Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lagoon) - Iceland

12 Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lagoon) - Iceland 1

More than five hours after we left Reykjavik (and after a much-needed sleep in the van), we finally made it to Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon), which has been featured in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and "Die Another Day." The minute I saw powder blue icebergs in the brochure the day before, I scrapped all plans for wandering around Reykjavik and knew that I'd regret not visiting the Glacier Lagoon while I was in Iceland. Seeing it up-close did not disappoint.

I booked the Jokulsarlon tour with Bustravel Iceland for 17,500 Icelandic krona (about $145 USD), which also included stops at the waterfalls, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. The Bustravel Iceland tour was one of the cheaper options to see the Glacier Lagoon because it didn't include the price of the boat ticket, which was an additional 3,500 ISK ($29 USD), but even adding in the boat ticket price, it still came out about $30 cheaper than other tour agencies. There's actually two kinds of boats that go into the lagoon, so that also works better if you want more flexibility in options. There's a discount if you book online in advance.

Pictures just didn't do this justice. Just imagine a huge lagoon with gargantuan bobbing powder blue icebergs. Luckily, I packed my winter coat because it was brrrrr, soooo cooooold! In August! The boats only go into the water from about April to November because the lagoon is too frozen the rest of the time. We easily booked our boat tickets and had about 20 minutes to take pictures while we waited until our departure time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Icelandic Kea Skyr Drykkur Mango Astaraldin (Passionfruit)

10 Icelandic Kea Skyr Drykkur Mango Astaraldin (Passionfruit) 1

After only a few scant hours of sleep, I was up early again for another tour. This one was nearly six hours away on the other side of the island, so my jetlag came in handy as I slept pretty much the whole time.

We stopped off at one point at a gas station where I bought this container of Kea Skyr Drykkur Mango Astaraldin for 170 Icelandic krona (about $1.41 USD). I didn't realize drykkur = drink, so instead of the thick Greek yogurt-like skyr I was expecting, it was drinkable yogurt (Well, technically drinkable cheese since skyr is cheese with a yogurt-like consistency).

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Great Geysir and Strokkur - Haukadalur - Iceland

After leaving Gullfoss (Golden Falls), the last stop was Haukadalur, a geothermal valley that was home to several geysers. While hot springs are reported to exist in this area for 10,000 years, the Great Geysir wasn't first mentioned until the late 18th century. At times erupting more than 200 feet in the air, the unusual phenomenon caught the interest of people during the Age of Enlightenment. Henceforth, all spouting hot springs were named geysers. 

9 The Great Geysir and Strokkur - Haukadalur - Iceland 1

These days though, the Great Geysir rarely erupts, sometimes going for years at a time with no movement. Still, it was worth a visit just to see the original Geysir.

Nearby is Strokkur geyser, which reliably erupts every five minutes or so.

After a few quick snaps of Geysir, I made my way over to Strokkur. I was chasing the clock at this point since it was 10 p.m. and daylight was waning fast.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) - Iceland

After the Mid-Atlantic Ridge - Thingvellir National Park - Iceland, we visited Gullfoss (Icelandic Golden Falls). According to the sign at Gullfoss, some say the waterfall got its name because of the golden hue of the water at sunset. Another story is that a farmer named Gygur couldn't bear to lose his wealth when he died, so he buried his gold in a chest and threw it into the falls.

8 Gullfoss (Golden Falls) - Iceland 1

Gullfoss is big and mighty, reminding me of the power of Niagara Falls. But, as I come from waterfall country, after a few quick snaps I was ready to move on.

We were dropped off at the bottom of the hill and as I headed up a steep staircase to meet everyone at the souvenir shop at the top, I spotted this group of photographers. Big cameras and tripods. Unless they're carrying a big camera too, I usually ask people to take pictures of me with my point and shoot. These guys looked like they knew what they were doing, don't they?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Mid-Atlantic Ridge - Thingvellir National Park - Iceland

After checking out the Sun Voyager sculpture, I went back to Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland to wait for my tour bus. The most popular tour in Iceland is the Golden Circle, which includes visits to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), and the Great Geysir and nearby geysers.

