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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

 

The 30th Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure – GOBA

July 2, 2018 2:37 pm

June 2018

The 2018 Father’s Day Weekend brought the running of the 30th Anniversary of the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, and our brother-in-law’s 30th participation in it.  A.J. is one of only a couple of dozen people who have ridden every running of this event, and this year we were lucky enough to be able to join him in this celebration.  The 2018 GOBA began and ended at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, north of Columbus, Ohio, and circles Columbus counterclockwise for a week of bicycling and camping.

A.J. & Pam’s Farm House in Dayton, Ohio

On Sunday, June 17th, we rose early at Pam and A.J. house in Dayton, and arrived at the Fairgrounds at 6:45AM, where we registered, loaded our luggage into the Luggage Travel Vans, and parked our cars.  By 7:20AM, we were cycling on the road through pastoral settings past large farms and fields of corn and soybeans.  Today’s terrain was reasonably flat with only 250ft of elevation change.  The Breakfast stop was at the 13-mile mark, where locals sold PB&J sandwiches, fruit and breakfast burritos.  Lunch was provided by Subway at the 31-mile mark, but 1-mile before then, A.J. suffered a catastrophic tire blow-out requiring a temporary tire patch and new tube.  With appreciated, friendly help from recreational cyclists from the Trek Bike Shop in Dublin, Ohio, we limped into the lunch stop where A.J. had new tires and tubes installed.  After repairs, we resumed our ride to the afternoon water stop at the 40-mile mark.  However, this stop was not set-up, and by now, the temperature had reached a humid 92 degrees F, and many participants were stopping to rest and struggling with the heat.  Luckily, 2 young ladies from Phat Daddy’s Pizza were at the 45-mile mark giving away much-appreciated bottled water.  After 57 miles, we arrived at the London, Ohio Fairgrounds where we located our luggage, set up our tents and were off to the well-needed shower trucks.  After showers, we all walked the one mile into downtown looking for a cold beer.  However, today being Sunday, we could only find one local bar, “Jim’s”, where the beer was cold, and we were the only customers that were not local.  After getting refreshed, we walked to Phat’s Pizza to “thank” them and to enjoy a gyro pizza snack.  We returned to the Fairgrounds for a spirited came of cards and a quiet afternoon.  That evening, we enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches from the “Buckeye BBQ Truck” before settling in for an early night’s sleep.

Famous Mill Creek Covered Bridge outside of Columbus, Ohio

On Monday morning, we awoke ~6:15AM and set off on our bikes to the nearby town of South Charleston, 13 miles away along the paved National Bike Rail Path.  In town, we located a small Coffee Shop called “All in Flavor Café & Sweets Shop” where we enjoyed breakfast burritos, bagels and coffee.  From there, we rode leisurely back to the Fairgrounds for showers, and then shuttled back into London to visit the public Library – one of the nearly 2500 Carnegie Libraries originally built in 1905 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  Although added-on-to in 1989, the original plasterwork, molding and tall ceilings remain.  Here we caught up on world news, charged our cell phones and relaxed in air-conditioning.  Afterwards, we returned to the camp at the Fairgrounds for a round of cards, before shuttling to a Mexican Restaurant for chili rellenos, fajitas and quesadillas.   After dinner, we returned to camp to relax and settle-in for the night.

