Incredible Iceland— Akureyri-Day 2

I was glad we had come back a little early from our first day tour so I could be up at what would be dawn at home (5:30 am) to see old town Akureyri and I got lucky and had a great walk. I didn’t get rained on but the by the time I got back it had really started coming down. I will leave it at that and you can see what I saw in my photos. Later on, some of the group went into town but Kathleen was wiped out so we stayed on board and the whole gang was back for a late lunch at The Porch (a Reflection alternative seafood restaurant) and it was wonderful. A great lunch. Some super fresh seafood and some of the best sangria I have ever had. Drank way too much of it. We sailed out late in the day and it was a beautiful sail out up the fjord. This was followed by two sea days before we would dock in Cobh, Ireland. More about that coming on Sunday.

When I prepare, I am not messing around. I find the right places, the right people, and the right environment. Iceland is one of those places. —Conor McGregor

 

Incredible Iceland— Akureyri-Day 1

After what seemed like a very short night we sailed down an incredible fjord into Akureyri, Iceland’s most important northern city. It’s small town (a population of only around 27,000) but it is the gateway to some pretty amazing natural wonders. The day started with beautiful weather and the sail-in made for some great photos. 

I almost forgot to mention that before we got to Akureyri the captain of Reflection decided to make us all what my friend Bob (a long-time Navy guy) calls “Bluenose Sailors” which I am sure means we have been inside the Arctic Circle. He sailed the entire ship north of where he needed to so we could say we had been inside the Arctic Circle. What a guy! We even got a certificate. Kind of the like the one we got when we crossed the Equator many years ago on our SouthEast Asia cruise.

 

We were met by our guide Auðun of No.17 Tours. He had been recommended by the god of shore excursions, my buddy Mike Preisman. Mike had used the services of Auðun a few years ago on their Icelandic cruise and had spoken highly of him. He was right. I should point out that Auðun told us his company used to be Taxi 17 because when it wasn’t touring season, he would drive a taxi but now the government says he is too old to do that. He can drive a bus, a truck and a tour van but at 76 he can’t drive a taxi. Who would have thought. He is an amazing guy who really knew the area he was showing us. Plus he had some great stories from his 27 years as the skipper of a fishing trawler. 

We set out a little earlier in Akureyri as the ship was docked and let us off by 10:30. Auðun was ready for us and we were off to see the northern waterfalls, stand with both my feet in different continents and see some other amazing geological wonders as well as two versions of the Blue Lagoon. And we finally got to see puffins. We had missed them before on previous trips to places where they live but this time we got to see a bunch. Check out the photos for all the sights we saw. 

Even though we had gone out earlier than we had in Reykjavik, the weather had turned both cold and gray and by the time we had seen the puffins and the waterfalls, we were wiped out so we asked Auðun to just head us home and we were off to the ship were we pretty much caught a late dinner and collapsed. But we did have a super day and the Icelandic landscape is even more amazing up north. 

 

I still don’t know why, exactly, but I do think people can have a spiritual connection to landscape, and I certainly did in Iceland. —Hannah Kent

Incredible Iceland— Reykjavik-Day 2

Most everyone else in our party slept in a little bit after getting back at almost midnight from our Golden Circle tour with Birkir. I on the other hand, love it when a ship overnights in a port so that I can get up early the next day and walk through the city. (One of my best photo walks ever was in Québec last October when we overnighted on Summit). More and more cruise lines are doing this (overnighting in cities) and you can get off and on whenever you want all night long. This was a good day to do that but I really missed that early morning golden light I had when we were in Edinburgh and Dublin.

I got up at 5:00 am and headed out to walk the seaside walkway into downtown Reykjavik but the light outside was already like 10:30 in the morning as you can see from my pics. I got some decent stuff and then headed back to the ship to shower and meet Kathleen and others in our group to take a taxi back into downtown to see some more of the city. My pics and their captions will pretty much tell the tale on that. Don’t forget to click on the first one and view them as a slide show. And if you want to see more, check them out on Flickr by clicking here.

