – The Island of Snow & Ice

September 25, 2018 2:34 pm

August-September 2018

Greenland – The Island of Ice & Snow

We had already had a visit to Iceland planned, so it only made sense to take an extension and use the opportunity to visit Greenland.  Greenland only has a population of ~57,000 with most of them living in a few towns on the southern east coast.  We, however, are going to visit the southern west coast where small, isolated towns are populated by Inuit residents, many of them living similar lives as their ancestors.

The Southeastern Coast of Greenland

The nine of us flew a 2-hour “domestic” international flight from Reykjavik, Iceland to the airport at Kulusuk island housing the community of the same name – Kulusuk, Greenland.  Our plane was a rather new 60-seat plane that had quite a diverse collection of people on-board, including a number of hikers and kayakers. Once we collected our luggage, we caught a local van for the 1-mile trip to the Kulusuk Hotel, a small, rustic building located between the airport and the Kulusuk Community. The community of Kulusuk was the last native settlement in Greenland discovered by the Western World around 1900.  At that time, the community was around 400 people – today the population has dropped to 200 people.  After checking in, we took a hike down to the pier and tanks located nearby on the island’s bay.  From here, we walked further out onto the peninsula looking at the local flowers and marveling at the parade of icebergs floating through the straights.  After returning to the hotel for a buffet lunch, we gathered in the van and took a drive 1000 feet up the coastal mountains to a abandoned USA radar station – “Difour”.  It was originally built in 1956 as part of NORAD’s 10 radar stations that ran from Alaska to Greenland to provide early warning for any missile attacks coming over the North Pole.  When US personnel were stationed here, they were not allowed to leave the base and visit town or mix with the local villagers. The facility was removed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.  From the top of the cleared military base location, we had a spectacular 360-degree view of the mountains on one side, and the north Atlantic on the other, with its huge icebergs moving along the coast.  After our drive, it was back to the hotel for a brisk 30-minute walk down to the community of Kulusuk.  The town has a grocery, post office, school, church (Lutheran), museum and a boat dock and small harbor. This town can only be accessed by air or by boat, but boats can only travel here between June through September, as the polar ice-pack make access impossible.  Since snow in this area can easily reach 5-meters in height, these towns must have a high degree of self-sufficiency during their brutal winters with only a small amount of emergency supplies available by air for two-thirds of the year.  In town, we explored the local grocery and church before walking back to the hotel to unpack and get ready for dinner.  After dinner, a local Inuit Dancer came to perform a “Drum Dance”.  The “Drum Dance” was a local tradition which is slowly disappearing, but she performed a haunting sing-song chant with a rhythmic drum-beat while dressed entirely in beaded seal-skin, from boots to headdress.

View from our Peninsula Walk in Kulusuk

 

Coastal View from Former US Radar Base

 

Icebergs Floating Past the Island

 

The Community of Kulusuk

 

That night saw a weather-front move-in, bringing rain, 50-60 mph wind-gusts and 40-degree temperatures, which cancelled our planned helicopter flight to the village of Tallisaq.  Although only 25 kilometers away, Tallisaq is on a different island, and transport in this region is weather dependent, and relies on regular helicopter flights as the local form of “bus” transportation.  The weather confined us to the hotel for movies, reading and games of cards until late in the afternoon, when it let up enough for a brief stroll outside.  The storm brought fresh snow to the mountain-sides and moved a new series of icebergs into the waters around our island.  After dinner, our Danish van driver recounted his recent 20-month retirement “trip-around-the-world” with power-point slides and personal stories.  He would be leaving the island with us and returning home to Denmark, as the end of Greenland’s visiting season was quickly arriving and winter would be here soon.