Breakfast at All in Flavor in South Charleston, Ohio

Rocky putting up the tent at the Campsite

GOBA-town at the London, Ohio Fairgrounds

Tuesday morning, we were up at 5:00AM to pack, take down our tent, and load up our luggage into the luggage vans.  We were on our bikes by 6:00AM for the day’s 54-mile ride south on the west side of Columbus.  The route included passing through Madison Lake State Park, and into Deer Creek State Park where a massive dam creates a beautiful lake surrounded by wildflowers, a marina, beach and lodge.  Today’s ride was hot again, and water stops were welcomed along our way to the town Circleville.  A.J. and Rocky made the complete ride in 3 ½ hours with all stops and average a surprising 18 mph!  At Circleville, we stayed on the school grounds where all three schools (Elementary, Middle, and High School), are located.  Here, we initially set up our tents, but on hearing of the strong likelihood of evening storms, we took advantage of the opportunity to stay in the gymnasium for the night.  Therefore, after repacking our tents, we set up our bedrolls indoors before we traveled into town for huge, late lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings followed by a visit to the Circleville Library, where a series of special programs for GOBA riders was made available.  They provided drinks, snacks, popcorn, games, puzzles, movies and charging stations in an amazing show of hospitality and graciousness.  After enjoying ourselves for a couple of hours, we headed back to the camp where we strolled about before settling in for the night.

Deer Creek State Park looking over the Route

The next morning, the gym lights went on at 5:00AM, and we were up, packed and ready to get the day started.  After dropping our bags at the luggage vans and grabbing a quick cup of coffee, we set off in the beginning light only to be met with a thick fog that soaked our clothes and covered our bikes and glasses. Today’s 53-mile route travels up and down in hilly countryside, challenging our climbing ability, and reaching downhill speeds approaching 40 mph!  Our breakfast stop was in 16 miles, at a local Methodist Church.  However, they had only just found out about hosting it, and were scrambling to meet the hungry and thirsty hoard of riders.  Lunch stop was another 12 miles away at a local family’s produce farm where the whole family was on-hand to help and to sell fruit, sandwiches, snacks and drinks.  After lunch, the fog cleared, and we made our way into the city of Lancaster where the route went through the center of town into the front gates of the Lancaster Fairgrounds.  Here, Rocky and A.J. set up the tents and everyone took a well-deserved shower before heading across the street to a local pub that had opened the day Prohibition ended.  Here we had some cold drinks and snacks before catching the shuttle back to downtown, which was in full celebration.  Lancaster had arranged a city celebration for the cyclists including a city-center stage and band, stilt-walkers, cotton candy, etc.  From here we went to the library to catch up on the news of the day, and to charge our electronics, until they closed at 5:00PM.  After they closed, we went to the town square to enjoy the festivities and play a few hands of cards, until A.J. had to attend his “Golden GOBA Dinner” – honoring those who had ridden so many years.  During A.J.’s dinner, the rest of us headed to O’Houl’s – an authentic English Pub where we had fish & chips, mushy peas and nachos.  During dinner, a huge rainstorm hit, but it had subsided by the time we met to walk back to camp.  That night, the rains came and went, but we were cozy in our tents and sleeping bags.

A J and Rocky ready to set off on their bikes

Thursday morning was overcast but dry and was the day of the Summer Solstice!  We “slept in” until 6:15AM, when we got up and decided to ride the 15-miles from Lancaster to Pleasantville for breakfast.  The ride was beautiful and cool – passing 3 old covered bridges and a few gentle hills.  Unfortunately, the restaurant that we were looking for wasn’t in Pleasantville but was another 5-miles down the road in the town of New Salem.  After some confusing directions from locals, we finally found “The Old Town Diner” – a quaint “one woman” establishment that was the favorite hangout of the locals.  The owner was a pleasant woman who greeted, served, cooked, bussed and washed dishes, all the while cheerful and attentive to a not-full coffee cup or water glass.  The food was excellent, and we conversed with the local customers before setting off for the return bike trip back to camp. 

At breakfast at the Old Town Diner in New Salem, Ohio

Old Covered Bridge in Lancaster, Ohio

At camp, we showered and then looked at the impending weather forecast.  That evening and the entire next day called for torrential thunderstorms, and so we made the decision to “bail”!  We called for an Uber to take the girls the 60 miles back to the cars in Delaware, and meanwhile Rocky and A.J. packed up the gear and the tents, and moved everything, including the bikes, under cover in the “Goat Building”.  Since it would take the girls 2 ½ hours to get to the cars and return to Lancaster with them, Rocky and A.J. revisited the local bar to replenish their fluids while waiting.  The girls arrived with the vehicles ~ 2:40pm, and after loading gear and bikes into the vehicles, we made the 1 ½ drive back to the farmhouse in Dayton. Another GOBA – albeit shortened – under our belts!

