Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iceland/France/Italy Day 6: Blue Lagoon and Keflavik

May 4, 2011
Iceland Day 6: Blue Lagoon and Keflavik

Our last day in Iceland! We got up early, had a quick coffee in the hostel and packed up. 8:30 sharp the bus picked us up to transfer us to the BSI terminal. We arrived and jumped onto a bigger coach bound for the Blue Lagoon. The bus took off and 40 min later we arrived and were given similar bracelets to the one I got at the Yunessun bath house I went to in Japan. Your bracelet controls your locker and you can also buy food with it throughout the day. Very cool.

After getting my bathing suit on, I waited inside for Norm and then we ventured outside - it was cold!! Probably 10 or 12 degrees and overcast, so quite chilly and we headed right for the steamy water. It was glorious! I wasn't sure if you were supposed to scoop up mud from the bottom of the lagoon to spread on your arms and stuff... it was a bit squidgy and gross so probably not! Then we saw the nice hygienic containers of silica mud at stations along the edge of the lagoon. Ahhh... that makes more sense! We swam over to one of the bins and there was a big scoop to get some mud out of the bin and spread it on your face and hands. You are supposed to leave it on for 5-10 minutes and then wash it off. Sweet exfoliating action!!

There was a funny looking steam room which looked like a Hobbit house from Lord of the Rings. It was very warm and sweaty in there so we just stayed for a minute. The was a less Hobbit-y steam room and then a regular sauna too which was pretty cool. Then time for a little break. I tried some ice cream that looked good... it was Licorice Ice Cream!!!!!!!! Soo weird!!! It was fun. We chilled out on some chairs that you could lean back on.

After a little break, we headed back to the water for a bit, got some photos, chilled out in a water area under a nice dome thing, and swam back through a door that took you back to the main area inside. I had a shower and apparently you are supposed to put a lot of conditioner in your hair after being in the Blue Lagoon. After checking out, I grabbed a Pylsur (yes!) at the bar and a "Skyr Boost" yoghurt drink. Tasty. This was a super nice and relaxing time, and we were now all prepared for a big travel day coming up. We headed back to the bus and got our bags from the place where they said they would safely store your bags while you were in the Blue Lagoon. Of course since this is Iceland, the "Secure Area" was a roughly un-manned, unlocked totally visible/open room with no luggage tickets and one guy giving you your bags - the same guy who I think drove the bus, haha. I love this place!!

Instead of heading back to Reykjavik, we decided to stay the night in Keflavik, the town right near the airport. We took the transfer bus to the airport and then took a taxi back to the hostel in Keflavik. We checked in to 1x6 Guesthouse and it was SO cool. We had planned to stay there a few months before after looking at some reviews online. The owner, Daniel, had collected tons of driftwood and made some amazing sculptures with it, and designed all the furniture and art in the house himself. Sooo coool.

We dropped off our stuff and then wandered the town of Keflavik armed with the GPS on my iPhone, looking for a grocery store. On my map there was a place called Netto, which seemed close to our hostel. We wandered the lonely streets of Keflavik and found a Netto sign, and the "o" was an Apple, so we figured it was in fact a grocery store, and we were in fact close to it. We saw some Pepsi and Coke signs and followed them. It became increasingly obvious that we had not found a grocery store, despite the shopping cart icon on my Google Maps app. We eventually figured out that this must be a Netto-sponsored sports field, and we walked by an incredibly strange beauty salon/hairdressing school with mannequin heads in the window, and a school which looked a lot like a prison/bomb shelter. It was sooo weird and hilarious how not-a-grocery-store this was. Norm and I laughed about our failed mission. But we pressed on further, determined to buy some more Skyr.

We then saw a Coca-Cola sign, and followed it around to the other side of a building, expecting a convenience store. What was it? A Fire Station. Seriously. A FIRE STATION??!?!!!!!? Oh man!!!! This was some epically-confusing signage. We then saw what appeared to be a strip mall (and actually a strip mall, not an accounting facility or something)... and it was!! There appeared to be a grocery store in there and there was... it was a Netto!! Haha, hilarious.

