Sunday, July 6, 2014

Iceland

We arrived in freezing Reykjavik at 7am after a sleepless night on the plane from NYC and headed to the AirBnB room we'd booked downtown. Our host, Daniel greeted us with his two adorable Chihuahuas who became excellent companions. After some tea and coffee we had bundled up into the car, along with the dogs who sat on my lap, and were off to the nearest 'beach' so that the boys could experience sea swimming.

Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach was created in the city using imported sand, and uses geothermal heat from underground to heat the inlet - making swimming there more bearable than the rest of the channel. I tested this 'warmer' water with my hand, and can report that it was bloody cold and definitely not acceptable for swimming in. 

Daniel (our host) is quite the sea swimming enthusiast, as are a lot of Icelandic men. Him and his friends swim in this channel even in the winter - when the average sea temperature is approximately 3 degrees! He had one friend who made some sort of silly proclamation that he would swim once a day for an entire year, and reportedly used an axe to break up the ice in front of him during the middle of winter - absolutely crazy!

Once the obligatory lap of the lagoon was complete the boys made the usual progression up the beach, into warmer and warmer pools until reaching the natural jacuzzi at the top where I decided to join them. After a flight this was such a refreshing way to start the day, and this facility is open every day to the public - all free. Alex said he had never experienced the feeling of being that cold before, but almost considered going swimming again the next day too - loco!

The Icelandic people are a hardy lot. Daniel told us that whenever he thinks his life is getting tough he thinks back to his Grandmother who gave birth to triplets in Iceland's coldest winter on record, in a remote village that was often frequented by Polar Bears. During the birth in the freezing hut/igloo/house (can't remember!) the Grandfather stood guard with an axe in case one came looking. That winter they had 26 Polar Bears enter the village. 

Freezing cold + giving birth to triplets + polar bear threat = YOUR LIFE IS NOT HARD!




Bright red and freezing their asses off!




The duvet in our room at Daniel's house was one of the best duvets we have both ever experienced - heavy whilst being fluffy, scrunchy - but not too loud, and large enough to wrap around yourself without too many disagreements over who had more than the other. We managed to sleep for most of our first day in Reykjavik, luckily this is not too much of a concern when you're on holiday in Iceland in summer though - because it is daylight 24hrs a day. 

We spent the evening exploring downtown Reykjavik where I purchased an Icelandic beanie as I was unable to bear the cold, and watched a football game in one of the pubs. Whilst we came prepared with a big jacket each, I was unable to stop myself from browsing through the countless Icelandic Wool shops selling everything to get you through an Icelandic Winter comfortably. For a wool jumper, nice but not outstanding - you can expect to pay NZD$300 and up. I have no idea how the locals afford to clothe themselves, we didn't see any one item of clothing for under NZD $100 while we were there. A mango in Reykjavik was a whopping NZD $11, and strawberries $9 a punnet!

Iceland has their own version of yoghurt called 'Skyr'. It's super thick like a greek yoghurt, but very high in protein with virtually no fat. Quite delicious and we sampled quite a few different flavours during our time there. No idea why this healthy version of yoghurt hasn't reached distant shores as yet!




1.30am in Reykjavik


Day two of our stay coincided with the annual Viking Festival in a nearby town so we caught the bus there the next day to check it out. I would say approximately 75% of attendees were dressed in traditional viking attire (how do they all have this gear!?!) - and if you needed to suit up for the occasion there were a plethora of authentic Viking retailers showing the wares.

The 'Battlefield' hosted professional battles of about 30 or so adult vikings at a time, acting of course - but all real swords and weapons. And as soon as the adults were done the children would sprint out to begin their own battle. Their weapons were thankfully made on site at the workshop using only light MDF, but the children took these fights very seriously all the same. It is like fighting in a historically accurate way is a core part of the Icelandic upbringing, these kids had the moves - and when one 'died' they collapsed to the ground in a dramatic fall and lay motionless for about 5 seconds before rising and entering the battle once again.




Start them when they start walking
Excellent death

Viking Band in action

Enjoying his delicious Viking Wrap

Interesting: There are a lot of beautiful women in Iceland (they have won the Miss World competition 3 times), and according to a local magazine I read, this is potentially due to viking men stealing the world's most beautiful women taking them back to Iceland. 