Helicopter “Bus” to Tallisaq

The next morning brought good weather, and after breakfast, we made the short journey back to the Kulusuk Airport for our Greenland Air helicopter flight to Tallisaq.  Our helicopter was a 9-passenger version which completed the 9-minute flight quickly but gave us spectacular views of the waterways and landscapes around us.  Upon arrival, the hotel van transported us up the side of a hill to our lodging, a hotel owed by the same brothers with whom we stayed in Kulusuk.  Here, we dropped our luggage, and shuttled to the beginning of a trailhead to hike into the Valley of Flowers.  The hike starts past a few village dog kennels, which are often at the edge of villages.  These sled dogs are not pets, and they are kept chained outside and fed a diet of raw meat 3 times a week.  These towns and villages each have assigned quotas for native hunting for polar bears and narwhales, (seals are unlimited).  Once past the kennels, we explored the village’s cemetery – an organized collection of graves, each with an identical unmarked white cross.  The Inuit believe that names should not be on the graves, and they should be “freed” to be used by the living.  Past the cemetery, the trail undulated up and down past ponds and lakes and hillsides of colorful flowers, before we arrived at a waterfall, and began the journey back.  At the hotel, we had a buffet lunch before leaving for a walking tour of town.  The church here is hexagonal with a picturesque landscape of the area painted on the ceiling. Tallisaq has ~1000 residents and is the 6th largest village in Greenland, and the largest on the East Coast. In fact, all East Greenland is home to only 3000 residents.  In Greenland, no one can own land, and one must get a permit from the government to build, and there is quite a bit of government-supplied housing available at ~3000 Kr/month.  The economy of Greenland is fully supported by Denmark, even though Greenland has some autonomy in the operation of its affairs. In fact, there is no army in Greenland, and the police force is completely provided by Denmark. In Tallisaq, the homes have running water and flush toilets, where nearly none of the surrounding settlements do.  Like Kulusuk, there is no access to the town by sea from October through June.  When the first ship arrives in summer, the town fires its 3 cannons, and the town gathers at the dock to unload long-awaited supplies. The cannons fire again on the town’s biggest holiday – the Summer Solstice on June 22nd, and a final time when the last ship of the season departs in October.  Hunting and fishing are critical to their surviving the harsh winter.  This year, Tallisaq had a 30 polar bear limit, which was already filled.  Tradition has it that the person who sights a polar bear, the person who kills it, and the person who touches it first are all entitled to share its meat.  It is illegal to pay to hunt in Greenland.  Here, the traditional drum dance and the local shaman have both disappeared.  School here is only grades 1-9, with 10th grade optional and necessary for University entry in Western Greenland.  Those not going to University, go to “Nuk”, or local trade school, and in either case, all schooling and teachers in the country are paid by the Danish Government.  While in town, we visited a local craftsman shop where narwhale tusks were being carved, went to the town’s post office, and visited an old turf-house which was made to house ~25 people through the winter.  Next, we walked to the harbor where we boarded a local ship.  We had to navigate our way out since the previous week’s storms had grounded an iceberg right at the harbor’s entrance.  Once on the open water, we toured the fiord where we saw numerous icebergs.  Upon returning, we traveled back to the hotel for dinner, and watched a 1938 B&W movie filled in the town with locals playing all the roles.  The film was a drama, but it depicts well the customs and people of the time, and many of the town’s residents today are related to those in the film.

Town and New Pitch at Tallisaq

 

Iceberg blocking Tallisaq Harbor

 

Anonymous Graves on the Countryside

 

Huskies for Dog Sleds and Winter Transport

 

Codfish Drying

 

Julie on Iceberg Cruise

The next morning ended our trip here, and we helicoptered back to the airport in Kulusuk.  Here we had a long layover and great weather, and so we took the opportunity to take one final walk for 2.5 hours out to the end of the island’s peninsula before returning to our former hotel for lunch and goodbyes.  We then departed Greenland and arrived back in Reykjavik at 7pm, had a group dinner and revisited our adventures with all our new friends.  The next morning, it was on to the International Airport and everyone’s trip home.

