A Travellerspoint blog

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Black Ice

View Iceland / Norway / Sweden on akgearhard's travel map.

I've got a newfound interest. I want to be a watcher and photographer of glacier ice on the black sand beaches when I grow up. This is unlike anything I've ever seen before.

As the gargantuan chunks of blue ice break off the glacier, they are pulled slowly down the river into the ocean and washed back up onto the black lava shore in various shapes and sizes. Some come back up on the shore in bright blue pieces - larger than cars! Others melt and are as clear as glass and rest on the beaches like carefully shaped figurines that have been crafted into abstract designs. The beach is covered in all shapes and sizes and is scattered with people struck by their beauty and glued to their cameras. Iceland's cold air keeps their shape until the tide comes in each evening and pulls them all back out and sends the river in reverse! The entire process starts again each morning. I believe I filled a card with these photos alone! I suppose the series where Jaden was attempting to balance on a large blue piece like a flamingo and it was taken out by a wave and he went flying face first into the water took up some space too. Just documenting childhood memories as all good moms would do.

On to a tiny (18x18!) cottage on the black sand coast before we head into Reykjavik for our last 2 nights on the island.

Posted by akgearhard 13:56 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Hello, Reykjavik!

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We spent our last 2 days in Iceland in Reykjavik and have thoroughly enjoyed the city. We do our best to keep our city experiences short, sweet, and deep - and we did just that with this one! We stayed at a fabulously quirky place called the OK Hotel that sits on the main street and not only comes with a great view of the cozy downtown, but also the snowy mountains and water. They have several rooms, each uniquely designed, and located above a pub (remember our place in downtown Dublin?!). We arrived mid-afternoon and were "buzzed in" to the empty pub where a phone was waiting on the bar with a number for us to call in order to check in. The gentleman on the other end of the phone gave us the code to a safe that happened to be sitting next to the phone, where we found our magnetic key set and let ourselves in to our room. It was like a mystery! Our room was appropriately finished with a world travel decor and was complete with an indigo wall and lots of world globes! So fun! In addition to walking the streets and sampling the food and drinks that we'd heard so much about, we spent a significant amount of time cuddled up in our window seat and watching the people below walk in and out of the shops and those across the way sip their fashionable drinks and chat for hours at the coffee shop. It was wonderful people watching!

We couldn't leave Iceland without the traditional Blue Lagoon experience. We booked an arrival time between 6-7 pm because I wanted a chance to see everything before it disappeared into the darkness. We were fortunate and got a gorgeous sunset show with odd clouds as a bonus. That comes back into play in a moment. The Lagoon is set up like Disney World. That is, smart. Everyone gets their own individual bracelet which can be used to go anywhere you'd like and purchase anything you need - including drinks from the bar in the lagoon. Swim right up and place your order. You're automatically down an Icelandic Cider if a chicken like me has to brave the cold to order a drink. No way, José! Luke is that brave - and that kind - but the bite in the Iceland wind whispers in my ear that I should practice safety first and stay warm. Fortunately, we could just swim up to the bar with our bracelets. The kids even got slushies. Smart. Don't worry about the converter that's on your phone so you can figure out just how many Icelandic Kroner you're spending. In fact, don't worry about anything. You can't get out of the facility without taking your bracelet off and paying, they'll make sure you take care of it all later. Smart.

So, to address the OMG naked shower question pre-lagoon - yes, locals do make as big of a deal out of it as you might read, but they give open and private shower options (with lovely conditioner and body soap) to make sure everyone follows through. The kids both swear it "ruined" their hair, but it was just short-term.

Back to those odd shaped clouds... Just as we were putting the finishing touches on our ridiculously thick, creamy, silica mud masks, the hail started. We got about 10 seconds of warning from a handful of friendly little hail pellets suggesting that we take cover. Looking around, there was nothing but blue water and lava rock. We figured we'd survive, so we snuggled into the water and ignored the warning with a confident laugh. That was the end of that. The skies opened up and the hail pellets turned into girls' softballs! If my memory serves me correctly, these are larger than boys' baseballs (probably not because girls need more surface area to hit but because they like to take more stuff out when they make contact with something!). These suckers came pelting down at rocket speed (this time with intention) and the problem was that they were taking out sections of mud mask with them which was particularly hazardous around the eye area! Thankfully, Iceland's weather is terribly moody and the hail was simply an introduction for over-sized snowflakes, which were next in line for the stage. The flakes were Colorado in size - the big and peaceful kind that often start our storms, but rarely finish them. The kind of flakes that you might be lucky to catch if you happen to flip the patio light on late at night and the snow is just starting to fall. The kind of flakes that allow you to actually hear perfect silence. These flakes came rolling out of the odd shaped clouds like clumsy tumble weeds that couldn't seem to find their way to the water. The snow didn't last for long, but it was quite surreal to see each white flake dissolve as it met the hot steam just above the water. The snow disappeared as the darkness arrived and I found what my family swears was the single hottest point in the lagoon and we nestled up against the lava rocks and enjoyed the night (bracelets on, drinks in hand, and the softest skin ever!).