We were back on the ship by 2:00 pm and Reflection set sail for Akureyri at 3:00. It was a pretty great day considering how little sleep was involved. Thursday, I will post all about our travels in Akureyri, in the north. And we cross the Arctic Circle! 

Incredible Iceland— Reykjavik-Day 1

Birkir
Birkir, Reykjavik’s best tour guide

After our Titanic foray into Belfast, we spent the next day and a little more at sea heading to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. After a cool sail in (see the photos—we passed a huge iceberg), we arrived around 1:00 pm and after a quick lunch we set off on an 8 hour tour with our guide from Tours by Locals, Birkir. Now normally we would never start an 8-10 hour tour at 1:30 pm because within few hours all we would be able to see is darkness. But this was Iceland and we were within 2 weeks of the longest day of the year so we could tour until midnight and it would never be totally dark. That meant we could see what the tour books refer to as the southern Iceland Golden Circle. 

It included the edge of continents, incredible waterfalls, exploding geysers, volcanic craters, Icelandic horses and some of the most amazing natural beauty we have seen. Our first stop was the Þingvellir Icelandic National Park which has significance for two reasons. It is a historical site where the Icelandic parliament first met in 930 AD. And it is the intersection of two continents. Seriously. The plates that form the North American continent end in Iceland and run directly into the plates that form the European continent. In a way we were walking between North America and Europe the entire time we were in Iceland. In fact, two days later just outside Akureyri in the north, I was able to stand with my right foot in North America and my left foot in Europe. Pretty cool. 

After our visit to this beautiful (in its own way) national park, we drove onward to ice cream. Yes, ice cream. It seems that there is a world-famous dairy and ice cream factory in almost the middle of nowhere. We had some amazing ice cream and even got to meet the cows that had done the original work on it. It was a fun and delicious experience. 

Next up was Kathleen’s favorite part of the tour, a visit to feed some very cool Icelandic horses. As you drive through the wilds of Iceland, you see thousands of these Icelandic horses (never call them ponies). They are everywhere. Of course they are owned by someone but you do see some wild ones as well. Birkir knew of a place where a farmer allowed his horses to be petted and fed (he even provided “horse candy” you could buy) and so we stopped and everyone who wanted to got to feed the horses while the rest of us took photos. See mine to see how incredibly beautiful these animals are. That said, it is sad to say that Icelanders eat horse on a regular basis. It is a staple of their diet. Birkir offered to find us a restaurant that served horse but we said we were content to pet and feed them. 

After that it was on to the absolute, drop-dead highlight of the day—the Gullfoss waterfall. We have been to Niagara Falls but I have to tell you, this was so much better. In my opinion the reason for that was that these falls are still in a very natural setting and incredibly cool. Also, the water is totally unpolluted and blue. When you see the photos, just realize that I didn’t do anything to those pics at all—the water really is that blue. Seriously. The pictures tell the story. 

We thought we had seen it all but now it was on to geysers. Compared to Old Faithful that goes off once an hour, Iceland’s southern geysers go off every five minutes or so. They smell of sulfur but they also are very cool. Check out the photos below. 

After our geyser experience and a brief stop at a volcanic crater (sorry, this one didn’t come close to Crater Lake and just not impressive enough for pics), we made a brief stop for dinner (by this time it was around 8:30 but outside it looked like the middle of the day) and then it was on to our last stop of the day, The Blue Lagoon. 

If you have ever been to Iceland you have heard of the Blue Lagoon. It is so popular that people flying from the US to Europe will do a five hour stopover just to hit the Blue Lagoon (which is located between Reykjavik and the airport). If you have never heard of it or seen photos, just imagine a giant, blue hot tub with hundreds of people (maybe more) swimming around, drinking and rubbing mud on their faces. And the strangest thing was that we arrived at the lagoon just before it closes at 10:55 or so. But you would never know it. The sun was up and there were (see the pics) hundreds of people still in the lagoon. Birkir told us they stop letting people in at 11:00 pm in the summer but they don’t start kicking people out until midnight.