Sisters

Iceland – Part 4: Selfoss & Iceland’s “Golden Circle”

2:09 pm

August 2018

Selfoss & Iceland’s “Golden Circle”

On Sunday morning, we departed from the northern town of Akureyri with a 35-minute Icelandic Air domestic flight back to Reykjavik.  From here, we met back up with our bus driver, Guestor, and headed east to the “Golden Circle”. First, we visited Thingvellir National Park to take a walk into the famous rift valley between the tectonic plates of North-America and Euro-Asia. The two plates area about 7 km apart today, and still moving at over 1 inch per year, creating the space for Lake Pingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake. The area also served as the historic meeting place of Icelandic Elders from 980 until 1262, when all the local tribes and families would be represented annually for law setting and dispute resolution.  Followed this visit, we traveled to Geysir, the area from which all geysers get their name, and watched as Iceland’s most active hot spring geyser, Strokkur, erupts 60 ft. into the sky about every 5-7 minutes.  While there, we ate lunch, and then climbed the local hill to get a great view of the surrounding Haukadalur valley.  From here, we traveled a short distance to Gullfoss (“Golden”) Waterfall – a waterfall with 3-tiers of rushing white-water into a 100 foot deep crevasse.   Then, it was on to a small waterfall at Mane, (the Faxi Waterfall), before heading into the town of Selfoss, the largest town in southern Iceland, (7000 people), other that Reykjavik.  The town is located on the Olfusa River and was the home and final resting place of the famous Chess-Master, Bobby Fisher.  Here, we checked into our hotel on the river, and enjoyed a restful happy hour and extensive buffet dinner. 

Flight across Iceland

 

Rift Valey at Thingvellir

 

Strokkur Geyser

 

Gullfoss – The Golden Waterfall

 

Gullfoss; water tiers

Selfoss Hotel on the Olfusa River

The next morning, we traveled along Iceland’s south coast – a lowland area of large 10,000-acre farms leading up to numerous volcanic slopes.  Our first stop of the day was at Seljalandsfoss – a large waterfall that one can walk underneath via the cavern that extends behind the falls.  After visiting the smaller Skogar waterfall, we headed to the south coast to the Dyrholaey peninsula at Reynisfjara where steep cliffs are bound by black sand beaches, and the small, soil ledges are great locations for the Puffin nests that are located in holes into the ground. Here we saw hundreds of orange-beaked Puffins coming and going, which was unusual this late in the year, as they typically spend all of their time at sea except for when their nesting.  From here, we went to the most southern village of Vik (~200 people) where the tourists outnumbered the locals, and had a lunch of arctic char, veggies and spice cake at “The Volcano Hotel”.  After lunch, we gathered for a Super-Jeep tour across a “moon-like” volcanic landscape past the Mydrals jokull up to the Kötlu jokull glacier in the Katla volcano.  Here we hiked onto the face of the glacier recognizing the layers of ash and summer dirt layered with the winters’ snow.  After our super-jeep tour, we returned to Vik for a bit of quick shopping before heading to the Skogafoss (“jewel of the family”) waterfall.  Skogafoss is a 197’ high and is the largest waterfall in Iceland with a drop into a canyon of 25 meters wide.  As we walked by on the trail, we were drenched by the micro-climate spray that hovers continuously beside it.  From here, we traveled back to Selfoss to our hotel for dinner where we tested our first taste on Icelandic “pylsa” – a hotdog with all the fixings, including a few that that would surprise most Americans!

The Waterfall at Seljalandsfoss

 

Black Sand Beaches at Reynisfjara

 

Puffin on the Dyrholaey Peninsula

 

The Kötlu jokull glacier

The next morning, we departed from Selfoss and drove to the hot spring town of Hveragerdi to the Almar Bakery where we enjoyed chocolate cake while admiring it bakery’s building which is split in two, built over an active fault that last moved in 2010.  We then traveled along the Reykjanes peninsula to Strandatkirkja to visit a small, local church located on a sparsely populated coast.  Here we saw more puffins and a lone seal playing in the surf.  From here, we moved onto Grindavik, one of the wealthier municipalities due to their successfully fisheries and high allowed quota.  In Grindavik, we met with the local First Responders, part of a national all-volunteer force.  Iceland has no army or navy, so the Coast Guard and First Responder Force are responsible for all rescues.  After learning the history of their historic rescues, we dressed in jumpsuits and helmets up for a drive on 4×4 ATVs around the peninsula’s coast, observing a series of shipwrecks that still litter the coast. When we returned, we had a short picnic of Icelandic flatbread, smoked lamb and cheese, with an orange-shanty drink. After lunch, we began our trip to the Blue Lagoon, with a stop at an US B-24 Memorial from WWII – a story of triumph and tragedy.  Finally, we reached the Blue Lagoon, a commercialized natural hot spring with its milky blue color.  It holds 1.9 million gallons of water which is renewed every 40 hours and includes steam rooms, saunas and silica masks. After spending the afternoon there relaxing, we headed back to our starting point at the Hilton Reykjavik hotel, where we had our “farewell dinner” and prepared to travel to Greenland the next day.