The town hosting the Viking Festival is also home to a famous park where Elves and 'Hidden People' reside. As a lot of you will have noted from my Facebook post, over 50% of Icelanders believe in elves. We were lucky enough to stumble upon the resident elf expert when we arrived at the park and tried to eavesdrop on her guided tour. What we heard come out of her mouth was beyond bizarre. She said that the below photograph was the entrance to the elf church, and it is guarded by a dragon and his pet dog who is a friend to the elves. Of course she knows this because she met the dragon one day. Further lurking revealed that on other encounters with the elves, they had asked her to become their spokesperson - hence her guiding the tours of the park in a 'respectful' manner and printing books available in her elf shop with such titles as 'How to find an Elf'.

Sacred Elf Church entrance

Where are they?!







Appropriate tagging at the Elf Cafe

We hired a car for the next two days to explore the famous 'Golden Circle' - so trekked out to the rental office, aptly named 'Sad Cars' to pick up our beaten up Toyota Vitz and start exploring. Of course being on a budget meant that I wasn't allowed to add the GPS system to our package, and I was lumbered with a gigantic road map and many map-related disagreements ensued over those two days.

The weather really didn't put it on for us, it was pretty misty and cold during these two days unfortunately, but hiring a car was a great way to do it. The bus tours seem exorbitantly expensive (as is a lot of things in Iceland), and this way we could stop off wherever we wanted and take some of the less-travelled roads.


Stopped here as heaps of other cars had too, just some weird rock formations...

After being told off for driving down a walking only road feeling smug towards everyone who was walking in the rain
Very Game of Thrones like I thought

Standing in thick smelly sulfur mist


Geysir - 10 m or so high and blows every 10-15 minutes. The word Geysir (Geyser) is Icelandic did you know!? NZ got a mention on the info board here for having a wee geysir in Rotorua.

This is a picture of a photograph which captures Ć¾ingvellir National Park (crack right through middle of the land). This is where the first two photographs were taken. The park lies between the tectonic plates of Europe and America, hence the huge rift.

Gullfoss - huge waterfall. Suprisingly Gullfoss means Golden Waterfall - think this may be an accurate name on a nice day, but it was a big Greyfoss the day we visited.

One of the stops on the official 'Golden Circle' tour is to a town that is home to a huge amount of greenhouses, where the majority of Iceland's fruit & vegetables are grown. These indoor methods are really the only way the country can produce fruit & veges throughout winter when there is scarcely any light. This may explain the exorbitant prices for all delicious fruit... 

The greenhouses are heated and lit with Iceland's geothermal energy, which is responsible for producing the heating and hot water requirements for approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland. The hot shower does smell a little sulfur like, but their houses are super warm - and according to Daniel, the hot water/heat bills very small.

We're now in London and accidentally went into a Supermarket called 'Iceland' here (the Sainsbury's was right next door and we got the door wrong), and ironically here it is a brand renowned for it's super cheap prices on absolutely everything. Fittingly though there is a vast range of frozen goods on offer.

We spent our last day in Iceland at The Blue Lagoon - Iceland's most iconic tourist destination. Entry was 35 euros per person, so definitely on the pricey side of pool entry fees but after seeing so many amazing photographs of this place online I managed to convince Alex that it was well worth a visit from us.




Beautifying my face with the silica mud mask
Copy off Blue Lagoon Website: The Blue Lagoon was formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis noticed an incredible improvement in their condition. Over the years, Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, Blue Lagoon is recognised as one of the wonders of the world.


We finished our driving tour off with some gravel road detours around the coast, beautiful black sand beaches and rugged coastlines.

We were off to London at 7am the next morning, and enjoyed a delicious free ice cream on board Iceland Air for breakfast to celebrate their 70th Birthday of Independence from Denmark.

xx




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

NYC & New London

We arrived in NYC on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning and went out to brunch with Leonie, Joel & Joel's Girlfriend Banu (an NYC local). After an almost hour-long wait we enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal at Jack's Wife Freda. It was great to catch up with Leonie & Joel and meet Banu. I think our hour long wait could have easily been longer if we didn't have Banu on the case of the maitre d who seemed to be letting in a lot of alty looking friends before us.

Later that day we explored the Bushwick Open Studio's with Harley & Monica - an event running that weekend where heaps of artists in the area had their studios open for the weekend. After being in the same area in April, the vibe was so different in the sun! The streets were packed with people and some of the art was just amazing.