Our adventure group cycling 2018 GOBA

Biking the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Towpath

2:07 pm

May 2018

Given our previous bicycling adventures in New Zealand and Canada, we decided we should see some of the great bicycling adventures closer to home, and one of the most talked about routes is the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath from Pittsburg to Washington, D.C.  We decided to arrange this trip with a locally favorite company – Wilderness Adventure Travel, who is actually located along the trail in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania.  Our trip started by meeting Julie’s sister and brother-in-law at our home in Alexandria, Virginia where we loaded-up our luggage and drove the 4 hours to Uniontown, PA from which we could visit the National Historic Landmark of Fallingwater – the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Department Store mogul-family, The Kaufmanns.  This famous home is set over the falls and running river of Bear Run and has hosted over 5-million visitors since it opened for the public in 1964.  The next morning, Sunday, we met our adventure companions at Ohiopyle, and the 11 of us, along with our two Wilderness Adventure Travel guides, Montana & Chris, fitted our bikes and traveled to the Boston, PA. trailhead where our adventure began.

Our Route along the Greater Allegheny Passage Rail-Trail and the C&O Canal Tow-Path

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

Fallingwater’s iconic view

Our first day of biking was traveling 57 miles upstream along the Great Allegheny Passage – a converted rail-trail beside the Youghiogheny River.  This route was used by the railroad to transport coal and other raw materials over the Appalachian Divide to the East Coast.  Along the way we saw deer, turkeys, geese and an abundance of flowers.  The wildlife was complemented by spectacular views as we crossed deep gorges, visited trail centers and rode through old coal-mining towns, until we arrived back at Ohiopyle.  After a short visit to the pub for beer and ice, we headed to our first night’s stay and dinner at a mountain-top private lodge – The Trillium.  Showers, drinks and a dinner of BBQ brisket & pork with chocolate cake completed our first day.

Rocky and A.J. on Greater Allegnehy Passage

After a “cowboy breakfast” we re-engaged the trail and continued our climb along the Great Allegheny Passage, 48 miles to the Eastern Continental Divide – the point at which eastern USA waters divide between flowing to the Gulf of Mexico or to the Atlantic Ocean.  Along the way, we crossed some long viaducts and passed windmill farms until we finally started our additional 24-mile descent into Maryland through the Mason-Dixon line to the town of Cumberland. Those at the head-of-the-pack were met with downed-trees from the previous night’s storms which required carrying bikes over them, and those still riding later in the afternoon were met with a new round of thunderstorms.  We checked into our hotel rooms at the Fairfield Inn, and after showers and snacks, went to the Crabby Pig for dinner, before retiring for the night.

Our Wilderness Adventure Bicycling Group

Rocky at the Eastern Continental Divide

The next morning, we awoke to news that yesterday’s storms had brought some severe weather and flooding to Eastern Maryland and some of our 54-mile future route.  Today, we would switch from the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail to the C&O Canal Tow-path which starts at the historic Western Maryland Train Station.  The C&O Canal was built in the 19th century along the Potomac River and allowed barge traffic to move both ways from Cumberland to the Eastern Seaboard.  The C&O Canal took 35,000 laborers and 22-years to construct and consists of a series of locks, with water fed from the Potomac upstream, and a tow-path beside it that allowed men, donkeys and horses to navigate their way upstream. After a humid and muddy morning, we stopped for lunch, before continuing to the Paw Paw Tunnel.  The Paw Paw Tunnel is an underground 3118’ canal and tow-path tunnel that started construction in 1836 and took 14 years to complete.  It bypasses a 6-mile stretch of the Potomac that contains 5 horseshoe bends and takes its name from the pawpaw trees that grow nearby. The darkness inside requires walking our bikes with care and with a light, but the traverse was incredible, and not much different than that over 100-years ago.  After reaching the town of Old Orleans, we biked the nicest 16-miles of the day along the C&O and detours onto the Maryland rail-trail.  Last nights storms had washed out parts of the Tow-path, but we eventually arrived covered in mud in the town of Hancock, from which we shuttled to the nearby West Virginia town of Berkley Springs for hot showers and a rustic dinner in the Morgan Tavern located within the 1930’s historic Country Inn.