4×4 Ride in Grindavik

 

Our Traveling Group in Iceland

 

Julie entering The Blue Lagoon

 

The Blue Lagood Hot Spring Pools

 

Our Last View of Reykjavik

Iceland – Part 3: On to the Northern Coast of Iceland

1:40 pm

August 2018

On to the Northern Coast of Iceland

Today, we departure from Stykkisholmur and traveled to Eriksstader where we visited a replica of the Viking farm of Eric the Red – father of Leif Erikson.  Here we entered a functional, replica sod-house that was about 8’ x 14’ which would house up to 14 people during the cold Icelandic winter months. The local curator, Siggi, gave us insights into the life in the era of the Vikings and the life of Eric the Red.  Next, after a short drive past the local sheep farms, we came to the horse farm, Gauksmyri, where we enjoyed a lunch buffet including horse meat! After lunch, the owners put on a horse show demonstrating the 5 gaits of Icelandic horses – walk, trot, tolt, gallop and flying. The Icelandic horses are smaller than many other horse breeds, but it is the only one that instinctively has a tolt gait, and the Gauksmyri farm has 1200 horses.  No other breed of horse is allowed in Iceland! From here, we rejoined the N1-Ring Road and traveled to Akureyri, stopping along the way to visit the Kolugljufur canyon – a beautiful incised waterfall that is a bit “off the beaten path” and discouraged from the trip due to the risk of falling-in.  Next, we followed the shore of the Eyjafjordur fjord before we arrived in Akureyri, Iceland’s 2nd largest city, (pop. 19,000), located only ~60 miles from the Arctic Circle.  Akureyri was the home town of our tour guide, Heiddis’, and after a short drive about town, we arrived at the hotel just in time for happy hour and a dinner of salmon and lamb steak.

Traditional Sod House at Eriksstader

 

The Gauksmyri Icelandic Horse Farm

 

Waterfall at Kolugljufur Canyon

 

Welcome to Akureyri

The next morning began with a short drive to Godafoss – “Waterfall of the Gods” where we explored the local trails surrounding it.  From here, we traveled past Lake Myvatn to visit a local gentleman who bakes bread in the ground from the thermal steam escaping the natural vents. After tasting the brown-bread (with a little butter), we traveled a short way over the Namafjall mountain into an active geothermal area located in the ancient crater of the Krafla Volcano, where the 60 MW Krafla Geothermal Power Plant was located. The original pilot part of the Plant (7 MW) was built in the 1970’s, and after demonstrating success, was expanded and replicated in a number of locations in Iceland.  After a brief tour of the Plant, we traveled down to the Namaskard Thermal Field where we observed blowing fumaroles and boiling mud pots.  From here, we traveled a short distance to take a close look at the 2000-year-old lava formations at Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles), formed from the dome collapse of a large, hollow, lava-tube. Then we drove back to the edge of Kake Myvatn (“Lake of Midges”) where we ate lunch at a local hotel and took a walk on Skutustadagigar, the best-known cluster of pseudo craters in Iceland, (while fighting-off the incredible number of flying midges surrounding the area.)  Lake Myvatn legend has it that this was where the last heathen chieftain, Borgeir, threw the symbols of the heathen gods into the waters in the year of 1000 when Icelanders converted to Christianity.  From here, we returned to Akureyri a bit early for a walk through the town’s Botanical Gardens and a round of drinks at the hotel bar, before preparing for our “Home Dinner” visit.