I should add that sunset that day was at 11:58 and sunrise the next morning was at 2:15 am. It never really got dark and when we finally got back to the ship at almost midnight, we were very thankful for the blackout curtains in our staterooms. 

Our first day in Iceland was INCREDIBLE! Birkir was an amazing guide and got us everywhere in a fun and beauty filled day. It was just outstanding.

Coming soon to a travel blog near you

So our trip is done and we are recovering from 27 hours spent in airports and airplanes to get home. Today is all about laundry and resting up. Not a great trip home due to so many things. Among them were weather (Denver airport closed for a time as we were attempting to land so we got to circle for a while), late flights and construction at airports made this a really long day.

I wasn’t going to add this but I want to see it in print so feel free to skip it. This is what our travel home day was like.

  1. Woke up at 3:15 am onboard Celebrity Reflection (As usual, couldn’t sleep).
  2. Left Reflection at 6:45 am (early).
  3. Arrived at Dublin Airport at 7:35.
  4. Sat in shared business class lounge with Bob and Holly until our flight to London Heathrow left at 10:50 am.
  5. Arrived London Heathrow, Terminal 5 at 12:20 pm.
  6. Transferred to London Heathrow Terminal 3 for flight to Denver. Took the better part of an hour.
  7. Sat in British Terminal 3 Business lounge until 2:40 when we boarded our flight to Denver.
  8. Arrived in Denver at 6:15 pm Denver time after circling due to weather.
  9. Stood in line for almost an hour at Customs in Denver as all inbound flights had been held for weather and then all arrived at the same time. It was a bloody zoo.
  10. Due to the fact that we could not get a Business Class award flight direct to Seattle we flew to Denver (instead of home to Seattle) we had to now check all our luggage back in for a short flight to Seattle (that we paid for…in coach) that was supposed to leave at 7:35 pm.
  11. Due to all the late arrivals, our flight didn’t leave until 9:06 pm.
  12. Arrived in Seattle at 10:55 pm.
  13. After getting our luggage we grabbed a Lyft and wound up getting home at 11:45.

So that was our day. Too long. And all to get award seats from BA via Alaska Miles. Which will bring me to a future post on finding award seats in the near future. I promise.

And now to the reason for this post. The schedule of what is to come this week. My plan is to post Iceland day 1 tomorrow afternoon, Iceland day 2 on Tuesday, Iceland day 3 and 4 on Friday. Hope that keeps you all up to date without overwhelming anyone with too much to read.

Technology doesn’t address everything – for example, air travel still sucks. —Brad Feld

Woeful WiFi

I want to apologize to everyone who is anxiously awaiting my Icelandic posts but the WiFi onboard is horrid! I can barely upload a single photo let alone the more than 200 I took that I love. I should add that this slow WiFi is probably not the ship or cruise lines fault but rather the fact that everything must go through satellites and we are so far north that the connection is faulty.

So please bear with me and know that I have been writing and will post all of the rest Saturday, Sunday and Monday from our great internet connection at home.

See you soon!

Onboard Reflection—trying to not be a Grumpy Git

Yesterday (Monday, June 3) we boarded Celebrity Cruise Line’s Reflection in Dublin. If you have been reading this all along you know we are cruisers and that we love to cruise. But lately things on Celebrity, our usual cruise line of choice, have been changing and this cruise just continues that trend. When I was asked why I hadn’t posted sooner than this, I explained that so far I was not as pleased as I wanted to be and I didn’t want to come across as a grumpy git. It would have been easy for me to slip into it quickly.