Canal House along the historic C&O Canal

At the entrance of the Paw Paw Tunnel

Wednesday morning started off dreary as we rode 12-miles to the historic Fort Frederick, built in 1756 in support of the French & Indian War.  Then we rode on to Williamsport, MD where we had lunch, before resuming our ride on the C&O tow-path in the pouring rain. From here, we were heading to the Antietam National Battlefield when we encountered an area of the tow-path that had been covered by the rising waters of the Potomac River.  While most of our riders searched for a detour, a few, including Rocky, waded the waters around a bend for ~150’ before the path re-emerged from the flood and the trip could be continued.  Unfortunately, this unexpected hazard scattered our group, and Julie’s brother-in-law, A.J., needed a friendly lift before getting back on route.  From here, part of the group headed to the Civil War Battlefield, and part headed via van directly to the hotel.  After the Battlefield visit, and fixing Rocky’s flat tire, the sightseeing group biked to Shepherdstown, WV., where everyone met up at the Bavarian Inn hotel, and where A.J. also successfully found his way to.  Dinner that evening was in the Rathskeller where we feasted on German beer, sausages and veal schnitzel! 

Fort Fredrick build in 1756 to support the English in The French & Indian War

Visitors Center at Antietam Civil War Battlefield

By Thursday morning, the continued heavy rains had closed much of the next part of the C&O tow-path, requiring us to detour onto the Western Maryland rail-trail – a beautifully paved trail that was welcomed with the continued bad weather.  Despite the rain, we saw an abundance of wildlife along the way, including deer, turkeys, rabbits and birds.  After biking to Harper’s Ferry, we explored the historic town, checked out the still-operating old train station and enjoyed lunch.  From here, we shuttled to the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) trail, passing beautiful wildflowers and scenic views, until we reached the Homewood Suites in Leesburg, Virginia.  Here we enjoyed Happy Hour while playing cards, before leaving for our final trip dinner, consisting of wood-fired pizza at Fireworks Pizza Restaurant.

Examples of the Washed-out Tow-path Trail

The Historic Town of Harpers Ferry

Memorium for Hapers Ferry

Final group dinner at Fireworks Pizza

Friday morning, we awoke to heavily overcast skies, and after a quick breakfast, we departed in hopes of avoiding the impending storm – unsuccessfully.  The rain fell in buckets as we rode the complex, increasingly urbanized W&OD trail.  Today’s journey would only be 37 miles, and after a brief lunch stop at the Herndon, VA golf course, we switched to the Custis Trail to navigate our way to Georgetown in Washington, D.C.  Today was National “Ride Your Bike to Work” Day, and all along the way were corporate sponsors and encouragement groups.  We arrived in D.C., and after crossing the Potomac River to Georgetown, sought out our final meeting place at the Thompson Boathouse.  The weather had gridlocked the Friday automobile traffic exiting town, and our bicycles were a welcomed way to navigate the city’s complicated network of routes.  Upon meeting at the Thompson Boathouse, we took showers, dressed and said our goodbyes to our trip-mates.  From here, Julie and her sister Metro-ed to our Alexandria home, while Rocky and A.J. shuttled with Wilderness Adventures Travel back to Ohiopyle to collect the car.