Brown Bread Baked in Thermal Steam Vent

 

Godafoss – The Waterfall of the Gods – or Little Niagra

 

The Krafla Geothermal Power Plant

 

The Namaskard Thermal Field

 

Pseudo-craters at Lake Myvatn

For dinner, we headed to Johan and Gudrun’s home, where they and their two daughters hosted us for a home-cooked meal of orange trout almandine, potatoes and salad, with home-baked bread, tea and chocolates. While there, we all had a lively discussion about where each of us were from, world issues, life-philosophies and a number of other far-reaching topics, before we said our “goodbyes” and returned to our hotel.

The morning we drove 45-minutes back out to the northern-tip of the peninsula along the Eyjafjordur fiord to the port town of Dalvik to take a whale-watching trip.  To prepare for the chilly boat trip, all 40 of us put on arctic jumpsuits before heading onto an open-air restored fishing vessel for the 40-minute trip north towards the open sea.  The weather was beautiful with clear, crisp skies, and we often spotted whales “spouting” in the distance.  However, after a frustrating series of failed chased, the humpback whale finally surfaced and cruised beside us before we began our trip back. On the return trip, we stopped to fish a local 60-ft deep bank, and after a couple of “small” catches, one of our group caught a 15-pound cod – large for this vessel – which we prepared with the others for a fish-fry back onshore.  We then walked down the street to a little Café, “Gisle, Eirikur & Helgi”, for lunch.  For a fixed price, we received all-you-can-eat fish soup, salad, bread and tea.  The good weather enticed us to enjoy lunch outside before we made the trip back to Akureyri.  In Akureyri, we took advantage of the free afternoon and good weather to shop and walk through the town, enjoying the music, classic cars, and vendors that lined the streets for the weekend’s local festival.  On our walk, we stopped at a few art galleries, and met a visiting artist, Salman Ezzammoury, and talked with him about his art while enjoying a glass of wine.  That night, we packed and readied ourselves to tomorrow’s flight back to Rejkjavik.

Boarding the Whale-Watching Boat at Dalvik

 

Humpback Whale Cruising beside us

 

Humpback Whale Diving for Food

 

Rainbow on Akureyri during Town Festival

Iceland – Part 2: Visit west to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Town of Stykkisholmur

September 24, 2018 9:47 pm

August 2018

Visit west to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Town of Stykkisholmur

This day, after our breakfast buffet, we drove west out of the city of Reykjavik through the sparely settled countryside. The Icelanders have lots of sheep, and lots of smaller Icelandic horses (NOT ponies)! The average farm size in Iceland is ~2600 acres, and the dominant crop is grain and hay for the animals in the winter, followed by root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, and beets). Most of their other vegetable are actually grown in geothermal heated greenhouses.  The average family has ~1.9 children, and after the country’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, it has grown to be one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.  The coast is a series of deep fiords, making road travel difficult.  However, the country does have a well maintained “Ring Road” that circumnavigates the country. Along the way, we traveled a 2-mile tunnel under one of these fiords to travel alongside the Borgarfjordur fjord, named for the stories of the large whale that lived in the fiord who was known for sinking ships and terrorizing early settlers.  We also used the occasion to learn a little Icelandic, such as Godan daginn (good day). Finally, we arrived at the workshop of Gudrun – a University Professor and wool dyer that only uses traditional historic materials. We watched as she dyed her Icelandic wool with local herbs and plants. After looking at a small local hydroelectric plant nearby, we traveled to visit to the Settlement Center of Borgarfjord and toured an exhibit that described the turbulent period of the Vikings. After lunch there, we walked to the local monument and took pictures, before re-boarding the bus and traveling to the holy mountain, Helgafell, where we climbed to the top, picked crowberries, faced east and made our wishes. From here, we traveled to our hotel in harbor city of Stykkisholmur (pronounced “Sticky – sholmer).  This town is the largest on the peninsula, and after checking-in, we walked through the town to identify landmarks, stores and restaurants. and then dined on a lamb-starter, lightly salted cod (bacalá) and ice-cream for dinner.  After dinner, the extra light allowed us to walk back to the town’s harbor where we climbed to the lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the setting sun, before returning to the hotel for a night’s sleep.