It was fun to wander around in there a bit and there was lots of different kinds of fish to buy. We got some licorice, smoked salmon, cream cheese, drinks and Skyr, and headed back to the hostel to eat. Soon after we got back, Daniel the owner arrived. He was so interesting to speak with and a true local Icelander: from his amazing artistic talents, to awesome Icelandic sweater to thick beard. It was so interesting to chat with him and hear his opinions. We had a great conversation about politics and economy in Iceland, chatting about spending habits in USA and Iceland and other important issues. It was so cool to chat and all the while he was baking us some amazing, super dense bread!! What an awesome fellow, and it was such a great chance to hear directly about life in Iceland from someone who lives it every day. Awesome. He was headed off to Reykjavik for the evening so we said bye and then had the house completely to ourselves!

As soon as the bread had cooled a bit, we tried it and it was fantastic. I tried the outdoor "hotpot" tub and also had a shower and packed up, ready for an early start the next morning. I then spent some time catching up on my journal in the beautiful blue evening glow of the Keflavik shore from the kitchen window. It was glorious. I had a nice big cup of white tea, another slice of bread and cheese, turned on some Sigur Ros on my iPhone speaker and caught up on my journal notes, basking in the magical glow of Iceland. This is the life.

I got my stuff all together for the flight to Paris the next morning and was excited to meet up with Mom and Dad at the Reykjavik airport! I got all my stuff packed up, put my bathing suit up to dry, and put the licorice in my carry on for the next day. :)

Lounge room at Our House hostel in Reykjavik
Living room at the hostel
Funny device on the wall is a urinal, not a wastebasket!
Kitchen in the hostel
Saying goodbye to our room
Me posing with a photo of this Iceland photo book I found by Brian St. Denis, a Canadian photographer from where else other than... Waterloo, Ontario?!?!!! Amazing coincidence.
Crazy landscape on the way to the Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon
Inside the Blue Lagoon
Me with mud on my face! There are containers of the fancy Icelandic mud that you are supposed to spread on your face and leave it on for 5-10 minutes. Sweet, sweet, exfoliating goodness.
People enjoying the lagoon
A cool little movie theatre in Keflavik
Norm having some more Lox
AMAZING bread that the hostel owner baked fresh for us!
Our really awesome room
Hanging up my bathing suit to dry
Some of the other amazing rooms at the hostel
Daniel made all this furniture himself
Another room
This mirror was so cool
The backyard!
A homemade spa that Daniel made
Streets of Keflavik
A very strange building with mannequin heads in it! We figured it was some sort of beauty school or something.
We were looking for a supermarket, but we found a school which looked like a prison.
Then we saw a Coca-Cola sign and thought we found a convenience store - nope, it's a fire station!
I love looking at American Fast Food restaurant menus in foreign countries.
Would you like some Franskar with that?
This must be the most bomb-sheltery looking KFC in the world
And as I caught up my journal and reminisced on an amazing trip in Iceland, I had this beautiful view at 10:30 at night from the hostel kitchen window. Amazing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Maru's Birthday

A blog I follow very closely is the cat Maru's blog from Japan. He is so adorably cute and recently his owner posted photos from his 4th birthday! Maru loves boxes, so for a special gift his owner bought him a lot of different sized boxes. This is the cutest blog post ever written by anyone, ever: http://sisinmaru.blog17.fc2.com/blog-entry-903.html

Oh my word I love that cat.

Iceland/France/Italy Day 5: Videos

Here are a couple of videos from the Golden Circle trip.

A great day out in Iceland on the Golden Circle tour. Icelandic Horses, Geysir, Gulfoss waterfall

Some cute Icelandic Horses along the Golden Circle tour in Iceland.

Iceland/France/Italy Day 5: Golden Circle tour

May 3, 2011
Iceland Day 5: Golden Circle tour

We got up early again, about 7ish, and had tasty breakfast as usual at the hostel. I then rushed off about 8:25 to wait in line at Kaffismiðja Íslands, a famous Blue-Bottle-ish coffee shop in Reykjavik, just down the road from our hostel. Surprisingly, there were quite a few locals waiting for it to open as well! It opened in time and I rushed in there to by a drip coffee. It was super good. Apparently some Icelandic celebrities hang out here, so I figured if there was any chance of seeing Bjork or Jonsi, now was the time. :)

Unfortunately there were no Jonsi sightings but the drip coffee was fantastic. I quickly walked back to the hostel, grabbed my camera and the bus came to pick us up. The British tour guide, David, is awesome and the TripAdvisor reviews said he offered an interesting perspective on life in Iceland, being an immigrant to Iceland. He started with lots of recent Icelandic history on the way out of town.