Pretty much a bunch of little things and nothing big (except for a guy hitting Kathleen in the face with his jumper) and two really BLAND meals in a row for me (you know I love interesting food and this has been anything but so far). But what has been great so far are the people. Our Cruise Critic roll call sail-away event was well attended as was this morning’s Meet and Mingle. A lot of great people, all really appreciative for all the stuff we did for this Roll Call. (If you are new to my writing, you may not realize what I mean by Cruise Critic or Roll Calls so you can click this link to find out.) And it is GREAT to be back on a ship with my brother, his wife and our friends Bob and Holly. We affectionately call ourselves “The Cruise Ruiners,” which is a story for another day.

But I should start with the beginning of the day and you will see how I slowly went from the happy, carefree traveler I am (ha ha ha) to a grumpy git I sometimes become. I got up early for a photo walk as I usually do and headed out the door of our AirBnB to go and find Reflection, our ship. I did find her and she looked pretty darned good. Took a few last photos of Dublin on my way back to our AirBnB. After that it was breakfast, pack and  head to the ship. We were waiting to board at 10:00 am and onboard and having lunch by 11:30. Pretty decent embarkation except for the fact that you stop at one building to drop luggage and check in and then have to take a bus quite a ways away to get on the ship. That’s what sometimes happens in industrial ports.

Once onboard had a nice lunch and got into our stateroom right on time…but our luggage didn’t arrive until almost six hours after we had dropped it. Sorry, but that is just too long. One person in our party didn’t get their bag until after dinner. This is really wrong. Also, sad to say that so far on this cruise I am making bad food choices. Had nearly tasteless calamari appetizer followed by nearly tasteless pasta dish. From now on I am going to order whatever my brother is having because he has been raving about the food.

One of the truly different things about this embarkation day was when the muster (lifeboat) drill was held. These drills (mandated by international law for you non-cruisers) are usually held in the afternoon but because we weren’t sailing until after 10:00 pm, it was held between dinner seatings at 7:45. Which meant we were a little rushed at dinner (that’s why I didn’t send my dinner back for something else) and then we had to go to the photo gallery, of all places to stand up and watch the absolute stupidest movie ever. This is where Kathleen ran into problems when she couldn’t sit down and then some totally oblvious man with a sweater around his shoulders took it off, stood in front of her and then flipped it up to put it back on and slapped her right in the face with it. She reacted as you would if hit in the face after being forced to stand up for more than half an hour. And immediately a crew member was in her face asking if she needed to call security. That crew member was a total ass and reacted to the situation by blaming Kathleen for reacting to be slapped in the face and not to the idiot who had done this in the first place.

I’m a very early riser, and I don’t like to miss that beautiful early morning light. —David Hockney

Dublin never sleeps and is CRAZY!

I am so serious. This city never sleeps. Went to bed with a huge, post football party going on at every bar on the street. Woke up to the party still going on. Seriously, drunks staggering down the middle of streets, trash everywhere. It even inspired me to write an Irish poem about it. Or I was inspired by the Irish House Party last night.

Dublin Sunday Morning
Beside the lovely Liffey, it didn’t make no diffy.
Dublin’s kind of iffy Sunday morning.
Trash and drunks all over, mixed in with poop from Rover
I didn’t see one clover,
Sunday morning. 

Hope you enjoyed that. You will see in my pics from my early morning walk exactly what I am talking about. And there is another NSFW verse about something else I saw that you will have to ask me the next time you see me.

After my walk and breakfast we headed out to use the second day of our HopOn/HopOff (HoHo) bus pass with Big Bus Tours. Here’s what I have to say about Big Bus Tours…never and I mean NEVER use this company. There is another HoHo bus company. BigBus drives red buses, the other guys drive green. Use them. Let me explain.