Gudrun Demonstrating the Dying of Wool

 

Monument at Settlement Center of Borgarfjord

 

Overview of the Town of Stykkisholmur

 

Facing East from the Holy Mountain of Helgafell

 

The Harbor & Lighthouse at Stykkisholmur

 

The Church at Sunset in Stykkisholmur

 

Sunset from the Lighthouse at Stykkisholmur

The next morning, we ate an early breakfast, and boarded the bus for a trip around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, home of Snaefellsjokull glacier from where the adventure of Jules Vernes’ “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was inspired. From there, we stopped for a visit on the coast at Ytri-Tunga, where we observed both Harbor and Grey Seals sunning themselves on the rocks.  After a quick coffee stop, we went to the town on Arnarstapi to hike along the coastal cliffs of the peninsula observing the blowholes and lava basalt pillars and the numerous Kittiwake seabirds nesting there.  Then, it was on to Hellnar for lunch at the smallest, quaint seaside café in the region – “Kaffihus Hellnum Fjoruhusid”.  Lunch was a shrimp & fish soup with delicious homemade bread and Skyr yogurt cream for dessert. We then continued our journey around the peninsula, stopping at various places to take pictures and enjoy the views, including the sighting of a 50-60 ft whale making his way west along the coast. At Malarrif, we climbed up a local lighthouse that happened to be open with a local artist’ – Jonina Gudnadottir – display inside and took in the spectacular views of the Snaefellsjokull glacier the top.  The Lighthouse was built in 1917 and was 24 meters high with 100 steps up to the light.  Scattered around the lighthouse’s base were a plethora of whale bones gathered from the local area, reminding us of the life led by the locals.  From here, we visited an ancient volcano crater that was capable of being driven into, and which is typical of the landscape that would surround us the rest of the day.  From Malarrif, we traveled to a local ice cream shop, then into the Bjarnahofn area where we visited the Bjarnarfoss waterfall, before traveling further to visit the home and shop of the local harvester of Greenland shark and their Shark Museum.  The Greenland sharks are a protected species but are sometimes caught as a by-product of cod fishing, and when available, are brought here for processing and utilization. These sharks have inedible flesh due to the high concentrations of urea, so it is hung-up and dried for 3 months that allows the meat to become edible and is considered a national delicacy.  We tasted the dried shark meat – “hakarl”, which carries a very strong taste, and is best enjoyed with a shot of schnapps!  After this, we traveled back to our hotel, and headed into town on a “free night” for dinner.  Dinner was at Restaurant Narfeyrarstofa where we had salads and scallops, followed by a shortened round of golf play at the course behind the hotel, and packing for the next day.

Grey Seal on the Rocks at Ytri-Tunga

 

Coastal Cliffs at Arnarstapi

 

Coastal View at Hellnar

 

The Lighthouse at Malarrif

 

Drying Shark Meat at Bjarnahofn

 

Playing a Hole of Golf behind the Hotel

The next morning, we were packed and ready to depart from Stykkisholmur and continue our journey northeast towards the Arctic Circle.

Approaching the Arctic Circle – Iceland – Part 1: Reykjavik

September 23, 2018 6:59 pm

Part 1: Approaching the Arctic Circle

August 2018

A summary of our 2018 Visit to England, Iceland and Greenland

Two of the places that we’ve never been are Iceland and Greenland.  Anyone that we’ve talked with whose been to Iceland has had nothing but very nice memories of soaring landscapes, sea mammals and northern lights. We figured that if we were going to Iceland, that we might as well check out Greenland, and also use the occasion to visit good friends in England.

A Visit to Reykjavik, Iceland

After our visit with them, we took a 4-hour direct flight from Heathrow, London to Reykjavik, Iceland, and were met at the airport by our taxi driver who took us the 45-minute drive to our hotel located on the outskirts of town.  Here, we met our tour guide, Heiddis (pronounced Hath-deese), a middle-aged single mom of one teenage son, who has been working in the tourism industry for a long time.  After checking-in, we took a private walk to the shore located a few blocks away.  The name of the city “Reykjavik” means “Bay of Smoke” and describes the city’s location and weather perfectly.  The day was cloudy and drizzling, but the cool air felt crisp and refreshing.  After returning to the hotel, Heiddis took our group into downtown via the city bus, for an orientation walk through town.  After a wander past the popular “Penis Museum”, we walked to Langordatur – Iceland’s first indoor swimming pool built in 1937.  From there, it was on to the impressive largest church in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja, then to the Parliament building, and the City Hall by the Pond of Reykjavik. After a quick bakery stop, we walked on to a monument to Iceland’s first settler before bussing back to the hotel for “Happy Hour” and our Welcome Orientation and a dinner of Arctic Char.