Julies sister covered with mud

Altogether, we had cycled the ~320 miles from the outskirts of Pittsburg to Washington, D.C. in 6 days under trying conditions of rain, floods, and detours!  Even so, everyone had had a great time, and vowed to start planning our next great bicycling adventure!

Visiting Colorado

January 29, 2018 3:56 pm

January 2018

During previous “Out West” adventures, (Grand Canyon and Mt. St. Helens), we connected-up with another couple Scott and Mary, who happen to live in Silverthorne, Colorado. Under the philosophy that “no authentic invite shall go unfilled”, we arranged a week trip to visit them during the Colorado winter! On Thursday, January 11th, we flew to Denver, where we rented a car and drove the 90 minutes up the mountains, through the Eisenhower Tunnel, to their house in Silverthorne. Scott and Mary have a beautiful 3-story log cabin, at 9000’ altitude, high on the side of a mountain in the Williams Fork Range, overlooking the Blue River Valley and the town of Silverthorne. The house is built on the 1.7 billion-year-old, thrusted Dakota meta-sediments, and we spent the first afternoon marveling at the views from their house of the Gore Range, with stands of Lodgepole Pine trees visited by ospreys, bald eagles, ravens, magpies and red-tailed hawks. Scott and Mary told us about their personal sightings and local encounters with foxes, brown bears, elk, deer and mountain lions! That night, we watched the sun set behind the mountains across the valley while we ate lasagna & salad and sipped nightcaps in front of the stone fireplace.

Rocky-Mary-Scott-Julie

Scott & Marys House from Road Below

Thursday night, a light snow fell, and we awoke Friday morning to continued flurries and a new, white blanket covering the hillsides. After a leisurely breakfast, we set off on a gentle hike 800ft up to the top of Scott and Mary’s community, admiring the views and uniquely-constructed houses along the way. That afternoon, we headed into Frisco where we had appetizers and drinks at the Outer Range Brewing Company – a busy local brewery frequented by locals and their families, which had a style reminiscent of old English Pubs. From there, we went to the Pioneer Ski Shop to pick up Roc’s ski equipment for Saturday, and then went to the Red Mountain Grill in Silverthorne for dinner. It was then, while observing the crowd that we had realized that we had forgotten that this was a Holiday Weekend, since Monday would be MLK Day! After an excellent salmon dinner, we headed back to welcome Bill and Sandy, friends of Scott and Mary from Denver, who came up for the night to ski with us on Saturday. We all drank wine, and then socialized until we finally called it a night and went to bed content.

View of Buffalo Mountain from the Deck

Mountain Range View from across the Valley

Saturday morning, we were up, had breakfast and coffee, and then the “boys” set off for Keystone Ski Resort “Foursquare” area, for a day of downhill skiing. Scott and Mary also own a rental condo across from the lifts at Keystone and can therefore use their condo’s parking garage to stage for skiing. After dressing, we three headed to the lift-ticket office so that Rocky could get a “Buddy Pass” lift ticket, (which, unfortunately took almost an hour), and then proceeded together to the “River Run Gondola” up to the start of “School Marm Run” – a 3.5-mile long “green” run, 2040’ down from the 11.640’ start. Since Rocky had not been skiing for nearly 40 years, Scott and Bill kept a watchful eye on him, but the old skills slowly returned, and Rocky executed a careful, but successful, run down the mountain. While the boys were skiing, the women made their way to the ski route’s finish and greeted the boys when they arrived from their first run. After that, the women, Mary, Sandy and Julie, checked out the Keystone villages and shops, of which Julie particularly liked the Gorsuch Shop which had unique gifts and interesting lines of clothing. After shopping, the girls headed to the bar for drinks and snacks, and to wait for the boys. Meanwhile, Scott, Bill and Rocky made there way back up the hill on the “Summit Express Chair Lift” to the top again, where they stopped for a quick beer at the Summit House Food Court, before again skiing “School Marm Run” – this time much faster and with fewer rest stops along the way. With 2 runs under his wings, Rocky called the day “finished” while Bill and Scott headed up for one final run of the day. All finally assembled with the girls for final drinks, before we headed back to Frisco to drop off Rocky’s skis, and then back to Scott and Mary’s for a few rounds of cosmopolitans, and a fantastic dinner of grilled steak and buffet potatoes, with rum cake for dessert. After dinner, Bill and Sandy needed to head back to Denver, and so, after goodbyes, the rest of us collected our wineglasses, and moved out onto the patio in 15-degree weather for a soak in the hot tub, while looking for satellites and watching the stars above. Once completely relaxed, we exited the tub, gathered in front of the fireplace before finally heading off to bed.