Excellent display of dancing from this girl who grooved along to the guitar for a good ten minutes while her mum waited patiently with her scooter


We began our tourist activities with the High Line walk and Times Square. The High Line was a great way to see NYC from a different perspective, I so often felt disorientated there and you just seem to be looking up the entire time so it was cool to look down onto the busy streets for once.

On the High Line
Pretty flowers on the High Line
Times Square

Wee man had a wee spill at M & M's world. We were quite shocked by the amount of punters carrying around full baskets of M & M's products while we were in store, anything from PJ's to Aprons to soccer balls - you can get it ALL with M & M's on them!

Coffee connoisseur with his free Nespresso. This activation was so amazing, set up in Grand Central terminal for the week you could get a free coffee that tasted so good I am now seriously considering purchasing a Nespresso machine when we get settled in London. We went back again during the week for another round.
Alex with his Bison Burger  at Bare Burger
My conjunctivitis was still going strong so we made an appointment to see a doctor who within 5 minutes had prescribed me with a 'modern' alternative to the eye drops I had received in Cuba. The consultation was $125 (!) but thankfully Southern Cross only charges one excess per medical event, the event being conjunctivitis - so I will be able to claim some back. The contrast between Cuba and the US is at it's best when you look at the medical system. There are pharmacies on almost every block in downtown Manhattan, not just fulfilling prescriptions and selling health related items - but gigantic pharmacies where you can buy your weekly groceries. We dropped in the script and were advised there would be a 40 minute wait so popped next door to Bare Burger for lunch (thanks for the recommendation Leonie & Joel!), returning to the pharmacy about an hour later. The eyedrops were still not ready, and the line of people picking up their prescriptions took forever as each person asked various questions about the drugs and whether or not they would be covered by their insurance policy (not to mention picking up the groceries for the week at the same time and clogging up the queue!). It must be so frustrating to live in a country where accessing the most basic medical care and prescriptions requires so much effort! We were all a little disgruntled when our subsidised prescriptions went from $3 to $5 - honestly, we don't know how lucky we have it!
Up the Empire State building


Grabbing Life by the Balls in the Financial District


Hired bikes and cycled round Central Park, beautiful! Met Char on a grassy knoll  for a catch up while we were in the park.
Alex and his buddy from school, Reg

Our trip to NYC coincided with the Harvard vs Yale race which is held near New London, CT each year. Mum & Dad shouted us an AirBnB room for the night in New London so we caught the train out on Friday afternoon. Alex was at first a bit disgruntled to be missing the only full weekend we'd have in NYC but these concerns were thankfully abated when we arrived in the picturesque town in the early evening. Our room at the B & B was fantastic, and we headed off to the biannual Greek Food Festival that evening for dinner on the recommendation of our hosts. I wasn't overly impressed with the options available but Alex convinced me that half a chicken with sides was excellent value at only $9 so we ordered, and to his absolute delight we were told at the counter that it was now only $4.50 as it was the end of the night. The great deal of the half chicken dinner was reiterated to me multiple times over that weekend, but I enjoyed my $4.50 ice cream in a waffle cone a lot more than that average Greek chicken.

Fee & Quentin Reeves (Mum & Dad of Ed, another NZ boy who goes to Yale with Adam) picked us up the next day and we headed off to "The Rock" - supposedly a great viewing point for the race. Expecting great things for this great old race we were a little disheartened to find that "The Rock" really was just a painted rock which definitely didn't look as luxurious as the Harvard tent set up on the other side of the river. But we weren't there for the plush surroundings, and it's not everyday your sibling races in an event that started in the 1850's! 

The race is 6.4km so it is kind of impossible to get a good view of the entire thing unless of course you were on a boat. We heard that way-back-when a spectator train with a grandstand on the back followed the boats down the course - how amazing would that be! And as the race used to be a gambling affair, the entire course used to be lined with spectator boats eager to see how their bet was fairing. At some point they decided it was a bit immoral to be betting on a University Sport with 'Children' involved.

The Rock is traditionally painted in the colours of the current champions, and unfortunately it will remain red for this year... But let's hope the blue paint comes out next year for the 

We drove to the Yale camp at Gales Ferry after the race which the boys live in throughout the summer and train on the river alongside it. Yale rowing crews have been training there for over 100 years, and a lot of the old traditions are still going strong - including a Bard Book where the boys dictate filthy limericks to a Freshman scribe throughout the summer. Adam's room here reminded me of his room at home, with the floor barely poking through the clothes all over the ground. I was very shocked when speaking to Mum this week that he has apparently been cleaning and cooking for himself in his new flat in New Haven, even telling mum he was worried about the other "messy" flatmate moving in and messing things up. Honestly - who is this boy! 