It was very interesting to hear his opinions, being an outsider-turned-local. He said he was surprised with the style of work vs. play on arrival in Iceland - he found that at work, it was "all business", and that there was not a lot of casual discussions and chillin' out at work like you see in other western countries. He told us stories of when he arrived and was in his 20's, there was often a new never-before-seen item arriving in Iceland, which quickly became the fad of the week: Levis jeans, Brussel sprouts... Iceland was getting little peeks into external culture through these imports.

We stopped by a Geothermal Powerstation and it was awesome. David described the exciting possibilities for Iceland's future given their goldmine of geothermal (renewable/green) energy. We stopped by a greenhouse and I chatted with a girl from Portland who was on our bus. David said that no homes in Reykjavik have a water heater - the water comes to the tap both hot and pressurized! In fact, energy is so cheap that most people leave the heating on and the doors open. I had noticed that a few times at the hostel and thought it was incredibly strange and wasteful - in fact it's so affordable and green that everyone does it. It is a truly renewable source of energy and is extremely cheap. Water runs through insulated pipes downhill to Reykjavik and so they use gravity to pressurize the water. Amazing!

We then arrived at Gulfoss waterfall. It was HUGE!!! There were multi-steps of water there and it was very cool. I liked the mist the most, as it looked a bit like the Northern lights, in mist. :) We grabbed some lunch there at Gulfoss and I tried some traditional Icelandic lamb stew which was tasty, and also bought a huge Blueberry cheesecake.

Off we went to Geysir, where the word for geysers comes from. There were several geysers there, "Geysir" itself last erupted in 2000. Nearby, "Strokkur" erupts every 4.5 minutes on average so we sat patiently on the hill waiting for it. It was super cool and I took lots of photos, and got a video of it too (see next post).

After Geysir, we headed on to Þingvellir National Park. I'd been pronouncing it "Ping-vell-ear", and apparently the real pronunciation is more like "Thing-vek-chlear" :) Whew, still working on my Icelandic. :) Here we saw the "Continental Divide" which David mentioned is only partly true. It is the edge of the Eurasia plate, though. We then saw the pole which signifies the location of the "law stone", where Chieftains gathered after getting details from essentially their constituents and took these comments to a yearly meeting. Details were combined and a new law would be proclaimed from the law stone. This happened for about 1000 years and is a close representation of modern democracy. The view was beautiful from there and they had some crazy bathrooms there like in the N'Seoul Tower in Seoul, South Korea - with HUGE clear glass windows looking out on the amazing scenery... from the bathroom :)

After another glorious day of exploring, we headed back to Reykjavik. I went out for dinner with Norm to Sólon, the place I went to a few days before. I got lamb marinated with ginger and Norm got grilled salmon. I also tried Brennivin the liquor, in honour of Brennivin the cat!! It is cardamon-based and was not too bad, but the cat is more awesome though! :)

Pink coffee roasters at Kaffismiðja Íslands, the famous coffee place in Reykjavik
Geothermal plant
Craaaazy looking ground with moss on it
Me and Norm at a big hole in the ground
Cool waterfall
Trying out my polarizer filter :)
Icelandic Horses
Emo horses
This guy looks like a movie star
Lining up to say Hi
Emo Icelandic Horse, I love his haircut
Gulfoss Waterfall
Lunchtime, an Icelandic stew and huge cheesecake
Geysir, where the word "Geiser" is from
Bubbling hot water
The ground has a very interesting colour here
Kids watching the eruptions
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Little Geyser
Not exactly, but people call this the division between the tectonic plates
Mountains at Þingvellir National Park
The location where new laws were announced in the ancient Icelandic democracy
President's home for visitors to Iceland
The most epic bathroom view ever
Amazing Þingvellir National Park
Simpsons with Icelandic subtitles
Free stuff
Brennivin the liquor
Norm out for dinner
Grilled lamb and potatoes
Brennivin the cat
Brennivin the cat being lazy
Another photo of the epic church
Some kids dressed up for some reason