The Village Shops at Keystone

Skiiers at Keystone

Ski Routes at Keystone (SchoolMarm in Black)

Sunday, after breakfast, we headed out to the Breckenridge Nordic Center. It was a beautiful sunny day, and for very little cost, we equipped ourselves with snowshoes and boots, and began our “hike” along the “Red Trail”. The snowshoeing trail wound its way through the valley floor and up into the mountain-side’s trees, before we veered-off onto the “Yellow Trail” that took us up and under Breckenridge’s gondola. From there, we headed back down through the snow-strewn trees and beside moose meadow before returning to the Nordic Center – a fun-filled, 2-hour hiking adventure! From there, we headed to the gondola to ride up and visit Breckenridge’s Peaks 7 & 8, where the Holiday Weekend and recent snow had generated considerable crowds. We stopped for drinks and appetizers in a local restaurant, before heading back to the car, and back to Scott and Mary’s to get ready to go out to dinner. Tonight, we had planned to meet and have dinner with Nancy, the acting Society of Exploration Geophysicists President, who was planning to drive down from Denver. We met at Uptown’s in Frisco, where Nancy’s daughter, Haley, also joined us. Dinner was spent with excellent food and lively discussions of nursing and geophysics.

Showshoeing View at Breckenridge

Super-Chair Lift at Breckenridge

Blowing Snow at Breckenridge Mountain Tops

Monday morning, we took a leisurely approach to breakfast, before Julie and Rocky bundled up and put on Scott and Mary’s snowshoes, and went out for a hike around their countryside. We hiked through the adjacent woods down to near the valley floor, before returning in a roundabout way over an hour later. After a quick warm-me-up, we took out our rental car for a bit of a drive-about, and to give it a “warm up.” We drove through some of the local neighborhoods and around the growing condominium and townhouse communities. The rest of that afternoon was spent lazily before a dinner of grilled salmon and veggies. Again, we spent part of the cold, crisp evening in the hot tub with our wine, and searching for satellites in the heavens above – (Julie says she saw one!)

Julie Snowshoeing near Scott’s

Rock and Julie out Snowshoeing

Tuesday morning was spent packing our belongings, before the 4 of us went outside for a 2-hr. walk along the roads, into some of the newly developing communities nearby – Hamilton Creek & Angler Mountain Subdivisions! Along the way, in addition to the majestic views, we sighted a falcon, and 3 deer! After saying our heartfelt “Thank You’s” and goodbyes, we headed off to get a hotel in Denver for one night, to be better prepared for our very early morning flight back to Florida. Along the way, we passed the ever-present Buffalo Herd – our classic reminder of the whirlwind adventure we just had.

Falcon on Neighbors Rooftop

Deer Roaming the Area

2018 New Year’s Sailing Celebration in Grand Abaco, The Bahamas

January 19, 2018 7:40 pm

It’s wonderful how life delivers a cascade of friendships that take you to unexpected places! Our friends in West Palm Beach, Peter & Nikki, connected with their friend Alex who used to be a Charter Captain in Grand Abaco Island in The Bahamas. Alex and his girlfriend, Heather, were chartering a sloop over New Year’s and needed 2 other couples to round out their crew, and so the six of us came together in West Palm Beach Airport on the morning of Thursday, December 28th, 2017 to fly to Marsh Harbor on Grand Abaco Island to pick up our 45ft Jeanneau named “Aequanimitas” – meaning “Equanimity” or “demonstrating a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed”! I’m not sure it was appropriate for the 6 of us!