Our B & B - The Big House - aptly named due to it's size. Fee & Quentin told us it looked like the house from The Shining when they came to pick us up. I was glad that the horror movie parallels were only pointed out to us after we'd slept there as I wouldn't have been able to sleep if I'd thought about that the night before!

One of about 5 or 6 churches in the pretty small town, no idea how they fill them all up every Sunday!



New London harbour









Yale spectators
Alex, Me, Adam & Ed at Gales Ferry after the race


Some light reading at the Boat House
The neighbours house at Gale's Ferry
We headed back to NYC that evening and watched the movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel en route, highly recommended for anyone after a good film to watch. We spent the next 5 nights at Harley and Monica's in Williamsburg and continued to explore NYC.

We took the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and stopped off at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum which was really well done - a free audio tour was included, and the exhibits were laid out superbly with really interesting stories on each of the ethnic groups that had come to the USA. After watching The Book of Mormon the week before, we found the display on the real Joseph Smith quite hilarious (if you do get the chance to go to the show - do it! It is well worth it). The Mormon's made their way with carriages to Salt Lake City, Utah were they were free to live their polygamous ways in their new occupied territory. The land was inhabited by Native Americans when they arrived, and at first everyone managed to get along - but eventually war broke out over the available resources on the land, and the US government granted the land to the Mormon's. They kicked the Native Americans out and into neighbouring 'reserves' for them to live in - absolutely outrageous!


Outlook from the ferry over to a hazey NYC
And lovely weather to welcome us back to Manhattan
A pre-historic tortoise, me bored mainly due to the pushy selfy taking tourists - here I am likely googling the nearest Sephora store. Looking back I am slightly embarrassed.

We didn't really take a huge amount of photographs considering the time we spent in NYC, but here's a wee list of some of the other things we did whilst in the Big Apple:


  • Dinner at Roberta's in Bushwick, delicious woodfired pizza and where the season finale of GIRLS (season 2) was filmed.
  • Brunch at a Belgain Beer House in Williamsburg with Harley & Monica
  • MOMA - Museum of Modern Art, again for me - but still fantastic nonetheless
  • Museum of Natural History - I found this museum a bit crap, it was a rainy day so it was absolutely packed with people though. The crowds in here were literally blocking the way to take selfies of themselves with dinosaur bones, and I could not deal with this. I left Alex there for an extra hour while I popped down to Sephora to purchase a mascara.
  • The Met - another huge museum, so much cool stuff in here and you could easily spend a day inside.
  • Dinner, Drinks and Ice Hockey at a Sports Bar in Brooklyn for our last night - 10 x chicken wings for $1 (wouldn't buy or eat again though).
  • Repeat of the delicious frozen mojitos at Surf Bar
  • Went to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway - already mentioned but this was a real highlight!
  • Dinner with Rosie at our old favourite Los Hermanos where a meal is $4 and you can BYO whatever you like for no extra cost.
  • Drinks at The Wythe Hotel overlooking Manhattan.
  • Dinner at The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg, spectacularly delicious meatballs and sides which we have since tried to recreate ourselves.
  • Caught up with Reg - Alex's friend from The British School of Paris who lives in NYC
  • Visited the salad bar at Wholefoods multiple times, god it is so good - I could barely stop myself each time we visited it.
  • Hung out with all of our super cool friends from NZ that now live in NYC! (Char, Sophie, Rosie, Harley & Jesse)
Delicious Frozen Mojitos at Surf Bar in Brooklyn
This is the only famous person I saw the entire time I was in NYC, but I am sure Mum & Sarah will be excited for me as they've been watching a lot of ER re-runs on Vibe ;-)




We bought all of our camping equipment for Glastonbury in the states due to the unbeatable prices of Walmart.com and our 2 x bag allowance on Iceland Air. Although this decision was great economically, the process involved of getting 4 x bags of stuff on the train and into the airport had it's challenges. Hopefully we will be pleased when we set up our deluxe, super-waterproof tent at Glastonbury tomorrow.

God I am behind on this blog!

Next up - ICELAND

xxx