17 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Golden Circle

I learned this summer that if you fly IcelandAir to Europe (and it's one of the least expensive carriers), you can opt to lay over up to seven days in Reykjavik at no additional charge. The country of Iceland is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Ohio. It would be difficult to drive the around the entire place in five or six days and see everything you want to see (Heck, we were there 14 days and absolutely NEED to go back). However, a stay in Reykjavik for a couple of days could be a lot of fun.

One of the things—no, THE thing—to do if you only have a few days is the so-called Golden Circle. It's a full day trip—roughly 300 km. There are tons of tours, guided and no, that make the trip daily. We rented a car for our three and a half days in Reykjavik, and I made the trip twice due to the family's staggered arrivals. And just WOW! Would/Will do it again. (As always, click pics to embiggen.)

First Stop: Þingvellir National Park, home of the Viking legislature ca. 930 CE
Þingvellir National Park, Largest lake in Iceland
Þingvellir National Park: Did I mention that the light here is incredible and changeable?
Þingvellir National Park: Still a vital part of Icelandic culture. When the country declared independence in 1944, the largest ever national gathering took place here
Þingvellir National Park: Plan to spend several hours here walking, exploring, absorbing, gaping!
Þingvellir National Park: There's also a waterfall!
Þingvellir National Park: The tectonic plates meet! European plate on the left, North American on the right! Rift runs the length of the North Atlantic Ocean. Wisdomie and Wisdil scuba dived here last year. You can actually touch the two continental plates in places.
Next stop: Geysir and Strokkur! the geysers at Haukadalur. Underground geothermal activity heats the surface water and it explodes irregularly, but frequently. Watch for the blue bubble. (And yes, I'm aware of the 'no vertical videos' rule, but you'll see why I had to make an exception here.)


Did someone say 'waterfall'? Gullfoss. The only point of reference I have is Niagara Falls.
Gullfoss: The largest waterfall in Europe. And yes, you get wet from the water vapor.
Gullfoss surrounded by basaltic rock cliffs.
Gullfoss: The Golden Falls at the top. 
Rainbows whenever the sun shines and the angle is right.
Grinning troll photobombing Gullfoss.
Geothermal activity in the highlands on the way back to Reykjavik. (We chose to go the clockwise route). You see a lot of this in Iceland. There is enough geothermal energy to power the entire country several times over. (Not to mention the hydro...)
Misty mountain top, moss and lichen covered lava fields beside the highway back to town.

13 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Reykjavik

I have few frames of reference for Iceland. Arriving at Keflavik Airport and driving the 40 or so miles into the capital city, you drive through vast lava fields that are reminiscent of the Big Island Hawai'i. Except, of course, for the weather. Though it was early August, the temperature was in the 50s Fahrenheit, rainy, and foggy. It felt auspicious, but of my 14 days in Iceland, only three were similarly inclement. The weather was mostly mid-50s to mid-60s and partly sunny during the days and mid-40s at night. If you go, bring ~4 layers!

Reykjavik itself, or at least the area where our AirBnB was located in the heart of the downtown, reminded me of nothing more than Park City, Utah, a sort of resort area with lots of touristy shops, pubs, and nice restaurants. Others of our group stayed in a lovely residential area about a 15 minute walk away, near the university.

Iceland in general is expensive—more than say Honolulu or NYC, but there are ways to control costs. For example, our flat had a kitchen, and we ate breakfasts there and found neat, inexpensive ramen shops. We shopped at the local supermarkets as well. When we ate in restaurants, we were surprised to find items such as whale, reindeer, and puffin on the menu. Iceland is one of only three countries allowed to hunt and butcher whales legally—Norway and Japan being the other two. Fish and lamb are the main protein staples. But seriously folks, you don't go to Iceland for gourmet dining (though you can find it there).

The city itself is, like the other Scandinavian cities I visited, tidy and clean. The air was incredibly fresh and the water, pumped in untreated from the glaciers, tasty, though when you first turned on a faucet that had been unused for sometime, you got a whiff of sulfur from the underground volcanic activity.

The family converged on Reykjavik from three separate directions, so we spent three nights here getting our bearings and adjusting to the time difference (10 hours for the Hawai'i crew) and the midnight sun. We rented a car for the time in the city, and I made the Golden Circle trip twice with two separate crews (more about that in the next post). (As always, click pics to embiggen.)