Abaco Map

The trip began as these trips usually do with lunch at the marina followed by the guys checking out the boat and its equipment, and the girls gathering supplies at the nearest grocery and liquor stores! We did have time to take the boat out of the marina, get underway and travel south to Tilloo Cay, where we set anchor and ate a light dinner of freshly prepared conch salad.

The Aequanimitas

The next morning, after a breakfast onboard of coffee, eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast, we set sail south to Sandy Cay, an uninhabited spit of sand and rocks that hosts a spectacular offshore reef teeming with fish. After anchoring, we took the dingy and looked for a shore access where we all disembarked and explored the beach for sea biscuits, shells and sea fans that had washed-up. While the girls continued beach-combing, the guys took the dingy to the diving mooring balls where we tied-up and snorkeled a wall of coral. Among the multitude of fish, we came upon a couple of Sea Eagle Sting Rays with a wing-span of 3-4 ft., and a tail extending 15-20 ft. behind! After our fill of snorkeling, we went back to shore to pick up the girls, ate lunch on the boat, and then continued our sail south to Little Harbor, where we picked up a mooring ball and took the dingy over to Pete’s Pub and Gallery. Here, the water was crystal clear, the seafloor was sandy, and the harbor was filled with sea turtles and smaller sting rays. At Pete’s Pub, we had drinks and fish dinners, including trigger fish, wahoo and grouper, and we took the occasion to make the 200-ft. short walk over the dune to view the Atlantic Ocean.

Beachcombing Sandy Cay

Swimming with the Rays

On Saturday morning, we motored north early to Lynyard Cay to take advantage of the higher tides, where we set anchor and ate a leisurely breakfast on the boat! After cleaning-up, we set sail north to Elbow Cay where we would have to slowly motor through a very shallow passage. Along our sail, the bottom was clear to view, and we saw numerous sharks ranging 3 – 6 ½ ft. in length, a school of small tuna, sea cucumbers, and sea turtles. We even saw a small group of 6 dolphins leisurely exploring our boat. However, with the tide too low, we could not successfully cross the shallows on our way to Elbow Cay, and so, having to wait for the tide to come in, we anchored nearby at south of Lubbers at Tavern Cay for snorkeling and lunch. At Tavern Cay, a series of small rock outcrops, “Fish Hotel Rocks”, serve as home to small corals, sting rays, conchs, and bigeye fish. After snorkeling and having lunch on-board, we slowly motored on the higher tide to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. The harbor of Hope Town is a beautiful and quaint area, and after picking up our designated Abaco Charter mooring ball, we restocked groceries and liquor, before returning to shore for drinks, conch fritters and wings on the dock at “The Harbour’s Edge”, and then eating dinner aboard.