Posted by akgearhard 16:34 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Iceland Final 15

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As we were wrapping up our time on the island, I asked the family for any insight they had on Iceland after a week here that we didn't find via Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, or anywhere else online. Our powerful observations and extensive drive time gave us 15 hidden gems that might be pertinent when collecting random facts:

1. The life pace and hours of operation in Iceland are excellent. Stores open at 10 or 11 each morning and many of them don't open at all on the weekend. Folks shouldn't have to work 24 hours a day (or on the weekend!) because we haven't thought ahead to do our grocery shopping. Slow down, make a list, and stop living like everything is an emergency! (Noted and a personal work in progress. Not the grocery list thing - that isn't happening at all - but the slowing down part).

2. Malt is "children beer" (and "disgusting", per my daughter).

3. The Icelandic alphabet doesn't have the letters C or Q according to the family's maximum efforts offered at the license plate game. Or maybe these letters just don't belong on license plates?

4. Water is served freely and endlessly. I don't know if it comes from a glacier, but it tastes like it does, so that's the story we're going with.

5. The cups here are tiny. Eeek! That speaks for coffee too. We realized very quickly that we needed to adjust. This was another pace setter for us. At home, we drink from gallon coffee mugs when possible. Here, we are forced to slowly sip and enjoy our coffee and tea. Different. At home, we buy an 18 pack of beer and drink a couple in an evening. Here, we browse the liquor store carefully and purchase a single beer to enjoy for the evening. Again, different. Think about pace. Slow is better.

6. At least 320k of the 325,000 people that live in Iceland can be found in or around Reykjavik. We're pretty certain that the other 5,000 are dairy farmers and over-sized van operators that run glacier tours and live scattered about the rest of the island. It's quiet out there!

7. Scarves are standard for all and puffballs are required in order for a hat to be official.

8. I despise selfie-sticks. Our near death experience with them on the Cliffs of Mohrer in Ireland taught me that there is no faster way to ruin a beautiful photo opportunity (waterfall, glacier, etc.) than with one of these. That is, until drones started flying around various stopping points. If I had a selfie-stick I'd hit one of those buzzing beeping things like a piñata on my birthday when it flew by my head! Shhhhh! We are enjoying nature!

9. Icelandic food comes from all over - with the exception of the puffin and the whale - and includes lots of sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, curry, and fish.

10. The reason we didn't see any more than one possible puffin rather than "hundreds nestled into the beautiful black coves" as the books describe is because THEY ARE ON THE FLIPPING RESTAURANT MENUS!! Not nice!

11. There are water parks everywhere. No seriously, there are.

12. If you're a business owner and looking to be successful - purchase and operate a N1. This is a combo gas station, mini grocery, fast food, toilets, and social pub for literally everyone because it is often the only thing that exists in a "town".

13. Our experience with the Icelandic locals was not quite what we'd expected. Based upon the description in one of our books, it sounded as if these quirky, creative, artistic folks might rival the Irish with their warm, charming ways and genuine desire to make their country our country. We found them to be friendly; however, we didn't run into folks that were overly zealous in their ways or seemingly interested in making best friends. We had new Irish besties at each pub we visited. In all truthfulness, we really did make, meet, and keep friends from that journey! Service was certainly a higher priority than social skills here and the Icelandic folks did a nice job with this aspect for sure.

14. Quiznos, Subway, & KFC turn a town into a big city! Not to worry, we still consider them illegal when abroad. The good news? No Starbucks! No McDonalds!

15. Sulfur water may be what your shower is operating from in one or more towns and it WILL turn your jewelry green. Each silver piece I wear has a story and a purpose and much of it has been worn for almost 2 decades. I've taken it all off once, which was when I sat for my BCBA certification and I threw a small tantrum about that - particularly my Papa's bracelet. It's all off now - due to the glowing green hue that I came out of the shower screaming about. My crazy ear piercings all survived beautifully, which is a good thing because I don't know that I could make it through another round of piercings. First stop in Denver? Jewelers!

Quick trip to Sweden for a few hours (until later!) and then on into Norway for a couple weeks! So excited! Ja! Snart!