Statue of founder Leif Erikson (donated by the US in recognition of Viking discovery of North America) in front of Reykjavik's iconic cathedral.
Reykjavik Performing Arts Center
Woo-hoo! Did not expect that!
Exploring Reykjavik's walkable downtown.
You guys go on ahead, I'll be in here for awhile.
Pretty much says it all.
Reykjavik from the top of the cathedral. 
Reykjavik street troll and some costumed stuffed dummy.

06 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Stockholm Archipelago

In my last post I mentioned "must do's". The Stockholm Archipelago was the number one must-do on our list. The Archipelago is a chain of some 30,000 islands in the Baltic Sea. Most are granite or volcanic rock. Many Stockholm residents have their summer cottages here, but many of the islands are an easy day trip by ferry from the center of town.

Sandön, or Sandhamn Island, is the last island before the open Baltic for the overnight boats to Helsinki. It is about a 3 1/2 hour boat ride from downtown. Our boat served coffee and pastries, lunches, and snacks and beer. Wisdaughter and I spent a lovely day walking around the small island, enjoying a lunch of crawfish and halibut on the harbor. (As always, click pics to embiggen!)

Wisdaughter. Setting out from Stockholm.
Soaking in the vibe. (h/t Wisdaughter)
Island summer cottage in the Archipelago.
Arriving Sandhamn. Reminiscent of Maine. (h/t Wisdaughter)
Sandhamn Harbor.
I'm told Strindberg slept here.
Snapping the next pic below. You mean to tell me that guy has run more than 50 foot races and 2 triathlons on THOSE calves?! GTFOOH! (h/t Wisdaughter)
The beach on Sandhamn!
Beach cottage, Sandhamn.
Need to borrow a bathing suit top?
Summer flowers. Summer cottage. Sandhamn.
Barn on Sandhamn.
Imposing cottage, Sandhamn.
The Museum at Sandhamn Harbor.
The return. Marshy, reedy narrow passage.
Summer cottages. Stockholm Archipelago
Pleasure boat harbor and rocky outcropping. Stockholm Archipelago.
Returning to Stockholm.
Giraffe crane. Stockholm.
More sky drama. National Museum. Stockholm, Sweden.

04 September 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Stockholm

Next stop: Stockholm. (Sorry, davidly. Didn't have time for Malmö. Good guess, though.) As much as I enjoyed Copenhagen, I loved Stockholm. Loved it! A great European capital. It is a city of many islands and thus many bridges and canals. Wisdaughter and I stayed on Gamla Stan, the oldest island right in the center of the city. Architecture and layout is medieval. Cobblestone streets. Charming, magical. Again, AirBnB in a building built in the early 16th Century. Where we found the Danes to be urbane and cordial, everyone here was equally as sophisticated but also incredibly friendly. Coffee shop, sidewalk cafe, and pub chats were always amiable and enjoyable. Even at random grocery or clothing stores. Also, the absolute best coffee!! Swedes love their coffee. It's a thing there.

As with Copenhagen, we had no agenda going in. There were several things on our 'Must Do/See' list, but no strict timetable. Stockholm is not as bicycle accessible as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but it is very pedestrian friendly. We walked for miles and miles every day exploring, shopping, stopping for coffee or beer or lunch at some random sidewalk cafe, soaking in the city vibe. We hit a couple of museums, but that wasn't the highlight. For me, it was the overall welcoming charm of the city and its people. (as always, click pics to embiggen)

This is the alley in Gamla Stan (Old Town) where we stayed. Gate on the right.
The oldest square in Stockholm where we would wind up our evenings. Home of the Nobel Museum across the way. We ate or had beer at every cafe here! Our alley is visible up the far street to the left. Red building was built in 1482!
Narrowest alley in Stockholm (on Gamla Stan). That's some Harry Potter-looking stuff.
Street view in Gamla Stan.
Vasa Museum. Large warship that sank less than 3 miles after christening and launch back in 1600s when Sweden ruled the Baltic Sea. On island of Djurgården. 
Nordic Museum of Scandinavian lifestyles through the ages. Djurgården. 
 King Gustav Vasa who presides over the Nordic Museum.

Yes. Abba has its own museum. Djurgården. Did not go in but had lunch in the cafe. Abba earworms are inevitable when visiting pretty much anywhere in Stockholm. Get over it. They were a great pop group.
I'll leave you with some lovely, moody vistas of the city and its always interesting skies.