Diving for Coral

Sunday was New Year’s Eve, and most stores and shops were closed. However, after a light breakfast on-board, we all went to the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. This lighthouse was erected in 1864 and is the world’s last working kerosene lighthouse of its kind! With its octagonal mirror structure, it gives a group of 5 white flashes every 15 seconds. We climbed the 101 steps to the observation deck and took in the beautiful panoramic view of the area, before descending and leaving Hope Town to sail north to Guana Cay – home to both “Nippers Beach Bar & Grill” and “Grabbers Bed, Bar and Grille”. After setting anchor at the outer edge of the harbor, we took the dingy to the City Dock and took a golf cart across the narrow island to Nippers – a multilevel deck bar overlooking the famous “Seven-Mile Beach” on the Atlantic Ocean with loud music and 100’s of young adults drinking and dancing! After sampling the famous “Nipper’s Juice Cocktail” and joining in the party, we were getting ready to leave when two girls sitting on the railing, tumbled-over from 8 ft. up and were seriously injured. While medical attended to them, we walked back across the island to “Grabbers at Sunset Beach” where we sampled a frozen drink called the “Guana Grabber”, ate pizza, chicken tender and fish finger appetizers, and marveled at the largest catamaran “Raft-Up” any of us had ever seen – 36 catamarans in two rows of 18 – all anchored and roped together! After a bit of shopping, we returned to the boat where we enjoyed a late, light diner, and enjoyed music and cards until 11:00pm, when the first round of fireworks over the island were set off. Then, at midnight, we popped-open our champagne, enjoyed the next round of fireworks and celebrated the beginning of 2018!

Elbow Reef Lighthouse

View of Hope Town

Party at Nippers

New Years Eve Fireworks

Massive Catamaran Raft

Monday morning and a Happy New Year to everyone! After a light breakfast, we continued to motor-sail north, past the huge raft-up, to Treasure Cay. Unfortunately, a low-pressure front was moving in making for a very light wind day! But, that would be reversed with the storm that was forecast for tomorrow. Since today was a holiday, we picked up a mooring ball and went ashore to the “Coco Beach Bar at Treasure Bay Beach Resort” where we ate a lunch of mahi- and cheese-burgers, drank Gin & Tonics, rented beach lounges and an umbrella, and spent the afternoon enjoying the surf, sand, and sun. While beach-combing, we saw starfish, sting rays, sand dollars and delicate, fragile shells. We returned late in the afternoon for showers and a boat-cooked meal of chicken, potatoes, corn and beans before settling in for an early night.

The night brought the expected storm, and Tuesday we awoke to 30 mph winds out of the north, with gusts to 35 mph, and a driving rainstorm. Even though we had one day on the charter remaining, in respect for the predicted bad weather getting worse, we charted a course back south for Marsh Harbor to the south. We raised the main to before its first reefing point, and put the genoa out to its first reefing point, which is all the sail we were willing to expose, giving us a speed of over 7 knots over land! However, the mast-self-furling main jammed and the shackle holding the furling line broke off leaving the self-furling jammed and disabled! This was not too much problem while sailing and tacking towards the harbor in the south, but had to be resolved before we could enter the marina in those conditions! Finally, when we approached the harbor, we furled the genoa, and motored into the lee of an island where we set anchor, and, in a driving rainstorm, the boys wrestled the exposed mainsail to wrap it around the mast, and secure it with a maypole of the spinnaker halyard. This allowed us to motor into the Boat Harbor Marina where we docked at the T-dock and battened down for the storm. That evening, we hunkered down for the storm in the boat, cooking the foodstuff that we had left for dinner, and having a nightcap of Grand Marnier at the Marina’s Poolside Bar.

Securing the Sail in a Storm

The storm howled all night, but showed signs of let-up the next morning, allowing us to all walk to a local restaurant called “Jamie’s”, where all we had a hot breakfast. After breakfast, Alex and Heather took the ferry to visit with old friend back on Elbow Cay, and the rest of us played cards and enjoyed the facilities offered by the Boat Harbor Marina. The winds remained in the 30-40 mph range until late that evening, and with the occasional rain shower, kept us close to the boat until a break later that evening, when we walked to a local restaurant called “Snappa’s”. There we ate salads and drank wine and beer before returning to the boat. We “camped” that night on the boat, enduring the rest of the storm by playing cards and preparing to leave the next day by starting our packing.

Sunset at Abaco

Thursday morning, Alex and Heather rejoined us, and we all went to “Jamie’s” again for brunch before catching a cab to the airport and our flight back to West Palm Beach. From there, it was a short, 2-hour drive north back to our home in Indialantic. Another fantastic trip with high adventure, good close friends and new friends – what could be better!