There is a marathon going on today in Dublin. The finish line is on our street actually a block from our place. We realized yesterday that this would mean that some stops would not be available today due to the race. So we checked the company website and their app. Both said that the only thing that was rerouted would be the two stops near Marion Square. I have a screen shot that says these ae the only low numbered stops that were going to be affected. So we (just Kathleen and I) walked quite a few blocks to the other side of St. Stephens Square where we had seen the bus drop off and pick up yesterday. But guess what? The bus wasn’t dropping off or picking up there. So I called the phone number I had for them and asked. She said that because of the race, they were picking up and dropping off on the other side of the park. So with my bad knee and Kathleen neuropathy killing her legs we walked back across the park (it sucks to get old). When we got there, there was a bus. We asked the driver whether he was the red or the blue line (they have two routes) and said “I am neither. We aren’t using this stop today. You will need to walk to Stop 2 (about 10 minutes away.” Normally, no big deal but the way our bodies were working today—a very big deal). So I called the company back and was told that the number I was calling was not really the bus company but rather a number in a tourist agency and they would take a message. (No wonder the woman didn’t know about the St. Stephen’s Green bus stop change.) I asked for the number of the actual bus company and she said, she didn’t know it and even is she did, she wasn’t allowed to give it out. Please excuse me here but “WHAT THE HELL????”

But we did it anyway only to get there and find out that the stop only picked up Red Route (which we had done yesterday) riders. If we wanted blue we would have to get on and go three stops up and change busses. What the hell…again! See what I mean about this company. We took the bus to the next stop and were told it would be 20 minutes until the Blue bus came and we just gave up and walked back.

LiveGuidesAnd one other thing. On the back of every bus was the ad at right. Only problem was, it wasn’t true. We rode four different busses and my brother and his family rode four others. On only two of them were their live guides. The rest had almost unintelligible, recorded (with music) narration. Boring with a capital B.

On our way we had a nice lunch, picked up some art and postcards for family and friends (yes, we still do that) and headed back through the marathon mess to home. On the way I stepped on a piece of pavement that was dry but had water and mud underneath it and shot straight up onto the other leg of my jeans that had just been washed. So now we are home washing them again and hoping they will dry tonight before we have to pack them to board the ship tomorrow. No dryer in this unit.

I am finishing this at 4:35 am Dublin time on June 3. We are off to the ship in about five hours. I am not sure how often I will be able to post while on the ship but I will try to do it on a somewhat regular basis. Our stops include Belfast on the 4th, then Reykjavik on 6th and 7th and Akureyri on the 8th & 9th before we head to Cork on the 12th and finally back here to Dublin on the 13th.

 

Paris is cafe culture, Dublin is pub culture, and that’s the best place to solve all the world’s problems: over a pint! One of the great joys of living, I think. The problems of the world seem to disappear. —Liam Cunningham

 

Started shaky but finished strong in Dublin

This morning I was out the door before 5:00 am to walk Dublin streets and take photos. I got a bunch that I really like including a ton of doors to add to our collection. (If you have ever been in our home, you know we have more than 100 photos of doors on the walls.)You will find a lot of my favorites below. But while I was walking alongside the River Liffey I got a  text from Kathleen that she wasn’t feeling well and was going to go back to bed.

We had planned to join the rest of our Bellomo/Dorff entourage on the Hop-on, Hop-off (HoHo) bus but this put a slight crimp in our plans. Instead Kathleen slept (remember when I slept in last week, the day we toured Leeds?) in and the rest of the gang went off to ride the bus and I worked on my photos from the early morning. By 11:00 Kathleen was up and ready to go get some food and then we did a round of the HoHo bus ourselves. We rode all over Dublin (it’s a pretty compact city) before we came back to the house to FaceTime with our kids back in Washington. Had some big news there as they did what they have done before while we have been in Europe, started a big move.

This evening the entire group of us including Bob and Holly met up for a dinner and a show at the Irish House Party. It’s a combo dinner and show and we should have just gone for the show but we did both. Not the best food (kind of Irish cafeteria food) but adequate but the show is outstanding and if you are in Dublin, it’s worth seeing. Just get tickets for the show and skip the dinner.

Tomorrow we still have HoHo bus tickets and a few others things we want to do before we board Celebrity’s Reflection to sail to Iceland on Monday. Here’s the pics and remember, they look better if you click the first one to watch a slide show.