7 Mid-Atlantic Ridge - Thingvellir National Park - Iceland 1

The afternoon or day tours also included stops at a church and a geothermal plant, but honestly, all I really wanted to do was stand in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and see the original Geysir, from which all geysers got their name. I just happened to get into town on the very last day of the evening tour, which picked up at 6:30 p.m. and didn't end until midnight. Midnight! Because being that far north in the summer meant it didn't get dark until then. Cool, eh?

The evening tour, which cost 8,500 Icelandic krona ($71 USD), also worked out great because it allowed me to squeeze in a visit to the Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland in the morning and left my second day free. After being picked up from the hostel in a van, we were taken to the ticket office where I had to line up to get a ticket for the tour, then finally we were on our way.

We arrived at Thingvellir National Park a little before 8 p.m. Look how bright it still was. Actually, Thingvellir is written like this Þingvellir in Icelandic. Þing means fields, and the Alþingi (Icelandic all-assembly or parliament) was founded in the year 930 on this site and used until 1789. The park was formed in 1930 to preserve the historical area and also to protect the rift valley.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge cuts right through Thingvellir National Park. The North American and Eurasian plates are separating at a rate of 2.5 centimeters or nearly an inch a year! Plate tectonics yo! I couldn't think of anything cooler than standing in the middle of two plates as they pulled each other apart year after year. The same forces that split South America and Africa apart hundreds of millions of years ago and I got to stand smack dab in the middle of it all!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Sun Voyager - Reykjavik - Iceland

After I left the Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavik - Iceland and wandered along Laugavegur, I spotted the Sun Voyager sculpture down near the harbor and veered toward the sea. This stainless steel sculpture was designed by Jón Gunnar Árnason in 1986 as the winner of a competition to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Reykjavik.

Sólfar (Icelandic The Traveler/Voyager of the Sun) was envisioned as a dreamboat, an ode to the sun, which symbolizes light and hope.

6 Sun Voyager - Reykjavik - Iceland 1

Hmm. Looks like a Viking ship to me.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavik - Iceland

I nodded off on the shuttle ride back from the Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland, when I was startled awake.

What was literally outside my window?

The Icelandic Phallological Museum.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum?!!!

4 Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavik - Iceland 1

Oh, I was so going there.

Especially since I got dropped off at Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland, only a block away.

I circled back to the museum and giggled at what I saw on the far right of the window. The "Member of the Month" is a giraffe's *ahem.*

There are 280 animal *ahems* and one human *ahem.* The whale *ahem* is taller than me! I know, because I took a picture standing next to it. It's natural history! Yeah! Natural history!

I would say it's the "wandering" part of "Wandering Chopsticks," except that there is a food component involving a horse's *ahem* covered in rosemary and other spices. Really! I can't make this stuff up!

At this point, I should give the big WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK caution. Also, WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE WHO ARE EASILY OFFENDED. But, if you're a pruriently curious weirdo, like most of my Facebook readers seemed to be when I queried about whether I should blog this, then go right ahead and click below.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland

3 Blue Lagoon - Grindavik - Iceland 1

After breakfast at Kex Hostel, I grabbed a roundtrip shuttle to the Blue Lagoon for 2,500 Icelandic krona (ISK), about $21 USD. The Blue Lagoon, Bláa lónið in Icelandic (Ha! Yeah, right, like I could even attempt to say that.), is a man-made geothermal spa created as overfill for a nearby plant. The Eurasian and American tectonic plates literally meet at the lagoon. There's a scientific explanation about the geothermal seawater coming into contact with cooling magmatic intrusions, capturing minerals, silica, and algae that make it good for your skin, but really, all you need to know is eerie warm aqua water that you can laze about in because it's good for you.