View over Reykjavik

 

Largest Church in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja

 

The Rainbow Road in Reykjavik

Monday morning started with the hotel’s breakfast buffet before we city-bussed back into town to the Ocean Cluster House located in the city’s old harbor area, for an interesting presentation with Villi about the fishing industry in Iceland. While waiting to meet with him, we were lucky enough to meet with a local fisherman who was unloading his weekend’s catch of monkfish, cobia and cod.  Villi spoke of improved sustainability and utilization of their fishing industry’s cod catch, and we observed a range of products, such as design lamps and leather jackets, not to mention getting a chance to taste dried fish, cod liver oil, pensyme and canned cod liver.  While there, we had a lively discussion about Iceland’s whaling industry.  After this, we visited the National Museum to learn about the history of Iceland from 850 AD to the present.  This was followed by a lunch of fish & chips, and then a small group of us went by bus to the Perlan Museum for “The Wonders of Iceland” display. The museum had a number of interactive displays that highlighted the forces of nature (volcanos, earthquakes and geothermal energy) and included a walk through a full-size, real ice cave and a life-scale seabird cliffside.  From there, we caught the bus back to the Harpa (Reykjavik’s Concert Hall), whose glass wall is made from a series of concentric hexagons, representing the basalt columns that characterize the island.  From here, it was back to the hotel for a Happy Hour social, dinner and packing for tomorrow’s journey west.

Unloading Fish in Harbor

 

Julie in the Ice Cave

 

Seabirds on the Cliffside in The Perlan

 

Artistic Window Architecture of the Harpa Concert Hall

Approaching the Arctic Circle – England

6:42 pm

August 2018

A summary of our 2018 Visit to England, Iceland and Greenland

Two of the places that we’ve never been are Iceland and Greenland.  Anyone that we’ve talked with whose been to Iceland has had nothing but very nice memories of soaring landscapes, sea mammals and northern lights. We figured that if we were going to Iceland, that we might as well check out Greenland, and also use the occasion to visit good friends in England.

Visit to England

Our trip started with a flight from Washington Dulles Airport to London Heathrow via British Airways.  We were met at the airport by our friend, Guy, whom we had met and spent a good deal of time with when we lived in Nigeria.  After a brutal commute from London Heathrow to South Essex to the southeast of London, we finally arrived at Guy and Sue’s home – an old Oast nestled into the rolling fields of the countryside.  Their Oast consists of twin 3-story cylinders that were historically used to dry hops to make beer.  The hops were grown locally, dried in the Oasts, and then bundled and baled in the attached “barn”, (which now serves as a 2-story attachment.)  The collection has been renovated to include ~5 bedrooms, 3-baths, a kitchen, living room, den and laundry room. When we arrived, they were just seeing off previous guests and family who had attended a weekend birthday gathering.  Here we also met Guy and Sue’s first grandson, (only 3-months old), and his parents.  It was exciting to see our friends’ daughters all grown up and starting families of their own, as we had known them when they were children. For lunch we went to a little restaurant called “The Vineyard” where all the ingredients are sourced locally.  Here we ate pork terrine, a Pimm’s cup, and fish wraps.  That afternoon, we sat in the garden drinking wine and chatting about what’s happened in the 3 years since we were last together.

