Duck! Our Last Few Days in Iceland

ushs

The homestay in Hvammstang was run by a woman named Oddney who lives with her husband and kids in a nice historic home on a fijord of Hunaflo. We got there not long after the other guests, a couple from Australia on a getaway for a couple of weeks. Was nice to spend some time chatting with them and Oddney before going out for dinner. Upon returning, I shared some of my favorite dark chocolate biscuits with them, Mrs. Vittes. They knew them well, having come from England themselves and we got to spend a bit more time with them before going to bed. Breakfast the next morning was neat. The kitchen overlooks the water and we all spent time scanning the waves looking for whales. While we had no luck, our hostess told us stories of other sightings by other groups.

icelandsheep

Look! Sheep!

Out on the road again, we wasted no time getting into trouble. We had stopped briefly to look at another hot pool installation before continuing to head west. As we were driving, two big ducks took off from our right and flew right across our hood. Instinctively, we ducked, but windshields can’t do that and we hit one of them right in the chest! He slipped … or maybe it was slid up the windshield right in front of my face, over the hood  leaving a thin purple streak behind and disappeared. We did not look back, we did not stop.

duck

It Looked Like This One

Funnily enough, when we stopped a few miles down the road at the shark museum, they had a stuffed duck that looked similar. I had to take a picture. The museum though, was the real reason for the stop. The Bjarnarhofn shark museum educates on how Greenland sharks are prepared to make a safe, edible Icelandic traditional food. The sharks are no longer hunted, just harvested and sent to this museum if they’re found in the net and  are actually poisonous if eaten directly after being caught due to the amount of uric acid that runs through their bodies like an antifreeze. Works great at keeping them alive in the deep, but not so good for human consumption. So, they cut them up into chunks that are then layered in crates and left for four to five months. This dries them some and lets some of the ammonia dissipate. Afterwards, they hang the chunks individually to cure the rest of the way. Yes. We tried it. No, we did not take any home. Marc did get the t-shirt though.

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Marc Takes A Bite

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He’s Smiling Because The Wind Is At His Front

We spent a restful night in Olafsvik, and I even cooked. It was nice to get someplace early and just chill after a shower and I even got to cook a simple dinner. Our hosts were a nice couple of characters with a country music performing past and really helpful in suggesting sights ahead. We had our last destinations planned pretty quickly.

Our first stop the next morning was at the end of an extremely rocky, pitted, one lane dirt road that is officially known as the most western part of Iceland and maybe, depending on who you ask, of Europe too.. There is a lighthouse at Snaefellbaer and cliffs populated by many species of birds. So many in fact, that they used to routinely harvest eggs to sell. Pretty neat, eh?

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wsterpe

Rolling on, we did this awesome climb up the side of a volcano, got to stand in the caldera and tried to take some cool pictures. My phone was having problems though and that’s all we were using for pictures this trip. it was so overcast that nothing much turned out well, but at least we got some exercise.

Next stop, was the fictional entrance from the Jules Verne’s classic story,  Journey To The Center of The Earth. map

Vatnshellir cave is  actually a lava tube, and is believed to be between six to eight thousand years old.  We descended a long spiral staircase and went deep into the cave. It gets so quiet down there, and the total darkness when all the flashlights go off  was pretty amazing.

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Looking For Adventure!

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The Staircase Lit By 10 Flashlights

We came above again and could immediately appreciate how much warmer it was up top. The cave had a few stalagtites and stalagmites, and bizzarly enough an 80 year old skeleton of a fox that had died down there but it was also chilly and somewhat damp. Much better up top.

Traveling on, we came to Hellnar and a hike that had been recommended as particularly good.

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Isn’t It Gorgeous?

While we didn’t do the whole walk, we did hike out and explore the caves at the edge before following the path for a bit.

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Marc Strikes A Pose

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Seen From the Path. That’s Snaefellsjokull Glacier In The Background

The rest of the trip back to Reykjavik was pretty uneventful, if a little uneven. The roads are a little bumpy  so I couldn’t fall asleep except when going through the tunnel north of the city. Remember the green moss-covered lava fields we saw at the start of the trip? We had a bit more of that too before we made it back to the city and some new digs.

Our last morning dawned bright and cool. We found our favorite pastry shop for a quick nosh before getting in a little souvenir hunting before we left.