It was also the first pit stop on the Amazing Race 6. :P

The Blue Lagoon is closer to the airport than Reykjavik, so a lot of people either stop off on their way in, or before their flight out. Since my flight landed so early, I'd be waiting around for hours for the spa to open so I couldn't do that, but keep in mind that it's an option if your flight times are more accommodating.

While chatting with my mom during my layover in Washington, D.C., she was surprised that the entire country only had 320,000 people. I told her since there's so few people, they still keep the old system of last names such as "son" or "dottir" to signify parentage. When we exited the shuttle, everyone asked the driver if we needed a receipt. He has our names and remembers our faces, he said. Huh!

I followed the crowd through the rock formations toward the spa.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland

2 Kex Hostel - Reykjavik - Iceland 1

Even though flying on Icelandair was the cheapest option to get to Norway, I didn't book it until I found an affordable hotel first. I had heard horror stories about how expensive Iceland was, especially so after the 2008 financial crisis. (A high school friend visited around that time and said he spent $50 on a pizza.) Since I was traveling alone, I figured hostels were my best bet. A bit of Googling turned up this Dwell article on Kex Hostel, a relatively new hostel that was hipster heaven with its mid-century modern furniture and other vintage fixtures that were sourced from America and Germany. The article mentioned that even locals visited to enjoy the restaurant and bar. Sounded pretty good to me.

There were a limited number of private rooms, so I ended up booking a bunk in a 10-bed mixed dorm room for 4,300 Icelandic krona (ISK) a night, roughly $36 USD. It was also another 1,000 ISK ($8 USD) for a comforter and towel for both nights. They did not charge a fee for not being a member of their hostel, which I had read other places do. I also booked my bus ticket from Keflavik airport to the hostel through them for 3,500 ISK roundtrip ($30 USD). There were some back and forth emails as I inquired about tours and whatnot, and every single person who responded to me was super, super nice. Also, even better, they did not charge my credit card until I actually arrived.

The back side of the hostel is located just a few blocks from Laugavegur, a popular shopping street. To the left of the hostel, the black glass building at the bottom of the picture is Harpa, a new concert hall and conference center. There are a bunch of restaurants located around there, so not too far away. The Embassy of India is across the street. Kex Hostel faces the water so there's a nice view of ships heading out to sea.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches - San Gabriel

Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches - San Gabriel 1

Ah well, you knew I couldn't keep up the real-time updates on the blog. So let's go back to the day before I left for vacation. I had a 5-hour flight to Washington, D.C., then several hours layover, and a 5 1/2-hour flight to my destination. Could you believe neither of those flights had free meal service?

So in between trying to get my house in order, I managed to run to Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches in San Gabriel to grab some Vietnamese sandwiches for the road. This location is by the San Gabriel Superstore, so it's a convenient stop-in after grocery shopping. I've been going to Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches for years now, and have to say it's my favorite Vietnamese French bread, light, airy and crispy. It also has the best Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatball Sandwich), seasoned and flavorful, not just steamed like at other places. The sandwiches also wear well for travel. The bread doesn't get hard and dry and the filling isn't all fatty, absolute musts when I buy them a day in advance before a flight.

Freshly toasted, I'm still partial to Banh Mi & Che Cali Restaurant - Alhambra's crunchy soft bread and the pate they use just does it for me. But for price point, Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches is actually cheaper now. Banh Mi Che Cali charges tax, Saigon's Bakery already has the tax in the price. So it's a few cents cheaper, but hey, those pennies add up. The Vietnamese French bread sandwiches here are $2.25 each (The baguette sandwiches are $2.75 each.), and they're buy 2, get 1 free. They used to be buy 3, get 1 free baguette, and buy 6, get a free sandwich. But this summer, they lowered their price point to many a happy customer, namely me!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Guess Where I'm Wandering 5?

Guess Where I'm Wandering 5

So you figured out I'm in Oslo, Norway. This is one of my favorite spots that my cousin took me to on my first visit 15 years ago.