The Oast

Tuesday morning, Rocky and Julie got an early start on the 1-hour train ride from the town of Stonegate to London where we walked across London Bridge to The Tower of London.  At the Tower, we took the tour with a Beefeater guide learning about the 900 years of history of The Tower complex.  We skipped the Crown Jewels tour because of long lines, but we visited the museum looking at centuries of armor and weapons.   After visiting The Tower, we walked to Katherine’s Wharf to meet Guy and Sue for drinks and lunch at “The Dicken’s Inn”, after which we made a long walk along the river past The Tower, through the Cheap Side, through the Financial District and past the Bank of England to St. Paul’s Cathedral where Diane and Charles were married.  From there, we walked over the Millennial Bridge (the wiggly-wobbly bridge, as it is locally known), to the other side of the Thames, where we stopped for tea and coffee before heading past Shakespeare’s Globe to Borough’s Market – a series of shops selling cheese, fish, spices, teas, oil, vinegar, etc.  Here, we stopped for drinks and dinner at Q-Fish – a restaurant near where “Bridget Jones” movies were filmed, after which we walked back to London Bridge Station to take the train back to Stonegate, where their daughter picked us up and brought us home to the Oast.

Tower Bridge

 

Inside the Tower of London

 

Our Beefeater Guide

The next morning, we awoke to a country breakfast, and spent the morning helping pack away the kitchen in readiness for an upcoming kitchen remodel.  After lunch, we went for a walk along the area’s country lanes to a pub called “The Bull”, a favorite of ours from last time we visited. Here we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon before heading back to the Oast for dinner and a quiet evening.

The next morning was Julie’s birthday, and after seeing deer in the garden, we enjoyed breakfast before Julie and Sue set off to visit Sue’s elderly relatives, and to run errands.  Meanwhile, Rocky and Guy nearly finished packing the kitchen, before it was time for a late lunch, followed by an afternoon of birthday bubbly.  For dinner, we dressed up and went out to eat at “Thackerays”.  This restaurant was located in a lovely old building build in 1640 and was renown for its world-class chef and tasting menu.  For her birthday, Julie had duck with foie gras, cod with ratatouille cannelloni, and white chocolate souffle with raspberry sorbet. Rocky had a crab tartlet, halibut and cheesecake.  All finished with chocolate birthday cake!  A fantastic meal polished off at home with a nightcap and a good night’s rest.

Thackeray’s for Dinner

The next day, we drove to Bexley to visit Guy’s mother who had recently bought a new house.  After tea and pleasantries, we drove to the O2 where we boarded the Thames Clipper, (a boat bus), for a trip into London by boat past Greenwich, Masthouse, the Canary Wharf, and the Tower of London to The Embankment, where we disembarked and found a local pub, “The Coal Hole” for sandwiches. After lunch, we walked to St. James Palace and took a 45-minute tour of Clarence House – the official London residence of Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla.  The grounds boasted a beautiful front garden, a portico and a portico that was being renovated.  After the tour, we walked through St. James Park, stopping to visit “The Kingsman” clothing store (yes – the one in the movie).  From there, we went to “Berry Brothers and Rudd” (Britain’s oldest wine & spirits store) operating for over 3 centuries!  Their cellars stretch over 2-acres underground where they house the world’s best selection of “investment” wines. From there, we walked to Horseguard Square where the mounted Cavalry is housed, and then to Westminster Pier where we boarded a Clipper ship back to the O2. We spent the evening with nibbles watching “The Blues Brothers” movie before calling the day’s end.

The O2 Concert Stadium

 

The Millenium Bridge & The Shard

 

Berry Brothers & Rudd Cellars

 

The Eye

On Saturday, we drove to the town of Windsor to see the town and tour the castle while Guy and Sue visited their daughter, son-in-law and grandson.  Since we had pre-bought tickets, we avoided the long lines and walked in just in time to be the last to tour St. George’s Chapel, followed by wandering the terraces and grounds, and touring the State Apartments, (including the Drawing Room, the Waterloo Room, the King’s Chamber, and the Queen’s Chamber.  We then walked part of “The Long Walk” – a 2 miles straight path leading to the Castle’s Gates, before meeting Guy and Sue for drinks, and then having dinner at “The Giggling Squid” restaurant.  We then met up with their kids and grandkids picnicking locally.  That was our occasion to say our goodbyes, before being dropped off at the Heathrow Airport Hilton for our flight to Iceland the next morning.

Windsor Castle

 

The Cavalry Stables & Parade Ground

 

Windsor’s Long Walk