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Rykavik Morning

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Accidental Kitty Ambassador. Cats were seen  practically every place we went.  

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Interspersed w/ the souvenir shops were some private residences. Isn’t this beautiful?

 

So, Iceland was seriously cool and I’m not punning. We’re already trying to figure out when we can go back for a long weekend. I’d like another shot at the northern lights. I’ve got the right camera now and Marc knows how to use it. LOL. Love to all who read this far. Next post will be short as, I swear!

 

 

 

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Northern Iceland!

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Remember me telling you all about the sixty-five plus year old woman whose camper van we stayed in? Her name was Anna and she was such a lovely woman. She and her dog Shnorty (I know I’m mangling that spelling) live in a small town and host visitors every evening. Her front yard was twinkling with tea lights when we arrived and she showed us the amenities before leaving to great her final guests for the night as they arrived.

The van was comfortable and reminded me a lot of ours in New Zealand. The biggest difference being, we were told this one, “doesn’t move.” Just in case we wanted to get crazy in the middle of the night. So I got to experience once more the fun of climbing over Marc to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night and trying not to wipe out on the very slippery lader. There were tons of horses hanging out in the front yard, but the little stallion made sure no one got any love from me.

Didn’t take us long to get our stuff together and hit the road again. It also wasn’t long before we were stopping for another gorgeous waterfall. Got a nice little hike in through a well-worn sheep trail to get a little closer to the falls and traded taking pictures with some of the other folks.

waterfallWe continued to drive on through a landscape that became less and less green and more and more rocky. The mountains resolved into individual volcanos and the grass finally disappeared completely.

volcanos

It Looked Like This

Every so often, we would see little pools of toxic looking water either off in the distance or next to the side of the road. We kept going as we were starving. The potato chip supply began to dwindle. Our destination for the night was a homestay in the second largest town in Iceland, Akureyri. Before we got there though, we had to stop at a hot spring  everybody had been telling us about. Myvatn Nature Baths  are unique because there is a sandy bottom and the water itself is full of beneficial minerals that leaves your skin feeling silky smooth. The water stays at a comfortable 96 to 104 degrees and they warn you to take off any brass or silver before you enter as the water will literally turn them black during a visit. These pools were so amazing for lounging around in and people watching. The cafe was rather nice too and it meant we could lay off the chips for a while.

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Aftermath. Do we look relaxed, or what?

Marc had to drag me out so we could leave, but getting changed presented its own challenges. Although we had the option of renting towels, we decided to rough it. How do you dry off without one? Easy, after the shower… you use a hairdryer mostly all over and use paper towels for the delicate bits. Worked out pretty good actually and soon we were back in our seats and on the way to Akureyri.

Our hosts Paulina and Samuel showed us our room inside their beautiful home. Everywhere we looked art works were on display and it didn’t take long for us to find out Paulina and her husband (whom we didn’t get a chance to meet) were artists. I took many pictures inside their home.

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I also took many outside their home as Akureyri had cool stuff to see everywhere we looked. Paulina’a husband we were told, teaches art in town and there was an art exhibit going on during our visit.

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Cute Little House. Not Our Homestay Though.

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The Door of Akureyrarkirkja. A Prominent Lutheran Church.

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Paper Mache Monster from the art show

Our breakfast was included the next morning and it was neat to experience what an Icelander might normally have for breakfast. Of course, I always bring our own tea, but otherwise, we did as the locals do and enjoyed soft-boiled eggs, cucumbers, red pepper, oranges and banana’s and granola. Marc  even got to try a little of the local yogurt.

breakfast

Satiated, we did a little more poking about before we had to take off again. Just as well since Akureyri had more tourists and simply more of a sheer mass of people everywhere than any other place besides Reykjavik. After seeing the wild and wide expanses of nothing from the safety of our little car, being shuffled along with throngs of people palled quickly. Besides, we had another homestay lined up in Dalabyggo to get to. Off again we went!

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This is how you know you’re leaving town… if it isn’t already obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

Vegas Baby!