Posted by akgearhard 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Nå Norway!

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You know something strange? Remember the nice Icelandic gentleman that was kind enough to rent us one of the cars from his personal garage that was dressed like a 'Professional Garage' from the discount costume aisle in a Spirit Halloween store? Well, he instructed us to "just leave the car parked near the rainbow art structure in the Reykjavik airport parking lot, leave it unlocked, and leave the keys inside"... Hmmmm. We've rented cars from a country or two, but that's a new kind of return system. I'm not into the whole Sherlock Holmes thing, as I'm not much of a fan of magnifying glasses (my older brother used them to burn ants with - and therefore make me cry! - so the whole mystery-solving thing is not of much interest to me altogether. Self-correction: Scooby Doo. My apologies, Mystery Gang! Rationale? It's animated. I named my cat after Scrappy as a child. And who doesn't love Velma?). I digress. The car rental situation may have been slightly sketchy.

We are in Norway - FINALLY! It's been a long time coming - and I'm not talking about getting to tap our toes across all 3 countries in this Northern Fairytale in one day of travel (although we were able to do that today, which made for a long one, but a good one!). I'm talking about years of anticipation for our travels here! You see, Norway is more than just a country in our house. Let me give you an idea... For several summers in a row, that June day would come when the kids could pack their 4 Dairy Queen shake orders in a small cooler and watch the clock tick painfully slow as we drove to DIA and waited in anticipation for the two beloved girls to arrive that have since become their Norwegian-American siblings (see summer FB album for pictures of everything from backyard pool & tanning to icecream sales on the street in their Summer Shack, dress up, Rock Band, making videos, carnivals, spaghetti tacos, late nights, even later mornings, and of course, time for helping out at Spectra with the Westy Fire Department!). The annual airport reunion involved massive hugging, a tear or two, crazy chatter, and milkshakes disappearing like mad! As we settled into home, it was fun to see Norway come bustling out of their suitcases through candies and gifts and to learn about this foreign land through stories about their year. Over time, we've wrapped pieces of their language into our routine (eg er schlakken lakken deg at bedtime for our I love yous) and made mental notes of places that they called home that we could only hope to go some day.

And now, somehow, here we stand. The flag that is folded neatly in our house is flying proudly everywhere. J and I have smiled at similar versions of our Norwegian wool hats, mittens, and gloves. I've spotted my favorite red Norge jersey, Jaden has come across his beloved pocket knife in a shop, and the candy, ohhhhh, the candy... I'll be back for you soon, black salty licorice! Not soon enough, but snart!

Posted by akgearhard 06:34 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Oh Oslo!

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Remember when Luke and I nearly strangled each other over how to find our apartment in Germany? He drew the brave card and figured we could walk the "short" distance (in the dark streets of Frankfurt to a place we've never been before). I drew the paranoid card and was most interested in being overly-safe. After he was done marching and I was done talking - we mutually agreed to get a cab to end the pain, avoid dragging the kids through any more alleys, and bring to light the fact that we were so far away from our place that it wasn't even funny. That took care of that. This time around, as we were debating a cab to our place "close to the station" in Oslo, Luke referred to one of numerous lessons in Wildland Watchout, which has set the standard for our us. In theory, you don't fight fires that you haven't seen in daylight (or don't head to houses at night that you haven't been to). Perfekt! We got off the train late evening and grabbed a cab to take us to our flat on the waterfront. Nice and easy, Gearhard. We settled into this 2 bedroom IKEA-furnished place as if it were our own - including pouring mugs of green tea and washing every piece of laundry in our backpacks. The beds were incredible and we've mastered most - if not all - of the variations of shower heads here. Ahhhhh, it was like a night at the spa!

We were surprised at the feel of Oslo and the noticeable change in people. Although the downtown / waterfront is under crazy construction, the city is clean and well-kept. We had expected rain and were pleasantly surprised by the warm weather! We spent our day exploring via foot and bus and saw people of all sorts, including street performers, runners, gypsies, babies in buggies, and endless amounts of children on field trips! We spent time at the Opera House, the Palace, sauntered our way through the beautiful naked statues of Frogner Park, and checked out the Viking Museum - to name a few. We made it back to the waterfront in time to thoroughly enjoy beer and burgers at one of many restaurants tucked in next to our flat. Many restaurant patios come equipped with sheepskins and heaters, which seems to be a must here! Love it! We headed back for a late night at "home" - which brought 2 Disney movies (the kids were excited to find English!), including Hannah Montana. Is it odd that we can all sing along to the Hoedown Throwdown? Nah! Sov godt!

Posted by akgearhard 06:39 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

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