 

Checking In @The Bellagio! Pam, Mom, Me & Maura

Checking In @The Bellagio! Pam, Mom, Me & Maura

Dale Chihuly glass flowers in the lobby

Dale Chihuly glass flowers in the lobby

My mom has been dreaming of taking all her girls to Vegas for her birthday for several years. This was the year of her 70th birthday, and we all got to celebrate! I think Las Vegas is one of her favorite places to go. While she’s not a huge gambler, between the shows, the restaurants, her favorite slot machine and the occasional blackjack table, there is always  something  fun going on. Mom got us fountain view rooms at the Bellagio. What an amazing view!

View from my room after checking in.

View from my room after checking in.

My only other trip to Las Vegas had been highly structured by others so there was a lot I still hadn’t seen yet. Our first day was spent looking for a three dollar blackjack table. We finally found one in the old section of Las Vegas. The Fremont might be a little rougher around the edges, but the place was clean and the dealers were competent. After we started making bets for the dealer too, she got a lot friendlier. One of the hands I got she called a “mother in laws” hand. Meaning, you want to hit, but you can’t. Kinda funny. I think we all walked away a little richer.

We didn’t do too much our first evening. Getting insulted by some BS maitre d meant our plans for a nice italian meal fell through and we ended up at the Treasure Island for the buffet. Turned out to be a smart move. Pam said that  my brother Eric absolutely loves the lobster ravioli there. After trying it myself, I can see why. It was fabulous! Afterwards, mom introduced me to her favorite slot machine. It’s called  Goldfish. I LOVE this game!Screen shot 2014-06-21 at 9.56.20 PM

Our second day, we went in search of more three dollar blackjack tables. Although we found several, we never again all got to sit down at the same table and play together. Still, we had a lot of fun wandering around Fremont street, checking out the various casinos and the street performers. The street performers ranged from guys dressed as statues that would move for money, to singers, ventriloquists, showgirls, to girls that just stood around in pasties and a T-bar waving at people for money.

street performers

Mom had booked us tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show “O” that has its home at the Bellagio so we didn’t stay on Fremont too long. With some time to kill however, we stopped outside the theatre when we got back and checked out the art gallery.  There is the most amazing collection of bronze statues created by Richard Macdonald showcased in the  entrance to the theatre. I picked out a few of my favorites to share with everyone:

"O" Performer

“O” Performer

He looked even better in person!

He looked even better in person!

What can I say about the show itself? It was wonderful! It has a water theme to it and the performers are amazing athletes who leap, fly through the air and do the most amazing rhythmic swimming routines I’ve ever seen. What truly made my jaw drop though was after it was over and they introduced the support staff. I had no idea all the singing and the music is all performed live for every show! Incredible!

Mom’s birthday on June 2nd was great! Mom had wanted to spend some time out by the pool for our last full day in Vegas and we were all looking forward to some cool water and hot sunshine. Maura had suggested we go in on a cabana to  give mom a stylish afternoon and she set everything up for us. It was so awesome to see mom’s face when we told her it was hers for the afternoon. We ended up staying all day and had great fun relaxing, playing cards and cooling off in that beautiful pool. I think we’re all spoiled for life now as far as pools go. LOL.

Cabana Time!

Cabana Time!

Our last evening was spent watching a really neat show at the Mirage. Terry Fator was the winner of the second season of America’s Got Talent and won a million dollar prize as a result. The very next year he was signed to the Mirage and has been there ever since. I can see why. This guy is incredible. he opened the show by singing an original song and afterwards made a joke about people not realizing he could actually sing. Not being familiar with him myself, I didn’t really get that joke until later when he actually sang in a female voice for one of his dummies.  He does male voice songs too and his Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley were spot on.

It was kinda late when we got out, but we got lucky and ended up in the front row at the railing for the volcano show outside the Mirage. Didn’t take long for it to start either. One minute we’re hearing a polite chirping cricket sound and the next it got really loud and then dropped off. Mom and Pam said later that’s the cue for the start of the show. It was wild and really neat to feel the heat thrown off from the flares.

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Volcano2

It was kinda late when we got back to our hotel, but mom had been keen to watch the fountains at night while drinking wine. Maura bowed out with a headache, but I went down to their room and we ate sandwiches, drank wine and enjoyed the show.

Wow!

Wow!

Tuesday was our day to travel home, but our mom had one more thing in mind for us before we left. On our way to the airport, we stopped outside the original Welcome to Las Vegas sign and got our picture taken. Might have done it a little backwards, but who cares? I didn’t even know there WAS an original sign! Thanks  mom and happy birthday again!

ExitSign

She’s already talking about going again as a group five years from now. Next time we’ll bring the guys too. Can’t wait to celebrate your birthday again next year mom!

 

 

 

 

 

On Tour With Rachel

11/30/12

LtR: me, Marc & Rachel

LtR: me, Marc & Rachel

Last Friday we took Rachel up on her offer to show us some of Auckland. Foolishly, she had  offered us the tour at Thanksgiving dinner and we didn’t want her to think too much about it before we could collect.  We met up with her about 1 in the afternoon and basically handed her the keys to our car. We left all the  driving and decision-making about where to go up to her. She took us on a tour of the local volcanoes and a couple of  nice beaches in the area. While the day was incredibly windy, the sun shone more often than not and the car was warm whenever  we jumped back inside. Rachel  was fearless, driving up the windy, winding  roads with the skill of an expert and she made driving on the wrong side of the road seem easy.

Our first volcano was in the suburb of Mount Eden and shares its name. It is 643 feet above sea level and there are really good views of the city all the way around the top. The crater itself is 164 feet deep and the day we visited,  the grass lining the bowl was long and shaggy creating wonderful   wave patterns as the wind played with the stalks. Marc took off for the bottom for a closer look while Rachel and I walked the rim taking pictures. CaptMarc

We stopped by Takapuna Beach  before continuing on  to Devonport.The beach was a nice big crescent and we’re told it’s popular. That day  was so damn windy however, we didn’t stay. It looked nice though and we’ll have to come back another day. The suburb/ town  of Devonport  is quite a  little jewel  with lots of restaurants, shops, and gallery’s to while away the afternoon. Getting hungry, we stopped  for a bite to eat and some tea at Corelli’s Cafe. They were sponsoring The Great Teapot and Tea Cosy Show. I liked  the dragon/princess teapot the best.

Tea Show1

Tea Show2

We also stopped at a cool glassblower’s shop down near the marina. His name is Peter Raos and he’s a really talented man with glass. Mom, I was thinking of you as I was looking at his vases and I am so thankful we came to NZ with already fully packed bags. Makes it harder to buy stuff. He was also really nice and let me take some pictures.

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PR2

The depth of his pieces is amazing

We got back on the touring of volcanoes after that. Rachel brought us to North Head. This is a volcanic cone in Devonport that was used extensively for defense purposes from the Maori to the New Zealand Army. There were gun batteries here until the 1950’s and there remain a warren of tunnels, observation posts and storerooms underneath. It’s pitch black without a flashlight however so we didn’t get too far exploring. Next, we pulled up at the entrance to Cheltenham beach and watched a few people braving the wind, but decided against further exploration. Rebuffed again!

NHead

Our last stop was Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill.These parks are right next to each other with the later, the location of the caldera. Cornwall park has an actual  working farm inside it’s boundaries and it’s pretty funny to see sheep grazing next to the dormant cone. The parks are beautiful and they even offer free firewood for bbq’s. We’ve decided  we need to come back and have a picnic soon. Despite the wind, we managed to get up to the top of one tree hill for a brief look around. Got to stand in front of Sir John Logan Campbell’s obelisk as well as see the bare grass where the one tree used to stand. Unfortunately, the tree got chainsawed and due to politics ( Maori people vs Everyone else)  both sides refuse to let another tree grow there. Bit of a shame really. They call it None Tree Hill now.

Huge. isn't it?

Cornwall Park

Where the tree used to be

Where the tree used to be

We were headed back to Rachel’s for dinner, however traffic was slowing everything down so we found a lovely open field and flew kites for a while instead. I got out my single line tulip kite, but the wind was so uneven I couldn’t keep it in the air. I finally gave up on that one and moved to the one meter instead. Rachel helped me launch it and we’d trade-off on flying it; though I did laugh a lot watching her crash it. Marc flew the two meter before handing it to me to give Rachel further assistance. By the end of it, she was doing pretty good though. We may have to try her on the two meter on a day she’s not liable to be carried away. Traffic break over, we had a much quicker drive back to Rachel’s where she fed us a great spaghetti Bolognese that had  been cooking in the crock pot all day. Paired with wine and great company, it was a great finish to a fabulous day.